Category Archives: Branding

Brand Identity

A guest post by Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. AndersonWhen I started my career with traditionally published novels, my editors and publicists encouraged me to make sure I mentioned the publisher whenever I talked in interviews and panels. I would promote my novels and proudly announce that it was “from Signet Books” or “from Bantam Books” or HarperCollins, or Warner, or Tor. I would print up my own postcards and bookmarks, sometimes even take out ads in publications. Once, I was roundly criticized for forgetting to put a publisher’s logo on the back of a postcard (that I paid for out of my own pocket).

It’s a basic commercial principle to promote brand loyalty among your consumers. Coke drinkers always drink Coke. Budweiser drinkers always drink Bud. Car owners are loyal to Ford or to GM. But…publishers?

I was an avid reader, a dedicated writer, earnestly trying to get a foothold in the industry. I paid attention to the news, to the editors, to shifts in publishing, but even I would have been hard pressed to define the difference between, say, an Ace science fiction book and a Roc science fiction book (yes, they are now under the same parent company). Or a Tor epic fantasy instead of a DAW epic fantasy.

Sure, there are some exceptions, most notably Baen Books, which has not only carved out a niche and a brand for themselves in the types of fiction they publish—generally reader-driven and fast-paced rather than literary and artsy-fartsy—and they even have a distinctive brand look with their cover art and type design. Baen has also drawn together a very devoted group of their core readers through parties at conventions, online forums, and extremely loyal authors.

But that’s the exception. As an author, I’ve been published by Signet, Tor, Bantam, Ace, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Pocket, Gallery, Kensington, Hodder & Stoughton, Warner, Baen, and more. Some of those books or series went out of print from one publisher to be picked up by another. Did my readers really notice the brand name on the spine, or did they go for the author or the series?

The dramatic changes in the book industry lag behind similar changes in the music industry. When was the last time you actually paid attention to what record label your favorite band or album was on? Who released Led Zeppelin? Pink Floyd? Celine Dion? Taylor Swift? My favorite band Rush was on Mercury Records for their first several albums, but at some point it changed to “Anthem Records.” As an administrative matter with behind-the scenes paperwork and distribution, it made a difference to the band, but as a listener, it made no difference to me.

Same with movie studios. I’m pretty sure everyone knows the original Star Wars movies were from 20th Century Fox because of the seminal fanfare before the rollup text, but—quick!—which studio released the Predator movies? The Transformers movies? The Twilight movies?

One of the little-recognized consequences of the widespread changes in publishing and the surge in indie authors is that it has almost entirely erased the lines of brand identity for publishers. Most indie authors create a “publishing house” and a logo for their own books. In a few years, what used to be a dozen or so major publishing houses and hundreds of smaller ones including university presses, has become hundreds of thousands of imprints, all of which look “real” on the amazon listing.

When you order a book called The Ogre’s Toothache because the title is intriguing, the cover art looks good, the story sounds amusing, and you’ve read something by that author before, do you really notice—and more important, does it affect your buying decision—whether the publisher is listed as Gallery Books or Moonglimmer Books? (Gallery Books is real, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, but I just made up Moonglimmer Books…though I wouldn’t be surprised if such an imprint actually exists somewhere.)

When Rebecca Moesta and I formed WordFire Press, it was merely an exercise to release the eBooks of my own out-of-print backlist, to which I had reacquired the rights. We had called our own company WordFire, Inc. for many years, so WordFire Press was the obvious name. We had no intention of building it into a much larger publishing company. Rebecca herself created our original WFP logo with a graphics program, and then other author friends of mine, seeing the success of our original releases, came to us with titles of their own, and our publishing company unintentionally expanded.

At first, we took all kinds of books from author friends, some out-of-print romances, some unusual nonfiction titles. (In fact, technically, our very first book was a rather esoteric religious treatise by Rebecca’s father, which we published as a gift for him.) We didn’t really have a brand identity, nor did we intend to, but as we grew and we saw which books performed well and which ones didn’t, we started to focus on particular types of fiction, mainly the kind of stuff I liked.

