A lot of authors groan when they hear the words “author brand.” In those words, they hear not only more grudging marketing work, but also disingenuous and curated self-promotion. But what if I told you that you're already managing your brand? Like, right this second. That your last book release was about your brand. And so was your last social media post, your last email blast, your last interview.
Many authors have the misconception that branding has to be invented. In truth, the best branding is that which aligns to your own personal values and the kind of writing you do. Branding is simply about ensuring that those values are reflected in your work, on your social media, and in all your marketing and promotional campaigns. Too often, authors who haven’t thought much about their brand post whatever ideas fly into their heads without stopping to ask themselves if their message is in keeping with who they are and—more importantly—how they want their readers to see them.
“Your brand is you,” writes Nina Amir in 6 Branding Tips for Writers and Authors. “It’s a way to help readers know you—authentically. You aren’t creating some fake ad or new persona. Your brand helps readers understand who you are and what you and your books stand for—and what type of books you write. That makes it easier for them to decide to purchase those books. That means your books will get read. And that’s the ultimate goal.”
The issue of politics, for instance, is a great example of how branding can help you identify not only your values but also your readership. For some authors, politics doesn’t belong in their writing at all. In that case, politics likely doesn’t belong in their author brand either. For other authors, their politics are revealed or reflected in their writing: the worlds they build, how their characters move through those worlds, and how a story evolves. For these authors, incorporating their personal politics into their author brand might be an effective way to reach readers who’ll be interested in their work.
Branding isn’t about logos or slogans but about who you are, how you want your readers to see you, and how you want to connect with them. If you’re just getting started on your author brand, make a list of what parts of yourself and your writing you want to share with your readers. What will you be writing? Does your work have any central themes or unifying characteristics? What sets your work apart from others’? Who are your readers, and who would you like to have as your readers? How much do you want to share with your readers and fans?
If those questions seem overwhelming, take the opposite approach—sometimes it’s easier to start off by identifying who you don’t want to be. You may wish to be transparent, but how transparent? What lines do you want to avoid crossing? How do you be authentic with your readers without alienating them? By identifying and defining your boundaries, you’re starting out on solid footing.
Especially for authors who use social media, being kind is one of the most important aspects of branding. As Mark Coker says in Seven Author Branding Tips, “Don’t pee in the pool. Be a nice person. No one likes mean, inconsiderate people. Publishing is a people business. Authors’ brand perceptions are shaped by every interaction—online and offline—that they have with readers and fellow publishing industry professionals. Be the author who contributes sunshine, helpfulness, and gratitude to the party. Be the author others want to elevate.”
Remember also that this guidance applies to how you treat yourself. While every writer has doubts and moments of frustration, look for ways to be honest with yourself without being mean. It’s validating to get encouraging feedback from your fans, of course, but feeling good about yourself and your writing starts with you. If you’re struggling, try to find support from friends, family, and mental health professionals who care about you and have your best interest at heart.
Branding is most successful when you think ahead, plan, and strategize. “Although it’s possible to build a strong brand by accident, most bestselling indie authors get there with deliberate planning and execution,” says Coker. “Each author’s brand is found at the intersection of the author’s true capabilities and his or her desired brand perception. Authors must visualize what they want their brands to represent to readers, visualize the experiences that their books will deliver to readers, visualize the legacies they want to leave with their writing, and be accurate in their marketing claims.” By looking ahead and making a plan, you can increase and strengthen your branding efforts.
Honesty and ethics are essential to a good branding strategy. That means no playing dirty: don’t misrepresent anything in your book’s marketing materials or on social media, and don’t do anything dishonest with your reviews. “Without ethics and honesty, it’s impossible to build reader trust,” points out Coker. “We’ve all heard stories of authors who cut ethical corners, like paying shills to give them artificially glowing reviews. We’ve all seen or read authors who promised one thing with their covers, book titles, or book descriptions but delivered another. Such actions sully an author’s brand. We remember these authors for the wrong reasons.”
Be Excited (Even When You Have to Force It)
A chum of mine recently published a book of short stories, and she is constantly happy and grateful about it. When you’re excited about your work, other people will be, too. Excitement is contagious. And excitement is what ultimately propels someone to read your book, write a review, recommend it to others, and more. Every writer at times feels doubt and anxiety and fear, but tapping into a little enthusiasm and hope, even as you speak aloud your fears, can remind you why you’re writing and why you’re publishing. When you feel excited, you don’t just share your joy with others. You reinforce it for yourself and build the resilience that’s key to long-term writing success.