What is author branding?

Author branding is a projection of who you are, what you do, and how you solve a reader’s problem.

You can entertain a reader with sweeping stories of long-ago love or make them laugh with personal tales of growing up in the South. You can shock them with outrageous ideology or comfort them with soothing prose.

But branding goes beyond your books. It shows up on your website, social media posts, podcast interviews, and personal appearances.

Branding is what you say, how you say it, and who you say it to.  It’s not just who you are but how you operate. It’s not just what makes you tick but how you make someone feel. The goal is to build trust with your reader, so they take a chance on your book—take a chance on you. It is an essential piece of your book marketing strategy.

Why do you need an author brand?

With millions of books out there and thousands more published every day, author branding can give you an edge.

Branding helps you stand out among other writers and authors. Branding helps you build trust whether you are writing an epic fantasy or teaching someone how to grow a garden. It’s what makes you “sticky” or memorable. To sell books, we need to be unique and authentic. As Seth Godin describes it in Purple Cow, we need to be remarkable.

Jeff Bezos, love him or hate him, states, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

So, whether you purposely choose your brand or not, you have one anyway. It’s better to be intentional about how you present your author self to the world.

However, in her book Prove It, Author Melanie Deziel says backing up your claims is also important to building your brand. It’s how you show up over and over to prove you are living up to your brand promise.

What makes a good author brand?

Writing in a single genre

Consider authors John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, and Brené Brown.

These authors feed the beast. They show up over and over to the same audience and deliver book after book, so they are known in their genre. You know what you’re going to get when you read books from each of these authors.

Yes, you can write in different genres to keep creatively energetic. And you can use a pen name if you write in different genres. However, doing so may dilute your brand-building effectiveness.

Writing to a niche

Writing to a niche within your genre can help solidify your position and brand. Writing medical romances or courtroom mysteries as opposed to general genres like mystery or romance can help with branding and book ranking on Amazon.

Finding and keeping to a specific genre and niche help define your messaging and other visual elements on your website and social media. It’s much harder to create a consistent brand if you write historical romance and contemporary romance.

Focusing on the reader

Who are your readers, and what do they need or want from you? A good author brand finds the intersection of knowing who their readers are and delivering the author’s best authentic self with exactly what the readers want.

Know that your ideal reader isn’t everyone, and they don’t have to be. There are plenty of people for all kinds of writers. No need to hound the romance reader with your sci-fi book. Trying to build your brand so you attract both unless you write sci-fi romance skews your brand and can be confusing to all readers.

Consistency

Consistency in your brand message, plus consistently showing up, builds a path for your readers to follow. They know what to expect when you show up and are eager to hear from you when you do. If you’ve ever read a blog post or email that said, “I’m back!” they haven’t lived up to the promise to be there for their audience.

What if my favorite podcaster, yes, you, Douglas Burdett, decided he’d rather spend the day at Taco Bell instead of posting his latest interview? Or what if he took six months off to do stand-up comedy instead? I’d have to listen to someone else. And maybe I’d forget to come back.

How do you create your author brand?

Find your target reader

As previously mentioned, know who they are and what they need from you. If you write about gardening, find your tribe of garden lovers and speak their language. It shouldn’t be hard because you love gardening too.

Consistently show up where they are and deliver valuable content. Entertain them. Enlighten them. Teach them something they really want to know. Help your fellow gardeners be better at what they love to do or help them laugh at their sad little tomato plants.

Create a style guide

A style guide is how your content looks to readers. A guide may consist of fonts, colors, your logo or stylized author name, and any graphics you use, like a background or banner.

By using a style guide, you show up today, tomorrow, and next year and people will recognize your brand. They will know they are home when they see you. A consistent look brands you as a professional. While you don’t need to go crazy with style guides, a few basics will help you look like the professional writer you’ve become.

Here is an example of a style guide from my good friends at BrandSwan, including the style guide and assets they created for The Happy Self-Publisher.

Author brand

Find your voice

The style guide dictates how your brand looks. A content style guide records what you say and how you say it. Your content style keeps your messaging on point, so it reassures the reader that they are in the right place. Intentional messaging drives your author brand.

According to GatherContent.com, your content style guide starts with your brand personality. Are you funny, sarcastic, kind, professorial, quirky, or something else? Your personality comes out in your language, both written and spoken. To help determine your author personality, ask friends to say three words that describe you. Their answers help you build your guide. You might be helpful, funny, and charismatic, or you might be thoughtful, gentle, and quirky, or any number of combinations.

Your content also conveys your values. Perhaps your novel features a powerful female main character, and that carries over to your messaging. You may share content from female authors with similar characters, show your support for organizations that empower women, or feature women on your podcast.

Design a tagline

A tagline is a brief descriptor of who you are, what you are known for, who you do it for, and most importantly, the problem you solve for readers.

Look on Instagram or LinkedIn for authors’ taglines. Which ones are generic, and which stand out? Writer or author can be part of the story, but what makes you unique, and how can you express it in a way that makes people want to connect with you in an authentic way? “Spinner of fantastical tales” sounds more enticing than “fantasy writer,” although both are suitable.

Write your origin story

Your origin story is how you got to be where you are today. For many writers, their origin story is a major part of their brand. Whether it was a kid with a flashlight reading mysteries under the covers to the Army vet who learned the value of teamwork during combat, your origin story gives readers a window into what makes you tick. It gives them a connection point and a reason to trust you.

Nailing your origin story is crucial when you are interviewed on podcasts or other media. You’ll often hear the host ask, “Did you always know you were a writer?” or “What prompted you to write your book?” It’s a consistent message that connects you, your book(s), and your audience to the essence of who you are.

Author bio

Your author bio is often found on the back of a book, on your Amazon Author Central page, and as an introduction as a guest, speaker, or workshop leader. It’s a place to tout your chops as a bestselling author or award winner or outline your credentials to write your book. Your bio helps build trust with the reader to know your books are worth the time and money spent.

If it’s your first book and you don’t have a long list of accolades yet, debut author, avid reader, or diligent student of the craft are all acceptable substitutes. Show your passion for your topic or genre or your inspirations for writing your book instead. Your origin story can be part of a longer bio regardless of how credentialed your bio might be.

Author headshot

You are an important element of your brand! Like your bio, your headshot will be used over and over. In your photo, readers will see your clothes, the background, your pose, and your facial expression. If your tattoos are part of your brand, flaunt them. If you are a serious researcher, something more reserved is probably in order. Consider who you are and how you want to be perceived before shooting the photo.

While a good quality camera and proper lighting might work, a professional photographer specializes in bringing out the best in you. Your initial investment will be spread out over many uses in the future.

Author website

Your author website is your home base for your brand. It all comes together here. Your content, the look and feel, your books, headshot, and access to you. Your author website will tell your reader whether you are in it for yourself or for them. It will let them know if you are the author worth their time, money, and energy. That’s a lot!

Your books and book covers take a starring role in setting the stage for your brand. The website celebrates you and your books, but it mostly celebrates the readers. Invite them in and ask them to stay a while.

Social media

And finally, your author brand shines most brightly on social media. As opposed to a static website, your social media platforms are constantly changing. With your style and content guides in your hands, you’ll deliver fresh content to your readers to keep them engaged.

Consistently adding content to your social media “on brand” lets readers know you care about them. If cat videos are on brand for you, have at it. If not, stick with what your readers crave. For some, that’s inspirational quotes. For others, that’s video tutorials. For still others, that may be maps of the world you created in your epic fantasy novel.

Take readers on a journey with your author brand at the helm. You just may find they’ll follow you anywhere.

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