What comes to mind when you hear the buzz phrase “author brand”? You’ve probably dipped your fork into the publishing world and heard it thrown around a few times. You know you need to build one, but you might be confused on what it is exactly and how to start. In this post, we’ve broken down the necessary steps into bite-sized chunks to help you digest this otherwise massive task.
Build Your Author Brand in 10 Easy Steps
1 – Find Your Readership
Step one to building your author brand is to identify your readership before anything else. Prior to diving into designing your website or planning your marketing materials you should first establish who you’ll be creating all this for.
It’s easier to work backwards rather than undo mistakes later in the branding process. Having a strong sense of who your readers are (or will be) will help keep you on brand and make the designing process much easier overall.
Let’s start by defining your ideal reader. Close your eyes and picture the person your book is meant for. What does this person look like? What genres do they like to read and why? Where do they spend their time outside of reading? What other hobbies might they have? How do they buy their books?
By asking yourself these questions you should be able to build an image of what your perfect reader looks like- try to create one individual within your mind rather than a generalized crowd. It’ll help create a clearer image and keep things from being overwhelming in the moment.
Remember to ask yourself the following about your perfect reader:
- Age range
- Level of experience
- Types of life problems
- Who would benefit from your book’s message
Once you have a visual of who your ideal reader is, you can begin to reap the benefits. Everything you do from here on out is to reach your readers and connect. It’s to entertain, inform, persuade, reassure- whatever your intent is, it is ultimately going to reach a reader, so keep that in mind.
Taking the time to learn about your readers after you’ve determined who they are is also necessary. Scope out online where they like to spend their time, what they like and don’t like, their problems and hopes, etc. All this information will tell you how best to speak and relate to them. Plus, bonus! It’ll tell you what to write about in the future.
Keep in mind that while building your ideal reader profile may feel narrow, there are millions of readers who will fit the exact picture you have in your mind! Keeping things simple while you plan helps build your author brand while limiting confusion.
2 – Identify What Makes You Stand Out
This is when you tune into your inner monologue and ask yourself:
- Who am I?
- When you imagine your author self, how do you want readers to see you?
- What do you want them to think of when they hear your author name?
Whatever the answers to these three questions are that’s the center of what your brand should be. Hold onto that vision/feeling. Brainstorm images, colors, fonts, etc. that remind you of what you are trying to portray.
For example, if you write paranormal romance, opt for a darker, moody color scheme, scripted fonts, romantic imagery, moody filters, and a suspenseful intro. For self-help books, bring energy, positivity, friendliness, and trustworthy vibes into your website through bold, happy colors, positive language, photos with big smiles, and lots of recommendations raving about how helpful you are.
Just like finding your writing voice, finding your brand voice is something that must be developed over time. It usually comes from trial and error, trying new things, and seeing what works best for you. It’s the tone you use when you write. Are you humorous? Sarcastic? Witty? Wise? Relatable?
Finding your way of speaking to your audience comes from being yourself. Keep your values close when you brainstorm your voice. Think about what’s important to you and what you want to represent. Then stick to it. If you decide to write formally, don’t switch to a casual tone and back again. If you’re normally sassy and curse, don’t suddenly become Miss Proper and vice versa.
After you’ve got your brand voice down, it’s time to consider what your unique selling point is. What sets you apart from other writers in your genre? What makes you stand out and why should people buy your books over others?
Ask yourself the following:
- Why do people read your books?
- What qualities speak to you personally? Is your writing quality strong? Are your characters super relatable? Is your pacing brilliant?
- What are your unique strengths as a writer?
- When in doubt, ask yourself what you love about other authors’ works. Do you share the same qualities? How do you differ?
Use your answers to help promote yourself on your website. Play up your strengths. Remember the goal of your author site is to connect, but it’s also to sell your book. Your personality is what draws them in like bait on a fishing line, but your book’s sales pitch is your hook. You can’t have one without the other and expect to catch a great reader.
3 – Hire Out/Invest Where You Can
This advice comes from a place of personal experience. Knowing your personal strengths and weaknesses is important when it comes to taking charge of your author business and designing your author brand.
When it comes to designing a website, I created one on my own that I kept for the first two years after I started my author business. It was functional and suited my basic understanding of what my website needed to be. But I’m no web designer. I knew I needed to upgrade in the future and that I needed professional help translating my vision for my author brand into a digital, visual format (which is not one of my strong suits). I could explain my author brand and picture it, but I couldn’t translate it onto a webpage.
