How did I become a brand?

In my quest to learn more about marketing, the topic of author branding has come up quite a bit. 

What is that? Well, I’m still working that out myself, but the basic answer is… it’s not marketing a “book,” it’s marketing the author. You want to be the “go to” person readers think of when they consider books in your genre.

 

For example, who comes to mind right off the bat when you think of YA Fantasy? 
JK Rowling would be my answer. And what do I think of when I consider what the name JK Rowling means? It’s not just Harry Potter and Hogwarts. It’s the fact that she is the creator of a fantasy world an entire generation knows, and half believe exists. She is THE YA fantasy icon of the past several decade because her books made an impact on people with their creativity and uniqueness. Everyone knows her name and what she writes and they have an emotional connection to the “idea” of JK Rowling. That’s the concept of author branding. 

So, how do you achieve author branding without becoming a super star like Rowling? First step first. Figure out who you are, or who you want to be to your readers. 

Who am I? That’s a whole discussion in itself, but let’s get the basics down before delving into childhood scars and dramatic backstories. 

I am crafty. 

Not in the tricksy and deceptive sense, but literally crafty. I love to sew and draw and paint and make ribbon bookmarks and design and be creative. 
How does this apply to branding?

I do a lot of my own cover art, promo pics, blog and website design. I have an eye for detail and I try to put that to use by making my appearance online consistent. I also love to share my hobbies with my readers. It’s a fun way for me to get them engaged in the behind the scenes work that goes into publishing. I’m also always willing to help other authors when they need graphic work done, bookmarks designed, or what have you. 

Consistency is important in branding. If this sort of thing isn’t your strongest area, find someone to help you decide on fonts, colors, layout, and tone for your online presence that will help give readers a sense of who you are. Are you fun and silly or dark and serious? Personally, I use a lot of pinks and fun fonts. I use pictures of me smiling and try to keep my bio light and personal. I want to be approachable, but that may not be the persona that’s right for a different author. I also put a lot of creativity into my book concepts, and I love sharing that with readers. 

I am girly and romantic. 

I think I might have mentioned my love of pinks a moment ago 🙂 I love bright colors. My favorite is actually orange, not pink, but orange can be a bit overbearing if used too much. I also love flowers and upbeat music, though I have a decent collection of darker songs that come in handy when writing certain books. I adore a good romance. If a book doesn’t make an emotional connection with me as a reader, I consider it to have something missing. 
How does this apply to branding?

I want readers to know what to expect when they pick up a books even if they haven’t read the summary on the back. Am I going to write about grisly murders and explicit sex and use a bazillion swear words while I do it? No. Of course, my Someone Wicked series is considerably darker than most of my other work, but I do give ample warning of that. The majority of my books, though they contain serious topics at times, are fun and light and filled with emotion and adventure and romance. Even when it comes to the Wicked books, they aren’t the kind of books you will put down and feel depressed when you finish. That’s not my style at all. I write about overcoming limits and finding your inner strength and proving all your doubters wrong. I set that tone on my various social media outlets, marketing material, and reader interactions. I leave the suave mysteriousness to other authors who have reason to put out that kind of persona. 

I love surprises. 

I love being surprised, and I love surprising people. For those who have read any of my books, you already know this about me, thanks to all the twists and turns I throw out. Having things stay stagnant drives me crazy, so keeping things fresh is important to me. 
How does this apply to branding? 
Not only do I love playing games with my readers, like having them guess the names of certain characters or who said what in a quote I post, I try to keep things interesting by having a variety of things to talk about when I post online, and not dominating the conversation with one book or one thought. 
It’s also important to keep things up to date. Recently, I redid my website so keeping it up to date would be easier for me. I also post regularly on my blog with interesting topics and news about my books. I don’t want to be the kind of author that has one idea or one book and nothing else to talk about. I want to be the author readers get excited about because I always have something new, whether that be a book, a fun idea, or just something interesting to talk about. 

I am not one-dimensional. 


