The Business Rusch: Branding (Discoverability Part 6)

Business Rusch logo webLast week, I got taken to task all over writer communities on the internet (and probably in writers’ group meetings as well) for telling writers with only one or two books out not to worry about promotion. The response I got in the comments to last week’s blog were mild compared to the vitriol my poor name got subjected to on the private message boards.

Apparently, most of the writers who decided to argue with me didn’t have the courage to do it here, don’t know who I am, and didn’t notice that last week’s blog post is marked Part 5 of a series.

That’s the risk of working on something long week-by-week in draft form. Eventually, the discoverability series will be a book—a much longer book than I planned—and people can read my thoughts in their entirety. It truly does no good to wait because I’ll get to their concerns in a week or two. Nor do they seem inclined to look at what’s come before to see if I’m making a point.

So…those of you in peer workshops that insist on critiquing a chapter per week, let that be a lesson for you. The problem I’m having in the comments and, more specifically, in the writer boards all over the internet is because people are reading these posts as individual items, not as part of a series. They have no idea what I’ll say next, so they don’t know if the information they’re getting is useful or not.

The reason I mention last week’s reaction is that these writers probably won’t make it to the stuff that they actually wanted to read in this blog series. That stuff starts with this week.

I’m going to make some assumptions in the next group of blog posts, and I’ll repeat those assumptions each week until I’m done.

Assumption #1: I’m going to assume you’ve read the previous posts, beginning with this post here.

Assumption #2: With only a few exceptions, we will be talking about fiction here. There are promotion techniques that work for nonfiction—even on the first book—that do not work for fiction. I don’t want to muddy the waters here. We’re discussing fiction in these posts.

Assumption #3: You have learned your craft well enough to intrigue readers. You know how to tell a good story, you have grammar, spelling, and punctuation under control, you create interesting characters, and you write what you love.

Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, then your work has a good blurb, a great cover, and a well-designed interior. Your work is available in ebook and trade paper formats. (I also hope you have audio books, but for our purposes here, I’m not going to assume it.)

Assumption #5: If you have indie published your work, your ebooks are available in every ebook venue you can find. Your paper novels are in extended distribution on CreateSpace or LightningSource. In other words,  if a bookseller whom you don’t know and never will know wants to order your paper book, that bookseller can call up a catalogue from a major distributor (Baker & Taylor, Ingrams) and order your book at a bookseller’s discount. We will not discuss discounting this week, so do not ask about it. We’ll talk about that later.

Assumption #6: If you are traditionally published, your books are with a company that makes the books available in e-book and paper formats, and your books are still in print. (If they aren’t, ask for those rights back and then publish the books yourself.)

Assumption #7: You have at least a minimal web presence. You have a website that readers can easily find. You have a list of your published books somewhere, also findable. You have some passive marketing in place. (A mailing list, a social media presence, or a contact button on your website. Something.)

Assumption #8: You have published more than one book. Most of what I tell you won’t work on one novel. You’ll need several—or at least a novel and some short stories. If you’re haven’t published much, make sure you’ve done 2-7, and write the next book.

Assumption #9: You will finish this discoverability series before you decide which of the things I mention is for you. Because one of the last posts I’m going to write is how to measure success. That should have been one of the first posts I wrote, but of course, I write out of order, and so it’ll go at the end. :-)

Those are the assumptions.

Now, I have one big WARNING:

Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.

I know, I know. Lots of warnings and assumptions. But I had to be clear, because these points are extremely important. I won’t get to everything this week or even the next week. So…you need to be on the page that I’m on to understand what I’m talking about.

The first few things I’ll discuss about what you can do to promote your books are passive promotion. You will have to learn these things, and you’ll have to learn how to do them effectively. Some of the passive promotion are things that traditionally published authors cannot do. But hybrid authors can, and indie authors can do all of it.

You’ll understand why I’ve insisted that you have a few books finished before you do the things I will mention in the rest of this series. What this blog post discusses is impossible with only one book. However, if you understand the importance of branding, then you can plan for it right from the start.

Traditional business has a very firm definition of the word “brand,” some of which applies to what we’re doing and some of which does not. So, I’m not going to send you to business pages or business blogs here, because I don’t want to confuse you. If you do a search for the words used in this piece, you’ll find more on the topic of branding.

Definitions

Branding is a means of identifying a product. Traditional businesses think of branding this way. (Experienced business readers, please cut me some slack since I’m being very general here.)

First, there’s the brand itself. That’s the product (or products) that we want to lump together.

Then there are greater and greater levels of recognition for the brand. We’ll deal with just a few of these.

1. Brand awareness—that’s mostly what we’re talking about in this series. Brand awareness makes sure customers know the brand exists.

2. Brand experience—that’s just what it sounds like. That’s the customer’s experience with the brand. The brand experience, which is often an emotional reaction, can also be called brand image. That’s what the customer thinks of when they hear the brand’s name. Obviously, customers need brand awareness before they have some kind of reaction to that brand.

3. Brand recognition—that’s a widely known brand within its target audience. For example, I mentioned Beyoncé last week. All of my readers knew who she was, but not all of you had experience with her brand. She not only has a brand (her name) but she also has brand recognition—people with no brand experience might still know who she is. (And might have an opinion about her brand, which some would say fits in brand experience.)

4. Brand franchise—this one’s tricky. This is where a customer might recognize a brand based on images or some element of the brand without a mention of the brand’s name. For example, if you show an image of a bubbling dark soft drink in parts of the American South, people might identify that drink (regardless of what it is) as a Coke. A tissue might be called a Kleenex, even if it’s not. Those two brands are brand franchises.

Branding 101 For Writers

Readers identify these things as brands (in no particular order): Characters, Worlds, Series, and Writers. Readers rarely (almost never) consider a publisher a brand. There are exceptions—Harlequin has done a fantastic job branding its fiction. But most traditional publishers have not.

In fact, traditional publishers seem to have very little idea what branding is at all. They do branding on bestsellers, almost accidentally. Generally, the book’s designers have no idea how to brand anything. A few years back, Putnam decided to brand Nora Robert’s work, and the publishing trades made a big deal out of it.

But if you’re traditionally published, chances are your work has no individual branding—meaning, the branding is not tied to your writer name. The branding is tied to something else if branding exists at all.

Traditionally published writers of long-standing, like me, have books that look like mishmash of stuff, even if the books are in the same genre and same series. The lack of branding has hurt us. This is not an area where you, as indie publishers, should look to traditional publishing. You need to think outside their narrow little box.

You want your readers to identify your work as quickly as possible. You want them to find you easily. Hybrid writers who understand this are actually changing the industry. Their traditional publishers are starting to ask who their cover artists are and are copying the self-published designs of the hybrid writer, rather than the other way around. (Sad, isn’t it?)

Traditional publishers tend to brand 99% of their books in one way—by genre. Indie writers need to do this as well, because readers expect it.

