QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Branding: Not Just For Livestock Anymore

Today's post is brought to you by Sheralyn Pratt, PR Manager at Cedar Fort Publishing and author of the Rhea Jensen series. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she spends entirely too much time in front of a computer. (Who doesn't??)

Take it away, Sheralyn!

Branding. We could argue that it originally started with livestock when owners wanted to prove an animal was theirs. From there the differentiation grew to: my sheep is better than your sheep. Convincing the consumer of that then created disparate prices and, well, everything escalated from there.

While this approach to branding still happens today, the branding concept has also adjusted to modern lifestyle with the unique evolvement of making humans pay to brand themselves or anything else they value. Sure, we could make our own pants, but if we want pants with a designer’s brand, we need to pay for it.

Businesses invest a huge amount of money in branding because they know that they succeed or fail based on “fan” support. Harley Davidson, iPod, Twizzlers, Dr Pepper… if we truly believed that the generic versions of these products held a candle to the branded version, the branded products with their higher prices would be out of business in months.

As an author, without your own personal brand, the same applies to you. Twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago, maybe you could have gotten away with just writing a good book and leaving it at that, but in the current climate where the average attention span is conditioned to focus a max of 5 seconds, you definitely need to be memorable to survive.

So what’s an author’s brand? And how do you design your own?

Looking around, we recognize the branding of authors, even if we don’t call it that. We may use words like genre, niche, audience, cover art, autograph, and so forth, but we are still identifying branding that helps audiences find the books they like.

Example: Harry Potter. You know the covers, the font, the jargon and even recognize the lightning bolt. This entire series is a model example of brilliant branding. I have a first-year Gryffindor scarf that was hand knitted by a friend. When I go out, do you think people recognize it on sight without having to be told what it is? You bet. Whenever I wear that scarf, I am advertising for J.K. Rowling. Immediately a stranger and I know that we have something in common, just as Twilight mom’s know they share a certain passion when one of them walks by wearing a shirt or official Twilight jewelry.

The result: insta-friends, pulled together more quickly than any microwave meal. All brought to you by branding.

“You like Edward?!? I like Edward!!! OMG!”


Like that. On first sight we know something about other fans and have an immediate connection—a friend we haven’t met yet.

In weekly acquisition meetings, the first thing I ask the editors who are pitching books is: “Who is the audience and how does this book/author reach them?” How that question is answered is HUGE as to whether I want a closer look at the book.

As authors, you need to put thought into what exactly that brand is before you push your way out into the world. Just like a clothing designer, you must be known for doing one thing exceptionally before you can branch out and do it all. Evening wear? Swim wear? Casual? Urban? Pick your strongest genre and specialize before you expand.

Much of this is intuitive, which is why few people actually sit down and define their personal brand. “I write romance,” they say, and incorporate pink and flowers into their website. After all, flowers and pink are romantic. They are not, however, images people can immediately associate with you (i.e. a lightning bolt). Branding is the very specific way fans know they have found YOU and you alone. Not some imposter.

Below is a logo I saw on the back of a Barnes & Noble CRM’s black Escalade:

To many, this image means nothing, but it is actually a declaration of fan-dom, and lovers of the Dark Hunters will immediately see it for what it is (and likely seek this CRM out for a fun coversation). Another CRM I spoke to was actually considering tattooing this image on the back of her neck. Both women are both HUGE fans of the same series. They work for a massive corporation at different locations, but do you want to take a guess at whether or not they’re friends?

Of course they are.

That is branding. And in the case of the tattoo, it is branding at it’s most fundamental.

Whether you are published or looking to be, one sure way to be noticed is to know your brand. It will save you and publishers a lot of time, and help you get right where you want to go much quicker. Know where you fit in your genre, who your neighbors are on the shelf, and how you should be marketed. You hand all that to a publisher/agent and they will be very tempted to hit the ground running.

So, approach branding yourself the same way any business would: Who are you? Who do you write for? What does your audience read? Where do they hang out? What do people value who hang out there? How do they accessorize? And how, exactly, do you fit in there?

Answer those questions, and you are good way along the road of having a publisher perk up and pay attention as you hand them a package they know they can work with. Because in the end, what a publisher is looking for from you is for you and your books to add value to their own brand/imprint, so they can attract more high-quality authors and expand their brand.

And so it goes…


JE said...

Just poke me with the hot thing and get it over with. ;-)

Eventhough I'm not published, I'm already working on my brand. It's good to be ready when you get that call, right? ;-) RIGHT!


Unknown said...

Thanks for an insightful post. I have been giving this subject a lot of thought lately.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

So does this mean if I get a mg hf published that I should only write in this genre?

middle grade ninja said...

I actually tore down a perfectly good website that had lots of readers ("lots" for me, anyway) because the site focused on my horror stories for adults. When I decided to stop promoting both horror and my middle grade work, and focus soley on middle grade. I had to start a new site devoted to that band. Thus, I became the Middle Grade Ninja and my entire focus online and in my writing is that brand. Thanks for this post.

Kimberly Krey said...

Great food for thought! Thanks for sharing! :)

Eric W. Trant said...

As a small business owner, I spent a lot of time on logos and brands.

And on this part: Who is the audience and how does this book/author reach them?

At the top of my manuscript template are some key points about the story I wrote.

Word count. Topic/Theme. Target. Genre. POV. Rating (Yes, I give it a rating). Tone.

You gotta have a target audience if you want to sell books.

Just be careful what you learn. Don't brand yourself into something convenient, only to find out later you hate your own brand.

- Eric

Lisa_Gibson said...

Very thought provoking. Definitely something to consider.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Great post, Elana.

Kelly Bryson said...

Linked to this in a post about branding. Thanks for the great info!

"...There've been some good blog posts out there on branding. Try here at the Querytracker.net blog..."


Stina said...

Eek! I'm supposed to be branded and have a platform. And to think I though I just needed to write a really good book. :(

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

GREAT post, Sheralyn! Bravo, girl! You nailed the topic perfectly and with flair! :-)