As we revamped our website, we also got a snazzy new logo. We built up our author and title list, and we started to get a little more attention through word of mouth. But the real thing that began to draw recognition as “WordFire Press” rather than “Some Publisher” was our monumental effort of exhibiting at numerous conventions, comic cons, and pop-culture shows around the country. We gave our authors a chance to meet fans face to face, hand-sell and autograph their books, an opportunity to be seen by thousands of potential readers in a day. In 2016 we did 22 shows with a total attendance of 1.5 Million people. (That was insane, and those operations are now run by Rabid Fanboy, so that I can concentrate on the publishing end and, more importantly, my own writing career.) But even under Rabid Fanboy, the “Bard’s Tower” gives ambitious WordFire authors the opportunity to have the “famous author experience.”

But do I think that readers have a strong brand loyalty, that they pick up a book because it has the WordFire Press logo on the spine, rather than because it has a story that fascinates them, an author they’ve enjoyed before? No, I don’t think so.

Now, more than ever, you can’t rely on the brand of a publisher. You have to rely on your own brand as an author or the brand of your series. You have to rely on YOU.

Guest Writer Bio: Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader’s Choice Award, the American Physics Society’s Forum Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre. Find out more about Kevin at Wordfire.com.

Awesome Releases

When my new publisher, Brick Cave Media, said we would be releasing my new book, Moon Shadows, at Phoenix Comicon, I didn’t want to hope. Now, in two days, the hope will become a reality. It’s been a lot of hard work, on their part and mine, getting a book that started the publication process in late December ready for a release in May. That seems like a long time, but in the world of publishing, that’s extremely short. Why so much work to reach a certain date? Because timing is an important element of a successful book launch.

Brick Cave isn’t the only publisher who likes to release books around significant fan events. I’ve seen many other publishers do the same thing? Why?

  1. Fan anticipation: The more an event advertises, the more excited fans tend to become. As they become more excited, the event and everything associated with it becomes a bit of a holiday. With a holiday mentality, fans are more willing to try new things, check out new authors, and buy that new release that sounds really amazing.
  2. Branding: This is a means by which a seller gets their potential buyers to identify a product quickly. In the world of marketing, that can be a logo, a jingle, a spokesperson or a number of other ways. Who doesn’t see a gecko and think of Geico? Many authors have a certain way of dressing, presenting themselves, or presenting their booths that help fans identify them quickly. For myself, it’s usually the black and silver beret I always wear. By releasing a book around a fan event, that event becomes part of the book/author/publisher’s branding. Whatever hype and warm fuzzies the fans associate with the event, as the book release is publicized in association with it, can often carry over and even years down the road, the readers will associate the two together.
  3. Crowds: The last one I’ll talk about here, and the most obvious, is the fact that events draw people, more of them than any other venue. I had a book release party at a local restaurant and I had a good turnout from friends and the community. Of course, that doesn’t compare to a Comicon and it never will. And where there are crowds, there are more people to find the new book appealing. Also, as you sell more, the people themselves become advertising. In buyers’ hands, the carrying of your book becomes a walking billboard. It’s as if someone is whispering to everyone around them, “this is good enough it was worth my money, maybe you should check it out.” Nothing beats free advertising except advertising where the person paid you so they could do it. Which is another reason, nothing beats fans.

So, next time you’re getting ready for that book to release, think about what events are happening near your timeline and plan accordingly. This is one of the best ways to get your special sauce tasted among a wide palette of audiences.

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. Author of the Mankind’s Redemption Series, The Number Prophecy series, and the upcoming Legends of Power series, Colette writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net

 

Learning To Market My Book – Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

 

Learning To Market My Book

Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

I signed my book contract in March 2016. Since then, my professional life has been a crash course in marketing, a mix of constant research and the ongoing leap of faith that I knew how to reach my audience.

*A Marketing Primer

Marketing is how you tell your audience about your book. Because it’s a message, it can have creativity and artistry to it. Marketing is always a business act, however. It connects you with your audience so your audience wants to buy and share your book.

