Tag Archives: brand

Writing Your Brand

Too often we view marketing only as selling and we forget about presentation, tone and targeting an audience. Together, these things create a brand and branding is something writers rarely think about. A brand is what we become known for and it is what people will expect from us and they’ll either love us or hate us for it.

Sometimes, I watch the singing competitions such as The Voice and X Factor. I see people mustering the courage to follow their dreams and I applaud them for it. What distinguishes the finalists and the winner from the rest of the pack? It isn’t simply the singing – many of them are excellent. When you’re garnering audience votes, there’s got to be something more. Commercial appeal is how one judge on the X Factor summed it up – nice voice, but no commercial appeal. Is your writing nice but has no commercial appeal? But, what is commercial appeal?

On the singing competitions, there are specific things about the finalists that make them commercially appealing. Each one has a distinct style (genre, sound/voice, song presentation), target market (demographics) and tone (audience appeal, song choice, personal appearance, passion). Overriding all these is passion. You need to express passion whether you’re singing or writing. Are you missing the passion and depth to move an audience?

Let’s examine the factors from the singing competitions to see how we can apply them to the query letter, the story and our virtual presence. How we present ourselves in each of these areas determines how people perceive us (our brand).

The Query Letter
First impressions count – and the first impression we make is with the dreaded query letter. Most of us aren’t aware that we’re branding ourselves with this letter and that it determines our commercial appeal. Your brand is something that the editor/agent will glean from your letter. The specific information you convey plus overall feeling you convey forms your brand even though you don’t have a logo or jingle like commercial products do.

Tone: Is your letter polite and professional or obnoxious and whiny? Does the story pitch convey passion for the story and characters?

Style: Can you write clear concise sentences or are they run on, filled with dangling modifiers and metaphors trying to pack in too much information? If the latter, it makes you seem uncertain, not in command of craft, disorganized and lacking clarity in your story and that’s bad branding. Is your story pitch focused and clear? Does your letter convey that you understand the genre you’re writing in?

Target Market: The comparison pitch in your query letter positions your novel in the market and sets an expectation of what the editor/agent can expect. Do the works you’re citing accurately reflect your story’s style, tone, plot or theme? Who is your audience? Your audience is determined in large part by the genre or sub-genre you’ve chosen, your public presence and initial contact list.

Your Writing
Branding is what readers come to expect from you. That’s why author’s use pseudonyms when they change genres – each name is a brand for a specific genre – readers associate a certain type and style of book. A sub-genre is a very specific branding which writes for a narrower target market. Who is your target market? Will those demographics be moved by the passion in your work, your writing style and your messaging? For example, cozy mystery author M.C. Beaton has a very different audience than does Ian Rankin with his hard-boiled detective thrillers. Each author exploits different sensibilities within the mystery genre and has a writing style that appeals to a particular audience.

Sometimes an author whose book didn’t sell well (the brand turned bad) will use a pseudonym sell new work (rebranding).

Your Virtual Presence
Of course these all these things apply to blogs and any social media we engage in. Always think about your brand and how people will perceive you. As with your writing, they can interpret what they read and see only in relation to their personal context and experience. Therefore, your public persona on these sites is part of your brand and it affects word-of-mouth marketing.

Think about your favorite authors. What are they known for? What do they write and how do they write it? What is the tone, the language, the plot and messaging in their books? What do you expect to read when you choose his book?

Tom Clancy was one of my favorite authors. He was lauded by people in or connected to the military establishment because of the accurate details in his books. That was part of his brand and that’s what people looked for when they read his books. Plus he was an excellent story teller and writer and we’ll miss him for that.

Your brand is part of your commercial appeal. Be aware of it and make the most of it in your writing, in the business of writing and in your public persona.

 

Dressed for Success: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Brand

I used to hate the word “branding.” It conjured up images of cattle lowing as a hot poker was pressed against their flanks; or corporate logos splashed all over slick, prepackaged boxes. I’m a creator. An individual personality. Not a brand, I thought. Not some bogus advertisement.

But branding your work – having a brand – is so important to promotion.

This story begins shortly after I’d made my first short story sale – “Blood Runs Thicker” to “When the Hero Comes Home 2” anthology by Dragon Moon Press – and I was invited by fellow DMP author Marie Bilodeau (Destiny’s Blood, Destiny’s Fall, the forthcoming Destiny’s War, and a short story in the previous “When the Hero Comes Home,” among others) to attend the Ad Astra convention in Toronto where I would have an opportunity to meet the editor who’d purchased my story.

My previous convention experiences had been one of two types: fan conventions, typically toy collecting or anime themed, where I arrived in a t-shirt proclaiming my love of the convention’s topic, or in costume; and academic conventions, where I brought out my best Subdued Suit (TM) and tried to look like a Serious Academic. I wasn’t certain a fiction editor wanted to meet my Serious Academic – it wasn’t my master’s thesis she’d purchased, after all. “What do I wear?” I asked Marie. “A suit?”