There isn’t just one thing I’m passionate about. I love being outdoors with my family, I love taking pictures of flowers, I enjoy cooking even if I’m not the best chef, and I try really hard to be a gardener regardless of the fact that I am terrible at it. Building self-confidence in kids is important to me. I hate the idea of anyone being made to feel like they are less than they really are. 
How does this apply to branding? 
I’m not a picture and a bio. I’m a person, with a family and a life outside of books. I’m not a flat image. My characters aren’t flat. My stories aren’t flat. I write with a lot of emotion, and I want readers to understand that who I am influences my writing. If I am an interesting, fun, entertaining person when I interact with people online or offline, then readers will want to pick up something I wrote, because they’ll know without me having to tell them that my stories will be engaging and fun and captivating. Getting to know an author should make readers want to pick up their books, not because they think you are the next literary genius just because you told the most witty joke at an event they attended, but because something in your interaction with them sparked a desire to know more. Curiosity, it will get them every time 😉

I am creative and romantic and surprising and multifaceted… 

and so are my books. 

What’s with all the weird names?

How many times have you read a book with names you have no clue how to pronounce, so you find yourself renaming characters and places in your head? 

I’ve done this plenty of times, in some of my favorite series, even. 

All of the words in my lovely picture to the left contains names of people or places from real books, many of which I have read, few of which I can actually pronounce. I have read too many The Legend of Drizzt Series books to accurately remember a specific count, but I will always pronounce his name as “Drits” because even in my head, I can’t pronounce “Drizz-it” without stumbling over it every single time. Even though I now know how to pronounce Hermione from the Harry Potter Series, my mom pronounced it as “Her-me-O-nee” through four books and it occasionally still creeps into my head when I see the name. 
I was recently asked “What’s with all the weird names?” in regards to my Twin Souls Saga books, which got me to thinking about names created for fictional characters and places. For my series and plenty of others, the names used come from real places or people.The tough to pronounce names in Twin Souls are actual Native American names I chose to use in order to accurately retell myths or create an atmosphere that fit the Pueblo storyline. The same goes for names like Bageera in The Jungle Book, Thénardiers from Les Misérables, and many other names in historical fiction. 
Other names, I have to admit, really don’t need to be that complicated. I couldn’t pronounce half the city or title names in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series, and I’d rather just say “Dream World” instead of Tel’aran’rhiod. Even though names like Tel ‘aran ‘rhiod certainly help to create a completely unique world, authors need to realize that readers are going to go with whatever they can pronounce easiest. 
If you’re fine with that, then by all means, create those kinds of names all you want. If you don’t want readers changing things up, strive for unique without being impossible to pronounce. Even though I have no clue how Al ‘cair ‘rahienallen is supposed to be pronounced, Robert Jordan did a great job with making many of the character names easy, yet unique by changing a common name like “Matthew” to “Matrim.” (Who, by the way is my favorite character from the series.)
There’s a fine balance between unique and pushing readers to rename your carefully chosen names for characters, places, and objects. I knew many of the traditional words in my Twin Souls Saga would be tough to pronounce and readers may end up coming up with easier to handle names. I’m okay with that, because the other option was changing names that are honored by many Native American cultures, and that wasn’t something I wanted to do. So, even though authors are famous for agonizing over names, there’s more to consider than just what a name means and whether it has the right connotation. 
What characters or places have you renamed while reading? 

Marketing…???

Do you ever feel like you’re running a marathon that has no ending? That’s marketing, and that’s why…I’ll just say it…Marketing is really, really hard!

