Setting and Straying from your Brand

BrandBranding is even more about defining the essence of a writer than it is defining the niche or genre. We all leave an imprint on others—some of us do this in a strategic way while others leave a message without meaning to. So why not be intentional?

How is it some can write different types of books and be consistent to their brand and others seem to be disloyal to their readers by branching out? It all depends on voice. Does the voice match the brand?

For example: Liz Curtis Higgs. I once talked with her at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) and told her, “I use you as an example in my marketing classes. When I teach branding, I explain that writers don’t have to declare a niche but they have to be true to their writing essence. Even though you write fiction, nonfiction, Bible Studies, humor and children’s books, your voice is consistent in each work. I see and hear Liz Curtis Higgs in every piece I read by you. You have no idea what a relief that is to writers who are so confused by the industry push to get branded into just one little box.” We had a good discussion about this topic. Then I told her, “When you are true to your voice, that’s the best brand of all, because it’s the imprint God wants you to leave.”

But then there’s John Grisham. His readers expect legal suspense. And he’s good at it. Made his money with this point of view. Any time he veers from this identity, some of his loyal readers feel betrayed. They don’t get what they are looking for in between the covers. They find a confused voice. Others have loved it. Is it worth it to take the risk? He can get away with it because if only 25% of his loyal readers buy his books when he strays from his brand, that’s still a big seller, but can a regular writer afford to only sell 25% of their normal book sales if they depart from their brand?

My advice to writers setting up a brand is to create a think tank or wisdom team and conduct a survey. Make sure it’s a variety of people who know you well (in the publishing industry, in ministry, from your target audience, family and friends). Ask them to give you some key words that best describe your essence (as a person, in your writing, in your speaking, in your ministry, etc.). Pay attention to the words that pop up on several lists. Try to capture those descriptors in your brand, and also make sure it has a “deliverable” quality to it. Those paying attention to your brand have a WII-FM mentality (What’s In It For Me).

For me, the words “light” and “shine” kept popping up. So I created my taglines and brand around that impression. This way, people know my voice, and know what I bring to the table when they connect with me.

Brand combines voice, style, audience, content, tagline, logo, style, colors, and more. It’s that overall impression you make (strategic) or leave (accidental).

The industry does want your brand—your voice—to speak to certain groups. It’s easier to sell to niche markets than to general markets. It’s better to categorize yourself as a certain type of writer, and then set yourself up as a go-to-writer in those genres or categories. Once you are established, and you think you can be true to your voice, then you can branch out. Let your brand be your filter so you know what projects are a good fit, and which ones to pass up.

What impression are you leaving?

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KathyWillisKathy Carlton Willis spins many plates as writer, speaker, editor, and platform coach. She writes and speaks with a balance of funny and faith—whimsy and wisdom. Kathy discusses the key issues that hold believers back and shines the light on their paths to freedom. Kathy’s passionate about helping audiences have lightbulb moments. All told, nearly a thousand of Kathy’s articles have been published online and in print publications. Speaker to Speaker: The Essential Speaker’s Companion (OakTara) and Grin with Grace (AMG) are set to release in 2014. She serves alongside her pastor husband, Russ Willis, in local church ministry.

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Why Ignoring Your Author Brand is Career Suicide

Have you heard the term branding? Does it make you want to reach for the remote and turn the channel? If so, you’re not alone. Author branding has a lot of writers confused. It did me.Why Ignoring Your Author Brand is Career Suicide

I first thought author branding was something your publisher did for you when your first books came out. Then, I thought it was a cool author tag line or slogan. And while part of both the previous statements are true, they’re not your author brand.

Knowing your author brand will help you promote yourself before, during, and after your book releases. Your author tag line is what evolves from your brand, not the other way around.

What is an author brand? An author brand is the unique combination of personality and passion you bring to products or services based on your actual or potential abilities. Your author brand won’t look like anyone else’s, because no one else has your insights and perspective to offer to the world.

Why do I need an author brand? Knowing your author brand lets readers, agents, and publishers know immediately what they’re going to receive from you and your writing. In this fast paced world, people won’t take the time to dig through the many books, websites, and blogs to find what they’re looking for. If it isn’t apparent immediately, they’ll move on.

Think about your favorite authors. You know exactly what you’re going to get from their books. It’s the reason you purchase their newest release, read their newsletters, and like their Facebook pages. They deliver on the promise of their brands.

But, I don’t need to develop my author brand until I have a book contract. Wrong. You’re already branding if you have a website, blog, or are on social media sites. Every post, tweet, and blog post is a reflection of you and your brand, even if you don’t know it.  It’s important to understand your brand from the moment you declare yourself a writer.

Your brand will help you develop your website, book proposals, manuscripts, articles, and newsletter. It will help you focus and go deeper in order to reach your audience better. It’s something you should embrace and not put off a minute longer.

Your brand will also aid you when creating visual images for your website and social media pages. For example, my author tagline (developed from my brand), is Inspiring Your Faith and Pioneer Roots. I created this image for my author Facebook page this past week. Branded Facebook Cover for Melissa K. Norris

Do you see how the pioneer roots is enhanced not only in the images, but also ties into the title and cover of my non-fiction book, Pioneering Today? The cabin picture also works for the historical fiction portion of my writing. Your brand should be an umbrella for all you do.

Developing your author brand isn’t something we can completely cover in one blog post, but don’t worry. I’m not giving you this admonishment and leaving you alone. My agency sister and business partner, Janalyn Voigt, and I have created a FREE author branding workbook to walk you through the steps. You can snag your copy at TriLink Social Media Mentors.

