One of the big things authors need to think about these days is branding. And no, I don’t mean having some red-hot piece of metal searing the initials of the latest pop sensation de jour into your backside. I mean public image that sells books. What are you known for?
Brand’s different from the way you’re labelled. Authors are often labelled, either by themselves or by their readers, on what they write. They become a ‘science fiction author’, a ‘detective author’ or whatever. Brand is about something else. It’s about image and impression. It can be an accidental product of behaviour. If you spend all your time spamming people with ‘buy my book you bastards’ tweets, none of which work because social media doesn’t actually sell books, you’re likely to end up branded a spammer.
You’re better off to control that brand. How do you want yourself to be presented to people? Quirky? Reliable? Distressingly normal and boring? And then how does that relate to your writing? It all has to go together.
There are no hard and fast rules in this regard, other than the point that being sensible pays off. The online environment isn’t actually different from the real world in that regard. But it does have slightly different parameters.
One of them is that people who read your stuff online usually don’t know you from Adam – all they see is what you’ve presented to them, which can only be an aspect of brand, an aspect of you, a slice of your work.
One of the hazards there is that – because all of this will just be partial – people will fill in the gaps, usually by fitting what you to do an internal ‘model’ they have with aspects that match what they see. Whether the other aspects of that ‘model’ fit your brand is entirely another matter, but it’s through this that they’ll judge your worth. That’s where the labels come from.
Just to illustrate that point, consider this: imagine an author who uses various Anglo Saxon words as intensifiers or to add colour when bringing across a moral message that actually talks about people being nice to each other. It makes a point of difference. And there’ll be an audience who think that’s pretty cool – who use the same words themselves to convey the same message. But there’ll also be an audience who associate such vocabulary with people who are rough, crude, and uncivilised, which means that they can’t possibly care for others. See what I am getting at?
All of this has to be thought through, very carefully, before launching into a branding exercise. Or re-branding. And it’s especially important for authors because the way to sell books is to through word-of-mouth; if everybody’s talking about your book, chances are they’ll also want to buy it. Every so often a book appears that does this without an author brand behind it – that comes out of nowhere. Sometimes that leads to a brand – however, the nature of that brand is usually framed around that initial success, and is essentially accidental.
Any author who wants to keep on writing, who wants to generate a sustained income, needs to have a brand on which to frame their repute, their image and their work. So brands are important, and for that reason it’s equally important not to let one generate by accident.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018