Ciao, SEers. I’m just getting back into the groove after a long overdue trip back to the homeland. No, not Italy, although that’s on my bucket list. We went back to Pennsylvania to celebrate my daughter’s high school graduation with the extended family. A great time was had by all. We extended our trip, which put me even further behind, but it is worth it to see loved ones, even if we ran ourselves ragged.
My series on creating a media kit seemed to be helpful to writers, so I thought I’d discuss something that coordinates with the media kit—author branding. Having worked for several years as a corporate identity specialist in my “real” job, those principles are transferrable and I want to give you a quick checklist that might help you out.
So, without further ado, here are eight steps to author branding cohesion.
1. You Are Your Brand.
When authors are starting out, they’re told to build a platform and market. Many times, their first inclination is to create media accounts for their book or character. I’m not saying that can’t work, because it can. I think we can all agree that James Bond or Harry Potter could be the identities their respective authors created online, and they’d be hugely successful and easy for the authors (or more likely, their assistants) to manage (and yes, I know Ian Fleming is dead). But realistically, it’s not practical.
If your first novel is a sci-fi work about an alien doctor named Chronot Phalm who lives on Planet Terrarosa in the Vibrees Galaxy of the Benalkulon System, you might think creating a website called Terrarosa or Vibrees or Benalkulon would be a great hub for your readers, and making ChronotPhalm your ID all over social media would be fun. That’s entertaining.
Now what happens when your next novel (or series) is about a space pirate named Captain Eonarth who travels the Rogunar System? Are you going to create new social media accounts with the ID CaptainEonarth and a new site called Rogunar? Even if you manage to somehow link the two story worlds, you’ve still got two online presences to manage.
And don’t get me started on multi-genre authors. The accounts and sites will get out of hand pretty quickly.
No, it makes much more sense to brand yourself from the beginning as you. That doesn’t mean you can’t have different sub-sites on your website for each story world you create. In fact, that can be a valid and attractive design for your fans. They navigate to your landing page and are given the option to click on Benalkulon or Rogunar (and you can keep adding destinations as you create new series/story worlds). Multi-genre authors can have a landing page that directs their fans to their sci-fi, thriller, and western sub-sites. Or the divisions can be fiction/nonfiction/poetry. How you want to segment your site and direct your fans is fine. Just as long as the main site focuses on you and not one book or body of work.
2. A Tagline Can Further Define You.
You only have one chance to capture a reader’s attention, and that usually is when they land on one of your profiles. Who are you?
Sure, your author name is your identity, but if you’re a relatively unknown quantity to a viewer, that doesn’t tell them much. Use a tagline (a short, punchy description) to punctuate your identity.
I used to have “Writing Relationship Wrongs” because I write about all kinds of relationships going all kinds of wrong before I “right” them. Then I watched an episode of Castle with my daughter (who is obsessed with the show) and Richard Castle said something very similar to that. I realized I must have subconsciously adopted it as my own (or I was on the same wavelength as one particular Castle screenwriter) and immediately changed it.
I’ve used something as simple as the genres I write as my tagline:
Romance • Mystery • Suspense • Paranormal • Mainstream
It was effective, but I grew bored with it and changed it to what I have now. It suits my writing as well as the contemporary graphic element I selected. Whatever you choose to do (a genre list or a themed statement) make sure you aren’t copying someone else. You’re original; define yourself as such.
3. Your Brand Should Have a Recognizable Look Across All Platforms.
Have you ever visited an author’s website and saw, say, a rainbow in their header, then you went to their Twitter page and saw the graphic was a cat. A trip to Facebook displayed a sundae bar as the cover photo. That might be a slight exaggeration (surely no one has that great a disparity in their profiles), but you get the point. You have no idea what their identity is. There are no consistent graphic elements to tell you what they write, and they’re all so different in color and subject that if you had all three profiles side-by-side, you’d have no idea they were all for the same author.
Your website header should define who you are as an author. And that look should continue throughout all your profiles. You can even change the saturation level (or the transparency level) of the graphic until it is quite pale and use it as a background on your website or for other marketing graphics. This graphic is instrumental in establishing your brand; might as well use it to its fullest potential.
Let’s consider the sci-fi writer again. It would be perfectly reasonable to have an outer space graphic as the website header. Add the author name (in an appropriate font/size/color) and a tagline, and the website identity is taking shape.
Please note, there are plenty of sites online that offer free-for commercial-use graphics, many with no attribution required. (Pixabay, Pexels, Morguefile, etc.) Please do not choose a copyrighted image. If you do, make sure you pay for the rights and have the appropriate license/paperwork, or you will leave yourself vulnerable to legal retribution.
The next step is to resize that exact same header graphic for every social media profile the author has (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). Don’t fret if you don’t have Photoshop. You can download GIMP for free, and its functionality is very similar. Not comfortable working with layers? Canva is a free online tool that has a lot less functionality, but it is more than adequate for resizing graphics and adding text. It even has pre-sized templates for Facebook cover photos, Twitter headers, etc. But if there is a special size you want or need, you can simply enter custom dimensions.
