Monday, May 24, 2010
First Steps to Building Your Author Brand by Blythe Gifford
I'm happy to offer a special post from Blythe Gifford today about building your brand. I attended one of her workshops on the subject and was surprised to learn things about my own writing I didn't know before. Hopefully, you can take her advice to heart as well. - Morgan Mandel
Under a pseudonym, Blythe Gifford has been providing marketing and industry affairs counsel and execution for many years. She holds an MBA and has worked in public relations, advertising, and corporate marketing, with businesses ranging from Kraft Foods to Westin Hotels to First Alert.
Talk of author branding and how to do it is everywhere these days. If it seems overwhelming, it is, even for professionals. (I was in marketing and advertising for several decades before selling my first romance.)
It is difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is that it requires you do two contradictory things: Explain how you are like other authors as well as how you are different from other authors.
How you are like other authors
In order for an editor to buy you, a bookseller to shelve you, or a reader be take a chance on you, each has to understand your place in the world. Do you write mystery? Thriller? Romance? What kind? Historical? Paranormal? Humorous? What kind of humor? Situational comedy? Satire? Slapstick?
You must be able to clearly articulate your genre and what corner of it is yours. A rambling description of your work as a “romantic thriller with paranormal elements that’s funny, but also a tear-jerker” communicates that you know neither the market nor your place in it.
Once you can define your genre, (e.g. historical romance) the next step, your corner of the genre, is more challenging. To get there, I recommend you think of two to three “aspirational authors.” By that, I don’t mean New York Times best sellers. (We all aspire to that!) Pick three authors you love and admire and whose work you might hope to emulate on your very best day. Think about what connects them to each other and to your work and then seek some phrases or adjectives that capture those things. That should give you a start on the path.
It should also start you thinking of how your work differs from theirs.
How you are different from other authors:
If you have completed the previous exercise, an editor, or agent, or reader, will now have accurate expectations of where you fit in the market. But, of course, if you’ve clearly positioned yourself as similar to existing authors, you need to explain why they should read/buy you in addition to the perfectly good authors they already know and love. There are two aspects to this question: superficial differences and fundamental differences.
Superficial differences, as I think of them, are the “hooks.” They may describe a single book (a reverse Cinderella story in which she’s the princess) or a series (as I do with characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket). The hook can differentiate you from what else is out there.
But only for awhile.
Because a hook can be copied. Original as your “reverse Cinderella” premise seems to you, an editor could have two proposals with the same idea. But even if she did, they would be different. Why? Because of the fundamental differences, or what I call “the soul of the brand.”
Soul encompasses voice, theme, and core story. It’s why you write what you write and what keeps you showing up to face a blank screen. It’s the bedrock of what you have to say to the world. And it’s what your readers will respond to, and return to share with you, again and again.
The soul of the brand cannot be copied. And cannot be faked. Because, ultimately, “brand” is not a costume you put on.
It is a shorthand for what you truly are.
Her 2009 release, IN THE MASTER’S BED, has just finaled in the Readers Crown contest.
Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ®and T are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license. Copyright 2010 ■ Author photo by Jennifer Girard.
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Please be sure to leave a comment here to thank Blythe for her topical advice.