What are some of your favorite authors? Can you identify what their brand is, or the promise they always make with their work? What is unique about you and your writing?

What is Branding Anyway? (7 Reasons Why You Care)

Like it or not, you as an author are your brand. As an introvert, I find that fact disconcerting. The trouble with branding, from a privacy perspective, is that it needs to be honest. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather hide out in my office than bare my soul in public. Do you share my hesitancy? I suspect I’m in good company. How many of us would bother with branding if marketing realities and/or others in the publishing industry didn’t demand it of us?

Enough said.

And yet, if I approach branding from a reader’s perspective, I become more willing to brand. A reader needs a quick way to identify what I write. Without it, I could lose a sale. From a negative perspective, it’s that simple. But let’s look at the positives.

Janalyn Voigt Website Screenshot

This screenshot of my author site illustrates how branding can direct not only your tagline and artwork, but the content you include on your website.

Seven things branding will do for you:

1. Create dedicated readers through the nifty dynamic called brand loyalty. Every writer needs an audience base, a group of people ready and willing to purchase the next book. Branding helps you draw and interact with your target readers.

2. Keep you from getting lost in the crowd. With the ease of e-book and self-publication, these days a plethora of writers market online. Branding will make you stand out, increasing your discoverability.

3. Control perceptions about you. Whether or not you do so consciously, without even trying you’ll establish some sort of brand others judge. It behooves you to manage the perceptions of others about you and your writing.

4. Establish familiarity. Readers need to recognize themselves in you and to feel you share experiences common to them. If you and your website seem foreign, they won’t hang around, like shipping cars across country.

5. Let readers connect with you. Nowadays readers want authors to be available. Branding lets them feel like they know you personally.

6. Help you find your writing niche. Sad as it may seem, not everyone wants to read what you write. People have preferences. Branding draws your specific audience, thus focusing your marketing efforts.

7. Establish reader trust. Consumers buy from those they know, like, and trust.

Developing a focused author brand will make life easier for you on many levels. Given that reality, it becomes much easier to embrace, and even welcome, branding.

What is Branding?

As something of an abstract, the concept of branding generates confusion, suspicion, and even skepticism among writers. But neglected or (worse) inaccurate branding can have a negative impact on a writer’s career. And that’s a shame because branding isn’t that hard to understand.

Simply put, branding is the personality of a line of products or services drawn from your essence and informed by your passions and unique abilities.

Newport Wall Mural

I’ll illustrate. While in the Oregon town of Newport, I noticed the sides of buildings painted with scenes depicting whales, fishermen, and boats. The fact that Newport is a historic seaport would be true without these murals, but their presence make the air seem a little more salty. Newport brands as a seaport. If it didn’t, would it still be a seaport? Yes, but it probably wouldn’t be the tourist mecca it is. Imagine those same walls covered in the peeling paint found on buildings in other seaports. Where would a visitor with cash in hand feel most welcome?

Newport draws from what it already is to provide its special brand of tourism.

One more illustration: The folks in the obscure town of Icicle, Washington, adopted a Bavarian theme in keeping with its alpine setting. They changed the town’s name, erected chalets, and put weinerschnitzel on the menu. Droves of tourists now come from around the globe to sample Little Bavaria, or Leavenworth as it is now called.

Leavenworth’s brand came not from what the town already was, but from what its unique setting allowed it to become.

Key Point: To discover your own brand, ask yourself what you can willingly offer others based on who you already are or can realistically become.

Understanding your brand identity eases the process of developing social networking strategies. Further reading: 10 Strategies to Keep You Afloat in the Treacherous Social Media Waters.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

Building Your Author Platform Before The Contract

I remember attending a writer’s conference where the agent I was pitching stated debut authors needed a platform, even for fiction, in their proposal. She said if a query piqued her interest, she’d google the author’s name to see what came up. If there was hardly anything, she’d think long and hard before asking to see more of their book. And, she said editors do the same thing.

Yikes. I didn’t have anything up. I thought that all came after the book deal.

First thing do to is establish yourself as a professional writer. I recommend starting a Facebook page as a writer, not a profile, but a page. Announce to people that you are a writer and believe it!

Do the same with your Twitter account. Don’t have one, here’s my post on How to Effectively Use Twitter for Authors.

You need a website. Don’t panic. There are plenty of free sites that can provide you with a website. I use wordpress.com You don’t have to start a blog yet, though I would recommend it later. You can simply have an about page and a contact page. You can check out my about page here for ideas. Visit your favorite author sites to see what you like and don’t like.

Now, you’ve got these pages up, but what do you do with them. Here’s where it get’s a little bit harder. You need to figure out who your target audience is. You’ll need this for your book proposal, so now is a good time to start on it.

Who will be interested in your books? If you’re writing inspirational fiction, then you’ve already got a faith element. Christians are interested in your books. If you’re writing historical, then what time period? What groups of people or hobbies would go along with this?

This is just scratching the surface. Go deep with this. I recommend making a list of possible interests. Now, you can write some guest posts to blogs targeting this area. Tweet and share Facebook links with articles written by other people on these subjects.

Ask questions on Facebook and Twitter. If you’re coming up with a name for a new character, list two and have people vote.

You are well on your way to establishing a platform.

What ideas or tips do you have to make your platform even more effective? How often do spend social networking? Should you be engaging even more?