I love check lists. I use them about every day of my life to get through all my little to-do’s. Most mornings, I wake up, get the boy to school, and start building my list for the day. But I also have a longer-term list hanging like an accusation above my desk. The stuff I’ll get around to eventually list. The chores I know I ought to do but they aren’t super important right now list. Also known as the Later List.
Every now and then I’ll suffer a bout of productivity and mark one off. (Clean out dusty heap under the bed. Move water bottles to high shelf and move baking dishes down.) But some have been on there for years. (Build better compost bin. Donate yarn you haven’t touched since the birth of your first child.) The Later List has become like one of those old classmates from high school that you see in Walmart but you don’t want to talk to, so you hide in a rack of little girls’ t-shirts until they pass by. I sit at my desk and am very careful not to make eye contact with the Later List, but I can still feel it staring down at me.
Working out an author brand is one of those things lurking somewhere on the Later List. After all, I haven’t published much and nobody knows who the heck I am- why bother? So maybe I’ll trim back the roses and fix the hen house window first. But, hey, it’s winter, so I can’t. Short on excuses and flush with the excitement of a new year, it was at least worth reading about.
It turns out that agents and editors care more and more about an author’s brand (and platform and all that jazz) even before they’re published. And authors that are already well positioned in terms of branding and audience are more empowered- both in traditional and indie publishing- than those who are not. (Joanna Penn mentioned this phenomenon, as well as many other 2016 publishing trends, in her interview with Jane Friedman, which can be found here.) So if they care- agents, editors, publishers, etc- maybe I should too. (Plus, I told the internet I would, so accountability.) After all, it’s one of those mysterious buzz words floating around the industry (like ‘high concept’ and ‘metadata and SEO’- uhhh…?), so it’s gotta be important.
But branding is well outside my write-in-my-PJs comfort zone and it took considerable research to even figure out what it really is. (Previously, branding always made me think of cattle having a very very bad day.) And here, my lucky readers, are the cliff notes of what I found. (Since I’m so fond of you all, I’ll even post a detailed worksheet packet on Wednesday. If enough interest crops up, I also plan to host an informal online workshop- more details with Wednesday’s bonus update.)
For simplicity’s sake, I broke branding down into three categories, with a loose fourth category to lasso them all together. Give each of these categories a week or a day or a month, however much time you need to really nail them down.
THE BOOK (This and the next category can swap in order. Pick one and go.) You’ve probably already worked out a title, a book blurb or a pitch, a logline, but you’ll need to dig just a little deeper. Consider your target audience, your book’s themes, your keywords, the look and feel of your book. All these aspects go into the branding of your book, and should at least roughly match the expectations and conventions of your readers and genre. (The appearance and physical structure of your book is especially important for the DIY crowd- traditionally published authors usually have little say in the cover design or paper weight, for example, but an indie author is often solely responsible for cover design, interior formatting, materials selections, etc. If you plan to publish the book yourself, you have a lot more to consider, but that’s another post.)
THE AUTHOR You! A lot of this stuff is going to be relatively easy because you likely already know it. What name will you be writing under? What genre/theme/etc crops up across most or all your writing? What have you already published? But some of it will take a little more brainstorming. What is your author logline? (What? That’s a thing?) Your branding keywords? (Huh?) Your headshot, your business card, your bio, your logo? (Oy.) For me, this part is (and is yet to be) the most painful. But once it’s over, you’ll have not only an author brand, but the decent beginnings of a press packet. Not too shabby! (More info on press kits here.)
THE WEBSITE Do you really need a website? The answer is (groan) yes. This is something I fought for years, but once I got into the groove of it, it’s really not bad. In fact, I got to the point where I was kind of proud of my dorky little wordpress blog, even going so far as to show it to an agent I found myself chatting with. She nodded politely and then kindly, cheerfully, told me everything I was doing wrong. (This was one of the events that convinced me I need to figure this stuff out.) My blog had good information and I updated it regularly, but there’s nothing on the home page that a person would glance at and immediately think, ‘This is a fantasy author,’ which is really the takeaway that I should be cultivating. So when working on your website, make sure that its design incorporates your author and book keywords (from the previous sections) as much as possible, in posts, articles, loglines, images- any way you can work it in.
INTEGRATION This is where you make sure the previous categories all match, reusing the same images, colors, themes, keywords, phrases, etc, as much as possible. Hopefully, you don’t have spend any extra time on this section because you’ve been working forward one category at a time, in a conscious and concerted effort, and it probably didn’t take much to simply make sure everything worked together nicely as you moved along. But if your branding happened in piecemeal fashion over the years as you hacked blindly forward through the literary jungles *coughs*… you might have a bit of work ahead of you.
The end of all this, the point of it all, is to make yourself easily and instantly recognizable. With a little elbow grease and some spit shine, you can look totally pro, and that makes you memorable. So whether you’re shopping yourself around to agents or editors, or directly to the customers themselves, put in the effort to look as polished and professional as possible- people will pay attention!
Remember to check back Wednesday for the worksheet packet accompanying this post, as well as information on our probable workshop. Or you can sign up to follow the blog and get it right in your inbox the minute it posts! Happy writing!