How do you brand yourself? Over and over anyone who is pursing something creative or business orientated is told to build a brand without a singular person really getting into the nitty gritty of how you figure that out. We can certainly identify branding, but building it is a hard complicated thing. Worse plenty of people make brands and then come to hate them later. One media critic I know wishes he hadn’t put every single thing under his original brand because now his articles and videos are nestled under that identifiable identity. So there’s a lot of pressure from a lot of different angles to approach branding well and in a way that benefits you long term.
Yet we get told to just make a brand. Seems kinda stupid, doesn’t it.
Much like people telling self-published authors to “just blog” your way to marketing, there is a lack of deeper advice or exploration into what a brand is. It is just one in a long list of what you need to get your butt in gear to do. As I explained in in this post the question is always where and how to start. All of my life I’ve had difficulty taking information and synthesizing it into an actual plan. As I’ve researched the nature of branding I find myself really beginning to understand that hard work only takes you so far. What makes or breaks you is planning and luck. For some people that comes naturally, but even though I now try to over plan, so that I have every single thing in place, ideas can fall by the wayside. Being a self-motivated person is hard and being your own employee is even harder. This whole branding thing is difficult and hard to plan when no one is offering solid or consistent advice. When you’re a kid the chances of someone telling you to start your own business or telling you that writing is essentially being an independent small business owner are slim to none. People don’t teach you how to market. You’re just focused on becoming a better writer or trying to just pass math class to even think about those things. But now comes the pressure. Now you know you don’t have to always work for someone else. So what the hell do you do?
Well, before you do anything you need to build a brand. What is a brand? It is a combination of traits that immediately allow people to say “Oh that is [your] work”. It is a logo, a combination of colors, fonts, visual imagery, slogans, design pieces, the presentation of the product you make, and the product you make itself. A brand is who you are and how you want to be known. Where Wal-Mart rolls back prices I “give intellectually stimulating and steamy erotica”. Ask yourself who you want to be, and then ask if you may need a pen name if you want to be too much. You build a brand by making yourself and your product something people can recognize and associate with you.
As a writer I want to be recognizable, but even more than that I know how frickin hard it can be to find what appeals to you. As I’ve been researching and researching ebook self-publishing I’ve discovered how fucking repetitive advice can be, but I’ve also realized that repetitiveness extends to branding.
Mimicry Ain’t Flattery Honey or Anything at All.
In facebook groups I find other authors parroting great advice in the worst ways. In the last several days I’ve looked at seven different self-publishing groups and found dozens of authors of all levels stressing the importance of a book cover. That is great advice! Where can you go wrong? It is the first thing people see. It is supposed to sell a person on what may be inside and if it fails you’ll likely flop. They’re not easy to do. Some cover artists charge upwards of $200 dollars for a cover, which is more than most people like me can ever afford to spend. I’m in my early twenties, working retail part time, doing research work to bolster my resume, and every few weeks I do low cost consulting. I may do a lot, but it doesn’t show in my bank account.
A book cover? That runs too high, but I will pay $60 for an independent artist to do a commission. Plenty of people are in the same boat, and convince themselves they can get by with whatever. I know I tried to do the same thing until I started really researching book covers. I did a little test where I pulled 70 book covers in the genres for each book I was about to release. Then I asked “Which 10 would I buy?”. Most were shit. I’ll be honest. most indie author covers were shit, and when I turned to these groups I saw it without question. I asked what I liked and hated with each cover in my genre and among indie covers it always came down to the author’s branding. What do I mean? If you look at a new product what is it you ask yourself? Does it look like or sound like something I can trust? Does the author logo, the cover, the blurb, all contribute to a feeling of confidence in the consumer. When you make your blog does the layout inspire confidence? Do the images evoke feelings of copy pasting or a well structured choice of images(stock or no) that enriches or ads structure to the page? All of those questions are things we ask without even realizing because we don’t waste our time or money or anything.
Those groups on FB and elsewhere were 110% correct that covers matter.
But the next advice people were giving came down to this little “gem“:
Make your cover, the face of your brand, look like everything else. Don’t copy, but make it look similar, and by similar I mean as close to humanly possible to 40 other books in that genre.
