What’s your brand?

By Joe Moore

Why is a reader motivated to purchase one book over another? Is it the author? How about the cover art? The cover blurbs from other writers? The title? The synopsis on the back or inside liner?

All of the above are important, no doubt. But I believe one of the biggest factors in motivating the purchase of a book is “brand”, or lack of it in the case of not making the purchase.

Why brand? Readers want consistency. Think of food. Everyone knows exactly what a Burger King Whopper tastes like. The Burger King brand is known worldwide because they produce something that people like and they keep making it. I can walk into a Burger King anywhere on the planet and I know what to expect. The same goes for McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, KFC, Taco Bell, and hundreds of other well-established brands. If I crave a Big Mac, there’s only one place to get it. If you’re looking to put your brand over some products and items to help market your company a little better, look into this company that design branded merchandise.

I think that the same holds true for books. I can pick up the latest James Paterson, Nora Roberts or Clive Cussler novel and I know what to expect. They have established a consistency in their product that has become their brand. As a matter of fact, their names ARE their brands. All you have to do is mention Patterson, Roberts or Cussler, and anyone who has experienced those brands knows what you’re talking about. Just like the Whopper. You don’t have to explain it to someone who’s already had one.

What is brand? For starters, I think of it as a consistent level of expectancy. By that I mean that the customer/reader expects something to happen each time they make a purchase based upon the brand, and it does—every time. If there ever comes a time when it doesn’t, the customer/reader will abandon the product for a replacement—maybe not the first time, but eventually they will move on.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What if I’m a debut author? I have no brand. Or I only have a couple of books out. Not enough time to establish a brand yet. Ask yourself this: how strong was James Patterson’s brand when he published Along Came A Spider in 1993? Probably not as strong as it is today. He started with a good story, quality writing and a compelling package, and built it into the James Patterson brand combining it with other vital branding items. Branding goes way beyond story content, style, voice, and other writing elements. It involves your book covers, your website, your blog, your marketing collateral, how you dress in public at signings and conferences, how your email signature is worded—in other words, your brand is your message working in tandem with your personal “packaging”. The good news is that today we have even more avenues for building our brand than Mr. Patterson did years ago.

So, how do you create a brand from your message and personal packaging?

Your message is primarily the words that are contained in your books and the words used to describe your books. The packaging is the “framing” of those words. If the message and the packaging are not synchronized, you will create confusion in the marketplace. You control your message by the content of your stories. And it’s important that you work closely with the publicist and marketing department at your publisher to make sure your message matches the message they produce for promoting your books. If it doesn’t, keep working with them until everyone feels that it does.

What about the packaging decisions you can do yourself?

Start with your website. It’s one of the most important parts of your personal packaging. You’re in control of all aspects of its content and construction. Make sure it looks like your books. I know that sounds pretty basic, but you’d be surprised that the only similarity between some author’s websites and their books is that they show a picture of the book cover. For best packaging results, the entire site should have the same visual feel as your cover(s). If you can’t create or capture that yourself, find a professional to do it. Remember, it’s the TOTAL packaging that helps establish your brand.

Now think about the rest of your collateral material such as business cards, post cards, posters, bookmarks, newsletters, e-mail blasts, bulletins, etc. Do they project your brand? Are they an extension of your book covers and website? Again, if you can’t achieve a totally consistent personal package, find a professional designer that understands branding and packaging. The investment of using a design agency will pay for itself in the long run.

Make sure you know and understand what you want your brand to be. Understand who you are in relation to your brand. What kind of image do you want to portray? I’m not suggesting you come up with some fake persona and act like someone you’re not. But guess what? Being an author is acting. It’s acting out your brand. It’s your personal packaging.

In building your brand, you must consider all of these items working together. The consumer will come to expect it and it’s to your advantage to deliver.

As a writer, do you feel like you have a brand? If you do, is it the one you want? Are you aware of it? Can you think of some other examples of writers who have a consistent, strong brand?

26 thoughts on “What’s your brand?

  1. Years before I got published I decided to focus my website/blog on my (then future) brand, and it paid off for me when my debut hit the shelves. I remain true to my brand as a crime writer who loves police procedure and forensics, and I’m very protective of it. IMHO, our brand is all we have. We mess with it, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Tell me more about how to use your brand as your email signature.

    • Great question, Sue. Your email signature is another place to reinforce your brand. Some use it to list their latest book with a link to buy or to their website, etc. Other’s put so much info in the signature that it just might discourage anyone from reading it. I believe in keeping it simple. The signature should guide the reader to a blog or website where more info can be given–info that you can change as often as needed. I use one-word links that look inviting but can lead to an abundance of info such as:
      Web | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Amazon | Google+

      • Gotcha. Thank you. One more question and I’ll stop picking your brain…for now. Months back you mentioned two sites that were way better than Goodreads for mingling with readers. I should’ve written them down, but I didn’t. Would you mind telling me one more time?

