Visual Branding for Small Businesses and Authors

Visual Branding Pic

  • When you see a large brown delivery truck, does UPS come to mind?
  • Do you recognize the Mercedes symbol when you see it?
  • Which brands of shoes can you identify when you see people wearing them, even when the brand name and logo aren’t visible?
  • Have you ever been on a road trip hoping to see a pair of golden arches in the shape of an M?

These are businesses that have succeeded in visual branding.

And even though these are huge companies, they didn’t achieve their visual branding through advertisements. Sure, you’ve seen their commercials. But the commercials aren’t the reason that your mind has been stamped with these visual brands:

  • There are thousands of UPS delivery trucks. They are all the same color, and it’s a unique color so it stands out from all of the other trucks making deliveries every day.
  • Every time you drive, you see other cars. Even if you just go for a walk outside, you see them. This is why you recognize many car brands by their logos.
  • If you’re really into shoes, you can distinguish between different brands that have similar styles, even if the brand names and logos are removed. You have partly been branded by your own interest in them, and by each manufacturer adopting a sense of style that defines their brand.
  • If you drive through the US, you see those yellow M’s all over the place. It’s simple and you see them frequently.

The point is that smaller businesses and artists, including writers, can also achieve similar visual branding. And they can do it without advertising.

For small businesses who may be able to afford advertising, following are a few examples of visual branding that you may be familiar with:

  • Do you recognize any insurance or real estate agents whom you’ve never met? It may be because you’ve repeatedly seen their faces on billboards or in brochures.
  • Have you ever seen a car fully decorated to match the theme of the business? A dog grooming service might have a car that looks very much like a dog, or a flower delivery truck might have flowers painted all over its surface. Such vehicles grab your attention and clearly reveal the nature of their business.
  • Can you think of any local businesses where the employees wear very distinctive uniforms?
  • Would you recognize the logos from any local businesses?

Here are a few examples of visual branding among books:

  • Can you tell that a book is part of the Dummies series when you catch a glimpse from a distance?
  • Do you recognize Waldo from the Where’s Waldo? books?
  • Would you know if a book is part of the Dr. Seuss collection if the title and author were covered up? The cat is distinctive.

Visual branding occurs even in the world of self-publishing:

  • If you’re not already familiar with them, check out Aaron Shepard’s books. He features a similar drawing of himself on every cover. Not everyone is fond of holding a book with that image, but it works: You see that picture and immediately recognize it as one of his books. He may not have been famous when he did that with his first book, but this consistent branding and unique style have helped create fame.
  • Search for Fifty Shades of Gray at Amazon and look at the covers. The style is distinctive and it’s carried over into other books in the series.

Whether you have a small business or you’re an artist or writer, here are the keys to visual branding:

  • Frequency. You need people to see your visual brand repeatedly. Not several times per day, but here and there over weeks and months; you want the message to be pleasing and the frequency not to be annoying (or your image will be branded the wrong way). Marketing isn’t just about what you say; it’s also very much about what you show. If people forget what you said or wrote, they might remember what they saw.
  • Consistency. Show the same image consistently; don’t show different images in each marketing effort. Choose your visual brand wisely from the beginning and stick with it. Select one image that you want people to remember.
  • Distinctive. If brown delivery trucks were common, would you associate this color with UPS? If every author had their picture on their cover, would you recognize Aaron Shepard?
  • Unity. Sending a unified message may be more important than being distinctive when it comes to visual branding memory. When the image relates to the nature of the business, this makes it easier to remember. A car decorated to look like a dog helps people remember if the business relates to dogs. Those golden arches that make the M are French fries, fitting for a restaurant.
  • Appealing. The image should attract the target audience. It needs to look good, else the audience thinks, “Ugh,” every time it is seen.
  • Deliver. The product or service needs some feature that stands out to associate with the visual branding. It might be luxury, or it could be cheap. It could be fast, or it could be quality. Visual branding is enhanced when the brand has some aspect that makes it worth remembering.

Authors have a choice of what image to brand. How do you want to be remembered? What will be distinctive for you? Pick one image and have it visible in all of your marketing efforts. Potential customers may see your image on your book covers, social media banners, online profiles, author pages, author blogs and websites, business cards, bookmarks, etc. The more your target audience sees the same image, the better. Here is what can be branded visually:

  • A logo for a publishing imprint.
  • A style consistent throughout a series.
  • A protagonist (like James Bond) or a children’s character (like Winnie the Pooh).
  • An author’s photo.
  • A distinctive visual feature common to all of the author’s books. It could be a distinctive font that the author developed that really stands out and grabs attention. It could be a unique way of arranging objects on the cover. It could be a design layout used on every color. It could be a particular image.
  • Even a blog can be branded visually by having a consistent style for the main image used with each post. Do you ever see posts in your reader and immediately recognize the blogger from the image? Those bloggers have succeeded in creating visual brands for their blogs.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Blogging Style

Checking out one another’s blogs, we see that we have unique blogging styles. Some bloggers have a very clear blogging brand. Do you recognize some bloggers just from a glimpse of the heading and picture, without having to check out the photo or name to see who posted it? These bloggers have already established a recurring theme, such that all of their posts look similar.