Genre Branding

Don’t tell me you don’t know what I mean. Every time you see a muscular woman with her back to the viewer, looking over her shoulder while brandishing a weapon, you know you’re looking at an urban fantasy novel. Genre branding is so ubiquitous that in some genres, it becomes cliché. Then some traditional publisher changes up the genre branding, and everyone follows suit.

I’m not telling you that you need to put that sexy mean babe on your urban fantasy novel. But…

The reason I use the phrase “indie published” instead of “self-published” is because if you write a lot and publish a lot, eventually, you will have a team helping you. Even if you’re only  publishing your own work, you have become an independent publisher.

And as an independent publisher, you must make decisions within your publishing house about branding. On this matter, your publishing company needs both a name that’s different from yours and it needs a logo. Keep the logo simple and small, so that it can fit on the lower spine of a paper book.

Then you must decide how your publishing house will distinguish between the genres you write. If you only write in one genre, and you only write a series, then it’s pretty simple. We’ll discuss that in a moment.

But if you’re a writer who writes in more than one genre, like I do, then you will need different branding for each genre you write in.

In other words, your stand-alone romance novel cannot look the same as your stand-alone mystery novel which should not look the same as your stand-alone fantasy novel.

I’ll be using a lot of my covers as examples here because I’m most familiar with them, and because Allyson Longueira at WMG Publishing is fantastic at branding. I’m not going to discuss all the elements she puts into the covers. But I will say this: she uses different font families for different genres, as well as different kinds of art for each genre as well.

Here are three standalone examples of mine from WMG:

Romance: 9780615862019_p0_v1_s260x420

Mystery: 2940016517407_p0_v1_s260x420

Horror: 2940016661513_p0_v2_s260x420

These are in-house genre brands.

You must brand by genre. Readers expect it. They want to know what they’re picking up. For example, many romance readers read the genre to escape the difficulties in their lives. They have enough tribulations; they don’t want those in their fiction. They would be horrified if they picked up Sins of the Blood, without some clue that it’s a horror novel, not a sweet romance like Davy Moss.

You want to be discovered? Being discovered by genre is a fine way to do so. Make sure your tags on the various bookstores are correct as well. If you don’t know genre—and most writers don’t (even though they think they do)—then learn it. WMG offers a genre structure class that’s really valuable for that.

When you identify by genre, you’re going for brand identification. A reader likes romance, so she’ll pick up a romance novel by someone she’s never heard of.  What you want from your genre-identified book is for it to move to the brand experience (and brand identification) from the genre to the author.

And that’s our next step.

Author Branding

If you write under different names, then you’ll want a different look for each name. In the past, changing names was the only real way that an author could control her branding.

As a traditionally published author, I chose to have pen names not to hide my work, but to make a clear line between my graphic horror novels or the brutal realities of some of my science fiction works, and the sweet romances I wrote. (There were other marketing reasons for the pen names, which I’ve discussed before, that are not relevant to this post.)

Savvy writers knew that different pen names in different genres would get a different branding on the books—branding that would not confuse the reader. I’m glad I did this for the reasons I used, but it leaves me with a problem now. I’m many writers, not just one, and each writer has her own following. I’ve chosen to continue some of my pen names for that reason, rather than publish everything under Rusch.

If I were a beginning writer in today’s marketplace, I would probably use Rusch for everything, and Let The Reader Beware.

But I would still make things easier for the reader by branding by genre, like I mentioned above. That way, the reader would know just from the cover design that Sins of the Blood is a very different book from Spree, but that there are elements that a lover of one of those books might like in the other.

When you brand by author, you develop a specific design that reflects that author. Note the way my name is on all three books, above. It’s at the top of the book, with the title below.

Now, look at this book by my pen name, Kristine Dexter: 9780615860534_p0_v1_s260x420

The Perfect Man is romantic suspense, so its design is slightly different from the contemporary romance, Davy Moss, but the placement of the name is different, and there are other subtle (and not so subtle) differences. The font family, however, is the romance font that WMG uses, so the eye recognizes that font.

As I mentioned, Putnam has gone to great lengths to brand Nora Roberts. They have little circle near her name (called a “bug”), an NR logo that long-time Roberts readers know means this title is brand new. (Her books have been reissued so many times, that readers actually complained about being unable to distinguish new from old, so the readers forced the publisher [or rather, Nora did] to identify the new books.) See the similarities in design, despite the different romance subgenres?

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However, note the very different branding on her J.D. Robb pen name. Same person, but different look for a completely different kind of book.

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You want your readers to identify your books by their covers. You get to decide how you want to brand your author name.

This is particularly important when you write cross-genre novels, like Dean Wesley Smith’s Against Time. The romance font is suggested on Against Time because it has a heavy romance element. But it’s not the same font. The look of the book is very, very different than the look of my books, because Dean is a different writer. This was a tricky design, because the book is SF too. So Allyson hinted at both romance and sf. (Told you, she’s good.) She blended the genres in the entire design, from fonts to art to placement. Not to mention Dean’s author branding. As his WMG books start appearing this month, you’ll see how the author branding shows up on his work.

Against Time ebook #1CD4E42

Allyson did something similarly cross-genre for my Kristine Grayson books. They’re sweet romances, but they’re paranormals and because I wrote them, they’re heavy on the fantasy. WMG decided to put covers on those books that would intrigue fantasy readers as well as romance readers. So the look is unique to Kristine Grayson.

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Your author brand should have similarities throughout your titles (name placement, etc), so that readers know how to find your work. They know at a glance what your books look like, and they’ll pick those books up.

What you want to do, through your storytelling, is move your readers from brand experience (they liked one of your books) to brand recognition (Hey! Look! There’s another book by one of my favorite authors!).

They can make that move without your constant tweeting, promotion, ads, and everything else if you’ve figured out how to brand your books by author.

Series Branding

This is something that traditional publishing stumbled into, and doesn’t always manage to do. When St. Martin’s Press published my Smokey Dalton series, they never branded the covers. Each book looks very different from all the other books, which is death to a mystery series. (Yes, pun intended.)

However, Roc books does a lovely job in general with series branding, and they did a good job with branding my Retrieval Artist novels. If only they had left the previous books in print when the new book came out…

Please forgive that personal moment of ennui.

When WMG Publishing published both series, the company took care to brand each series. But that means that my traditionally published first editions look very different from the current editions. You can buy each book in the new format, although Amazon doesn’t always show it that way.

This happens with all authors who are traditionally published. If they have jumped publishers in the middle of a series, then that series lacks a uniform look. Look at Robert Crais’s first novel in his Elvis Cole series as published by Bantam:

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then look at a mid-series novel published by Hyperion:

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And look at how the series is being branded now by Berkeley:

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His books have never gone out of print, so his series is scattered between several publishing companies, which hurts the branding of the series. Readers still find them, but it’s better to be branded uniformly by series.

Compare to George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, which most of you know as the Game of Thrones series. It’s been with the same traditional publisher from the beginning. This is the look of the books now. (Yes, I know. Tiny. Sorry about that. I couldn’t find much at the right size. However,  you can see the design even though they’re tiny.)

