Author Branding

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This blog post is geared toward writers/authors, but please feel free to read if branding & design talk floats your boat 😉

In all seriousness, I have a lot to say, and I *think* (hope) that it’s fairly useful for writers trying to find their way around the overwhelming task of creating a brand. What is a brand, and why is this all so important? I’m by NO means an expert, but I’ve learned a lot in the last six months.

Simply put, a brand is what your audience (readers) can expect from you. It’s not just your books, or stories, it’s what’s in them, it’s what makes you, YOU. Steven King’s author brand is easy to recognize. You know you’ll get scary, right? What about Jennifer Weiner? Her brand has feminist appeal, plenty of snark, and some heart. Name any well-known author and you can probably see where this is going. Think of musicians, artists, etc. We know what to expect because we recognize their brand.

(Graphic from Pinterest)

There’s a lot of great information online from smarter people than I on the subject. There are people who work on branding for a living. But what I can tell you as someone who has focused on her branding (and refocused after I got it wrong) is that there’s several important steps to consider, and you can’t rush it.

Okay, so brand = what your audience expects from you as a product (your books/writing), right? Think about that further with just one more example.

Nike brand = athletic apparel, sports, work-out, healthy living, kicking ass. Their logo, the infamous swoosh, is beyond simple. Yet you see it, you recognize immediately who it is from.

This isn’t just about smooshing all your branding into one simple symbol, however. It’s about how we use each element of our brand design to create a package that is intriguing, consistent, and genuinely us. Or you, or whatever.

Let me back up for just a minute. I promise to be quick. My first book was published, and my publisher chose a cover (which I liked very much):

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After that I then self-published a few short stories. My covers looked like this all together:

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You can see if you look at them all together that nothing really went. Yes, they all had my name. And perhaps a certain whimsy (for some) but that was really it.

Then, a few months ago I decided I better make a logo and business cards finally. I had been learning bits here and there about branding, and I knew I needed to get something set. I was dreading it because as much as I do enjoy creative design, art, etc., it was SO overwhelming narrowing down what I wanted. I went with something that I thought fit my “brand” of work- writing that is emotionally-charged, lyrical, simple-whimsical, and overall feminine in style.

Now that might still be confusing, but you know when you pick up one of my books you’re probably not going to get sparse, stark language, much violence, horror, or fast-action scenes. You will probably get slightly poetic descriptions, hopeful endings (in general), character-driven stories that often use flowers, nature, beauty, and a hint of magic (for most). Now, my branding is probably harder than some other authors because I write cross-genre. I have to create consistent branding between my poetry, my fantasy (both YA and adult), and my Women’s Fiction (one novel, and a short story collection). I totally lean toward fantasy writing, because it’s where my passion lies, but I can’t say ALL my stories contain elements of magic, so I have to do my best. It’s even more of a challenge when you consider my audience. I might have fans of my Women’s Fiction who HATE poetry. Every time I post a poem on social media, I risk them unliking my page (and therefore losing valuable marketing and visibility), for one example.

Anywho, it’s harder to create consistent branding in that case, but not impossible.

I read a fantastically helpful article about branding covers, and I want you all to go read it right now. Go ahead. Please.

Okay, now that you have, is it making more sense? After reading that I looked at all my covers, and was like ruh-roh. It looked like books/stories from four different authors! Truth be told, I’m still working on updating covers. But, after tweaking font, images, and other details, so far…

Can you see where the covers I am set with (so far) are all looking more cohesive? And do you catch the hint of whimsy, magic, femininity, lyricism in them? It’s okay that the colors vary because the most important thing here to me is the style & feel. 

I wasn’t done yet, however (still am not) because I still had my logo to contend with. As beautiful as it was, really, and as much time as I spent on it—I literally placed those floral elements piece by freaking piece—it wasn’t quite ME. I could go off on a whole tangent here about knowing yourself, and even at 34 I’m still figuring out my style and who I am, but I’ll just say not to rush it. Really decide when you’re looking at something if you just find it beautiful OR if it really represents you. It could be clothes, or home décor, or design, or anything else. Is it something you admire or something that truly speaks to you?

