Monday, May 24, 2010

First Steps to Building Your Author Brand by Blythe Gifford

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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.


And now, here's Blythe to tell us the First Steps to Building Your Author Brand:

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.

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BLYTHE GIFFORD is the author of five, angsty medieval romances from Harlequin Historical. She specializes in characters born on the wrong side of the royal blanket. With HIS BORDER BRIDE, she crosses the border and sets a story in Scotland for the first time, where the rules of chivalry don’t always apply.
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.

Blythe loves to have visitors at www.blythegifford.com and at www.facebook.com/BlytheGifford

Please be sure to leave a comment here to thank Blythe for her topical advice.

36 comments :

  1. Welcome to The Blood-Red Pencil, Blythe. You've got some very timely information for us here.
    Thanks,
    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
    http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

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  2. Thank you, Blythe, for breaking it down into common sense and doable parts for us.
    Much continued success to you.

    Jennifer Perry
    http://madameperryssalon.blogspot.com

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  3. Thank you, Blythe. I love this:

    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.

    I collect quotes, and this is gold. You have made it into my notebook, and I'll give you full credit. Does Seth Gordon know he has competition? Timely post. Cheers, Simon.

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  4. Good morning early risers and thanks for the warm welcomes. It's good to know my musings were helpful. (Competition for Seth Gordon? May I quote YOU on that?)

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  5. Blythe, thank you. I have been stumbling around in my head trying to decide where I belong in so far a genre is concerned. You have helped me enormously to come to grips with the fact that I have a voice uniquely my own. I need now to verify what makes it that way.

    Suzannah Burke.

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  6. Very helpful advice. Being genre specific is a must as far as publishers are concerned nowadays. They need to envisage the exact shelf in the bookstore that your book will fit into. They soon let me know when I had my genres crossed!

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  7. Thanks for the words of wisdom! I write concept books for children and it applies to me too!

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  8. I too love that quote. It's a perfect elaboration on what I tell writers who worry about their idea being stolen: Even if that exact idea were duplicated, the resulting book would be nothing like yours. No two people will ever write the same take on an idea.

    Now I know why.

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  9. Great advice, Blythe.

    It's so interesting how we need to fit in yet be original all at the same time!

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  10. Thanks, Blythe, for an informative post based in reality. You took what seems like an undefinable concept and make it understandable.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

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  11. Branding is not easy - and a lot of failure is rooted in imagery that isn't strong or consistent over time. This is where darlings tend to show up a lot, too. I'm so sensitive on that level that disparate cover designs in a series can turn me off and make me stop reading an author's new book.

    Thanks for the visit, Blythe, and your good advice.

    Dani

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  12. Thanks Blythe. Knowing your brand helps you write what you write. If that's clear. And your post is great information for unpublished writers as we struggle to figure out where we fit. It's so tempting to try and write the flavor of the month, but if it doesn't fit what we're drawn to write, then our writing is stiff..

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  13. I've been guilty of doing exactly what you criticize, namely navigating between two genres.
    My Five Star mysteries, THE INFERNO COLLECTION and THE DROWNING POOL, are romantic mysteries but not exactly romantic suspense. They don't fall into any precise genre. They also have literary and paranormal elements. Mistake? Probably!

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  14. Lovely clear advice. Thank you Blythe. It's something I've been trying to define for a while and you give me a feel that maybe I'll even find the right words soon.

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  15. Blythe, thank you for a great, informative blog. So much food for thought...
    Mary

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  16. Very helpful post for those of us still working on branding ourselves. Glad we are doing it with words and not with the branding irons used on cattle. LOL

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  18. Wow! Glad to see so many of you found this helpful. It is harder to do than it sounds, I know. Dani, images are something I talk about in my workshop on this topic. We can control our websites, author photos, and so on. The publisher, for most of us, is in control of the covers. One of the challenges of the profession!

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  19. A wonderful way to break author branding down -- not selling this book or that book -- but selling the "soul" of what you do. Thanks for the insight!

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  20. Such a challenge to distill your heart and mind into easily understandable, digestable thought. You have done so here--plainly explaining what may seem intuitive until you are the one out in the darkness of the publishing world trying to light a torch pointing to your work.

    True north is your voice, that which you alone are drawn to communicate to readers. Each of us is unique even in the face of the old adage that there are no new stories...just new voices. Discern your true north and you will find your way to becoming a bright beacon in the publishing scheme.

    Thank you for sharing your lucidity and wisdom.

    Regards,
    Christine London
    www.christinelondon.com
    (writing with a Contemporary Diana Gabaldon flare and a Vivian Brentanos British sensibility all my own...lol)

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  21. Enjoyed it and took it to heart, but no sure I truly understand how to do it. I write in different genders, so find this difficult to translate into one brand..I'll be thinking about this for a long while....Jean

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  22. Great advice, Blythe. Brand is always tough to define, but I think you did it beautifully.

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  23. Thank you, Blythe, even though you stepped on my toes. Or maybe thank you because you stepped on my toes. I've been describing my new release as a paranormal time travel romance with suspense elements--just what you said to avoid. Oh, dear. Now I'll have to come up with a new description.

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  24. Thanks, Morgan and Blythe! What a helpful post for writers at all different stages of their careers. I love the part about "the soul of the brand" and how it's shorthand for the author herself. Excellent!

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  25. Jaqueline and Caroline and anyone struggling to blend or straddle multiple genres: It's all about the reader's expectations. Genre "mashups" are more and more common, but your promise really has to fulfill that of the genre. For example, it can be a romance with a mystery subplot, but the primary promise is to romance readers. Switching genres? Of course you can. But readers don't pay as much attention to us as we do. (Darn!) It's KISS (Keep It Simple...) or they'll not get the message. Or, if they do, it will take a long, long time. That's why some writers take a different name when they switch genres.

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  26. Great post!

    It's hard to sit down and figure out where you fit on that bookshelf, but as you say, it has to be done.

    Thanks for sharing :)

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  27. I just returned from Blue Mountain Christian Writers Conference where branding was much discussed at the marketing classes. Can branding be too specific, leading to a situation like type-casting for actors?

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  28. So MUCH to think about in writing,publishing and marketing a book! I wonder, if we had really known went all went into it, would we have gone ahead with it? grin. Yeah, I think so.
    Thanks, Blythe, for your great advice.

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  29. I find the whole idea of branding so confusing. This post helped clarify the issue so maybe I can now begin to find the "soul" of my brand. Thanks.

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  30. Remember through this entire conversation that self-publishing is gaining a strong foothold. In that case, the author DOES have control of every part of the process including book cover. And book design tends to be one of the weakest parts of the package; here authors should be paying a professional dedigner. A picture is worth a thousand words, and if your cover isn't appealing, readers will turn away, especially in brick & mortar stores.

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  31. 一定要保持最佳狀況呦,加油!!!期待你發表的新文章!.............................................

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  32. Hi, Blythe, thanks for an interesting post!

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  33. Cynthia - Can branding be too specific? Well, it is a form of "typecasting," as you say, but a brand can also evolve over time. But that's an advanced lesson, not first steps! Dani - yes, people DO judge a book by its cover and that's an important part of the brand. Sometimes authors, who are typically word people, not visual people, aren't as conscious of this as they should be.

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  34. Interesting information. There seems to be a subtle difference between building one's brand and having a brand name - that is, when your name is as big as the title on the cover and someone buys it because of the name. At that point the buyer comes to the book with a set of expectations and positive anticipations - "Oo, look - the newest book by X."
    John
    www.johndesjarlais.com

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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