It took me about a year to figure out how to brand myself as an author. This was after I decided to be a professional novelist. Before I figured it out, I worried about it almost all the time. After all, I used to work with non-profits and small businesses to create their web presence—a form of branding. I couldn’t figure out how to translate those principles to my own company. It just didn’t work. For example, a company has a mission statement and a logo. While I have a few reasons for writing and morals when it comes to being a writer selling a product, I couldn’t convince myself to put an official mission statement on my website. That just seemed silly! In the same vein, it seemed weird to develop a logo for myself.
Meanwhile, I read articles about choosing a genre and establishing yourself as an author of a niche. “How can I pick one genre when they’re all so fun?” I would wonder, staring at the screen. Picking one seemed more committal than a manwhore getting married. What if I wanted to write romance down the road? What if I decided horror was really my thing? I couldn’t very well keep changing genres.
The only thing I had going for me was a website: elizabethbarone.net. While I really would have preferred the .com, I made this place my home base for my books, news, and blog not long after deciding to work toward being a full-time author. I did very little to brand it, other than experiment with WordPress themes, and play with headers in Photoshop.
Then I stumbled upon an interview Joanna Penn did with CJ Lyons, who calls her books “thrillers with heart.” I liked the term immediately because it not only perfectly described her books, but gave her room to write in all genres. If she wanted to, she could even write horror under that term, as long as there was some heart in it. That got my wheels turning and then branding made sense to me. I didn’t have to pick a genre. I could write “drama with grit”:
stories powered by strong, intricate characters who are plagued by realistic problems and situations.
I took a look at all the things I’ve written over the years. At the core of every story is some kind of drama: something happens, creating conflict, and characters react to it (whether it’s an external or internal event). Calling myself a drama author, however, just sounded too soap opera-y (even though Sandpaper Fidelity does sort of walk the line). “Drama with grit” perfectly describes what I’m aiming for even when my stories are slice-of-life, but also describes my horror works like “A Maid’s Best Friend.”
Author Eric Dontigney summed up how an author can brand themselves:
You can’t really brand yourself as “the horror guy,” because Poe tops that list and Stephen King has a lock on that broad category for the foreseeable future. You might, however, be able to lock in a brand as the noir-horror guy or rampant technology horror guy. Narrowing down gives you a specific hook that readers can grab.
I found that you don’t have to get too narrow, though.
- Take a look at the things you’ve written. Jot down everything that stands out: reoccurring themes, character archetypes you like to use, similar settings, etc.
- Note the common denominator. Maybe your specialty is, in fact, characters with a crime record with arcs that eventually make them better people. Your hook could be “Ex-cons trying to do the right thing.”
- Sleep on it. Does it sound catchy the next morning? A week later? After a month? Don’t be afraid to tweak it.
- Use it across your platform.
Branding also includes the photo you use to represent yourself, the kinds of blog posts you write, and the social media you use and how you use it.
I have been using the same photo from 2009. I desperately need to update it, but I do use it across the board, helping readers become familiar with my face. (Let’s not even talk about how I have sunburn in that photo.) At the beginning of this year, I decided I wanted to write blog posts geared toward other indie authors and aim my newsletter toward my readers. I also decided that, instead of pressuring myself to sticking to a blogging/newsletter schedule, I would just write at least once a month, and as needed. Furthermore, I use mainly Twitter and Facebook. While I’ve tried other social media, I have found (and accepted) that I am most comfortable with these two, and decided to stop pressuring myself to do all of the other things. I’ve also decided that I’d rather spend more time writing than doing any of the above, so I am on both social media sites sporadically.
For more branding ideas, check out these videos by Shelli Johannes-Wells. (Note: For some reason, the video marked “Part 2 of 2″ is actually supposed to be before the one marked “Part 1 of 2,” or at least seems that way! I think someone at WriteOnCon goofed. If you’re new to this branding thing, you should probably watch them in the order I’ve embedded them. If you’re not so new, you can just watch the second, named “Part 1 of 2.”)
How have you branded yourself? If you haven’t done any branding yet, what are you most excited about starting?
Next: Why you need your own domain!