Is Branding Important for Indie Authors?

Storytelling Concept. Chart with keywords and icons

I’m a writer, not a car or a soft drink. Why do I have to think about branding?

Fair enough question. The car manufacturer makes transportation. The soft drink manufacturer makes a beverage. And you? Well, you manufacture . . . people, places, wars, epic romances, even monsters. If you look at the concept of “brand” as how your products are presented, you can easily see why it’s crucial for you to cultivate the essence of what you and your writing represent. That’s your brand.

Experience and perspective

Let’s stick with cars and soft drinks for a while longer. Have you ever noticed that when you view a vehicle manufacturer’s television commercials, print ads, or social media, you really don’t see much of the vehicle?

What you witness is the result of the vehicle. So, you mostly see happy people. They’ve arrived safely at their destination, and little baby Joey is still sound asleep. They looked sexy behind the wheel and snagged the attention of their future lover. We see these stories, and we insert ourselves into them.

Nothing much changes about the scenario if you substitute a soft drink for the car. You’re not drinking sugary carbonated liquid, you’re quenching your thirst for friendship. Or, you’re discovering ways to expand your social circle by accepting a stranger because they like that soft drink, too.

A brand is the story that a product tells about itself, but what’s interesting—and extremely important to understand—is that the manufacturer doesn’t own the brand. It exists only in the minds of people who are exposed to the stories the product tells about itself. That’s because each of us will take the brand and shape it to mesh with our own respective worldview. So, it’s more than just agreeing or disagreeing with the story a product tells about itself. It’s also about customizing a story, so it fits into our life.

You are your brand

Thanks to our connected world, people will more than likely be exposed to you before they read what you’ve written. They’ve got to decide if you represent something they want to add to their worldview. You are the story that your writing tells about itself. They’ll meet your brand before they buy your book.

What do you represent?

If you ask someone why they would buy a vehicle from, say, BMW, they’d probably say, “It’s the ultimate driving machine”—which is the brand’s slogan. But, what they will tell you if you dig deep enough is that they would buy a BMW because of the way it makes them feel. BMWs are not inexpensive. So, owning and driving one communicates that you have reached a certain socioeconomic status. Driving a BMW makes you feel successful.

BMW may manufacture vehicles, but they sell success. Coca-Cola may manufacture caramel flavored carbonated water, but they sell good times and happiness. Those are their respective brands.

You manufacture books, but what experience do you sell?

Reputation = brand

You can’t go anywhere near social media without hearing the term, “personal brand.” It’s easy to think this is some newly established state of being, born of Internet arbiters like Instagram and Twitter. Your personal brand is really nothing more than your reputation, or as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos defines it, “what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Take Jeff’s words to heart. Your brand is your reputation, and it’s how people describe you—both to themselves and to others. Let’s push that deeper. The story you want your product to tell about itself should make people feel—how?

Of course, this is writing we’re dealing with—not a car or a beverage. So, we’ve got to talk about style. Your reputation is based on actions you repeatedly take, which people associate with you. And your reputation is your brand. Your style—meaning the genre you choose to write in and the way you write in that genre—is your brand. And while you don’t own your brand, you can shape it. If you don’t, someone else will do it for you.

The most important thing that sells books

You’ll have plenty of competitors out there. They have access to the same building material that you do. Words are words. Your objective is to determine how the way you use this building material will make your readers feel, and then cultivate this story so it’s a shareable experience. Your reputation precedes you. New readers will experience it before they experience your book.

Your reputation sells books. Your reputation is your brand.

And today, it’s impossible to say you’re unknown, so it’s impossible to have a reputation. Google your name. There’s your reputation. It’s time to take control of how it’s being shaped.

What’s your brand? How will people feel when they read your book? It’s a short message that gets repeated and shaped and cultivated until it’s the story people tell themselves to explain you.

There are effective ways to cultivate this consistency

  • Know your target audience.
  • Create a style guide: choose the colors, fonts, and art style that you’ll use consistently.
  • Create a logo: it’s a visual representation of the experience you represent.
  • Get a professional headshot: you are your brand.
  • Develop a tagline: What experience will you consistently create?

Here’s the thing about creating your brand. You don’t own it, remember? It exists in your readers’ minds. Which means if you don’t take the proactive steps to greet them at the beginning of the relationship to tell them what to expect, they’ll move on to find someone who will.

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