Justine: A Lesson (or at Least an Exercise) in Author Branding

41323542 - brand branding marketing commercial name conceptI 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:

Screen Shot 2018-07-07 at 10.27.02 PM

Chippendale sofas. Image (c) Christie’s of London

  • 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:

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 3.33.26 PM

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.

My color palette

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:

final damask dark 50 pct

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):

FINAL Justine Covington name brand

Toss in my new tag line below it, with a fun font for accent, and I get:

FINAL Justine Covington name brand with tagline

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!).

front reader darker pink2

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!

Screen Shot 2018-07-07 at 10.37.25 PM

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?

10 thoughts on “Justine: A Lesson (or at Least an Exercise) in Author Branding

  1. You’ve done a fantastic job. I’ve copied snippets of your answers/Damon’s methodology into a file to revisit the first brand I came up with after a two-hour seminar our RWA chapter hosted. I now think it’s too generic. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  2. I hired Spark Creative Partners to help build my brand. Naively, I thought they’d trot out ideas and I’d say yay or nay, but what happened was I told them I wanted something “dark, yet whimsical,” to which they responded, “send us pictures of dark, yet whimsical.”

    So then I proceeded to spend 2 weeks surfing the web for images that conjured up that feeling, and it turned out to be snakes and apples. They (brilliantly) added animation that has a hand holding an apple rise from below, and then a snake wraps itself around the wrist and hisses while fireflies dart around. I don’t generally like blinky things on websties, so these stop after a few seconds.

    Now I’m going to have to go back and do your five senses challenge….

    • I remember the first time I started working with Robin, my cover designer. It was the same thing…lots of work on my part. First, I had to cull through covers to show her the ones I like and didn’t (and why). Then it was searching for background images. Then couples. She’s very talented and did a great job pulling everything together. But it’s still a lot of work we the writer have to do to get them started.

      I look forward to hearing what you come up with for the five senses challenge. 🙂

  3. I think the comments contain a really good point: if you are going to work with designers, you have to speak their language, which is visual. I have several photo files for various stories, which help me get into the story, but some of the pics could do double-duty as something to show designers. Some people use Pinterest, but I don’t like having to get online to access it, so I just dump all sorts of photos into my “picture” file — although, after having done this for five years, I may switch to dumping them all into a USB stick. Labelling systems are really useful for finding the pics again.

    Beautiful colors, and I love the damask, Justine!

    • You’re absolutely right. We have to speak a visual language. Great idea about putting photos into files for your stories. My critique partner is big into Pinterest and maintains separate pin boards for her books. I started doing this, but found it to be a huge time suck, so I’m using Scrivener to keep track of story-related images. Otherwise, I’d get lost on the web. 🙂

  4. I love what you’ve got. Your color palette is beautiful, and you’re using it to good effect. For me, I’m going to skip the whole branding thing. I added a tagline to my web page, so that counts, I guess, but color schemes and images—I applaud you guys. I’ll keep using hot colors on the covers of books that have comic elements; hot colors have a spectrum that tends to repeat. But conscious efforts? It’s not in me, and I’m not sure that even Damon Suede could convince me otherwise. 🙂 Plus, in addition to my comedies, I’ve got two pretty dark FBI stories under a pseudonym, which when I redo those covers, and if I put my real name on them, will not fit with a “comedy” color scheme. That lets me off the hook for SO many decisions!

    • Oh, Kay, you’re going to think me so anal retentive. I have all the prominent title/text colors already planned for the six books in my series!
      #1 — Maroon (that was sort of an accident)
      #2 — Gold/Yellow (hero has a shock of blonde hair)
      #3 — Navy/Royal Blue (it’s naval-related)
      #4 — Green (hero has red hair; nice contrast)
      #5 — Purple (a “left-over” color after all the others I’ve used)
      #6 — White/silver (the last hero gets married)

      As for your branding, you have to do what works for you. And if it doesn’t, then don’t. One of the things that Damon said is “you be you,” because readers know when you’re faking and that’s something they don’t like.

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