WHAT IS AUTHOR BRANDING?
And why do I have to learn about it? Like it or not, readers buy books based on their own interests and they buy authors based on the type of book an author creates. Most readers are usually not at all interested in publishers.
Publishers don't have brands. Authors do. And in the social media age everyone has a brand for their online image. It's just the way of the world now and yeah it kinda sucks but it's also how writers are able to more directly connect with their audiences. As a born introvert, the internet is the perfect distance for me to do so.
Don't get me wrong, I also love meeting people in person. But can only really handle a limited amount of that interaction before my batteries get drained. That's where the delightful internet comes in.
WHAT'S MY BRAND?
I fully blame the Next Level workshop I attended a few weeks ago through the Oregon SCBWI chapter specifically about author branding for putting this kernel in my head. This one in particular was led by Oanh Jordan of Tiny Triumph Co.
I've attended workshops about author social media presence and author marketing but never specifically about "building an author brand." It's tough, as human beings, to step outside of ourselves and think "how am I a micro corporation and what is my brand?" We're not products, dammit. We're people! But also...an author is kind of a product. That sounds worse than it really is.
And honestly, how does that sort of thought process feel authentic? The authenticity arrives when you start to ask yourself some simple questions. The first big one: what are your core values? How can you use those core values to guide your online presence and create content that will appeal to your audience?
I had to really ask myself who my audience is and what I'm hoping to communicate to them. Not gonna lie, my current beta readers and my ideal reader ARE NOT teens. And that conflicts with the fact that the primary YA audience are, in fact, teens. At the SCBWI Great Critique, I was made VERY AWARE that teens will be reading my material (hopefully, at some point) and it's definitely given me something to chew on.
I didn't create Metal Heart with a target audience in mind - just a really strong desire to dump a story out of my head onto the page. Most of my stories start out that way. I think that's pretty common for writers. But when you're revising it and getting it ready for the world, thinking about a target audience and what the story is saying to the world shouldn't be a shameful or embarrassing thing.
It's the same with building a brand. The ultimate goal of a published author is to find and connect with an audience. Branding is literally the same thing, but on a regular basis. It's figuring out who you are, what you want to say, who you want to say it to, and then saying those things.
QUESTIONS TO BUILD A BRAND
As part of my Intro to Publishing course we read A People's Guide to Publishing by Joe Biel, founder and publisher of Portland, Oregon based Microcosm Publishing. It's a pretty engaging text so far, and I stumbled upon a personally useful passage pretty early on in the reading.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to start a publishing company. But as a self-publisher, I'm basically doing all the damn things a publisher would normally do, just by myself. And so this series of questions posed in the introduction, coupled with the recent author branding questions really hit home for me.
I hope they will be useful for you too.
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
Every author seeking to be published, like it or not, is a small business. It's not enough to just do the creative thing. You gotta do the hustle thing too. You gotta have a website and social media presence and be actively involved in the writing community and engage your readers and your peers. You gotta think like a small business owner and you gotta think like a publisher AND you gotta write too.
I'm not saying it's easy. Not at all. But I'm saying, some aspects of it will eventually get easier if you put a little thought into it.
Of course, my brainstorm has led me to a natural conclusion: I need more teen beta readers. Any volunteers? ;)
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.