What is branding? How does an author build a brand?
I'm not a marketing professional, but over the years I've been trying to learn as much as possible about the marketing side of the writing business since I feel it is important to a writer's long term career.
(In fact, I've recently begun a blog devoted to creative entrepreneurs called *Marketing with Heart* where I share these resources: http://cjlyons.net/marketing-with-heart/)
Let's start with what a brand is.
To me, a brand is name recognition that evokes an emotional response in the audience.
In other words, it's a promise you make to your audience that a book by you will give them a certain emotional response.
When you build your brand you are creating yourself as an ICON (an easily remembered and identified entity) paired with that emotional response.
For those of you who have taken my workshops on building high concept story premises, I hope this sounds familiar!!!
The best way to build a high concept story is to take an universal Icon and pair it with an unique element to create an emotional response in your audience.
For example, Stephen King's high concept for Carrie is: Prom Queen (universal icon) terrorizes small town (unique element).
With branding, you are creating YOURSELF as the universal Icon. Combined with specific sensory details used as your unique elements to create that emotional response.
Which details? Anyone who has taken my classes on world building, knows that I've boiled that down to three types of details used in writing.
Guess what? It's the same three kinds of details used to build your brand:
1. VISCERAL details that reveal the emotion of the author.
These include your choices in colors, graphics, are you smiling in your headshot or serious, the voice of your website (light hearted, casual, authoritative, intimate), the voice of your books (are they dark, sensual, funny?), how you communicate, etc.
2. EVOCATIVE details are chosen to create an emotion in the reader.
These also include all of the above, but in addition to revealing yourself as an author, you are choosing these elements to specifically give your reader an emotional experience.
The obvious evocative detail is the graphics you use on your website and business card, bookmarks, etc. For instance, my webdesigner spent almost a month fine-tuning the colors and graphics on my site, http://www.cjlyons.net to create an atmosphere that conveyed, suspense, strong women willing to walk into danger, and a sense of a community surrounding them, plus she wanted to convey a "rust belt" feel rather than a glitzy highrise urban feel.
But you can go beyond visuals to evoke emotion in your audience.
For instance, if you add a widget to your website, you could choose a game that is certain to make your audience laugh (a little humor is always good, even if you write serious because people remember people who make them laugh or smile in a positive way) or you might add a section where they can do something good like contribute to a worthy cause merely by clicking, like my own Karma Clicks page at http://cjlyons.net/extras/cjs-good-causes/
Instead of focusing on you, these elements of your brand are focused on your audience. Giving them added value and a positive emotional experience associated with your name--whether it's during a virtual visit to your website, watching a video you're in or a book trailer, or hearing you speak in person.
You make them feel good about knowing who you are....which will increase your name recognition when they see your books.
3. TELLING details. These are the specific details that you choose to share with your audience. After all, you can't (and don't want to ) pour out your entire life on your webpage or in your blog or bio.
Instead you edit. You pick and choose the details that will have high impact, build a picture of who you are and what you represent.
So far, I've combined two of the elements I use when I teach fiction writing and used them to build a brand: high concept and world building.
There's one more element (everything always comes in three, doesn't it?). Theme.
In a book, theme is what the story is really about. An universal, primal force that is communicated subliminally to the audience.
I'm talking "big" concepts, this is what people mean when they say to "dig deep." Love/hate, betrayal/trust, venegence, forgiveness, family, outcast, redemption....these are the primal elements we use to bring our stories to life.
We use the same primal elements in our branding. Look at your stories--all the stories, no matter the genre, over the life of your writing career.
If you really think about it (and this is hard! Sometimes having a friend help is a good way to go) you probably have been writing about the same theme over and over, exploring it from many different angles.
For many thriller/suspense authors this theme is fear. For romance it could be the power of love. For women's fiction, the importance of family.
Whatever your personal universal theme, try to give it your own unique twist (hmmm....sounding like building your own high concept isn't it? don't you love it when everything works together in synergy?)
For instance, I discovered (with a lot of hard work) that my theme is: how to find the courage to change the word. It's there in everything I've written since I was five. And in every book I've written, my characters have found this courage through love.
I could distill this personal theme into: all courage comes from love (which I absolutely believe) but since we're talking branding, we also need to remember that it's not about me but about the audience.
All courage comes from love, is a wonderful theme, but it implies that my books might be more on the romance side of the spectrum than they are. So instead, I distilled my personal theme into something that my target audience would respond to without being confused about what I write: Everyday, Heroes are Born.
I like this, it implies that all of us (including my audience) could be heroes, that it's not too late to learn how to become a hero, and that we might all need to be heroes some day.
I even used this theme to create my own subgenre of thriller/suspense novels: Thrillers with Heart.
Can you change your brand? Absolutely, but with great care--once you build a brand, it is a part of you, so cherish it.
Now that I'm moving away from strict medical suspense into mainstream suspense/thrillers with a women's fiction sentimentality through my new partnership with Erin Brockovich (yes, The Erin Brockovich!!!) I was advised that I might want to de-emphasize the medical elements of my brand.
I'm in the midst of revising my website to "feel" more like women's fiction--warm, welcoming, intimate place where confidences can be shared and the audience leaves feeling empowered and inspired--while also keeping some suspense/thriller elements like my articles on forensics, photos of my adventures in research, and some medical facts. There will be more "behind the scenes" info (again, to give that feeling of intimacy, of the reader coming into my "home") and the color scheme will change--less blood red, more mellow golds (think "hearth") and some blues.
I haven't changed. My theme hasn't changed. What has changed as my writing evolves are the specific elements I choose to communicate my brand.
Confused? Take a look at the most memorable writers in your genre. What details do they use to convey their brand? What works, what doesn't?
Then have fun playing with creating your own brand!
Thanks for reading,
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.