Indies Supporting Indies

Support 2

There was a great blog article on CreateSpace today by Richard Ridley called “Supporting Indie Authors.” Richard has a great take on this; it’s worth a look.

Indie authors have two images to brand:

  1. Your own branding: author name, title, cover, author photo, series, characters.
  2. The image of indies: a more positive indie image helps all indie authors.

Supporting positive successes of other indie authors helps all indie authors through branding. Spreading news about negative issues hurts it. Blind support isn’t good: If you recommend books with serious problems, it has a negative impact. Focus on the positives and share the news about worthy successes, as this helps indies in general.

There are also two strong local impacts to consider:

  1. Similar titles often feed off one another. When one succeeds, similar books tend to sell better also, through Customers Also Bought lists, for example. However, when a foolish author does the opposite of supporting other indie authors, trashing a competitor’s work (which is against Amazon’s review guidelines), it tends to backfire by dragging down the potential help of similar books (and creates negative branding for authors). Customers don’t usually buy the one book they think is best, but over time buy many similar titles, and Amazon often advertises those similar titles to customers.
  2. Among the authors you interact with frequently, a success among one often helps the other authors in the group. People see the authors who frequently converse together. These authors often have much overlap in their followings.

Support comes in a wide variety of forms. I’m not just thinking about sales, reblogs, and blog reviews, but things like providing helpful feedback and suggestions, sharing knowledge and ideas, offering encouragement at a time of need, word-of-mouth referrals when you happen to interact with another author’s target audience, and posts and comments that foster a positive ambiance in the community.

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

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Your Blog Branding—Is It Working?

If you’re blogging, you’re branding an image and building a following. You might not be marketing a product or service. If not today, maybe someday. Maybe never. And it doesn’t have to be product or service to be marketed. Anyone can market an idea. It doesn’t have to be an idea to sell—it could be a cause to support or an awareness to spread.

My point is that everyone is branding an image, and everyone has something of value to market.

Is it working?

  • I recognize many bloggers just by their Gravatars. That’s a visual brand that you’ve created, which other people recognize.
  • Sometimes, I also remember what your header, photo, or product looks like. Your visual branding efforts have gone a step further.
  • I also recognize many bloggers by name. In this case, your name (or pseudonym or user id) has been branded.
  • For some, I know what to expect in the way of content when I visit your site. You’ve branded more than just your image and name.
  • For others, I know there is something special that I will find at your site. Your branding is distinguished in some way.
  • There are some sites that I really look forward to visiting when I see a new post (and sometimes, when I see you’ve left a comment). You have me hooked.

I’m not in everyone’s target audience, yet I have experienced the branding that occurs here at WordPress.

WordPress is an amazing community:

  • There is much supportive interaction available here.
  • In some ways, it’s better than a magazine, yet it’s FREE and isn’t packed with all those obtrusive advertisements.
  • The ambiance has been, in my experience, very positive.
  • Blogging has many wonderful benefits, like creative expression, trying something out, finding your voice, meeting and interacting with fascinating people, sharing your passion with others, getting your mind off your problems, developing confidence, and so on.
  • You get your very own personal space in the blogging universe, and a lot of freedom with what you choose to do with it.

Consider this:

  • You are branding an image through your blogging.
  • There are many wonderful benefits of blogging.

This gives you a golden opportunity.

If your branding is working here at WordPress, then what you want is more traffic on your blog from your target audience. You want more than a one-time visitor.

Spread the word about the many benefits of blogging to others. This will help increase the blogging traffic (and those people will enjoy the positive benefits of blogging). If they start blogging because of you, chances are they will follow your blog and interact with you here, too.

Include a link to your blog at the back of your book, on your other sites, and on your marketing materials. More than just a link, include a line that might attract visitors to your blog. When you interact with people, mention what a wonderful place your blog is. Market the benefits of blogging. Encourage others to read blogs, even if they don’t want to start their own blogs.

You don’t have to be a writer, artist, businessman, salesman, photographer, or celebrity to enjoy the benefits of blogging. Anyone can do this. Everyone has something that he or she enjoys—like a hobby, special skill, or sport—that he or she can share.

You don’t even have to make your own posts to benefit from blogging. Reading posts right on my Reader is, in some ways, better than a magazine. When I read a magazine, I loathe having to sort through all the advertisements to find and read an article. And the magazine costs money, whereas a blog is free. (Imagine if we tried to publish books that were so loaded with advertisements.)

I must also say that I enjoy several blogs which are amazingly well-written. Very often, the blogs that I read are edited better than books. The words and ideas tend to flow very well, too. Many bloggers also excel at making their blogs visually quite appealing.

