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The difference for our industry, of course, is that your brand should be a narrowly-focused idea that will sell your products and only your products (your brand does not sell all Thrillers, only your Thrillers).
A brand is an idea in the mind of the consumer which has the power to influence purchasing decisions.
After reading the above definition of branding, you might think a brand is merely a book cover--or series of book cover designs tied together by a graphic theme. I'll grant you, a themed book cover will, in fact, "influence purchasing decisions" and create "an idea in the mind of the consumer." Book cover artwork, however, is not branding. Today's look at two Immutable Laws of Branding will examine how the name on the book cover influences purchasing decisions more than the artwork . Click through to get started.
Law 9: Law of the Name
When you're just starting out, you probably feel overwhelmed enough choosing a title for your first book. Deciding whether or not to use a pseudonym (pen name) seems like over-complicating things for no good reason. The fact is, these are both important decisions--and they will both affect your brand's power.
The name you choose for a standalone novel, its title, is going to impact how that one novel is received by the buying public regardless of all the other marketing choices you make (the blurbage, the cover art, the tagging or categories selected in the eBookstore in which you place your work).
The book's name is a short-term, product-level decision.
Your book title might even be the same as five other books in different genres but the fact it is yours, not theirs, will distinguish it as a unique product. So your book title, combined with your author name, will affect sales ability at the product level.
If you're writing a series, even if you label the book as part of the series "Book Number of Series Name," the book title just doesn't have the power to extend beyond that one volume. It is your author name--or brand--that will sell the series.
The author name is a long-term, brand-level decision.
So choosing a pen name (even if it's your real name) is going to imply certain things before the prospective customer has even read your book blurbage or judged the cover art. Just seeing your authorial name will immediately mean something to them.
Granted, your name might mean "new author I've never heard of" or it might mean "same person who wrote that other book I read last month." The author's name will hold meaning because it will be checked by a reader. Readers don't buy publisher's names or book titles; readers buy author's names. Readers buy brands of books just like they buy brands of any other product.
When a reader sees a familiar author name, they know what kind of book it is and can already be halfway to deciding whether or not to buy it. Some customers actually buy any book, sight unseen, by certain authors because they know they'll enjoy what that author has to say, no matter what. The power of that brand name is strong. That kind of branding is very long-term and has impacted the author's sales as effectively as possible. That kind of influential power comes from having a consistent and narrowly focused brand.
When a reader sees an author name they do not recognize, your branding can influence them because (excuse the pun) their mind is an open book. You can write anything you like on it during that first impression. Make it a good one. Make it a deliberate message, not a random remark or misplaced sales pitch.
I'll grant you I'm still not doing this, myself, so "Do as I say, not as I do." :) Sometimes, I'm just me, not my brand, so let me use an example from the romance novel market of someone who has successfully crossed subgenres and strongly branded herself under two names making millions of dollars doing it. I'm talking about Nora Roberts (which is, actually, a pen name, by the way).
Under the Nora Roberts name, this behemoth of a prolific author writes Contemporary and/or Category Romance. She practically defined (or redefined) the entire category (which is not a bad thing to do according to Immutable Law 2 of Marketing (for Indie Authors) or according to last week's Immutable Law 8 of Branding (for Indie Authors) both of which are called the Law of Category).
Nora Roberts defined her brand of Category Romance as the extremely easy-to-read, fun and carefree story about first love with sweet first kisses and no explicit sex. She either uses euphemisms or (more often) fades to black for the sex and focuses instead on the relationship. It's a Classic Romance Story (now); she set or reset this to be the standard by doing it so phenomenally well--and often. That is, she's well known for being incredibly prolific.
A "Nora Roberts Romance" is just plain fun to read and will have memorable characters. Actually, they have remarkably unique and different characters, given how many of these things she's written (over 400 million books in print worldwide as of 2012). A "Nora Roberts" is going to be easy to pick up and put down and pick up again, without struggling to figure out "where was I?" so her books are particularly appealing to those seeking a 5-minute escape.
Under a totally different name, J. D. Robb, she writes Romantic Suspense (sometimes categorized "paranormal" by libraries and book stores because it's set in the future). The J. D. Robb stories are dark detective stories with a lot of edge and melodramatic suspense or "danger" (in quotes because we know in The End, the Hero and Heroine will always survive). The characters have sex which appears on the page and is not always described entirely with euphemisms (occasionally she uses a graphic slang term). The J. D. Robb stories are hard to put down unfinished although they suck you into the story, the In Death series of J. D. Robb books are definitely not books to read for a "5-minute escape." They're appealing to those who like to read at bedtime--and love having a book keep them reading through the night. Or for a rainy weekend when you have to sit inside for hours anyway.