The huge changes brought by ebooks, independent publishing, social media, fan conventions, and giant corporate media mergers have completely upended the publishing business. Whatever business structure helps you get your work out to the world, you are your best marketer, and you will be for years to come.

*A Marketing Plan

When WordFire Press asked for the manuscript of The Demon in Business Class, they also asked for a marketing plan. I took it very seriously, examining my market, publisher, and novel, with an honest if enthusiastic eye. Never hide from the truth of your book. All lemons are potential lemonade.

Demon is a hybrid novel with corporate thriller and romance elements and a literary style. It has a forward-looking, niche audience, not in the mainstream of the fantasy genre, and aimed at mature readers. It’s also an outlier in the WordFire Press stable, which tends to more adventure and to an all-ages audience.

This gives a granular answer for where I find my audience: eager for novelty, happy with a relaxed approach to genre, wants good writing but also a plot. Comfortable with mature content, even pleased to have it. Interested in travel. It suggests their likes, their touchstones, how to reach them and with what kind of attitude. It’s clearly a market my publisher has yet to tap.

Plus, this audience spans genres. Romance readers, thriller readers, and people who care what the New Yorker reviews all have a subset with these same tastes. With a scenario that depends on magic, fantasy is my natural starting point, but modern shopping makes genre labels less prominent. You don’t browse Amazon aisles the way you browse bookstore aisles.

For all these reasons, it was clear Demon would depend even more than most books on word-of-mouth – a long process, but one where an author can help.

*Learning to Con

It took eight months from when I signed my contract to when my book could be bought by the greater public – on the most aggressive timetable possible, to get to fall conventions before shopping season. The WordFire Press staff pushed tremendously hard to make a stylish, bold product in double-time. I needed to be ready to be its author!

One major outlet where an author can make a personal impact is at fan conventions. If you don’t think your niche has them, you haven’t looked hard enough! It’s a good idea to attend them before you have a book to sell, to see what works for you as a con-goer and what you need to do to make being a con-guest worth your while.

In the science-fiction and fantasy genres, cons differ widely. Festival cons, or comic cons, have tens of thousands of fans celebrating all fantastic genres, but emphasizing the visual. Though these cons have discussion panels and interviews with artists, they are foremost a huge marketplace, with the added draw of the costumed shoppers themselves. You can find readers there – if you’re eye-catching and fast. They are budget-conscious and overwhelmed by sights, but they are eager for some new thing. If you have that thing, it’s a positive connection.

This inspired a banner and marketing materials narrowly tailored for my audience’s sensibility, with edge, wit, and maturity all quickly established. It helped to have an amazing cover!

dobranski-banner

 

So far it’s working. I see my title or cover or banner catch eyes and draw smiles, long enough at least for me to engage people. Readers with different tastes walk on by, which is just as good – better no sale than an angry bad review!

Literary cons are smaller, scholarly events, with a pronounced emphasis on readers and writers. Though the membership is only in the hundreds, these fans are deeply connected in the word-of-mouth fan communities, and eager to discuss their genre with creators and with other enthusiastic fans. The high writer-to-reader ratio makes for engaging discussions in hallways and at bars and suite parties. New writers will find both fellowship and validation.

You may get a reading slot or autograph table, but new writers get noticed on panels. Be courteous, especially when you disagree, and knowledgeable. Engage questions creatively, and as positively as you can. You and the other panelists are together an event for the audience. Look for creative ways to turn questions around.

Involve the crowd. Remember – in each audience are likely readers of your book.

*Social Media

Curated corners of social media still feature long-form writing, but blogs are passing. If you look at social media as a marketing channel, you’re competing with many other voices – sometimes, your own friends! Make your posts image-driven, eye-catching and quick to read.

For a book release, YA paranormal writer Shannon A Thompson makes single image “book teasers” with a character’s backstory and a clipart image. https://shannonathompson.com/2016/06/15/ww-how-to-create-book-teasers-on-a-small-budget/ I saw them as a great way to create interest in the story. Not only were they vastly less expensive than a video trailer, each one could be shared on its own.

