Your Theme is Your Brand
September 11, 2018
Note From Rochelle
Are you hoping to write a book that helps you brand your business, increase your income, and reach your readers? If so, you need to come to my workshop this week! How a Book Can Boost Your Business will help you understand the many ways a book can help your work as a speaker, coach, or entrepreneur. The class will be held on Wednesday, September 12 at 5:00 PM. Visit my workshop page to learn more and sign up.
Today’s tip: two of my favorite authors—Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker—have stopped by the blog to talk about branding! Be sure to read to the end to learn how you can win a copy of one of their books!
Your Theme is Your Brand
by Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker
Shannon Baker and I have published 25 books between us. Like most writers, we have a passion for telling stories and a blind spot when it comes to marketing.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in our lack of branding.
See, we write funny mysteries, feminist thrillers, suspense, romance, magical realism, nonfiction, young adult, and fantasy. Common wisdom would say we’ve messed up, that readers will not follow us across so many genres, and that we should have stuck with one thing and done it well. And not just readers—agents and publishers have told us that, too.
Shannon, what have you been told about the importance of branding as an author?
SHANNON: Like you, I’ve been told to drill down to what I do well and concentrate on that, instead of scattering myself around. I really tried to do that, but lately, have been bouncing around like a fart in a skillet. I’m not convinced that strict adherence to genre and tone is the only way to build a writing career, though.
JESS: I agree. I think that perspective short-changes readers. Many successful authors don’t write only one style of book. Neil Gaiman, an author both you and I love, writes across genres. JK Rowling also writes mystery. Sure, those two have big names, but I think it’s more than that. I think readers follow good stories, not just genre.
But how does a midlist author who writes across genres establish a brand? I think the key is to first define what we mean when we refer to a brand. It isn’t a slogan or an image, though it is often attached to both. A brand’s primary goal isn’t to sell a single product, though that’s one way to measure its success.
A brand is an invitation to a relationship, and it is a commitment to that relationship. As writers, our brand is the quality of stories we tell, and if we keep it, our name. But there is one more component, a key ingredient that I discovered in talking to publicity expert Dana Kaye.
We were at a writing conference in Indiana, and I was bemoaning the fact that I have no brand because of all the different types of books I write. Dana said, “What are they all about?”
I gave her a blank stare and then started to recite plots.
“No,” she interrupted. “What are they about?”
“Secrets,” I said, without hesitation, finally getting it. “Every book I write is about the poison and power of secrets.
“There it is,” she told me. “That’s your brand.”
Shannon, what are your books about?
SHANNON: I read Dana’s book, Your Book, Your Brand, about a year ago and I’ve been mulling this over ever since. The question baffled me. It seems I write a lot about mothers and daughters, but in mysteries and romance, through a couple of series. I don’t know about you, but saying I write about family relationships or even mothers/daughters, doesn’t really define my books and, honestly, I wouldn’t want it to. Almost all of my books are really grounded in the scene, and by that, I mean the natural outdoors world. But maybe I don’t want that to be the case for everything and I really don’t want to have to rebrand myself.
But Jess suggested this topic, sort of forcing my hand. Fretting the issue, I went to happy hour with a non-writer friend. (Yes, I do have them.) She seemed puzzled I was having such a hard time coming up the unifying force in my writing. She spouted off, “You write about strong women,” without having to pause to think or sip her cocktail.
So yes, there it is. I write about strong women. But it needs more. Strong women taking charge of their lives? Strong women making sense of the world? I’m working it out.
JESS: That all makes sense! As writers, we need to claim the recurring theme in our writing. That theme is our brand. Once we know it, we can use it to inform our marketing. This includes making our theme the first or second sentence of our bio (see my bio below for an example), incorporating it into our Facebook and Twitter profiles, opening with it in interviews, and updating our websites with imagery that reflects this theme, where possible. Shannon, what other ways you can think of for a midlist author to create a brand out of her writing (and life) theme?
