Why Author Brands Are Important

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Having an author brand can help streamline and accelerate one's book marketing and publicity campaign and give momentum to a writer's career. 

Branding Helps Readers Find Authors

Sure, if you're the Dummies Man, you know how to brand a book series. But why do individual authors need a brand?

In her Your Book, Your Brand, Dana Kaye, owner of Kaye Publicity, Inc., writes, "Most [readers] want a guarantee that the next book they pick up is worth their time and money.

So, they go for established names (Patterson, Roberts) books that are getting tons of media attention (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train) or the award winners (Brown Girl Dreaming, All the Light We Cannot See). What does this mean for new or midlist authors? How can you get readers' attention and build an audience in such a crowded marketplace?

"By establishing a brand."

In this Q&A, Kaye discusses why building an author brand is important and she shares how writers can start to establish a brand of their own.

Author Branding Is Distinct From Book Marketing or Book Publicity

Valerie Peterson: Dana, thanks so much for doing this Q&A. In your view, what are the differences between "author branding” and “book marketing" or "book publicity”?

Dana Kaye: Author branding is about establishing who the author is and what they write. An author's brand should encompass all of their books, not just the most recent one.

Book marketing and book publicity are book specific. While there may be some emphasis on the author, a book campaign generally only focuses on the aspects of the author's background that relate to the current book.

VP: So how does an author and his or her team navigate the demands of branding, marketing, and publicity?

DK: Author branding, book marketing, and book publicity actually all work hand in hand.

An author brand aims to bring focus to all publicity and marketing campaigns. Some may say, "all publicity is good publicity" but for authors, the only publicity that makes a difference is coverage that's on brand and reaches their target audience. Book marketing and book publicity campaigns can be much more successful when there's a clear author brand.

How to Establish an Author Brand

VP: How does an author establish a brand? What are the first steps that he or she needs to take?

DK: The first step is to develop an answer to this question: Who are you and what do you write?

That question may seem simple, but it's a little more complicated than saying, "I'm a retired lawyer who writes legal thrillers." The marketplace is crowded, and it takes a unique author brand to really stand out.

Creating a unique tagline can serve as a good jumping off point for an author's message. CJ Lyons writes "Thrillers with Heart" — and that's written right on the homepage of her author website. Sophie Littlefield writes about "Mothers doing the impossible to protect their children in the face of the unthinkable." Whether front and center in promotional materials or less overt, these "branding" taglines provide readers with a clear sense of the authors' work and are more memorable than a standard genre category.

Once authors have a clear understanding of their brand, they can move on to establish that brand through social media, publicity, and in-person events.

VP: How does a writer who's published a wide range of books establish a single author brand?

DK: Writing different types of books definitely makes creating an author brand more complicated. But people are multi-faceted, so most authors do write for different age groups or write in different genres. 

Even when the books seem completely different, most authors have a pattern and gravitate towards certain themes. Those themes can form the basis of an author brand.

In Your Book, Your Brand, I help authors identify patterns in their writing and aspects of their background that relate to their writing to help clarify their own brands.

VP: When you’re working with a team (say, your publisher’s marketing staff or an outside publicist, like yourself), how do you convey to them the brand you want to project? 

DK: That's a good question because it's important for everyone involved with the author's team to be unified on all fronts.

At Kaye Publicity, Inc, we work with the in-house team on brand messaging and how to best position the book.

If the publishing team doesn't have a clear brand in mind, our providing them with one often helps their media outreach and marketing. For example, we're working on a book that pubs next year, Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson, that we're positioning as "Grip Lit for Teens."

Yes, millions of adults have read Grip-Lit titles like Girl on the Train or The Widow, so if readers now see "Grip Lit for Teens" they may be inclined to buy the book for their teenage children. It opens up a whole new audience to market to.

[Quick side note for the sake of The Balance readers who might be unfamiliar with the term "Grip Lit": "Grip Lit" is a term that hearkens to "Chick Lit" and is used to describe a particular type of dark mystery or thriller or crime novels written by women. While these books have always been around — paging Agatha Christie — a surge in popularity has resulted in the term's coinage.]

Author Brand Success

VP:  How does an author know if he or she has been successful in establishing a brand?

DK: Branding success is tough to gauge, but personally, I think it's when readers pick up an author's book solely based on the name recognition.

People grab the latest James Patterson or Nora Roberts regardless of what the particular book is about. They buy their books because they like the author and they know what type of story lies within those pages.

VP: What’s the biggest “branding” mistakes you see authors making? How can an author avoid those?

DK: Not having one!

I see so many authors who try to be everything to everyone. There's no strategy to their publicity outreach or their social media presence. The brand should drive all promotional efforts.

VP: What’s the one most important piece of branding advice you’d like to leave The Balance readers with?

DK: Don't be afraid to say "No" to opportunities that are off-brand. It's so tempting to say yes to every speaking engagement or media interview, but if the opportunity doesn't reach your target audience or reinforce your brand, then it's not worth your time or energy.

Dana Kaye is the owner of Kaye Publicity Inc., a boutique PR company specializing in publishing and entertainment. She is also the author of YOUR BOOK, YOUR BRAND: The Step-by-Step Guide to Launching Your Book and Boosting Sales and teaches online courses at Teachable