Keeping in mind my core audience, I wanted to share my style and my hybrid setting. One night, while drifting off to sleep, I remembered my old Star Wars trading cards. Perhaps it was my dreamy state, but I imagined them as a kind of shattered and reassembled movie trailer, with important moments in random order, something familiar yet offbeat. Perhaps I could make the offbeat a path to the familiar.

I developed my own trading cards, online images with sly quotes from the book, and clip-art lookalikes of my characters that I made more expressive using the online Prisma app:

dobranski-cards

I made fifty-six, to release daily on social media in the two months spanning my release, my first readings and my four fall cons.

They were popular, and easier to share across multiple platforms. People told me the quotes and visuals gave a much better sense of my book than the title alone. You can still see them on my Instagram! www.instagram.com/adobranski

People crave original content, even if it’s commercial. If you can express your sensibility in small, steady streams of content, social media can send it far and wide.

* Check Your Tech

Tablets and smartphones are tough for long-form writing, but they are essential for social media. Remember the Prisma app for modifying stock photos to use on Instagram? Prisma is ONLY made for iOS and Android, not for computer desktops. While you can view an Instagram feed on a computer, you can’t post to it – handhelds only.

I hope my approaches inspire you to take a fresh look at how you can find your audience, creatively and entertainingly. Each book has a different main and secondary audience, and a different publication path – giving a unique set of marketing opportunities. Maybe next year will be your year of marketing!

Isn’t it Time to Re-brand Space Opera?

2016 phoenix comicon boothI’ve harped on this before. Where in the middle ages did we come up with the term “space opera” to refer to soft science fiction? Is it a derogatory term? Did it make sense at the time? What were they thinking?

Space opera. It sounds like soap opera, so what are readers going to think when they hear the term? I know what I thought; Days of our Lives aboard the USS Enterprise. Now, I admit, that would fit a fair number of Star Trek episodes, but it definitely does NOT define the genre. So, what should we call it instead? What term would fit a genre that incorporates adventure, romance, horror, and/or mystery in a futuristic setting that has scientific elements but does not strictly adhere to known scientific fact? My vote? Galactic Fantasy.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term before. I’ve heard it here and there, though not consistently, and it’s rarely used by the die-hard sci-fi gurus. And maybe I’m wrong. If the experts are okay with the term then why change an established genre.?

Why? Fans. Space opera may be established in the writing community, but it is not widely established among the fandom. And I have proof.

I shared tables at the 2016 Phoenix Comicon with a group of writers called AWW (Amazing Wycked Writers), which is a group of local Arizona sci-fi/fantasy authors who band together on occasion for conventions and such. I ran my section of the tables, showing my books to passing fans and talking about them. When describing the genre of my “Mankind’s Redemption” series, I used the proper term, space opera. Some fans knew what that meant, the avid readers and those who knew their sci-fi stuff, but most just smiled and nodded. You know the look. Sure, I’m going to pretend like I know what that means so you don’t try to explain it and so I don’t have to show my ignorance. A few people just admitted that they had no clue, and a few were familiar with the term, but not many. About halfway through the convention, I switched my genre label to Galactic Fantasy.

Now, did the readers recognize the term galactic fantasy any better than space opera? No, but I saw their eyes light up as their interest sparked. Maybe they thought the same thing I did when I first heard the term; a fantastical adventure in an outer space setting. Now, being a fantasy and soft science fiction fan, that idea appeals to me a lot more than a soap opera in space. And it appealed to the fans at Comicon, too. I garnered more interest, sold more books, and spent more time explaining my stories rather than defining the genre in which they take place.

If Galactic Fantasy makes more sense to the fans then that’s the road I’m going to travel, even if it is less worn. (Reference to famous poem intended). I hope you’ll join me and we can all be part of the Galactic Fantasy revolution. Isn’t it about time…and occasionally, time travel?

Colette Black Bio:
Author PicColette Black lives in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona with her family, 2 dogs, a mischievous cat and the occasional unwanted scorpion. She loves learning new things, vacations, and the color purple. She writes New Adult and Young Adult sci-fi and fantasy novels with kick-butt characters, lots of action, and always a touch of romance. Find her at www.coletteblack.net