Have you ever visited a blog where a quick inspection of the homepage tells you precisely what the blogger does besides blogging? Sometimes, it’s obvious that a blogger has a hobby of photographing landscapes or that the blogger loves to write children’s books, yet there is no advertisement. These bloggers have developed themes that clearly match their passions.

Are there any bloggers where you know in advance what to expect from their posts? Maybe they always post poems, quotes, jokes, or essays. These bloggers have achieved a brand through consistency.

Do you know any bloggers who show variety in their posts and often surprise you? Their creativity might arouse your curiosity.

With every award nomination, bloggers post a list of other blogs that they like. I would like to thank those of you who have nominated my humble blog. Awards might not be my thing, but I was thinking, I can still share some blogs that I like. It shouldn’t take an award to get us to acknowledge some other blogs and what we like about them, right?

There are many blogs that I like, and thousands of good ones that I have yet to discover. Please allow me to highlight a few that exemplify a variety of blogging styles (since that is that theme of this post), and please don’t be offended if I didn’t mention your blog. Chances are that I really like your blog, too, even if it’s not on this list (and if I’m a follower or occasionally like your posts, that is, in fact, the case – because I only like and follow when I truly like the blog).

There are also a few blogs that look very nice, but which I don’t choose to like or follow because they primarily involve a topic, sometimes controversial or adult-oriented, which I generally don’t read. It’s not because I dislike these blogs, they just don’t happen to coincide with my interests. I hope you understand. I always check out the blog of anyone who checks out my blog.

Again, this is not a contest where I’m ranking my favorite blogs. I picked a few blogs that happen to represent varied styles. If your blog isn’t on this list, it’s not because I don’t enjoy it very much and it’s not because it’s not among my favorites.

(1) I recently discovered Ashley Bollinger’s blog. Check out the consistency in the style of headings that she uses on her homepage. One of her recent posts includes tips for better blogging.

(2) Robert’s blog consistently features some cool geometric objects.

(3) There are several poetry blogs that I follow where the artwork and poetry are both amazing (in my humble opinion). For example, look for one of the poems posted on Keli’s blog to see powerful emotions correlated between the image and the poem.

(4) Julie Farrell has a very positive blog. The internet and world can certainly benefit from more people spreading positivity like this.

(5) Nhan-Fiction often posts little motivational statements that can help provide some needed inspiration.

(6) Natalia Marks features nice photography. She often has a picture of the day.

(7) Mandy Eve Barnett usually starts out with a definition, which gives her style a little signature.

There are many other blogs that I regularly enjoy, too. Remember, my goal was to show some variety, not to list all of my favorites.

The Secret to Success: Marketing


Whether we like it or not, almost everything comes down to marketing:

  • Resumes and cover letters, interviews, and references distinguish qualified candidates through marketing. Very rarely does a business actually give an interviewee a challenging test to assess mastery of desired skills. Who you know, how you look on paper, what others say about you, and how you handle yourself in person are highly important (provided that you meet the qualifications).
  • What you know doesn’t matter unless you succeed in marketing yourself as knowledgeable. You must have the knowledge to establish this as a long-term perception, but just having the knowledge by itself isn’t enough. The same is true for your skills set and your ability.
  • If you have a degree, experience, or training, you’re just one of many other candidates with a similar background. People like to work with someone they know personally or who has good recommendations, and they like to hire applicants who market themselves the right way.
  • Even diligence, motivation, and passion are marketable. Some people, for example, manage to seem busier than they really are.
  • People brand you by the style of clothing you choose to wear, the cut of your hair, the way you speak, how you smell, and how you accessorize. Everything you say, do, and wear can and will be used to establish your brand.
  • Those who excel at marketing a positive image about their talents, character, diligence, motivation, passion, and performance have a distinct advantage in life, whether they are selling products, offering services, applying for a job, going out on a date, looking for friends, bonding with family, and anything else in life.

You can argue that it shouldn’t be this way. But if you’re not going to change the way things are, then you’re just a philosopher.

You can pretend it isn’t this way. Surely, there are some exceptions to the rule, but you can’t completely avoid it.

Or you can accept what is and make the best of it. You don’t have to sell out to thrive, but you should understand the rules of the game and decide where you want to fit.