Knowing this, I hired a web designer to assist me and am SO happy I did. Not only did working with one enhance my work and vision, but it also helped me send the right message to both my editing clients and my future readers in a way that is crystal clear.
Similarly, photography is also not my medium. When pictures are the first impression, I wanted to have a professional headshot and candid photos taken for the new website. After all, I was already investing money, so it needed to be done. I knew by investing in myself that my business would prosper later.
Here is a before/after comparison. It was 1000% worth it!
I understand that not everyone has the financing to have professionals join their team, especially in the early stages of building your business. That’s okay! There are other ways of getting the help you need and most of the help I had came from connections, friendships, and trading work that helped make this possible.
If you can’t afford to invest right away, the goal is to do the best you can with what you have. Remember, sometimes the best person to bring forth your vision is YOU!
Don’t let a lack of funding stop you from starting (I sure didn’t and look at how far I’ve come!)
Over time you can tweak, change, invest, upgrade, redo, and relaunch as many times as you feel you need to. There’s no need for perfection right out of the gate (or ever, as the case may be). As creativity tends to be fluid, the process of building your author brand is ever evolving. The takeaway here is to get started with what you have, where you have it, and grow from there.
4 – Set Reader Expectations And Promises
The next piece to figure out is what your message is. What do you want your brand to say to your readers? What should they expect to see from you? What promises do you intend to make and keep? What can they expect you to deliver with your stories?
Keeping your readers in “the know” through consistency and transparency is the best way to build your author reputation. Your author reputation helps you build trust between your business and your readers. People need to get to know, like, and trust you but can only do that if you first establish the right boundaries.
Promises are just as important. If you announce that you’re going to do something, make sure you follow through. If something unexpected or a problem arises update and keep your audience informed. Do what you say you’ll do to keep building trust with your readers. For example, if you plan to write a sequel to your novel, then write the sequel. If you plan to launch at a certain time, do everything in your power to keep that timeline. If you plan to post or go live on social media or host an event, make sure you follow through.
Some ways to do this include:
- Creating a posting schedule for your blog and social media (and sticking to it)
- Communicating regularly through clear channels (such as a newsletter/emails)
- Being clear about changes and updates
- Sticking to publishing/launch dates
- Responding promptly to questions, feedback, emails, and comments
- Engaging regularly with your readers on social media
- Upholding genre and trope expectations within your books
- Making sure the books you produce are high quality and edited properly
The more consistent you are, the more reliable, and the better quality your work is, the easier it will be to grow your readership.
5 – Choose Visuals That Make Sense
As you’re deciding visually how you want your brand to look, remember to consider what works for your chosen genre. Each genre has its own requirements and reader expectations. They are not the same across the board, or even across smaller niches. It’s important to do your research before committing to fonts, color schemes, and layouts. Once you’ve seen what works for other authors in your niche, you’ll have a better idea of what to do for your own brand- and what will help you stand out on the bookshelf.
Pay particular attention to color choice and design elements. If you’re a romance writer who writes sweet romance, avoid dark colors and go with pastels instead. Use florals and imagery that shows the sweeter side of romance rather than the spicy. On the other hand, if you’re writing a dark romance you’ll want to opt for dark colors, moody bold script, and imagery that borders scandalous.
If you’re a horror writer, avoid using colors such as hot pink (even if it’s your favorite color) and pictures that imply a lighthearted atmosphere. If you’re writing a fairytale retelling, you’ll want to choose a design that comes across as classic and dramatic such as scrolling spirals, dark floral imagery, and dramatic fonts.
When in doubt, choose what will work best for your genre and your readers will reward you with their attention and their money.
Pinterest is a great place to start searching for your brand elements. You can search everything from color schemes, fonts, logo examples and more, then save them for later. If you’re working with a professional web designer or brand consultant, they will likely insist you create a visual board of what you want your brand to “feel” like, so they know which direction to go in. Even if you’re working solo, you can still put together a vision board to help emulate the feeling you want to base your brand on. Not only will this help you in the early stages, but it will also help you stay consistent in your marketing materials in the future.
6 – Remember Your Brand’s Purpose
Understanding your author brand’s purpose will keep you from making mistakes that might set you back.
Allow me to demonstrate: When I first made my website, I was so excited! I was going to put myself out there as an author and that was both terrifying and exhilarating. I was focused more on what I thought an author looked like more than what I was going to use my author brand for.