SHANNON: I remember a lecture on this subject in college. I was a business major, of all things. The example that stuck with me is the buggy industry. The prof suggested the buggy company that survived the change from horses to engines was the company that had branded itself as being in the transportation business, not the buggy business. So I would caution not making your brand too restrictive. (See how I avoided Jess’s question about creative marketing techniques?)
But, to address the question, I think once we articulate our brand to ourselves, our future writing will be more focused. The more we know about how our subconscious works, the more we can help it along consciously. I know I want to write about strong women. Strong women doing, making, exploring, surviving, thriving against all odds? Man, feel free to help me out, here.
SHANNON AND JESS: Thanks to Rochelle for hosting us, and thank YOU for reading!
We are each giving away three signed books on the Lourey/Baker Double-Booked Tour. To enter to win, sign up for our newsletter!
- Jess Lourey newsletter sign-up (when you sign up, you’ll automatically receive a free copy of May Day, the first in Jess’ comic caper mysteries): BookHip.com/KJNSXH
- Shannon Baker newsletter sign-up (when you sign up you’ll receive a free Kate short story): https://mailchi.mp/d5ccfe1840ea/shannonsbooknews
For every comment you make along our tour stop, you’ll get another entry in the contest. Don’t be shy; we love talking to you.
DOUBLE-BOOKED BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE
August 23: “Two Middle-aged Introverts Write a Sex Scene” on Criminal Minds
August 26: “Write What You Fear” on Writer Unboxed
August 27: “The Five Stages of Author Grief” on BOLO Books
August 29: “Tools and Tricks that Changed the Game” on Femmes Fatales
August 31: “Write a Great Scene” on Fiction University
September 2: “Author Interview” on Jess Lourey
September 4: “The Unexpected Places Authors Get Their Ideas” on Wicked Cozy Authors
September 8: “A Day in the Life of Our Characters” on Dru’s Book Musings
September 11: “Midlist Authors, Your Theme Is Your Brand” on Write Now! Coach
September 13: “Most Embarrassing Author Moment” on Jungle Red Writers
September 26: “Create an Author Persona” on The Creative Penn
ABOUT SHANNON AND JESS
Shannon Baker is author of the Kate Fox mystery series set in rural Nebraska cattle country, and the Nora Abbott mystery series, fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder. Now a resident of Tucson, Baker spent 20 years in the Nebraska Sandhills, where cattle outnumber people by more than 50:1. She is proud to have been chosen Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2014 and 2017 Writer of the Year.
A lover of the outdoors, she can be found backpacking in the Rockies, traipsing to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, skiing mountains and plains, kayaking lakes, hiking, cycling, and scuba diving whenever she gets the chance. Arizona sunsets notwithstanding, Baker is, and always will be, a Nebraska Husker. Go Big Red. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com. Bitter Rain is an August release.
Jess Lourey (rhymes with “dowry”) is an Anthony, Lefty, and Agatha-nominated author who writes about the poison and power of secrets. She’s best known for her critically-acclaimed Mira James Mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.”
She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a regular Psychology Today blogger, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 “Rewrite Your Life” TEDx Talk. Mercy’s Chase, the second in the feminist thriller series Lee Child calls “highly recommended,” released September 8. You can find out more at www.jessicalourey.com.
Thank you for hosting us, Rochelle! It’s always lovely to stop by.
Jess! So great to have you here sharing your wisdom!
Brilliant post. As a reader, I read across genres and as you say I follow a good story. So I would look for a favorite author in a different genre. Good writing is good writing. And then I discovered that some authors I liked were also among my favorite authors in a different genre but writing under a different name. So now I do a little research to see if my favorite authors are writing across genres and/or under different names. Has added much pleasurable reading to my TBR stack.
That is so interesting, Sally! Thanks for stopping by, and for sharing your experience!
Thanks, Rochelle! *waves* Hi, Jess! (that’s one powerful wave because it has to go all the way from Tucson to Minneapolis!)
Hey, Shannon! Thank you for being here!
Hi, Shannon! Miss you! See you Thursday?