And you can understand why marketing is so important. For example, if you’re truly passionate about a job, wouldn’t you market yourself with the best possible resume and cover letter? Wouldn’t you take the time to research what employers expect? Wouldn’t you learn some tips for good interview techniques? Wouldn’t you have put the time and effort into mastering your trade and impressing people on the way?

Whether you’re applying to school, applying for a job, selling a product, selling a service, and most other things in life – personal or business – having the passion and motivation to learn how to market yourself and diligently work to do this effectively helps you stand out.

What you’re trying to market needs to be good in order to achieve long-term success, but how you go about marketing it can make a huge difference in perception and results.

Self-promotion doesn’t tend to be effective (but self-demotion may be). If you just walk around saying, “I’m the best there is,” it’s not going to work. Discovery is a better method. Let people find out, in natural ways (including conversations), things that distinguish you. Showing them (naturally) is better than telling them, and interacting in person is more effective than not.

Help to market others whom you know personally to be worthy of it (but don’t market people in ways that they don’t deserve – as this can harm your own reputation).

What people think about you, who you know, how you handle yourself, appearance, possessions, who you choose to interact with, what you do, how you react to adversity, and even the way you prepare things play important roles in branding your image (personal and business). Ideally, you want to emphasize your strengths and show improvement in your weaknesses (which also takes work on your part, not just marketing).

How would you like to be known (or not known)? Think about the things you do (not just your actions, and not just at work) and how they may affect this perception.

  • Jean is such a passionate artist. You should see the expression on his face when he’s painting.
  • Anne is incredibly well organized. She knows where everything is.
  • If it’s broken, send it to Bob.
  • Jennifer has been working on this presentation day and night for the past month.
  • Ted has an amazing way with words. He can articulate anything very precisely.

Beware of possible marketing mistakes than can have long-lasting effects. You don’t want to be branded in negative ways. You don’t want to be known for complaining, cheating, arrogance, being a jerk, whining, being too dependent, arguing, self-promotion, etc. One lousy action or statement can undo months of positive marketing.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 on book marketing is now available)

Branding Distinction for Authors

What distinguishes your book from others? What makes it special? How is it unique?

You don’t just want people in your target audience to see your name and the name of your book repeatedly. You want people in your target audience to associate something with the kinds of books that you write.

Knowing the author’s name or the book’s title provides recognition when they see it. You don’t just want people to buy your book when they recognize it. You want people to search for your book.

If you brand a distinction for your writing, people in your target audience may search for your book when they’re next in the market for a book of that kind. This is better than recognition.

When people in your target audience discover your name or the title of your book while they interact with you, you’re branding your name or your book’s title. It may be more effective to brand a signature that distinguishes your writing. Give your target audience a compelling reason to search for your book.

First, you must identify your target audience. Secondly, you must market your brand effectively – e.g. through discovery or by providing valuable content (whereas self-promotion and being too frequently visible may get you tuned out).

Interact with people in your target audience and let them discover that you’re a writer and what makes your work special. The more you write or say, the less people will remember. You want the emphasis on a concise phrase (just a few words, nowhere near an entire sentence) that brands your specialty and something to go along with it – your name, your book’s title, or the name of a series, especially if it’s very short – so that they can easily find it when they’re ready to search for it.

Here are some examples of how to brand distinction:

  • Your Name, writer of clean romance
  • Series Title, featuring Brooklyn’s modern day Sherlock Holmes
  • Book Title, a dancing guide for people with two left feet
  • Author’s Name, specializing in vampire erotica
  • Workbook Series, math for children with ADHD
  • Name of Book, sick of implausibly perfect characters?

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2, on editing/marketing, is now available)

Inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock

Last night, I watched the recent movie, Hitchcock. Don’t worry: I won’t spoil the plot for you.

In this movie, I saw many parallels with the art and business of self-publishing:

  • The name Alfred Hitchcock was very well branded. The movie, while it may have a little more Hollywood style and a little less reality, provided some insight into his character as a movie maker. You can guess how his distinctive personality and specific talents helped with his branding.
  • The silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock was also very well branded. It wasn’t just a logo. Remember how he used to walk into the position where the silhouette would form? This technique really helped brand his image.
  • The movie revealed a few marketing tactics. He was not only renowned for creating suspense, but he was even effective at utilizing suspense in his marketing tactics.
  • At a stage where he may have been expected to retire, he dared to take a new direction with his filmmaking. He didn’t have the backing of the film industry (i.e. the big money) – at least, not to exercise his creativity and pursue this new direction his own way. So he was very much like an indie filmmaker. Of course, he had financial resources of his own, but he took a huge risk.
  • He abandoned the rules of what works and pursued his own ideals. Authors have long had traditional publishers telling us what works, not wishing to deviate more than about 10% from this established path. We now have the opportunity to pursue something different on our own. There is a great risk, as very often these new paths don’t succeed. But the door is now open.
  • Back in his day, censorship was fairly heavy. We have a great deal of freedom to write as we please these days, but a few authors still push the boundaries further. There will always be critics and lawmakers strongly involved in this.
  • Hitchcock didn’t just film a movie. You could get a sense for how much editing and formatting was involved afterward, and how important this was for the movie’s success. Similarly, there is much more to selling books than just writing them. The importance of editing and formatting cannot be overlooked.
  • In making a movie, there is a large production team involved with many people working on different tasks. These days, there are many indie authors trying to do the writing, editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, and public relations all on their own. At least, collaborating with others to share skills or ideas would help a little with teamwork.
  • It wasn’t just the movie idea that led to its success. You could see how the marketing ingenuity and seemingly little things like sound effects could play a very significant role. People skills and developing contacts are important, too. The same is true with publishing books.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 now available)