“A suit’s not necessary unless that’s the sort of image you want to present for your writing,” she said. “Think about what you want to be remembered as. Be yourself.”

Then she told me about wearing cute shoes to her first convention appearance and discovering that her footwear had become an unshakeable aspect of her public persona – to the point where wearing running shoes provoked questions about her footwear, potential foot injuries, etc. As someone who lives in Doc Martens, I was horrified.

“Just wear the usual,” she suggested.

“The usual” is ripped jeans or combat pants, a cartoon or heavy metal T-shirt, my signature army jacket, and boots. “I’ll look like I’m on my way to an Iron Maiden concert,” I protested.

I could clean up my jeans. I do own a few pairs that are hole (paint, stud, patch, funky-pattern) free. For shirts, though, I made Marie a deal: I’d provide dinner and she’d poke through my closet in search of something appropriate for me to wear.

Much to my relief, she bypassed my workwear closet entirely – that selection of puffy blouses and tailored pants that I despise and own only in the interests of keeping my day job – and dug around in my chest of drawers, producing a black shirt with a subtle Halo Helljumpers logo on it.

“That’s a gamer shirt,” I said.

“But it’s not bright or garish or obvious about it, and it’s got that military theme that runs through so much of your writing.”

Okay. I could deal with this. I had a couple more shirts that had actual military crests on them, and added those to the suitcase. “Maybe,” I joked, “I could even take my ratty army jacket.”

“Absolutely,” Marie said.

I couldn’t believe I’d heard that correctly. “What?”

“You write military science fiction. Put on that jacket and you look like someone who writes military science fiction.”

And that’s when I realized that branding wasn’t about pretending to be something I wasn’t or stuffing myself into a monkey suit and feeling miserable all day. It was about creating a recognizable, memorable statement that says this is what I do.

The public persona I was building wasn’t all fake. Those were my real clothes in that suitcase–clothes I felt good in. The brand, I realized, was an aspect of myself – an aspect that puts its best foot forward and hasn’t got holes in its jeans, but a genuine part of my personality nonetheless. At TFCon I’ve been recognized for years as “the one in the army jacket.” There was definitely something to this branding business. It was a visual shorthand for what could be expected of me.

Ad Astra was a great success, and ever since then I’ve stopped thinking of branding as covering myself with a slick veneer and started thinking of it as a way to celebrate who I am and what I do. I write military science fiction. I have a background that includes two pilots’ licenses, a degree from the Royal Military College of Canada and seven years of contracts to back it up.

And the brand image doesn’t limit me. My most recent story sale was a steampunk romance.

I’ve added a pin with an old-fashioned compass to the lapel of my army jacket.

Branding

And no, I don’t mean with an iron despite the picture.

Whether your traditionally published, e-published by a publisher, or indie/ self-published, marketing is where it’s at. With the rise of Kindle Direct and other media that allow self-published writers to get into the larger marketplace, writers, especially new ones, struggle to get noticed. One of the ways to do that is to establish strong “brand” recognition. Your brand is what and how you market. So, let’s start with the concept of brand recognition. You, dear writer, are a product just like a Hershey Bar. And just like a Hershey Bar, you want an immediate connection to the consumer (reader) on the mention of your name (brand). I know for me, when hear or even type “Hershey Bar” a vision of the dark brown wrapper full of chocolaty goodness pops into my head. That’s good brand recognition Some products so dominate the market that the brand name is synonymous with the product – as examples look at Kleenex and Xerox. Excellent branding and marketing.

The interesting thing about Hershey Bars is that at one point the product so dominated the market it had become synonymous with chocolate bars. Then it made a mistake. Hershey decided it could stop advertising, that’s right just stop. But it lost that dominance when it did because Nestle, among others, increased advertising. Hershey tumbled from the top of its chocolate mountain.

My publisher’s first anniversary is in a few weeks. As part of prepping for the event, I typed “Musa Publishing” into Amazon to see what there was to see. Here’s what I noticed. While the search brought up non-Musa books, at least 90% of the time I could tell if it was really a Musa book by looking at the thumbnail picture of the cover. I was able to reject books that didn’t fit my profile by looking at them. That’s good branding (and a great art and marketing division).

What does this tell writers about branding? Several things.

(1) You MUST create a brand.

Writers like Neil Gaiman have a brand. Again, if you’ve seen a picture of Neil or met him in person, he is always wearing black on black. Kevin J. Anderson has a brand. Take a look at his press releases and photos, he’s always in a sport coat, usually camel colored, or a dark brown leather jacket, a softly colored oxford shirt (usually with the sleeves rolled to the elbow (if no jacket), and jeans. That’s his brand. I could recall it without looking at any of his press photos making it a successful brand. Dean Wesley Smith has his hat. And so on. If you look at the superstars in the writing field, you’ll note each one of them has a consistent look or brand. That’s not a coincidence. It’s done very intentionally and by design.