Back then I wasn’t even aware of how much marketing I’d have to do once I self-published, let alone how to create a brand that would help me gain readers. I hastily Googled and threw together a website, a starter blog, and social media accounts without thinking about how they would coexist, what their goals would be, or anything resembling a strategy. Big mistake.
When establishing your author brand, it’s important to remember what exactly you’re branding. Base your branding around yourself as an author, and not on your book or what you think a professional author looks like.
Like me, many writers make this mistake because they get caught up in the excitement, only to realize later down the line that they need to completely redo their hard work to make things cohesive. This was the case in my story.
There are two important decisions you should make before you begin:
- Whether or not you’ll be writing under a pseudonym
- Whether or not you’ll be aiming to write in different genres or sticking to just one
Writing under a pseudonym
When you choose to write under a persona, consistency is key. Once you start, stick with the name you’ve picked, and use it everywhere. This is what your readership will know you by. While it’s harder to keep up an illusion, it can be done. Take Men With Pen’s James Chartrand for example. Here a woman is masquerading as a man and pulling it off.
Using a pen name can also be helpful in linking multiple aspects of an author business together. For example, Writing It Wells is my author business’ umbrella name but will be used to connect multiple facets together such as my editing services, books, and digital products.
Another great example of how you can use a pseudonym leads into our second point.
Writing different genres or not
Whether you’re going to want to write in multiple genres or not should factor into your brand planning. When you choose a name, you should choose it because it works for your intended genre and audience.
For example, using my name, I would change things based on what genre I wanted to establish myself in. For fantasy (my actual genre) I would use my pen name A. E. Wells. This is because abbreviated names tend to work well here- think George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling- you see my point. But if I was writing romance or women’s fiction, I would consider writing under the name Alina Elise or Alina Wells. These are both still variations of my name but they suit the female-dominated, feminine-sounding genres better because they are softer.
The best practice is if you’re going to write in multiple genres, establish multiple pen names versus having everything under just one name. Not every genre has cross-readership, meaning not everyone who reads romance will read suspense, and so on. Keeping things separate will help establish your readership and help set the expectations for your author brand while limiting any confusion. Keep in mind that these will also be two separate author businesses and plan accordingly.
A well-known example is indie author Joanna Penn. She has multiple-albeit closely related- variations of pen names that she successfully writes under, helping her to transcend genre lines without losing any of her readers.
7 – Keep Your Brand Consistent
If there’s one piece of advice about branding for writers I’d like to shout from the rooftops, it would be to keep your brand consistent. I’m not referring to being rigid, disciplined to the point of exhaustion, or being so tightly wound that you’re coming across as robotic.
I’m talking about making sure your audience knows who you are and what you’re about. If you create your brand properly, it should be doing the heavy lifting for you. But it is your job to monitor your work for quality control and making sure that what you’re investing your time in stays relevant to your ideal reader.
Ways to do this include planning ahead to ensure you have enough time, comparing your current projects to your branding elements, sticking to your chosen brand elements when you create, and running a brand audit every 90 days to make sure things haven’t deviated. If you’ve done things right, your brand should feel cohesive overall and there shouldn’t be anything overtly obvious disrupting things. If there is, a simple assessment of where you started to deviate can help you fix it.
When you’re running multiple social media accounts, as so many authors do, are creating marketing materials constantly, and have websites, blogs, podcasts, Youtube accounts, etc. to manage it can be difficult to keep things consistent. Trust me, I’ve been there. It takes a lot of brain power to make sure you’re on point all the time.
A few helpful tips I’ve learned along the way:
- Keep your branding color palette, fonts, images, and other elements within arm’s reach
- If you use Canva upload your branding elements into their branding section for easy access
- When you create, ask yourself “Who am I creating this for and would my ideal reader like it?”
- Does this project reflect my brand values and overall vibe?
- Does anything feel “off”? If it does, what exactly needs to be tweaked?
By running through this quick checklist, you’ll be able to catch most of what can go amiss if you get careless in your creating. Remember, it’s not a perfect science so if you find that you’ve gone astray, re-center yourself. There are no branding police who will hold it against you, promise.
8 – Establish Your “Why” And Your Experience Level
Your author brand is the representation of your core identity as an author, your purpose, vision, mission, and values. Without defining these features, your brand will fall flat. Revealing who you are in your work, why you write, and answering the question “Why pick you?” is what will make readers remember and continue to buy from you in the future.