Stages of Branding

A brand is a name that people in the target audience recognize. It’s not necessarily the name of the product, like Levi’s. Names of people can be branded, too, like Michael Jackson. Even an image can be branded, such as a logo or cover art.

Sometimes, branding the person’s name is more effective than branding the name of the product. This is especially true for singers, writers, and artists of all kinds. For example, it’s much easier to remember Stephen King than it is to remember the titles of all of his books.

Branding occurs when members of the target audience see or hear the name of the product or person or see the image repeatedly over a period of time.

Companies that have money to invest and products or services for which there is a wide target audience may achieve this, in part, through advertisements on television, radio, magazines, billboards, websites, etc.

Advertisements aren’t always effective for all products. For example, a book at first seems to have a wide possible audience because millions of people read. However, there are twenty million books to choose from; even in a specific genre, there are thousands of competitors. Compare this to toilet paper: There are a dozen or so brands of toilet paper in a store, not millions to choose from. Compared to artistic works like books, products like toilet paper have a much large target audience and much less competition.

Fortunately, advertising isn’t the only way to brand a name or image. There are many ways to market a name, product, or image through branding. The goal is to have the name, product, or image seen or heard among the target audience.

For artistic goods and services, such as books, cd’s, editing, and cover art design, getting discovered or providing valuable content is often far more effective than self-promotion. The idea of self-promotion is like shouting, “Here I am! Look at me!” Discovery is about getting noticed through personal interaction. For example, a potential customer may discover that a person is a singer or real estate agent when asking, “What do you do for a living?” The self-promotion equivalent is walking into a room and saying, “I just released a new album.” For online interactions, discovery can occur by posting information in an online profile, whereas self-promotion posts this information clearly out in the open.

How the information is conveyed is also important. It should relate to the target audience and make it clear what the product or service is. It should convey this in a way that the target audience will respond positively. Generally, it should generate interest, convey passion, and sound confident, but should not seem boastful.

Providing valuable content geared toward the target audience, especially for free, is another way to get discovered. Sending a press release package to local media can help with this, too. Creating buzz for a newly released product is another common tactic.

Another way for branding to occur is through reviews, such as in magazines or on websites, and word-of-mouth recommendations. Companies sometimes give away free samples or accessories, hold contests, or mail out advance review copies with the hope that some customers who appreciate the product or service will tell their friends and family members.

These are some ways that a product, name, or image can become branded. Branding occurs in various stages. It can take several months for branding efforts to achieve a full effect. First, people in the target audience must be exposed to the branding efforts. This must occur not just once, but on multiple occasions (but not so frequently that it gets tuned out) over an extended period of time. Once they buy the product or service, it may be a while before it is used, and used enough for them to judge the quality. If they are pleased with it, it takes even more time to recommend it to others.

Branding isn’t about achieving instant sales. It’s about the potential for long-term success. Branding requires patience.

Stage 1: Recognition

When people in the target audience see the name or image, they recognize it. People tend to favor products that they have heard of before.

Stage 2: Awareness

People think of the name of the brand when they consider shopping for that product or service. At this stage, people search for the product or service, rather than simply recognizing it in a store or directory.

Stage 3: Backing

People have heard good things about a product or service. This may have come from a recommendation or a review, for example. At this stage, the prospective customer feels some measure of confidence about the purchase decision.

Stage 4: Association

Potential customers associate the brand with a favorable attribute. For example, Wal-Mart is regarded for low prices and Sony is regarded for high quality. At this stage, customers have a particular expectation for a product or service. In some cases, such as high quality, customers may be willing to pay extra for this distinction.

Stage 5: Experience

Customers have used the product or service and they enjoyed it. At this stage, they are likely to invest in the same brand in the future.

Stage 6: Charm

A personal interaction with an artist, agent, or representative, for example, made the customer feel special. The personal touch can go a long way beyond just the product or service.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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Cost-Benefit Analysis for Marketing Books

When trying to decide if a book marketing strategy is worth doing, consider this in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. What you hope to determine is whether the costs are worth the prospective benefits.