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87px-0,337,0,500-AGoT1st_Edition80px-0,248,0,400-AGoT_US_PaperbackInitially, the publisher had no idea how to brand the first book, and tried several looks. You can see all of them, if you look at the oldest (and most expensive) copies of Game of Thrones. I’ve posted tiny versions of the first hardcover (the silver thing) and the first paperback (with the horse). Even though George has been with the same publisher, the books have gone through at least three different looks. But the entire series gets rebranded every time the look changes.)

WMG is working hard at branding my various series. The Smokey Dalton series has a dark historical look.

Here’s the first book in the series:9780615665405_p0_v2_s260x420

 

A middle book:

9780615902548_p0_v1_s260x420

And the upcoming March release:Street Justice eboo#14C5CF9

 

The Diving series has one SF look:Skirmishes ebook cover web

 

And the Retrieval Artist another SF look:Blowback-ebook-cover-web-200x300

They share the same font family though, and some other subtle things that Allyson does with sf design.

Allyson brands across different series as well. I write Christmas novellas as Kristine Grayson, and they have a slightly different look that the Grayson book above because they’re in a different series:

Up_On_the_Rooftop_Cover_Final9780615885674_p0_v1_s260x420

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allyson brought that look into Fiction River (which has its own branding) when I edited a Christmas anthology under my Kristine Grayson name. (Take a look at Hex in the Cityon the widgets to see the Fiction River design.) In other words, she combined two series brands so that readers would recognize both.

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That’s high art. Allyson has degrees in design and has worked in graphic design for years. She’s also studied branding. She’s focused on this, and you’ll see more of these branding things on my work as time goes on.

Using The Brands

In 2012-2013, Allyson redesigned all of WMG’s books so that they would have the proper look by genre, author, and series. In 2014, she’ll take that design into the websites. You’ll see changes on this website as we brand it. Kristine Grayson’s website will reflect the book designs, as well the websites for the Retrieval Artist and the Diving series.

The brands you design can cross into other forms of advertising as well—print ads, visual ads, etc. But you must design the look first, so that you move into brand recognition—and maybe brand franchise. Only one author I’ve mentioned in this piece has achieved brand franchise, and that’s George. He didn’t do it himself; the HBO miniseries did, and that’s why his books look so professional now. The traditional publisher mimicked what HBO did. (All of the Game of Thrones merchandise uses that branding.)

You know that HBO knows branding. Just think of that sound which starts every single HBO program. It’s brand franchising. The sound makes you think of HBO before you even see the logo.

Branding Bonus

Branding helps new readers discover you (genre branding) and it helps regular readers find new works (author branding/series branding). It will sell your work without you doing anything after you’ve finished with your cover design.

For a few years, at least.

The Bad News

Think you’re done after you’ve branded all of your work? You are…for five to ten years. And then you need to modernize the brand’s look—particularly if you’re only doing genre branding.

At some point, the dominant look will become stale. (Yes, I’m using produce terms.) I’m already tired of that muscle-bound woman on urban fantasy covers. I’m usually right on the cusp of trends like that. If I’m not happy, then other readers aren’t either. They’ll pass over that woman, thinking the contents are as stale as the cover. Or, that they’ve already read the book.

After five to ten years (and I can’t tell you specifically when) you will have to redesign the book’s cover to make it more reflective of a newly published book.

Think of it this way. The three-year-old you see now might, twenty years from now, be the perfect reader for your urban fantasy novel. Twenty years ago, the term “urban fantasy” did not exist, although the book type did. Twenty years from now, that term might be dated. She might look at your muscle-bound woman cover and think she’s seeing something that won’t interest her because it’s old.

Design a new cover for a new generation of readers.

That will mean a redesign of all your urban fantasy books. And if they’re in a series, then you’ll have to do a series redesign—from the ground up.

You might want to redesign to refresh, like Berkeley is doing with Nora Robert’s very first book. Originally published by Silhouette, Berkeley acquired the rights years ago, and has done a couple of reissues. Here’s the 1981 Silhouette edition:

Roberts,Nora-IrishThoroughbred

And here’s how Berkeley repackaged it in 2012 to match Robert’s other contemporary romances:

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Refreshed and redesigned for a new generation.

Or you might want to redesign because of some new cultural phenomenon. William Morrow did that with Phillip Rock’s books to capture the Downton Abbey readers. Here’s the original 1979 cover:

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And here’s the Downton Abbey fan’s cover from 2012:

9780062229311_p0_v4_s260x420

 

Branding. It’s truly an art. But it’s an art that aids discoverability. If you like Downton Abbey, then you should pick up Rock’s book. The branding tells you that, even if you’ve never heard of him. The Passing Bells is part of a trilogy, so all three books have a similar look. That’s brand recognition.

How To Brand

You don’t have to get a degree in design, like Allyson has. You can hire a designer, and help that person along with examples and explanations. If you can’t afford to hire someone with experience, then do something simple.

Make sure your genre covers look like other covers in the genre. Have a clench on your romance; a gun on your mystery. Make your series books have similar covers.

If you want to learn how to brand on your own—in design—then WMG has a course for that too, taught by Allyson and Dean. (You’ll find it in Book Cover Design.)  She will be doing some basic lectures in 2014 as well, so look those up, and they’ll have tips on how to do simple design.

You don’t have to learn branding from us, but you should learn it. You are in charge of your own publishing company, after all. You might not do the design. (I certainly don’t [and the world is grateful!]) But you need to know terminology and know what you’re asking for. You need to know what’s right when you see it, and what’s wrong.

Once you have your branding set, though, your sales will go up because you’ve made it easier for your readers to find you.

And that’s what discoverability is all about.

Sometimes people discover my blog because I say something controversial. If I were actually using this blog to promote my fiction, I think I’d be a little less forthright. But I’ve been doing this blog for four years now, so I’m not going to change. I do it to pay forward (since I can’t pay back the folks who helped me), and also to discuss the changes in publishing with like-minded folks. The blog does take time from my fiction writing, though, so I appreciate donations to support it.

I also appreciate the comments, links, and e-mails. I read them all. Thanks for the kind words and thoughts, folks.

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“The Business Rusch: Branding (Discoverability Part 6)” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch




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73 Comments

  1. Wow. St Martin’s Press did a TERRIBLE job on the Smokey Dalton series! It always amazes me when indies or small presses do a much much better job than mega corporations with skyscrapers full of people who are supposed to be the best of the best!

    Reply
  2. That’s a really good break down of branding. Thank you! It’s certainly food for thought for future cover designs.

    One thing I wanted to pick up on though, is where you said, “If I were a beginning writer in today’s marketplace, I would probably use Rusch for everything, and Let The Reader Beware.”

    I love your Kristine Grayson books, but I really can’t handle horror. As in, I have a really low tolerance for it. I can’t even read horror aimed at kids. Charming Blue strayed into areas about as dark as I would want to go. And I only went there with you because you are a great writer and you made it worthwhile!

    If I bought a book by an author who I thought of as a sweet romance writer, and it turned out to be horror, then I would be VERY wary about buying another one of their books. They might move from ‘auto-buy’ to, ‘check Goodreads for spoiler reviews before buying’ – or, if I had just enjoyed rather than loved their work, I might not risk another buy.