There are some authors out there who love marketing and are really good at it. I’m not one of those. I was that kid who never raised their hand in class or spoke if they could help it. I write my thoughts more often than speak them. I like it that way. It’s familiar and comfortable and, let’s face it, a lot easier. For the past few years, I’ve had the excuse of being up to my eyeballs in dental hygiene school to get out of marketing. It honestly consumed 90% of my waking hours and tormented my sleep regularly right up to graduation day. I could hide behind excuses as an Indie author.
Not so anymore.
I’m thrilled to have two really fabulous publishers now, Clean Teen Publishing and Limitless Publishing. With that comes a heavier responsibility to do marketing. I’m not the only one with a stake in my books’ success anymore. In fact, it was part of one of my publishing contracts that I heavily market my books for the first year. So, no more safe and comfortable. No more relying on my books to sell themselves.
As soon as you start looking into how to market seriously, your To-Do list starts looking like this! –>
No joke.
There are blog tours and cover reveals to set up, an even if someone else is doing the setup for you, you still need to answer interview questions, write guest posts, stop by every tour stop and say thank you, and share links to all the posts on every social media outlet you can find.
Then there is daily promoting on Twitter or Facebook, but not too much promoting because nobody likes social media spammer. Along with social media comes interacting with readers and other authors, because if you’re not interacting with the people who might buy your books, or the authors who can help you promote, you’re wasting your time on social media.
Promoting takes money, as well, and even if you have money to put toward that, trying to figure out which ones are actually worth it is hard, really hard! There are no guarantees in marketing. It’s a lot of trial and error. A simple tactic may pay off big, while a lengthy and time consuming effort produces absolutely nothing.
One of the toughest parts of marketing is convincing readers your book is worth the risk. If you’re not an author everyone knows, it’s a risk. Even if the cover looks amazing and your blurb is stellar, it’s still a risk. How do you give readers confidence that your book is indeed as awesome as you’re telling them it is?
Reviews.
How do you get reviews? I heard a statistic that said only 1 in 10 people who buy your book will come back and review it on Amazon. That seems pretty good, but I’m not sure that was a scientific study. I haven’t seen that with my books. I’d have way more reviews if that were true!
So what do you have to do? Find readers willing to accept a free copy in exchange for a review. Sounds easy, right? FREE BOOKS!!!
Not exactly. Spamming the book world for reviews doesn’t work very well. You need to build relationships with book bloggers and other authors. The types of readers who review regularly and have good reviewer rankings already have tons of books to read. You have to convince them yours is worth the time.
So when I sit down to do marketing, where do I start? Well, after staring at my computer for a while…I ask someone who knows more about it than me. Other authors.
I’ve learned about the many Facebook groups for promoting books from Holly Kelly (author of Rising), about tours and cover reveals from Angela Fristoe (author of The Touched Trilogy) through her awesome blog Turning the Pages, about giving presentations to local schools from Gail Wagner (author of Donegal Sidhe), from great articles on Huffington Post from authors like Kelly Anne Blount (author of The Necoh Saga), and Rachel Thompson (author of Broken Pieces) who also founded Bad Redhead Media and is in general just awesome at marketing and interacting with her readers. Apryl Baker is the queen of Wattpad, and she helped me figure out what the heck I was doing there, as well.

Now that you’ve learned a little bit about marketing your book, you actually have to put it to use. Some people are planners, some people are not. I’d love to be a planner, I haven’t had time to come up with a plan just yet.

According to Guy Kawasaki, for four weeks after the release of a book, you’re allowed to go crazy sharing links on social media. After that, keep “buy links” to less than 10% of your posts on social media. The rest should be quality content and interacting with readers, which I know Rachel Thompson will agree with. So, you have four weeks to really pimp out your book. Ready…go!

Jump in with both feet. Marketing should really start months before your book ever hits bookstores or Amazon (some say 9 months), but better late than never right?

Here’s what I have been doing (what’s worked and what hasn’t):

 

I share links and fun promo pics on Facebook when I have five minutes to sit down. Results still pending 🙂

I’m not really sure what I’m doing on Twitter. I post links about my books, but more often, I post links about other people’s books and and interviews and reviews on my blog. Somehow I ended up with 2K followers and I’m trying to keep them interested.

I scout out blogs and websites who are willing to share news about my book releases. GoodKindles shares free and non-free titles. I found this GallyCat article that shared a bunch of sites to promote on (some paid, some free), and I’ve been testing a few out. I’ll share which worked and which didn’t as soon as I figure it out!

Free Booksy has so far gotten the best results when posting about a free book and having readers come back to buy the rest of the series. One promo with them several months ago is still showing results.

I’ve done several Goodreads Giveaways, but I can’t say I’ve noticed a significant change in sales by doing them. I’ve gotten a few reviews from these, but not many, even though Goodreads winners are encouraged to write a review.

I tested out the KDP Select program with two of my titles. I know some authors say they have had phenomenal results through this program, but I haven’t seen it. I get only a few borrows per month and the free book promotions don’t seem to drive further sales.

I’ve done several blog tours with various companies, and so far the only one that has produced noticeable increases in my sales has been with Turning The Page YA Blog Tours. I’ll continue to do blog tours with Angela, but I’m on the fence about trying anyone else.