Even if the marketing technique is free, it still costs time. Time is money. You don’t want to spend several hours per week doing marketing work that yields very little in return. So you must factor both money and time into the costs.

Benefits very often aren’t measured in immediate sales. Marketing that helps new members of your target audience discover your book or which improves or furthers your branding efforts has value, too. Some sales from continued branding efforts may not come for months.

There are also other possible costs (besides money and time) and benefits (besides sales, discovery, and branding).

For example, a marketing strategy that places books into the hands of people outside of your target audience might be more likely to draw negative reviews, since these readers may not really appreciate and understand the genre. Similarly, giving your book away for free might draw a negative review from a customer who didn’t take time to read the description and therefore didn’t get what was expected. A few negative reviews help to provide balance and sometimes have a positive effect on sales, but too many negative reviews can deter sales.

On the other hand, some marketing strategies may be likely to result in positive reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. The more customers who read your book and like it, the more good reviews and word-of-mouth sales you may receive. When the readers are in your target audience or are bloggers who frequently review books in your genre on their blogs, for example, this improves these prospects.

Another thing to factor into cost-benefit analysis is the quality of the product and packaging. The packaging includes the title, blurb, Look Inside, and customer reviews. The better the packaging looks, the more this will help to magnify the benefits of effective marketing; the worse the packaging looks, the fewer benefits any marketing will reap. Similarly, a better book is more likely to receive good reviews and recommendations, while a poor book that receives many low-star reviews will inhibit sales.

Even a seemingly small thing like the title can impact this. A title that’s short and easy to remember is more likely to earn word-of-mouth sales. Just imagine this: “Oh, that reminds me of a great book that I read once. Oh, too bad I can’t remember the title of it.”

Realize that some marketing strategies may be reaching the same members of your target audience. Very often this is okay because it takes repetition for branding to become effective, but it’s still something to consider.

When you’re thinking about costs, you should be thinking:

  • How much money will you need to spend on this marketing strategy?
  • How much time will you need to spend doing this marketing?
    • What impact will this have on your author image? Anything you might do to brand yourself with a negative image can be a hefty cost.
    • Might this cause people to buy the book without realizing what they’re getting? For a free book promotion, for example, this could be the case. If so, these customers are more likely to express frustration if the book doesn’t meet their (sometimes unreasonable) expectations.
    • Is there any reason for customers to feel that the book is unprofessional? Poor editing, formatting, or storyline, for example, may result in bad reviews.

For benefits, you can’t calculate how many sales you will derive. Many of the sales may not be realized for several months. Instead, you should be thinking:

  • How many new members of my target audience will this reach? Don’t waste your time with marketing efforts that aren’t geared toward your target audience.
  • Will the interaction be personal or impersonal? Will it be engaging, or momentary? Personal, engaging interactions make a much stronger, lasting impression. Impersonal and momentary interactions are only worthwhile in very large numbers.
  • Does this come across as self-promotion, advertising, or salesmanship, or does this work like discovery and branding? Most people have an aversion to the former, but respond well to the latter.
  • Is this likely to generate thoughtful reviews from members of your target audience or bloggers in your genre?
  • Are you putting the book in the hands of highly social people in your target audience who may, if they like the book, spread the word in person or on Facebook or Twitter?
  • How strongly do you believe in your book? The better your book is cover to cover, the more it enhances these benefits through possible reviews and recommendations.
  • Have you written a series where the book is good enough to induce purchases in subsequent volumes? If so, prospective sales of the later volumes can significantly enhance the benefits.

Example 1. Should you invest in professional cover design?

Costs: How much will you pay for the service? Divide the financial cost by the per-book royalty to see how many copies you must sell just to break even. How much time will you invest looking for a designer and then interacting with the designer throughout the process?

Benefits: How much will the cover improve over what you could do yourself? Will you sell most of your books in person or at Amazon? Your cover is far more important at Amazon. Will the cover attract your target audience? How well will the cover stand out among other thumbnails in your genre? Are the blurb and Look Inside effective enough to seal the deal? Will the book live up to the expectations? Is there a large market for your book idea? You can search for other books similar to yours and see how well they are selling.

Example 2. Should you invest in bookmarks?

Costs: How much will you pay for the bookmarks? How much time will you invest looking for a company to make them, developing a design, and distributing them?

Benefits: Will they be appealing enough for people to use them? If they look like advertisements, no; if they only mention your title and name, but mostly have appealing images, yes. Will they be distributed primarily among new members of your target audience? Seeking feedback on the bookmark design may be helpful.

Example 3. Should you give your book away for free?

Costs: Every book that you give away is a royalty that you won’t earn. If you give away paperbacks, it also costs you money to print the books.