I went from this

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to a much cleaner, simpler this

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I’m so much happier with it. It feels like a breath of fresh air. My logo and branding is starting to really reflect who I am. I’m using this to make all kinds of decisions in my life and home, even. My wardrobe is a mostly-neutral set of black, gray, white, cream, with a hint of blush or lavender. It’s what I’m comfortable in. My home is eclectic but I’m finding much more peace in more minimalistic décor. I like things to be pretty, but not fussy. Feminine but not fluffy. Simple but not stark. Check out

My Author Brand Aesthetic Board

And my Instagram feed is reflecting this all, too:

And it’s definitely not accidental. I’ve worked really hard to be consistent, and the result is something that makes me happy every time I see it. It’s me, it’s my brand, it’s my work, my hopes, all rolled together.

Some of you may not be published authors yet, or you haven’t started really figuring out your brand. You may not have book covers to design, or Instagram feeds to curate. You may think this is too much work, and that I have no clue what I’m talking about. Eek. But the sooner you can get comfortable with your brand I promise the easier it will be. Who are YOU? What kind of work do you want to create? What do you want just the sight of your logo to say to future readers?

Simple ways to start:

  1. Think of 3 keywords that describe your writing. If you have trouble with this ask beta readers, friends, critique partners, etc. I polled people on my author Facebook page awhile back. There were several keywords that were repeated. This helped me focus in on what my readers see. But you also have to keep in mind what you want. Perhaps you only write cozy mysteries but you want to venture into erotic romance. You’ll need to design around the future of your work.
  2. Look at other branding boards. Seriously, just hop on Pinterest, search “brand design” and see how well people pull all the elements together. Save the ones that speak to you. Are you drawn toward funky, colorful branding? Soft, floral? Bold, simple? You’ll start to see a pattern of what draws you in.
  3. Pick a color palette you love. Not just colors you love, but a palette that works well together, and is soothing to you. That doesn’t mean bold colors are out, by any means! But pick colors that feel good to you deep down. If you wouldn’t wear them, or decorate your home in them, then you probably don’t’ really love them. Choose no more than six colors. Mine? Charcoal gray, soft white, muted sage, lavender-gray, blush pink, black.
  4. Look at logo designs. Again, save some that inspire you. What kind of fonts do you like? What don’t you like? What shapes are you drawn to? What elements?
  5. Check out your favorite authors books. Do their covers have anything in common? What is it about them that you like?
  6. Save images, photos, greeting cards, scraps of fabric, or anything else to a mood board for inspiration. If your brand is truly reflective of you as a writer, then the mood board doesn’t just exist as a way to design your brand, but as an inspiration for your work! If you like, do this digitally on Pinterest.
  7. Seek professional help, if you have the means. I did not, so I made my own.
  8. If you make your own logo, cards, etc. there are several great resources. I purchased images from Creative Market, got free ones from Pixaby, and then used Canva to create my logo for no cost. I paid for some of my book images, but others were free stock photos. I used Zazzle to make cards.
  9. Try to expand your branding design to beyond just business cards, logos, or book covers. Don’t neglect your website, your social media headers, your author headshot, bookmarks, and even giveaway packaging. Even the way you wrap books to ship them to lucky readers who win your books should reflect your design. I haven’t yet, but I plan to purchase birch-paper wrapping paper, and lavender-gray ribbon to wrap mine in. See how that just fits right in? 🙂 
  10. Finally, take your time. It can be easy to rush into it, because yes it’s kind of fun. But I spent HOURS working on my busy floral logo, printing 200 business cards, and making headers, only to find it wasn’t ME. So first, get to know who you are, take time with yourself, and your desires.

That was really long, but I hope informative! Please comment below and let me know where you are at with branding. I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks!

Amanda 

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The M Word (that’s right, marketing): 19+ Ways to Market Your Book

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Today I want to talk about marketing. I know. Blech, right? You have probably heard about the dreaded marketing once you publish your book, whether you’re traditionally published, or an indie author. The truth is it doesn’t have to be awful trying to get attention for your work! Uncomfortable sometimes? Yes. But the fact is you will have to market if you want to sell any books. I’m going to share some of the things I’ve done to market and promote my Women’s Fiction novel Ditch Flowers (Penner Publishing, 2015) and what I haven’t done. I hope by sharing my experiences it may help you understand and get comfortable with the many ways to market your own book.