This woman has so strongly branded herself under each name -- separately -- that some readers might not even realize the two names are the same person. In fact, several people I've mentioned this to have told me they had no idea. She absolutely sticks to one style or the other without ever connecting the two "genre" writers. She successfully changes her "voice" for each of the pen names. This segues nicely into the next Law of our Branding (for Indie Authors) series.
Law 10: Law of Extension
I'm combining this law with Law 9 because for our Indie Publishing business, crossing into another genre is both easy and hard--and it is akin to a line extension for a widget maker like, say, an automobile manufacturer. Just like for them, it is the fastest way to kill brand strength.
What is it that's so destructive? When Chevrolet builds a luxury sedan and also builds a utilitarian pickup truck, they have done what's called "line extension." They "extended" their brand (the Chevrolet name) to include both types of product (luxury sedan and pickup truck). Now a "Chevy" no longer means one or the other and in fact, that specific automobile manufacturer has had to do battle on multiple fronts, separately, in order to make these line extensions work.
When an author creates a mystery novel and separately, under the same name, writes a romance novel, is it line extension? Yes. The author isn't writing a cross-genre book, but rather, attempting to cross the genre lines with their one brand. Line extension weakens a brand. Rather than trying to take one pen name and stretching it across genre lines, weakening your brand in both categories, create a new pen name for each type of story you want to write.
Check out this article by Dean Wesley Smith on why you would ever create a new pen names for a new style of books. He kind of glosses over the branding reference saying "make all the stories and pen names under that name seem similar in covers and look, yet be different enough from book to book." In actuality, remember, the covers and look of the book are not branding; it's the "stories and pen name" part that will brand you. He nailed it when he said:
"So writers, help your readers find a book they will enjoy because they read an earlier one like it. I know it’s alien for writers to think about helping out readers, but the more you do, the more fans you get and the more readers over time. It really is that simple."
One other reason Dean gave for choosing to write under a pen name cracked me up--but also illustrated in not-so-many-words precisely the power of branding your name. He said "Your real name is Stephen King. Let me think… Oh, yeah, That name is taken. Write under a pen name."
Look, it worked for Nora Roberts / J. D. Robb. She didn't create a whole new pen name for no good reason when she spawned off the "In Death" series under the J. D. Robb name. She did it very much on purpose. She's able to tell her prospective readers--simply with the mention of her pen name--what kind of story they are about to see even though a lot of people (not all) know she is both Robb and Roberts.
J. D. Robb readers know, without a doubt, there will be a mystery in the plot, there'll be some kind of dark secret revealed, it will instigate some kind of dangerous situation and our Heroine will have to make the world right again (The J. D. Robb stories are predominantly about a married female cop in the future who routinely "saves the world.")
So what would happen if J. D. Robb wrote a light, airy, contemporary romance with happy-go-lucky characters who had sweet first kisses and never a care in the world? Her readers would probably throw the book at the wall for one thing, then assuming they knew she was also Nora Roberts, they might scream, Oh, Nora! What have you done?! They also might never bother buying another J. D. Robb OR Nora Roberts book. They certainly wouldn't automatically assume they'd like the book, based on the name, the way they did before she pulled this theoretical "bait and switch." She would have LOST READER TRUST, and if you're new to the publishing industry, having the trust of your readers is everything.
If you decide to use a pen name to brand yourself in a specific genre, it's important that you brand that name consistently. You have to consistently deliver stories which fit one specific and focused description--your brand. If you don't, you cannot possibly hope to "enter the mind" and claim your "position" on the reader's product ladder. It's not about the plot of this one book. It's about what kind of plot it will be in the larger picture of fiction writing in the world.
Leveraging the Name for the Extension
This is the #1 mistake a lot of Indie Authors make. If you build your audience expectations up around a pen name and then try to leverage the power of that name for other things (forex, selling other genres you've also written), you dilute the power of the brand very quickly. It can all but disappear overnight--more easily than becoming an overnight success, that's for sure!
You can promote "another author" without claiming ownership of the work--that's the whole point of having a pen name. I'm not necessarily saying you have to keep it "super top secret kill-you-after-I-tell-you classified." I'm saying, don't claim to be "Brand A" and then in the same breath, point out, "Oh I'm also Brand B." That simply dilutes both of your brands. Give a little space and separation.
Follow the Nora Roberts / J. D. Robb model of success. It's worked for her for over 400 million books (As of 2011, her novels had spent a combined 861 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, including 176 weeks in the number-one spot.) Strong branding can work for you, too, from your first sale to your 100 millionth.
Tomorrow is yet another Tuesday Tip and because it's "that time of the month" (i.e., payment processing time) I'd like to have a word on business decisions related to payments, how you get them--or don't--and from where. I'll also recount a few recent developments happening over at Smashwords.
Next week I'll move onto Branding Law 11 (for Indie Authors): Law of Fellowship, which is an "extension" of last week's Law 8: Category (haha, get the pun?)