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Indie Publishing: What the Hell is an Author Brand?

In short, an author's “brand” is the overarching identity that readers see. Are you a nerdy ex-professor turned wishful sci-fi novelist? Or a chronically ill butthead who blathers on about indie publishing? My brand includes both. Here are my thoughts and musings about my personal brand and how that might relate to you and yours.


What you see of my life shapes your impression of my art. How could it not. My words, and the meaning behind my stories take on greater meaning when you know the state of my mind when I write. Usually, it takes dozens interactions, whether through paid advertising, podcasts, or posts like this, to make a first impression on a potential reader. This only works if readers see a similar side of me in most cases.

For example, I use the same headshot for my social media accounts, my webpage, and the author pic on the back of my books. It's an easy to signal that I'm the same person. Besides, I'm not ambitious enough to find separate photos for each spot.

"Author brand" is just a fancy way of telling authors to be ourselves in a consistent manner.



IMPORTANCE

As an undiscovered author, I need every sliver of help I can find to get readers' eyes on my words and minds engrossed in the worlds I build. It's hard as a little guy trying to be heard over the throng of twenty million other books available online. Presenting myself as the same person with the same name everywhere online helps avid readers jump from my social media profile to my Amazon page with comfort of knowing I'm the same person.

Bare Minimum: Use the same name. Imagine following a link from my X profile to an author page by a man with a different name. Would you hang out and find out why I played the old switcheroo? Or would you hit eject? I'd go for the second option.



AUTHOR BRANDING vs BOOK POSITIONING

Most of us–yes, this includes me–mix up author branding and book positioning. So, let’s take a moment to clear up some confusion.

Author Branding is your outward connection with your audience that showcases your unique voice and distinguishes you from the millions of other authors. It communicates a message about who you are and what you stand for. Your "you-ness" may not matter to some, will turn off others, and attract the peeps who appreciate the life story that made you the right person to write your novels, poetry, or blogs.

Book Positioning is about understanding and presenting how each of your books fits in the book market. The way your book's name, cover, and description fit together will tell readers about your book’s genre, its feel, and its unique appeal. It answers their question, "Why is this book right for me?"

The two bleed into each other because your author bio should be on your book cover, and your book(s) should be all over your webpage. But the two end-members are distinct and should be understood before pretzeling them together.



DIFFERENT FACADS

Having a consistent story doesn't limit me to showing a single side of myself. In fact, I want people to see me as multifaceted. I've lived a complex and strange existence on this blue and brown marble, and hiding a bunch of myself wouldn't represent me. It does mean I edit my work, limit my rants, and don't show many pictures of me when I'm at my most chronically ill moments.

Because I'm a whole human (arguably), you could see my youth in two lights. Here’s an example. As a kid, I sold humanely sourced leatherwork at an art fair on a redwood-covered mountain near San Francisco. That gives you one view of me, right? Artistic. Kind. Resourceful. Not a bad kid. You might see why I was the right person to write a YA novel about a teen with heart.

Then there's the other side of that kid. The "humanely sourced" leather I turned into pouches and wrist bands came from roadkill I collected, skinned, and tanned. Now you're probably thinking this kid was deranged, dark, and possibly a little psycho. He's the kind of guy who can write a book about a sardonic AI that all-but-torchers the guy it was implanted in.

Guess what. I'm both. My brand is that while I may be physically limited now, I've lived a life full wide-ranging experiences that help me fill the lives of the characters I create.


Well, 😬 maybe we should pretend I was talking about someone else scooping up roadkill, okay?



IS A BRAND NECESSARY?

In short, yes…if you’re interested in making a few more sales here and there.

As I mentioned above, a brand may turn away some people away. They won't like the leatherworker you were. That's okay. They don't need to, and most of them would happily skip past our books anyway because we live in obscurity.

The good news is that presenting an unwavering version of yourself will nudge the people who appreciate your uniqueness into reading your words. You can lose ninety-nine disinterested readers as long as you get that rare one to click on your link. Remember, there are millions and millions of readers out there. All you need is a few here and a few there to add up.

