Last year I published my own book based on an article I wrote for Publisher’s Weekly many years ago, Do You Know What a Book Publicist Does? A Guide for Creating Your Own Campaigns. To promote it, I hit the road and spoke to writers at universities conferences, festivals, libraries, etc. What was the one thing writers looking to promote their books really wanted to understand? What is an Author Brand? And further, how do they develop their own? While I can’t present all the information I provide in a 45-minute keynote or afternoon workshop, I’m going to express some of the points that should start you on your way.
- What is an Author Brand? A brand represents a product or person in different ways. Primarily it’s about how people “feel” and “respond” when they hear the brand’s name; see the product; read about it; etc. Recognizable brands are ones that the market knows like Coca Cola. In the book world some recognizable brands are James Patterson, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, David Brooks, and David McCullough. Audiences know what these writers represent and have a good idea of what kinds of books they publish, what causes they might represent, their political affiliations, where they come from or live, and what they look like. These characteristics are parts of their “brands”.
- I’m not famous, I’m just a “…”, I don’t have a brand: These are some of the things I’ve heard from writers when faced with the concept of Author Brand. Part of the answer is that all of those people I mentioned above were once where you are. James Patterson published his first book in 1976. He started publishing more than one book every year in the late 1990s. I’m not saying that you have to wait twenty years before you establish your brand. The point is everyone has to start somewhere so take any negative thoughts out of your mind and focus on what you have to offer.
- How do I get an Author Brand? Here’s my favorite part of all of my lectures and speeches–you don’t have to “get” a brand because you already have/are one! I don’t care if you train animals, have a podcast on car repair, and write romances–all of these things together constitute your brand. What you really need to know is how to become your brand.
- Becoming your Author Brand: Take a moment to write down a list of items that describe you. Think of answering the fundamental questions–who, what, where, why, and how. Now, write down what you consider to be your best assets or what your are “known” for. Even in the smallest community, you might be the one who always brings muffins to a book club meeting; or you have an interesting tattoo; you take hiking trips in the summer; you speak a foreign language and like to surf; and/or you are good with numbers. Finally, note the kinds of books you want to or are writing; what the characters are like; where they are set; are there any common threads in your work? All of the lists you have just made are the pieces of what can be your brand. Look at what you have and highlight the ones that you want to project virtually or in person. The intent is to become familiar to an audience that will respond to your author brand, and ultimately to create a community or people that will become your army of fans who will spread word-of-mouth about your work. Having completed these exercises, you have the potential to accomplish different goals such as, sell your book(s), grow your business, gain visibility in the publishing world and get noticed by agents and editors, secure speaking engagements, and provide a much easier base to create a marketing strategy.
- Image as Author Brand: After you’ve dissected all of the parts of yourself and your life that can be used to promote you, consider some of the more cosmetic aspects of your brand. Coca Cola has a distinct font, color, and packaging. Even before you get to the taste of it, this is what we recognize. What about you? Look at some of your favorite personalities in entertainment, yes authors are part of the entertainment industry, and see what you like. For a few years James Patterson always wore a crew neck sweater in public, in his ads, for his author photo. He chose this look on purpose. Amy Tan used to carry her dog in a Pucci Bag wherever she went. What signature item would you like to have? How do you want to look when you are in front of an audience?
All of what I’ve shared here will help you recognize and develop your Author Brand. Most important is that you don’t try to twist yourself into what you imagine to be the RIGHT brand. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to create a brand that best represents all of you and what you hope to achieve. But, It’s important that you feel comfortable with what you are selling and projecting. You need to be able to maintain and protect the brand you create and develop. So if you feel most powerful and connected to your work in the form of a superhero, don your Spider Man costume and head out on the town. But if jeans and a T-shirt with a baseball cap is more your style; you are from a suburb of X city; and you write books about a bail bondsman named Al, you might want to tailor your brand. Just a touch.