I really don’t like branding. At least the coming-up-with-it part. Just to set the proper expectations. Some people go nuts for this kind of stuff. Not me.
What you read below is my lesson/exercise in personal branding. I am no expert, that’s for sure, so caveat emptor. I knew after deciding to self-publish that I’d need to rebrand myself, and I’m oh-so-lucky that I attended an awesome Damon Suede (DS) seminar last weekend on marketing and branding.
Brand new author brand? Here I come!
One of the key things that we learned from Damon was “branding is a lens that focuses attention.” He told us to think of a TV perfume ad. You can’t smell the perfume through the TV, but through the images, music, colors, and vibe, you get a good idea of what that fragrance smells like, because it’s evoking an emotional response. The commercial is basically creating an illusion of the smell of the perfume. And that is essentially the goal of the author brand. Create the emotion in the reader that you are the writer they’ve been looking for their whole lives.
To help us do that, one of the exercises he had us do is to associate sensory details with our author image. For each of the five senses, we had to identify something that signifies it. For me, it was:
- Look — Chippendale furniture
- Sound — Horse and carriage
- Smell — Lavender
- Taste — Earl grey tea
- Feel — Damask
When thinking about the senses that I associate with my author brand, as well as the whole “focus the lens” discussion, I realized that my existing author brand didn’t hit the mark. In fact, far from it.
It started with my tagline, “Passion. History. Romance.” That had to go. It was much too generic. What sort of history? How much passion? Blech. Boring. And something a bunch of other historical writers probably have. Damon gave the example of many contemporary writers who have on their website header a picture of a rocking chair with a lovely view and the tagline “Sweet, small-town romance.” The trouble with that, while it may be descriptive, is that every other writer has it. When every other writer has it, you’re not distinguishing yourselves from the hordes.
So it was time to narrow my focus.
Damon encouraged us to think about the things we represent or that are important to us in our writing. For me, it’s passion between characters, both emotional and physical; historical accuracy; and the love of a good Cinderella story (with Cindy doing her share to get the job done, don’t worry). I’m all about the happily ever after. I am particularly fond of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and I try to incorporate a bit of their antiquated language or words in my stories. So how do I come up with a tagline that does that?
First thing is to start asking questions: What do I write? I write Regencies. That’s it. Maybe someday it’ll be something else, but right now it’s Regencies. So put the focus there. Going back to my old tag line, I don’t need to tell people I write romance, so take that out. It’s wasted words. Of course I’m writing romance. But I can convey that in other ways (such as colors, designs, fonts, etc.). But what about the passion part? I want that in there. My books aren’t sweet. They’re not erotica, but the bedroom door is definitely open and I want readers to know upfront.
So…lucky me, after Damon’s workshop, a couple other gals and I got to spend some one-on-one time with Damon at the hotel bar and we talked about branding (and asked questions). It’s a big help that Damon and I connected the evening before over Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer — he’s a big fan of Regency. In the bar, he was willing to listen to me gripe about narrowing down my tagline (bless his heart, haha). During one of the breaks earlier that day, I had come up with “A dash of Darcy….” It clearly narrows the focus of what I write, and who doesn’t love Darcy?!? When I shared it with Damon, he loved it! BUT…turns out someone else has already used “dash of Darcy” in a book series and after #cockygate, I didn’t feel like stepping on another author’s toes (whether trademarked or not), so I changed it to “dab” to keep the alliteration consistent. Then I started thinking like a painter. Dabs of this color. Pops of this color. Thence came “pop of passion.”
So my new tagline is “A dab of Darcy with a pop of passion.” It says these things: Regency, Austen, historical, passion. Anyone who loves those things will love my books!
Great, that’s done. So I thought back to another thing Damon shared during the seminar and that’s coming up with a color scheme and sticking to it everywhere (with the exception of your book covers). As much as possible, make your branding consistent. Fonts, colors, etc. Damon uses vermilion as his signature color. I needed colors that convey my brand…that convey romance. I had played with this a little bit back in May and the look and feel I’d come up with just didn’t…well…feel the way I wanted it to. It was purples and grays and felt too Ice Princessy. Too cold. And stark. I don’t want my brand to feel cold, but I love purple.
In the book Damon co-wrote with Heidi Cullinan, “Your A-Game: Winning Promo for Genre Fiction,” he lists a few websites that offer up color palettes — some of which you can search. I went to one of the sites, http://www.colourlovers.com, and searched color palettes based on a single starting color. Because purple is my favorite color (and tied in with the “lavender” sense of smell that I’d identified with my author brand), I decided to search for “plum” (because search results using “purple” gave me results that felt too cold). I found this:
I loved it from the get-go, except the first color was a little too green to me, so I changed it to be just slightly less so.
It’s not a significant change, but just a wee bit less green, and voila…my color palette is done (it’s amazing how doing this late at night can lead to very quick, executive-like decision making).
Going back to Damon’s five senses for my author brand, I love the look and feel of damask. To me it conveys history and gentility. I had a beautiful gray and white damask pattern that I had been playing with when experimenting with the purples and grays back in May, but of course, I have a new color palette. I painfully (really, really…painfully) recolored the damask pattern so it used two of the colors from my new palette above, like this:
That would work as a very subtle background for my website banner (sneak peek below!).
Then it came down to changing up my website and making up some business cards…something with my name on it. I decided to take advantage of the branding that Robin, my cover designer, has already done on my first cover by using my name as she designed it…that creates some consistency between my covers and me and hopefully ties it all together. Here’s what Robin came up with for my name, which I’ve recolored to that plum shade above (plus added a slight drop shadow):
Toss in my new tag line below it, with a fun font for accent, and I get:
Keeping with my color palette, the text design my cover designer did for my name, and the font she used to create it, here’s my card to give out to readers (the back has my book info and cover, but I’m not revealing that yet, sorry!).
I created a different contact card for professional contacts — there’s no book info on the back and it has my FB profile link, not my page link, as well as my address and phone.
My website is nearly done with the new branding, tag line, fonts, and color palette. Here’s the sneak peek of the header — you’ll see the rest later this month!
And that has been my fun with branding this past week. But like all things, it may look different after a time, so I’m putting my new branding away for a little while and will give it a critical eye in a few days to see if it still makes me happy.
I will say that I can see why people pay other people to do this. It’s tedious. But I’m fortunate to have a few skills in the graphics department, which saves me a little bit of money (plus instant gratification when I come up with something I like).
What has your experience been with author branding? Have you learned any great tidbits you can share with us? Things we should avoid?