Monday, July 15, 2013

Updating my Author Brand

There's a lot of talk in writer circles these days about the importance of defining your brand. Much like a wireless phone provider or auto manufacturer, an author's brand encompasses the the desired public image of his or her product. T Mobile wants customers to identify their service with a hip, young brunette sporting hot pink. Chevrolet targets their truck ads at rugged, hardworking men like farmers or ranchers. S.C. Johnson describes itself as a "family company", a definition that emphasizes the trustworthiness and quality of their products.

So what is my brand, and why do I need to update it? I never gave the concept a thought when I began writing decades ago. I wrote the kind of stories that appealed to me as a reader, and my first three published books were Western historical romances. However, my tastes as a reader and writer have changed, along with the tastes of the majority of romance readers. Western historicals still enjoy a certain dedicated readership, but they are no longer as popular as they once were. My newest book is completely different--a humorous contemporary with strong suspense elements--and because I've decided to publish it myself, the issue of developing an appropriate author brand is even more important.

When changing genres, as I'm doing, many authors choose to write under a different name. But unless you abandon all earlier titles, that requires multiple websites and online personas--way too much work for me compared to the potential payoff. Realistically, I was never a big enough name in Western romance to worry about damaging an existing brand. I decided to establish a new brand that would reflect my new style but which could also encompass my earlier work. Besides, I might decide to write historicals again someday.Should I decide to abandon romance entirely for mysteries or family sagas in the future, I would probably use a pseudonym, but for now my own name will suffice.

To prepare for the task of creating a brand, I took an online course for authors on Creating A Marketing Plan, which included a lesson on branding. I also read several articles on the subject. Then I set out to define myself, starting with the question: What words do you want readers to associate with you and your books? I took into account self-defined strengths, as well as comments from readers and reviewers, and came up with the following: warmth, wit, and a touch of whimsy. I think those words describe me as a person and a writer, regardless of the sub-genre I choose. And putting my brand into words helps me keep it in mind as I write.

Finally, there's the issue of visual branding. Our products--books--have a certain look that tells readers what to expect. It might be softly romantic, darkly sensual, or lightly humorous. Historically, large publishers and their marketing departments have commissioned covers to promote an author's brand (although I know many authors who have been disappointed by a cover). Small presses usually take less care. The covers for my Westerns are lovely but do not suggest any type of author brand. 

By self-publishing, I can control that. I choose the look and content of my covers. But with control comes responsibility, and it's scary. I have to do it right or risk compromising and weakening the brand I'm working so hard to develop. I'm also re-doing my website to reflect my new brand. I'll unveil it here when it's finished, and you can tell me what you think.

It's a brave new world, and I'm jumping in with both feet!


  1. Good luck, Alison. I haven't gotten any braver as time's gone on--I may never self-publish.

    1. I'm not sure you need to, Liz. You've already got your fingers in a lot of publishing pies. If I were happily settled with a large publisher or two, I probably wouldn't be considering this.

  2. Hi Alison,

    I admire that you've figured out your brand and have started marketing strategies using it. I have yet to figure out what my brand is. I try to think about the themes I write about and they are dark - abandonment, an untimely death of a loved one, mental issues such as PTSD, just to name a few. I can't see how I could build a brand out of such themes so at this point, I'm just concentrating on writing manuscripts and getting them published and promoting the titles I already have out in the marketplace.

    By the way, I love the cover for "Unwritten Rules."

    1. Hi Katherine,
      I'm not sure how truly useful having an identifiable brand will be from a marketing standpoint, but I do think it will help me focus my future work. Your dark themes make it more of a challenge for you, but if you look deeper into those themes, you might find a positive common attribute - maybe something like healing old wounds. Good luck!