Friday, December 16, 2011

Branding 103 - Bringing it all together

And here we have my third and final post in my branding series. While there is much more than what I've said in this mini-series, I think with these posts I've given enough for you to think about to decide if you want to further pursue branding for your own career.

This post is my "What to Do" post - I'm giving 1.2.3. instructions and a plan to follow.

Before I go any further, I wish to make clear that these are only my own opinions. I guarantee that for (almost) every piece of advice I give you, you will find someone else who will give the exact opposite piece of advice... and they are probably smarter and more of an expert on this than me!

All I can say is this - research for yourself, and do what feels most comfortable for you. After all, if you are writing as a career, we are talking years ahead of you with this marketing and branding stuff. Don't force it and feel free to be slow in adding additional things in.

The only thing you absolutely must do every day is write. Everything else is negotiable.

So, what I advise:

1. I mentioned this already, but I'll it again - if this is a possibility for where you are in your career, I urge you to only write in one genre. It doesn't have to be uber-restrictive. If your first book was a vampire story, you are not doomed to write vampires and nothing else. But I would recommend you stick on the Paranormal/Fantasy side of the street after that.

You need to do what you are comfortable with and give yourself enough freedom that you don't choke your muse and lose the desire to write. Just keep in mind with every degree removed from what your "core genre" is, you both lose a percentage of readers and make it that much more difficult to become an autobuy or gain a rabid following. Not impossible, just more difficult.

2. Use a tagline, but don't let it overwhelm your name - Your Name is your brand. You never want your tagline to overshadow your Name (Brand). The tagline is meant to compliment it.

Nike is the brand, Nike's tagline is "Just do it." Now, what do I mean by overshadowing the brand? If I said to you, "Just do it", and you said, "Oh! I've heard that, it's a great slogan! What company was that for again?" then the branding would be a failure, because the tagline overshadowed the company it was meant to support.

You need a tagline to help define you to someone who stumbles across your website or blog or twitter. Think of it as your advertisement - almost every company or product has a tagline. This will help you, at least until you are such a name that a tagline no longer is necessary. (Let's face it, Stephen King needs no tagline.)

Check out the following taglines. Say you came across this person's website, and all you knew is that the person with this tagline writes in the Romance Genre. Do you think this tagline gives a hint of what this person writes?

"Respectable Society, your days are numbered!"
-- Delilah Marvelle, who writes very naughty (though not erotic) historicals, mostly set in England
"I'm the author your mother warned you about!"
-- Shelli Stevens, who writes very hot contemporary stories
"Wherever you are, (author's name) takes you home."
--Debbie Macomber, who writes small town contemporaries very focused on community and family
"A Romantic Geek Girl Writing in a Fantasy World."
-- Danielle Monsch (me) tee-hee!

Taglines are not meant to be the whole story, but to give you a quick taste, a way to feel if you are in the right place. If you only read Georgette Heyer styled Regencies, then you would never stay on a website with the tagline, "Respectable Society, your days are numbered!" But if you did read historicals with a naughty bent, you'd know immediately you belonged.

Now, this is a personal thing, but I am not a fan of the "3 Descriptor" tagline. Example - Sexy, Sassy, Smart stories. The tagline is your commercial (see "Just do it" above). Is there any commercial that ends by using 3 words to describe the product? No, because it doesn't resonate with the person who is viewing it. It's out of your head almost as fast as you are reading it.

3. Make sure everything you post is filtered through your brand - An author had a website where her tagline was something similar to "Heart-Pounding excitement in every word!" and the header picture on her website was... a tranquil sunset beach scene.

The point of branding is to sear your presence into someone's mind, which we ultimately hope will lead to a lifelong fan and someone who loves you so much they talk you up every chance they get. If you do not present a consistent message, it is much harder for people to glomp (yes, that is a technical term) onto you and your stories. We want to keep speedbumps to a minimum.

Everything you do should reflect your brand. If you write dark, gothic-y stories, the color pink should never be on anything you post - even if you love pink and in person are a sweet and optimistic person. Remember, You (as in Writer You) is not You the person. Which leads me to...

4. Do not discuss personal opinions online - You can't win by discussing your personal opinions. You just can't. Half the people disagree with you and if you annoy them, they won't buy you no matter how interesting your story otherwise looks. The other half will agree with you and it may even cause them to love you more (or it may not), but it's not likely that they'll buy twice as much to make up for the half you lost.

This does not just mean politics, though obviously that is huge and very quickly divisive. To give an example, I once followed an author who was very into animal rights, which is great and wonderful and what could be wrong with that? Problem was it got very tired when every single post from her was another way animals were abused and how horrible human beings were and evermore depressing pictures of these animals.

Writer You is an Entertainer. People want to be transported out of their lives. The whole reason they found you in the first place is you had the ability to do this for them. Making them deal with reality - even if it's reality they may agree with you on - is not something they'll likely thank you for.

And finally...

