Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How I Became a Brand

By Andrew E. Kaufman

For a long time, I had difficulty getting my mind around the concept of author branding. I’d heard the term being bandied about a lot—probably for as long as I’d been writing novels—but for me, it seemed like some nebulous intangible. Crunch and Munch is a brand. Lays Potato Chips are a brand. Saltine Crackers too. But me? As a brand? I didn’t get it.

When I finally figured it out, I discovered that, in essence, the concept is pretty simple. Branding yourself is much the same as branding a product. It involves finding one unifying theme with which consumers—or in this case, readers—can identify you. Perhaps Theresa Meyers of Blue Moon Communications says it best:

Today when we talk about an author brand we are talking about building an image, perception or identity that is used to create "emotional Velcro."

Here are prime examples: Doritos, Pepsi, and Home Depot. As I mention those names, I’m willing to bet you're able to picture their logos in your mind and probably a few other commonly associated images.That’s what successful product branding does, but as authors, we can do much the same.

So once finally I got it, I began wondering whether branding myself as an author would actually benefit me. It turned out the answer was yes.

But not for the usual reasons.

I’d recently hopped genres, going from horror to psychological thrillers. It was a risky move. I’d built my audience from the former and was concerned they might not follow me to my new place on the cyber bookshelf. After giving it a good deal of thought, however, and weighing the risks, I decided I had to go with my heart and write what inspires me. So the next step, I figured, was to establish myself in that genre, to grow roots there. Branding myself as such seemed to be a logical move in accomplishing that.

Here's what I discovered in my quest to become a brand:

I found that branding really isn’t that complicated. In essence, it’s simply a way to make you and your books recognizable as one and the same. How do you do that? Visuals help a lot. Consistency does too. For example, if your website, your books, and your business cards all look like they were designed for different authors and from different artists—not so good. So the first thing I did was create a unifying theme or logo. In the interest of being consistent, it's a variation of my latest novel's book cover.

You'll find it on my website, my blog, my business cards, my email signatures, and just about anywhere else I can stick it. Why? Because it makes a statement, defines who I am, and tells people: “This is what I write.” I want readers to think of me when they see it, and I want them to see it a lot, hoping that eventually, it will become synonymous with me. The more they see it, I figure, the more familiar they will become with me and my work.

I also revamped my website to fit with the new theme. I tailored the overall mood and color scheme to match my logo as well as my book. In other words, everything is connected.

Some authors who write series use covers that follow a particular theme. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum is great example of this. You could remove her name and readers would still be able to identify them, not just because of the titles, but because of the overall theme. They're eye-catching, and they're unmistakingly "her".

Does branding help sell books? There’s really no way of knowing. One slice does not a pie make, and if I’ve learned anything in this business, it’s that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. On its own, probably not, but it does add to the overall picture and help readers to define who you are.

How about you? Authors, what have you done to set yourself apart from the pack and become a brand? Readers, does author branding make any difference to you?


  1. Branding for fiction authors is tricky business. Especially when you write in more than one genre. But you've done a great job. I brand myself with the tag "author of provocative mysteries & thrillers," and I use similar fonts/colors/themes in my book covers, website, and even Twitter page background. But I'm not sure how much difference any of this makes to readers.

  2. I really liked the phrase "emotional velcro" and I think it can be quite powerful with some readers. I think there can be negative effects of poor branding which is a whole other topic I guess. By that I mean imagery or colors that subconsciously turn off readers. I think of poorly designed web pages that are hard to navigate and within 5 seconds I'm like...yeah, no. The risk of negative branding makes this post all the more important. Good branding seems to be a topic that could be easily missed by new authors and I'm especially grateful that you've reminded me to audit my materials to ensure I'm presenting the "look" I want. Andrew has great imagery that really evokes emotion. I can tell that I'm going to be nail biting all night before even cracking the cover!

  3. Great post, Drew! I love the design you've chosen for your website, etc. - very effective! I think the branding is a great idea. Even using the same head shot (for a while, at least) makes us instantly recognizable. I like to wear red in my head shots, as I think it's an energetic, dynamic color, and I wear it a lot, anyway. I notice LJ is often wearing purple or mauve in her photos. Whether consciously or unconsciously, it helps others recognize her instantly. (And the color suits her!)

