There is a lot of talk these days about creating an "author brand." Raise your hand if you land somewhere between "I'm not exactly sure what that is" and "What the [bleep] is an author brand?"
Okay, I see those hands.
What exactly is an author brand?
There are times, such as when you are building an ad for a specific book, to focus on selling the book and not yourself. But the vast majority of the time, like it or lump it, you need to be selling yourself. This is the case now more than ever.
Readers most often start their search by genre and narrow it down to authors from there. Once they find an author, they chew through the backlist until it's exhausted, and then they start the search over. What the reader is looking for is an author brand in a genre they want to read. They aren't looking for a book, or even a series.
Your author brand is the promise to the reader that once they commit to you, they'll receive several books (at the bare minimum) they will enjoy. Your author brand is all of the information that goes into the reader's decision--everything that communicates to them that you are a trustworthy and good resource for content they want to read.
Why do I need an author brand?
Now that you know what an author brand is, we need to clarify why you need one before we go any further.
It's not surprising that many of our author brands develop accidentally. It's difficult for us to get out of our mindset enough to experience our stories as "content for a target audience." Worse yet, some of our author brands are muddled and confusing, because we think of our stories as one-offs or as separate series. Why should your monster romance series affect your military sci-fi series?
Unfortunately, from the reader's perspective, your author brand is now something like "militant monster romance in space," which has a very small niche appeal. By mixing up such vastly different genres in your author brand, and failing to give the reader any means of making heads or tales of the mashup, you've lost a ton of readers. The monster romance readers can't trust that you won't spend the next year writing military sci-fi, for which they have no interest. Vice versa for the fans of military sci-fi.
By jumbling all of your content into a single, poorly-defined author brand you've broken trust with the majority of your potential readers. They cannot trust you as an author to deliver them story after story they will be interested in. And if they can't trust you to steadily deliver the military sci-fi they are looking for, they will find an author brand they can trust to do just that.
If you still aren't convinced you need an author brand, think of it like this: What is easier? Selling a dozen individual books? Selling three different series? Or selling your author brand a single time?
Fifty years ago, it was perhaps easier to sell a one-off title. Ten years ago, the series was all the rave. Now you need a brand. In general, readers want more content, and they don't want to go through the entire curation process every time they finish a book or even a few books. They want to find an author that can deliver them days, weeks, or better yet, months of reading enjoyment.
The solution? Create an intentional author brand...or more than one.
How do I create an author brand that is right for me?
Often times, an author brand will remain squarely in a single genre. Why? This is a simple way to communicate a promise to a potential reader. You love mysteries? Great, I'm a mystery author. That's a quick connection to make with a reader, and can provide a solid foundation for an author brand.
Having said that, a solid author brand can extend outside of a single genre. As I mentioned in last week's post, one of my author brands contains weird western, space opera, and space western. Another of my author brands contains dystopian fantasy and bio-thriller. Understand that by crossing genres a well-defined author brand becomes more difficult. But it can still be done.
In the case of my David Mark Brown western and space opera author brand, the tagline is "I explode things." The promise I make to my readers is that every book in this author brand will move quickly and include over-the-top action sequences. The stories are driven more by plot than character. They are episodic and wrap up most of the loose threads rapidly.
Whether you are reading "Reefer Ranger" based in a fictional 20th century "Texicas," or you're reading "Extinction Force" based thousands of years in the future on a planet inhabited by dinosaurs, the stories strike the same pulpy pace and tone. No matter the era or planet, my characters have tons in common. They're gritty, grumpy, and frequently pissed off at life. At the same time, they are fighting a noble cause against a corrupt system. Texas Ranger McCutchen and space Captain Jaeger are familiar, recognizable anti-heroes and self-righteous bastards. The author brand is maintained between them.
It would have been easier for me to have stuck with space operas or with weird westerns. I made the decision to go with my artistic gut in this instance. As a result, it became critical that I establish a clear and common tone in these stories. I had to develop an author brand that communicated to potential readers that all of my stories (in this brand) will deliver content they enjoy, even if they weren't looking for a western.
David Mark Brown, I explode things.
Looking for pulpy, double-barreled fiction that promises to shoot your favorite characters as much as they shoot up everything else? From the wild-west to outer space, meet gritty anti-heroes who do what it takes to get the job done. I write fast-paced, episodic stories that draw inspiration from Cormac McCarthy and Joss Whedon. Enjoy the show!
This is an example of some sales copy selling this particular author brand. I have three active author brands. Each author brand needs enough content to promise potential readers enough reading enjoyment to be worth their discovery effort and initial energy investment. This brings us full-circle to the need for Pirate Authors to collaborate. I can't even generate enough content to satisfy most readers for one of my author brands, much less three. To do so, I need passionate pirate crews.
The author brand is one-half of ensuring you are able to unify a pirate crew and consistently satisfy your target audience. The other half is your author mission statement.
Now I have to develop an author mission statement?
If you haven't thought about your author brand, I know you haven't thought much about your mission statement. You're a business. You're a brand. To ensure that your stories are consistent in the notes they strike with your readers, you need a mission statement. This is especially true if your brand involves multiple authors.
Let's revisit my pulpy, David Mark Brown author brand. The mission statement doesn't need to be nearly as overt as the brand. In the above sales copy example, I barely alluded to my mission statement at all. But your mission statement doesn't need to be consciously understood by your reader. It simply needs to be consistent.
In this case, my mission statement is to use broken characters and broken relationships to communicate real-life consequences and hard-fought redemption. It's important to me for my heroes to do awful things and then struggle with the consequences of those awful things. I also want to portray that even the most terribly decisions can be redeemed with a significant enough cost. I believe that process is ultimately what makes someone a hero--the sacrifices we make to redeem our mistakes, or even the mistakes done to us.
This gets into pretty deep territory pretty quickly. That's the point. Your author mission statement should stab at the heart of why you tell stories in the first place. Are you compelled to tell stories so that others like you know they are not alone? So that the lost are found? To provide escape from suffering?
Anywho, because of my mission statement, my stories always involve broken heroes like Die Hard's John McClain. Always. If I find myself writing a story in that author brand that doesn't include a John McClain (usually more than one), I know I'm either writing the wrong story, or I'm writing it in the wrong author brand.
Hopefully you are starting to see how establishing both the overt author brand identity AND the mission statement can ensure continuity in your promise making and promise keeping to your target audience. Once you've created a clear author brand with an underlying mission statement (and you can communicate it to others), go out and recruit a pirate crew! Then you'll be ready to rock your audience's socks off with a steady flow of stories they love.