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A brand is an idea in the mind of the consumer whose power lies in the ability to influence purchasing decisions.
That's a lot more than picking a snazzy theme of artwork for your book covers or selecting the same fonts to use for your book title or Author Name. In fact, the font matters less than the name it displays. Far less.
As an Indie Author, your brand is you, your Author Name (even if it's a pen name, as discussed in Law 9, the Law of the Name and Law 10, the Law of Extensions). You can also brand a collection (or series) of books if they are tied together by delivering a common "Reader Experience." You have to do a lot more than merely give them themed titles or subtitles, though. Click through the jump-break to learn more about the Law of the Generic and branding a book series.
Naming a Series
The Law of the Generic states "One of the fastest routes to failure is to give a brand a generic name." In the Indie Author business, it's easy to see how this translates to the branding of a series of books or even the category you might create for your new genre (your new brand). Choosing the brand name is going to be a challenge. No question. Some of the best ones are already taken--and generic names are tempting. After all, the more generic you make it, the more books you can slide in under that umbrella brand after you've created it, right? Wrong.
In Immutable Law of Branding 9 (Law of the Name), I warned you against thinking the name of your book (title) was to be your Author Brand. A book title is a short-term, product-level name. The long-term, brand-level name is your Author Name. Think of the name you choose for a series of books (three or more) as a medium-term, brand-level name. It will only last as long as the series, but it will be a brand you can return to for that series (and all of the books in that series) again and again. As always, let me illustrate the point with one of the most-successful examples around.
J. D. Robb (one of Nora Roberts's pen names) has published the In Death series of romantic suspense novels. Check this ordered list of them and notice the cover art. It's not the same, and you'd never know they were related (in a series) if they weren't on a list together--or if you didn't know the series was called the In Death series.Her latest In Death release just won the Romance Writers of American RITA (like Academy Awards for romance novels) for the Romantic Suspense genre.
The In Death books are all subtitled "An Eve Dallas Novel" and even more importantly, they are all written by J. D. Robb, so readers can guess what they'll get if they buy the book. The stories are all going to be set in the same time (the future), same city, have the same basic scenario (female cop "saves the world" and still feels like a wife/woman at the end of the hard day's work) and deliver a similarly suspenseful-but-not-too-edgy Reader Experience. The In Death series is kind of a fantasy series set in the future and depicts utterly unrealistic scenarios of how real cops behave but readers who are fans--and the fans are downright avid about this series!--know what kinds of stories these are before they buy them.
The In Death series is a brand. Readers are buying the brand, not the individual books. It doesn't matter what adventure Eve Dallas goes on, or what kind of plot the new release has, the readers want to visit her world, her life, her challenges and read what J. D. Robb has to say in Eve's voice. In fact, many readers buy the In Death series bookes sight unseen--pre-ordering on Amazon! As is evidenced by the brand new release in the series just having swept away the 2012 RITA for the genre.
So how did Nora Roberts / J. D. Robb create this "In Death Brand" for her series? You won't like the answer. It involved a lot of hard work on her part. She wrote the same kind of book, using the same character (and not changing her personality at all) and created the same kind of challenge for her--repeatedly--making it seem like it was new and fresh and different. Oh and she wrote these books quickly, consistently and exceedingly well (in terms of staying "true to the brand" each time).
Not all writers can be prolific like this or consistently deliver the same Reader Experience. Some writers are not good Authors in that way. Some writers like to try something new and different and fun--for themselves--each time they write a book. Nora / J. D. is exceptionally good at writing the "same" story in an all new and fresh sort of way. That's why her brand has been so successful.
Even if you don't like romance novels, I highly suggest you study her mastery of the craft by reading some of the Nora Roberts trilogies (her Irish trilogies, and she has a few, are quite solid in terms of texture of the settings and authentic-feeling characters; they may or may not feel authentic to actual Irish people but to Americans, her Irish characters "feel" Irish. Likewise, her Chesapeake Bay series was best seller list for a very long time for good reason. Read her work to study it, to learn how she "built" the worlds in her books and you'll understand how she branded each series, strengthening her brand each time she released a new book. She chose to try something new and different at the series level, not the book level (lower) and not the brand level (higher). She kept her experimentation with her craft in the midrange of the branding effect.
Finding Your Brand's "One Word"
This is one of the hardest tasks ahead of you as an Indie Author. Your "one word" has to describe your brand by identifying the one common attribute across all your products (all of your books). To find it, look for the one regular word, taken out of context, which can be used to connote the primary attribute of your brand--or the attribute you desire to continue writing into future products.
For Nora Roberts, I'd say her #1 attribute is character-centered stories, but that's too generic to use as her band so I'd say she's the "relationship" writer. All of her stories are about regular people who have interesting relationships we (her readers) can identify with but her characters' relationships always take some turn that makes the character's life first a challenge, then better and richer. Always. And always as a result of the relationship.
The moral of the story, if you will, of a Nora Roberts book is that when you invest in a relationship--any relationship--your life will get better. That's not a bad moral to promote, eh? Oh, and a Nora Roberts book always has a happen ending. That's not a bad Contract with the Reader to honor, is it? Her books aren't easy to write, I'm sure, but it's easy to see why she made the choices she did for "standardizing" without resorting to a "generic" approach.
For J. D. Robb and the Eve Dallas books, it's easy to see why she defined the brand as In Death--someone's always dying when you're a homicide cop. That's your life: looking into death. She turned the Law of the Generic on its head, though, by making In Death a successful brand. I should note, it took her a few years and a several books into the series before she gained any traction--and this is from a woman who (at that time) had over 200 million books in print! Now, she has over 400 million in print. Halfway through her journey she spawned off a new brand to allow the writer in her a little creative freedom and leeway. If you're just starting out, allow yourself three (3) or more years to see any kind of success in establishing a brand through the use of a series name. Just keep working. It'll come.
If you're wondering about how much of Nora / J.D.'s success was due to spawning off a new pen name, refer back to my discussion on Immutable Law of Branding 10 (Law of Extension) to see why she didn't (at first) even leverage her Nora Roberts name to market the In Death series, when it was struggling to launch. She let J. D. Robb stand on "J. D. Robb's merits" and Robb's alone. It worked. I wouldn't put it past her to launch a third career. She's got a couple of other pen names out there already (e.g., Jill March and Sarah Hardesty)
Tomorrow's Tuesday Tip will be another entry on Amazon/Shelfari Book Extras and how to use them. Please refer to last week's introduction to learn how to setup your own Shelfari Author account (you need an Amazon Author Central account first!) so you'll be ready to start using Book Extras to enhance your next book.
Thanks for stopping by. See you tomorrow.