Benefits: Are most of the recipients in your target audience? What are your prospects for word-of-mouth sales? Do you have other books that may interest the customers if they enjoy your book? Giving away the first book of a series may help to sell subsequent books in the series, provided that the first book is very good.

Example 4. Should you write an article that relates to the content of your book?

Costs: How much time will it take to research magazines, newspapers, and websites that are a good fit for your target audience? How long will it take to write the article? How much time will you spend on submissions? What are the prospects for having your article accepted? If you have relevant expertise and experience with the subject matter, this greatly improves your chances. Also, there are very many websites online. Finally, in the worst-case scenario, you can always post the article on your own blog or other website.

Benefits: What is the circulation of the magazine or newspaper, or the frequency of site views of the website? What percentage of this audience is a good fit for your book? Will your name and the title of your book be visible at the bottom of your article? This helps with discovery and branding.

* * *

For each marketing strategy that you consider, make two lists – one for costs and another for benefits. Is this geared mainly toward your target audience? That should be one of your main questions. Remember that discovery and branding among your target audience are very helpful long-term benefits. Another main question is: Will this seem more like advertising or discovery? A marketing strategy is worth adopting when benefits outweigh the costs (and not just slightly).

Let me mention one more important benefit. For many authors, this may outweigh many of the other benefits. It’s not just about sales, is it? Many of us write for other reasons besides money. Even if we didn’t write for money, we still appreciate those royalty checks. (You might ask, if you’re not in it for the money, why not give it away for free? Maybe we want our work to be valued. If we give it away for free, many people who may have read our books might feel that if it’s free, it isn’t worth reading.)

If money isn’t your only motivation, there are some other benefits to consider. There is the benefit of sharing your work with others, telling your story, having your work appreciated, spreading knowledge, etc. But if you think about it, these really amount to the same thing as sales: The more books you sell, the more your work is shared with others, the more knowledge you spread, etc.

What I had in mind is a benefit that doesn’t correlate with sales. That’s the benefit of the marketing endeavor itself. For example, blogging is something that all writers should do even if a cost-benefit analysis says that it’s not worth doing. As writers, blogging is a useful creative outlet. We can explore new techniques, try a different voice, develop a new character, receive feedback, reduce stress by getting stuff off our chests (but beware that what you say could negatively impact your author branding), etc. There are many positive benefits of blogging that make it worthwhile even if this effort doesn’t result in a single new sale.

Another example is performing community service. If you write a self-help book, you may be able to get discovered by members of your target audience through your involvement in related community service. Even if this doesn’t make sense from a cost-benefit analysis in terms of sales, though, there are many other benefits of community service that may make it worthwhile.

For other marketing strategies, you might also consider if there are valuable benefits other than just sales that may make it outweigh the costs.

Don’t market for the sales. Be passionate about your writing and market to share your passion. Don’t market just to share your passion. Be passionate about the marketing strategy itself – e.g. be passionate about blogging, writing an article, or doing a book reading. When others indirectly see your passion, it has a positive impact on sales (but don’t be boastful, overconfident, or talk about your book too frequently, as these things deter sales).

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Effective Book Marketing – Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can find it here:

(3) Promote your book indirectly through discovery and branding.

Consider these questions for a moment:

  • When you’re walking down the sidewalk, do you like it when someone stops you to give you a sales pitch?
  • Suppose that an acquaintance tells you that you should come to his shop and buy a product first thing every time that you meet him. Would you appreciate this?
  • Do you believe it when somebody tells you that their product is the best ever?
  • If a stranger tells you out of the blue that you should buy a particular product, will you go to the store and purchase it?
  • Don’t you love it when a televised movie breaks to commercials just before the climax?

Most people have an aversion to advertising and salesmanship. You won’t sell many books through self-promotion and direct advertising of an unknown book by an unknown author with an unknown publisher.

Bragging also tends to be ineffective. It’s important to show confidence and passion for your own work, without coming across as boastful.

If you post online just to promote your new book, most people will ignore it. If you frequently advertise your book, most people will tune you out.

Now consider these questions:

  • When you see people wearing outfits that you like, do you ever ask where they bought them?
  • Suppose that you’re having a conversation with an acquaintance. You ask what he does and learn that he’s a singer who has just released a new CD. Would you be interested in buying a song from someone you’ve actually met?
  • If you’re buying a product in the store, do you ever choose one that you’ve heard of over one that you don’t recognize?
  • Do you enjoy seeing an artist’s passion for her work?

When people discover that you’ve written a book (rather than have you thrust this information upon them) they are much more likely to develop interest in it. If people recognize your book, your cover, your author photo, or your name from your indirect branding efforts (not from direct advertising or salesmanship), they are more likely to buy your book. When people see that you are passionate about your book, but not boastful, this tends to increase their interest in it.