And there is good reason for this. It’s easier to edit one post than it is to edit an entire book (even if you post several times per week). If you are marketing something, you want your blog to be impressive.

The WordPress community isn’t just awesome in terms of interaction and support, there is a good deal of wonderful content here, too.

Not all of the content will suit everyone. But the beauty of the Follow button is that you can easily find content that appeals to you in your Reader.

I contend that, for me anyway, WordPress is better than a magazine. Here is yet another reason why. Imagine that you’re sitting in an office, waiting to be called. You could pick up a magazine that many other hands have touched recently. Or you could get out your e-reader, iPhone, tablet, or laptop, and check out posts from your favorite bloggers.

Market the many wonderful benefits of reading blogs and/or starting a blog. Many people may appreciate this once they really get started. Remember, there is much to gain even for people who don’t make their own posts. It might just help you get a little more out of your own branding efforts.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Have you heard about Read Tuesday? It’s a Black Friday type of event, but specifically for books.

Marketing: Is It All Just a Popularity Contest?

If you’re an author, when you first learn about book sales and marketing, there are some ways that it could look like it’s just a popularity contest:

  • The books that show up at the top of search results tend to be books that have been clicked on and bought several times – i.e. popular books seem to have much better visibility.
  • Customers are more likely to buy a book online when its sales rank is a lower number than when it is a higher number. It is as if to say, “If that book isn’t good enough for everyone else, it isn’t good enough for me, either.”
  • Authors with thousands of friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, or followers on their blogs appear to have a big advantage. Celebrities, especially, can use their popularity to sell their stories.
  • Once authors become well-known, their new releases tend to be immediately very popular. Many customers are more reluctant to go with new authors, and tend to inspect their books more fully before making a purchase.
  • Better-selling books generate more exposure through customer-also bought lists, referrals from readers who have already bought them, special placement in bookstores, etc.
  • Establishing good connections helps to improve popularity. These can be connections with book reviewers, members of the media, and so on.
  • Agents and publishers are looking for books that are likely to be popular. Authors who have established popularity have an advantage here.
  • Marketing, branding, and advertising: Ultimately, authors and their books are asking readers to notice them in their efforts to gain popularity among readers.
  • In the blogging and social media world, authors are busy interacting with readers and other authors, making connections, and supporting one another. Many followers are themselves other authors. Do you ever wonder if it’s all just one big popularity pyramid?
  • Does an author with great looks have an advantage in marketing? Do their photos make their covers, author pages, or websites more attractive? Do they make a quicker impression when interacting with their target audience?
  • How about an author with a great personality for social occasions? Does an author who is popular for good conversation have an advantage in interpersonal marketing?
  • People who have a knack for marketing have an inherent advantage in selling books. Does this trump the gifted writer who stinks when it comes to marketing?

Does it remind you of being in high school? Some classmates are in with the popular kids; others are not. The class president is the candidate who was most popular with the student body.

The newbie wonders: If only all of the books would be judged and bought on merit alone… Won’t the best books naturally rise to the top? Why do I need to market my book?

There are tens of million books out there. Who is going to read them all, judge them all, and tell readers which are best? Well, you could have editors and agents read through proposals… or you can look for published book reviews… The screening and judging process has many issues of its own.

Let’s look at the practical side of things:

  • tens of millions of books to choose from
  • hundreds of thousands of gifted writers (plus millions of others who love to write)
  • millions of people with great book ideas (plus millions of others with not-as-great book ideas)

The problem is this: How will the reader discover your book?

Effective marketing revolves around two things:

  • Writing a book that will please a real audience.
  • Helping your audience discover your book and showing your audience that your book is just what they want.

Selling a book isn’t like selling ice-cream. When you go to buy ice-cream, there are only a few brands to choose from. When you go to buy a book, there are millions of competitors. Advertising is cost-effective for ice-cream, but not for books (unless you already have a huge advantage in popularity to begin with, in which case your book may still sell very well without advertising).

You’re also not going to drive through the neighborhood in a book truck, with pictures of books painted on it, and playing music… with the result of everyone running out of their houses with ten-dollar bills in their hands, lining up to buy your books. (But hey, maybe it’s worth a shot: It might just be cute enough for the six o’clock news to cover it.)

The first issue the complete and utter newbie comes across is whether or not people judge a book by its cover. Why, how dare they!

But look at it this way: If the publisher believes in the book, wouldn’t the publisher put an appealing, professional-looking cover on it that attracts the target audience? Doing otherwise is like saying, “Don’t buy me. I’m not worth reading. My publisher didn’t even expect me to sell. Maybe as little thought and effort were put into the book as is reflected in the cover.”

