Take it away, CJ!
A brand is a subliminal promise to your readers--that any book written under this author's name will promise this type of emotional experience. The first step to finding your brand is to examine what you've already written. Ask yourself why these stories grabbed you? Why you wanted to write them in the first place, what you were trying to say with them.
Where’s Your Heart?
For example, even though I love to cross genres from women's fiction to suspense to thrillers to YA, every book I write has a theme central to my life: they're all about making a difference, trying to change the world. I encapsulate the emotional element of my brand as: Heroes are born everyday.
But that’s pretty generic, so I created a tagline to further define it. When I was writing medical suspense, my first tagline came easily: No One is Immune to Danger
Note that this is an emotional concept, not a promise of specifics. I did this on purpose because I knew up front that I didn't want to get locked into writing only medical thrillers. But it works with medical thrillers, woman's fiction, romantic suspense, mainstream thrillers, etc. And it reminds the reader that I’m a physician--which is part of my platform or unique selling proposition.
If this all seems very confusing to you, there's a book I found very helpful called Primal Branding. Instead of talking marketing mumbo-jumbo it discusses brands as ways to tell stories, so it was very intuitive.
Also, be sure to talk to your editor and agent or your critique partners. Who do they see as your target audience? What label will be on your books? Where will they be shelved in the bookstores? What do they see you writing and selling successfully in the future?
All these questions will tell you how people who know your work see your brand, even if they don't use those words--but they might, just ask them!
What you want to know is: what primal emotion does your writing trigger in your audience? Laughter? Fear? Romance?
From there, you'll know the central theme of your work—the goal is to inspire that same feeling on a subliminal level with your branding. For me, I’ve left my tagline behind to create an entire subgenre that all my books fit into: Thrillers with Heart.
More than Words
A brand is more than a central theme, more than a tag line, it also includes visual images that evoke the same emotion.
When you design your site/blog use the images and colors and words that apply to your brand. For instance, when I began writing the Angels of Mercy series, a large part of my brand image was that I'm a doctor, so I used medical imagery. I also used the color red a lot--again, creating an emotional response.
Now that I also write mainstream suspense/thrillers, I've toned down those medical elements and instead have focused on evoking an emotion in my audience. So I've gone with deeper colors, a suspenseful image, and since all my books feature a relationship, I've included a couple traveling together into danger and the unknown.
One thing that I wanted on my site was to evoke a response that it was fresh, dynamic, and different than other suspense writers' sites. Subconsciously this tells a casual viewer that here is a writer who's different than others, willing to take chances, and whose books are also fresh and different.
I checked out as many websites as I could. Many I fell in love with--but they didn't fit my brand and the emotional response I was aiming for.
I tried to make the site have a lot of movement, a feeling of high-energy, and very wide-open, not boxed in or following "rules"—just like my books. You can see the results at http://www.cjlyons.net
To Tsotchke or Not:
Other things to decide as you build your brand:
* To blog or not?Base your decisions on your brand as well as where your strengths lie.
As a doctor, teaching is a natural part of my life, and teachers are noted for making a difference, so volunteering to teach workshops, give keynotes, etc, was an easy fit for my brand. I've also included a lot of articles on my NoRulesJustWRITE.com website—free, my way to give back to my readers and writing friends.
If this didn't come naturally to me and fit my brand, I might have passed on some of these opportunities and spent my time and energy doing something else--like maybe blogging (which doesn't come easy to me so I focus on guest blogging which is more like teaching).
Now that I have less time for speaking engagements, the majority of my live appearances are in front of crowds of readers instead of fellow writers. Exactly who I want to reach, so that’s perfect—but often they expect some kind of memento to take home.
When choosing promotional items, make sure they fit your brand or reflect it by creating a similar emotional response.
I use bookmarks and postcards all branding about me and my books—not one single title. On each, I include a QR code and web address that take people directly to my email list sign up where they can get the first issue of my newsletter along with a free book.
I do not buy pens, bath salts, magnets, stress balls, etc, etc, etc. Why? Other than pens they don't reflect my brand (well, maybe the stress balls could <g>). Again, you need to decide what fits your brand, not just buy something because it's cute, cheap or some other author has one….
When I give something away, I want to create an emotional connection between the audience and my brand: CJ Lyons, New York Times Bestselling Author of Thrillers with Heart.
I give away pdfs of motivational quotes, short stories, and even complete novels. My agent calls it the CJ Lyons crack dealer theory of marketing: give them a taste and they’ll be back for more.
Instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, keep your own brand--that subliminal, emotional statement that you want to make through your writing--firmly in mind.
Once you find your brand and start to use it, it's amazing what will fall into place!
So, let’s have some fun. Share your tag line and website. What primal emotion are you aiming for? I’ll try to look into my crystal ball and see if we can brainstorm some potential branding ideas for you! All I ask is that everyone who posts also checks out and comments on at least three other commenters—let’s share our brainstorming potential. Thanks for reading! CJ
About CJ: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of eighteen novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.
CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday).
Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at http://www.CJLyons.net and everything she knows about being a bestseller and selling a million books at http://www.NoRulesJustWRITE.com<