Note: Having a brand doesn't mean manipulating people or bending the truth. For me, it’s a shortcut to being authentic. No matter where you find me, you’ll find the same person and know what to expect.



FICTION vs NONFICTION

I assert that your author brand is important for both fiction and nonfiction but for different reasons. Here's why:

In nonfiction, your brand emphasizes your expertise and credibility, which are two crucial attributes for building trust with readers. If a reader doesn’t trust the author, they won’t have a reason to believe the author. The brand is your LinkedIn profile, your unique professional experience, and the education you benefited from.

In fiction, your brand creates a consistent expectation for the type of experience your reader will have regardless of your art's genre, level of sophistication, or narrative tone. If someone enjoys one of your books and looks for another, but finds an unfamiliar author on Amazon or Apple, they'll probably assume it's by someone else.

Hint: Regardless of your written content, it's easier to present a single identiy than keeping track of different versions of yourself in different places. Keep it simple. There are too many other challenges with being an indie/self-published author.



WHERE TO START?

Alright. I'm glad that you're still reading. To recap, an author's brand equals a consistent connection with the outside world. In addition to being authentically you, it can help bolster sales. Now the question is, how do we build this mysterious thing?


Your name: As I already mentioned, it's important to put the same name on every outward-facing mention of you. If you go by initials like I do, then use those initials everywhere. No sense in confusing potential readers.


Your Tagline: This is the fastest way to describe yourself in a way that might attract the occasional reader. Ideally, taglines are memorable, engaging, and succinct. It offers a quick snapshot of who you are and what you stand for. My post on writing a bio touches on this, but the tagline might need a post all to itself. We’ll see.

In it's shortest format, mine is "Scientist Turned Author." On my social media profiles, this is the first thing people read about me. Hopefully, it conveys that you'll encounter a nerdy writer if you keep exploring.

Professional Voice: The way you speak in a professional setting can be different from the way you speak at home or at the pub down the road. You write in different voices over email texts. It's expected and appreciated (by most). Would you buy a three-hundred-page historical fiction with a book description written entirely in text abbreviations? Nope. So, present the voice that draws your kind of people to you and use it whenever you engage.

Key Takeaway: Your professional voice should be consistent regardless of how different it is from the style you share with your best friends.

You Voice: Admitting that I have a valuable voice is a tough one for me because I frequently suffer from imposter syndrome (written about elsewhere). It can be hard to understand the worth of what I offer. Well, guess what? You and I have to dig deep and appreciate ourselves and show aspects of ourselves that other people might find interesting, funny, or downright horrifying.

WE ARE WORTHY

Identify what makes you the right person to write your stories. Is it your childhood? An ailment? A hardship? Your profound love of tea pots? Or does it erupt from your amazing mind as if told by another personality? Whatever your reason is for writing, it makes you rare and precious.

WE ARE WORTHY

Headshots: Unfortunately, many authors are spectacular at words but not photography and digital art. Most of us aren't TikTok celebrities or Instagram darlings and wouldn't want to be even if we could. We're into words and that's enough.

However...we need to follow the path of least resistance and use our best headshots on all things digital for as long as we can handle it. Pick a good photo that you can tolerate looking at for several years. Here's why; I recognize most of the people I follow online by their picture, not their names. I've had people change names without noticing until months later.

Note: Readers don’t expect an air-brushed six-foot fashion model with perfect proportions. They want to see the eyes of a real person with flaws and character like them.

Artwork: Your visual identity goes beyond your photo. It includes the banner at the head of your online profiles and the images you include on your website. I use Sci-Fi imagery whenever and wherever I can because it's what I'm into, I find it visually appealing, and it helps people quickly learn something about me. As I keep stressing, be consistent.

You don't need to be a graphic designer to download photos from creative commons websites like Unsplash.

The most important aspect of your art is that it draws attention to your words. If it's too distracting and busy, it'll drown out the meat of what you have to offer.