That trick is as old as time and in a world where a thousand people are launching a venture every day that may be some of the most misguided advice I’ve ever heard. Maybe I’ll change my mind once I have a few books online, but the fact is you can pull basic design elements that you believe work…but how many paranormal romance stories with shirtless men, pendants, and tramp stamps do we fucking need?
More importantly what good is paying that $200 for cover or even the $60 for an illustration to edit into a cover if it ends up looking indistinguishable from the crowd. If nothing is is making your book stand out how can anyone notice it? Stock imagery makes creating ebook covers, art for presentations, website pages, etc. incredibly easy. There is nothing wrong with using stock, pulling common elements, or using another piece for reference. Certain elements wouldn’t be used if they didn’t catch a viewer or reader’s interest.
However, by not adding anything unique you dismantle your branding. The picture of Winter and Twilight evoke similar imagery, but even those two differ in font size, placement, and use of color enough to simply say “We’re both aimed at this audience”. But so many covers go farther like the paranormal romances above. With nothing new you make yourself look like every other person out there. To those who may not be into anime they all look the same, but to fans? Those who care about quality know the signifiers of copy pasted poop.. Even if you make a quality product, a fascinating story of humanity in animated form…if it looks like generic anime(and it is unintentional) it will be lost among the masses. I’ve scrolled past a thousand manga, anime, comic books, regular books, VHS, DVDs, video games, novels, short stories, and other things because nothing about it stood out.
But don’t think I’m just talking about covers because this applies to every step of producing a product!
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about book covers, animation styles, burgers, printing services, or vapes….If. Your. Brand. Is. Generic. No one will buy it, and if they do it won’t be in the sales you need unless your product really gets attention. Even if you give it away, you will severely cut yourself off at the foot. You can’t just be a cheap knock off of Nicholas Sparks or Stephen King. You can be influenced by them, you can do a take on a concept from them (loosely), you can be compared to them, etc. etc. But don’t sacrifice originality or uniqueness in the hopes that someone will go “I’ll just read this one”. If you blend in with the crowd you may end up with a group of adamant fans, but more likely then not you’ll still be standing against the wall with your 4 fans instead of in the center of the room drawing more people to your wit and intellect. There’s nothing wrong with being against that wall, but if you don’t want to be there, if you want to sell your product, if you want to grow then you have to attract people with more than copy paste ideas and branding.
Even if your brand is “I do the same thing as Michael Bay…except better”. You’ve made your brand the “better” brand and more “confident brand”. You may do something similar but you aren’t just trying to deceive people like a knock off Transformers movie in Blockbuster. If you do that, r accidentally come across as doing that then no one will trust your name.
Research, Critique, and for the Love of God get Yourself Together!
Now does this mean you have to go way out there? No. When you’re creating your design, style of presentation, and what not you have to find a balance that makes you comfortable between originality and making it so your audience knows what they’re getting. Very few vampire books should have a cover font of Comic Sans, but it could be done. Your food truck probably doesn’t need to be puke green. You have to understand your market. Not just to sell or get views or what have you. If you keep pushing your videos, blogs, or images without understanding what keywords people search for or terminology used by those in your audience you can easily miss people who would love your work.
More than anything else you have to understand your market in order to understand what you’re making, what defines your product, and then you can really make an excellent brand. It sounds crazy. We all know what we market and we build the brand to that. Well, you are part of the market. If you think people are coming to you for thoughtful advice, when they are coming to you in part because of your tone you could make a mistake by listening to a viewer that critiques you. If you’re writing articles on yoga and clean living when a million others are too what makes you unique? Does your culture, your religion, your background, your style, your energy, and your sense of humor pull people towards you? It seems like a question people hate to ask but it matters. I follow a plus size black yoga guru because in her I see my body potential. She gets my struggles and since I know I will never be small (and never want to be) seeing her gives me knowledge, comfort, and feedback that I don’t get with other yoga bloggers. Does that mean I don’t read or watch anything by anyone else? Not at all, but she has centered herself and her brand around what she knows…her body, her life, and her struggle. That allowed me to connect with her. What allows your clients and audience to connect with you?
