Author Brand vs. Brand Identity
I get a lot of requests for advice on building an author brand, and up until this point, I haven’t touched the topic because it just feels so … big.
But it’s big because it’s important, so I’m taking the plunge.
And what better way to start talking about author brand than to first define it!
Let’s start with what brand is not:
Brand is not your social media following, or how “big” you are.
A lot of people get this wrong. Early in my career, I was told I needed to “build my brand.” It really rubbed me the wrong way, and it’s taken me a couple years, but in replaying those discussions over-and-over, I’ve finally figured out why it bothered me so much. What the people telling me to “build my brand”were really saying was that my chances of getting another book deal would be increased if I had more Facebook followers. They tried to equate brand with numbers, which does brand a serious disservice. Not to mention, it implies that your brand is only as strong as your reach, your worth as a writer/author only as good as your numbers. I call BS.
Brand is not a numbers game. It’s not about how big you are. I feel strongly about this. In fact, if you take only one thing away from this article, let it be that you are not your social media numbers, or even your sales numbers.
Yes, having a strong brand often means you have a bigger following, but not always! There are plenty of authors (and companies) who have clear, established brands but are relatively small/niche. Similarly, there are many big-name authors who don’t have a clear brand, but who have massive followings and sales.
Which leads me to some real talk:
You don’t need an author brand or a brand identity.
I know that sounds weird from someone who’s a big advocate for brand development, but the truth is, you can sell a lot of books, gain thousands of followers, and make a ton of money without much thought/effort into your brand. A great cover, an on-trend book, a low price point, and most especially, a large marketing budget, can go a long way towards getting you on the bestseller list!
So why bother building a brand? Longevity.
If your goal is to make thousands of dollars as quickly as possible and get into the Amazon Top 10–you’ll probably get there faster with a book priced at $2.99 or lower, an on “on trend” book cover, and a big chunk of advertising dollars, than you will the painstakingly slow process of building your brand.
If, however, your goal is to be an established, well-known author in thirty years, to have readers who are loyal enough to come along with you if you pivot genres slightly, or perhaps more importantly, who keep buying your books even if you increase your price point beyond the recent romance standard of $0.99 - $3.99, then think of your brand as the foundation upon which that long-lasting career is built.
The moral of the story:
There will always be a new, sexy romance available at $2.99 on the Kindle store.
But there will only ever be one Stephen King, James Patterson, Debbie Macomber, Sandra Brown, John Grisham, Sonali Dev, Robyn Carr, etc. You don’t necessarily have to choose between selling a ton of copies right now versus being relevant in a decade–plenty of writers do both. But it’s worth taking a moment, and thinking about whether you’re building your career to last, or if you’re only focusing on your newest/upcoming release.
For plenty of people, the longterm vision just isn’t a priority, and it doesn’t have to be!
If this article seem to be pushing for the “build an author brand for longterm career vision,” it’s only because that’s my personal path, and I fully admit to being biased. But I don’t take issue with authors employing a different strategy! To each her own, and I really mean that. It all comes down to you, and your goals.
Now that we’ve established what brand is not (your sales record or number of followers), as well as whether or not you need one (it depends on your goals), it’s time to make an important distinction, and the purpose of this article:
Brand vs. Brand Identity
They’re closely related, but not quite the same thing.
When we hear brand, most of us think: logo, colors, font. Think, Tiffany & Co and that iconic blue, or Nike’s “know it anywhere” swoosh. But actually? Logo, colors and fonts all belong under the category of brand identity. And I’ll touch on that later, but first …
If a brand isn’t about a logo and colors, what is it?
My husband and I run a web design firm for authors, and we often get potential clients coming to us, wanting help “building their brand.” But while helping authors discover their brand is part of the job, a design company can’t build a brand.
Brand isn’t about what you look like online. It isn’t about great graphics or a consistent color scheme. Brand doesn’t come from a designer, a publicist, or even a consistent cover aesthetic.
And, please brace yourself here, but,
Brand isn’t even about you, the author, so much as it your readers.
Weren’t expecting that, were you?
So what is author brand?
Your author brand is what your readers feel when they hear your name.
It’s not who you say you are, it’s who your readers say you are–it’s how they describe you to their friends and family, and their followers on GoodReads.
But wait! Don’t go thinking, "Well if it’s not about me, why would I even bother worrying about it?”
Because that reader perception–your brand–is based on your relationship with them. And that relationship is built slowly, over time, by you delivering consistency and uniqueness in your writing, your stories, the way that you present yourself, the things you talk about, and the way that you talk about them.
Your brand is your promise to your reader that they can count on you to deliver whatever it is they’ve come to expect from you in terms of story, writing style, communication style, etc.
