How to Brand Yourself as an Author
How to establish yourself as a recognizable author with a consistent brand your fans will remember.
Who are you, as a writer? Are you serious and all about the facts? Are you aiming for humor and approachability? Are you not sure yet?
Building up your platform and reputation as an author actually starts long before you make your social media profiles or website or even release your first book. It starts with your branding, which is how you present yourself to your audience before they’ve read a single word. Having a solid, clear, understandable brand as an author makes it easy for your readers to recognize you and for outlets to report on you to get the word out about your work.
So, what exactly is an author brand, and how do you go about branding yourself? Here’s what you need to know.
What is a brand?
Branding is a word that’s typically associated with businesses. According to Investopedia, it is the “marketing concepts that [help] people identify a particular company, product, or individual.” In less business-like speak, brands are the set of aesthetic components and the tone of written and spoken components that come together to make something recognizable.
For example, think of Nintendo: you think of bright red, blocky white letters, and family-friendly games and consoles, right? What about Apple? You think of simple white text, sleek and futuristic designs, and high-end electronics. How many people would NOT immediately recognize the Nike logo? Your brand is the image of yourself, your product, or your area of expertise that you put out into the world across your site, and the social media platforms of your choice.
Why you need a personal branding strategy as an author
So why do you need a brand? As an author, isn’t your “brand” your books? Why put more thought into it?
The thing about branding is that it’s a wide-reaching concept. It’s a way of picking you out of a crowd, and with the publishing industry being as competitive as it is, you need that kind of distinction to grab a reader’s attention. You need a reason for them to want to pick up the book in the first place; they can only recognize your writing style if they’ve read it.
Author branding is about associating yourself and your personal image with the kind of reader who’s going to invest the time, energy, and money into your books. It’s about clearly communicating to potential readers your unique value proposition – why they need YOUR books. You want a brand message that communicates the style / vibe of your books. For example, Nia Quinn has “found family fantasy” right at the top of her site, making it clear to readers what they’ll be getting. Likewise, she refers to her newsletter as the “Snark Squad,” signaling the tone is more lighthearted than serious.Essentially, having an author brand is the difference between writing as a hobby and embracing the entrepreneurship required of a professional author.
Still, branding isn’t limited to professional authors; even if you’re writing fanfiction on the side, having a brand identity makes your writing feel more personal and makes it easier to separate the “writing you” from the “personal you.” It can help you keep your life and your work balanced by allowing you to slip in and out of “author mode” when you need to.
How to build your author brand
If having an author brand is so important, how are you supposed to do it? It’s actually relatively simple and straightforward - it’s all a matter of knowing who you are and what you want to do with your writing career (which, hey, isn’t necessarily easy but it is necessary to think about). Here are some steps you can take to build a personal brand as an author.
Decide who you are
Who are you? Big question, I know, but it’s the first one you need to answer when you’re deciding on a brand. You need to settle which aspect of your personality you’re going to bring to the front when you appear in a professional capacity. Keep in mind that it should definitely be an authentic part of you; despite being a brand, you still want to be truthful in your marketing. It’s always going to be better, in the long run, to be honest in your presentation of yourself than it is to be deceitful to try and get the upper hand. You can only lie for so long before you start mixing up your story, but you can tell the truth forever.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to decide who you want to be in a professional sense:
- What genre do I write in?
- What’s the tone of my writing? Is it funny, serious, straightforward, poetic?
- What am I trying to tell people with my writing?
Try writing up an author bio to give yourself something to reference when you build the rest of your brand. Tell me (or your ideal reader, anyway) your name, your preferred title, why I should care about you, and something personal. For instance, here’s mine:
“Cat Webling is an actress and author based in Kansas. She loves everything mad and macabre, philosophical and silly, so that's exactly what she writes! Scifi, fantasy, and poetry are her main stays when she's not writing about literature, theater, gaming, or fan culture.
She currently has a novel, a couple of short story collections, and several poetry collections under her belt. She works as an editor for SUPERJUMP Magazine, is an active member of the Kansas Authors Club, and daylights as a copywriter for hire.
Cat writes from her home, which she shares with her loving partner, adorable son, and several very cute cats.”
You’ve got my name, my titles (author and actress), what I write (scifi, fantasy, poetry, and specific topic articles), and what makes me different (my writing, my job, and my association with a club and a magazine in my industry), and a personal note (talking about my family and pets). The tone of the bio is friendly and somewhat silly, befitting the genres that I write under. It’s not perfect (obviously, I’m not perfect), but it is modeled after what I’ve learned about personal branding.
Decide who you’re writing for
Once you know who you are, it’s time to determine who your potential customers / readers are. What you’re looking to do is create an audience persona, a marketing term that means essentially a made-up character that typifies your target audience. You’ll need to conduct some market research to understand who this persona is:
- Find out the most common age range of your readers.
- Do you (or will you) have more men reading your work or more women? Do you have another identity as your main readership?
- Where in the world are your readers typically from?
- What other books do they read besides yours?
- Are there influencers promoting works in your niche that you can study? How do they drive brand awareness for themselves, or authors?
You can get a lot of this information from your social media channels. If you’ve already got an online presence there, Facebook analytics will tell you quite a lot. If you don’t, look up comparable titles to your own on sites and apps like Goodreads, Likewise, and Storygraph. Look through the social media tags for your genre and see what kinds of users show up again and again.
Once you know who your audience persona is, you can start deciding how you’re going to develop a brand voice that caters to them. Think of the imagery that you associate with that kind of person, and incorporate it into your branding, from colors and fonts to actual images and the way you write your marketing material.
As an example, your audience persona might be a young woman aged 18 to 25 in the United States. This woman likes poetry and historical dramas and appreciates the cottagecore aesthetic. So, your brand might include softer pastels and earth tones, imagery of historical country homes, calligraphic fonts, and a more classical writing tone.
