Grace A. Johnson
Marketing Q&A Pt. 3: Author Brand
*stares at the above graphic* OMGOSH THE FALL VIBESSSSSSSSS!!!!!! *sighs*
How's it going, my lovelies? I know it's been a while since my last Marketing Q&A post (whyyyyyy am I so stinkin' behind?????), but I am SO excited to talk all about one of my favorite things (*cough* everything marketing is my favorite): AUTHOR BRANDING!!!
For those of y'all who don't know, your brand is, in a nutshell, the image you (or your business) presents to the public. That's everything from your logo and slogan to your brand mission and unique aspects of your product.
Think about some of your favorite authors, clothing brands, foods, stores, literally anything. Not only would you recognize their content/products anywhere because of their logo (and stuff like color schemes, distinct sounds and jingles, specific products, etc.), but when you recognize them, you don't just think of a company: you think of an experience. An entity. Something that means something to you and carries individual connotations - everything from customer service to quality to sentimental memories.
That's called branding. When every item and aspect of your company comes together to create one cohesive statement, vibe, impact, and experience for your customer.
Or, in the case of an author brand, when you, your books, your website, your social media - everything about you, your work, and the content you put out - creates a seamless experience for your readers and followers and fits one cohesive personality!
So, let's dive into these fantastic questions!!!
How do you balance marketing your author brand and writing?
Ha. Ha. Ha. Let’s just say I don’t balance anything. You’re supposed to manage your time and stay consistent and be creative and…stuff like that. I just try to survive.
Anyway, truthfully? Your author brand and your writing should be interwoven, so marketing your brand shouldn’t be any different than, well, sharing about your writing!
It’s balancing the sharing with the actual doing that can be a struggle, so let’s start with three simple ways to make that easier.
Find a time that works for you. Do you write best in the wee hours of the morning? Or late at night? Can you carve out some time for a blog post or social media post during the afternoon or before lunch? Play around with your schedule to see (1) when you have enough time to complete your tasks, (2) when you can focus on those tasks, and (3) when your creativity flows best. Then when you’ve found those windows—the quiet, calm one for writing and the efficient one for marketing—work in that timeframe.
Better yet, find a month or a season that works—not just a time of the day. Do you write your entire book during NaNoWriMo in November, spend the winter revising/editing, and then have the summer free? Then work with that! Spend your summer batching content—which is when you’ll go ahead and write, photograph, organize, etc., everything you’ll need for a set amount or period’s worth of posts. Or, in the same vein, if you’re in between projects or in that waiting season between The End and editing, use that as the time to launch a marketing campaign or start up a new platform!
Keep your priorities straight. Right now, writing is the very, very last thing on my list. I’m in the middle of a launch and have a half a million other non-writing things to do—so that’s what I’m prioritizing. As much as I want to start writing seventy-five new novels, I’m focusing on marketing BAD. You do the same! If finishing your book so that you’ll have something to market is the most important, write. If you’re not really settled on a project but have several backlist books, market. See what I mean? Don’t force yourself to spend all your time, energy, and resources on one thing that isn’t as important in that moment, when you could be focused on what is.
Use high-maintenance and low-maintenance marketing tactics accordingly. For example, an ad on Amazon is low-maintenance, because once you get the ad up and running, you ain’t gotta lift a finger. On the other hand, a social media campaign is a lot more high-maintenance, because you’ve got to put together the posts, share them, engage with your followers, etc. So when you find you have more time to hang around social media or post often on your blog, do it…but make sure you’re doing something when you don’t have time that makes up for it. You know?
REMEMBER WHAT MARKETING IS. As much as we wanna think it’s these specially-curated commercials for books with knife sets for only $99.99 if you call the toll-free number today (*coughs* oddly specific), IT’S NOT. I mean…it can be…but it’s also just you having fun, making friends, sharing about your passions! Instead of viewing marketing as a chore or specific task, just enjoy putting out content readers love, gushing about your book, and hanging out on social media! Your blog post doesn’t have to be full of call-to-actions and backlinks and whatever. It can simply be you sharing what you wrote recently, or some art you made of your character, or a fun idea you had, or a recent read you loved. And that’s enough.
