By Guest Blogger Christopher "Bull" Garlington
Have you ever said, I want a coke, when what you really mean was you wanted a carbonated beverage? Ever asked for a Kleenex? Do you know your favorite chapstick brand? Do you cook in a crock pot? If you answer yes then you’ve experienced branding at its ultimate level: being a household name. There’s no such thing as a Crock-Pot—that’s a brand of electric slow cooker. There’s only one brand of chapstick, and it’s ChapStick–everything else is lip balm. Kleenex is a brand of tissue.
Branding is big business for a reason: done right, it works. As an author, it is unlikely you’ll ever become a noun. But you can come close. You can, given enough effort, given enough marketing, and given enough creativity, become the face of your genre. Like Steven King for horror. Or J.K. Rowling for young adult fiction.
Making money as a writer is not easy, but if you think like a small business, you can do it. You have to think of your career with the same pragmatic regard as a plumber.
You have to build a brand.
A plumber starts building his brand with a toolbox and a dream. Let’s see how he does it.
- He starts a business. He registers with the state, opens a bank account, gets some checks, prints some business cards, a website, and Quicken books.
- He buys a truck. Because you have to get around. You have to carry parts. You have to carry a big heavy tool box and you don’t want to put all that wear and tear on the family minivan. But the truck isn’t as important as what it does: his truck is where his brand starts because that truck becomes his first marketing collateral when he puts the name of the business on his truck. He makes sure he’s listed on Google local and yelp and the yellow pages on line and everywhere else. He prints flyers and mailers and blankets the neighborhoods where he’s most likely to get work. He buys a box of fridge magnets.
- He networks and partners up. He probably knows an electrician or a handyman so he swaps a short stack of business cards and promises to promote them to customers who say “hey, you know an electrician?”
- He does really, really good work. This is vital. If your plumber doesn’t fix your sink, you don’t call him back and you don’t recommend him. Worse, when you hear someone else mention his name, you get all sulky and call him a sink killer.
That’s not a long list. But it’s the foundation of brand building. There’s more, of course, there’s greater and greater detail. And as the plumber grows, he has to grow his brand (like buying a second truck and buying radio ads).
These are basics. If a plumber doesn’t do these things then their business won’t last long.
Let’s look at how these steps are part of branding, and then see how they work for authors.
- Be a business. Most authors are in business as individuals or sole proprietors. But you don’t have to be. In fact, you shouldn’t. Starting a business gives you several advantages over individuals. But one of the biggest is legitimacy. By jumping through the hoops to turn yourself into a business, you raise your own credibility and people recognize that at a subconscious level. It’s step one in building a brand: get legit.Once you have the business, then you can print business cards, which are still the greatest way to reinforce word of mouth and market your work in person. Having a bank account separate from your personal account keeps your business money distinct from your money money. It’s good for taxes and it’s good for keeping track of where you’re spending your hard earned cash.Of course, you’ll need a scheme, an identity, a visual theme so that your marketing materials all look like they belong to the same brand. That’s an essential part of the business of branding. If you look at my business card (I’ll give you one at the meeting listed below) you’ll see that it matches the color and images I use for my business, my brochures, my website, all of my social media sites, invoices, and even the lock screen on my phone.
You’ll need a website for so many reasons it deserves another article. Just look at every other author out there. All of them have websites. The most successful ones have amazing websites designed by pros.
- Market your brand; Advertise your goods. Unless there’s a genre I’ve never heard of, writers don’t need work trucks. But you do need to market and advertise. The problem is what’s the difference and also how and also where.The difference between marketing and advertising is simple: marketing is all the ways you tell your story and deliver your message. Advertising sells books. You rarely pay to market. You always pay to advertise. Giving a speech at a conference is marketing. Paying for a sign is advertising.The where and the how have the same answer: social media. There is an audience of millions with their face buried in their phones who are desperate for quality distraction from their crappy life. They’re probably on Facebook right now posting Man, I wish I had a good book, SMH. Your work truck is a social media brand building strategy that reaches out to these people, sells books, and gets them to like your page and sign up for your newsletter. (Oh yeah, you need a newsletter).
If you have a book for sale, consider using Facebook ads to sell it. Facebook ads are very effective. You’re going after the same audience of millions, but this time you’re looking for very specific users, the ones most likely to click through and buy your book. Facebook targeting is insanely accurate. You can build an ad that in only seen by real estate agents who are women between 35 and 50 working for Re/Max who are interested in pottery and jet skis and live within ten miles of Hindsdale. That’s pretty accurate.
If you’re an Amazon author, please know that Amazon bought Goodreads in 2013. Goodreads represents the 19% of us who read 79% of all the books bought in America. Today, they have 50 million members, 1.5 billion books, and 50 million reviews. Between May and June of this year, they had over 263 million page views. They’re like Facebook for books.
- Networking. Old schoolers used to network by joining the Rotary Club and the Lions. They’d meet other business owners and get their name out there and it brought in some work. In order to do this, they had to leave their actual homes. These days, we do this less and less, preferring to network via Facebook. But for authors, getting ourselves out there in front of people is vital. People want to know their authors, and if they meet an author, they want to buy their books. Just like Joe the Plumber might park his truck in front of the parks building to attend a townhall meeting, you need to park your marketing game-plan at various events to promote your brand. Book clubs are still a huge part of author sales. Finding one on your area dedicated to books in your genre is a boon for your marketing. You can get them to read your book (sales) then meet with them (marketing, networking) and perhaps even convince one of them to review your book (advertising, marketing). That formula translates to every other group your book relates to. Get out there and get in front of people.
- Do really good work. All the marketing in the world can’t make up for bad writing. Be sure to always spend a lot of time revising your work to the highest standards. Don’t rely on Grammarly to fix all you’re mitsakes [GLENN: THAT’S ON PURPOSE]. Some mistakes are about style and voice. Grammarly can’t fix that.Most importantly, write to the audience you’ve cultivated. If you’re a vampire novelist (meaning you write about vampires, not that you’re an eternal bloodsucking fiend who also writes novels–that’s Steven King) don’t write a western comedy novel and try to sell it to your undead fans unless you’ve done a lot of ground work to introduce this new direction. That’s like the plumber showing up with a box full of saws.
Thinking of yourself as a product might be weird at first, but it’s important that you understand the relationship between your image and your sales. Everything you do, every post on Facebook, every Tweet, every speaking gig, every book signing, every conversation at a Starbucks with a stranger about your book, all of it, is messaging. It’s all marketing. It’s all the work of building your brand.
Don’t forget, you’re in charge of your brand. If you don’t do anything neither will your brand. If you put a lot of work into it, you will see results.
Want to learn more about author branding? Join me on Monday, August 8, at 6:30 at the Edgebrook Public Library at 5331 North Devon avenue. It’s just a short walk from a Metra Stop and an even shorter walk from a bus terminal. It’s also across the street from Moher’s Irish Pub where the meeting will adjourn to at 7:30pm.
August 8 Meetup link:
Christopher “Bull” Garlington is an author and syndicated humor columnist whose work appears in parenting magazines across the U.S. His most recent book, Death by Children, was a 2013 book of the year finalist for the Midwest Publishers Association, and was named 2013 Humor Book of the Year by the prestigious industry standard, ForeWard Reviews. Garlington’s features have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the nation since 1989; he won the Parenting Media Association’s Gold Award for best humor column in 2013, and the Silver Award for best humor article in 2012. He is co-author of the popular foodie compendium.
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