Author Branding: Who are you, really?
Today I'm talking about sort of high-level authory stuff, but bear with me. "Branding" is a thing whether you're an author or not. I was updating my website recently (yes, again. shut up. I'll write later.), and I was coming up with words that describe my writing style and brand as an author. Some authors have very clear, concise brands... well, a few do, but most of us are out there in the world saying the same thing.
Sexy! Sassy! Satisfying!
Heat, humor, and heart.
I've used both of those taglines and while they're true, they're not particularly... helpful. When designing a banner or a book promo, or choosing words or phrases for an ad, how can you stand out?
What I needed were words that described my author brand specifically. Yes, I write sexy, sassy, satisfying romance. Yes, there is a lot of heat, humor, and heart. But it's increasingly difficult to be motivated by those phrases when they border on cliché.
Recently, RT Book Reviews reviewed Lone Star Lovers for their e-Zine and gave me a pull quote that is TO DIE FOR.
"...sexy, naughty, and a whole lot of fun!"
How dreamy is that?! Not only is it true of Zach's and Penelope's story, but it's also a great descriptor for the kinds of books I write. From the very beginning I've written fun and funny books with ever-increasing levels of sensuality. (I feel like the Lone Star Lovers is a good example of hot and funny--a perfect blend of both in a bite-sized Harlequin category book.) Each book I've written can be summed up (at least, in my head) by words that never appeared on the back cover copy and only rarely appeared in reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. For example...
To me, BRINGING HOME THE BAD BOY is...
- The Penis Bandits
- Naked Finger Painting
- Sex on a Canvas
- A children's book illustrator whose current work is entitled The Adventures of Mad Cow
But it was marketed as...
- Tattoo Artist
- Friends to lovers
All of those elements are in the book, but it's the top four that make the book particularly Jessica Lemmon.
The other issue with the most glorious pull quote ever?
It looks... a bit off under my name.
No seriously, look:
"...sexy, naughty, and a whole lot of fun!"
YEAH. Kind of... not going to work.
So, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down a few "branding" ideas specific to me. I know I love bright color. I wanted to share what's new in rotating "banner" style on the front page like I used to on my previous website. While the original concept of this brand new website, with its black and white photos and pink overlay fonts, was definitely pretty, it wasn't that Lemmon vibe I was looking for.
I used to believe that once you found your brand, that was it. Then end forever. Now I'm not sure. Branding has continued to evolve with my book covers, writing style, and as I grow as a person, so it made sense to adjust and change right along with it. Branding as an author is a bit different than branding a fast food restaurant. We don't have one logo to stamp on everything the way Taco Bell does. (Now I want nacho fries...) Each book has a different feel and concept depending on who it's published with or what kind of story it is.
I mean, look at these:
Those are all Jessica Lemmon titles. Eye Candy is a punchy rom-com. Lone Star Lovers is a faux engagement filled with fun twists and turns. Shut Up and Kiss Me is about a guy who can't stop stuttering who's in love with his speech coach.
How the heck do you brand such different concepts?!
You brand yourself.
Your covers aren't all going to look the same unless you have 100% control over designing them, and for us traditionally published folks, the final say is the publisher's branding choices. That means you're not only branding your work, you're branding YOU.
Who the heck am I?
If you have trouble seeing yourself and your writing clearly, asks someone else. My agent is particularly good at pointing out what my strengths are because she is the telling editors what's in my plus column. Her answer:
"Every hero is unique, but still alpha. You write characters readers want to become friends with. They feel like real people which adds to the appeal, but you deliver the fantasy of LIVING in a billionaire world, or BEING part of a bad boy's world. Your characters ARE strivING to become better people."
See? That is super helpful! I didn't know any of that. Most of the time, I'm just doing what I do. Writing jokes and sex scenes and (fairly?) coherent plots. If you have trouble pinpointing your strengths, just ask. You might be surprised by what you hear, or you might hear a few words that helps you narrow down your brand.
When the words that inspired my latest leaning hit me, I was in the shower, which is where every good idea tends to come to me. Something about washing your hair activates your brain. ;) While scrubbing my locks, three words hit me in quick succession.
That was it. I knew it as surely as I'd forgotten to wash the conditioner out of my hair.
- Exciting is a good word for this author in particular. I state lots of things in extremes. "I LOVE" this or that. "I HATE" xyz. "I'M SO EXCITED BECAUSE..." Totally me.
- Splashy is such a great visual word, isn't it? It's very different from "sassy" or "sensational" or any other "S" word used to describe romance novels. It creates an instant picture in my mind of bold colors and large type.
- Fun is quite possibly my favorite of the three, though. It's the one that most describes me. If it ain't fun, don't do it. I based my career on "fun" and choose many of the scenes I write because they were "fun" to write.
Exciting. Splashy. Fun.
That's my brand, baby.
Then it came time to create my Facebook and Twitter banners and I had the same issue as I had with the amazing pull quote above...
Exciting! Splashy! Fun!
Good, but not great. It was a better outlook for the website and for my brand colors & design than it was a tagline.
So... tagline. We meet again.
After a few duds, I finally settled on one that felt really, really right. It actually made me dance in my chair a little when I designed it.
You guys... how great is that sentiment? I dream of a world where we settle in with a book just because we want to escape from work and stress and have a little fun. Yes, there is real emotion in these books. Yes, you may need a tissue for some of them. But what about reading for the purpose of letting your mind relax and your heart be full? Life is filled with tragedies and sadness on a personal scale as well as a worldwide one. It's nearly impossible to escape angry trolls online and trust me, I've tried. I've muted and unfollowed and still the bad news finds me. It's good to be informed, but you don't have to be inundated.
Some days are for soaking in the sunshine and thanking God that you're breathing in and out and doing something just because ya wanna.
Something fun like...
And for those moments, when you need an escape, when you need a dose of exciting, splashy, fun in your life... well... now you know where to find it.