4. Your Identity Is Strengthened By Good Design Choices.
Okay, we briefly touched on fonts. And by briefly, I mean I mentioned it above in a parenthetical statement. But font choice is critical. Next to the art you choose, your font choice is the strongest design element you’ll have on your page.
Our sci-fi author could have a gorgeous ringed planet in his header, but if he uses a curly-cue font for his name, the elements won’t match and his identity will be confusing. There are plenty of free-for-commercial-use font choices for any theme you’re looking for—sci-fi, chiller, romance, western, etc. Visit a font site (1001 Fonts, Dafont, Font Squirell, etc.) and download one that suits your identity.
I can’t stress this strongly enough. YOUR FONT, LIKE YOUR GRAPHIC, MUST BE FREE FOR COMMERCIAL USE or you will have to pay for using it (or potentially be sued later).
After you choose your font, make certain your name is large enough (and in a contrasting color to your graphic) to be easily visible, even on a small screen, like a phone. Photoshop and GIMP have eyedropper tools that let you select exact colors from your graphic. There are also apps that let you do that (ColorPick Eyedropper, for example, is a Google extension I use to select a specific color from any online page—it provides me with hex codes for colors).
Write down the hex code and R,G,B numbers for your color so you can use them consistently across all your platforms.
Once your graphic, font, color, and tagline have been decided on and all the headers have been created, your identity will really start to take shape.
5. Colors Can Be Customized On Several Platforms.
Many websites allow for customization of colors. This is especially true of self-hosted sites and hand-coded sites, but there are free themes on the free version of WordPress that offer color customization, so you can further design your site and your brand without spending a cent.
Twitter also has color-customization options, so your stream can blend with your identity rather than clashing with it.
- On your Twitter profile, click the “Edit profile” button. (Your header will “gray” and you can upload the new graphic there, but that’s not what we’re doing now.)
- Look at the column on the left, under your pic and bio.
- Click the “Theme color” button. There you can pick a pre-defined color or enter a hex code for the custom color of your choice.
- Click “Save changes” to make the color theme go live.
Taking the time to establish a color profile across your platform will add to reader recognition of your identity.
6. Create A Logo.
On WordPress, most sites have a customization setting for a logo. This logo is for browser and app identity. This logo is a square graphic and can be as simple as your initials in the same font and color (or even in black and white) as your name appears in your header. The purpose of this is to further define your brand and establish your identity.
You can find the area to upload your site logo by:
- going to your WordPress dashboard
- selecting “Appearance”
- selecting “Customize”
- selecting “Site Identity”
- Here you’ll find a place to enter a title (which you don’t need to do if you’ve put your name and tagline in your graphic header) and a place to upload the logo.
- Upload the logo
- Save the image
- Exit out of your dashboard
Some people choose to use their headshot, but displayed so small, it actually muddies your identity. A crisp, clean logo is a better option. It can even be repurposed in your widgets to function as a graphic button for links to other things.
7. Use A Consistent Headshot, Or At Least A Series Of Them From The Same Photoshoot.
On social media accounts, and even as your avatar on your website, you don’t want to use your logo as your identity. Fans want to know you, and one of the best ways to forge a connection with them is to let them see you.
Choose a high-resolution photo or series of photos for your identity, preferably in neutral colors or wearing a color that matches your site. Avoid bold patterns, opting for wearing solid colors that aren’t distracting.
Try to have a more interesting background than a blank wall or a studio marbleized backdrop, but don’t have something that’s so busy that it captures more attention than you do. (A blank background or a studio background is preferable to that.) Nature scenes are common backgrounds. So are themed backdrops. (A western writer might opt for a paddock or a saloon, for example.) If you have a photo or series of photos that you love, but the colors are completely wrong, you can always convert it to black and white or sepia.
Make sure you use this photo or these photos across all your platforms for cohesion. It (or they) should also feature prominently on your website’s bio page as well as accompany all guest posts you write for other sites.
8. Bonus—Your Books.
You’ve spent a long time on taglines, graphics, fonts, colors, logos, and photos. It would be a shame not to get the most out of all that branding. If you self-publish, or if you have a flexible publisher, you can use many of these elements on your book covers and bio pages.
- Use your identity font to proclaim your name on the covers of your books. (You can use the color, too, if it stands out and doesn’t clash with your book cover graphics.)
- Use your logo on the spine of print books at the very top or bottom.
- Use your photo on the flaps or on an “About the Author” page.
- Use your tagline along with your biography.
I’ve given you a lot of information to consider. When I worked as a corporate identity specialist, we made sure everyone in the company used the correct font/size/color for all our corporate documents, even internally. The quickest way to establish a brand is through consistency.
As I’ve worked on my author brand, I’ve applied many of the same corporate identity principles to my own profiles. Even when I redo my brand (which doesn’t happen often but did happen recently), I make sure to cover all my online and print profiles. If you visit any of my mediums, you’ll know what to expect across all of them.
You get the idea.
What about you? Do you have an established brand, or are you still working on it? Did you do something I neglected to mention or have any questions? Let’s talk about it in the comments.