The indirect techniques of discovery and branding tend to be far more effective than self-promotion or direct advertising.

Interact with your target audience in such a way that if they enjoy the interaction, they can discover that you’re an author and inquire about your book. Gear your marketing efforts toward increasing your visibility among your target audience in order to brand your book.

Personal interactions tend to be more effective. People like to read books by authors they’ve actually met. Mingle with your target audience. Let them discover that you’re an author, rather than volunteering this information. If you ask what they do for a living, they might ask the same of you, for example.

Of course, there is a limit to how many people you can interact with in person, so you must also interact with your target audience online. If they enjoy their interaction with you, they may check out your online profile and discover that you’ve written a book.

Where relevant, some authors end their posts with Your Name, Author of Your Book (in an online forum, it’s best if you have a very short title – two to three words). Don’t list several books and services at the bottom of your post, since this will look like your post is mostly about advertising and sales.

Branding entails more than just getting your book and name out there. Your image is at stake. Brand your book or your name in a negative way and it can greatly deter sales. You want to come across as professional, confident (but not boastful), trustworthy, credible as an author in your genre, respectful of others, knowledgeable, and as a model for how authors should behave.

Never behave defensively, avoid complaining, don’t say bad things about any customers or reviewers, refrain from asking for reviews, and so on.

(4) Attract a following by providing valuable content.

Blogging about yourself and tweeting about your book, for example, aren’t likely to attract new readers. You can provide more information about yourself on a fan page, but this just entertains a few of your current fans – it doesn’t gain you new readers. A fan page might help you spread the word of subsequent books. But what you really want to do is attract new customers.

What you want to do is provide valuable content that may attract your target audience. Get valuable content where your target audience is likely to see it.

When you blog, provide helpful nonfiction material that relates to your book (without duplicating the content). Blog because you’re passionate about the subject and wish to share it with others (don’t blog because you’re trying to sell books), and your articles are likely to be more valuable. When you tweet, focus on using the limited space to offer useful information to your target audience – often through a link (that doesn’t go to your own book or websites). Use tags and hashtags to help reach your target audience.

No more than 10% of your posts should be about you or your book. If people appreciate the content that you provide, they may check out your profile and discover that you’ve written a book.

Look for other ways to provide valuable content. Meet bloggers who are a good fit for your target audience: They might feature you on a guest interview (or review your book on their blogs), for example (something you can also do for others). Write an article and try to publish it online (the very large number of websites out there gives you reasonable chances of achieving this in a modest traffic zone), where the website is a good fit for your target audience and your knowledge and expertise. At the bottom of your article, you want it to list Your Name, Author of Your Book.

Passing out flyers generally isn’t effective because they just look like advertisements. Passing out bookmarks is much better because bookmarks serve a function – it has value to the recipient, especially if it doesn’t look like an advertisement for your book (it might feature images from your cover and mention no more than the title and author). Especially, distributing appealing bookmarks among your target audience can be helpful.

In every marketing strategy that you consider, think about the following:

  • Is this mainly reaching my target audience?
  • Does this provide valuable content to my target audience?
  • How will this affect my image as an author?
  • Will people view this as advertising or discovery?
  • Is it helping to establish your brand?

Click here to view part 3:

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Karma for Authors Who Self-Publish

In order to be successful, a self-published author must come up with a good book idea, develop a fine story, write well, edit the manuscript, learn how to format both a paperback and an eBook, and become adept at marketing.

That’s a tall order. Why risk all of that hard work with any possible bad karma?

If you don’t believe in karma, then don’t think karma – think branding. The image that you brand as an author can have a significant impact on sales. Don’t risk bad book karma or negative branding – whatever you prefer to call it.

What do you hope for as an author?

  • Many sales.
  • Frequent reviews.
  • Word-of-mouth referrals.
  • A nice review average.
  • Good and fair comments about your work publicly.
  • Necessary criticism privately.

Authors may not all share the exact same wish list, but these items are probably pretty high up on most writers’ lists.

Now assess your book karma:

Part 1 – You as a reader:

  • How often do you read self-published books (that you discovered yourself)?
  • Do you leave good reviews for books (written by complete strangers) that you like?
  • Which books (written by complete strangers) have you referred to friends, family, acquaintances, or colleagues?
  • What have you done that might help an author you don’t know whose book you enjoyed?
  • Have you ever (publicly) said anything bad about any other self-published books?
  • Have you ever (publicly) said anything bad about self-publishing? eBooks? Amazon? Kindle?
  • What do you say when people you know ask you about buying eBooks, whether you like your Kindle, if self-publishing is a good idea, etc.?

