Marketing Part Two: Brands

By Nicky Schmidt

In the first part of this series, we looked at the basics of marketing – starting specifically with product, because without a great product, you may as well stay in your pjs and never get out of bed. Once, however, you’ve written your novel, the best one you can, you have to start thinking about promoting it, because, as I said in the previous article, increasingly authors have to manage their own promotional efforts. But before you can promote yourself or your book, you have to have a brand – that is, you have to know what you stand for and why you do what you do, because it’s your brand that defines everything about you and your books.

"What’s a brand? A singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect." - Al Ries, Marketing Consultant, Chairman of Ries & Ries

You’ll increasingly have heard about publishers talking about brands and the author, or a book series, as having a brand. Harry Potter started out as a book and became a brand. So did Twilight, so did the Hunger Games. Brands are about everything that a company or product stands for – and strong brands sell. Strong brands are stories, memories, emotions and, particularly, relationships. Multiple elements make up brands – logos, fonts, tag lines, style/graphics/colours – but ultimately the brand is the visual, emotional, rational and cultural image that people associate with you or your product, the thing that makes them choose your book over another, the thing they relate to and rely on. Think Harry Potter – it’s about fun, excitement, trustworthy entertainment, justice – not just a book about a boy wizard. Think of Apple – you think cool, hip, wannabe, trendsetter, beautiful – not just technology solutions.

The first thing you have to consider is creating a brand for yourself. To that end, what mental and emotional image do you, as author, represent and present to your target market, or, what image do your books present? What do you stand for, what do your words mean? If you are writing a series, it is much easier to focus on branding the books – you have, after all, created a whole world full of common values and emotions. This is why publishers like series – they’re much easier to brand, and therefore to sell.

But what if you’re writing one off books? Then you have to look to the values and emotions that play across all your books. Consider the American YA author, Sarah Dessen – there’s a recipe and a relationship of trust – teen girls buy her books because they know they’re going to get books about love, relationships, growing up, getting smarter. The branding lies in both Sarah Dessen and her books – you think Sarah Dessen and you know what you’re buying.

But, if you don’t want to be pigeon-holed into writing books which are all the same, write under a pen name and create a second brand.

Perhaps the most salient factor for the most successful brands is the promise of consistent quality. ~ Rosi McMurray, executive director of strategy, The Brand Union

If you’re the kind of author who writes across age groups and likes to experiment with different types of stories, then your work is harder – the branding has to be about you and everything you stand for – your values, your unique take on the world, the reliability of your writing and your stories. Integrity and responsibility are critical in personal branding. People will seek you on a bookshelf because they know they can trust your words.

The problem for debut authors is that you’re starting with a single book. So my advice is, don’t worry about the marketing so much, instead, make your book as good as you can and then write another and another and another. Create the products and get them on the shelves. The big point about brands is very much about relationships of trust.

Anyone remember when Coca-Cola tried to introduce New Coke back in 1985? They changed a time-trusted recipe, which resulted in a storm of consumer protest. When they reintroduced, “Classic Coke” sales rose. Think how scores of JK Rowling fans felt when she published The Casual Vacancy. Lesson: Never mess with a trusted recipe. Know what you stand for, believe in it, nurture it, and retain it. That’s brand management.

Unless you have absolute clarity of what your brand stands for, everything else is irrelevant. ~ Mark Baynes, global cmo, Kellogg Co.

The other point to remember is that your publisher has a brand too – they will be known for producing particular kinds of books. So while you are a brand in your own right, you are also one of the publisher’s sub-brands and need to align with your publisher’s brand.

Think about what you and your books stand for. Think about the colours and sounds and shapes and smells that represent you, that you love. Create a quirky, catchy tagline for yourself. Use these things consistently on all your promotional spaces – website, blog, author Facebook page, author Tumblr page, Twitter, bookmarks and giveaways. Be your brand at school visits and signings, live your brand in all your public spaces. The easiest way to do this is to know who you truly are and to be true to yourself because ultimately you as the brand become the marketing. And remember, as Scott Talgo, Brand Strategist says, “A brand that captures your mind gains behaviour. A brand that captures your heart gains commitment.”

You’re just anybody without your identity.’ – Grenville Main, DNA Design

In further considering brands, I recently wrote a blog post on my own blog, Absolute Vanilla about Brand and Voice – you may find it worth a read – because as I see it, there is a distinct correlation between an author’s voice and their brand.

Born and raised in South Africa of central and northern European heritage, Nicky Schmidt is an ex scriptwriter, copywriter, and marketing, brand and communications manager who "retired" early to follow a dream.  Although she still occasionally consults on marketing, communications and brand strategies, mostly she writes YA fiction in the magical realism, realistic and supernatural genres.    She also writes freelance articles - mostly lifestyle and travel - for which she does her own photography. Her work has been published in several South African magazines and newspapers.


  1. Really interesting, Nicky: I think your brand must have something to do with clarity and tons of wise advice!

  2. Very sensible advice. Thanks for this - it's one of the most lucid explanations of author brand I've read.

  3. Glad it has made sense for you - though honestly, Linda, I really can't claim wisdom! ;-)

  4. Thought-provoking stuff, Nicki, many thanks.

  5. 'The big point about brands is very much about relationships of trust. ' it is isn't it! Thank you Nicky I'd never quite joined that one up before - i trust my favourite brand of biscuits etc so I trust my favourite author ...
    Doesn't always work that way tho. There are occasions when I have eaten just too many McVities digestives.

  6. Thorough thinking of marketing your brands, eh? Interesting. Many authors nowadays find it easier to market their branding by using pen names, which I think is great. I think marketing your brand as a writer with a pseudonym creates information hunger for readers, thus making them buy more of your books.


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