Hacks for Hacks: The Basics of Author Branding

Brand
photo by Rupert Ganzer

The highway to publication overflows with cars: luxury behemoths;  sensible hybrids; nondescript, windowless vans with strange dents that protrude from the inside. Each bears the logo of the mechanic who brought it to life. You’ve built a car, too, with good mileage and a cherry spoiler. [Author’s note: The cars are a metaphor for your books.]

But when you get your baby on the highway, you can’t ignore that a metallic paint job and tilt steering is all that differentiates your vehicle from every other car in its class, no matter what shiny-metal totem adorns its hood. How does your creation stand out? You don’t need a better insignia. You don’t even need the car metaphor. You need to remake yourself. You must become the deer sprinting headlong across the road. When your book crumples someone’s hood and cracks their windshield, rest assured you’ve got their attention. And that’s pretty much the Tab-A and Slot-B of branding.

You need to remake yourself. You must become the deer sprinting headlong across the road. When your book crumples someone’s hood and cracks their windshield, rest assured you’ve got their attention

As a twenty-first-century author, the fulcrum of your success is your personal brand. Think Hemingway’s manliness. Neil Gaiman’s leather jacket. Harlan Ellison’s sociopathy. A lot of folks are confused about what exactly branding is. Folks like me, for example. After extensive research in the furthest corners of the internet–at great risk to my personal safety and sanity, you’re welcome–I’ve determined that branding means pretty much whatever you say it means (and since I’m the big shot with the column, when I say “you” I mean “me”). So here’s how to get started building your personal author brand:

Image

First, you’ll need your author photo. Well, before you do that, you’ll need someone to take the picture, so zerost, find a photographer. Folks in the photo biz have a saying: The best camera is the one you have with you. This advice also applies to photographers themselves, probably, meaning anybody holding a Nikon or “smart phone” will do. Once they’ve snapped a photo of you, step three is to touch it up in Photoshop. Add some lens flare to make it look like you’re a cool person in a J.J. Abrams movie. If you write chick lit, perhaps remove the photo background and put yourself in a Macy’s or wherever.

Add some lens flare to make it look like you’re a cool person in a J.J. Abrams movie.

If you write fantasy, sub in photos of castles and dragons and Merlins. If you write literary fiction, you should do the castle and dragon thing, too, to entice people who don’t normally read dense prose about divorce and real estate. You can get Photoshop for $700 on Adobe.com, or pay Craig at work twenty bucks to leave the supply cabinet unlocked after hours.

Website

When your book launches, you want it to hit the market with the force of a meteor. Consider your website the smoking crater your book leaves behind. In this day and age, if you don’t have a web presence, people will assume you’re either hiding something, or you’re an older luddite who’s wiping her feet on death’s doormat. Back in the early days of the Internet, way back in 2004 or so, you had to know HTML to create a website. I hear it was even harder fifty years ago, when computer whizzes had to program websites on those little punch cards. Today, you barely have to be able to read to build an author website. You can build a great site using a free resource called Geocities. (If you haven’t heard of Geocities, run an Internet search for them on Infoseek.)
Here’s my Geocities website. Note the “hotlinks” to other cool pages. Note the midi jukebox playing computer renditions of the greatest hits of today, kinda. Note all the animated GIFs that will make visitors scream, “Wow, this guy must work for Toy Story, what with all these cartoon pictures on his website!”

When your book launches, you want it to hit the market with the force of a meteor. Consider your website the smoking crater your book leaves behind.

Focus

Let’s talk about your work. You’ve got a mystery novel in the can, an urban fantasy in progress, and a literary epic percolating in your head. This is sufficient for a schizophrenia diagnosis in some states. Variety is overrated. You need to pick the one thing–ONE THING!–that you’re going to be famous for, and focus your time, attention, and creativity upon it till it bursts into flames like an ant under a magnifying glass. If that sounds limiting, realize that you can stuff your entire writing career into the narrowest of niche markets. Sacrificing your creative output is worth winning over the oddballs who live at the corner of Weirdly Specific Avenue and Alarming Devotion Boulevard. You must choose your debut carefully: If your first novel is YA urban fantasy about a girl pretending to be a boy so she can join a Little League team  and save her bioluminescent zombie boyfriend/shortstop, then that’s officially Your Thing. Your fries will be ketchupped by gender identity and supernatural glitter for the rest of your career. Consider shelving your WIP for a couple months to decide precisely how you’d like to be pigeonholed.

Branded!

