Discover Your Author Brand
Have you ever looked another author's Instagram grid, Facebook posts, website, Snapchat prowess, candid Tweets, dazzling website, or just all around online persona, and thought, "Wow!"
Chances are the wow factor you're seeing is a gorgeous marriage of that author's brand and her branding.
PS: If you don't know the difference between brand and branding (also known as brand design), read my post about it here.
An author brand is what your readers/followers come to expect from you— it's what you bring to the table and deliver consistently. It's your vibe. The way people describe you to their friends. Brand design (aka branding) is visual representation of your brand. It's the colors you use, the fonts you choose, your logo, whether your graphics and photos are minimalist or bold, etc.
Done right, the combination of a consistent brand and a brand design that complements that brand is what creates the wow factor.
For example …
(yeah, we’re going to go ahead and put my brand game in the wow category for the sake of this post!)
Elegant. Contemporary. Big City. Blunt. Ambitious. This applies to my personal brand, as well as the tone of my books. This isn't intentional, it comes out organically because it's who I am. Meet me in real life, and quite honestly, I'm a lot like some of my characters. I like high heels, I like dressing up, I like fancy beverages, I've got a witty sense of humor. (Yes, I do, and I said that).
Is a reflection of the above paragraph. My brand color since the very start of my career, like 99% of my wardrobe, is black. Black is my thing, guys. My graphic accents, like my real life accents are sparkling and a little fancy (I NEVER leave the house without earrings, all of which contain pearls or sparkles) My online design aesthetic, like my home, is fairly minimal with a lot of negative space. My font choices, like my wardrobe and makeup choices, are classic, as opposed to edgy and trendy. Black and white photography have been a core part of my brand since my friend Laura built me my very first author website in 2012, because I love the timeless elegance of it (She didn’t even know that I loved B&W photography at the time, she just used it anyway. Why? Because she knows me, and knows that black and white photography fits my vibe.)
"That's nice, Lauren, but what about my brand, and my branding?"
I’ll get into what an author brand and brand design actually includes below, but first I want to touch on the most important element of having a brand and a brand design, and it’s not what you think. It’s not about great graphics, design skills, or even an irresistible personality.
More important that what your brand actually is, or what your brand design actually looks like is:
A brand that’s not consistent isn’t a brand at all, and I’m not just talking about being consistent from day to day in what your followers can expect from you (though that’s super important.)
What I mean is that your brand design should be consistent with your brand itself. You follow? No?
Okay, put differently, your author branding (what your online persona looks like) should be a direct reflection of your brand (who you are, and what you write).
For example …
RS Grey is one author who gets this exactly right on Instagram. For starters, the overall look of her posts is consistent from day-to-day. I'd be willing to bet she uses a similar filter or editing style with most of the images, or maybe just has a natural talent for curating photos with similar colors and lighting. She never posts an ugly post, or some fugly graphic of a giveaway or Instagram hop that is off brand. But equally important to the day-to-day consistency is that her Instagram style matches her vibe. This feed simply looks and feels like the RS Grey I’ve met in person, and it looks and feels like RS Grey’s books.
On the flip side, I can think of other authors who, in my opinion, are getting brand and branding wrong. The overall design aesthetic and creative choices may (or may not be) consistent from day to day, their graphics may even be well done and attractive. But their font choices, colors, overall aesthetic feels completely at odds with what I know of their personalities and books.
So how do you emulate RS Grey’s strategy, and not the other authors?
First, by knowing your brand, and second, by matching your brand design to that brand.
“Shut up LL, what does that mean?”
Well first, the bad news.
I can’t tell you exactly what your brand is. No one can! Because your brand is you.
It’s what you talk about, the way you talk about them. It’s your love of wine or fresh flowers. Your affinity for big city life, whether or not you actually live in the big city. It’s your knitting club, your sunny outlook on life, your love of smoothies, or your intense chocolate-obsession. It’s your staunch defense of animal rights. Maybe you’re outspoken about everything, or maybe you have a slightly mysterious bad-ass vibe. It’s whether or not you show up to your laptop to write in fuzzy Darth Vader socks, or red stilettos.
Not that you aren’t allowed to change, and be nuanced, and have a multitude of interests and styles, but never estimate people’s instinct for genuineness. I think that most of us know or sense when the visual vibe someone is putting off isn’t who they really are.
The key is ensuring that your brand comes out clearly, and consistently (even if that’d consistency in dichotomy!), so that people can’t help but see your name or a post by you, and know exactly what to expect of you as an author just by visual cues.
That’s where brand design comes in. And luckily, that’s something I can actually help with!
There are 5+1 Brand Design Elements for Authors
Fonts (the style text of your teasers, quotes, etc, beyond your logo, though it can certainly match your logo if you want!)
