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  • [Reality Check] - 5 Branding Tips for Authors by Zetta Brown
This blog was featured on 09/25/2017
[Reality Check] - 5 Branding Tips for Authors by Zetta Brown
Written by
Zetta Brown
September 2017
Written by
Zetta Brown
September 2017

Stephen King, Anne Rice, Nora Roberts, and Tom Clancy. Even if you’ve never read their work, you know that King writes horror, Rice writes paranormal (mostly vampires), Roberts writes romance, and Clancy writes espionage thrillers.

Despite the different genres, these authors all have something in common. They are brands—personal brands—and their names have become synonymous with what they write. You can do the same thing.

For authors starting out, it is never too soon to think about your brand. Even authors who have been writing for years and haven't given personal branding much thought, if any, should. Why? Go to any writing conference and they will talk about marketing. Branding in an important part of marketing and equates with recognition. Having a brand will help your marketing efforts. So, what do you need to do?

1. Be Authentic

Whether you write under your real name or a pen name, don’t pretend to be someone you are not. You lose all credibility if a reader or fan catches you in a lie. Your author brand is your name, and your name is your reputation. Be yourself. If people like you, then chances are they will like your brand.

2. Play to Your Strengths

Young Adult or New Adult may be the hot, popular fiction genres at present, but if they holds no interest to you, don’t force yourself writing about it. You won’t enjoy it and fans of the genre will call out you and your writing as inauthentic. Write what you like to write—and what you like to read—and keep learning and improving your craft.

However, if you want to take a stab at writing in a genre you don’t know or particularly care for, go ahead and try it. Who knows? You may discover an appreciation for it you didn’t know you had, or at least give it a little more respect.

3. Find What Makes You Unique

Everyone has similarities, but we also have characteristics that make us individuals. What is it about you and/or your writing that makes you different from the rest? While it may be impossible to find a single unique trait, a unique combination of two or three traits is very possible, and that combination is what makes you stand out. To put it in writing terms, if a genre is a general label, then the subgenre is a more specific label that is more focused and unique.

A good example of an unique author brand is Ellis Peters who wrote the Brother Cadfael mysteries. Her mysteries are historical and set during the Middle Ages; therefore, her unique combination is: mystery, historical mystery, medieval period.

What unique combination does your writing have? Don’t have one? Think harder. Don’t limit yourself to genres and subgenres, either. Perhaps your writing is known for its Kung Fu fight scenes or its well-researched exotic settings. Perhaps you’ve written a  crime series with a mortician as the protagonist. Find what it is that makes your writing and your name—your brand—stand out.

4. Have a Purpose

It may sound corny, but create a mission statement with regard to what you want to achieve with your personal brand as a writer. If this sounds too formal or intimidating, think of it this way: your purpose is what drives you to write. Maybe you have a specific message you want to share or promote with your writing. Maybe you want to be published because you love to tell stories and want to share them with as many people as possible.

Achieving fame and fortune can be the result you seek, but they are not (or should not) be the purpose behind your personal brand. If it is, people will come to see you as greedy and/or selfish and will avoid you. Would you willingly give up your hard-earned money to someone whose sole purpose is to make money off you? There’s a term for things that attach to a living host in order to suck them dry. It’s called a parasite.

Finding your purpose might not happen overnight. Don’t panic, because over time, when you take time to look back over your life or your body of work, you may see a recurring theme.

5. Be Consistent

Being consistent with what makes your writing a success will grow your fan base. If you do decide to change things up a bit, make it a lateral move and not too drastic. For example, if you write in a certain genre, pick a subgenre of that genre and not a totally new genre. Die-hard fans may follow an author no matter what they write—but don’t count on it.

If you do decide to make a 180-degree turn in what you write, consider using a pen name...and go back through Steps 1-5. You will be revamping yourself, and that deserves (needs) its own brand.

Consistency can also be reflected in your cover art and your “signature font.” Using the same font for your name on your covers—or even your titles—will be seen as a component of your brand that people will recognize. You could even seek to have a font designed just for you.

In the end, when it comes to developing your author brand, dream big. One day, you could become a household name just like the authors mentioned above. 

* This post was originally published in November 2015.

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  • Lynette Benton

    This is a terrifically useful post, Zetta. Although I had a career in marketing and branding, the ideas you raise here never occurred to me in terms of applying them to my writing career. Thank you, and bravo!

  • Zetta Brown

    You're welcome, Karen. Branding is  a process, and although a lot of it can be formula, there's a lot of trial and error involved. Brands--lasting ones, anyway--can evolve and change over time. Don't feel bad about taking 8 years to figure yours out. At least you did! Your thrillers sound cool, by the way. :) 

  • Karen K. Hugg

    Thanks for this. It took me years (after probably 8 years of working as a gardener) to realize my brand is about horticulture! I've written a literary thriller about a botanist and have now realized that I'd like to write more about/based on the cool people I know in the field. I've informally dubbed these "horti thrillers." Thx again!

  • Irene Allison

    Wow, Zetta, this is fantastically useful! And I'm sure anyone else in the same boat (or in the different boats - ha!) of multiple genres will appreciate your advice. I can't thank you enough for such a long and thorough explanation. BTW, I think I must be on the right track because while I was mulling over this multi-genre and branding issue last year, I tweezed out what is the common theme in my two areas. So I'm hoping to build on that and it looks, from your comments, that that might very well be the way to go. It's early days yet, but this gives me confidence. I am very grateful, thank you! 