From a practical perspective, shoppers don’t have time to thoroughly check out every book in the genre. They do have time to sort through an array of thumbnails to see which ones look like the kinds of books they read. The most important screening process is the customer’s screening process.

Despite the title of this post, I don’t view it as a mere popularity contest.

For one, you’re not just trying to become popular. It’s your book that you’d like to be popular. Readers may pay money to read your book. It’s ultimately about whether or not they will enjoy your book, not whether they would like to be your friend or take you out on a date.

For another, the writing definitely matters. If you’re the most popular person on the planet, but stink as a writer, that will severely limit your sales. (But in that case, all you really have to do is show wisdom in hiring a ghost writer.)

Look at it this way. You’re not just a writer. Especially, if you self-publish, you may be a writer, editor, cover designer, marketing consultant, publicist, and public relations expert all wrapped into one, just for the sale of one book. Even traditionally published authors have to fill more than one role.

But I think of the author as being a combination of just two parts: one part writer, and one part brander.

As a writer, you create a book that people will enjoy. As a brander, you help people find your book. In the process of branding, you have the opportunity to show people that you believe in your book. If you don’t believe in your own book enough to brand it, why should anyone else want to read it? You must first convince yourself that your own book is worthy before anyone else can buy it. (You can see that I experienced a taste of this myself in my previous post, “More clichés?”)

What, exactly, is a brander? I’m using this word first to mean that you brand your book and image as author, but also more loosely to mean that you’re helping your target audience discover your book. This entails:

  • Packaging your book in a way that will attract your target audience. This includes a cover representative of your specific sub-genre that says loud and clear, “I’m your type of book.” It also includes a blurb and Look Inside that efficiently grab the attention of and hook your target audience. There are thousands of books in your genre, so shoppers won’t invest much time checking out your blurb and Look Inside – and they won’t even find your book if not for a relevant cover.
  • Making your cover and interior look professional and appealing. The first impression must show customers that you have put much time, effort, and thought into the book before they will look beyond the superficial qualities. Plus, you want the reader thinking positively, looking forward to the story, not critically, distracted with what else may be wrong with your book.
  • Finding and interacting with the target audience to help the book get discovered. Shouting repeatedly (online, too) for people to please buy your book is more likely to annoy people, while providing value to your target audience and having them discover your book may be more successful. Personal interactions tend to be effective, so interact with your audience in person and online. Blogs, reviews, media, workshops, readings, conferences – find ways to meet your target audience to help them discover your book. Make a good impression. Charm them.
  • Creating a brand for your book and your image as the author. The more people in your target audience hear your name, see your photo, hear your book’s title, and see your cover, the more likely this is to influence sales. Branding doesn’t occur overnight; you must be patient. Months down the road, someone in your target audience may see your cover in search results. You want this person to think, “I remember seeing this before, and at the time it seemed interesting,” or, “I met this author and really enjoyed the interaction.” Do you buy dish detergent because you’ve heard the brand name before? Many people do.
  • Generating buzz for your book. Premarketing is especially important in fiction. Marketing isn’t an afterthought (click on the link before if you’d like a list of several pre-marketing ideas). If you succeed in building interest in your book before it’s released and several sales right out of the gate, this can help you start out with several sales and improves your prospects for early reviews. Advance review copies can help, too. You can even arrange preorders for early sales.
  • Showing your passion for your book. When others see an artist’s passion, this helps to create interest in the art itself. The more you interact with others and let them discover your passion (don’t force it by being explicit, just let it show), the more you can benefit from this. You want to show your genuine passion, without coming across as a salesperson or self-promoter.

Your goal isn’t to be Mr. or Mrs. Popularity. Your goals are simple: First write a book that will please an audience, then help your target audience discover your book. (The second goal includes formatting, packaging, etc. – not just social media, reviewers, and so on.)

Bookstores want to carry books that (1) please a significant audience and (2) where the target audience is likely to walk into the store to find that specific book.

Marketing is geared toward the second point. You’re not just trying to become popular. You’re specifically striving to develop and grow a following and fan base among your specific target audience. You’re not just trying to become popular with reviewers. You’re trying to find reviewers in your target audience to help readers discover a book that’s a great fit for them.

You’re trying to get your book discovered because – back to the first point – you believe that once people find it, they will enjoy it and recommend it to others.

Ultimately, excellent writing and ideas matter much more than popularity. But you have to get your book discovered before the writing and ideas will matter at all.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Goofy Branding

I took my daughter to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago, and the experience got me thinking about branding.