Photo Style (the way you edit your photos, and yes, you should edit them)
Graphic Style (for graphics that don't have photography. examples: quotes, teasers, release day notifications, newsletter sign up banners etc. You’d be shocked how different styles can convey VERY different moods, and moods are important!)
(Optional: Book covers. I say optional, because I know you traditionally published authors don’t get full control over your book covers. But don’t worry, you can establish branding using just the first five items!)
I'll touch on all of those elements later in the blog series, but for now I want you simply to start being aware of design elements that catch your eye, that feel like they reflect you, your interests, the colors that feel like they fit your personality.
And don't worry if you have zero design experience. Your goal here is simply to figure out what you like. It should be fun!
My recommended resources:
Pinterest. I've said it before, I'll say it again, Pinterest is the holy grail of inspiration. Type brand design, brand inspiration, color palettes, color inspiration into the search bar, and be prepared to be dazzled. Create a board called "Brand" and save everything that catches your eye that feels like you. Not just what’s pretty or fun. Choose what feels like it calls to your soul. Don’t laugh at me, it’s true!
Creative Market. My favorite resource both for my own branding and client websites. I'm a self-professed font nerd, and they have some amazing fonts. Even if you've never paid attention to fonts before, browse their fonts section and "heart" anything that seems to represent your personality. (You'll need a free account to save favorites). Or, search their site for "social media templates" for some awesome inspiration on what sort of visual design styles you love. Geometric shapes? Watercolor? Minimalist? Bold?
Pay attention to other websites or Instagram feeds. When you're browsing the web, start noting any time you think, "Ooh, I like this website." Or if you come across a lifestyle blogger on Pinterest Instagram where you spend a solid 20 minutes ogling her gorgeous pictures. Or the life / business / health coach / business on Facebook whose posts always seem to catch your eye, even if you're not actively seeking whatever they're selling. Save or bookmark all of these sites.
It will feel very random at first, you'll feel like you're just saving and bookmarking random things, but I promise, you'll eventually start to see a pattern emerge. You’ll realize there are certain colors or hues that you gravitate towards, and font styles you love. You may find you love high contrast photos, or photos with the brightness cranked up, or the photos edited to bring out the warmth in them.
Don't worry if you don't know what any of this means. Just start paying attention and better yet, collecting! When it comes time to hire a brand designer (or create your own brand, if you’re handy like that), you’ll be glad you did some homework..
Now, one last point, and it's a big
What Not To Do.
Do not use another author’s social media presence and website as your design inspiration. Only use non-author websites/graphics/design to get inspired.
As authors (especially those of us in a crowded genre like romance), brand and brand design are the one chance we have to stand out in the crowd. Don’t creep on somebody else’s!
Think of it this way. When I say Tiffany blue, chances are you know exactly what I'm talking about, right? That iconic robin's egg blue that the the upscale jewelry store a la Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
And yet, it's not unusual to see that color elsewhere. A lot of authors use a similar teal as their accent colors. So do life coaches. Design companies. The Skimm. Canva. Countless other companies. And we don’t bat an eye. They’re able to use “Tiffany blue” without impacting Tiffany in the least.
But now imagine another high end Fifth Avenue jewelry store started using Tiffany blue for their brand color.
Not so “okay” anymore, is it? I think we’d all agree that a direct competitor of Tiffany using that same iconic blue for their jewelry boxes would be a Dick Move.
Creating consumer confusion on whether they’re receiving a Tiffany ring or a OtherCompany box does neither company any favors.
The same is true of copying another author’s “look” on social media, or their website. I’m not saying there won’t be some shared colors or logo styles among authors, or that you can’t use purchased logo or social media templates to build your branding.
But remember, design, like writing, is a form of creating. In writing, there is a fundamental difference between you and a writer colleague both happening to write a friends-to-lovers romance, and a writer colleague looking at a book you’ve already written and thinking, “I like that book. I’m going to write that.”
The first is normal and unavoidable. The second is A Dick Move.
The same is true of brand design. Looking at another author’s website style or social media style and trying to emulate, even if you change a color here and there, is bad form.
I bring this up, because I’ve been recently copied, I can tell you first hand that it hurts both parties. Another contemporary romance author has mimicked my style and design on Instagram, Pinterest and her website, to the point that I’ve getting messages from some of our mutual followers saying, “I thought [this other author’s] post was yours! It looks just like an LL post!”
Yes. Yes it does. Because for a few months now, no matter what I do to try to distinguish my style, she does something almost identical just a few days later.
And in addition to it feeling downright savage on an emotional level, this author’s copying “LL-style” completely misses the entire point of branding: to create something unique and special to you. Not something that looks just like another author’s.
So, please. Don’t copy. If you want to up your Instagram game, don’t use another author’s posts as your inspiration. Use Pinterest. And Google. That’s what it’s there for!
But enough sour talk! Go look at this gorgeous Pinterest board. You’ll have so much fun realizing just how much you can do with fonts and colors and textures to create a look and feel all your own!