  • Zetta Brown

    Hi Irene,

    Are you writing under the same name in both genres or under different names?

    You will find some authors who are purists and will insist that you cannot--and should not--write in multiple genres because it's harder to manage and will dilute your brand. On the flip side, you'll find authors who belive this to be bunk. Just know that writing under multiple genres is going to take more work if you want to develop a cohesive brand or individual brands, because even though you can follow the same process, you are dividing your efforts.

    Regardless of what you do, when it comes to branding, you need to start with a clear idea of the points I mention in my post. Know what's important to you (your values, mission, etc), know what you want to represent, know what you want your audience to take away from your brand. Each genre you represent should have its own look and feel that your target audience will relate to.

    Nonfiction and women's fiction are very broad areas. You have to pinpoint your writing within each genre. What subgenre does your writing fit under? Do they have any similarities? If so, will this work in your favor or not?

    For example, your women's fiction features Baby Boomers and your nonfiction deals with generational issues. You can build a brand based on a Boomer's perspective.

    But if your women's fiction focuses on women dealing with addictive personalities and your nonfiction is about gardening--you'll have to be more blunt in connecting both sides of the coin. A brand that encompasses addiction and gardening? Not impossible, but not easy, either. How much mileage can you get with such a combo?

    Sometimes, creating a brand around two (seemingly) incongruous ideas can help you stand out from the crowd than something that is less distinct.

    Here's what I suggest and you can consider it for what it's worth.

    If you want to write under one name, treat each genre as a different aspect of you as an individual. Although you're writing in different genres, both will represent you as a single brand--individual parts making a whole.

    Think of Coke and Diet Coke--they're the same thing, but different. OR you can make it even more distinct; think Coke and Sprite. Sprite has a totally different look, taste, and profile than Coke--but it is part of the Coke brand/family. Many people know this, but many do not, so you can decide if this is a good or bad thing for you.

    If you're writing under different pen names, develop each independently of each other, and you can decide if you want readers to know you write under both names or not. If you prefer to keep your identities separate, that's fine. Erotica and erotic romance authors tend to do this, especially if they write in other genres vastly different from erotica or erotic romance. While it's possible to stay totally incognito, someone may figure it out one day or leak it (e.g. J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith), but you don't have to make it easy for them.

    Whatever the case, don't be discouraged and think it's impossible. Lots of authors do this. Authors often point out Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb as an example.

    One of my dear friends has been writing for years for major houses. She began her career writing historical romance under her maiden name (Laura Parker), then women's fiction under her married name (Laura Castoro) and now she writes a very popular romance suspense series under a pen name.

    Another prolific writer was Eleanor Hibbert--aka Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, Philippa Carr, and others. She had a different name for the different genres she wrote.

    Hopefully this helps, but feel free to email me and I can give you some more tips. :)

  • Irene Allison

    Very helpful, thank you! Zetta, do you have any ideas for someone who is writing in different genres, for example, non-fiction and women's fiction? 

  • Zetta Brown

    @Ramey - Good! :) I've heard of authors who go so far as to make their mission statement their mantra and they remind themselves of it every day. It keeps them writing and keeps them focused.

    @Mary Ellen - Don't feel bad. Brands can change and evolve over time, for better or worse, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Remember "New Coke?" The Coca-Cola Company thought they needed to change their image and their formula, and that was a disaster.

    On the other hand, sometimes you need to (re)evaluate your message and determine if it needs updating or clarifying. Here's an article you may find helpful about 5 prominent brands that have "rebranded" themselves over the years.


  • Mary Ellen Wall

    Hey, what you said about being mushy about purpose rang through.  I used my books as examples in my MS thesis on climate change communication; you'd think that would spell out the purpose well. Thing is, the purpose is not to cram climate change down people's throats nor is climate change the main subject. What I thought of reading your article was that I do show my version of what will happen to a varied cast of characters because of climate change in 100 years. Not necessarily getting too hot or what is headlining now, but more the population displacements and governmental upheavals. How will different folks cope with the newly defined planet when interstellar travel is tossed in? This was all good to think about again since my branding is in a sorry state, thanks!

  • Ramey Channell Writing

     "Create a mission statement with regard to what you want to achieve with your personal brand as a writer." I'm going to remember this! 

  • Zetta Brown

    Hi Laura!

    Thanks for commenting, and I agree with you. I'm a big believer in your actions speak louder than your words, so practice what you preach. Hey--two cliches with one statement--now that's economy! ;)

    It's no fun when someone calls you out in public when you make a mistake, so imagine if someone does that because you have misrepresented yourself or your skills, abilities, whatever. Your credibility evaporates. Some may be willing to forgive you, but many won't. So, save yourself the trouble and just be honest.

  • Laura Brennan

    Thanks, Zetta! These are all important, but none more so than being authentic. I always tell people when we're working on pitches that the single most important thing about a pitch is that *It Must Be True.* Don't pretend it's a Rom Com when in fact it's a dramedy. Do not bait and switch, with your work or with yourself.

    Plus, we speak with a different authority and confidence when what we're saying is true.

    Or maybe I'm just at that age where I am who I am, and if that's not your cuppa, that's okay by me. (Boy would that have made my teen years so much simpler!)