Reviews are always a great way to promote. I’m all for using big and small blogs for reviews. I don’t think ignoring little blogs and only going after big bloggers is a good idea, because many of the smaller bloggers will not only review faster, if they like your book, they’ll continue to share your book in the long term.

Promote locally. Gail Wagner, Amanda Strong, and I have teamed up and spent some time giving presentations to the local schools. We’ve had a blast doing it, but we’ve also sold books! The teachers, librarians, and students want to read the books we tell them about, and it gets them excited about reading and writing, which is an even bigger bonus!

Wattpad. There is good and bad that comes with Wattpad. You’ll get nasty comments from teen readers with no manners, but you’ll also find some of your most loyal fans there who will tell everyone they know (literally) about your books. One way Wattpad has been a big help to me, aside from being a great place to connect with readers personally, is gaining reviews. Even when readers read your book for free on Wattpad, they still love having an “official copy” to keep and show off to their friends. When I finish posting a book (either permanent or temporary) I’ll offer to send ebooks to the first ten readers who write a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Also, I have several perma-free books posted on Wattpad, and if the readers want to continue the series, I’m happy to send them a free copy AFTER they write a review for the previous book. It’s really helped me boost my review numbers.

Connecting with other writers is probably one of the most beneficial things an author can do. We all know how hard it is to get our names out there and most are willing to help each other spread the word. Share their links and pins and posts, and they’ll share yours.

So…the point?

Marketing sucks. It’s hard, and half the time you have no idea if what you’re doing is working until much later, but it’s a necessary part of being an author. Don’t hide behind not knowing how or being afraid to mess up. A lot of what we try probably has little to no effect, but when we do find something that works, it’s like being handed one of these…

I’m not sure what these are, but they look yummy and fun to eat 🙂

So, hang in there, keep marketing even if you feel like you haven’t got a clue. Most of us feel the exact same way. Eventually, you’ll find what works for you and your brand will start to take shape. What has worked or not worked for you? Feel free to share in the comments!

 

That’s what those are for …

How many times have you been doing something on a regular basis, thinking you’ve got it down, only to realize later that you’ve been doing it all wrong? 

I’ve recently had one of those moments when it comes to choosing keywords for my books when I list them on ebook stores. 

Earlier this week, my new publisher, Clean Teen Publishing, sent all of us authors a link that gave a breakdown of Amazon’s Most Popular Tags. Now, this list isn’t just for books, it’s for everything searched for on Amazon, but it’s easy enough to pick out book related tags. And there are a lot of them. 

What did this link cause me to realize? 

I had been using keywords or tags wrong this whole time! Previously, my keywords were specific to each book. For my first book, Escaping Fate, I had chosen tags like “Aztec,” “Arrabella,” “Myth,” and so on. Seems logical, right? 
After looking at the tag cloud from Amazon, I had an epiphany — probably one I should have had years ago. What use are book specific tags if no one knows about my book? Why would anyone search for “Arrabella,” the MC of Escaping Fate, is they didn’t know anything about my book? I saw that I had done the same thing for my other books, choosing tags like Libby and Milo, and similar words that only applied to The Destroyer Series. 
What I realized after studying the cloud was that people are not going onto Amazon and searching for a particular book most of the time. They are searching for whatever genre they like to read and then perusing the search results for something that catches their eye. 

So what did I do after having this epiphany? 

I went and changed the keywords on all my books on the various sites I have my books listed. What did I change them to? Instead of sticking with book specific tags, I chose tags that will help readers find my books within the genres they like to read. 
I write YA fiction ranging from paranormal to science fiction and urban fantasy. So my new tags include words like “Young Adult,” “Science Fiction,” Paranormal,” and “Fantasy.” And because I love to add in a good romance to compliment each storyline, I also included tags like “Romance, “Love,” and “Paranormal Romance.” 

What now? 

Well, now I see how this realization pans out. Will better keywords that are directed at readers who have no clue about me or my books help get my books in their search results better than book specific tags? I’ll just have to wait and see. I’m excited to see the impact it will have. I love learning new things about publishing and marketing, and this one is so simple yet important. 
I’ve been learning more about using Pintrest as and author as well, so check back next week for a new post and some new ideas.