As a writer, have you defined your brand? Will your readers know what kind of book you’ll create? Here are four questions to ask, if you don’t know them all, think about what you’d like the answers to be. These four questions will help any writer establish their brand.
Question 1: If your readers had to describe your writing in one sentence, what would they say? (Hint: If you don’t know that answer, the reader’s won’t either.)
Question 2: When your reader finishes the last page of every one of your books, what emotion, or catharsis, will they feel? (Hint: Your endings can vary, as they should. But think of the difference between reading a Max Brooks work versus reading something by Robert Kirkman. Despite their zombie connection, their works are completely different experiences.)
Question 3: If your readers had to say one sentence about you, the author, not your books, what would it be? (Hint: Once again, if you can’t answer this question, then neither can your readers.)
Question 4: What are the essentials of your brand? (Is it genre? A certain character? Your sense of dialogue? What are the elements of your prose that, if lost, your readers would stop reading in a heartbeat?)
Did you notice the consistent element through all four questions? It’s that if you can’t answer the question, how will your reader when they talk about your book? How will an agent when they read your query letter or manuscript? There will be nothing to identify you as a writer. So there you go, to the bottom of the slush pile. Think of what happens when you can clearly define the answer to all four questions above, though. What does that do?
Establishing a brand is one of the most basic tasks in marketing. Yet, it is also, arguably, the most difficult. Good brands have taken a small idea, and became behemoths that could not be shaken through recessions. Bad brands are capable of burying massive corporations in months.
Think of it this way, do you go into a Big Lots expecting quality customer assistance from a knowledgeable sales staff? There is a reason their prices are so low. Big Lots purchases manufacturer’s leftovers and undesirables.
Consequently, a new store has opened in Denver, Colorado called BookBar. Their tagline is “A book shop for wine lovers. A wine bar for book shoppers.” Featuring wine, tea, beer, coffee, Hors d’oeuvres, and desserts, do you expect Keystone Light to be on tap there? It’d go against the brand identity. When you enter locations such as these, you expect finer foods and a composed selection of wine, not to mention the latest in the publishing world. If you look at the BookBar website, you probably knew in about 10-15 seconds whether you want to go here, didn’t you?
When establishing a brand as a writer or creative artist in any medium, it is essential that your reader, or audience, knows what to expect. One of J.K. Rowling’s hardest accomplishments was to shake the Harry Potter franchise in order to sell her latest book that aimed for a completely different demographic. One would argue that she tried her best, but didn’t truly succeed. If you went up to any random person and asked who J.K. Rowling is, how many do you think would respond, “Oh yeah, J.K. Rowling, she wrote ‘Casual Vacancy,’ right?” This is not speaking against her, she gave a valiant effort in her first foray outside of Hogwarts. She still sold more copies of that one book than most authors will in their lives, but she is still known for her brand, Harry Potter. She always will be to an extent, no matter how many books she takes outside of her infamous school for witchcraft and wizardry.
One of the best examples of seeing when brand identity is successfully established is the video embedded below. It is of a small child looking at logos of random companies, and discussing what she knows. There some that she nails on the forehead, she gets both coffee places, Starbucks and Panera Bread. So therefore you know where her parents go frequently. She was able to identify McDonald’s and Disney without missing much of a beat, not surprisingly. Notice how she struggles quite a bit on Monster Energy, that shows you that she has respectful parents who don’t give their five-year-old energy drinks. So bonus points to them. Watch it and see if you observed one of the more interesting observations she makes, in my humble opinion.
Quite possibly the most intriguing take away is when she sees the Bank of America. Of course a five-year-old won’t know what Bank of America is; however, take note of what she observed.
“It looks like the American flag,” she said.
This is alarmingly telling of what the brand did, in terms of identity. A five-year-old doesn’t need to stop by and check on her low yield-low risk investment portfolio and savings accounts, but she did recognize the American flag. That means the essence of their logo is conveyed accurately. She’s not the target, but she damned well understood what the logo tried to convey. That means an accurate seed has been planted in her mind about what that company represents.
What is your brand? Look at writers and artists. You don’t expect George R.R. Martin to write a nostalgic love story like Nicolas Sparks. You don’t expect Brandon Sanderson to suddenly publish a book on cooking, although let’s not throw that idea out. If they diverted radically from their expected work, they’d be in violation of their brand identity. Look at Carol Berg’s bibliography of collected works. There isn’t a single listing on there that seems misplaced. From the “Novels of the Collegia Magica” to her standalone, “Song of the Beast,” Berg’s fans know what she will be writing, and, to a degree, what to expect.
See the first YouTube video in what will be my long running series, The Writer’s Conquest, below. Episode 1: Establishing a Brand, hits June 17th. You can always visit www.ThomasAFowler.com for the latest and greatest.
Chime in the comments section with your brand identity below, share the work you’ve done. Have questions or comments? Tweet me @thomasafowler with the hashtag #WritersConquest. We’ll see you Thursday to begin discovering what you’ll write.