Welcome back to the Monday Marketing series on branding yourself as an Indie Author and designing the Company you want to keep. Like any other business, your career in Indie Publishing requires you to define a brand and market yourself in the most effective way.
If you're just joining us, we're halfway through the best little book on marketing ever written: The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by two of the smartest guys Madison Avenue ever saw. If you've never read this book, it's only about a 1/4" thick in paperback. Take 5 minutes to read it now. I'll wait. ^_^
All done? Great. Let's back up to Law 12: Line Extension. In the Indie Publishing field the concept of a "line" most-easily translates into a "genre" and line extension becomes cross-genre marketing. In terms of the publishing industry, the gist of Law 12 states that despite the pressure to expand outside your genre, the cross-marketing efforts will effectively weaken your brand. Click through the jump break to read more.
In publishing, you have the unique opportunity to "extend your line" without actually altering your brand at all. Instead you can create a new brand under a new name--a pen name. Authors are tracked, our sales numbers tied to, an exact name, so for instance, my sales as "Sarah R. Yoffa" are going to be a totally different record than my sales as "Sarah Yoffa." Simply removing my middle initial (which I'd never ever do!) is as though I'm two different people. In fact, I am but my SciFi self has a totally different name (Marjorie F. Baldwin).
A lot of Indie Authors hear how they "should" write in many different genres or write cross-genre work so as to get more readers (more sales). Although you "should" expand your writing capabilities, the reality is, using just one name will only weaken your brand, not strengthen it. If you want to write in a different genre, create a new brand and use it with a new pen name. Don't weaken your existing brand.
Here's a great example. Nora Roberts is about the most financially-successful romance author out there. She's certainly one of the most (if not the most) prolific ones. She has over 300 million contemporary romance and category romance books in print. Three Hundred. Million. That does not include any of the romantic suspense / paranormal / futuristic books she has published under the pen name, J. D. Robb. The fact that I can't even pin down what J.D. Robb writes is probably why I'm not as drawn to Nora's writing under that name. I've tried 3 or 4 of the In Death series and found them so boring not one of them has yet to hold my attention to the The End.
It's not as though the author can't write. Obviously! It's that she's writing in a different voice, selling a different brand--and although I can't get enough of her Nora Roberts brand, I'm not her customer under the J.D. Robb brand. They definitely completely different books for different audiences. J.D. Robb is pretty famous in her own right and not everyone who reads Robb even knows the author is one and the same as Roberts. Some customers, of course, do and love both brands. I'm just not one of them--and her branding in each is so strong, there's no way I'd confuse one for the other.
The fact that the publishing industry records our sales separately for different names is a unique--and convenient--facet of our industry. Use it to your advantage. If you want to spin off into a new genre, do it with a new pen name and apply every last rule of marketing to the new brand the way you (hopefully) did to the first.
Don't Cross That Line!
Some of you may have already learned that getting yourself categorized by Amazon or other sites where there are genre categories is not always a method of self-identification. It should be but when computerized scripts start running, all kinds of strange things can happen.
When you first upload your book to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system, Amazon asks you to select the genre (and KDP forces you to select down to one level of sub-categorization) you believe is correct or in which you want to be listed.
Unfortunately, as you begin to sell books, you might get relabeled by various means with a number of unpredictable--and you might believe, inapplicable--categories. That is, unless your brand is strong enough to make it unquestionably clear into what genre your book falls, you may get some surprise assignments.
As a result, you might see your reviews starting to become negative for strange and inappropriate reasons. For example, if a ChickLit about a woman who chooses to have a career and becomes one of
the most-powerful women on Earth--a corporate success!--somehow slips over into the romance genre category, you might see a review like: This book isn't much of a romance since the Hero dies and the Heroine decides her job is more important than having children. That's because for romance readers, the HEA (Happily Ever After ending) is the crux of the "Contract with the Reader" -- and violating it is verboten.
In fact, you might get a similar problem going the other way: a romance novel that slips over into ChickLit might offend those readers by alleging that a woman cannot be happy unless there is a romance with a man in the center of her existence. Don't even get me started on the fact that mainstream romance assumes heterosexual romance is the one and only kind that matters.
There are all kinds of fuzzy grey lines in publishing. Don't edge up to the line. Either go over it or stay away from it. Choose, definitively, what you want to say and then say it. Strongly, boldly, unquestionably. Make your message--your branding--clear. Yes, your book's content is part of your brand (and your brand is part of your book's content). They are not one and the same, but they are inextricably linked. If you brand yourself as a romance author, don't write ChickLit. Likewise, if you brand yourself as a mystery/suspense writer, don't write literary fiction, ad infinitum (or ad nauseum). The permutations are endless.
If you want to launch yourself into a new category, position your new brand as the alternative to the current leader (Law 9: Opposites) or as the first in a newly-created genre (Law 1: Leadership). You might think you're leveraging the success of your first brand to launch the second one, but time and time again, history has shown that this backfires and kills both brands. Ries & Trout give a long list of failed companies that attempted line-extension and thereby met their demise. Have you heard of Heinz baby food or Heinz ketchup? Did you even know that Heinz had launched a (failed) baby food line to compete with Gerber? I didn't until I read this book. Heinz makes lots of products nowadays, but they are best known for condiments--ketchup and mustard. Less is more and more will definitely lead to less. The more you dilute your brand with new extensions (genres), the less strength the original brand has in the long run (Law 11: Perspective).