So maybe that helps. Who knows? *shrugs* Just keep in mind that marketing your author brand is virtually the same as existing and sharing about your writing. Your brand is who you are (a reflection of your identity, at least), so just be yourself everywhere you are and leave your mark on every platform and in every post!
How do you find your author brand?
That’s the thing. Everyone finds it in a different way. For some people, it’s a no-brainer that’s glaring straight at them. For others, it takes a lot of digging and developing.
Whenever I start developing a new brand, I follow these steps! Maybe they’ll give you an idea of where to start!
Step 1: Ask yourself…who am I? What do I do? What makes me as a person unique? What makes my writing different from every other book out there? What am I passionate about? What’s my mission?
These questions (and more) will prompt you to truly discover who you are and what your brand is. Don’t be afraid to get deep and introspective!
For me, I am a teenage Christian romance authoress; I write romances that glorify God and give hope to readers; I’m an old soul who’s passionate about passion and purity, and who wants to bring the values of yesteryear to the culture of today; and my work reflects that by being grounded in scripture and full of adventure and passion.
Step 2: Once you’ve jotted down the answers to these questions, list several keywords. They could be simple and generic—i.e., storyteller, romance, adventure, fun, unique. Or specific and tailored to you—i.e., galactic, sunshine, winsome, high-octane. They could describe your writing style—i.e., fresh, creative, immersive. Or sum up your mission—i.e., pure, God-honoring, inspirational.
And these keywords don’t even have to be used in your tagline at all; they just need to help you understand and capture your brand in a simple, concise way. Your keywords may be “suspenseful” and “thrilling,” but your tagline may end up being “Don’t forget to hold your breath…” (Brandilyn Collins’ tagline, btw.)
Whatever words you choose, and whatever your tagline ends up being, it should completely encapsulate and explain to your potential readers who you are and what you write. It should embody your work and immediately transport readers into your world before they even crack open your book!
For example, my tagline (right now) is “Romancing the Ages.” It’s basically a mission statement, sums up my genre in three words, and gives readers an idea of what my work is. I’m considering changing it, though…and that’s exactly what you should do! As your style and stories change and evolve, don’t hesitate to change your tagline! Not everything can be as timeless as “Passion with a Purpose” (Julie Lessman’s tagline), so it’s perfectly all right if you feel like changing it. Just make sure it’s still flexible but recognizable!
Step 3: Create a Pinterest board. (You don’t necessarily have to use Pinterest if you don’t want to, but I’ve found it works best for keeping everything organized and accessible!) Now, you can fill your board with whatever you like, but I recommend going with vague images and specific vibes. A specific vibe might be California, beachy, summer, retro, but your images don’t all have to be books and typewriters. You can throw in everything from cars to cacti, as long as it all fits your theme.
On that note, your theme should be centered around your personality and/or the personality of your writing. If you write gritty WW2 fiction, a colorful anime theme ain’t gonna cut it. If you’re a broody hermit writer, but your site is covered in sunflowers and smiley faces, you might wanna rethink the image you’re hiding behind projecting.
I recommend pinpointing two or three key elements of yourself/your writing. For me, that would be vintage and romantic. From there, I can search for “vintage books,” “historical romance,” “romantic academia,” and the list goes on. Not only will that capture my hopeless old soul personality, it also captures the vibes of my historical romance!
Step 3.5: Create a moodboard. This step is optional, but I create a moodboard through Canva using free stock images based on the ones I found on Pinterest, so that I can use those on my website/blog/social media. However, the main goal of a moodboard is to find your key fonts and color palette. I recommend finding two fonts—one plain, the other more fancy—and three to five colors. In my case, I use a beige/pink and a light green on my website, along with the fonts Mistrully and Glacial Indifference. I consider these part of my brand, although I do use two different fonts and a much wider variety of colors on my Instagram.
I recommend staying consistent but unique for each platform. Your brand should be recognizable no matter where you are, but throwing in a few unique elements for each platform will make your followers/readers experience feel different and more personal.
Step 4: Create your logo. According to your selected fonts and colors and vibe, it’s time to design (or purchase or commission) a logo! The simpler and easier to recognize, the better. A big or gaudy or chaotic logo won’t serve its purpose. And one that is too vague or similar to others won’t stand out and communicate who you are.
Instead of going with the usual book, pen, or typewriter, I actually had a friend of mine who is an amazing artist draw me a sword with roses around it, which combined the intense action-adventure aspect of my pirate books with the gentle, sweet romance! Unique, recognizable, simple, and versatile.
Incorporating an element that is uniquely you and tied to your work will take your logo over the top!
Step 5: From here, you go into actually launching your brand—designing or buying a custom website, incorporating your brand elements into your social media, getting business cards or stationery. Since you’ve already determined your personality, tagline, aesthetic/theme, color palette, fonts, etc., all of this will be easy as pie!
DON’T FORGET: your brand is a reflection of you and who you are. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. It’s you—and that’s what makes it important and unique!
How do you decide on an author brand that's both unique and true to yourself?
Well, there is the list of steps I provided in my answer to Issabelle’s question, but let’s try a different angle this time.
Say you’ve been considering your brand for a while, and there are so many things you wanna do and try and so many aspects of yourself and your work that you could incorporate. Unfortunately, doing everything all at once would be too convoluted and messy and just be entirely ineffective…so you’ve gotta settle on one thing.
For example, I’ve got three different brand ideas that could potentially fit me in some way.
A moody dark academia vibe that screams Edgar Allen Poe, and Shakespeare.
A light and romantic aesthetic that is reminiscent of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.
An epic nautical/pirate theme that reflects my current books.
Here’s the thing, though. Each of these vibes (themes, aesthetics, whatever) are amazing and totally fit a part of me. Only a part. Sure, I write pirate books, but that’s not gonna last forever, and that’s not a huge part of my actual personality. Sure, I love dark academia, but I’m not that broody and dark. And, yes, I absolutely adore Austen and romance, but I also try to include lots of grit and action in my work.
SO, I combined these three into one overarching theme (and therefore brand), because each represented a certain aspect of myself and my work.
To decide on a unique and true-to-you brand, either follow the above example (come up with three ideas, pick the elements that fit you best, and combine them into one totally original brand) or simply focus on the core of your personality, favorite things, writing style, all of it! Even ask your friends and family what fits you best and what words they would use to describe you. Put together a document or journal, Pinterest board, playlist, the whole nine yards, to keep track of things that relate to you and the image you want to present to your readers/followers!
The bottom line is whatever truly fits you and reflects who you are, what you do, and why you do it is the best brand for you!
(Note: I focus on a more visual side of branding—i.e., aesthetics, logo and web design, etc., but there are SO many other elements! I feel like those fall in line once you figure out the visual aspects, though.)
How do you find your "edge" when it comes to your author brand (especially when you feel like everything else has already been done or taken)?
You are your edge, dude. You are your brand, and that can never be done or taken. So when you feel like your brand has no defining personality, go back to the root: you. Look at yourself and what sets you apart from other people. Consider your personal values, experiences, background, convictions, callings, etc., and apply all of that, every aspect of yourself, to your brand.
Take a look at the authors you know and love. What sets them apart? What makes them stand out?
For example, my favorite Julie Lessman (who I know you love too, girl)! Her brand is so uniquely her in that it’s all tied around her life, her background, her personality—and, more importantly, her convictions and calling to present the world with purposeful, passionate fiction. Even though there are many other Christian historical/contemporary romance authors, even some with similar styles, no one is Julie Lessman–because of her trademark personality and attitudes, her specific story elements (Irish Catholic womanizers, anyone?), and her heart.