My daughter loves Mickey Mouse and Cinderella. These are the big stars, the main brands. How can the small guys compete with the big names? I’ll get to this question if you have some patience.

We saw Mickey Mouse a couple of years ago. We waited in a very long line in Toontown to meet him. It was a great experience; we got good photos and everyone was very nice. But it was such a long line, and once you get your turn it’s time to rush a new group in.

One year, we accidentally entered a line to meet Tinkerbell. After several minutes and scarcely moving forward, we finally realized the long line wasn’t for a ride and got out of it. This year, there was what looked like a reasonable line to meet Cinderella and other Disney princesses. However, in several minutes we hardly moved at all. Fortunately, my daughter decided that her time would be better spent waiting to go on a ride.

On our way to eat lunch, we saw Tiana. There were only a few other girls in line to see her. My daughter got to see her very quickly. I was really impressed that Tiana sat down to get down to my daughter’s level. She spent good time with her, we got great pictures, and my daughter felt very special to get such personal attention from a princess. Tiana moved way up on my daughter’s list of favorite characters (and mine, too).

We got to see several characters during the parade. Goofy came over and patted my daughter on the head during the parade. He scored major points with us from this simple wow-factor.

This reminds me, if you want to see Donald Duck, Goofy, or Pluto in Toontown, you can very often do so with a very short line. You also see them at other parts of the park from time to time, and they are usually very accessible.

What struck me is that the small guys can compete with the big names. Personal attention, little personal touches, a simple wow-factor – these kinds of things can make a huge, lasting impression.

If you’re one of the small guys (like me), striving to brand your own image, personal interaction is something you can use to help stand apart. Branding is about getting people to remember your name (or the name of your product or business), getting recognized, getting associated with some quality, and the potential for word-of-mouth referrals. Personal interactions with members of your target audience can help to achieve this.

Are you just selling a product? Or are you selling an experience?

Have you ever bought a product from someone where without that interaction you never would have bought that product? Maybe you happened to walk by a shop and noticed it. If it had been a vending machine, you never would have put money into it. But after a nice experience with a sales associate, you made the purchase. Not because the salesperson twisted your arm, but you enjoyed the personal interaction. Has this ever happened to you?

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

Challenging How Big the Author’s Name Should Be

Name Pic

The consensus among critics is that the author’s name should be relatively small (compared to the title) unless you’re famous.

Why? There are two popular reasons for this:

  1. The marketing view says that if the author’s name appears too large on the cover, it will distract the shopper’s attention from more important keywords in the title. If you’re famous, then it’s important to throw your name out there because your name has sales value.
  2. The critical view feels that the author’s name should take on a humble role on the cover (i.e. out of the way) if the author doesn’t have name recognition.

But is this correct?

Maybe not.

There are a couple of reasons to reconsider this point:

  1. Do you primarily expect to sell books to family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, social media followers, and people you interact with personally through marketing? If so, then you do have name recognition with your target audience. Make your name larger for their benefit and disregard the potential critics. Why not?
  2. Are you branding your name in your marketing efforts? If you are effective at this, then you want your name to be easily visible (but perhaps not dominating) on the thumbnail image of your cover. Potential customers who recognize your name from your marketing endeavors who see your name in the thumbnail may check out your book.
  3. Part of marketing is about creating a perception. If you’re thinking big, then you want to create a big name for yourself. If you’re going all out to try to make it big, then starting out with a big name on your cover might be a good fit. Make that big name for yourself and prove the cover critics wrong.
  4. If you’re a nonfiction author with a title (Dr., Ph.D., M.D., etc.), you may want your qualifications to be visible in the thumbnail image. However, if you don’t have a relevant title and aren’t well-known in your field, it may be better to place emphasis on a few important keywords instead of your name.

What is your personality? What fits you? A big name? A small name?

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

Amazon, Disneyland, and Branding

 DrMac-Aug2013-disneyland 239

Amazon and Disneyland are two huge, successful businesses that specialize in selling entertainment.

I love them both, but for different reasons.

Amazon has branded itself as a giant, which fits the name of the company. When I go to Amazon, I expect great selection coupled with low prices. I also expect quick shipping. Amazon has also branded itself as being a supporter of the small guy – i.e. small businesses and indie authors.

This last point works multiple ways. Third-party sellers and customer resale help to bring low prices to the customer through competition, and customers have the opportunity to support indie authors and small businesses. Amazon features indie success stories on their homepage.

Indie books and small business products also greatly enhance the selection of books and other products on their website.  Finally, most customers know indie authors (or are indies themselves), so there is inherently much support for this concept.

