Sunday, 18 June 2017

Week Forty: Building Your Author Brand

I've noticed an odd phenomenon recently. On Amazon, new books have begun to crop up. But not like any books we've seen before. These are pre-orders on books not due out yet.

Nothing strange about that, of course. Books have always been promoted before publication day. What is strange here is that some of these pre-orders, on books from big-name authors, are for books not published for almost another year. Most are going on Amazon with no proper covers, only a glossy publicity shot of the author. A few haven't even got a title yet, they are so early in the process that turns an idea into a published novel.

In the past - and indeed still today - these early books would go live with only a 'placeholder' cover. A grey space with 'cover not yet available' across it.

Now we get these ...

UNTITLED: Jojo Moyes (out Feb 2018)

This says to me that publishers are focused on a new way of selling books. And that new way is based on the idea of the author brand.

Nothing new there either, of course. The idea of the author brand is as old as, well, authors. In the Regency era, polite society eagerly purchased new volumes from Romantic poets like Byron or Shelley because they bought into their 'brand' or personality. It wasn't only about the tortured poet, the romantic soul, but the real person behind that trope, with reports of outrageous behaviour and naughty goings-on to thrill readers and feed the salacious gossip machine ...

But in these days of social media, once again we are talking about authors, rather than books. Books are the product, but authors are the draw for readers, the brand.

That's why we have these covers with the author mug-shot, reminding browsers whose book it is they are buying, putting the manufacturer front and centre, before the product, the book itself.

On social media, we see profile pictures. Pictures of authors. We hear about their day, their cats and dogs, their kids, their cookery disasters and triumphs, their struggle with writing or editing ... We identify with them and turn to their books with an increasing sense of familiarity. Ah yes, there's Jill's new sequel. There's Jojo's new novel. I must get them.

This Could Change Everything: Jill Mansell (25 January 2018)

Putting out books on pre-order as many as nine or ten months before publication is about sales, yes. Let's not be naive. But it's more about increasing long-term sales' potential than any short-term, 'make a quick buck' mentality. It's about the long tail, the backlist, the whole show, not just the headliner act.

And we as authors, particularly as indie authors perhaps, need to emulate that thinking if we want to build a brand around our author name like these publishers are doing. Not just by making all our covers look similar, or writing a series, though these tricks also help to build an author brand. But by building ourselves as the force behind the fiction, by selling the author, not just the book.

Selling an author rather than a title means greater sales overall, because readers will then come for the author regardless of the book on offer.

That's the theory, anyway.

The Image Of You: Adele Parks
But how to achieve this in real terms?

Not being a publisher or a marketing expert, that's not so easy to answer. One way I would suggest is to increase visibilty on social media and elsewhere online, and to be consistent with it. I know this is old hat to most writers now, but I would suggest there's a new emphasis here that we can adopt. To propel readers towards us as people, and as authors, rather than towards one individual title we happen to have released. To adopt an overall author promotion strategy rather than single 'book' campaigns.

I don't always follow that advice very well myself. Although I've published about forty books traditionally - I lost count some time ago - and maybe ninety titles self-published on Amazon now, mostly shorts and novellas, my own career has been very scattered, across various names and brands and genres, none of which have been particularly well-developed in promo terms. (With the exception of my romcom persona, perhaps, Beth Good.)

But some authors do manage very well in building a brand. And I am gradually beginning to see how it could be done better ...

One way, highlighted here with these pre-orders, is to keep your author brand ever-present by putting out pre-orders on books not yet written, or written to a certain extent. This is hard for indie authors, who need a file to upload on Amazon for a pre-order. Not only that, but Amazon don't allow pre-orders to go live more than three months before publication date. Which means we can't put up books for sale a year in advance like one of the big five publishers, for instance. It's not a level playing field in that regard. But it can be done with an unfinished file, three months in advance, which is then replaced nearer publication time with the finished book.

And perhaps you could experiment with one of these author 'New Book Coming Soon! covers, if you're particularly photogenic and have a good, well-lit professional shot to put up there. To heighten awareness of you as the author, as a real person, as a saleable brand.

If you have other ideas to share about how to increase awareness of an author brand, do let us know in the comments below ...

My new thriller, ALL YOUR SECRETS, on pre-order now!

By me: out 2017

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