By Christina Kaye
You’ve heard it before. You MUST have an established brand/platform in order to sell your books. But what exactly is a platform? A brand? What’s the difference between the two?
Let’s break it down, shall we?
A platform is typically more for nonfiction writers, who have a topic relevant to their book they want to share with the world. Let’s say, for example, you’re writing a memoir about how you were bullied in school growing up. Your platform would be about stopping bullies from torturing young children. Or, let’s say you’re writing a nonfiction book about homesteading. Your platform would be something like “living life off-grid.” Essentially, your platform is the statement you’re making to the world, and your book is backing up your statement.
An author’s brand is more geared toward fiction authors, who want to give their readers something to identify them apart from all other authors.
For this blog post, we’re going to focus on branding as nonfiction platform building is a whole different beast.
It’s not as difficult to establish your brand as you may think.
Focus on You!
The first, most important step is to realize that you do NOT want to brand based on just one of your books, even if you’ve only written one so far. Hopefully, there will be more books in the future, and if you pigeonhole your brand and focus on one book, you’ll have to start all over again for each book.
I see this all the time. First-time authors think they need to brand their book and put it front and center of all their marketing efforts. Yes, it’s true, you are trying to sell your first book. But you also need to establish the know/like/trust factor with your readers. They need to first get to know you as an author, which tells them what they can expect from you now and in the future. Then, they eventually will come to like you because you’re putting out consistently great content, whether in your books or online or both. Eventually, they learn to trust you, and once they trust you, they’ll be much more likely to shell out money and purchase your books.
You’ll even want to either hire a professional photographer or have someone with an updated smart phone take photographs of you that you can use in your branding. Make sure you put your best self forward and use the most flattering images you can. Snapping a quick selfie in poor lighting with poor posture, etc. will not help you get very far or be very attractive to readers. Remember, you don’t have to be a Barbie doll. No one cares about that. But definitely show your readers you are serious about how you present yourself, and get some really nice pictures taken.
I found I took better pictures than my photographer did, just using a tripod and remote.
So, instead of focusing solely on your book when building your brand, think about your story, your genre, and the persona you want to portray as an author.
Now that you understand you are presenting yourself as your brand, you need to take the steps to build that brand.
First, pick 2-3 colors you love the most AND that fit your genre. For example, you may love the color pink, but if you’re writing thrillers or horror, that just won’t fit. Or, you may love the color black, but it probably wouldn’t fit well with a brand built on sweet romance. So, choose colors you love but that will easily work with your story and genre.
There’s even a color guide you can find online that correlates each color with certain moods they project.
As you can see from this color wheel, each color evokes different emotions or feelings in the buyer. So you may want to keep something like this in mind when choosing your colors. But at the end of the day, within reason, it should be something you love and feel comfortable with.
Write a Slogan
Next, consider coming up with a slogan. This step causes many authors stress because for some reason, we can write an 80,000 word book with no problem. But ask us to write 5 to 10 words that are perfect and we lose our sanity. I think that’s because of the pressure we feel to get things just right. But keep in mind, nothing is permanent. If you don’t like your slogan a month from now or even a year from now, you can always change it. So, just do your best to come up with a short sentence or phrase that does the following:
- Tells the reader what genre you write in
- Shows a bit of your personality
- Lets them know what they can expect in your books
When I created my slogan, I tried to make it clear that I write suspenseful, twisty novels. Here’s what I came up with:
(I just threw this image together quickly to demonstrate.)
Now, that’s not the best example, nor do I claim that’s the most awesome slogan ever written, but it works for me, and I think it makes it pretty clear when set against my color scheme in the background and hovering near my book covers, that I write suspenseful, twisty stories.
Keep your slogan short; one sentence or one short phrase will do. Be sure it would be able to fit on any swag, banners, websites, etc.
Build a Website
Speaking of websites, that will be your next step. If you haven’t already, you MUST establish a website for you as an author (again, not just for one book). Keep your “brand” in mind when it comes to color schemes and themes for your website.
Make sure your author website has the following pages (at a minimum):
- About Me (with your picture and bio)
- My Books (and where to purchase)
- Contact Me (with your author email and social media links)
- Blog (see our podcast recent episodes on how to blog)
Side note: when it comes to your author email, make sure you create one that sounds professional and looks like an author’s email. Don’t use the same email you’ve used for personal emails since high school. I have seen some really silly email handles lately, and I want so badly to email them and tell them how silly and unprofessional they come across with email handles like sugarbaby1980@gmail. See what I mean?
As far as building your website goes, you can do it yourself for an investment of $20 or less per month by using websites like WordPress, Wix, SquareSpace, etc. OR you can hire a professional designer (better idea) to create a professional, high-quality website where you can showcase your brand and your books (which is what I recommend).
If you’re seeking a web designer who specializes in author sites, consider working with Nicole at Tuxbee Digital. She created (and hosts) both my business website and my author website. She’s affordable and she knows what author websites MUST contain. You can reach Nicole by emailing her at email@example.com. Be sure to tell her Christina Kaye sent you!
Establish Online Presence
After your website is built, make sure you’ve established 2-3 social media pages on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tik Tok, Pinterest… You don’t have to have one of each of these, but do consider that, the more platforms you showcase your books on, the more exposure you’re going to get. Just don’t get in over your head.
Some marketing experts will tell you to pick one or two you’re really familiar with, but I think they just don’t want us overwhelmed. And there’s some truth to that. But if you hire a PA, they can help you manage several different social media platforms, which means less work for you. And I think the most important factor is getting your books in front of as many readers as possible.
When posting about your books, a general rule of thumb is to use the 80/20 marketing rule. This means, commit 80% of your online marketing (newsletters, social media, blog) to nurturing your readers with fun facts, informative articles, and entertaining posts and 20% to actually trying to sell your books. This will avoid you coming across like a used car salesman and pushing away potential readers.
Ensure your social media pages showcase your brand as well as your books and that your color scheme matches the branding you used on your website.
Same goes for swag, such as bookmarks, pins, cards, book plates, etc. Make sure everything you showcase to readers matches your brand and focuses on you as an author more so than just one of your books. Now, currently, we may not need as many physical swag items, since we’re not attending in-person meetings, groups, or conventions, but it’s still a good idea to have bookmarks, book plates, etc. made because you can stick them inside your books when you mail signed copies, hand them out when you do go out in public, etc. And eventually, this pandemic will lift, so you want to be prepared.
Whatever you choose to do, I have one final parting piece of advice for you. Make certain that, no matter what you’re posting or putting up online, you keep in mind that you are the best advocate for your brand and your book. You can also be the worst advocate. Watch what you say and what you do while online. Yes, it’s America, and we have Freedom of Speech here. But think before you post. Is what you’re about to say going to offend and potentially isolate a large section of your audience? If so, maybe consider NOT posting it and refrain from saying or doing anything that will harm your reputation or your brand.
I hope this helps.
If you have any questions about branding or any aspect of branding, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.