With the epic growth of indie publishing, many authors find themselves struggling with how to differentiate their work in a sea of similar books. This presents a marketing challenge that can be difficult to overcome—impacting everything from the choice of cover design to deciding how to target digital advertising. In this post, we’ll look at using personal branding to bridge marketing gaps and build a loyal audience, practically on autopilot.
Of all the challenges facing authors, marketing may be the biggest. It’s intimidating and time consuming. It’s so multi-faceted that it gets confusing. In general, marketing is a huge pain in the … end matter.
One way to make marketing just a bit easier, though, is to put some time and energy into building a personal brand.
Just like Nike and Starbucks, you (as an author) are a business. You may be a company of one for a large portion of your career, but the mechanics of your business are essentially the same. You create a product (books) and you have a target market (readers), and to reach your customers you need to market your work. And, like Nike and Starbucks, you can use branding to help shortcut the marketing process.
To put it succinctly: Developing a personal brand will allow you to do some of your marketing by default. Establishing the “who” of your author business makes you recognizable, and being recognizable makes you more attractive to your potential readers.
So how do we build a personal brand? First, let’s take a look at what we mean by ‘branding.’
We encounter branding all the time, usually on a large scale. Nike, Netflix, Starbucks, Target—these are some of the more familiar brands, and when you think about them it’s a sure bet you have some sort of personal reaction. You may love or hate any given name on the list above, but you’ve heard of them. They’re familiar.
And chances are, because of this familiarity, you might tend to trust their products and services over a brand you’ve never heard of.
That’s how humans work: We gravitate toward the familiar.
Call it a hardwired instinct. At some point in our genetic history we learned that familiar things are usually better than unfamiliar things. Sticking to the same forests and hunting grounds means we know what to expect, we’re ready for the challenges, because we’ve seen it all before. We understand it. Venturing out into unknown wilderness means we’re at risk, and we must use more resources to keep ourselves ready to face any challenges that arise.
So, we have an instinct to stick to familiar turf, and savvy marketers leverage that instinct when it comes to branding. When we can make something as familiar to you as family, it removes several barriers to making a purchase. It increases the odds of success, which is what marketing is all about.
As with a lot of things in the marketing work, if it works for large corporations it can be scaled down to work for you.
In one of his Masterclass lessons (Lesson 19: Marketing the Patterson Way), James Patterson mentions that “bizarrely” there is a Harvard case study about him.
“I think one of the things the professors found interesting,” Patterson says, “is that they can write about me as they write about Coca-Cola—as a brand.”
And he’s right. Of all the authors who regularly parade their work across the New York Times Bestsellers List, few are as immediately recognizable as James Patterson. Whether you’re a fan of his work or not, if any author has a philosophy worth listening to, when it comes to personal branding, it’s him.
And his position on the subject is straightforward:
“Look, not that I know everything about brands, [but] here’s what I think a brand is: A brand is a relationship between a product (or in this case, me) and the customers. It’s just a relationship.”
This idea of “brand as relationship” is a useful way to think about author branding, because it keeps in mind the importance of the customer—your readers—in how you approach your marketing, as well as your career.
Let’s look at this in a practical example.
The gold-standard advice that all indie authors get, essentially from day one, is “build a mailing list.” While it’s true that not every successful author (indie or otherwise) falls back on a mailing list for promotion, it’s a tool that has helped numerous authors go from obscurity to making a living with book royalties. And if you were to poll successful authors who use a mailing list as part of their marketing strategy, most would tell you that the best use of a mailing list is to engage with your audience on a personal level.
This doesn’t mean sharing overly personal information, or revealing the goings-on of your daily family life, but instead means that you use your mailing list for more than merely blasting an audience with sales pitches. Successful marketing with a newsletter involves techniques such as ‘open loops,’ which are meant to prompt readers to respond to your email to answer a question or provide feedback. Using questions or supplying writing samples or just being open to readers hitting ‘reply’ on your emails is a part of engagement, and makes your marketing feel more personal. That personal connection makes all the difference.
Nurturing relationships in this way can be a great start for building yourself up as a brand, which makes you more relatable, memorable, and even attractive to your readers.
“Just Do it.” “Have a ____ and a Smile.” “Have it Your Way.” “I’m Lovin’ It.”
Chances are you can name the brand from all four of the above taglines. They’re familiar to the point of being part of pop culture. They’re also catchy—short, quick, punchy bits of copy that stick with you, especially once you’ve associated them with a brand or product you love.
As authors, one thing we can do to help build a base of loyal readers is to make ourselves more memorable. A tagline can help.
The origins of taglines are buried in history, but they’re a time-honored tradition from the advertising and marketing world. In a sense, they’re a bit like one-line poems—catchy sayings that get the customer’s attention and make them take notice. Humans love encountering clever sayings that sum up a concept or feeling or experience in just a few words.
Taglines have helped propel brands into public consciousness for decades, and they can do the same for you. Not only should you have taglines for your books, to help in pitching your work to readers, but having a tagline for yourself, as an author, has its benefits, too. Being able to sum up the type of writer you are, and the type of books you write, in just a single line, can help win over a reader fast. It’s the start of a beautiful relationship.
The secret to a good tagline is to evoke emotion in the reader (or listener). You want to create associations for them, tell them the type of experience they’ll have with your product (your books, in this case), and make the line so memorable that they’ll keep the association top of mind any time they hear it or read it. You want a tagline that makes readers think of you, every time.
Here are three tips for creating a tagline for yourself:
Once you have a tagline, use it everywhere. Put it on your business cards, your website, your Facebook and Twitter profiles, and your email signatures. Say it to people any time they ask what you do, or what kind of books you write. Make that phrase synonymous with your work.
As you write and publish more books, adding to your body of work, one thing you’ll want to pay close attention to is consistency. For example, you will want all your covers to look like they come from the same author, so they should share certain design characteristics. The font for titles or for your author name, the same general layout, the same range of color tones (even if you’re using different colors you can keep your tones in the same family). If you use a quote at the top of your book, use one at the top of every book. If you include a photo of yourself on the back cover, use it on every cover. If you slant your book titles, slant them on all your books at the same degree.
If you write cross-genre, you’ll want each genre to have its own look, but remain consistent across the board. You can do this by choosing different art styles, title fonts, and “extras” like quotes or bestseller status, etc. for each genre, but keep an element such as your author name consistent from book to book. Or use the same general layout. Pick something that ties all your work together, so that readers instantly recognize it as one of your books.
Beyond covers, consistent branding requires connecting all the various components of your brand presence in a way that’s instantly recognizable as “you.” This means using colors, photos and imagery, logos, and verbiage that remain consistent across your website, social media pages, and printed marketing materials. Readers should be able to hop from your Facebook page to your website and know just by looking that they’re dealing with the same author.
This seems like a simple rule, but it gets broken often. The good news, though, is that it’s typically very easy to bring things back in line. The right background photo or even profile pic can do it in an instant.
The benefit of personal branding is that it helps to shortcut the decision-making process for readers. Once you’ve won over a reader you won’t have to spend as much time nurturing them in the future. Creating familiarity and a personal-feeling relationship with that reader will do most of the marketing work for you. It’s almost like putting your marketing on autopilot.
Just remember: Your personal brand represents how you want the world to perceive you and your work. So make sure it fits with the you that you really want to be. You’ll have a much easier time if your brand fits you like a nice set of tailor clothes, rather than forcing you to take a new shape every time you pull it on.
In other words, be yourself. Be authentic. Be the you that your readers will love. The rest takes care of itself.Share on Twitter Share on Facebook