    Yes, branding can help, but only once a reader realises that an author writes very different types of stories. And I’d argue that they might not realise that until the author has already lost them.

    I don’t think it would be as much of an issue with genres that didn’t clash quite so much. You could probably mix sweet romance, mystery, thriller, literary, etc. – but once you mix sweet romance or children’s fiction under the same name as horror or erotica, then I think you are taking a risk!

    That’s just my opinion though. :)

    Reply
    • No, you’re right, Zelah. If you’re writing truly diverse things–erotica, children’s–then you need a pen name imho. I think sweet romance v horror fits too. I’m the same way. Good clarification. I usually say that, but I was in the zone, apparently (and irritated at maintaining all of my pen names).

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      • From the perspective of a *reader* (Like alcoholic but with books), The Nora Roberts as JD Robb, is the best type of solution. NR is one of the few Romance writers I will read, except from boredom. :-) JK Rowling, as you hinted out, before her lawyer/agent put himself out of business, HAD to use a pen name. (I hope you have that problem someday.) Most won’t need that distinction.
        If I recognize a name, I’ll give that book a chance, even with a poor blurb. In the pat 3 weeks, I have returned, *partly* read, at least4 books from major publishers. So, “house brand” is not a good indicator any longer. (They were so badly edited/written that _I_ wanted to start making editorial comments.) Sigh. Name is now more important than ever. That’s why authors need to pay attention more than ever.

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        • I know, Walter. I’m finding more typos in traditionally published books than in indie books. It’s frustrating. Twenty years ago, they would have at least issued errata sheets and would have fixed the typos in the next edition. Not now…

          Reply
  3. It doesn’t shock me at all that you got backlash from the last entry. When I read “don’t promote” I knew that half of indie publishing would be up in arms because that book they worked on was SO HARD.

    (And it is. Every book is work. And every book is something to be proud of.)

    But for what it’s worth, I’ve found the series very interesting, and our house designer got an email from me a few minutes ago with this entry linked in it. We may only publish two authors, but we’ve been all about branding series since the get-go.

    Looking forward to next week’s entry. Writing the next book in the meantime. ;)

    Reply
  4. Thanks for this, Kris. It’s a good start to getting my books noticed by genre (etc). I’ve listed my Chick Lit and Teen Fiction by genre on my website now. Also, I’ve updated the metadata for each of my webpages.

    Reply
  5. These are the parts I’ve been waiting for. I’ve always been frustrated by all the promotion advice out there, which often pays absolutely no attention to the books themselves and talks as if the books are magically appearing from somewhere, ready to be promoted.

    I’m also not quite ready to branch out into releasing things yet because I don’t want to do what I’ve seen other people do. A lot of writers get too eager and throw their story up, expecting it to instantly become a best seller. Meanwhile, they’ve used a horrible cover that everyone is passing. I’m not an art designer, but I’ve done graphics, and I’ve been amazed at the ability people have to pick the worst images to use.

    Why hasn’t publishing been smarter about this itself, like consistently branding series? It seems like if they knew they had to put X on for a specific genre, it would make the same sense to have a series have a consistent brand.

    Reply
  6. Splendid and informative, as always. Thank you, Kris.

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  7. What a fantastic post, Kris! (But then I enjoy all your posts, anyway. :-))

    This is coming at a good time for me, because I picked up 3 pre-mades for my first series (after only 2 years), because I felt they needed to be refreshed.

    Such wonderful covers – Allyson is awesome; she really knows her stuff. :-) I’m looking forward to the basic lectures from Allyson.

    BTW, that Robert Crais book from Hyperion is butt ugly. And are those flounders in that dark band across the cover?

    Reply
  8. I sure wish I’d read this years ago. After publishing 60+ e-books – and attempting a certain amount of series-similarity in my covers – I went onto a fiction forum and had dozens of forum members tell me that, out of the half dozen or so genres I write in, I’d only managed to (sort of) brand for one of those genres.

    So now I’m having to redo my covers.

    One suggestion the forum members made to me: go to the Amazon bestsellers list for your genre(s) and see how the *successful* books look. I found there was some variation in the covers of the bestsellers within each genre – a range of styles. But I also found that I could tell, after a while, what sorts of covers *aren’t* popular at the moment.

    Reply
  9. I love this series you are doing and will be looking forward to the book that you put out on this. I will definitely use it as a reference down the road.
    2014 is the year I’m getting my feet wet in publishing. So I have a long way to go. I’m a multiple genre writer and have decided to use pen names since I write in the erotic genre, all adult fantasy and science fiction along with children’s works. I even want to create a different press for the children’s line. I really want to separate it from the adult stuff.
    My start is with the romance line and I am going to give my website a change and make it reflect the genre I write in. I already post romance stories for readers to read for free and I have a small following.I will as they come introduce my romance readers to my different pen names but only once and I will leave a link to the pen names website on the side.
    Each website will reflect that pen names genre and I guess also as you mention branding the name on the novels. Especially in a series which is what I am mostly- a series writer.
    Lots to learn and I’m so happy I found your blog to learn all of this stuff.
    A big thank you!

    Reply
    • You’re doing exactly what you should. House Brand is no longer a good predictor. Maybe it will be for Indie publishers, but not soon. If I like Author A, and I see a genre X book, with that name, I’ll try it. I _may_ decide that his/her “take” isn’t one I like, but I _will_ give it a try. The _story/genre_ changes, but the STYLE doesn’t. A good writer/storyteller is always a good story teller. Even if the story isn’t that great. You, Kris and I can take the same ingredients, make a meal, and they will all be subtly different. Diner X, make like one, hate another, and go “meh” at the third, but they will try them knowing they won’t be *Awful.* :-) The “Brand” does that, if done right.

      Reply
  10. Glad to see you’re getting down to brass tacks. I’ve seen a number of “how to market / write / sell 100K copies” over the years. A lot of them spent a good portion of the book on chapters like “what is writing fiction?” and “the new world of self-publishing” that are skippable, like your chapter 4. I lived through that, so that didn’t tell me anything new.

    Concerning author branding, my wife and I were talking about that just a few days ago. We were looking through the shelves of one of her favorite writers, Jayne Ann Krentz. Her covers are great examples of author branding, but terrible examples of bookselling. The designs are mostly drab, not intriguing and tell you nothing about what kinds of books she writes. If you know who she is, you’ll be drawn to her name. If you don’t know who she is, you have no reason to open the book. (The covers for Smith’s Monthly fulfill that dual need very well.)

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  11. I took the book cover design class and recommend it highly. It’s a great introduction to the topic. It will not make you a designer, but it will teach you a number of critical things AND open your eyes to a lot of other things you’ll need to learn.

    Another thing I’ve done that’s been a HUGE help is develop my own genre book cover documents that capture hundreds of covers from the genres I’m interested in. Once you get a couple hundred covers in your genre and start looking for similarities, the common tropes for the different genres will start to jump right off the page. And you see ideas–tons of options for your own works.