5. Don't be afraid to try and fail. You can change it later - Nothing is forever on the internet. I don't mean this in the sense of it's not stored on some server somewhere forever (because it is) but with time most things are forgotten. How many examples of internet stupidity have you seen, but three month later you couldn't name the participants even with the offer of a publishing contract as an incentive? Exactly. People are mostly the same, in that unless it affected them directly in some way, it's washed out of the brain.

Let's say you come up with a slogan and you like it, but you're not sure it works. Put it out there. See what kind of reception you get, how it feels when you are using it daily and as something that is attached to your name. If you don't like it you can change it. But it's better to have something out there that people can hang onto than not putting anything out of fear you aren't doing it right.

I'll be honest, my tagline is a little awkward. I mostly like it, I think it sums me up nicely, but it's not perfect. Every once in awhile I'll take it out and play with it. I've yet to come up with anything I like better so for now that tagline stays, but just because I'm using it now doesn't mean it's permanent.

The key is I know the basics - I know what I want my brand to be, so I'm comfortable in fine-tuning things as I go to make that brand really stand out. I am a writer of fantastical and romantic stories which appeal to "geeks". What does that mean?

It means my stories have settings in Asian mythologies (otaku) and sword & sorcery trappings (D&D and MMORPG players). They will be set with vampires and werewolves and demons (the goth geeks) are re-imagined and updated fairy tales/classic mythologies (fantasy lovers) and set in far flung galaxies or alternate histories (sci-fi and history). In short, all of these are story types that geeks relate to. Also, all my stories have romance - either they are capital "R" romances or they have a very strong romantic element. So someone who has no interest in romantic subplots will pass over my stories, but those that are either neutral or actively look for romance in their stories may check me out.

When someone says, "Danielle Monsch," this is what I want them to think of. I want that association to be automatic. So any story I write will fit into the above. Any reader post I write will be connected to the above. I will not write a contemporary romance. I will not write a blog post on the civil war.

And that is ultimately what branding is. You know you've succeeded in creating a brand for yourself if I sit you down and ask you, "Okay, what's your brand statement?" and it takes one sentence to sum you up - because if you can do it in one sentence, then your fans can also tell everyone about you in one sentence.

Of course, after they say the one sentence, you hope everyone around them goes, "Tell me more."

I am a writer of fantastical and romantic stories which appeal to "geeks". <---  My brand statement.

A Romantic Geek Girl Writing in a Fantasy World. <--- My tagline

Danielle Monsch <--- My name (Brand)


  1. Great post! You brought up several great points and explained this in a way that it's easier to understand. I know with some workshops I've gone that it just zipped over my head. Thanks for doing this series on Branding!

  2. I'm very glad you enjoyed it and hope I gave you some things to consider :)

  3. Great post, Danielle. I'm struggling with the whole marketing/branding thing right now. OK, so I write hard SF with romantic elements and High Fantasy Romance (sword and sorcery) with a touch of the erotic. Maybe I need two pen names?

  4. I really hadn't thought much about branding until now since I'm not published, but I do plan to be someday (hopefully not too far in the future). I'm just at the point of getting my blog going so I'm glad I read this first. Very good information!

  5. Thank you Danielle, I loved this post!
    XXOO Kat

  6. Thank you for this post, Danielle. It really helped me pinpoint what keeps appearing in my WIPs. This was a great read.

  7. Great post! I'm learning the promotion side of becoming a published author and "branding" sounds like a good idea. Thanks for your help.

  8. This was super helpful, Dani! Thanks for posting! :)

  9. @Bart,

    Not having read your work, I don't know if there is a core of similarity there to make it work under one name. If you noticed while talking about what I write, I certainly don't stay in one specific subgenre. Only you can decide if the same thing applies to you, and this is certainly an area a branding statement can help with.

    If you can't fit both types of stories in one branding statement, then yes, you do need a pen name.

    But *In My Humble Opinion* I think it would be in your best interest to concentrate on one type of genre and really build up your name and your backlist. Once you are established you can start writing outside of your genre without having to change your name.

    *See Branding 101 (the first in this series) to see a little more of my thoughts in this area.

  10. This was great. It took me weeks to think of a good brand but once I got it, I liked it.
    great post.

  11. @Lynda

    Remember, your NAME is your brand. Coke is the brand. Nike is the brand. Stephen King is the brand.

    Everything you do, say, write, post is meant to bolster and support the brand.

    I assume you mean your brand statement, i.e. what you want your brand to stand for - and the fact you took the time to figure this out is excellent!

    Good luck to you!

  12. Thanks, Danielle, for a very informative and interesting article. (I found my way here via a recommendation on the RWA FF&P site.)

    The whole concept of branding can be mystifying, especially for a "pre-published author" and fellow geek girl, but your post provided a wonderful summary and great examples.

    I've been using "Where the imagination goes, the heart follows" as a tagline for my SF Romances (with a capital R), but now I think that's more a blog brand than my own brand.

    Time for more brainstorming. :)

  13. Danielle,
    This is such a great posting. Thank you for your great words of advice.
    "Write your brains out!"

  14. Great information Danielle! As a pre-published author I'm learning about the branding process to setup my new web-site.

    Happy Writing!