Part 2 – You as a writer:

  • Did you take the time to perfect the editing and formatting of your books?
  • How do you react when you receive criticism about your work (privately or publicly)?
  • Do you ever respond negatively to customer reviews?
  • In what ways have you helped other aspiring authors improve their own work?
  • Have you ever abused the customer review system, tags, likes, etc.?
  • How do you behave at online discussion forums and your other online activities?

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming in mid-April)

Artists Who Love Marketing – an Oxymoron?

Whether you paint a picture, write a book, or invent a new product, if you did this with the creative passion of an artist, it’s only logical for you to be highly motivated to market your work. Yet most artists express a loathing for marketing.

Why? One reason is that marketing sounds like business and salesmanship. Artists enjoy creating their art, and authors love to write. But business and sales often doesn’t easily arouse their interest.

Let me take a detour and explain that marketing creative products – like paintings and books – isn’t about business and salesmanship. Then I will return to my main point – i.e. why artists should naturally be motivated to market their work.

Marketing a creative product is more about discovery and branding an image, and less about business and salesmanship. Books, for example, aren’t sold by persuasion like used cars. In fact, no salesman is even present – this is obvious for eBooks, but even in the store there is usually just a cashier. What bookstore will thrive with a pushy salesman looking over customers’ shoulders in the middle of the aisle?

Similarly, self-promotion doesn’t tend to attract much interest. “Hey, I just wrote a book and it’s the greatest thing ever so you should check it out,” isn’t the way to sell books.

Instead, when you personally interact with people – in person or online – and people “discover” that you are an artist, author, or inventor, for example, they often want to learn more. People like to buy products that were made by people they know – how often do you get such a chance? – provided that they discover it rather than having it thrust upon them.

“What do you do for a living?” “What have you done recently?” “How’s your new book coming along?” There are so many ways for people to learn more about you and discover your work. They could even click on your online profile.

The more people you personally interact with, the more your work may get discovered. This also helps to create “buzz” when you release a new product, which helps to earn early sales and reviews.

Marketing a single artist’s creative product involves branding. Advertising to say, “This is the best thing since sliced bread,” isn’t going to help, and demanding, “You should go buy this product now,” is a waste.

Commercials don’t work because the majority of people do as they’re told or listen to whatever the television tells them. They work because of branding. When people are standing in the grocery store, deciding which product to buy, they don’t remember what the television said was better and they’re not there because the television told them to go shopping – more often than not, they simply recognize a product that they’ve heard before. That is, they remember the brand. People tend to buy products they’ve heard of, and for which they like what the brand symbolizes.

Fortunately, a single artist doesn’t need to pay advertising fees to brand an image. Branding can be done for free. Getting your product, name, and image in front of your target audience helps to establish your brand as an artist or author. The more they see this, the more they are likely to recognize your product, then one day when they are buying a similar product, they may buy yours.

One way to get your target audience to see your brand is to post valuable content online. Posting advertisements about your product, posting content about yourself, and posting links to your other sites won’t likely attract much interest. But posting valuable content for your target audience may attract new customers. If they appreciate the content that you offer, they might click on your profile to learn more about you – and, lo and behold, “discover” your work.

Every time they visit one of your sites, they see your name, your photo, and an image of your product. Someday, when they are buying a similar product, if they recognize and buy your product, the branding was successful.

Where persuasion fails, discovery often works. Where overt (and even paid) advertising is ineffective, free branding is a great help. So don’t think of marketing as business and salesmanship. Think of it as interacting with others on a personal level so that your work can be discovered, and branding an image so that you and your work may be recognized.

Now for my main point: Artists should naturally be motivated to interact with others personally so that their work can be discovered, and should naturally be motivated to attract the attention of their target audience so that they can brand their image (for which, posting valuable content online is just one of many examples).

So why should artists naturally be motivated to market their work?

It’s simple, really: If you have passion for your artwork or book, you should also have the passion to share this work with others. And how do you share your work with others? Marketing! Use your passion for your work to motivate yourself to work diligently to share your work with others through marketing.

Furthermore, when others see the passion that you have for your work firsthand, they are more likely to get interested in your work. (But be careful to show passion and sound confident, but not to be boastful or overconfident.)

Would you rather buy a painting that was made by an artist that was passionate about his/her work, or just kind of threw something together because he/she was bored?

If you meet two artists, and one sounds kind of bored talking about his sculpture, while the other is clearly passionate about his/her work, which sculpture will interest you more?

If you’re passionate about your work and you strongly believe in it, then you should also be passionate about sharing your work with others (not just “getting it out there” – art doesn’t tend to sell itself). If you’re not passionate about marketing your own work, it suggests that you weren’t all that into it or that you feel like something may be wrong with it.

You don’t have to be a salesman to sell your artwork or book. You just have to be passionate about sharing it with others. Marketing through discovery and branding is a natural fit for the artist. It’s just a matter of perspective.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers