What is a brand, anyway? There are dozens of definitions of this marketing term, but one we particularly like is from Heidi Cohen of Riverside Marketing Strategies. She says “Brands are shorthand marketing messages that create emotional bonds with consumers.” Emotional bonds. That’s such a good point, and it's at the very heart of why indie authors need to brand themselves in the first place. Unless self-publishers are able to find readers and create an emotional connection with them, they are probably going to be seriously disappointed with their book sales.
But I’m an author, you say, not a boutique or a grocery store. By now, most of us realize that to be successful authors we have to do two things: 1) make our books the best they can be and 2) connect with our readers. And, the only way to find our readers, like it or not, is to market ourselves like crazy.
Once the idea of branding yourself has settled in, the next step is to figure out how to do it. Remember, your goal is to create a digital footprint that will help you sell your book. Here are some suggestions gleaned from dozens of marketing experts as well as super successful self-published authors.
- Tell Your Story—Who are you, what do you care about, what is unique about what you have to offer your readers, and why are you the best person for the job?
- Promote Benefits—What’s in it for the reader? Is your book a heart-stopping thriller about a serial killer in New Orleans in the '20s, the true story of the disappearance of the bison from the western plains, or new research on how to lose five pounds in five days? Will your book entertain, educate, or terrify the reader? Be clear about why your potential readers should trust you with their time. What is in it for them?
- Keep It Fresh—Make sure your blogs, interviews, videos, newsletters are up-to-date, lively, and engaging. Stay on top of your game. If you don’t, someone else may just come along and steal your audience.
- Keep It Simple—Whatever your message, present it clearly and directly. No one has time to try to figure out what you are getting at.
- Keep It Coming—You’ve created a platform, now start to build on it. Talk about the next book in your series or the book you are planning to write, even if it doesn’t fit into a series. Be persistent, be consistent, be available.
We asked Holly Brady, former director of the Stanford Publishing Courses, for her thoughts on successful self-branding. “I think the one most important thing to tell an indie author about self-branding is this: Don’t ask people to buy your book," she says. "What you want to do is engage people in conversations about your area of expertise—your book’s subject (nonfiction) or the writing process (fiction). Be authentic and generous in your contributions to that conversation. They’ll find your book.”
Nina Amir, author of The Author Training Manual, puts it this way: “Don’t wait until you’ve finished your book to think about branding. Develop a big picture view of all the potential books you might write, figure out what ties them together and how you want to be known by your readers. Then create a website that speaks to this brand and fill it up with photos, a great bio, a blog, and links to your Twitter and Facebook pages."
If you are writing fiction, there’s a good chance your followers will be interested in how the creative process works for you. Where did you get the idea for the 15-year-old protagonist who gets separated from her parents while hiking in the Smokey Mountains, or the inspiration for your love story about high-school sweethearts who reconnect in Siena after 40 years? C.J. Lyons, the much-acclaimed pediatric E.R. doctor turned author from No Rules Just Write! says, “My brand is Thrillers with Heart.” She defines brand as “the emotional promise you make to your audience—and keep with every story you tell and everything you do.” She often combines the marketing of her books with fundraising for charity. Her novel Broken inspired a major contribution to the American Heart Association and her Buy A Book, Make A Difference foundation has raised almost $100,000 for forensic scholarships for police officers from underserved communities.
ForbesWoman calls Cindy Ratzlaff one of the Top 20 Best Branded Women on Twitter. Her advice: “Brand yourself with your name—not the name of your first book. If your name is Sally Smith or John Jones and your URL is taken then tack on 'author' or 'writer' or 'sleuth' or something that lets people know what you care about. You are the heart of your brand. Stake your claim to your name, or some variation of it, create an account on the major social media sites, and you’ll be off and running.”
Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.