Branding, we’ve all heard of it. Products such as Tide with the large orange bottle, McDonald’s and those unforgettable golden arches, and then there is Chili’s and the green jalapeno pepper, to name a few. These and many more can be found in nearly every town, on TV, and on the web. Each of them has one thing in common: the use of color, shape, or item represents the company and products they sell.
How does this relate to an author, published or unpublished?
When a publishing house prints a book, the covers are unique to each book, but have you noticed that no matter how many books an author publishes with that line, the font of their name is (usually) the same? If the book is part of a series, regardless of what number it is, the main title will be the same, for example, the Harry Potter series. The colors change from cover to cover, but the font remains the same. This allows fans to find it when scanning the shelves of libraries and book stores. Think about it, do you read each and every name on the cover when looking for your favorite author, or do you allow your eyes to find the size, shape, and ever familiar font of the authors name to know you’ve found what you were looking for?
Did you know you don’t have to be a published author to develop your brand? I established mine before I began querying.
Let me tell you how…
In 2010, upon the advice of those around me, I started a blog. The point of blogging was to help me improve my writing skills. The experience taught me how to engage an audience and receive feedback and participation through comments. And while I was nowhere near ready to publish anything I wrote, I did build a following. The more I shared my experiences, the more people followed my blog. I also established connections via popular social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. Visitors to my blog connected with me online, and online connections started visiting my blog. It was months before I upgraded my online presence ‘picture’ from a downloaded image of a heart and book to being brave enough to show my face. And wouldn’t you know it, the moment I put my picture up, my following on all platforms increased!
Without realizing it, my face became a part of my brand. No matter what social networking site I am attached to, you’re going to find the same picture, same name…easy recognition.
Next came creating a brand, or theme, for the books. The Butterfly Memoirs series is a Contemporary Romance novel that features interracial couples dealing with real life issues. I knew from the moment I started writing my covers would not have the typical Man/Woman embarrassing or half naked. I like symbolism in my stories and I carry that theme in my covers. The series covers will always consist of two main elements, a butterfly to symbolize the female character as well as the image of something that represents the male character in the book.
As for the series itself, I have a logo of a butterfly imprinted into a wax seal that says ‘The Butterfly Memoirs’ and my name, thus branding the series. So anytime you see my picture, logo, or book cover, you’ll know it’s me.
Though you may not be writing a series, you still need to build a brand for yourself and for your audience. Here are a few simple tips, and the best part, they don’t cost a thing!
Branding your online image:
Here are a few tips on taking an author picture without spending a lot of money. Remember, your picture introduces you to your readers. As they say, a picture says a thousand words!
- Photography equipment: If you can’t afford a professional headshot, take advantage of the features of your digital camera or cell phone camera.
- Setting: Plain back grounds or simple settings work best. The key is to engage with the reader, not have them wonder where you were when the picture was taken.
- Wardrobe: Keep it simple! Use solid colors that compliment you. Keep away from strips and patterns because they are distracting. Ladies, keep that jewelry simple, guys, don’t forget to shave or tighten up that hair cut! (Of course, if grungy or over the top is what you’re going for as your ‘persona’, have fun!) *TIP: If you study my picture, you’ll see I wear a butterfly ring that is facing the camera and not away. I am pulling my book/series brand into my image. It’s subliminal branding!
- Posing: Be comfortable! Don’t try some awkward pose that will translate pain in your eyes though your lips are smiling. Be natural, focus on the camera, and imagine you’re looking directly at your reader. Keep your mind clear…negative thoughts will translate through your facial features no matter how hard you try! Sell yourself!
- Editing: When done, upload your picture and crop it to take out any blank spaces, once again, the focus should be on you. Readers want to know who YOU are. Off centered images with dead spaces are distracting as well as poor lighting.
- Sharing: Now that you have your picture, share it with the world! Post it on all of your networking sites so readers will recognize you, no matter where they are! Most people recognize and remember faces before names. If you have one picture on Facebook, and another on Twitter, and yet another on Google+, fans will be unsure if it’s you. Keep it uniform! If at any time you change or update your photo, be sure to change it on all of your sites. **Ignore the urge to change it up every few weeks! Even though your name may be sitting beside the image, people recognize faces before names. Again, it’s branding! After all, McDonald’s doesn’t change the color or shape of their golden arches!**
Branding your style as an author:
- Your writing style and the way you give voice to your characters is a part of your brand. Read books from two of your favorite authors. Notice how the authors writing style/voice varies from one another, yet, when you read more than one of their books, each of their stories have a similar tone, speech pattern, or even use of particular phrases that distinguishes their writing style from someone else’s. So should yours.
- Interactions with fans on social media can make or break you. How many times have you come across offensive, political, or highly opinionated posts or tweets that have offended you or left you with a sour taste in your mouth about the commenter? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but beware of using your social presence as a showcase for your opinions. Readers now have access to you online and will pay close attention to what you have to say. Make your post count. There are times to joke; there are times to be professional. There are times when your fingers need to be still on the keyboard and you avoid addressing a comment, even if it stings. The last thing you want to do is turn off a fan due to your political views or personal feelings. Instead, use your online presence as a way to build your fan base, sharing information about you, your books, and upcoming projects. Fans these days love author/reader interaction. As Indie authors, we have a chance to do what many NYT Bestsellers can’t…talk to our fans on a regular bases. Readers love it!
- Make your online presence known. Websites are the home base of your brand, the place where a reader can be directed and learn everything about you. This can be done one of two ways: 1.) pay for a professional website or 2.) Take advantage of free website tools and build your own. Sites such as WordPress.com, Blogger.com, and Wix.com, to name a few, offer free blog hosting. (I’ve used all three, and WordPress, which hosts this blog/website, is by far the best!) All you have to do is create an account. This takes time and patience, but can be an educational and rewarding experience. Keep your site professional with links to all of your social networking sites, products (remember, your book is a product), and any merchandise (free reads, etc.) The more work you put into it, the more people will be drawn back to it to see what’s new. Don’t publish content and step away. Website maintenance and fresh information is a must in order to keep your readers coming back. Your website represents you 24/7, even when you are not online. Content should include: a picture, a well-written bio, (remember, you’re an author. It should be free of grammatical errors. If you have a poorly written bio, readers will hesitate to purchase your books because they feel they will be written the same way), all sales links and links to social sites where they can find, follow, or contact you. Your site should also include information about your books (book blurbs), and a sample of your work for them to read.
I know it sounds daunting and like a lot of work, and believe me it is! The point of all of this is you’re a writer and it’s what you love. In order to be successful, you have to put in the work. Marketing and discovering your brand is all about knowing who you are and how you want your writing perceived. By the way, I’m not telling you something that I haven’t done. Everything you see on this site was done by me and it took weeks! But it was well worth it! J