“Ask an Editor” is a forum wherein SCBWI members submit questions that are answered as part of our quarterly Kite Tales blog.
Hi Christine — I’m just starting out and keep hearing I need to “build an author brand.” What does that mean and at what stage of my career should I start working on that? Thanks. —Starr, Los Angeles
Hello Starr — Building an author brand means deciding who you are as an author and making mindful moves in your career to develop and communicate that purposefully crafted brand.
Some points to get you thinking about your author brand:
- Step back and examine the commonality in your manuscripts. Identify categories (picture book, middle grade, etc.) and genres (fantasy, historical fiction, etc.). Look for themes or threads. Consider how your books connect with readers emotionally (thoughtful books, feel-good books, etc.).
- Brainstorm three to five words that describe your overall writing style. Enlist your critique group’s help or, if you have an agent, ask them.
- Unless you have a hit character or series (like Mo Willems, whose website is called Pigeon Presents), tie your social media names to your name rather than to a book title. If possible, choose the same handles across all platforms.
- Readers will come to expect a certain level of consistency from you and your writing style, therefore, your website, newsletter or blog posts, social media persona, and in-person appearances should be in line with the author image you are trying to portray.
- Identify your audience and make strategic moves to encourage readers to buy books from you again. Demonstrate how you are unique from similar authors.
- Learn from authors with a successful brand: read their books, look at their website to see what’s prominently featured. Maybe they write nonfiction and a focus of their brand is connecting with the educational community where their content is relevant and provides another income stream.
- Be intentional, accurate, and relatable in the steps you take to build your brand. Doing so develops name recognition which boosts sales for future publications as a reader-author relationship develops. Relationships take trust—this reinforces the need for authors to be thoughtful about how and what they communicate. While this is the author version of you, it should still be authentic.
- You may have heard, “Stay in your lane,” but many successful authors do not. For example, Jason Reynolds writes in different categories (MG and YA) but in the same genre (beautifully crafted contemporary fiction); Stacey Lee writes in the same category (YA) but different genres (historical fiction and magic realism). However, some authors adopt pen names when they want to keep their products separate, such as when they write something off-brand. We all probably know J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter series, but she writes adult crime fiction under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
Keep author branding in mind throughout your career, but, just as it takes time to find your writing voice, the same can be said for your author brand.
Be true to yourself, but also focus on the big picture and who you are (or who you want to be) as an author. Owning and controlling your body of work and public persona are important pieces of your writing career. —Christine
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