    Also, when you look at example after example of those that work vs those that do, you’ll also start seeing design elements that clearly make some covers stand out and others look like a mess. Like the class, creating those files won’t make you a pro designer, but it’s helped immensely.

    Finally, I want to point out a mistake I made. When you’re looking at your genre branding, you probably want to look at the sub genre within the broader genre. There are a lot of different types of fantasies, romances, thrillers, etc. Each has a different look.

    For example, with the thriller I just published I made the mistake of looking at all the various thriller covers and working up cover concepts from that pool. A lot of the ideas the designer came up with were great, but none of them said my story.

    Well, duh.

    Woman in jeopardy thrillers are different from spy thrillers, which are different from military thrillers, which are different from supernatural thrillers, etc. Some are all spooky serial killer or intrigue. Others are more action.

    We started focusing on my type (more action) and BOOM. We landed on a great design that we can use for all the books in the series in less than a hour.

    Of course, I couldn’t have done that without the cover exemplar files and the course.

    Reply
  12. Kris, I am so looking forward to the next in this series. If anyone is reading the comments and cares, the genre workshop was the BEST. I’m 50 years old, an avid (2-3 books a week on a slow week)reader, an English major, have worked nearly a decade in libraries (public and university) and I’ve worked in a bookstore part time while running another business.

    The genre class blew me out of the water because you’d think I’d have known more than I did, but there was a lot of material there and I took as much of it in as I could. It was so worth it for me.

    And yes the covers class was great–I’ve had some compliments on the covers since I took the class and a friend who is a graphic designer always gives me a “professional” look see to point out flaws and she’s been really impressed with what I learned–so much so that when a mutual friend/indie publisher asked her about graphics for covers she referred her to me for the name of the class and who taught it.

    Reply
    • Hello Bonnie,
      Thanks for telling me about the genre workshop because I was thinking of taking it in February. Ditto with the cover class.

      Reply
    • I took the Genre course too and it really blew my hair back. It’s also really obvious to me now, when I read discussions on genre, that most writers, as Dean says, don’t understand genre but think they do.

      And Kris & Dean’s perspective on Genre is not one you’ll find in any english class. It should be, but it isn’t.

      Reply
      • Would you mind sharing an example? I have been workshopping a story that I’ve been calling a “Science Fantasy,” because it takes place in an ancient fantasy setting but the characters have magical technology (magitek). A comment or two makes me wonder if I’m as clear on that genre as I thought I was.

        Reply
        • Jamie, it’s either Sci Fi or Fantasy. Take the course to figure out which. I’ve been writing for over 15 years and I thought the Genre course was a real eye-opener. Highly recommend it.

          Reply
        • Jamie, your setting is fantasy, and you have magic (magical tech is still magic, yes?) so it looks like Fantasy to me.

          Reply
  13. I’m many writers, not just one, and each writer has her own following. I’ve chosen to continue some of my pen names for that reason, rather than publish everything under Rusch.

    I chose to use pen names not only for branding reasons, but in order to show more than one author name on my publishing website. Maybe I’m naive, you tell me, but I’d rather Lightning Source and others thought of me as a small, indie press than a self-published author. Having more than one “author” in house helps that idea along. I would rather not have to wrestle with outdated and inaccurate perceptions in traditional publishing about self-publishing; I don’t mind letting them think that I’m a small press. :)

    Actually, maybe I *am* a small press. Whatever.

    Additionally, the Library of Congress won’t assign cataloging information to a book published by a house with fewer than three titles (or so I understand their website), and I do eventually want to get LoC info into my books to make librarians happy.

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  14. Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, then your work has [snip] a well-designed interior.

    What constitutes a well-designed interior?

    Reply
    • You can’t just put a book up with word any more. It looks too messy, and each company (B&N, Kobo, Omnilit, Amazon) does different things with e-files. You want the e-file to look good, not only on the e-reader but on the other devices. Allyson & Dean offer a class in this too: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=7474. But I’d suggest you look at recent ebooks from WMG or e-books from bestsellers.

      And if you’re doing paper books, just look at paper books around your house. You can tell a good design from a bad one, just by looking at it. A good design makes you want to read; a bad design makes you set the book down.

      That’s a very short version of something that is an entire college course. :-)

      Reply
    • From a reader’s perspective:
      -Proper paragraphing and indenting, no text walls. (Single paragraph going on for pages)
      -Chapters shouldn’t end with numerous blank pages that need to be flipped through before you get to the next one.
      -table of contents links work, and start you off at the beginning of the book instead of skipping you to the end.
      (These are just some of the more obvious problems I’ve run across recently.)

      Reply
      • Font size doesn’t override user settings: I’ve seen some e-books lately where even setting the Kindle font to the smallest size only lets me get a few lines on the screen because their default is set to ‘absolutely enormous’.

        Book doesn’t override background colour: I set mine to sepia on my tablets, not white.

        Graphics don’t have a solid white background: I set mine to sepia, not white, so any graphic image which uses a solid white background looks silly.

        Doesn’t override fonts: I’ve found some e-books impossible to read because they’ve forced a specific font that looks really ugly on my screen.

        Personally, I write in Libre Office using defined styles, then have a .css file which converts those styles into something which looks similar on an e-book reader. With the provisos above, e.g. not setting the font, and using relative sizes rather than absolute.

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        • Edward, I’d like to read some of your work, but it’s not available for Nook. Please ask Smashwords to port it for you. Contrary to popular belief, B&N isn’t dead yet.

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  15. Count me as one of the silent majority among the Indie authors who was happy to read what you’ve put in your recent posts. “Keep writing good books” makes me relax and “get on Facebook, tweet three times daily, blog hop, exchange comments with other bloggers, etc.” just wears me out reading about it.

    Looking forward to your next one…

    Reply
    • Yeah, I’ve been doing my best to follow Dean and Kris’ advice over the last couple of years, and mostly only failing due to my day job being too busy to keep writing more. But, so far, sales just keep going up as I release more and better books; yesterday, for example, I checked my sales for the first time in January and discovered I’d already sold 350 copies of a short story I released just before Christmas. That’s the most sales in a month, and the most sales of a single ebook in a month, since I started self-publishing.

      So I’d like to say thanks to both of them for all their advice in that time.

      Reply
  16. I was curious to read the backlash, so I googled. I was amused to see that some of the people angriest were those selling or offering promotional service and advice to authors. When my last book started receiving trade reviews, I began receiving email from people trying to sell me promotional services. I marked each of them as spam.

    Hey, Kris, they see you as taking away their livelihood :)

    I remember how it feels to have my first manuscript. I felt that I had put everything into it, and didn’t think I’d ever again produce anything as good. Of course, looking back it was novice stuff, but I didn’t know that. Very few beginning writers want to be told that they have years of work ahead of them. They want success and fame now. They’ll never believe it will take a while because of the many “overnight sensations.”

