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.

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 the Perfect Brand

I recently attended a branding seminar for authors and wanted to share best practices with the WordServe Community. Here are 4 Sizzling Secrets to Branding You and Your Book from speaker Liz Goodgold, Branding Expert for www.RedFireBranding.com:

1. WIIFM: What’s in if for me?

Your audience wants to know what they are going to get out of buying and reading your book. Sell a benefit or a result – think in terms of a call to action. Will your reader learn a skill, come away with increased knowledge, or be entertained? Knowing your endgame is a huge part of selling the benefits and the results.

2. Consistency is Key

Brands have to be consistent. In-N-Out Burgers always taste the same, and they have since the forties. That is consistency at its finest.  Your audience is looking for that kind of consistency. Once you have established your brand it’s important to stay with it. Think in terms of household names like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or the ‘Dummies’ do-it-yourself guides or perhaps the Mars and Venus books. For writers who tackle random subjects without a real sense of continuum, Liz recommended that the books should still appear consistent with regards to style, size, type, and font. Branding by color is a popular way to go.

3. Book Title – Easy Recall

A well-branded book title is catchy and simple to recall; it also carries over easily from one book to the next. In hindsight, my book, Gumbeaux, was probably not the perfect title as it can be considered difficult to pronounce. However, I have the opportunity, based upon Liz’s learnings, to title my next book: “Rancheaux” or something with a similar suffix. The suffix could work as well for me as “itos” does for Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, etc.

4.You Are the Brand

You are not building a book, but an empire. Don’t create a website that is only useful to promote a single book unless you are positive you’ll never write another one. It should be fluid enough to support your blog, sales channels, books to come, a potential series, etc. Check out the websites of your favorite authors and notice how they position themselves not just as writers, but as brands. Use jargon that resonates with your writing platform. You are the brand – not your book – so think big.

How are you building your brand?

Don’t Sabotage Your Writing/Speaking Career

WordServe Water Cooler is pleased to host this excellent article by James N. Watkins.

Welcome, James!

I’ve been editing professionally since 1972. (Of course, I started when I was five!) I’ve seen just about everything: Cover letters that said, “God dictated this article to me. I don’t even know what it means.” Submissions from aliens: the extraterrestrial kind. Envelopes spray-painted gold, which I assume was intended to make them stand out from all the plain old white envelopes. Hand-written submissions on lined paper. And now in the age of word-processing with 400 fonts, submissions that look like ransom notes.

So, here are some ways to avoid sabotaging your writing/speaking career—in no particular order.

1. UNPROFESSIONAL EMAIL ADDRESS

If you’re going to be a professional writer/speaker, you need a professional-sounding email address. Two of the worst I’ve seen: snugglebunny77@yahoo.com and—I’m not making this up—wordwhore@hotmail.com. Even yahoo.com, gmail.com, and hotmail.com strike this grumpy old editor as a bit unprofessional. Get a domain name and a host that will allow you to use that as your email address. For example, jim @ jameswatkins.com actually goes to my yahoo account, but it’s masked so all you see is the domain name.

2. UNPROFESSIONAL FACEBOOK AND TWITTER POSTS

You’ll probably want a Facebook account for only your family and close friends and then one separate for your professional presence.

Your followers don’t want to know what you’re fixing for dinner unless you’re writing gourmet cook books. And unless your brand is “Cat Whisperer,” I don’t want to see pictures of your adorable kitties. (And having more than five cats qualifies you as “crazy cat lady.”) Make sure every post provides value to your readers and fits with your “brand” (See point 5).

3. NO WEB PRESENCE, UNPROFESSIONAL WEB PRESENCE

When your book proposal comes before the pub board, the first thing the editors and marketing minions do—who are surgically attached to their laptops and smart phones—is go to google.com and type in your name. If you don’t show up, you don’t exist! And if you don’t exist, you don’t get a contract. It is absolutely necessary that you have a Web site, blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts online.

But having no presence may be better than having an unprofessional presence! With WordPress.com and Blogger.com anyone can have a free blog (Web log). The bad news is many of templates offered don’t appear to this grumpy old editor as professional: animated .gifs, cutesy art work, kitties, etc. etc.

Your Web presence is a determining factor in whether a publisher will give your proposal further consideration or a conference director will consider you as a speaker. Spend—no INVEST—in professional help in creating a professional-looking site. And make sure you have a professional edit the copy.

4. UNPROFESSIONAL BUSINESS CARDS

Just because you’re a Christian writer doesn’t mean your business cards and Web site must have a cross, dove, empty tomb or—if you’re Charismatic—tongues of fire. Remember the KISS principle. Keep it simple, saints!

And including “Professional Writer” makes me suspect. Would you go to a “Professional Brain Surgeon”?! I don’t think so! (What is he or she trying to prove?)

5. NOT BEING “BRANDED”

Ouch! That sounds painful, but “branding” is a buzz word in the business and publishing world.

Basically, branding is what readers and audiences expect when they see your name on a book cover or on a conference brochure. You can’t be all things to all people, so do some soul-searching and discover your unique role in the writing/speaking arena.

My brand—for articles, books, Web site, speaking engagements, convenience store grand openings—is “Hope and Humor.” (www.hopeandhumor.org). So whether I’m writing, speaking or blogging, people expect hope and humor. (So writing bloody murder mysteries would totally massacre—pun intended—my brand.)

What does your audience (or “tribe”) expect? Be specific and then deliver on your brand.

6. “FREE” PUBLISHING THAT COSTS YOU

Services, like www.lulu.com and www.createspace.com, offer free e-book and print-on-demand publishing services. (Everyone loves free!) You simply upload your Word document and post your homemade cover and you can have your book as an e-book on amazon in a few hours and your paperback or hardcover book on your doorstep within the week. And you only pay for the actual wholesale price of the books. What a deal. It is a deal IF and ONLY IF . . .