  4. Great post Drew.

    I've been thinking about changes in my branding lately so this post is really timely. I think with the move online, branding book covers, websites and blogs make a lot of sense so readers will (even subconsciously) connect you to your products.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

  5. Jodie,

    Interesting you keyed in on clothing. I tend to wear the brown jacket I've got on in my CFC photo whenever I go to a conference. I default to telling people "look for the big guy in the brown jacket" and that works. I didn't consciously do that at the beginning, but it is a habit now.

    I wonder how many extra people find me because they see me across the room.

    I know Mike Befeler does this well with his geezer hats!

  6. LJ: I've noticed the covers for your Jackson series have a unifying theme, and I think they're very effective. Especially with a series, it's a great idea to show a commonality so readers can easily identify them as such.

    Tom: I've come across poorly designed websites and it drives me crazy. This is your gateway, and if it isn't inviting, people won't come in. And yes, mood is very important. If you write suspense thrillers, you don't want a theme that screams out "cozy mysteries". And a word about templates: if you use them, be careful to choose ones that are appropriate.

    Jodie: I actually meant to mention head shots. I chose one I felt I could live with because I plan to keep it at least until my next novel is released. I agree, it's important be consistent with your image so people develop a sense of familiarity with it. I think it keeps the connection going.

    CJ, I agree. Branding is window dressing, but window dressing does attract shoppers, even if on a subconscious level.

  7. There's a subtle promise a reader receives when they buy a book by a favorite author with a cover that looks similar to the other books they've enjoyed.

    I love your new unifying theme!

    One comment on photos . . . do update them. Maybe not every week, but certainly for each new release. More than once I was completely unable to connect the likeness on the book cover to the person standing in front of me.

  8. I've never really thought about branding before, but now that you mention it... There are several authors that I think I would recognize without their names being on the cover.
    And I agree with Peg. Change the photos with each new release. Another thing, maybe not too much photo-shopping. I know everyone wants to look their best, but I think everyone should look like themselves.

  9. Andrew, you’ve made excellent points, as you always do. Branding is somewhat difficult for someone like me who writes nonfiction and fiction. As I often say, “my writing goes from flying angles to flying bullets, but usually not in the same book.” But there is room for both.

    Hardly anyone could have been branded more than my late husband, Don Pendleton, “the father of action/adventure.” The Executioner: Mack Bolan series of novels, since 1969, not only identify him as a best-selling author, but as the creator of a literary genre. I have tried to continuing his branding, through his website, his later mystery series, and keeping many of his books in print; and in addition, his Executioner series characters and spin-offs, have been franchised to Harlequin since 1980. So overall it is an international brand that has gone on for more than 1950s-60s-70s. I hope to keep him going as long as I’m around.

    I might note, when Don decided to publish nonfiction, his agent and publishers didn’t quite know what to do with him. But for him, and for me, and as you mentioned, Drew, sometimes it is more important to write what we want, and not what others demand.

  10. Hmmm...I don't know if I think about books or authors in this way--but I'm certainly glad to have another "product" in the psychological thriller market :)

  11. My brand is "author of mysteries and thrillers" and the Golden Gate bridge on my book covers and web site. I hear a lot about branding and I do agree it makes an author more recognizable and gives a professional impression of someone serious about their business. I use the same photo on my marketing materials and always have my picture on my business cards. Whenever I'm given business cards, I remember most the ones with photos and tend to keep those. Nice post, Drew.

  12. I agree with you Drew. Branding is important and difficult at the same time. I have struggled with this, gone back and forth a few times and have come to the same conclusion. Color scheme, as simple as that sounds, creates a mood. Most people don't sit there and read your blog or your website attentivelly. They glance at it. What they see should say what you write about.
    Fonts are important too. We all recognize Mary Higgings Clarke's books by her name font. Well...her daughter and her son use the same font!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.