    Reply
    • LOL, T.A. I hadn’t done that Googling. :-) How fun. Thank you. Yeah, I know. No one wants to hear that this is work. It’s something that we do for fun, and we’re good at it, so being told that your first effort isn’t perfect is hard to hear. Or that you need to duplicate it. It’s rather like a singer who says, “Why do I need to do that again? I sang it beautifully the first time.” ;-)

      Reply
    • I get the occasional spam email from a marketer. I don’t like it much! Guess it goes with the territory?

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  17. I could spot those Roc Retrieval Artist covers across a Worldcon dealer’s room. That was some fine, fine cover branding indeed. And detailed artwork.

    The Smokey Dalton novel with the new “grenade” cover? Boy. That one gave me chills. You know exactly by looking at it what time it’s set and what’s going to happen and who the people are. That one might hold up for a while.

    At some point I had to actually write down Robert Crais’ name on my reference list to keep in my purse, because I never knew what the heck his next (or previous, when I was catching up) book was going to look like. I still don’t, but at least I’ve memorized his name now. Can’t say as I like the latest cover — at least the eye-searing one with the turtles was distinctive and eyecatching. Still, Elvis and Joe are the best.

    My mom and I were happy when they started putting that bug on La Nora’s new books — saved time checking copyright pages — but I can’t help but think it’s a LITERAL brand. Like you’d put on a cow on the range, with a branding iron. “Oh looky here, this’n is a new heifer from Miz Nora’s ranch.” And then I hear a phantom sizzle and burnt smell.

    I can’t wait for the headless torso cover phase to end. Talk about all the books looking alike!

    And for gosh sakes, don’t use exactly the same clip art in exactly the same way as everyone else. I’ve seen that exact sword twice this week, boys… at least put it at a different angle and recolor it.

    Reply
    • I figure the headless torso covers were the inspiration for reviving “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” into a TV show with some romance. LOL Last year, (or the year before), a bunch of traditional publishers used the same cover art for a bunch of books. It was a woman in a red coat, and the phenomenon inspired someone to point it out…on a blog, of course. (And no, that wasn’t me.)

      And yeah, that bug on Nora’s books–that literal brand–is important. When I was culling my library some years ago, I found that I had bought an entire box full of Nora books that I had already owned. The “new” ones were on my TBR list, and apparently, I hadn’t looked at the copyright dates closely enough.

      Thanks for the kind words about War at Home. I’ll pass them on to Allyson.

      Reply
    • So it was turtles on that day-glo cover? I thought they were flounders, lol. ;-)

      Reply
      • Nah, it’s turtles all the way down!

        Sorry…couldn’t resist.
        -Dan

        Reply
  18. This post alone kicks the entirety of the Kindle forums guru-sage-advice-givers’ collective asses so thoroughly their children’s heads will now emerge lop-sided.

    As you round this series out I can’t wait to read all the posts from people who jumped to quick or overly simplistic conclusions, failed to understand nuance, posted objections to entry #4 that you covered in entry #3, or just learned what they thought they knew was wrong– all come back around to say ‘gee, Kris, I was wrong. Sorry I called you all those names and straw manned the hell out of you.’

    Really, it’ll happen. People understanding they were wrong then admitting it and apologizing with sincere dignity happens all the time on the internet.

    I believe this so utterly I’m now holding my breath in anticipation.

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  19. er, I meant “too” quickly, not “to” quickly. Lacks sarcastic punch when you screw up basic grammar.

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  20. Thank you, I really appreciate this very timely information, but if I may point out the small error of getting the name of your husband’s book wrong…lol.

    Reply
    • LOL. I’ll fix it. I’ve been having that trouble since I read it literally the same week that the Richard Curtis movie came out, and the titles have joined in my head.

      Reply
  21. I was startled that “The Death of Davy Moss” was a sweet romance. From the dark artwork featuring a single faceless figure in a gloomy setting and the word “death” in the title, I thought I was looking at a murder mystery. Only the script font suggests romance, at least to me.

    The series branding makes a lot of sense. Thanks for discussing it, and I see I have some work to do on my own.

    Reply
    • Oh, yeah. I know. It’s an unusual cover, because honestly, it’s an unusual book. I probably shouldn’t have used it for romance as an example, since we really argued about the book’s genre. But it has classic romance structure–and it’s only dark in the beginning. I promise. :-)

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  22. Hi Kris, good article. I liked getting specific visual examples of branding – that ties in nicely with my Cover Design seminar. As for you being given flak over prior content regarding promotions, a friend and I were debating this on our own. Even if you have a long-term plan, and more than one publication, it’s scary for things to happen so very slowly. A lot of this is fear talking. Fear gets in the way of the creative process. It’s what I have to fight every time I decide to start a new story. Should I make it part of an existing series? That would mean likely acceptance by a publisher I know and like, a modest advance, working with a team where I know the ropes… It’s a bird in hand. Or should I go wild and not tailor the story to an existing world? More fun, sure, but then, when I go indie, it will feel dark and scary for a long time. Knowing that ahead of the time helps, knowing that I am working to build up inventory and maintain momentum helps – but that bird ain’t so bad, either.

    Reply
    • That bird is great, and it gives you something to work off of, provided you’re a fast writer, and you can write other things. Right now, it’s the non-compete clauses that really destroy a writer’s careers. In some ways, I think it’s tougher now for new writers than when I started. Yeah, we had more difficulty breaking in, but we weren’t faced with all these choices that can be really tough. On the other hand, the indie world works for me and would have from the beginning–so what do I know about how I would have reacted? Things really were different back when we had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to submit a manuscript over the transom…

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  23. Kris, I was one of those criticizing you “don’t start branding until you have X books.” I’m from the advertising/marketing/selling background, and can state on truth. Brands do not spring from the head of a house/author, like Hera did from Zeus. They, also, are not just covers/genre. A “Brand,” whether house, or author is *everything* you do. If he went to conventions, and Steven King was surly to fans, his sales would collapse eventually. A certain well known (at the time, and now deceased) went to a local con, and came out of his room _twice_. Much of his time was spent with a local writer/collaborator. His sales locally, and WoM went dead a a result. Had he said. “I’m ill, and can’t mingle they way you expect.” He would have gotten a pass.
    Every author’s “Brand” starts before they ever write a book. If well known, and liked, Word of Mouth, will help push it at the beginning. After that, the book is on its own. A basic tenet of marketing is. “People buy from those they know/trust/like.” Yes, the author absolutely must write a good book, but they must also be known.
    As soon as I can, I’ll take some of your courses. Money, is the problem, not desire.

    Reply
    • Oh, I agree, Walter, and we will get to social stuff over time. But what amazes me is how many readers never go to conventions, aren’t on social media, and have never met an author. Their introduction is generally the cover, so we need to make it easier to find us that way.

      Trying to impose brands from the outside is impossible, as you said. That’s why I’m so firm about this being a post-writing thing, not a pre-writing thing. Because, weirdly, no writer can see what makes them unique. So they have to trust that brand is there. John Helfers once told me he can identify my writing based on two paragraphs. I was stunned. But I can do that with Stephen King or Nora Roberts, and I’m sure that’s one reason Rowling got outed as well.

