You’re an author. You hate book marketing, but you know it’s essential. While chatting with authors, the idea of platforms, branding, and marketing in general comes up frequently, and there’s lots of confusion around those terms.
Let’s make marketing simple: here’s all it means. Marketing involves telling people about whatever it is that you want to sell. It might be books. It could be toothpaste, or cakes. You’ve got stuff. Marketing gets the word out.
A platform, for authors, involves readers. One author told me that a literary agent said that she needed a platform before she’d consider representing her. That’s fair enough. You do need a platform (readers) if you hope to be traditionally published.
Branding is something else again. You can think of branding as a label. Brands and platforms are not the same. Let’s look at platform first, because developing a platform’s essential for authors.
Book marketing: when someone says “you need a platform”
As we’ve said, for authors and writers, a platform is your readership. It’s people who’ve heard your name before. They’ve read one of your books and like it, and would read another one. Or maybe it’s followers on social media who know you’re writing a book, and are mildly curious about it.
Here’s the thing. Today, a platform equals INCOME. So, when you have social media followers, or blog readers, that translates to income. You’ve got your readers’ attention. You can direct that attention to others — if you’re an affiliate for a product. Or if you offer sponsored posts.
A platform is readers, which is attention, which translates (or so people hope) to income. Eventually.
I’m a huge believer in platform. There’s little point in writing if you don’t have readers. That said, I deeply resent (your mileage may vary) literary agents trying to snaffle your readership, by telling you that “you need a platform” before they’ll give you a contract.
I suggested to the author with the agent that if she had a platform, she wouldn’t need the agent. She could self-publish — why not? She’s got readers.
As I said however, your mileage may vary; so whatever floats your boat — if you want to be traditionally published, go for it. But do remember, if you’re building a platform, it’s YOUR platform. Be wary of giving it away, or lending it, to others.
Branding and cows (and books)
The term branding comes from preventing livestock thefts by marking livestock with a hot iron, in order to identify the owners. Authors talk about “branding” themselves, or an author being a “brand”; taking the term from big companies which brand their products. Or which build a brand.
My attitude to branding is this: first catch your cow. Meaning, you need to have something to brand. A brand is a label on something. The label may be real, or metaphorical.
Let’s say you want to write a series. It doesn’t matter whether the series is fiction, or nonfiction. It’s a good idea to brand (label) your series in some way.
Big publishers do this automatically for an author when they contract him to publish books in a series. They give the series a title, and make sure that the books’ covers are similar. The hope is that each book in the series will sell the others.
Check out Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher series, for example. Each book’s cover has the same typefaces as the others in the series, each cover is laid out similarly, and each cover also usually has a silhouette of a lonely figure (Jack Reacher is a “loner”, get it? ;-)) in a lonely scene.
Have something to brand
So, if you’re self-publishing a series, buy a couple of covers at a time, and tell the designer that it’s a new series. Ask which typefaces the designer chose, in case that designer stops taking clients when you want to buy more covers. Whether you write three books or 30 in the series, each book should have a similar look.
If you haven’t got a series, write your series first. Or at least the first book. Until you have something to brand, you can’t brand anything.
The same thing applies if you want to brand yourself as an author, or a writer. Write stuff first, you’ll create your own brand over time. Paying too much attention to your brand can be dangerous. One author I know decided that she’d brand herself, and spent up big on getting her website to look like her series. All well and good. Then she decided that she was sick of the series, and wanted to write something in a completely different genre.
Authors like Lee Childs and Stephen King are brands, as is Nora Roberts. Their brand grew over time, as they kept writing. Yours will too. 🙂
So there you have it: a simple way of looking at marketing, platforms, and brands. Have fun. 🙂
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