I love Amazon for giving the small guy such an amazing opportunity.

Disneyland has branded itself as a bringer of happiness, which fits its slogan, “The happiest place on earth.” My daughter doesn’t know the slogan, but she associates Disneyland with happiness: She was bouncing up and down, smiling in the car for a couple of hours on the way there.

The employees who interact with customers at Disneyland are obviously trained to place much emphasis on bringing a happy experience to customers. Another thing that’s very important is also subtle: Disneyland pays incredible attention to detail. There is evidently a high priority on cleanliness on their grounds. The service and ambiance are such a high priority in order to brand the happiness image that these details are vital to their success. Goofy came over and patted my daughter on her head during the parade – that’s a wow-factor.

I love Disneyland for attempting to make many people’s lives happier, even if just temporarily.

Of course, Amazon and Disneyland are huge companies which are geared toward making money. Aren’t all businesses striving to make money? The question is what goods and services they provide for the money, and whether or not it’s a good value.

Amazon supports the small guy in its aim to make money and Disneyland provides happiness in its aim to make money. Provided that the cost is reasonable, these seem like highly respectable ways – in my humble opinion – to go about making money.

These are positive images to brand.

Amazon and Disneyland aren’t perfect. Who is?

Personally, I would like to see Amazon become a little more like Disneyland. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Amazon were, say, “The happiest place online”? At least, a few steps in this direction would make for a nice improvement.

But, alas, in customer reviews, customer comments, and discussion forums, we sometimes see unhappiness. We sometimes see highly spiteful remarks (even though spitefulness is supposed to be a violation of the terms and conditions of use) or even cyberbullying.

This is odd, as it seems to contradict some of Amazon’s branding efforts. When I contact Amazon as a customer or author, they usually provide excellent customer service. If they’re so oriented toward great customer service, why not go all out and provide a great customer ambiance in the review and discussion forums, too? Why provide a rotten ambiance there, but great service by phone or email? It seems totally incongruent. So there is one way in which Amazon could improve, in my estimation.

Even as they are, I still love Amazon and Disneyland.

We can learn from their successful branding:

  • How do you want to be branded? You need this in the planning stages.
  • How do you want your product to be branded? Work toward this.
  • An image that people are likely to support on a wide scale (like supporting the small guy), which fits with your product or service, has much potential.
  • An image that people crave (like happiness), which fits with your product or service, has much potential.
  • Choose a title that fits this image.
  • Mickey Mouse is a simple image, easy to recognize, great for branding. (You can’t copy this image. Duh! But you can learn from the effectiveness of this simplicity.)
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • The product, service, marketing, blog, and even your daily personal interactions matter. Send a unified message that supports your branding.
  • Consistently brand the same image. Avoid changing the main title or picture. Choose these wisely in the beginning.

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

Social Media Checks

Let me start with an employment-related fact and then discuss how this relates to author branding.

More employers are doing social media background checks and are turning down candidates based on what they find.

This doesn’t mean that people should avoid social media all together. Rather, it means that social media must be treated as a sample of professionalism. Companies that specialize in social media background checks actually have access to messages that aren’t made public, comments, and more. Scary; but it is what it is.

When a social media background check reveals unprofessional conduct (e.g. signs of not getting along well with others, negative comments about former employers) or evidence that contradicts the resume, these red flags are likely to deter employers from hiring.

However, when a social media profile looks professional and displays excellent communication skills, this tends to be an asset. Creativity and a touch of personality may help, too.

Readers do various sorts of social media background checks, too.

Many shoppers will glance at the customer book reviews. If they see authors making negative comments about former readers, this falls under the “bad-mouthing former employers” category. It doesn’t look professional.

Potential customers read blogs, tweets, Facebook author pages, etc. A shopper who discovers the book on Amazon probably isn’t going to do an extensive background check, but may explore the reviews and author page. Nobody is likely to read all of an author’s social media messages.

However, many potential customers will discover the book through one of these methods. It might be a blog, could be a tweet, etc. Perceived unprofessional conduct (e.g. bad-mouthing) may deter sales. Professional posts with excellent communication skills that show creativity and a touch of personality are more apt to boost sales.

What a potential customer sees when checking one form of social media and how this customer reacts is not much different from what a prospective employer would look for in a job candidate.

Remember, although readers probably aren’t going out of their way to do background checks on authors, potential readers are discovering authors through their marketing endeavors. What the potential reader sees in this discovery process serves as a “background check.” Is it a red flag that may deter sales, or is it something that is more likely to inspire sales? Think author branding.




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


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