Everything I know about branding… How I figured out who I was in indie publishing.
New authors have come to me asking for tips on branding. I can tell you that it’s not an easy thing but it’s also an important one. It’s becoming clear it’s much more important than I ever knew. And, lucky for me (and them) I do have a lot of experience in this area both inside and outside of indie publishing.
Having worked as a marketing director in a mental health agency for eight years before going back to graduate school to earn my psychology degree, I learned a lot about branding. I came into the agency with no clue what the word even meant. During those eight years, I worked with talented designers and marketing experts to help establish a brand for a community mental health agency. The brand we were able to achieve was fantastic if I do say so myself.
When I first stepped into indie writing, I had no idea how to brand myself. As an author, I didn’t even think it was necessary. I figured that was my publisher’s job: WRONG. Publishers change and, frankly don’t have the time. A brand for an individual author is their job and theirs alone – who else knows you better than you?
Initially, I knew I wanted to write multi genre. I am of the belief that there are readers for every book. I also believe people read by mood. I know I do. As a reader (where I first began to love books) I read things based on how I am feeling, what the season is, etc. I soon discovered that I wrote that way too. Still, I felt I had to pick one genre and stick with it. That’s what other authors seemed to do…
I’ve heard it said many times that multi genre is a bad thing. I didn’t believe it. Still don’t. Never will. Sure, for me, it might make branding harder – but why couldn’t that be part of my brand too? Let’s face it – I’m a pretty complicated, eclectic person. So are my works, tastes and even moods. Could THAT become part of my brand? (Stay tuned).
For the first few years, I played with only writing real life stories because that was what I was ‘supposed’ to do. As a reader, I gravitated to autobiographies. Clearly, people, and the psychology of what makes them do the things they do is fascinating to me. I figured I should write what I knew. And so, naturally, I called myself a non fiction, or based on true stories author. I released Crazy Like Me, Wave to Papa and Nine Lives. But I got bored and quickly. While they were important stories to tell, I also wanted to try out a story that came from nowhere other than my imagination. After being challenged to participate in a horror anthology (Limitless Publishing’s 13) I soon learned that my creative side had been neglected.
Always one to think outside the box and a natural trendsetter, I’d lost that along the way and almost quit writing. That anthology saved me. I loved creating new worlds and characters I hadn’t met or didn’t know or wasn’t working with. Instead of drawing on real life experiences, I was writing from a different place that I soon realized was another big part of who I was too. But that screwed up brand plans. (Should, wrong, inexperienced – those words beat at me like an inner critic but they didn’t come from inside – they came from people who felt they knew me better than me). What they didn’t know? I’m a confident person. I’ve NEVER followed crowds…
So I was: eclectic, by this time a therapist working on licensing and entirely frustrated with people thinking the world ‘crazy’ was a bad thing (anti stigma campaign from that mental health agency work comes in there), dying to be more creative and experimental but feeling like I ‘should’ box myself into one genre or maybe even two. Then what?
(Adios, unsolicited advice).
I asked myself “who am I?” I have never in my life followed rules. For me, unless they are needed to make something run efficiently or for safety, they get in the way and stifle creativity. Why was I allowing what other authors and even the bulk of the industry said about branding to box me in and stuff more creative words under the bed?
It was time for new ideas about brand.
(Hello, me. I’ve missed you)!
I answered simple questions (see attached graphic) and quickly realized that I was these things: 1. A mother with a crazy hectic schedule and responsibilities to keep, 2. A partner, daughter, and all those other family responsibilities, 3. An author dying to be more creative and not boxed in by what other people thought, 4. An artist, 5. A shrink trying to reinvent the word crazy. (Because stigma is bullshit).
It was long before I started Crazy Ink Publishing, LLC that I put all these things together. My brand was screaming at me. I just hadn’t listened because I was too busy listening to what other people thought and how they were doing it better. Never again.
It was almost like my entire career and life plans were meant for a simple and easy brand that tied it all together. My tagline would be “Crazy Enough to Try it All.” My logo/brand would be Crazy Ink. Crazy was my lifestyle. To me, it wasn’t a bad word. Yet, I was surrounded by it and always trying to help redefine it. Ink? Well, that’s the obvious author and artist in me. And, because I’ve never been one to turn down a dare (I have more than 400 sky diving jumps under my belt to prove it) it only made sense to use that tagline. The tag referred to not only me and my personality but also to my writing. Tell me I can’t write about vampires: I’ll do an anthology. Tell me I can’t do horror: Enter Vegan and a host of other titles. Hell, I’ll give you a five-book series on a serial killer. It’s just ME.
This brings me to my next point. I am who I am. I AM “multi genre madness.” Take me or leave me. I am happy with me and there is nothing fake about my brand or Crazy Ink. THAT is why it works.
Even now and nearly daily, I get people telling me I am doing things wrong or that I don’t know what I am doing. I get unsolicited advice about what I should be doing or how others are doing something or other better. Guess what? I don’t care. Yes. Feedback is good. So is research. But I do that and make my decisions based on my brand and experiences not anyone else’s. Why? Because it works for me. It has and continues to. For this reason, I never offer unsolicited advice. I only give advice when asked for it. Why? It’s the right thing to do. I don’t want others to feel the doubt and waste the time I did in listening to nonsense noise from others about my own brand. I wish others would do that too.
(One can hope).
I have seen one author upon another make the same mistake. I see them copy each other and shake my head. I truly believe you are better off with no brand (it’s coming, you just aren’t listening closely enough or ready yet) than a fake one. Authors or publishers who copy each other are hurting themselves. Readers can spot fake from miles away. They can also sense desperate. Don’t do it. If you aren’t sure where your voice is yet or where you plan to go with your writing, hold off. It will come – I promise you! It may even take years and that’s perfectly normal and okay.
During a conversation last week from someone who knows the industry better than I could ever hope to, I felt great to learn my instincts on branding and in other areas are right on the mark. While I’ve always been confident in my choices, I’m human too and thought maybe my own brand needed a tweak. Apparently, it does not. Why? Because it’s authentic. THAT is the key.
You can be authentic too! With that said, I would challenge new authors looking to find their brand to answer the questions in the graphic and start thinking about how their lives and personal interests connect. Who are you? How do you want your readers to know you? What are you passionate about? Be honest, real and reflective. You’ll find your voice. Once you do? Your readers will find you. Happy branding all! Your brand is calling to you. Are you listening?
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Erin Lee, who also writes as EL George, is a USA Today Bestselling multi genre author unafraid to chase the madness. Author of more than 100 titles and creator of Crazy Ink Publishing, LLC, she'll try anything once and never turns down a dare.