Your author branding is as equally important as your manuscript. This is something we have learned working with bestselling and debut authors, self- and indie-published authors, and national and local media over the last seven years. Your book could be amazing on the inside, but if we can’t get people past the outside, we’re screwed. Often, authors come to BookSparks with an incredible story but very little brand presence or a branding that was shoe-stringed together by friends/colleagues as a favor who really don’t even work in the book or branding fields. This can be a detrimental mistake. Fortunately, we’ve built brands for many authors, including re-branding so we could get readers inside the incredible book to know what we knew – that it was an amazing story. Here are some thoughts on branding that can help you as an author.
Understanding your author brand
What is your author brand? What does this even mean? Your brand includes your social media platforms, your website, your PR positioning and messaging, and your book cover design and back cover copy. When you hear “Emily Giffin,” what comes to mind? Happy, upbeat, chick lit/women’s fiction with love gone a little awry but always worked out in the end. What about Jodi Picoult? Tragic, heart-rending, emotional. Those immediate reactions to an author’s name are thanks largely to effective branding. Take a look at Emily’s author branding, which we love (and might be slightly biased since for the second year, she’ll be hosting our popular BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge, more on that soon) for a lot of reasons:
The branding experts
See how everything has the same look and feel? The same font and style? The same color palette? This is branding: a consistent message, a consistent look and a consistent experience for your reader telling them what kind of story to expect. At BookSparks, one thing that sets us apart is our keen understanding of marketing and promotion. With decades of experience in various marketing and communication roles for women’s lifestyle media and for authors and publishers, we understand how to professionally develop and share your brand as an author. And perhaps, like many of our clients, you started on a shoe-string and developed some branding but now you want to take it to the next level (even Emily Giffin wasn’t always branding this way – at some point you rebrand yourself as an author because you start to figure out what your brand is!). Here are a few of our favorite examples of recent re-brands we’ve worked on.
Susie Schnall: On Grace Before and After
When debut author Susie Schnall joined our award-winning imprint, SparkPress, with her first novel, On Grace, we loved the story but the cover? Not so much. She tried to self-publish it and came to us when she felt like something was missing.
The original cover
After reading the story, we definitely understand the original cover choice – a woman on the cusp of her 40s, embracing life’s challenges and dancing in the face of adversity. But, assuming you hadn’t read the manuscript, you may get a very different impression of the story from the cover.
Enter our incredible cover designer, Julie Metz. With more than 25 years in the graphic design and publishing industry, Metz brings an interesting mix of vision, talent, and industry-driven perspective to her designs. She’s worked with heavy hitters like Random House and HarperCollins, and her covers have appeared in the AIGA 50 Books and 50 Covers Show.
The cover design process is definitely not “one and done.” Expect to see several iterations of your book cover before encountering the version that makes you and your publisher both say, “Yes! This is my brand!!”
A few early versions during Susie’s rebrand efforts:
After exploring several of the themes in the story as potential pieces of cover art, we circled back to the heart of the story: Grace, taking time for herself and looking ahead to the future. And at last, a rebranded cover was born:
Beyond the book cover
Now that you’ve taken your author brand and defined it visually as your book cover, it’s important to make sure your branding is consistent across all platforms. Remember Emily Giffin’s example above? Whether you’re looking at social media, her books on a bookshelf or her website, everything feels like Emily Giffin. A savvy publisher will encourage you to strive for the same consistency in branding. Take a look at Susie’s website before and after her partnership with BookSparks.
Before BookSparks, Susie’s website was:
- Flat and monochromatic
- Lacking a strong picture of the book
- Concealing a key part of her platform, The Balance Project
After BookSparks, Susie’s website is true to Susie’s overall author brand:
- Bold yet still soft
- Features the novels and The Balance Project series
- All images are “on-brand” and align with the book cover
- A simple logo gives Susie a polished appearance
- Her books (now that she has more than one) are in the same color palette
More lessons in branding and rebranding
BookSparks has worked with many other authors on rebranding their projects to be more commercially attractive. Sometimes these authors are published through our award-winning imprints, SparkPress and She Writes Press. Other times, we work in conjunction with their publisher to champion a book cover redesign. Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned along the way:
1. Your book will always be judged by its cover, so make it a good one.
Funny Little Pregnant Things by Emily Doherty
Ways of Leaving by Grant Jarrett
Author Grant Jarrett chose SparkPress to publish his novel Ways of Leaving. This design by Julie Metz expertly captures the themes of the book’s protagonist: impulsive, humorous, quirky, troubled. The book ultimately won “Best New Fiction” in the 2014 International Book Awards and was called “Brilliant” by Kirkus Reviews.
Gridley Girls by Meredith First
Like many of our authors, Meredith came to our imprint SparkPress with a previously published book that had a great story but hadn’t received the attention it deserved. As often is the case, a cover redesign was the first order of business (followed by additional manuscript edits, platform building and PR). SparkPress worked closely with Meredith to create a more commercial cover that still resonated with her personal history to the story.
2. A professional author website is the next step.
BookSparks also worked with Emily Doherty to create an author website for her Funny Little Pregnant Things book as well as the brand beyond the book. A successful, branded website will complement not only the book cover design but also future endeavors. Emily has big plans for her “Funny Little Things” brand, and this site design by BookSparks can easily accommodate new books, blogs and announcements.
3. Timing is everything.
25 Sense by Lisa Henthorne
Lisa approached BookSparks after a glowing recommendation from Laura Dave (author of Eight Hundred Grapes). After discussing Lisa’s overall brand and book platform, a few key decisions were made: our imprint SparkPress would publish her novel, and the pub date needed to be pushed out to allow for professional cover design and publicity strategy and plans. Several months later, Lisa is just a month out from publication of her novel, 25 Sense, with a cover that perfectly captures the “20-something lost in New York” vibe and has several key media lined up.
Bottom line: I think the message here is, hopefully, clear. Branding or rebranding something you might have done on your own that felt right at the time, is just as important as polishing up your manuscript because it defines who you are as an author, what your reader can expect from you and entices them to become a fan. Branding needs to be strategic and well-thought out, consistent across all platforms and ways readers find you, and you have to be willing to invest the time and expertise to get it right for you and your audiences.
Kristin Bustamante is the Chief Content Officer for SparkPoint Studio, overseeing a growing catalog of authors, titles, and writing and editing content. Above all else, Kristin loves creativity and creating real, relevant content.