By Sarah Wendell, co-founder, Smart Bitches Trashy Books.com
Branding has become something of a bad word, or, if not bad, one loaded with unsavory implications. It can imply a smeary corporate veneer of insincerity, for example. Branding an author (not with a hot piece of metal, I promise) is really about consistency and making sure readers can recall the authors they like when shopping for books, and can easily identify what they’re going to get from those authors’ books.
The tricky part is that both the publisher and the author contribute to the author’s brand, but the author has more riding on the brand’s efficacy. A publisher’s usually focused on selling the one book by an author that they have in their current release schedule.
The author’s job, however, is to market not only that book but all the other books she has to offer, including older books that may or may not be with the publisher of her current work. So the author, let’s call her Jane Smythe, has to come up with some sort of consistent method through which she can make her name memorable, market herself and, by extension, all her books, even those that may be in other genres or with other publishers.
The most obvious place to begin the branding of an author is her name, or names, if she writes under different pseudonyms. The author’s brand name is what readers will remember – more than any single title, in most cases.
Publishers focus most of their attention on What’s Coming Out Now, though they may also promote backlist titles by the same author when a new release is hitting bookstores. Following in Harlequin’s footsteps, I expect there will be a lot more backlist promotion on the part of publishers, especially in digital releases, but for now, the focus is mostly on the book about to hit the stores – and remember, that’s umpteen-eleventy books every single Tuesday.
The publisher will put together some form of promotion for the current book, but Smythe has to combine her publisher’s efforts with some work of her own. This is not to say that publishers and the publicity and marketing folks who work within them won’t help an author who is trying to build her career, particularly between books. But as one publicity maven said to me, “There’s only so many of us to go around.”
This is where online promotion can be a very effective tool for building an author’s brand name.
Here’s the thing about online promotion and brand building, though: the hard sell does not work. If you show up online and hop up and down like a Jack Russell Terrier on perky pills saying, “Buy my book! Buy my book!” it won’t work. If anything, it’ll associate your brand name with the feeling of annoyance.
Building a brand name is not about selling books – it’s about making your name memorable. Connecting with readers about topics other than sales and promotion is itself a form of promotion. There’s a lot of paranormal romance out there, for example. If you’re the paranormal romance author who also posts a tried-and-true dinner recipe every afternoon on Facebook, maybe tying each recipe to a restaurant in your books, readers will remember your name.
That’s what you want: name recognition and recall, because it will go a lot farther than a simple sales transaction. Demonstrating an interest in the reader as more than just “that person who buys my books” is essential to building an effective brand, because it creates a connection that lasts beyond any one book.
Tricky, and simple, and highly effective.
Sarah will be participating in the 7x20x21 event during DBW 2011’s Opening Ceremonies on Monday, Janaury 24th, guaranteed to be a memorable experience!
Sarah Wendell is co-author of the book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels, and co-founder of Smart Bitches Trashy Books.com, one of the most popular blogs examining romance fiction.