by Stephanie Bauchum
For writers, author brand is predominantly about your “voice,” but the experience you deliver to readers can be applied to your photo, book cover, website, and more.
Part of promoting your book and career as a self-published author is creating a public persona, including identifying images, graphics, words, and photographs that work in harmony with your author voice. The ideal time to start this process is years in advance, but it’s never too late. The path to developing your author brand includes the following steps:
- Understanding what “branding” means
- Creating the elements of your artist brand
- Writing your author bio
- Taking an author photo
Your author brand is a big part of your author platform. It defines the way people perceive you in the marketplace. Most authors don’t think of brand at all, but creating and leveraging your brand can help you market yourself and your books.
For writers, when we talk about author brand we’re mostly talking about “voice.” Each of us offers a unique experience to readers. But the emotional experience you deliver to readers can also be applied to visuals like your author photo, book covers, and website.
Brand is subjective and elusive and it appears everywhere: in your writing, on your website, on your book covers, and it even extends to your hair and clothes, your house and the car you drive. I struggle with brand – there’s my adventure travel writer persona and there’s my self-publishing geek persona. Which one is me? Well, that’s why I have two websites. Brand is style and, like many authors, I find that I cannot reconcile the two in one place.
Tip: Create a plain, simple website rather than rushing through a poorly designed, ad-hoc site with clashing and confusing colors, typography, and images. Try to build a consistent and recognizable presence, and keep at it for long enough that people start to recognize you.
I like Anita Cobbins website. It’s simple and it features her, and only her. Anita does have “star author” status, but her current website features the author above anything else. People do, after all, connect with people.
Break the visual and style aspects of your author brand into manageable chunks that you can keep consistent so readers can easily recognize you. Remember:
- Your brand is made up of solid and recognizable trademark items like your author name, publisher or company name, photography, logo, colors, images, even typography.
- In your author photo, elements of your brand might be considered personal style: a feather boa, a motorcycle, a hat, red lipstick, tweed jacket, your cat.
- Brand is communicated on your website, social media profiles, stationery, posters, and other print materials.
- Brand creates the feeling people have about you – the thing you are known for. This is also called author platform.
- Brand is reflected in your writing style, your media personality, your expertise or niche, and your overall image as reflected by your activities in person and in social media.
To organize the elements of your brand, you may want to create a brand worksheet or idea folder on your computer to collect images of visuals that attract you. Professional designers love getting this kind of input. It saves them from having to try to read your mind and thus costs you less in logo, website, and even book cover design. The elements of your artist brand include:
- Web pages
- Book cover
- Company logo
- Author photos
- Color scheme
But remember that your author name is your strongest brand. Decide on your author name or pen name and try to grab it for your domain name. Luckily I was able to buy MichelleGines.com early on. But if someone else with your name has already claimed yours, you may need to use your middle initial or incorporate the word “author” in your domain name.
A logo is an essential element of your media presence. Use it long enough and people will begin to recognize and trust it. It is important to develop a logo that is simple and effective in various sizes. It should look great both in color and grayscale. Your logo might incorporate your company name, or it may be a standalone graphic or type treatment.
Sketch out some ideas for your logo and collect examples of logos you like before contacting a designer. You can find people to create a logo fairly inexpensively by using a crowd-sourcing site [or try the PP Digital Design (part of Purpose Publishing parent company)].
Your author bio
Your biographical description is an extremely important asset that affirms your author brand. Information you share about yourself may include your education, accomplishments, professional qualifications, awards, titles, prior publications, media appearances, location, and family information.
If you’re writing an academic book, your education and awards need to be highlighted. Business book authors must point to their expertise. Authors of historical fiction will be taken more seriously if there is a clear connection to place and time. If you write fiction, romance, or children’s books, take a look at authors who compete in your particular genre and follow the lead of the most successful authors. Like an elevator pitch, your author bio should be entertaining and informative.
Author bios will be used on the back of your book, on your website, on other people’s websites, in press and news releases, in magazine articles, speeches, and as introductions by interviewers. A good test is to read it out loud, just like the host of a radio show would, and gauge whether the listener would change the channel or stay tuned.
Create several different bios of varying lengths to apply to different media: between 30 and 250 words for various print and digital applications, and just 140 characters for Twitter. Write your bio in the appropriate tone, and consider a tag line or a title. Also, make sure your bios are keyword-rich, so search engines can help you market.
In one of my Writer’s workshops I like to divide authors into groups of three people who don’t know each other. Each author is interviewed by the other two for five minutes. Those two people then write the bio of the author interviewed. Then we switch, and everybody gets two bios to use as source material for their author bio. It works because most of us are too shy to brag about our accomplishments or can’t determine what’s interesting about ourselves. Lots of great bios have come out of these exercises.
Your author photo
Your photo is a recognizable part of your author brand, so make sure that it is fairly recent, or at least really does still look like you. It should sharply frame your head and neck and look good in both color and grayscale.
Do try to avoid shots with a lot of competing activity in the background, or one where you’ve Photoshopped out your ex. You will need to be clearly recognized, even when the photo is reduced to the size of a postage stamp, because that’s about all the space some social media sites give you.
Decide what you want to convey to readers about you in your author headshot – studiously sexy, geeky glam, adventurous, goofy, beautiful, serious… Also, write down the physical qualities you want to highlight – your hair, eyes, or smile. What look will attract your audience? Trustworthy (or untrustworthy)? Exciting and smart and funny? Entrepreneurial bohemian?
Don’t try to do this with a friend with a smartphone. Look for portrait photographers in your area. Expect to pay between $50 and $200 for a session depending on how much time the photographer spends with you, plus an order minimum.
Yes, all this does cost money. Remember, indie authors (that’s you!) are business-people in the publishing industry, and budgets and financial planning are critical to success.