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  24. I absolutely love this entire series of articles. I’ve only been reading your blog now for a couple of months, but the advice has been invaluable. I have about 15 years of experience in design and marketing. I never, ever knew that publishers didn’t know all this stuff about marketing and branding, giving covers a similar design within a series/genre, typography cues for genre. I find myself fortunate that the small presses I’m currently working with are now letting me do my own covers so that I can control some of the visual branding elements; it wouldn’t work if I weren’t already an illustrator/designer, but in this case it does.

    I’ve been publishing nonfiction articles for years, but this past year I’ve had my first nonfiction and fiction books come out. And absolutely a lot of what you are talking about won’t really work until I have a few more books out. But, it’s good to keep this stuff in mind.

    I’m sorry you got bashed around online. It doesn’t surprise me; whenever I write an activism blog post I usually get raked over the coals as well because people whine about things they don’t want to hear. Thing is, I’m a new author, and I can’t yet put into play some of the stuff you mention–but, I can plan for it.

    Your whole piece on thinking of my writing as rental properties/pie ties into it all as well, and has helped me to rethink where and how I submit my work. For instance, I’m inspired to submit some of my epic fantasy as a short story, even though the novel for that story won’t be done for perhaps a few years, because I have artwork of that particular character that I believe would sell better if it was published work. That’s a whole extra pie.

    Keep up the great work.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Shauna. I think you should do shorts with your epic fantasy. Lots of writers do–and I’d go farther and tell you to submit to traditional magazine publishers. (They don’t take all the rights that book publishers do.) You’ll end up with an audience that will be interested when the book comes out. More on this in future posts, of course.

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  25. Hello Kris,
    Have always been interested in taking the Designing Covers, Interiors, Ebooks classes but do worry about the cost of thesoftware that you’ll be using for the classes.

    Are we supposed to have Photoshop or In Design to take these classes? Last time I looked the software cost thousands each.

    Reply
    • You’ll need InDesign. But you can have a 30-day free trial plus, now, it only costs about $20 per month. InDesign no longer sells those highly expensive units. They’re selling the “creative cloud” for a monthly fee. It’s a Godsend.

      Reply
      • I asked Dean about whether InDesign was required for the Covers workshop, or if we could use other software that would let us export a cover image to PDF and submit that as our homework. Dean’s view was the latter was fine. Of course, this was months ago, and he and/or Allyson might have changed their mind about it. I also haven’t taken the Covers workshop, so there might be glitches when actually using not-InDesign.

        Antonna, you might want to look at Scribus. It’s free-as-in-beer ($0) and allows you to layout covers (images, text with a few font effects), etc. Here’s a sample of something I’ve done using it:

        Reply
        • If he said that, then it still holds, Raymund. If all else fails, Antonna, just ask Dean. :-)

          Reply
          • A second vote for Scribus. We do all our books in it here–you can check out the results by clicking “Look Inside” on any of my paperbacks on Amazon.

            If you get stuck while learning it, shoot me an email and I can point you to some good resources.
            -Dan

      • “They’re selling the “creative cloud” for a monthly fee. It’s a Godsend.”

        I disagree. It’s far more expensive (aggregated over a few months), and IMHO a serious PITA. I want to buy a program and have the program to use, not rent it eternally.

        Too bad, I had started saving up to buy the creative suite. But no longer. It’s GIMP and Scribus for me now, and for the foreseeable future.

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        • Creative cloud is wonderful for case-specific work. On the other hand…

          I use open source programs in my shop, even when the learning curve is steeper, for one reason: format portability. All software eventually dies, file formats change, etc. I made the call for my business that having the ability to forward-port our project files to anything was more important to us, so anytime we bring a new program into the pipeline I check to make sure:
          1) the file format is open
          2) it can export to an editable format the most popular proprietary software can read (for interchange with other studios)

          Like Micahel, that means we use Scribus, GIMP, and Inkscape for our 2D work, Blender for our 3D work, OpenOffice for documents, Sigil for epubs, etc.

          Just one more thing to consider, FWIW
          -Dan

          Reply
  26. Thanks, Kris! Great post. (and that warning? VERY timely!) Wish I could afford an Allyson of my own, but until I can your advice is greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • I don’t know if you can afford *not* to have an Allyson. The sales covered the new cover very quickly.

      Reply
  27. I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday, and although I’m a writer with one novel on submission to traditional publishers, and one novel in progress that I’m intending to publish myself, and so therefore in the category of “starting out, can’t do most of this” — still, I can do *some* of it. As I build a website for my new publishing company, I can think about the ‘imprint brand’. As I play around with covers for the novel that’s going to come out with it, which is the first of a series that will also include some short stories, I can think about the visual themes I want to incorporate.

    Figuring out my genre(s)/subgenres and their visual languages is something I find very difficult. I write a mix of literary fantasy and swashbuckling humorous fantasy, both of which exist but aren’t particularly in vogue at the moment. I was working at a major chain bookstore (Indigo, in Canada) over the Christmas holidays and took some time to investigate the fantasy section. There are only a handful of titles in print that are in my subgenres, the big ones — Stardust, The Princess Bride, sort-of The Hobbit. Each of these have about four different treatments depending on movie tie-ins and efforts to rebrand the author, which is certainly interesting but makes for a difficult task for someone who’s not in that league yet (however much I want to be).

    Another thing I’ve been noticing is how much I like covers in two very separate genres, neither of which are the ones I work in — Middle Grade fantasy (which is a lot closer), and Canadian literary fiction. I don’t like reading Canadian literary fiction particularly, but I do like many of the covers.

    And one more thought about genre branding — it also differs by country. Canadian and US editions are often, but not always, the same; British editions are usually different. There are different genre expectations, too. I happen to like British ones better … I also write more within that tradition, so I’m reckoning a way of indicating that is by aligning my titles more with UK styles.

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  28. Another informative article; thanks Kris! I’ve created my own company to publish my work and designed a logo to go on the spine of my books, as you mention. I looked into registering the trademark, but it costs $250 and would only protect the trademark in my country of registration (Canada). There was also something on the registration website saying that trademarks become the property of the user over time under common law, although the time is not specified. I’m just starting out and don’t have money to waste. How do you feel about the necessity of registering trademarks?

    Reply
    • I think trademarks are necessary sometimes, Cathy, but not in this instance. (Remember, I’m not a lawyer) Besides, you might want to change the logo at some point. WMG changed its three times now, and finally has one that’ll stick for a while. I’d wait for a while, and see. There are IP lawyers who follow this blog–if any of you feel the need to chime in, please do.

      Reply
  29. Kris, thanks for the cover illustrations showing the many branding options available to multi-genre authors. Allyson’s work is stunning. And seeing how NY could botch covers is sad, but true.

