How Many Brands Can an Author Have?



Last week I wrote about the re-launch of my first series, co-authored with Tracie Peterson. City of Angels, Book 1 in the Trials of Kit Shannon series, is now available for the intro price of $2.99 on both Kindle and Nook.
Which raises (not begs!) the question: can an author today have several brands?
Back in the “old days” (like, before August, 2010) branding was a key concept in the traditional publishing world. Still is, actually. That’s because a publisher trying to make money with an author has to build a repeat readership, and that’s done over time, book by book. 
Take a hypothetical author. Let’s call him Gil Johnstrap. He comes out with a terrific first novel, a thriller about a boy on the run from the law. A fan base starts to form and they eagerly await his next book. If that book were to be about a horticulture competition in Surrey, England, circa 1849, they would tend to be confused and frustrated. They might decide to skip the next Johnstrap because they’re not sure what it contains.
So Gil and his publisher come out with another thriller, this one about a family on the run from the FBI. Fans buy it and are happy. They start spreading the word to other thriller fans about this Johnstrap fellow. The growing base looks forward to the next thriller. And so it goes.
Now, if an author becomes overwhelmingly popular, like a King, Grisham or Patterson, they earn the right to try, on occasion, something “off brand.” King might write about a girl lost in the woods. Grisham about a painted house. Patterson about whatever the heck he wants—I have a feeling his parking tickets would sell a million copies.
But the publishers will insist on getting “back on brand” with the next book, because that is the bread and butter for them, the guaranteed sales.  
Cut to: today. And e-publishing. What is the state of branding now? Let me start with my own experience.
I have been writing contemporary suspense, like the Ty Buchanan series for Hachette and Deceived for Zondervan. I’ve now augmented those books with novella/short story collections I’ve self-published. These all fall into the suspense category, so they are complementary. They make new readers for the traditional work. Everybody wins. 
I’ve self-published a couple of boxing stories, because I like writing them. These make me new readers for the rest of my work, too. They do absolutely no harm to the print brands. Plus they bring in nice-dinner-with-my-wife money each month.
I write zombie legal thrillers under the pen name K. Bennett for Kensington. I plan to augment these with short, paranormal stories. These stories will make new readers for the novels. Once again, both publisher and author win.
As mentioned up top, I’m re-launching the historical romance series featuring Kit Shannon, six books in all. I daresay the readers of the Kit Shannon books may find the Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law books a tad “off brand.” But that’s okay. Two different audiences, but with potential cross-over. And no harm, no foul to either brand.
I do non-fiction for Writer’s Digest Books. I support those books with articles for Writer’s Digest magazine, my regular Sunday column here at TKZ and on Twitter (where I’ve also developed a strategic brand). Again, everything working together.
So: Can an author today juggle several brands?
My answer: Not only can, but should.
Branding in the days of print-only was partially determined by physical shelf space and seasonal purchases. An author could not come out with several different titles at roughly the same time. Bookstores wouldn’t buy. And they’d be a bit confused. If Gil Johnstrap did write that horticulture novel, A Garden in My Heart,would it be placed on the thriller shelf next to his other titles, where fans would look? Or on the romance shelf? Or in “Gardening”?
But there are no such limitations in the digital world. All books are “shelved” cover out. Digitized books are given, via algorithm, space next to similar books. A reader can find new authors in a genre this way. Quite easily.
An author can distinguish between his brands via cover art, book description, tagging, and even a pseudonym.
John Locke, poster boy for self-publishing success, writes contemporary thrillers and Westerns. Just like Robert B. Parker did after he became a household name with Spenser.
As I said a couple of years ago, this new e-publishing era is a lot like the old pulp fiction days. I look back at a Depression-era writer like Robert E. Howard. He wrote stories in the fantasy, horror, detective, western and boxing genres. All of ‘em. And made a living. That can be done again, now, in today’s e-world. It’s a great time to be a writer who loves to write.
There is only one fly in this ointment: a traditional publishing contract with a boilerplate non-compete clause the publisher is determined to enforce. I know some writers in this predicament. And while I understand that publishers are undergoing paradigm shock right now, this is not the best reaction. Publishers should be willing to re-negotiate these clauses so their writers can earn extra income and make new readers without harming the brand they are creating together.


Publishers who make an investment in an author do deserve consideration and protection. They deserve the author’s best work (non-diluted by overwriting). And they are entitled not to wake up one morning to find their author selling a novel in the same genre for 99¢. Authors need to appreciate the harsh business reality of traditional publishing. 
All that said, I see no reason why writers cannot be strategically developing different brands for their digital platform, and have fun doing it. Nor do I see a reason for publishers to resist sitting down with author and agent and hammering out contractual language that is fair to both sides on this matter.


Now I’m going to run a warm bath, put on some Yanni and relax with A Garden in My Heart.

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Have you been branded?

By Joe Moore

Yesterday, my blog mate, Kathryn Lilley, discussed market research and why consumers choose one product over another. To continue Kathryn’s theme, I propose the question: Why are people 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, that’s for sure. But I believe one of the biggest factors in motivating a 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 whooperthey found something that people like and they keep repeating 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.

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. 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 16 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, 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 will pay for itself in the long run.

flynn2 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.

A great example of this is Vince Flynn. He not only delivers a consistent level of quality in his writing and stories, but when flynn1he appears in public as “Vince Flynn the author” for a signing or conference, he acts out the part. His physical brand is obvious: jeans, shirttail out under a sports jacket. In person, he looks like his cover photo. Remember that the first physical connection a reader has with an author is the photo on the back of a book. That portion of the personal packaging had been set in the readers mind. One day that reader/fan will be at a book signing and in walks the author. The reader has a consistent level of expectancy in all things concerning the author’s brand. If the author understands that, it should all come together. They immediately relate.

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?

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