The picture on tthe right is part of my brand. I’m a mommy, writer, lawyer who writes fantasy, often with romantic story lines. What was I aiming for in a look then? Something polished and professional, but that was soft around the edges to suggest that romancey feel. Did I do it? Feel free to tell me in the comments. I’m a lawyer, which means thick-skinned and I can take it.

Anyway, I go to professional writing events – seminars and conferences dressed in at least business casual. If weather permits, I wear a blazer. Why? I’m trying to create a look or a brand.

(2) Get professional help.

I don’t mean a therapist. I didn’t take the photo on the right. I hired a professional do to it. I also hired a fashion consultant, who went through my wardrobe and engaged in the Ceasar-like task of indicating thumbs up or down. We went shopping. I now have a new wardrobe that “fits” all of my jobs – mommy, writer, lawyer.

(3) Use your website and blog.

Okay, don’t look at my website yet. It’s under construction to fit with the current branding attempts. Or actually, look at the website as what not to do. It’s a mess. I hired (see item #2) a website designed who’d never worked with a writer before, didn’t understand what I wanted/needed, and didn’t know what a falcon was or at least couldn’t find an image of one for the site. This last one is tough since the website’s called Falcon’s Fables. Sigh. Anyway, the original website is a lesson in better than no website than a bad one. I now have a webpage designer who has worked with a lot of writers, knew what a falcon was, and designed a kick-butt new logo, which is in the same color family as the rest of my items. I’ll let you know when we’re ready to reveal.

My blog is a different story. I designed that, and while it’s still not perfect it’s a closer fit to the brand I’m trying to create.

(4) Market

Don’t make Hershey’s mistake. You must market. Even the superstars of writing have tweet, FB, maintain a website and regularly attend conferences. A few of them still go on book tours. You have to get your name out there. Your publisher might give you some press, but it’s not enough. You need to be out in the world where people can find you. If you have friends with blog, be a guest blogger. While the site your a guest on may only have 50 followers, odds are there are 40 people that weren’t also your followers.

Join blog hops. What’s a blog hop, you say? A blog hop is a sponsored event where a number of blogs post together, usually on a common theme and contest. An example is probably the best way to show you. Right now, I’m participting in the Wicked Pleasures Scavenger Hunt Blog Hop with 21 other writer. All the blogs are linked, and readers get a chance to win fabulous prizes at each site. Readers, most of whom would not normally visit my site, are encouraged to do so. They are “required” to look around the site if they want to enter the scavenger hunt since they need to find the answer to the hunt’s question. At the end of the hunt, Rafflecopter will choose the winners. Again, a blog hop is a great way to introduce yourself and work to readers. The cost of the giveaway is minor. I’m signed up for a blog hop a month until the end of the year and am looking for more hops to join in 2013.

If you are blogging, the cover of your book (or one of your books) should almost be your digital signature. Just like your words, you can and should market your covers. Your covers should have been designed with their marketing functions in mind. If you’re writing a steamy romance and your cover brings to mind a sword and sorcery fantasy you might have misbranded, and vice versa. Make sure the promises your covers (front and back) make match the pages in between them.

(5) Keep it professional.

We all have pet causes and beliefs. But unless they aid in attracting your target audience, keep them off your professional pages. If you are really keen on the idea that evil robots should rule the world, create EvilRobotsToRule.com and post your manifesto there, ideally under a different name. Bringing personal causes to the forefront of your professional page will reduce your potential reader pool.

(6) NEVER EVER get into a flame war.

This is a subset of #5 but it’s important enough to mention separtely. Just don’t do it. It takes a lot to build a career. It takes one rant to destroy it.

(7) Protect your brand.

Protecting your brand on the legal side may mean getting patents and copyrights, but I’m taking about a bit more than that.

Realize every time you go out with your “Author” hat on, you are marketing. You are always on stage. Be nice. If you are nasty to someone asking about your writing, you’ve lost a reader, and maybe several readers as that person tells his friends how mean you were. Good impressions can be lost, but bad impressions are almost always forever.

If you’ve created a “look” -whether for clothes, covers, or voice – make sure you are using it.

As noted in #6, if someone attacks you or posts a “bad” review, don’t argue with them. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion regardless of how much you may disagree. You give that negative comment too much attention when you respond. If the response escalates into a war, you’ve lost so much more than you’ve gain.

Good luck and good branding to you all.

To restore Daphne to her nymph form, Apollo must bargain with treacherous Hades, but Death may demand too high a price.

After all I’d said about marketing, you didn’t really think I’d leave the cover of my newest release, Apollo Rising, off this post, did you? Thanks for reading.