Years ago, when I was very new to the literary industry, I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of a brand. It struck me as something that a fiction author just didn’t need. I later learned that I was conflating brand with a very different device: an author platform.
What’s the difference?
A platform refers to your built-in audience and the length of your reach as an author. Anthony Bourdain was already an acclaimed executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan before publishing the New York Time’s bestselling Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000). He had a culinary degree and a successful career in the restaurant industry, making him the ideal person to write such an exposé. Ever since the 1990s, a platform has been considered more or less essential for all aspiring nonfiction authors. It helps publishers get answers to two crucial questions: “why this book?” and “why should you be the one to write it?”.
On the other hand, a brand is something that every author already has, whether they know it or not. Your brand is everything you represent, be it through your writing, your website, your social media posts, and beyond. It’s what comes to mind when readers think of you, and the type of experience you’ve curated that you might become known for in addition to your books themselves.
Let’s get back to my cookies. I don’t mean to break the fourth wall, but I feel it might be helpful for those who are struggling with pinning down their own brand to establish the parameters of my own. To do that, let’s take a look at two questions that I asked myself when defining my brand:
Who am I?
Be warned, you must only answer this question as it pertains to your readership. I don’t need to know that you don’t separate your lights and darks when doing laundry, and I definitely don’t need to know that you’re a flat earther. For the good of your sales, please don’t tell anyone that. Pick out a few things you think represent the essence of the experience people have when reading your books.
For example, I am as enamored with a dirty, arduous adventure as I am with soft things that I can lay down and nap on. Much like the stories that fascinate me most, as an author, my aim is a careful balance of coziness and chaos; a monster in one chapter and a quiet conversation whispered over tea in the next. It is my greatest wish that you might come to believe that I’m actually a witch hiding amongst normal people. When you read my books, I want you to feel like I’m giving you a big hug, but also that I’m about to drag you all over a world you’ve never seen and shake you until you question everything you thought you knew.
How am I supposed to make you believe all of that?
The bigger portion of it does rest on your writing. Assuming you’re not hopping from genre to genre, someone who has read two or more of your works should come to develop a certain expectation of the kind of experience they’re going to have with you. However, there are more tools that you should take advantage of when trying to communicate your identity as an author.
What does the homepage of your website look like? Is it minimalist? Playfully cluttered and quirky? What about your author photo? Did you incorporate any props? Is the color story communicating anything in particular? And, back to my original point, what are you bringing to hand out at your readings?
At the beginning of 2019, I was invited to give a reading for my recent book, Ayda, at the National Writers Union’s annual book party. It would be my very first. Many authors suggest bringing a goodie of some kind to your reading, and so I immediately began thinking about what I wanted to bring as a giveaway. What am I trying to communicate? At the end of the day, it can all be boiled down to this: I want you to have a warm cookie, then I want you to grab a copy of Ayda and have an adventure.
While there are many successful authors who don’t necessarily have a solidified brand, I think it deserves to be explored and purposefully reinforced, especially as a new author. If nothing else, it gets the point across to both your readers and prospective agents/publishers that you know exactly who you are, and you have taken steps toward being seen as a professional. Who doesn’t want that?