At this stage of the brand-building process, it’s important to block out any comparisons that might be flickering through your mind.
Don’t worry about what everyone else in your niche is doing. Do what feels right for you. Your distinctive qualities will help you stand out from the crowd.
Start by defining your “why”. Ask yourself “Why am I writing? What message am I trying to send? What questions/problem for my ideal reader am I trying to solve? What am I trying to explore/comment on?”
Next, move on to the branches.
- What is your purpose for creating your author brand?
- What is your overall vision for your career?
- What is your author business’ mission?
- What values does your author business represent?
In my experience, it can take time to develop the answers. During my rebranding process, it took me several days to really mull this over and come up with something solid. It felt weird to think about my authorhood in this way. Going from writing as a hobby to writing for income can be an odd mindset shift, so if it takes you several drafts or your answers change over time, consider that a normal part of the branding process!
9 – Keep Yourself Organized
At some point during this process, things are going to get messy. There’s a ton of information gathered, created, and considered during the early stages of brainstorming and creating your author brand. It’s easy for tidbits to go missing or elements to get lost in the shuffle.
I recommend keeping all your branding elements in the same place. Personally, I utilize Google Docs, a notebook, Notion, and Pinterest to help keep track of my author brand materials.
Below is a breakdown of what I use them for:
- To save any images, illustrations, elements, fonts, etc. relevant to my brand
- Place where I keep blog and social media posts
- Any relevant rebranding papers, materials, ideas, information
Why I like it: It helps to have one central place where I can keep all relevant materials to my brand. It also allows me to link and comment back and forth with my brand/website designer without having extra steps to share.
- Random brainstorming/ideas
- Information I want to keep track of or investigate further
- Particularly helpful in the initial stages of brand forming
Why I like it: It gives me a space to be a messy creative without having to hunt down all my random post-it notes.
- Keeps my to-do list
- Stores any links that I need
- Home to random branding thoughts or questions I have
Why I like it: Another place to save notes in one place. This one is handy because it’s completely customizable and I can use it for just about anything. Great for quick referencing on the go.
- Home to my visual brand board
- Helped me build what I want my author brand to look/feel like
- Requested by my brand/website designer
- Gives me inspiration and recenters my “why”
Why I like it: It helps me keep the visual aspects of my brand in mind. Whenever I lose motivation or my “why” I refresh my memory. It’s a powerful reminder of what I’m trying to build through my author brand and seeing it uplifts me whenever I feel self-doubt creeping in.
Having a system in place to help keep you organized as you create and grow your author brand is invaluable. It’ll help keep you from searching for lost papers, help you stay consistent, keep you motivated/inspired, and help you communicate with your hired team.
10 – Measure Your Progress
It’s a smart idea to strategize, especially when money is involved. You should be measuring your efforts regarding brand building, keeping track of progress and goals, how much money you’ve invested, what your returns are, etc. It will help motivate you but will also help you figure out what is working and what isn’t.
This is one of those business-things I wish I had known more about when I first started my business. As a creative, I was much more considered with creation than I was learning how to run a business and my progress suffered because of it. If I’d invested time in the beginning to setting things up properly, it would have saved me years of undoing and revamping what I’d already done. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
It may be the not-so-fun part of the process, but it’s a vital part of making sure your author business is both effective and thriving. After all, if you can’t take a hard look at the numbers, you won’t be able to improve.
Here are some ways you can track your success and assess what needs to change:
- Set specific goals and milestones
- Utilize data tools such as analytics/apps
- Analyze the data from your blog, website analytics, and social media
- Listen to what people are saying about you
- Ask your readers for feedback
- Pay attention to your reviews and ratings
- Ask for an honest review from a professional you trust, for example, your business mentor
- Keep a spreadsheet for expenses and income
Doing this often and keeping on top of your tracking is the biggest favor you’ll ever do for yourself as a small biz owner. Planning and thinking about how you will measure your progress while you’re building your brand will not only save you time in the long run, but it will help you make business decisions up-front that will save money, time, and energy.
Building an Author Brand is no joke. It takes time, effort, money, creative energy, and vision. But the benefits you gain from having a thought out, cohesive brand that connects you to your readers is indispensable. Investing your time and resources into what will be the face of your author business is not only smart, but profitable.