You should now have a good idea how to set yourself apart by crafting your unique author brand. Once you’ve decided on your brand, you may discover it doesn’t represent the kind of thing you write. Revision is the heart of writing, so you can always retool your regency romance to conform to the lens-flared, dragon-slaying, animated-GIF wielding author you didn’t know you wanted to be until five minutes ago.

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About Bill Ferris

After college, Bill Ferris left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife, Jen, and his sons, Elliott and Wyatt, and he looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.

Comments

  1. says

    A fun and seductively savvy post. I leave with ‘variety is overrated’ and the ‘ONE thing’ advice. Makes sense. I suppose if you had more than one genre in you bursting to get out, you could make a different brand with a pen name and completely different web site to support it (or them). But, your central theme that your initial genre could just identify you for subsequent discovery is profound and sobering and deserves thought, decision and planning. If correct, how DO I want to be branded? Hmmm.

    PS: I’ve already made my decision without being fully aware I had. I’m a mystery/adventure digital novellist with 23 works on Amazon and Smashwords. I can live with that.
    alex wilson´s last blog post ..White Space

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  2. says

    Good post and love your writing style. I agree to an extent. I do thing branding is critical, however, I don’t fully agree that as authors we can’t dance in the sand of change now and then (did I really just type that?).

    My debut novel and my blog are very snarky…novel is chick lit funny (and thanks for the Macy’s background idea!). But I also like to play with drama. I supposed my brand could just be woman’s stuff?

    Anyway, I shared this post and subscribed.

    Thank you!

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    • says

      I’m glad to know that there’s someone else out there that believes an author may skip the branding. I realize it does happen to some authors as well as actors.
      My blog is rather eclectic. I started out doing blogs to help writers, but that is well covered. Then I switched to a few short pieces I had started and had nothing to do with except throw them in a blog. Also, I wrote some on recent events. One of my friends reviewed my blog. She said, nicely, that I ‘seemed to write whatever popped into her head’.
      I did not think that it was a bad idea for a blog, but a few others have said it’s unusual. A blog normally has a theme.
      I like your humor and writing style. I’ve never been much for chick lit, but I’m curious to read yours, hoping they would be in the same vein as your comment.
      Connie Terpack´s last blog post ..Freshly Pressed: Friday Faves

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  3. CG Blake says

    Bill,
    Sound advice delivered in an engaging style, but I disagree on one point. I would hire the best photographer available for the author shot. Your face is your brand and you must show a professional photo. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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  4. says

    “You need to pick the one thing–ONE THING!–that you’re going to be famous for, and focus your time, attention, and creativity upon it till it bursts into flames like an ant under a magnifying glass.”

    Bill, you’re a genius. Great post!
    Cindy Angell Keeling´s last blog post ..Ancestral Hair

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  5. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    :) Love this post.

    PS. And I’ve seen the deer on the windshield bit taken to heart. Brutal. And it’s quite gorey on film, too. Think it was that Shane Black movie starring Geena Davis.

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  6. says

    Love those metaphors! Deer book cracking winshields, lens flares to cover up bad hair, smoking websites, torched books, etc. I had no idea that author branding could be that violent. LOL.

    Geocities is not the only place to be. There’s freebie Weebly that gives WordPress a run for its money. Pay a bit more and you get your own domain. You can create an author website on Weebly in 5 minutes or less, depending on what else you need to do that day.

    You said: “You need to pick the one thing–ONE THING!–that you’re going to be famous for, and focus your time, attention, and creativity upon it till it bursts into flames like an ant under a magnifying glass.”

    Well, I’m not sure if I agree with the mono-genre concept. I think authors need backup plans. For tradpub authors, if they end up being midlist, and make no sales, they’d be goners unless they have Plan B to back them up. They could self-pub, but with non-compete and return of rights issues, they might have to start a new series or new genre. So I err on the better-safe-than-sorry side of things. Diversify your portfolio and all that jazz.

    Overall, great points re: author branding. I need to bookmark this article. Thanks again!

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  7. says

    Well I must say this was one of the best descriptions of AUTHOR branding I’ve ever come across & also its so well, demanding, as in a “YOU MUST BRAND or you’re old” kinda way. LOL. Too much fun. And what’s not to love about that horned fem-bot on your blog. Yea baby! I kept fretting about my “brand” but its usually one of those deals of not seeing the forest through the trees but one day you relax the mind & it goes “uh duh, your brand is VENICE, dummy.” Ciaooooo.
    Diana Cachey´s last blog post ..TOP TEN Things to Do In VENICE

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