Chip MacGregor

August 8, 2012

What else does an author need to know about branding?


More thoughts on branding for authors…

6. Clarifying your brand is crucial. Figure out what need your writing addresses, what connection you make with readers, what defines you as a writer. Branding consultants are always asking, “What’s your core message?” I believe a brand comes from the inside out — it’s not something imposed onto your work (“I’m going to try and sound deep”), but instead is rooted in your unique voice and message. Your brand is a natural extension of who you are, so think about how you’re different and what you want to be known for. Once you figure it out, you work that brand consistently.

7. Branding means being both unique and consistent. You can’t really be “the Queen of the Cozy Mystery” — Agatha Christie sewed that up 40 years ago. You need to figure out what’s unique, what is different, and then you need to hammer away at that same message again and again. Talk it through with marketing and sales in advance of your next release. Be sure the packaging reflects your brand. Get the word out with every editor and author. Focus on your brand with every media contact (rather than only talking about your immediate release). Target specific audiences who will be receptive to your brand, rather than aiming for a wide audience. Look for groups who should be reading your books, prioritize them, and find avenues for reaching them. You want to be clear and concise (most authors spend far too many words trying to describe their brand) and consistent in pushing your brand. And remember to show evidence for your brand; don’t just make a claim (“The best romance writer on the planet” probably won’t fly with readers unless you can buttress that claim with awards, acclaim, and sales numbers).

8. Branding may not be for you. You may not be ready to brand yourself. Maybe you’re currently working in various genres, and a firm brand at this time would be premature. (An example: If you’ve published a gritty crime novel, but want your next two books to be a cozy mystery and a funky YA urban fantasy, then you may not be focused enough to brand your work.) OR you may be an author who defies brands — you create literary fiction, and it tends to wander in and out of genres, and by establishing a clear brand you’ll constantly be breaking promises to readers. I think forcing a newer author to focus his or her writing may make the publisher’s job easier, but it may not be the best thing for the author’s creativity. As Jack London once put it, “I can never get out of the damn Klondike!”

9. Branding is about quality. In my view, branding for a writer comes back to quality — if you create a great read for people who like the sort of books you write, you can begin to establish a brand in their minds. But even a wonderfully inventive brand won’t support a lousy product, which is why I always say the success of a writer always comes back, eventually, to the quality of the craft. Become a great writer first, and you’ll establish your brand in the minds of readers.

Feel free to ask me clarifying questions about this — I love talking branding.

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  • Genny Heikka says:

    This was so helpful; thank you!

  • I’ve watched cows being branded on a ranch in North Dakota. Until I read your blog, it looked easier than branding yourself as a writer. Thanks for explaining….and including #8…

  • Cherry Odelberg says:

    So, if branding is about quality and a writer writes in many different genres (with good literary quality), the writer’s voice and quality become a recognizable brand.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I think that can happen, but it’s tough. Certainly there are artists known simply for “quality,” but normally there is a focus or theme or vision that’s also clear, Cherry.

  • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

    I love what you said, Chip, about the timing factor. I sold my first novel in 2006, but I only this year discovered a brand for my books. Actually, it was told to me by a few readers. So, I revamped my web site and added the tagline for my brand. Same for my business cards and one-sheets.

    I sold 13 novels before I had a brand, so if you’re new, I would recommend you focus more on the content and plot/characters of your stories than on your brand. There is time once you’ve got a few books under your belt for you to determine your groove and what works best.

  • Tim Osner says:

    This is a very interesting topic you’ve raised. Branding is one of those things that are both in and out of our control. Branding is not what you say you are, but what the public says you are – not so much what they think, but they’re gut reaction. What you said about quality goes to the heart of the matter.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Tim. And yes — branding is very much about who you are. I think branding tends to fail when it’s a “made for an audience” idea from some subcommittee.

  • R Taylor says:

    I’m a prepublished (sounds better and more promising than unpublished!) author, and will be pitching my novel to agents at the AFCW conference. Would it be appropriate to define a brand for my two romantic thrillers, even though my first novel has only been read by less than 50 people?

    • chipmacgregor says:

      It might, Ruth… but you may not be at a place in your career yet where you WANT to brand. Again, some authors simply don’t want to brand themselves, at least until they’ve figured out who they are, what they write, and what their messages are. (And, on the other hand, some writers know from the first page what their brand is going to be.) I tend to think a brand is discovered as much as it’s created.

    • R Taylor says:

      Thanks, Chip. For now, I’ll just concentrate on perfecting my pitch. Just want to make sure I have all bases covered for the questions that will be asked of me. See you there.

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