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Creating An Author Brand And Author Platform, by Jenn J McLeod

As well as dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’, an aspiring author these days needs to think ‘brand’.

Easy, right? We all know about brands. The supermarket is full of them, with product image and placement influencing us to pick one jar of pickles over another. But how do pickles stack up against books, especially when an author often has no control over how a book looks, is labelled or where it’s positioned in bookstores? Unless you’re self-publishing, many of the marketing decisions will be left to your publisher and the bookshops. After all…

…we’re just the author – right?

Well… while our book is the product – and yes, publishers and bookshops deliver and display the product – our brand is… well, that’s us – the author – and branding provides the point of difference to make sure our product stands out from all those other pickle jars on the shelf. So there I was at fifty, dogpaddling in the social media sea, building websites, blogs and an online presence to give all those other pickle jars a run for their money. (If I can do it, anyone can.)

I am strong. I am invincible. I am my brand!

You see, publishers want their authors to connect with readers because readers these days want to connect with authors… and they can. Whether your dream is print, ebook or online publishing, every author needs to consider their:

  • visibility,
  • reach, and
  • authenticity.

Whatever you call it (eg: your book, your manuscript, your baby, your faithful companion, your reason for living!) once you’ve contracted ‘it’ to a publisher, that precious ream of paper you’ve poured your heart into for years becomes a commodity no different from those pickles, with their marketing team offering freebies, two-for-one deals, shopper loyalty rewards, competitions and gifts-with-purchase. Now take a look around the book biz. To cut through thousands of books bombarding bookshelves (real and cyber) many authors are already offering readers all these incentives – and more. (Take House for all Seasons as an example. One lucky person won a prize worth $1,000 – just for buying the book.)

What’s that you say? All too hard?

I admit, technology can feel like a super storm cell – terrifying, astonishing, awe-inspiring. You can choose to stay afraid of the storm, take a chance, let technology overwhelm you and capsize your dream, let it sink to the murky depths of the ocean, or you can chart your own course, ride the wave, embrace the changing face of publishing (yes, that means mastering technology) and try everything you can to make the extraordinary happen… and that might include developing a brand and author platform.

How does one acquire an author platform?

Some of you might have to work harder than others to establish an author platform. Sometimes, like me, it’s not immediately clear. My life verged on ordinary. Who was I? What might make me interesting? What did I know?

Other authors ooze authenticity, with ready-made platforms to increase their visibility and reach. Helene Young is a perfect example: a commercial pilot, flying Dash-8s over Australia’s wild places, and writing fabulous stories about feisty females and planes. Or psychologist, Dr Dawn Barker. Her exceptional novel, Fractured, deals with post-natal psychosis and was launched at a time when news desks everywhere were (sadly) awash with real-life stories of post-natal psychosis.

Short of sitting for a pilot licence or a medical degree, some of us have to create our brand. But we’re writers – right? We are used to being creative. So give it a try.

What I did…

In 2009, with the rural fiction market hitting its stride, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. There had to be room for a new kid in the corral (especially one who loves a country cliché!) But I was a city girl with limited knowledge of farming life and Lesson #1 is always “Write what you know.” So I decided to brainstorm everything I did know and everything I’d ever done/achieved/loved, scribbling words and lines on Post It Notes. Those sticky papers littered my office wall for weeks and each day I’d add, shift and subtract, until I had this:

A city girl by birth, I discovered an affinity with the country in my early twenties while working my way across the heart of Australia, living out of that converted Ford F100 truck. I knew about quitting corporate chaos and embracing a second chance at life. And I knew about moving into a small country town and how it was like coming home.

From that, my brand was born:

Come home to the country…
Come home to contemporary Australian fiction.
Discover it. Love it.

Now you…

Brainstorm it out. Consider what you want to write and decide on the ‘image’ you want to project. Create a mental image, or create a picture collage, to support your genre. Will you be cutesy country, sinister in sepia, dark gothic, red-hot sexy, chick-lit lace, or simple and elegant? Whatever you do, make sure it’s YOU and that you’re comfortable with it. Your brand must complement your product and, when you’re ready, you can start promoting it. (Promotion does not have to cost money. There are mechanisms – all at your fingertips, and many free of charge – to help you build a visible online presence. Free website building sites like WordPress.com, Blogger.com, Weebly.com make it easy.) The only investment you need to make in this pre-published phase is your time and probably your patience. Ask my publisher and she’ll tell you, developing that visibility, reach and authenticity was my best investment.

Next month I’ll discuss visibility, reach and authenticity.

***

Jenn J McLeod’s author website: www.jennjmcleod.com

Jenn J McLeod’s bio page

***

House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod     Burning LiesStillwater CreekThe Fragment of DreamsFractured

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Writing and editing a novel? Easy. Any idiot can do it – I’ve written four and a half so there’s your proof. Branding? O as they say MFG. This post I rate as definitely helpful – thank you. I will set my radar to swoop on your follow-up post.

    June 9, 2013
  2. You’ve become quite the expert Jenn!

    June 9, 2013
  3. This is wonderful Jenn. You are an inspiration. 🙂

    June 9, 2013
  4. Thx for tuning in, guys. I appreciate your comments. Very happy you are finding my posts useful.

    June 9, 2013
  5. Jenn, thanks for the honourable mention. It’s interesting that my brand of being a pilot is morphing slowly but with some angst as I start to write books with lesser amounts of aviation.

    I’ve had some emails and reviews which felt that I worked best with flying and lamenting the lack of it my HMB. So I think your broader brush approach will stand you in good stead for a long time!!

    Well done on a great post.

    June 10, 2013
    • Helene, that is really interesting. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of HMB (You know I LOVE using your platform as an example). I think that a counterargument on platform would make for a great blog post!

      June 10, 2013
      • Ha, what a great idea! Thank you, Jenn, I might just have to do that!

        June 10, 2013
  6. kerriepaterson #

    Great blog post. Branding myself (sounds painful!) is something I still haven’t quite come to term with. I’ll have to think more on it – I’m definitely not cutesy country, sinister in sepia, dark gothic, red-hot sexy or chick-lit lace – does that mean I’m simple?! ;p

    June 12, 2013
  7. Willa Hogarth #

    A great post Jenn. You have thought it out well and are very organised. I am impressed!

    June 15, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Month In Review (June 2013) | Writing Novels in Australia
  2. Growing An Author Platform, by Jenn J McLeod | Writing Novels in Australia
  3. On Being A Professional Novelist, by Helene Young | Writing Novels in Australia

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