It sounds like a lot, because it is–your author brand is the sum of all the feelings and impressions a reader has of you.
You want readers to have impressions of you. Why?
Because there are hundreds of authors whose books have a hot guy’s eight-pack on the cover. And the romance genre has priced itself to the very bottom, so there’s no way to compete on price anymore. In the long run, you need a way to stand out from the crowd.
The solution? Your brand.
How to build your author brand
Now, a note on the how: I’ll be getting into how to be intentional about your author brand in another post, but for those of you who need to know now about how to establish your brand, here’s a place to start:
Spend some time figuring out what you want your readers to feel about you, and how you want to be perceived.
Are you goofy? Relatable? Wise? Funny? Adorably awkward? Cute? Spunky? Delightfully old-fashioned? Quiet? Brilliant? Outspoken? Salty? Fancy? Sarcastic? Zen? Brainy? Amusing? Kind? Wellness-minded? Serious? Happy? Zealous? Confident? Witty? Positive? Charming? Ambitious? Productive? Reliable? Chatty? A little hard-to-get? Wry? Ballsy?
I’m not saying to manufacture some identity—the easiest way to maintain a brand is to stick with what’s natural and genuine.
Think about who you are, and then make sure that every interaction you put out there, whether it’s the tone of your tweets, your dedications in your book, the type of emojis you use in your comments (or even if you choose to reply to comments) reflects that message.
You can’t control your brand (meaning, you can’t tell readers what to feel about you or what to tell their friends about you), but you can influence some control over that perception, by knowing your brand message, and making sure your interactions align to that message consistently.
Um, Lauren, I’m really just here for some logo advice …
Gotcha. Okay, on to the fun stuff:
Your brand identity is all those things I told you your brand isn’t. The logo, the colors, the fonts, the graphics/imagery style.
Your author brand identity is everything that your readers can see—the consistent visual elements that help readers (or potential readers) recognize you in a crowded market.
And though I love a well designed brand identity as much as the next gal (I love me a good brand board!), consistency is really the name-of-the-game here.
When it comes to brand identity, consistency wins over wow every time.
Your goal with brand identity isn’t necessarily to make them consciously aware of the particular shade of pink you use on all of your graphics, but to use the same styles over and over and until people see a color/font/logo, and instinctively know it’s yours. This breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds trust. Trust means that there’s less risk in buying your newest release, which means more sales.
But, all that said, do you need a brand identity … no.
In fact, it’s damn hard to establish one as an author. Why? Two words:
No matter how fabulous your logo, no matter how diligent you are about putting it on every single graphic, and no matter how gorgeous your trademark color, chances are your logo and your colors aren’t going to play a role in your cover design.
Your logo may be a scripty-font in lowercase with a sassy little lime green heart, but your book cover might have your name in a basic font in all caps and a couple on a beach with a pastel color scheme. No script font or lime green heart to be found.
For this reason, plenty of authors don’t bother with brand identity, and I can certainly understand why–balancing your brand identity with cover recognition is hard. I’m still trying to figure it out! (especially for those of traditionally published authors who don’t get to design our own covers).
In fact, a lot of author design companies are advocates for the idea that your book cover is your brand identity. See: Fifty Shades of Grey and that tie, or Twilight and that apple.
And that can true.
For EL James and Stephanie Meyer.
And it’s not a bad plan, if your goal is to release a megahit that defines your entire career (I can’t stress enough that I am not poo-pooing this idea, I would love to have a megahit!)
But most of us won’t.
Most of us will do sort of well, hopefully pretty well, with a lot of books over the course of several years. Which brings us full-circle to that longevity discussion at the very beginning. In ten years, your book cover will be old-news. Heck, in ten years, there’s a good chance your book will have a new cover.
If you’re in this career for the long haul, you don’t want them to know your cover. You want them to know your name.
How do you get them to remember your name? Brand identity’s a darn good place to start.
How to develop your author brand identity
Developing your brand identity is a huge topic–one that I’ll tackle in another post (I know, I know, I’m such a tease!), but here’s a quick tip:
If you’re not ready to (or interested in) committing to a logo or a consistent color scheme, consider something as simple as using the exact same layout and fonts for all of your book teasers or Facebook ads.
It sounds like a small, pointless gesture, but don’t underestimate how visual people are, or how often visual cues can seep in at the subliminal level! In a market where there are literally millions of options, a reader having the vague sense that she knows/recognizes you from seeing your graphics floating around on Twitter or Instagram is a good thing.
Your author brand is the way readers describe you to other people.
Your author brand identity is what your readers can see–the consistent visual elements that help readers (or potential readers) recognize you in a crowded market.
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Whether or not you need either of them? Up to you. Remember, this is your career, your path. You get to call the shots!