Fonts: Following this last point, use legible fonts where possible to emphasize your words. That is what we're in it for, after all. Fancy script can paint a whimsical story of romance or swashbuckling while modern fonts can speak loads about the present or future.

Color: There's a ton of psychology that goes into choosing color schemes. My suggestion is to find a picture you like, either of yourself or one that speaks to you, then pull colors from that. You don't need to get fancy. Remember, brand is different from book positioning, so you can have multiple books that clash that still fit into a simple color scheme. I chose two rich colors–bright orange and light purple–along with black, white, and dark gray. When I'm confronted with designing something, I only have two colors to choose from, which makes my life easier.

Baby Steps: It's easier to take on one small thing at a time than change everything all at once. This actually works out better for you anyway. Let's say you change your social media name to reflect your pen name and also update your social photo at the same time. Your followers and friends may not recognize your account, and it could take a long while to get the same level of interaction.

Hint: You can update your author photo for the back-cover bio and author pages on Amazon at any time, so if you like a new one better, go ahead and use it.


Engagement: Find a way to interact with people so that it’s clear who you are and what you’re about. You should be able to relate this back to your tagline. If you can’t, then your tagline isn’t right or you aren’t engaging the way you want.

For example, I write a question every morning, usually the most bizarre one I can dream up. This shows that I am inquisitive (nerdy scientist) and creative (author). These questions also invite people to have a dialogue with me, which brings out my goofy side.


Side Comment: What works for me and others might not work for you. You need to find your own way to present yourself. Be honest to who you are.



PROVIDE VALUE

You have something to offer others. People won't know what that is until you show them. All these indie publishing posts I write don’t see a ton of traffic, but they do help a few of my fellow authors, so I consider their time well spent. There are a million and one ways to provide value to one community or another.

  • Host a zoom happy hour,

  • Offer feedback on book blurbs,

  • Start an online book club,

  • Host a workshop,

  • Post amazing quotes from your recent reads

Some of the people you provide value to may become your mentors, friends, or biggest advocates. You never know. Creating content can establish your insight and perspective while paying it forward to your community. These initiatives can strengthen your brand by highlighting important aspects of yourself.



PICK AND CHOOSE

Do you have an author photo for a book? Check. A website with the same photo? Check. Tweets with your characteristic voice? Check. What about your blog, newsletter, podcasts, webinars, or book reviews? I sure hope not. There isn't enough time in the day to write, edit, self-publish, produce content for every venue, and sleep. Pick and choose which tools work for you. If you love reviewing books, then use that to your advantage. If you hate hearing your voice, then avoid podcasts. It's better to get fewer good interactions than more shoddy ones.

Note: I can't write a newsletter for the life of me. I just can’t make it work. So, it isn’t part of my brand. That’s okay because there are plenty of other ways to reach people.



COLLABORATION

I really shouldn’t comment on collaborating because I’m not great at it. But you might want to consider partnering with other authors for joint promotions, guest blogging on popular sites, or participating in literary panels to expand your visibility and solidify your identity.



SHARING

How much you want to share and what kinds of details you’re willing to share are completely up to you. Don’t share anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Some people are completely open about their lives. Others are completely shut off, preferring to share technical or job-related interests. Still others, present completely fictional facades. Whatever your approach, keep providing content in whatever way suits you. Even better, respond to comments, messages, and/or emails from your readers. It’ll show that you value your audience.

Example: I don't post personal details about my family, including activities, experiences, or stupid stories.



TAKEAWAY

Be consistent. Know the quickest, easiest way to share who you are and what you’re about. Give people every chance to identify you across X, Facebook, your website, Amazon, Apple Books, and Goodreads. This means presenting yourself in a similar way visually, verbally, and content-wise. Brand does not mean fake or misleading. You can make your brand authentic and tailored to highlight your uniqueness. It gives you a chance to stand out from the crowd.


 

As always, I appreciate your support of indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.



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