    I’m always searching for new branding angles, and, since I’ve always used the same pen name, am using fonts and cover image cues to both distinguish from and link to my various genres. For my urban fantasy protag, Delilah Street, I dumped the leather-clad bod for a blue-eyed, black-haired stock image of a woman . . . wearing a face-hugging, inappropriate 1920s black bob. I had to learn a lot of Photoshop to ditch the bob, but that intense stare says beautiful, tough, and a bit unearthly. I used the image for a cross-over story anthology with Midnight Louie, cat PI, and Edgar Allan Poe, Once Upon a Midnight Noir. Works! Readers love the combo. And the Delilah eyes will be on every new story/book.

    I’m now having luck evoking a cover style by an expensive (and great) artist and am using a common font to link that cover to those I’ve designed for the early new eBook covers in the same series. Anything is possible if you’re willing to learn and work at it. And constantly refine. I’m giving a cover design workshop at the RT Booklovers Convention in New Orleans in May, if anyone is going to be there.

    Reply
  30. Great post as always, Kris.Now I’m curious to see how you will rebrand the look of your blog!In my mind, blogs are very different from book covers and I (personally) get annoyed when an author’s blog looks like the covers of his book. I don’t see that as needed, not at all.

    In fact, I believe the design of a blog should be minimal. Your book covers on the side margin should stand out!

    I was also intrigued by the fact that you feel some book covers are going out of style, that the muscular woman on urban fantasy has become cliché. Actually, I couldn’t agree with you more but as long as the market demands and expects it…I guess we’ll have to go with the muscle woman, LOL! Which gets me to the real difficulty of branding: since its a moving feast and there are fashions on taste, how do you stay abreast of change, any advice?

    Reply
    • I’m changing the website, not the blog, Claude. This blog will remain the same. The stuff around it will be somewhat different. These theme no longer works for what I need, so everything will get redone in a more modern way that will also work well on mobile devices. This one is slowing dramatically and not doing as well any more as it did when I got it.

      As for what to do about refreshing…well, that’s going to have to be a personal choice. Your cover design must be appropriate to your company. Those muscular babes are on their way out–or they’ll be modified. If you’re doing things yourself, follow current trends. Right now, the trend is the muscular babe. So just go there for now. :-)

      Reply
  31. I learned this the hard way. My traditional publisher was new to romance so . . . my first cover was mistaken for YA – not great when readers got to the sex. I don’t even know what to say about successive books. The only common theme was my pen name.

    When I got the rights back, I put a sexy couple on the cover, made sure my pen name was visible, in the same location on each cover. Series names appeared on those books and viola – exceeded my e/print sales in a single month. I’m working on doing the same for my standalone books – but this *and* writing is terribly time consuming.

    Publishers with all their e-arms are pushing out more books than ever – but are still quite lackluster with branding. This is something I love about self/indie publishing.

    Reply
  32. I’m publishing under my own name as I wanted to be upfront about self-publishing, but I still have a logo. It definitely makes the book look more professional.

    Reply
  33. Thanks for your Branding article, Kristine, excellent information.

    I didn’t know much about branding when I published the first suspense fiction book in my Amsterdam Assassin Series, I got some help from a graphic art student who transformed my own photographs of Amsterdam into covers, but the books had dismal sales. I knew I had some good stuff, especially with the branding the series ‘Amsterdam Assassin Series’ which immediately tells you what kind of books they are and what the setting is.

    I’ve since re-branded the entire series by the time I was ready to publish the third short story and the third novel.

    I worked with a proper cover artist this time and we discussed the elements of the branding:
    - Amsterdam Assassin Series needs to prominent
    - every title has at least one O that will have cross hairs
    - the covers should be alike, but still different enough that readers won’t pick up the same book twice
    - some of the imagery has to be the same in all the books/stories, i.e. the push dagger, the silhouette, the typography. Each book has a unique symbol that resonates with the story: a silenced gun for the ambush in the first book, a Chinese dragon for the Chinese antagonists in the second novel, and so on.
    - each book has a single word title (Reprobate, Peccadillo, Rogue) and ‘A Katla Novel’ underneath.
    - each short story has a double word title (Locked Room, Microchip Murder, Fundamental Error) and ‘A Katla KillFile’ above the title.

    I notice now that not only are readers more inclined to pick up the novels, they also realize the ‘series’ aspect and the second and third books also sell better.

    Reply
  34. Hi Kris,

    This branding post is spot-on.
    Amazing that Big Pub is so inept at branding. But I guess it’s obvious, too, because they haven’t managed to build themselves one iota of brand identity in the eyes of readers. I’m finding that 99% of readers don’t know and don’t care who publishes their favorite authors’ books, or even if those books are Big-5 or self-published. Harlequin and yellow-spine DAW are the rare exception.

    All of us should take your author-branding advice to heart.

    BTW, I’m also one of the writers who disagrees with your advice to avoid marketing until one has several books out. But that’s the only thing you’ve said in this series that I didn’t think was excellent advice for every writer. Why? Like anything else, there’s a learning curve to effective marketing. The sooner you start, the quicker you’ll learn what works for you.

    Also, your mileage may vary. Sometimes one book is all it takes.

    Maybe I got lucky.
    Maybe it’s easier to launch a career off one book when you write the kind of cross-genre mystery/thriller/suspense I write.
    But five months after releasing my first novel, I’m already making a good living from my writing. Maybe that would have happened anyway. But marketing that first and only book via Bookbub, ENT, POI, KB&T, Bookblast, etc. made it happen much faster.

    Your branding advice here is fantastic.
    With book 1, I was careful to establish a distinctive brand look, so that when book 2 came out three weeks ago, it was instantly recognizable as one of mine. I attribute it’s strong sales to that brand-recognition, because I haven’t started marketing it yet. But I doubt sales of book 2 would be where they are, had I not marketed book 1 to grow a loyal fan base of readers first.

    I do have one question about branding:
    Why divide branding efforts to create a separate publisher-brand at all?

    When I set up my publishing company, Mayhem Press, I initially planned to build a separate logo, website, etc. but decided to focus 100% on the author-brand instead. So I made a deliberate choice to yank all publisher-branding off my print book covers and bury it on the copyright page.

    No one noticed the “missing” publisher brand. Not even bookstores. Not even Barnes & Noble, where my hardcovers and paperbacks are shelved alongside Big-5 books.

    Is there any real advantage to splitting branding focus between author brand and publisher brand? I’d love your thoughts.

    Anyway, like many other writers, I love your column. You’re a voice of logic and reason cutting through the deliberately-cultivated cloud of mystique and obfuscatory bullshit that usually surrounds the business side of publishing.

    Cheers, and you’ve got a fan here :)

    Paul

    Reply
    • Thanks, Paul.

      To answer your question, there are some things that I will get to that will require a publisher brand. Also, plan for the future. Your success might grow your publishing company, and someday you might want to publish someone else or an anthology or some nonfiction. Having a publisher brand makes all of this so much easier.

      Kris

      Reply
      • Looking forward to your future posts on the topic, then. :)

        What you say about becoming a third-party publisher, too, makes sense to me, although it’s not really my focus right now.

        Reply
        • But what if you change your mind in five years? Keep your opportunities open, rather than shutting them off when you begin. Imho.

          Reply
          • Great point.

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