Build a style guide
Now that you know who you’re working with (both in terms of yourself and your audience), it’s time to actually sit down and work out exactly what your brand is going to look like, and that starts with making a style guide!
A style guide is a document or set of documents that describe the aesthetics of your brand in as much detail as possible. This includes:
- Colors and color palettes
- Associated images
- Any hashtags in common use in your social media posts
You’ll want to make these consistent across all of your platforms so that your readers can recognize you anywhere you go. That’s the purpose of the style guide: to keep you consistent. Think of it as your personal rulebook and reference for presenting yourself as an author.
Oh, and if you haven’t designed a logo yet, now’s the time to do so! Your logo can be very simple, just a silhouette or even your own face, or it could be an elaborate art piece. You can design it yourself with services like Canva and Pixlr, or you can hire a professional to do it for you if you want the design to be more complex. The important thing is that your logo is something you’re proud to have associated with you and attach to all of your work.
Set up a press kit
Once you’ve got your style guide, it’s time to go a step further and create content for a press kit. A press kit is a document or set of documents that you give to news and media outlets ahead of appearances and events so that they can advertise for you.
It’s essentially your mini-introduction: you’ll put your name, contact information, accomplishments, press releases, logo and image files, and any other information journalists and PR managers might need to introduce you and your latest project.
You can create one yourself using a simple shareable folder such as one in Google Drive or Dropbox, or you can use an all-in-one template such as the ones provided in this nifty tutorial from Fit Small Business.
Stick to your brand
Having all of your assets together is great, but the most important part of maintaining your own personal brand is, again, consistency. You need to make sure that you’re using your style guide and press kit across all facets of your professional presence; your social media should draw from these sources, your “About the Author” page should use the same information, and your banners and business cards for appearances at author events should all reflect the same style presented in your guide.
If you’ve already got an established following, even if it’s a small one, I suggest doing a massive rebrand sweep only once, across your entire platform, and using it as a time of celebration. Announce the rebrand, implement the changes, and ask what people think. Get your readers involved in the change! It can be a good way to stir up interest between releases.
And once you’ve done that, be sure that you’re referencing and updating your guide and press kit often so that it’s always reflecting the most accurate and timely version of your brand.
Sticking to your brand also means consistency and discipline in how you conduct yourself on social networks. Yes, it’s important to be true to yourself. But if your brand image is that of lighthearted, escapist historical fiction, you might put off potential readers with tweets complaining about your co-workers in your day job. The same people downloading swashbuckling adventures likely don’t want lengthy blog posts about the job market or latest trends in e-commerce. So, if you do have diverse interests, consider how well they overlap with your primary audience, and split those off into different sites / accounts if there isn’t a lot of common ground, so you don’t dilute or confuse your brand.
Examples of exciting author brands
If you’re still a bit confused as to what an effective author brand looks like, here are some examples to give you an idea of what branding can be.
- The For Dummies series is a multi-author book series designed to teach the average person the basics of any given topic. Their aesthetic is that of a no-nonsense, slightly humorous guide for your average Joe, an American man or woman aged 20 to maybe 50. You can instantly recognize one of their books by the bright yellow background and all-lowercase, sans serif black writing. Every book is titled “[Something] for Dummies,” and follows the same basic structure of breaking a large topic down into bite-sized sections. The brand is associated with simple explanations and accuracy.
- Stephen King is the most recognizable name in horror and suspense. His branding revolves around this - harsh contrast, sharp fonts, serious images, and a dark tone cover every part of his work from his covers to his website. He knows that his audience is full of more mature horror buffs and appeals to them directly by consistently producing longer novels that the reader knows are going to be extremely disturbing.
- Eric Carle is a children’s author well known for his book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, among others. His brand is bright, colorful, and easy to read; it’s designed for children of preschool age with parents helping them through their first storybooks. Everything looks like cut-and-pasted colorful paper or paint. The illustrations are all simple shapes and the words are blocky black letters that stand out clearly to make learning to read easy and fun.
- Brene Brown is a personal growth author. Her books are all about learning to be confident and outgoing and to value yourself as a person. Her books are aimed at men and women aged 30 and older who struggle to see themselves as valuable, so they all have uplifting and impactful names that promote a sense of community (I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Daring Greatly, Braving the Wilderness, etc.). Her fonts are simple and easy on the eyes, either strong, blocky letters or softer, serif fonts, and her color scheme is generally cool and calming, like something you might see in a therapist’s office.
- Lemony Snicket is the pen name of Daniel Handler and is in itself one of his characters. The branding for this pseudonym is one of both hilarity and mystery - he’s the “investigative reporter” of the children’s book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events. The running gag for this author is that he warns readers not to continue reading his books while also making the books seem incredibly interesting by pointing out seemingly nonsensical plots and intriguing scenarios that leave you desperate to know what happened. His branding is darkly colored and styled after Victorian decoration, with fonts designed to mimic typewriter type sets. He’s known for giving somewhat hilarious definitions mid-sentence - “definitions” here meaning explanations for things the reader may not already know, such as the color of ash on a beach after an unfortunate house fire or the sound of a gunshot outside your room at ten in the morning after a particularly dangerous run-in with an old colleague.
Author branding isn’t easy. You may find that it takes some time to land on the brand that’s right for you - and that’s okay! It’s perfectly fine to try out a few styles, in the beginning, to see what feels most authentic to you and your work, and to understand what represents you the best. When you do find it, though, stick to your guns and run with it; have fun with the fact that you know exactly who you are and who you’re writing for.
When you’ve got a good brand going, the business of becoming a professional writer becomes significantly easier. Now comes the hard part: now you have to actually write something to slap your brand on. Happy drafting!