WHAT I HAVE DONE:

  1. SOCIAL MEDIA: I feel like this should go without saying because it seems obvious in today’s world, but you need to get on social media, stat. I did before my book was even published. Even if you don’t have a book deal yet, get yourself out there. Make a Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest account. You can do Instagram, Tumblr, and more. You do not have to do all of these (because honestly, who has the time?) but pick at least two. I am a visual person, so I love Pinterest. I already had a personal FB so it was easy to set up an author page under my account. And then I ventured out and did one more out of my comfort zone—Twitter. Make a name for yourself. Even if it feels awkward promoting yourself before you have a book—it did for me, but I’m glad I had a “fan base” to celebrate with me once I did get that deal.
  2. BLOG/WEBSITE: This ties into the first point, and my advice is the same. Do it now even if you’re not published yet. Once I was published I went ahead and purchased my own domain name for an affordable amount, through WordPress. I suggest setting it up with your name. When people search for me, my website it one of the first, if not the first, things that show up. Blog about your experience with writing, your woes, and your successes. Someone out there will be reading it, I promise!
  3. AUTHOR PHOTO: In my opinion, it’s important to have a professional-looking photo on the back of your book, as your author profile pic, and to use in other things like newspapers. If you can’t afford a legit photographer (and some have mini-sessions for discounted rates), then ask a friend with a good eye to take your photo in natural light, in a few poses. You will probably end up with a nice photo of yourself.
  4. BLOG TOUR: This was set up by my publisher, so I didn’t have to do much but answer a few questionnaires and write a couple blog posts. But I think it helped to get my book release going. You can contact bloggers who review books if they’d be interested in reading your book. Often, you need to send an advance copy.
  5. ADVANCE REVIEWS: Again, this was mostly set up by my publisher through a review site, but I did ask a few friends and acquaintances to read my book before it actually came out, and to post their honest reviews on Goodreads and other sites. All you need to do is a send out a free copy of the book—digital or hard copy—to people you trust to read it, review it (and you know, not like send your book to a billion people).
  6. CONTACT LOCAL NEWS: I have had newspaper articles featuring my book release/author story because I contacted them. I called, I emailed, I pitched myself. If you have a local twist to your story, or can tie it in somehow to make it more appealing to the magazines and newspapers near you, all the better. Interviews are difficult for me, in that I really am not comfortable talking to strangers, let alone about MYSELF. But, I’m glad I did it. I know I got several sales from this publicity.
  7. BOOK SIGNINGS/EVENTS: Again, this was SO out of my comfort zone. I have done a few book signings and author events in the last year, and they do get a little easier. My worst signing ever was a grand total of four people, but you know what? Four is better than zero. I ended up selling an extra three copies to the bookseller and to a random shopper who wandered in before the event, so in the end, I had eight sales, and it was worth it. If nothing else, it helps to build connections when you talk to those in your community.
  8. COMMUNITY: Part of the perks of social media is you get a chance to connect with other writers, and readers. I have formed friendships specifically BECAUSE I am an author. I have met amazing people whom I probably wouldn’t have connected with otherwise, because we have writing in common. Also, it is a wonderful compliment when someone on Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever, tells you they loved your book, or that last article you wrote. It feels great to make a difference to someone.
  9. BOOKBUB: This was again on my publisher, as they set it all up, but the sales I got from my BookBub promo sale (.99 down from 3.99) were huge. I ended up becoming an “Amazon Bestseller” in four different categories. That’s nothing to sneeze at! If you get featured on the site, it will definitely boost your visibility!
  10. GIVEAWAYS: I’ve had several giveaways since I released Ditch Flowers, and just did a giveaway for my new short story The Peony and the Sun. I like giveaways (usually on Facebook) because they can sometimes bring people to enter that might not normally read your work. People like free stuff. They like entering contests. I recall doing a giveaway for DF a while ago, and the woman who won ended up giving me a fabulous 4 star rating on Goodreads, and became a beta reader for Peony! I’d say that’s definitely worth a few bucks for postage, and the discounted cost of a paperback.
  11. FACEBOOK BOOSTS: I’ve probably spent $20 total to boost posts, and my page on Facebook Ads. Sometimes it has seemed to help, with me reaching a much wider audience when I have news to share. Other times, I’m not sure it matters much. But if you want to try it out, wait for something news-worthy (like a sale, or book release, or news about an acceptance) and spend a mere $5 to see it reach more people. You may be surprised how many likes you get.
  12. BOOKSTORES/LIBRARIES: I am lucky to work in a library, and all I had to do was ask my co-workers to order and purchase my book. (A note for authors who aren’t librarians- you can ask, too! Sometimes they may say yes. They may say no. Ask then, if you may donate a copy instead.) My library ended up getting enough for a whole book club kit (13?) plus another 4 or 5 copies for the shelves. Every time I go through the stacks, I see how many copies are on the shelves at one time. Most of the time, there’s maybe one, or two. Frequently, they’re all checked out. And when I do see my books, they are curly-edged and dog-eared. They are well-worn, and I know they’ve been checked out by a lot of people. This makes me happy. I have reached a crazy amount of local readers just by having my books in a library. And because my library ordered it, and there were enough holds placed on it at one time, the other libraries in our library system HAD to order it. Whether they wanted to or not. HAHAHAHA. (Just kidding). But they did, really. That means I got readers in other communities and towns besides my own. I also called up several local bookstores- as far away as an hour+ from me, and pitched my book to them. I was ready with the ISBN, synopsis, and publisher info. This has resulted with many sales. Definitely worth it! Call up your local bookstores, or better yet, stop in with a copy of your book, and a short pitch. Breath slowly, stay calm. If you win them over, they may just invite you back for an event.
  13. BOOK TRAILER: I created a free book trailer with Kizoa. I found royalty-free images, and music, and after a couple hours tinkering with the layout and order, I had something I was happy with. I uploaded the video to YouTube, and it was as easy as that. If you’ve never seen book trailers before, check some out. They’re a great visual for books that help really set the tone for what to expect in the story. And then after you’ve watched a few, go make your own, and have some fun!

