Your brand communicates how you want yourself or your company to be perceived overall, and often communicates it on an emotional level. A brand can usually be described using adjectives, like “modern & edgy” or “romantic & poetic” or “trustworthy & traditional.”
Here are some people with great personal brands: Steven Spielberg, Suze Orman, Martha Stewart, Nora Roberts, Tim Ferriss, Malcolm Gladwell, & Stephen King. Yes, those people are all famous, but they didn’t start out that way. They became household names not only because they are good at what they do, but because they consistently deliver what we want based on what they taught us to expect from them. There’s a reason someone can say, “it’s a Steven Spielberg movie,” and someone else understands what that means.
Most brands have visual elements that help consistently communicate their message, often know as a visual identity. As an author, your visual identity will be made up of things such as your book cover(s), your headshot, and your website design. A book cover design can certainly help influence a brand, but ultimately the author’s brand should accommodate their cover design, not the other way around.
One of the most important things I discuss with my author web design clients, especially new authors, is how they want to be perceived via their website. Often, some branding work has already been done via the book cover design process by the time I’m working with them, but what if they plan to author multiple books, and what if they want their brand to communicate more (or something different) than just what their cover art has to offer? It’s critical that we establish and communicate a brand as part of building their new author website, and this happens before we talk about anything aesthetic.
So, if you’re an author, especially if you’ve authored (or plan to author) books in different genres, how do you go about building a brand & what does it mean? Consider the following:
How do you want to be perceived? This should be fairly precise; think like you’re creating a tagline, not prose. Another way to look at this is, “when people hear your name, what do you want them to think?” Maybe you write only writer of medical thrillers so that captures you well, maybe you can’t get that specific so writer of inspirational fiction works better for you. Maybe you write non-fiction about meditation, so writer on meditation would work well. If your book is just one part of what you offer and your business is really education, then maybe human sexuality educator & writer is best. As you are coming up with your visual identity, including your logo, make sure everything communicates how you want to be perceived. Figure out what do you stand for, in the most simple terms, then embrace that identity.
What sets me apart? This is where you get into some additional details on top of how you want to be perceived & build credibility. After all, there are often lots of other people doing what you do best so it’s important to stand out from the crowd. So think about the reasons someone might want to read what you’ve written when they’re faced with a choice of what to read. Maybe it’s the setting for your books — do you bring it to life in a way that sets you apart? Or maybe it’s the way that you write about family relationships, or your creativity with future dystopias, or even the diversity of the kinds of books that you write, each with a sense of humor. This is especially important if you’re looking to have your book picked up by a publisher — if you can’t communicate to them what your brand is and what sets you apart they might choose someone else who can. After all, if you can’t clearly communicate what sets you apart, then why should they?
Who are your readers? After all, your success will be defined by how well you connect your work to those who will appreciate it the most. They can tell you many things about your brand. What else do they read? What have they come to expect from your books? What do they like & dislike? Social media has made it much easier to be in direct communication with your audience to figure these things out. What your readership has come to expect from you needs to be taken into account whether you’re in the middle of a series or making a departure from what you’ve already done. Understanding and managing their expectations is critical to your success.
Who is your competition? Competition might not be the word that you would choose to define them, but when it comes to shelf space (virtual or otherwise) your book(s) will be there along with the others in its niche or genre. You want to stand out not only because your cover design is amazing & communicative, but because you’ve done a good job of establishing yourself and your voice via your brand. If your brand communicates high quality (whether it’s fun, drama, horror, or anything else) and a consistent experience you won’t be forgettable. If there are authors you admire, give some thought as to how they manage their brands. What makes them stand out for you? And you don’t have to just think about authors: what about flimmakers, or actors, or entertainers.
And remember this doesn’t have to define who you are as a person, it only needs to define who you are as an author. Don’t feel as if you need to put yourself on display as anything other than what you’ve defined as your brand, and you might not need to use photos of yourself to do it, so don’t let that deter you.
Also, remember that your brand will evolve over time. Even huge companies with a large and loyal following change their brand as times and their products change. If you can figure out a common thread between your old and new work, that’s a great starting point. If you established yourself as a young adult fiction author, and are now working on some historical fiction you need to figure out how your brand needs to evolve to accommodate your new work or whether you need to create a new one (often the reason established authors write under a new pseudonym).
A strong brand gives you a starting point for everything that you do — if you’re building a website, for example, it establishes parameters for what to include (or what not to include) and how to include it. If you’re taking a new headshot it helps determine the tone of the photo. If you’re giving an interview, it helps guide what you talk about. Don’t rush it — do your research & spend time with self-discovery to figure out how to define what you do & why you do it, and then change it as needed over time!
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