. . . you have it professionally edited (and not by your English teacher cousin). If your online or in-print presence is filled with errors, it can ruin your writing career.

. . . you have your cover professionally designed (and not by your sister-in-law who happens to own Adobe Illustrator—unless she’s working with it professionally.) An amateurish cover, again, can ruin your writing career—or at least book sales.

Please. Please. Please, take this warning to heart. I see so many “self-published” books that just scream AMATEUR! That free service can cost you your reputation.

And if you’re investing your hard-earned money in one of the hundreds of self-publishers out there, please read these additional warnings. (There are hundreds of self-publishers who are amateurs at best and scam artists at worst.)

7. HAVING A “REPUTATION”

Christian publishing is a relative small club. Editors meet regularly at conferences and professional meetings, and we talk about writers and speakers. Believe me, we know who the people are who committing professional suicide by being unprofessional, “high maintenance,” telling off editors who don’t appreciate their brilliant talent, missing deadlines and burning “bridges.” And speakers with “prima donna” complexes by demanding special treatment also can sink under the weight of their bad reputations.

There are many more such as playing the God card: “God told me to write this.” But seven sounds like a biblical number. And by being aware of these, you’ll protect your good name as a writer/speaker.

To find out more about James, please visit the links. (c) 2012 James Watkins (www.jameswatkins.com) for American Christian Writers (www.acwriters.com).

Your Name is Your Brand

I’ve been delving a lot into marketing books and I’ve garnered a few nuggets that I thought would be helpful to those who are beginning to develop their on-line presence—and maybe change the minds of a few who are already there.

Your name is your brand.

In writing, there’s a lot of talk about what your brand is. Put simply, your brand is a promise to your readers. If you write historical novels then write an edgy supernatural thriller—your historical followers are busy scratching their heads and your new readers are doing the same when they look at your previously published books. Writers who have deviated a lot from their promise usually suffer in sales.

But more important than that is how will your readers find you. When they search Twitter and Facebook for your profile, how easy are you making it for them? If your author name is Joe Smith but your Twitter handle is @hottexasdude3000—how simple are you making it for your potential buyers to discover you and your product. And yes, I did search for that moniker and it seems to be wide open for those who would like to claim it.

Let’s focus on Twitter. Your handle should not be:

1. Something funny and quirky. Though this may garner a lot of followers, it’s probably doing little to build your brand. Especially if you don’t write quirky or funny—not that you can’t be that way personally. Name first. Image second. Your presence should have a consistent feel among your blog, web site, etc…

2. A character in your novel or book title. What happens when your publishing house hates that name? They require you to change it. Now, it’s time spent explaining to all your happy followers that Derek Storm (just love Castle!) is dead. Oh, that’s another reason. You as the author decide to kill the main character. Unless you are in a position to have complete control over your books, this is risky.

3. Your blog. Again, your blog should support your brand. Not be the brand. When people Google search, they’re going to look for your name first. They may discover your fine blog through your name search but the opposite may not be true. My name gets far more Google hits than my blog name. This is what you want to shoot for.

What if you’ve done one of these fatal errors? Relax. It can be changed. Why postpone the inevitable? Work to make these changes now. Make your name your brand. Work to have a consistent feel among your social media sites. There’s always room for improvement. Even though my Twitter and Facebook profiles are my name, I need to improve the feel so it speaks suspense.

How about you? Is your name your brand? If not, why not? Do you think you should change it?

Brand Basics

If you’re interested in delving into this business of publishing, then you’ve likely heard a lot of talk about branding. Simply put, branding clearly identifies you with a product. For the author, it might be their brand of fiction or their platform. Your brand is strong if someone hears either your book or your name and can identify the other. For instance, if I said “Stephen King”, certain things would pop into your mind even if you’ve never picked up one of his novels. If I said, “The Shining”, you could likely name the author. Stephen King has a strong brand.

Your brand needs to be supported by your internet presence such as your blog or web site. Think about the images you want to portray. Are you a contemporary women’s author? Then, your site should have a different “feel” compared to someone who writes suspense.

I worked with Tekeme Studios for my blog design. First hurdle to overcome was the content of the blog. How can I be different from the other thousands of blogs that are out there? What I noticed myself doing was answering a lot of medical questions for fellow writers. I couldn’t find anyone else with this type of blog. That was good because perhaps I could provide a service for other authors that was thus far unfulfilled.

Second was to think of the feelings I wanted to invoke when people first visited my site. For me, these were intrigue, medical, with a slight suspense feel.

Here was the first design:

Here comes the third part. You have to be willing to speak up if you don’t like the design. After all, this is your brand and your investment. You should have strong feelings about it. For me, the design read historical. The man was dressed in period garb and the cabin looked like one you’d find on the frontier. This image didn’t support my brand as a suspense novelist. Plus, I‘m a woman and why did it need to be a man answering those calls for help? Also, too bright and orange (not a huge fan of that color). Not an ominous feel at all.

You’ll know you’re with the right design team when they understand your concerns about the design and are not offended about making changes. After discussing my concerns, it became as follows. You can check out the full implemented design at http://jordynredwood.blogspot.com/.

My challenge to you:  Are you thinking about what your brand is? How are you evoking that brand image with your internet presence? Ask people to visit your site and give you thoughts about what they feel. If you’re a suspense writer, people should feel ominous… maybe a little worried, like they will when they read your novels.

These are some examples of authors who I think have portrayed this well. Visit their sites for a little homework. Do they have a strong brand? Do they evoke certain feelings when you see their imagery? I think what they’re doing supports their brand of novels.

  1. Brandilyn Collins
  2. Tosca Lee
  3. Robert Liparulo

What are some things you’re doing to support your brand?