  2. Good morning Sue,
    I took a peak at your site and very much enjoyed it. I especially like the resource page you have for crime writers! I’ll be using that one. The book cover for Married was pretty cool too.

  3. I’m new to the writing and publishing world. This particular topic is one that I find challenging, as a new writer how do I balance building my brand with writing? Some days I feel as if I’m way behind in building a brand and need to hurry up and get it done; other days, I feel completely overwhelmed by all the different hats a writer needs to wear. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I need to learn!

    • Rose, I believe that your writing always comes first. You can’t build a brand around a nonexistent product. As you put your product out into the marketplace, do so with a coordinated marketing plan that includes your website, blog, Goodreads, Twitter, and all the other avenues available to you mentioned above. Don’t try to have everything done at once, but always keep in mind that you are a writer who needs a solid, dependable brand. Good luck and thanks for stopping by TKZ.

      • Thanks for the feedback Joe! I believe you need to have a quality product to put out there, so I will continue to write, study, and learn. It is an interesting journey. Much appreciate the TKZ blog and the experienced writers here.

        • If it helps any, Rose, all writers struggling with trying to find a balance between writing and promoting. Publishers are pushing more responsibility onto author’s shoulders and it’s even harder if you self publish. I’m with Joe in that the writing always comes first, though. But boy, you have my sympathy. I spent most my day today on website updates, newsletter list updates, TAX PREP (argh!) and got no writing done at all. Makes me crabby… 🙂

  4. I love it when I go to writer’s conferences and see writers who dress as a reflection of their chosen brand. One well known writer always dresses like a goth, vampire rock princess. Another guy channels Motorcycle-dudedom in his black leAther jacket. Me? People always guess I’m a teacher or a nurse when they meet me, so I guess I have a little work to do on developing a brand.

  5. If I can add one piece of advice for newbies (and some older writers who should know better):

    1. Have a good easy-to-navigate website. Don’t add so many bells and whistles that it takes forever to download the sucker. Makes readers angry.

    2. Have a page devoted to BIO or ABOUT ME or whatever you want to call it. On it have four things: a short pithy bio of yourself. A longer bio that can be edited by whoever needs it. A good clear high-resolution download-able jpeg of your lovely self!!!! And an email of who to contact for info (like signings!) or your agent’s email if you have one.

    My sister Kelly has done many program booklets for conferences and I can’t tell you how many authors don’t bother to put a bio and jpeg that she can easily go steal. Bookstores need this. Libraries need this. Anyone who might give you some publicity needs this. I do the program book for the Edgar banquet every year and every single year there is at least one author (some bestsellers and major names) who I have to nag for a decent mug shot. And some even get testy and say, “Can’t you just go on the web and find one?”

    Nooooo….I can’t.

    Be a pro. Even if you aren’t one yet. 🙂

    Good post, Joe.

  6. Joe, I’m wondering how contextually deep you think the brand should go. I have written only two novels. (NB: I thought they were international thrillers, but someone told me they are suspense.)

    Both are about the dangers caused for the innocent when the government players operate according to personal agendas. Book 1–The State Department; Book 2–Congress.

    They both have international settings. And my blog is about places in the world that one should see before they are ruined by war, unrest, or overdevelopment (Syria, Congo, Singapore, etc.)

    Do I have a full brand or a brand kind-of?

    • Nancy, from what you’ve told me, you have a good grip on genre, and suspense and thriller go hand-in-hand, both being sub-catagories of mysteries. An author’s brand is different. It’s made up of everything that represents you and your writing within your genre. What you should try to maintain is consistency and continuity within your growing brand. As I mentioned, everything from the image-matching of your website to your book covers to your blog, to you collateral material (bookmarks and other handouts) should present your writer’s image. Take a look at some of your favorite authors and see how they present themselves online. Good examples are James Rollins and Tosca Lee. Hope this helps.

  7. Excellent advice, as I’m launching a new series, but I want my readers to know it’s still “me” and I hope their expectations will be met. It’s not a new genre for me, but since I write mystery, romantic suspense, and have a few romance short stories out there, I’ve always tried to push “me” and not any specific book. I use my logo and tagline on any promotional products, my business cards, and of course, it’s on my website. I hired a new cover artist for the new series, but she was smart enough to look at all my other covers and keep my name in the same font and same place. All my covers have a “brand” feel to them, something one of my publishers ignored completely.

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