So How Do I Put This All Together?
When I began this venture I wrote down several ideas for blog titles, facebook urls, and most importantly decided what I was going to write and why. I needed a basis of who I wanted to be seen as, what I know I do best, and what can I do. You need that too, and below I’ll help you figure that out.
The next step? I began reading and researching. First, I looked at the process other writers had experienced and basic advice columns like “Top 5 tips for indie ebook publishers” (Spoiler there’s like 40 of those). That gave me a knowledge base to move from.
Then I looked at other author’s pages in my genre and took notes on their platforms, layouts, what I liked, and did not. From that I wrote down what I hated and would never have despite not knowing what I wanted. Then I took pictures and screencaps of what I adored. So far I understand this…I hate romance covers. 80% are just stock art and while they’re fun they don’t fit my style. Now that being said I did pick up themes and traits that would immediately let you know if my book was romance, an erotic romance, fantasy, or drama. More than that I figured out what immediately caught my own eye even in things I hated.
In short I learned not only how individual authors branded themselves, but genre branding.
Genre branding isn’t just about books, but anything you do. If you work in marketing how do people see your signature? Do you always use pie charts of a particular color scheme? Do you begin presentations in a particular way? Do you always push a particular type of campaign? No matter what you do you have a brand. A brand is just the business equivalent of knowing people. If I’m your friend and you’re walking down the street you’d identify me by my physical “brand”: Tall, black woman, with afro, blue jeans, t-shirt and suave ass jacket walking in a particular manner with a particular energy. You’d be shocked to tap me on the shoulder and find someone else with my exact sense of style, color of hair, or way of walking staring back at you. It can and does happen, but if you really pay attention and take a look the chances of it happening are very slim. Even if that happens you still associate me with that brand. You say “Oh well that woman was like Rosie.”
That is the power of a brand. Dean Koontz is a well known and love author…but he will always be like Stephen King to many people. That’s not bad. In fact that comparison helps his business because it gives a positive measure.
Branding is about a measured uniqueness without compromising yourself. You figure out what works for others or for the type of product your making. As I said I looked at book covers in my genre. I looked at other websites. You figure out what you hate. I can’t stand the overly beautiful people and stock imagery. You figure out what you love. I love an elaborate original image filled with emotion…or a minimalist piece that leaves you intrigued. You then figure out what you want…then cut it down to its barest elements. Then you run with it.
For Example…(Suffer too Good is available on Amazon The Black Hat Society is TBA soon)
So What is the Take Away?
Part of the reason it is difficult to give branding advice is because once you get past overt traits you do have to dig into what you simply see as normal about you and what you do. A blogger, even me, can’t help you figure out your most unique or interesting traits without speaking to or knowing you. That is why I’m doing to give you the branding cheat sheet I’ve been using for the last few months.
Here are some things to consider/ask when building your brand:
- Why am I doing what I’m doing?
- What am I doing that others aren’t doing? (For me I feels it is telling realistic, diverse, and complex stories)
- What gap do I want to fill?
- What do I want to add to the world, the market, and people’s lives?
- What colors do I wish to use with my brand or have associated with me? What colors are common in my product area?
- What images do I want to be associated with and what fit my products?
- What do I want people to think of when looking at my font? Which fonts are over used? Which fonts are over used in my product sphere?
- What makes my product, my stories, so unique? Is it the world? Is it the characters?
- What symbols, logo, product, or person have products/presentation/brand that I really love?
- Google “worst book covers”(“Worst fonts”, “worst drawings, etc.) and look at the legitimate ones.
- Google “best book cover”(“best logo”, “best colors for X”) and look at the legitimate ones.
- Read blogs, websites, forums, and facebook groups that focus on your subject and products.
When you go through these questions start asking yourself why you responded how you do. For example hating a particular color or having a protagonist who hates that color could be reason enough to not make the font that color. For any and every reason you can say X or Y, but you best be able to explain it because then you better understand what you feel and how others may interpret your choices, yourself, and first and foremost your brand.
Here is an author who really has some good advice:
Until next time…