In my previous post, I made the case why every author who wants to make writing a career needs to think about cultivating an “author brand.” To recap the reasons why include:
- Brands Are Sticky
- Brands Have Longevity
- Brands Influence Buyer’s Decisions
- The Most Successful Authors Have Brands
In today’s publishing industry, agents and acquisition editors are looking for more than just a good story; they’re looking for authors who either already have a brand or the potential to create one. Authors who have a brand become known by readers, agents, editors, and other authors. Authors with brands win more awards, get invited to engagements, sell more books, and get more marketing dollars spent on promotion by their publishers than other authors.
Okay, you have me convinced, but how do I build a brand?
To quote the Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” The beginning of building a brand is first understanding who you are and what you want your brand to stand for. It’s a more difficult thing to do than it sounds. Fortune Five Hundred companies often will attempt to distill their brands into a catchphrase or motto. For many years, Ford’s motto was “Quality is Job One.” Whether it’s true or not, that phrase is forever burned in my mind.
STEP 1 – WRITE AN AUTHOR CATCHPHRASE
If you think this sounds silly or irrelevant I promise you it is not. Just like you need a logline to pitch a book, the same holds true for an author brand. But rest assured, in most cases this is not something you’re going to actually share. It is meant to be a thought exercise to get you started and give you direction.
For an author, it’s a little trickier coming up with a motto than it is for a company, but the same principles hold true. I’ve never met Stephen King. I can’t speak for his catchphrase, but I imagine it’s something like, “I’m Stephen King and my books will scare the @*$& out of you!”
In general, your author brand should be tied to the genre that you write in. Here are some quick and obvious examples:
- “I’m Agatha Christie, and I write mysteries that will keep you guessing whodunit until the very last page.”
- “I’m Michael Crichton, and I write thrillers that change paradigms about science and technology.”
- “I’m Stefanie Meyer, and I write YA vampire novels that redefine the genre.”
It’s pretty easy once you try. If you have a Twitter account, chances are you’ve already done this when you populated your “bio section.” Take a few minutes now and give it a try.
NOTE: Even if you’re unpublished, I want you to write the sentence as if you’re already a big-name author. Brands think big, not small. Your motto should describe the author you want to be.
STEP 2 – PERSONALIZE YOUR CATCHPHRASE WITH MEANING
Once you’ve written your author catchphrase, now we want to expand it with something personal—something that is important about you and to you. The goal here is to establish an identity for your brand that expands beyond just your genre.
In my case, the personal elements that I promote are my veteran status and leadership experience. Here’s an example of how I would take my motto and expand it.
“I’m Brian Andrews, US Navy Veteran, Submarine Officer, and Park Leadership Fellow. I write kick-ass military thrillers with authenticity and action like no other.”
What happened here? Can you guess? I gave my catchphrase some legitimacy. My background and experience bolster my claim. The claim is audacious but also feels possible once I back it up. This step is important. Whatever professional history and life experience informs your writing, you need to harness that to give your brand credibility.
Don’t be afraid to be audacious—the world tends to ignore the meek and the quiet.
STEP 3 – OUTREACH
Step three is to connect with communities of like-minded authors, readers, and professionals…in other words—outreach. Once you’ve decided the essence of your brand, you need to start networking and connecting with groups of people who will both identify with and appreciate both you and your work.
My good friend, and fellow Career Author, Paula Munier writes mysteries with a canine element. Her protagonist, Mercy, has a working dog Elvis who plays a pivotal role in the series. Paula loves dogs and owns multiple different breeds. She’s experienced in handling dogs and writes with authority and knowledge. The canine element is an important part of Paula’s author brand, and she leverages it via outreach to people who love and/or work with dogs.
In my own case, I partner with another Navy veteran, Jeff Wilson, to co-author books as Andrew & Wilson. Navy veterans writing as co-authors has become a hugely defining part of our brand. Our outreach focuses heavily on the veteran and active-duty military communities. All of our novels are about active-duty or veteran military characters. In this way, our product aligns with our brand which in turn aligns with our outreach.
I cannot stress how very important it is to make connections with people who are similar to you and already investing in the same element of your brand. These are the people who are most likely to appreciate your books and tell others about you and your work. Discovery and word-of-mouth sales are fueled this way.
STEP 4 – MERCHANDISING
With the rise of affordable websites, storefronts like Shopify, and print-on-demand manufacturing you can create custom merchandise that you can sell to your fan base without having to buy in bulk, maintain inventory, or even handle order fulfillment. You can create t-shirts, mugs, posters, ball caps, and other products with your name or logo on them easily and make them for sale. You can also gift items to super fans, influencers, or simply people you want to meet or thank.
Jeff and I did this with our brand. If you’re interested in seeing an example of author merchandizing check out: www.andrews-wilson-gear.com
When people are wearing your name on a t-shirt or drinking coffee out of your mug at their desk, other people who’ve never heard of you can’t help but notice. Now, someone who might never have discovered your work has reason to ask about you and look up your books.
Merchandizing = Discovery
STEP 5 – CULTIVATE YOURSELF AS A SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT
Last but not least, don’t be afraid to advertise yourself as a subject matter expert in your field once you’ve become published. There are a limited number of outlets where an author can talk about their latest book. News outlets and podcasters want “more” than just another person who wrote a book on the air. Most of the time they’re looking for a hook. They want to talk to an author who can talk about more than their novel. They want someone who is knowledgeable in an area of interest to their viewers/listeners and someone who can carry on an engaging conversation.
Whenever possible, you want to be able to pitch yourself as an author and XYZ. This makes your brand more interesting and powerful.
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