When you decide to make a career as an author, whether you realise it or not, you have said ‘I am setting up a brand’.
So much hype and nonsense surrounds that word that your initial response to the previous sentence may have been a negative one. You may have reeled back, wary and repulsed, or turned down your attention, convinced that you were about to be fed a load of confusion. But a ‘brand’ is defined as ‘a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name’, or ‘a particular identity or image regarded as an asset’. As a writer, your name will inevitably and intrinsically be attached to your work: your work is branded with your mark as soon as it begins to take shape in your head. The world of fiction consists of pieces of writing branded with individual author names, whether we like it or not.
So you are setting up a brand as soon as you formulate your first sentence.
What do you need to avoid, then, in developing your own brand?
Four key (and often counter-intuitive) things:
1. Take a look at the other works floating around in your genre, especially the biggest and most successful names.
Let’s take the thriller field, as an example. A quick glance at current Amazon bestsellers in this genre reveals that ‘astounding’ and ‘twist’ are the two most popular words in reviews and blurbs right now. Conventional wisdom dictates that you must use those words in your marketing and virtually repeat everything in your blurb that you see written in the top bestsellers’ blurbs.
But ask yourself this: what reader of thrillers is not interested in something ‘astounding’? What fan of this genre doesn’t want ‘twists’?
Thriller readers expect all these words and have seen these kinds of blurbs dozens of times.
So what should you do?
Counter-intuitive Tip Number One:
Don’t repeat what readers already expect from all thriller writers.
You might as well say ‘Read me’ which might be the most unattractive statement there is for readers browsing shelves or webpages. ‘Why do you have to tell me to read you? That should be a given!’
What you need is a vocabulary which yes, includes signals that 'this is a thriller' but which says different things to the usual blurbs.
Which leads to the next piece of strange advice…
2. Don’t try to imitate the big name authors.
If you are unsure of what to say about you or your work, how to look, or how to market, do not use successful authors for inspiration!
‘Hang on,’ you might say, ‘surely you mean the opposite?’
No. Emulating the ways the big name authors speak and then operating as a small name author perhaps publishing your own books gives readers an immediate false impression. You can’t talk to them as though you’re the next best thing since Stephen King and they’ve never heard of you before (though you see attempts to do this all the time in the conventional marketing world). Instead, look toward authors with whom you have much more in common. Is another creative spirit or poet or short story writer in your area or genre achieving the things you want whose copy, look, or attitude is inspiring or attractive to you as a reader?
Analyse what you like about them and what draws you to them in detail. Then, don’t copy them, but do find your own unique way of applying those ideas to your own book.
But forget about the big names completely; look for inspiration in your own goldfish pond.
3. Look for those who will absolutely loathe what you write.
I told you that much of this would be counter-intuitive.
All writers hate hearing or finding negative feedback about their work, but think of it this way: at least a few people are always going to dislike what you write. Their hate indicates to you that you have something to offer to an entirely different set of people.
If everything you write tries to appeal to potentially everyone (which is impossible, though frequently attempted), you will end up with a formulaic, dulled down, generic brand message. You will fade into the background, be glossed over and scrolled past.
Finding what is unlikeable about your writing can be the key to finding who would love to read it because you are speaking directly to them.
So now you can look forward to those detailed negative reviews, because each comment is a guide to where to find the readers who will love you.
Example: ‘I found this writer’s over-the-top purple prose and distasteful detail in love scenes to be frankly quite infuriating and off-putting’ equals not (in your head) ‘Oh, woe is me! My writing is over-the-top, my prose is purple and my level of detail distasteful! I’m infuriating and off-putting as an author!’ but rather ‘A-ha! Where are the readers who love rich purple prose and massive detail in their love scenes?’
See? Quite a difference. A detailed negative review can act as a trail of crumbs leading you straight to your potential super-fans.
4. Have a goal.
You probably have a goal for your finances, your relationships, your next couple of years of family life — so why don’t you have a goal for your writing? What do you want to get from all this work anyway?
Hard truth: ‘getting more readers,’ ‘making more money,’ or ‘growing’ are not goals, but rather vague hopes and dreams. Get specific.
You probably already have a vague idea of what you want in mind, so write it down. You’re a writer — put what you have in your head on paper.
Maybe you want at least four readers to write a positive review this month because they have noticed your work.
Maybe you want three people to rave about your book in an online forum this month.
Maybe you’d like an offer of a contract to come in from a publisher this month.
Once you know what you’re aiming for and what you are supposed to be doing as a professional writer, you can make the right decisions on how to invest your time and energy.
All of this requires that you to get real with yourself about what you really want as a writer.
What are you trying to do? Separate yourself out from the rest of the marketplace so that you can be heard and seen.
Plenty more on this here.