Branding Yourself as an Author

By Elizabeth Heiter

As an author, or an aspiring author, your name or pseudonym is your brand. Just like any company that wants strong sales needs a solid, cohesive look, so do you as an author. And ideally, it’s something you should start thinking about before you sell.

If you’re wondering exactly what it means to have an author brand, consider this: What immediately comes to mind when you think of Lee Child? How about Jeffery Deaver? Or Lisa Gardner? Each of these authors writes thrillers, sure, but go beyond that when you think about them. Think about the themes or style or any particular element unique to that author. That’s their brand.

As a published author, everything you do furthers your brand. That means your website, your social media, and even your business cards should all give a sense of your identity.  As an aspiring author (especially if you attend writer’s conferences, which I highly recommend), you should have business cards to ensure that fans, other authors, agents, and editors remember you.

But how do you figure out your brand? And how do you use it once you’ve figured it out?

First, you need to analyze what you write. Think about your genre, because that will be your starting place. Then make a list: include all of the things that are consistent across your books. If you’re starting out, think about what most interests you and where you want to go long-term. What’s your sub-genre? What themes show up in your books? Think about strengths that critics have consistently mentioned when reading your work.

And here’s the key question: What’s your promise to your reader? Your promise may be that you will always offer high-octane action. Or your heroine will rely on her wits to bring down the bad guys. Or perhaps you’re writing about something you’ve done in real life, and you’re going to bring a special level of realism to your books. Your promise to the reader should become part of your marketing and branding strategy.

Now that you’ve found your brand, find ways to make readers think of your brand as synonymous with your name. Remember those instant impressions you had when I asked you about Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, and Lisa Gardner? You want readers to have an instant impression when they hear your name–and, just as important, you want readers to immediately think of your name when they hear ____ (fill in the blank: gutsy domestic suspense, over-the-top funny mysteries,  gritty police procedurals, etc.).

There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, but you’ll want to start with the things I mentioned earlier (website, social media properties, business cards, etc.). Do you write funny mysteries? If so, your brand might include brighter colors, wackier fonts, etc. Do you write military thrillers? If that’s the case, you might incorporate Army green into your website. Think about the tone and feel of your books and try to make your website match. Some authors even create a logo for themselves, often incorporating their initials into a unique, customized design.

If you write in more than one genre, find a way to encompass both genres in your identity, or create two separate looks. I write both psychological suspense and romantic suspense, but the emphasis is always on the suspense. My website has a thriller feel to it, and my tag line (the short line that is meant to encompass my writing in a concise, quick way) is: Strong Heroines. Deadly Villains. Killer Suspense.

Before I sold, I spent time thinking about my branding; once those first sales happened, I already had a tag line and concrete ideas about how to design my website. It helped put me ahead, especially because the time between that first sale to a publisher and the book hitting stores can be overwhelming. You’ll have to revise the book you sold, work on the next proposal, and get all of your properties (website, social media, etc.) ready. If you’re already on social media before you sell (good for you!), you can brand yourself early.

So spend some time thinking about what promise you’re going to offer your readers, and how best to identify yourself. And remember, the more you get your brand out there, the better.

Critically acclaimed author Elizabeth Heiter likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range.

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