WHAT I HAVEN’T DONE:

  1. PAID FOR REVIEWS: There are notable review sites/magazines/journals which will review your book honestly, for a fee. I would rather not pay for reviews, but if you want to, go for it. I prefer to just beg my loved ones to take pity on me and review my stuff ::wink wink::
  2. CONTACTED BIG NAMES: I haven’t contacted any big media like national magazines, or sites, or celebs, to read and review my book. Why? I don’t know. It just seems like a waste of time. But maybe that’s my pessimism showing. If you have any chance of having the attention from one of these places, or a big-name celebrity, it definitely would be worth it to try.
  3. SPENT A TON OF MONEY: I think it’s rather pointless to spend a lot of money to market a book when I think we all know, most new authors are not getting rich on their books. Maybe when I have several books out, I can justify spending more to market, when the return I get is higher. As it is, five bucks here, ten bucks there, seems like plenty for now.
  4. PROMO MATERIALS: By that I mean bookmarks, fliers, postcards, business cards, etc. I haven’t because I’m really picky about how things look. I mean, really picky. One day I went on one of those websites where you can design your own stuff, and I was so overwhelmed by all the options, I just didn’t know where to start. Should I do navy blue with delicate font? Crisp white and gray? Should I have my own logo? It was just too much. But if you choose to do it, it’s affordable, and a great way to give people a physical reminder of your book. You can leave these things on the tables at book signings, or stick them in giveaway bags.
  5. AUTHOR NEWSLETTER: I know, I know. I have heard from multiple successful authors that having an author newsletter is crucial, but I also have that “can’t decide how to make it look, so I will just not to it at all” problem like with the above. I have a link on my website to a newsletter. I have an account with Virtual Response. I just haven’t had the time and patience to design an actual newsletter to my standards. If you are interested, there are a ton of sites to choose from to do this service for you.
  6. YOUTUBE VIDEOS: Besides my book trailer, which I did put on YouTube, I have not done any sort of videos there. I have watched cool authors talk about writing, publishing, and more on YT, but I personally don’t want to be alone on a video talking. Ever. But, if you’re braver than I am, and charismatic, and you have something to say, then you might give it a try!

 

The thing is with many of these categories there is no real way to know how many sales, reviews, or readers you will gain. It’s fuzzy. But you have to keep trying, is my point. I have worked my butt off to market Ditch Flowers, and I plan to do the same for The Peony and the Sun. Because generally, as much as we would like them to, books DON’T SELL THEMSELVES. You have to want it. You have to work for it, right?

The other super, duper important thing you must do if you want to sell your book, is to write more books. I think that’s the best advice I’ve personally heard. Time after time I hear you will sell more of book #1, when book #2,3, 4 are done. See, I’m still working on the “getting accepted” part, but I have a completed Middle Grade novel, and a completed short story collection. I’m querying for both now. And when I’m not querying those, I’m revising another new novel. And writing more short stories. Besides that, I sporadically submit poetry, single stories, and essays. You can’t be stagnant. You have to keep on keepin’ on. 🙂

So there it is. 19+ ways to market your book, and yourself as an author. Find what you’re comfortable doing, then push yourself to do more! Above all, keep writing. Write because you love it. The rest is just a bonus.

Thanks for reading!