Factors You Can Control
What if you thought you were branded correctly for the kind of book you'd written and "somehow" you ended up being mis-categorized by Amazon? There are two methods Amazon uses to determine your category assignment which you can rally people to help you "doctor" into the results you want. There may be other factors Amazon uses and other online sellers may have other systems, but the idea is for you to consider the fact that how you brand your book actually does influence how your customers see you--and you can control how you present yourself.
I'm sure that anyone who's joined author groups on Facebook or Goodreads knows about the "liking chains" and "tag exchanges" that go on. The idea behind these click-exchanges is that authors will click to endorse each other's public appearances. Be it reviews, tags, just clicking the "Like" on a book's page everywhere, exchanging your clicks on a colleague's book for theirs on yours seems easy enough.
The danger of this, of course, is some over-zealous colleague clicking everything or clicking the wrong things, but generally, these click-exchanges work as a means to "doctor" the system--a method of making it say what you want instead of what some heartless script algorithm suggests.
Why bother? Simple. The scripts are not always right. Sometimes you have to "guide" the computer program to make it come out with the "right" result. The click-exchanges are just that guidance. Stronger branding would be better!
Another Amazon weighting method is lists. When Amazon customers add your book to their book lists (attached to their personal Amazon customer account), the Amazon script that automatically categorizes (or changes categorizations) of books will weight your book one click more heavily into that direction. If a customer deliberately miscategorizes your book (for instance, the above example where a romance reader might categorize your ChickLit as a romance and rate it poorly because--as a romance--it's not a very good fulfillment of the Contract with the Reader), then the Amazon script will add that bad data to its weighting system. This is why click-exchanges between authors, who can specify to each other how to click, really work.
Another, related "list" concept in use by Amazon is "Customers who bought this also bought..." and if you want to spend money, agreeing to buy a colleague's book if they'll buy yours, you can even "doctor" that linkage. Sometimes this works, sometimes it backfires. The fewer sales you have, the more likely it is to work but definitely be careful of this one--and not just because you have to spend money and trust the other person will as well.
Tags are ultimately the easiest thing attached to a book on Amazon that you can "doctor" by doing click-exchanges. If you get the right tags clicked often enough, you can end up in a totally different category than you started in when you uploaded your book to KDP. It's not a perfect system, but understanding how it works means you can do two things to influence the outcome.
2 Things to Do
1. Join a Group for Professional/Industry Support
One of the things you'll want to do when just starting out is to join some writer's groups on Facebook and Goodreads and participate in some of the click-exchange activities. Give other Indie Authors a list of tags you'd like them to click for you and participate in creating lists on Amazon or Goodreads (or both). See what impact these activities have on your book's categorization before deciding it has or has not worked. Give it a few days or a week. Amazon often takes up to a week to update some of the lower-ranking books' categorizations and database entries.
Be sure you know where you want things to go before you start. If you don't tell your fellow Indie Authors what you want them to do, you open yourself up to their just "clicking anything" to fulfill their part of the exchange. Be specific in your requests.
2. Strengthen Your Brand
You're never done strengthening your brand. If you haven't really defined your brand, do it now. If you think you already have defined your brand, take a second look to be sure. Consider how your book's product description and/or tagging make its brand clear at a glance. A reader should know, before reading your book, what your genre is, what your book's going to deliver. Is it an escape? A non-stop emotional rollercoaster ride? A taut suspenseful tale that will keep them up at night? Your brand should communicate, in a single thought--or better, in a single word--what you're delivering with this book.
Your book cover can visually communicate your genre by virtue of the style of artwork, in addition to the content. Thrillers won't have a couple holding each other in an embrace. Well, not unless one of them is hold a knife to the other's back but still, that could be a Romantic Suspense novel (grin)
Readers shouldn't feel they have to guess what your book's about and saying it's "a lot of new and different things" isn't a strong branding, it's a mealy-mouthed way of saying "I don't know how to describe my own book!" If you don't know, how can anyone else?
If you want to create a new concept--like Stephanie Meyer did with her shiny high-school vamps--then be firm about it (Law 5: Focus). State it boldly. Define it. Own it. This is your unique and special snowflake, the category in which you are going to be first (Law 2: Category) and you are going to lead the market (Law 1: Leadership).
Make sure your prospects know what that is before they buy your book--because that will become why they buy your book...and the one after that, and the one after that. Not to mention that your branding will be how customers think of you (Law 4: Perception), determining how they describe you and your book to their friends when they recommend they purchase a copy, too!
If your brand is not yet defined, that's where you have to start. Read through the earlier entries of this series, get the Ries/Trout book and read that, repeatedly, and refine your book's marketing materials until you know your brand is as strong as it can be. How will you know? You'll be leading the new genre you've just created!
Tomorrow I'll try again to provide some Nanowrimo inspiration and tips for success in the second half of this month-long race.
Later today I'll be releasing the new submissions thread for the November 18th Freebie Friday feature but that will be the last book giveaway feature until December. That's right, I'm taking the long, holiday weekend off. Let's see what books we can give away this weekend to keep everyone in reading material for the holiday weekend travels (not to mention needing free eBooks to try out on Black Friday, November 25th, the biggest shopping day of the year!)
If you're not in the US (and therefore, not celebrating Thanksgiving on November 24th) the Webbiegrrl blog will reopen with the next marketing feature on Monday, November 28th. We'll go over Law 13, the Law of Sacrifice.