Another great example is Laura Frantz. 80% of her stories take place in colonial Kentucky, the place of her ancestors. That right there is an extremely solid foundation for her brand, because it’s (1) specific, (2) tied to her books, and (3) personal. It’s quite literally a part of who she is, and that seeps into every single aspect of her work!
Don’t forget: you are your brand, and whenever you feel like you’ve lost or never had your “edge,” just take a look at who you are, what you do, and what God has placed on your heart—and there you have it!
How important is consistency vs quality when it comes to creating content?
This is a good one, Saraina. Consistency and quality are both extremely important, and they both serve their purposes.
For example, if you’re looking to grow your platform exponentially over a short period of time, consistently posting very often is the key. Your followers may not engage much, but you’ll have a great number.
However, if you’d rather have a smaller following of people who engage with every piece of content, quality matters.
But I think the question is quality vs. quantity, in which case quality will always win out. Consistency and quality should go hand-in-hand, in that the quality of your content is consistent.
And like I always say on the subject of consistency, it looks different for everyone. And consistency does differ from frequency. So find a frequency (every day, one a week, twice a month, etc.) that works for you and allows you time to create quality content, and stick to it! That’s what consistency looks like, particularly working in tandem with quality.
What's your advice for making an author street team?
Well, I’m no expert on street teams, believe me. But if you’re looking into starting one, let’s go through my preferred process, shall we?
Decide on your communication channel. Before you do ANYTHING, figure out where and how you’ll be communicating with your street team. Facebook group? Email list? Slack workspace? Discord server? Whatever works best for you and your street team is the way you should go—specifically something where everyone can join in and have fun, where you can keep information organized and accessible, and where you can remember to interact and update your members! I do recommend picking two channels (like Slack and email) for those who don’t have (or want to sign up for) that schmancy social media platform. *winks*
Put together a form and pick a promotional platform. You can just send out a newsletter and say “reply to join” or something, but I HIGHLY recommend putting together a short Google Form (literally so simple; all you need to gather is their email, name, and a yes or no on if they wanna join the group/workspace/server). A form is super easy to share and keep up with instead of, well, anything else. NEXT, start promoting your sign-ups! This can be on social media, your blog, newsletter, etc.! And you can make your street team exclusive, if you want to target a specific group of people. (For example, you may be more familiar with your blog followers than your Instagram followers, so you may just wanna share it on your blog—make sense?)
When you have all the peeps you want (you can set a number or date, and you can pick and choose from applications or just let everyone who signs up join—whichever you prefer), add them to your group/list and get started!
Give people a reason to join!! Will they get free ARCs? Exclusive giveaways? Short stories and bonus scenes? Fun Q&As? Let people know what kinds of fun and unique things you’ll be offering just to your street team!!!
Keep them updated—not just with information but with tasks and activities to keep them busy AND to keep your team alive!
Be social! This isn’t a group of employees—they’re friends and readers who would love to hang out and chat, get to know you and your characters, gain insight into your writing, all of it! Prompt them to share and ask questions!
Reopen signups before you release a new book (or have something else big to share) so that you can get in a fresh wave of members to help with the launch!
What works for me, Bob, Jimmy, and Janice might not work for you—so take some time to play around, try and fail, and get a feel for what works best for you and your team!
Y'all learn anything new? Have anymore questions? Let me know in the comments, and don't forget that the form is still open HERE!
Check out the last two posts - about sales promotion and social media!
Now, inquiring minds must know (I love that phrase), how would you define your brand? What are some authors you know with strong branding?
And, lastly, would y'all like to see non-Q&A marketing posts? There is SO much more I could share and expound on, but I wanna know if that's something y'all'd be interested in!
yours in spirit and script,
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