Monday, June 21, 2010


Posted by Ruby Johnson.
CJ Lyons is our guest today. She is a NYT best-selling novelist, an MD,  a
nationally known speaker and presenter of workshops on writing. CJ welcome!

By : CJ Lyons

A brand is a subliminal promise to your readers—that any book written under this author's name will promise this type of emotional experience.

The first step to finding your brand is to examine what you've already written. Ask yourself why these stories grabbed you? Why you wanted to write them in the first place, what you were trying to say with them.

For example, even though I love to cross genres from women's fiction to suspense to thrillers to romance, every book I write has a theme central to my life: they're all about making a difference, trying to change the world.

For me, once I realized this fact, the tagline came easily: No One is Immune to Danger.

Also, be sure to talk to your editor and agent or your critique partners. Who do they see as your target audience? What label will be on your books? Where will they be shelved in the bookstores? What do they see you writing and selling successfully in the future?

All these questions will tell you how people who know your work see your brand (even if they don't use those words—but they might, just ask them!)

A brand is more than a central theme, more than a tag line, it also includes visual images that evoke the same emotion.

When you design your site/blog use the images and colors and words that apply to your brand. For instance, part of my brand image is that I'm a doctor, so I used medical imagery for my initial website. I also used the color red a lot—again, creating an emotional response.

One thing that I wanted on my site was to evoke a response that it was fresh, dynamic, and different than other suspense writers' sites. Subconsciously this tells a casual viewer that here is a writer who's different than others, willing to take chances, and whose books are also fresh and different.

 I checked out as many websites as I could.
 Many I fell in love with—but they didn't fit my brand and the emotional response I was aiming for.

So instead of a dark background (which 99.9% of mystery, thriller, and suspense writers have) I went with a light background. Instead of the boxes that many webdesigners use for images, I tried to make the images feel more fluid and expansive rather than boxed-in. There's no way to totally get rid of the "boxes" without sacrificing clarity, but we got rid of as much as possible.

Now that I'm writing mainstream suspense with Erin Brockovich in addition to my Berkley medical suspense series, I am revamping my website to reflect this new direction in my writing. I de-emphasized the physician/medical imagery (although I didn't totally delete it, after all, I am still a doctor) and am adding more nature oriented images since the Erin Brockovich books will all center around environmental issues.

My website, just like my writing career, is a work in progress.

Other things to decide as you build your brand:

--to blog or not?




Base your decisions on your brand. As a doctor, teaching is a natural part of my life, and teachers are noted for making a difference, so volunteering to teach workshops, give keynotes, etc, was an easy fit for my brand.

If this didn't come naturally to me and fit my brand, I might have passed on some of these opportunities and spent my time and energy doing something else—like maybe blogging (which doesn't come easy to me so I use my blog as a news update and focus on guest blogging which is more like teaching).

Also, when choosing promotional items, make sure they fit your brand or reflect it by creating a similar emotional response.

Even your cover art should reflect your brand. Although this can be difficult since most authors don't have a lot of input into their cover.

I was lucky—the covers Berkley has produced for my Angels of Mercy medical suspense series reflect my brand perfectly. They use a real-life photos with real models--not stock art. Perfect for my marketing platform of "real-life doctor writes stories as real as it gets".

I decided that any marketing I did would use these fantastic covers as much as possible.

So my business cards—had my cover art. My bookmarks (I like them to sign if someone doesn't want to buy a book and to give out at conferences) had the cover art and review quotes. The covers are on every page of the website.

For my debut novel, the one promo item I paid for, to use for contests, charity auctions, and other give-aways, was a t-shirt featuring the cover art.

I did not buy: pens, bath salts, magnets, stress balls, etc, etc, etc. Why? Other than pens they don't reflect the brand (well, maybe the stress balls could ) and for about the same price I could get the t-shirts. Again, you need to decide what fits your brand, not just buy something because it's cute, cheap or some other author has one….

Instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, keep your own brand—that subliminal, emotional statement that you want to make through your writing—firmly in mind.

Once you find your brand and start to use it, it's amazing what will fall into place!

Thanks for reading!


About CJ:

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available in stores now with the fourth, CRITICAL CONDITION, due out December, 2010. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. Contact her at


Jenna said...

Thanks for the great tips. I am just starting out, so this information is great to have for when I am ready to start building my brand. My biggest problem right now is figuring out a good pen name to use. There is already a writer with my name, and we most definitely do not write the same kind of books :) I will have to check your books out. They look very interesting. Thanks again!

carrie said...

Great post CJ! I've had t-shirts made out of my blog brand....=) and everyone loves 'em...I'm currently working on a website...and trying to figure out where I want to go with it....something fun and kicky with animals and humor...bright colors...I'm still in research mode but I'll get there soon!
Thanks for the great article...!


Blackbead said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've been plugging away at this for a long time now and have come across some great ideas but you had some new ones for me. In this new computer-age world of publishing it is the marketing support that we "Indy" publishers really need help with since we have neither the contacts/access nor the budget of a traditional publishing house. Ideas like the ones you've given me are the grappling hooks we need to bridge that gap. Fair winds, great success, and a full treasure chest to you!

Blackbead the Pirate Laureate

Lynette said...

Great article, as usual, C.J. I love your new website. Stunning. Lynette

Pat Nance said...

Thank you for the advice and tips! Not only was it very insightful, I appreciate the examples you shared showing how you applied these practices to your own brand.

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