Let’s pretend you’re on a game show, and the host says to you, “Here is the $1 million question: Who is James Patterson’s publisher?”
Want to use a lifeline?
Here’s a clue: It’s one of the big five publishing companies.
Time’s up! Were you able to guess?
The correct answer is Little, Brown, and Company, an imprint of Hachette.
Chances are, you didn’t know the answer because readers don’t care about the publisher’s brand. They care about the author’s brand.
We all know who James Patterson is, but usually only literary agents and industry insiders know the difference between Hachette and Random House.
That means you, as the author, have to develop either a good brand or a big brand. They’re not the same.
What’s the difference between a good brand and a big brand?
More importantly, how do you develop a brand that is both big and good?
Big Brand = Well-Known or Famous
To have a big brand is to be well-known or famous. You recognize names like J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, Jerry Jenkins, and Brandon Sanderson.
Typically, fame is an indication of past success. J.K. Rowling has fame because of her previous books. Simon Sinek is famous for his success in business. Bill Clinton’s fame as a former president helped him become a New York Times bestselling novelist. Daniel Kahneman was famous in academia before he became a Nobel Prize winner, and that led to his New York Times bestselling success. Sometimes fame comes from having famous ancestors, as in the case of Prince Harry, who is famous because he was born into the royal family.
Small Brand = Unknown or Obscure
By contrast, having a small brand means you are unknown. Most authors fit in this category since few people know them outside of their circle of friends and family.
Nearly everyone starts with a small brand. Having famous ancestors or a big brand is not all it’s cracked up to be and doesn’t necessarily make your life or publishing career easier.
Much can be said for practicing in obscurity.
How do you make your brand bigger?
Assuming you don’t have famous parents, how do you develop a big brand?
There are many ways to become more well-known or famous.
When groups of people talk about your books, their conversations will create buzz about your writing. On the other hand, if your last book came out three years ago, people may have forgotten who you are.
Have Strong Book Launches
Having a strong book launch is a great way to build your brand. Every effective book launch builds your brand and leads to even more successful launches.
Launching a book is probably the most common technique used by authors to build their brands. They write a great book and launch it well. Then they stop marketing it after about two months and write the next one. Then they launch that one.
Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Spend A LOT of Money on Advertising
You could spend a lot of money on advertising by putting your name, face, and book cover in front of a lot of strangers.
Spend A LOT of Money on In-Store Placement
The slots in a bookstore are for sale. You can pay to get your book shelved in the bookstore, and you can even buy premium placement at the front of the store or on an end cap. It’s pricey, but it can be purchased. Some bookstores even accept payment from independently published authors.
If you put yourself in the middle of a firestorm, you’ll get lots of delicious attention.
Attach Yourself to Breaking News or Events
If news is happening around you, you can put yourself in the middle of that story or seek it out. Some people really have a nose for this technique. They can make every news story relate somehow to them or their brands.
Do Lots of Media Interviews
Another good way to become well-known is to do a lot of media interviews. I recommend starting by pitching podcasts because they’re the most accessible. You don’t need to hire a PR firm or fly around the country for interviews.
But podcasts are also the largest media format. While it’s logistically easier to be interviewed on a podcast, the biggest podcasts are bigger than the biggest television programs. Being interviewed on Joe Rogan’s podcast will impact your sales more than appearing on Good Morning America. The authors Joe Rogan interviews typically make it to the Top 100 sales ranking list.
Good Morning America is very hit-and-miss for authors. Sometimes authors see no increase in sales after their GMA interview. TV is vapid. It’s here today and gone tomorrow. People forget about an author’s TV interview.
Podcasts, on the other hand, are recorded. Listeners can rewind the podcast if they miss something, and they tend to pay more attention while listening to podcasts.
Even so, any kind of media, whether it’s TV, radio, or podcasts, will help you become more well-known.
Write a Book that Gets People Talking
When people talk to their friends about your book, your fame will grow. The more famous you are, the “better” your book will be.
If that doesn’t sound right, consider this: Reading a book your friends are reading is more fun that reading an obscure book you can’t discuss with anyone.
A book seems “better” because of what’s known as the network effect. Since your network of friends is reading it, you all have something in common to discuss at your next get-together.
Create a Good Brand
Well-known authors sell more books. That’s why you’ll hear people say, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Any kind of publicity grows your brand, but it doesn’t necessarily make your brand better.
Another way to evaluate your fame is to see whether a boycott against your books decreases or increases your sales.
Every time people boycott J.K. Rowling or she’s in the news for political reasons, sales of her Harry Potter books increase. In the nineties, conservatives boycotted her books, and her sales increased. Today, progressives are boycotting her books because of her political viewpoints, and her book sales continue to increase.
People were getting canceled for playing the Harry Potter game online, yet it is currently the bestselling video game of 2023. The boycott did not work.
Why are the boycotts ineffective?
Because J.K. Rowling is true to her brand. Part of her brand is that she is a radical feminist. Conservatives in the nineties didn’t like that neither do progressives today. Being criticized as a radical feminist only enforces her brand promise. It increases her fidelity to her brand. As a result, that kind of criticism doesn’t undermine her sales.
Remember that brand is just a modern word for “reputation.” You can be well-known or obscure, but that is not the same as having a good reputation.
Good brand = good reputation = well-liked by your readers.
Bad brand = bad reputation = not liked by your readers.
