Where Everybody Knows Your Name – 3 problems with branding your books instead of your author name by Bianca Sloane
Remember that scene from “Back to the Future,” when Marty McFly wakes up in 1955 to find his mother repeatedly calling him “Calvin Klein?”
And why does she keep calling him “Calvin Klein?”
“It’s written all over [his] underwear.”
Exactly. It didn’t say “Underwear” all over it – it said Calvin Klein, thus establishing a firm connection in Lorraine’s mind about who (she thought) the boy in the bed was.
Calvin Klein, like every other savvy marketer out there, from Oprah to Martha Stewart, Donald Trump to Madonna, understand their name is their brand. As consumers, we form emotional connections with brand names and what they represent. You can go to the store and buy any old package of underwear; however it’s what you feel (sexy, fashionable, comfortable) when you wear a pair of Calvin Klein underwear that keeps you loyal to his brand of briefs. In some way, you feel as though you have a piece of Calvin Klein all to yourself.
It’s not all that different with an author. I know when I pick up a book by John Grisham or Marian Keyes, how it’s going to make me feel as a reader, which is why we keep buying and reading their books. Sure, there are lots of authors who write legal thrillers and chick lit, but there is something special about the way they tell a story that keeps readers coming back for more.
While the world of publishing continues to undergo dramatic change, the need to brand yourself as an author hasn’t and won’t change. However, a lot of newbie authors get into the game without really understanding what that means and as a result, put the cart before the horse. Instead of thinking about what the name behind the books will stand for, they waste a lot of time trying to artificially garner buzz by establishing Twitter accounts for characters, web domains for individual titles or Facebook pages for series, believing this will send readers to them in droves (let your readers drive this kind of thing. What better advertising could George Lucas hope for than to have some random guy in Colorado with a “Darth Vader” Twitter account? It’s a very funny feed, by the way.)
There are several problems with branding your books instead of yourself:
1) You’re not allowing your readers to establish an emotional connection with you. Do you get excited when you meet a book or when you meet the author behind the book?
2) When you lock yourself into creating an identity for a single book, what happens when you write the next book? You have to start the branding process all over again for that one book, instead of using it to bolster the brand you should have already established by using your name. This is a waste of time, energy and other resources.
Your books are an extension of your brand name, much the same way “O, the Magazine” is extension of Oprah or Air Jordans remain an extension of Michael Jordan and Nike. My 60-something father couldn’t tell you the name of one song by Beyonce or Britney Spears – but he 100 percent knows who they are – because their name is their brand.
3) People NEVER remember the name of a book. Trust me on this one – I worked in a bookstore for many years. It was always, “where do I find the newest Janet Evanovich?” or “I heard Stephen King on NPR last night, talking about his new book, but I didn’t write the name down. Can you tell me where to find it?”
Readers establish bonds with the writer, not with the book (except in very rare exceptions like Harry Potter. Again, that’s the exception rather than rule. Worry about being rule, not the exception, and the rest will follow.)
Readers absolutely know Sue Grafton is “the lady who writes the alphabet books,” or that Lillian Jackson Braun “writes about the cats,” but many of them would be hard-pressed to tell you the title of a single book either of them wrote. As you grow your writing career and build your backlist, over time, your biggest buck will come from your name.
It can be tempting to try and take shortcuts on the way to building a readership by employing gimmicks like www.mybook.com instead of www.joeblow.com. Building a brand from nothing takes a LOT of blood, sweat and tears. But it can be done! Here are some quick tips to remember when establishing your author brand:
- Decide what your author name will stand for – Graphic medical thrillers? Futuristic romance? Gritty urban drama? Think long and hard about how you want to position yourself in the marketplace and what kinds of images and ideas you want to be associated with. Let that guide everything from the way your website and book covers will look to your marketing blurbs, the types of blogs you write and tweets you’ll send out.
- Use your name as your domain name. When it comes time for a reader to learn more about you after reading your book (or even before), they WILL go in search of more information about the name on the front cover. Make it easy for them and use your name!
- Stamp your name across everything. From your email address, bookmarks, business cards, Pinterest page, blog , Facebook fan page – everything – keep your name, look and feel consistent across all platforms. If you have a tagline, include that on everything as well. Doing this will reinforce who you are in readers minds and help them forge that all-important connection with who you are as an author.
Bianca Sloane is a freelance writer living in Chicago. When she’s not writing, she’s watching Bravo TV, Investigation Discovery, reading or cooking. “Live and Let Die” is her first novel.
She’s written two other guest posts at The Writers’ Shack:
What is your experience with branding? Do you put more effort into branding your name, or your book titles?
Image courtesy of Calvin Klein.