What Food Network Star Taught Me About Author Branding

Marketing your Debut Novel: Part Two

Last month, I started this series on how to market your debut novel. You can find Part One here. We’re going to stick with the same time period of the writer’s life–the pre-contract phase.

In brief, I discussed those things an author should be doing pre-contract phase, which is identifying and building your brand through social media. You are working to build a well-defined tribe. (You are reading Seth’s book by now, right?)

The issue of branding became very apparent to me while watching The Next Food Network Star. Yes, hand straight up in the air, I like reality TV. If you’re not familiar with the series, earnest chefs attempt to win their own show on Food Network by doing next to impossible cooking tasks for a panel of feisty food judges they may work for someday.

The judges want to know what their POV is. This season one contestant, Malcolm, was often heard saying, “I don’t need a POV. I just need to cook great food. That will speak for itself.”

I’d like to indulge a few different words. “I don’t need a brand. I just need to write a great novel! The words will speak for themselves.”

The problem is where do said judges, or in our world, publishers, place you?

If you’re seeking publication and you’ve not been published before (particularly in fiction) you are going to have to 1. finish your novel and 2. write a book proposal.

A book proposal is essentially a marketing tool for your book. It’s the sales plan. It’s the blueprint of how your tribe (again, reading it?!?) will purchase your product.

One section of the book proposal is the dreaded “comparison” section. It can be called other things. Market analysis. Comparable books. In this section, you list books that are like yours (and what sets yours apart in a nice, professional way.) The purpose of this section is to help a publisher identify what type of audience you’re trying to reach. Is there consistency amongst the authors you picked and what type of novels they write? This helps a publisher know that you know yourself pretty well. You have brand awareness and can plug into the group of people who also like those authors.

But say I have little brand awareness. My novel is a Steampunk, alien invasion set during Roman times with a population of Amish quilters–and if a book like this makes it big, you heard it here first! My website looks like a Steampunk machine tossed out a Roman gladiator who just tousled with an alien on the prairie–and throw in a couple of Amish looking bonnets for good measure since those books sell really well.

In your comparable books section, you list these books: Proof by Jordyn Redwood (a medical thriller), The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club by Wanda Brunstetter (Amish gives a clue there), Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman (this is Christian non-fiction), and Francine Rivers’s A Voice in the Wind (which is historical fiction).

A publisher is going to be scratching their collective head. How can one fiction book possibly be placed by each of these novels? They’re so different. Not even in the same section.

But, you say, my book will satisfy all of those readers. A publisher shakes their head. No, it won’t. The books above represent very diverse readers. I’ve personally read two: my own and Not a Fan. Not to say the other two by Wanda and Francine are not excellent novels– but they don’t appeal to me and what I like to read.

Don’t be Malcolm. Discover your brand. BE the BRAND (think Miss Congeniality– BE the CROWN!)

So, you may ask, what happened to Malcolm? Voted off midway through the season. Great chef but “we don’t know who he is.” They didn’t know how to brand him.

What about you? How did you like writing your book proposal? How easy or hard was it to write the comparable books section?

17 Replies to “What Food Network Star Taught Me About Author Branding”

  1. I found the book proposal almost more difficult to write than the book. *Almost. But it brought great focus to my project.

    The brand thing for me is still a head scratcher. Still work on it.

    Thanks for the great post!

    1. Gillian– I so agree. When Greg first said I’m going to need a book proposal and my first thought was — a what?!? I knew I was in trouble. They are a necessary evil but I agree– it does help you focus on what the crux of the novel is and where it will fit on the bookshelf.

  2. Jordyn, this is so funny! I was watching the same Food Network Star series and after the Malcolm episode wrote my daughter (my co-author) to say, “We need a very very clear POV” for our blog and our book. Malcolm had it all goin’ on, except a clear, concise focus. We have one but I do not think it is yet completely sharp, focused and ready for prime-time. But you can be sure, it will be. Excellent post!

  3. I have to say that I love Food Network Star! This season, I am absolutely in LOVE with Justin’s rebel with a culinary cause POV. He cooks well, and the always red lips make for something compelling to look at. I’m always rooting for Nikki to get voted off, but she keeps hanging in there.

    Aside from that, you’re absolutely right about the whole idea of having a definitive POV – else there’s a lot of points which get absolutely muddled in translation. Starting small and then expanding to fit the kitchen sink. I have to admit that I’d probably read the Steampunk and Amish weirdness just to see how it was pulled off. 🙂

    1. Emily– you feel free to write that novel. I don’t think I’m going to try it anytime soon!

      Ahh, Justin. I don’t know. I don’t get the red lipstick– just seems odd– but then again– you are right– it is his POV so it works. I think Susie is one tough cookie– I think I would just die to have to present to her.

      It will be interesting to see how the season ends.

  4. I’m in the non-fiction category, so book comparisons, tribes, and proposals for me are simple concepts, but not necessarily easy to follow. However, the investment pays off huge dividends. No matter how well written our books are, without a solid proposal, they’ll never see the light of day.

  5. Fun comparison, Jordyn, and you’re so right. Searching for comparable titles (and not necessarily those break-away best sellers) is a great way to figure out which readers you should be engaging with and keeping in mind while writing. (:

  6. Nice entry. I have my first picture book coming out in the fall, and I am trying to “market” myself, but as I write many different types of children’s books, it is hard to find my brand. I feel like I know I am a bag of chips, but should be more specifically a “Lays,” “Jays,” “Pringles,” or “Doritos.” 🙂

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