The most important factor is what your readers think about your brand. Some people strongly dislike J.K. Rowling. In their view, she has a “bad brand.” In fact, every time I bring her up, I get angry emails because some people are offended when I portray her in positive light. But they are not her readers.
What ruins a brand?
Breaking your promises.
An example in recent news comes from Bud Light. Bud Light’s promise to its customer base was that it was “the every man’s beer.” It was the brand of sports, inappropriate dad jokes, and America. Their brand was somewhat generic, and most people didn’t have a strong opinion about it.
People are drinking the brand.
But then Bud Light recently tried to reposition themselves, as Arnold Schwartzenegger might say, as a “girly man’s” beer. They broke their promise of being an “every man’s beer” and became the “girly man’s beer.”
The collapse of Bud Light’s sales is more a result of breaking their brand promise to their target consumer than it is a result of a political boycott, regardless of what the pundits tell you.
Bud Light drinkers are working real jobs outdoors and don’t consume a lot of media during the day. Something like 40% of all people don’t vote for president and 80% don’t vote in their local races. Most people don’t care about politics, and they don’t want a beer that makes a political statement one way or the other.
How do you create a good brand?
If your people think your brand is good, then you have a good brand.
Choose Your Timothy
I recently surveyed our listeners, and the topic people wanted to hear more about was branding. Picking a Timothy is an act of branding. In fact, it’s the core element of making your brand a “good” brand.
Your reader determines whose rules you need to follow, so you must know who your target reader (your Timothy) is.
If you write erotica and the cozy romance readers boycott your book, the boycott won’t impact your sales because cozy romance readers weren’t buying your book in the first place. Their boycott might even help your sales because erotica readers want that kind of spicy erotica that has cozy readers up in arms.
You can’t write a romance that both appeals audiences because they want different things from a book.
When you choose a genre, you are choosing a target reader. As you write books for that reader, those books make a promise that your next books will be like your previous books. That’s why jumping between genres makes readers angry. They feel like you have broken your brand promise.
Beginning authors often want to write what’s “on their heart” as a hobbyist, and that’s fine. But as you transition to being a professional, you often get shoehorned into writing what resonates best with your readers.
Traditional publishing companies pressure their authors to keep writing what sells. You can make minor tweaks and move to adjacent genres on occasion, but you’ll have to keep producing a certain number of books that pay the publishers bills for editing, printing, and shipping.
Publishers need your books to continue to be successful, which means they need you to be true to your brand and thrill your Timothy.
Develop Your Craft So You Can Write Timothy’s Favorite Book.
You’ll know you’ve accomplished that goal when your Timothy says, “Finally! Thank you so much. I love this book! It’s my favorite!”
After you write that first favorite book, write his next favorite book, and just keep writing. If you do, Timothy won’t be able to shut up about you and your brand.
Pick a narrow genre. Stay with the genre. Thrill Timothy. Focus on making each launch bigger than the last. If you don, you’ll discover that by making your brand good, you will also make your brand big.
The more you thrill your target reader, the more word-of-mouth marketing will spread. It’s a virtuous cycle.
We might paraphrase the Matthew principle by saying, “To him who has readers more readers will be given. To him who does not have readers, even the readers he thinks he has will get tired and move to a different author.”
That’s why there’s such a disparity between successful authors making millions of dollars and authors making dozens of dollars. Most authors don’t have the discipline to either develop their craft enough to write Timothy’s favorite book or to be focused enough to keep writing that kind of book.
Authors often get bored of their genre and want to write something new.
Brand Quality Matrix
It’s rare for an author to be in bottom left quadrant of “Obscure and Disliked” because people can only dislike you if they know you exist. Most authors will fall into the other categories.
Knowing where you fall and what you need to work on will help you focus on the right aspects of branding. Determining whether you need to work on getting bigger or better will help you prioritize your marketing and platform building efforts. And as you focus your efforts in the right areas, your brand will grow and get better, and ultimately, you’ll sell more books.
Want help making your brand bigger? My course Obscure No More includes an entire module on branding. In the course, you’ll learn how to
- Develop a brand that fits you and resonates with readers.
- so you can focus on your writing.
- readers will want to text to their friends and family.
- that ranks high on Google.
- that builds a connection with your readers.
- of radio, TV, and podcasts.
- that plays to your strengths and audience.
- Build an email list of subscribers who are ready to buy your book.
June is Patrons Appreciation Month!
Everyone who becomes a patron in June 2023 gets my course called Publishing A to Z. It walks you through the pros and cons of traditional and indie publishing.
You will learn:
- The pros and cons of traditional publishing
- The pros and cons of independent (self) publishing.
- How to publish your book independently
- How to get traditionally published
- How to get a literary agent
- And so much more!
Publishing A to Z is normally $299, but it’s free for patrons this month. You can become a patron for as little as $4.00 per month. You could cancel at the end of Patron Appreciation Month, and you’d still get to keep the course, but I hope you’ll stick around.
You’ll be more motivated to listen to the episodes and to put the information into practice when you start paying for it. Where your money is, your heart will be also.
Become a Novel Marketing Patron here.
Did you like this new format?
Our listener survey responses revealed that many people want shorter episodes. In this episode, I provided fewer details and examples. Please let me know what you think in the comments of this post on AuthorMedia.social.
Would you like shorter episodes in the future?