Thursday, 17 May 2012

Common Pitfalls for Indie Authors (part 1) : Being a brand.

Common Pitfalls for Indie Authors (part 1) : Being a brand.

We've dedicated a number of posts on what we, as indie authors, should be doing. We need to write a good manuscript, make sure it's well edited, format it correctly, get a great cover, send copies to reviewers, build an extensive network through social marketing and all the rest of it.

There are a million things we could be doing. Some efforts are more productive than others, and some are counterproductive. It's the counterproductive stuff I think we should all be more careful about. I'm going to do a few posts on this, as there are multiple ways we could ruin our own efforts. The next few blogs from me will be on:
  • Branding
  • How not to alienate your readers (DMs, Auto messages, email notifications, Goodreads events and more)
  • Making sure your marketing is aimed at the right market - selling to the wrong market will either not work, or result in a backlash.
  • Avoding the trap of being 'just another indie'. How to be indepentant and professional
  • Dealing with feedback - why all feedback is good, even when it's bad, and finally
  • A wrap up, how I'd do it differently a second time around.

Some of the things we do can actually harm out platform. As indie authors we aren't selling ebooks - we're building a brand, and anything that dilutes or harms that brand is counterproductive.
Today's post will focus on building a brand, and I'll back tomorrow to work my way down that list.

So, what is our brand?

Broadly, a brand is anything that identifies and differentiates. It could be a short green man in robes living as a hermit using back to front sentence structure (Yoda, I am). It could be a simple swoosh logo (Nike) or it could be the use of a literary device (Iambic pentameter in Shakespeare).

So to make our own brand work, we need to be unique (or at least, unique within the literary world).

We could be the King and Queen of 99c, the ex-midlister who got in at ground level on ebook marketing or the guys who wrote their debut novel in virtually no time at all.

Whatever it is, we need a unique selling point. We need to take a niche and make it our own, and then ensure that whatever the branding we choose, we stick to it consistently.

Looking at our own efforts, I can see we've done a number of useful things for building the 90 days novel brand, as well as a few that are less useful.

The good:

·         We set ourselves a challenge - it's natural to be curious about the outcome

·         We were the underdogs. 90 days to write, edit, format, market and release a novel is tight. It's even more difficult with no literary experience.

·         We kept the 90 Days Novel moniker across a range of platforms. Consistency builds name recognition.

·         There are literally tens of thousands of simple 'name' or 'pseudonym' authors on the internet. We were/ are different.

The bad:

·         By using a moniker, we don't create a brand for our own names directly. You might remember we're 90 days novel, but do you remember we're also Sean and Dan?

·         "90 days novel" was not a great choice in terms of Search Engine Optimisation. It's cluttered, and doesn't lead to use too easily (though part of that is simply the fact we have only been online for a few months).

·         The brand appeals to writers more than readers. While curiosity is natural for anyone, it's been the writers who have kept on top of our progress. For every 'reader' that contacts us, we've got at least two or three other indies.

·         It's got a limited shelf life. The first time, 90 days is an awesome challenge. Repeating it all over again, not so much. If we want to create more of a challenge, we have to add something else in - a new genre we have no familiarity with, going solo rather than co-authoring (which would effectively halve the time limit) or writing in an even shorter timeframe.

·         The brand doesn't convey genre. While you'll remember we wrote a novel in 90 days, you might not know it's a crime novel.

·         The timeframe is indistinct. When did the 90 days start and end? You need to go searching to find the dates - and that dilutes it all. We're still getting RTs about the challenge, and questions about how it is progressing - even though Dead on Demand is now out.

·         We share too much. Helping other indies out is great. It gives everyone warm and fuzzies, and sells a few extra ebooks. It also dilutes our brand massively. If we harp on about free ebooks all the time, we get seen as the free ebook guys not the author guys.

... So, that gives you a flavour of our self analysis. Do you agree with us? Disagree? We'd love to know.

We'd also like to know what broad principles indies can draw from this. For us the golden rules are:

·         Build a brand, not a book (If you market one book, what do you do for book two?)

·         Think long term. Brands should endure. Putting a shelf life into your brand is absurd if you want to reuse it.

·         Market yourself - but as a brand. Anyone can write a book, but only Daniel Campbell can write a Daniel Campbell novel.

·         Make your voice fit. Tweets, blog posts and other marketing efforts are a snapshot of your voice. It needs to be the same as the voice you use in your book - otherwise you are selling the wrong voice to the wrong customer.

·         Deliver on your promises - If you promise a complex murder mystery, it had better be complex, and should err on the mystery side not the thriller side.

·         Use visual tie ins. Themes work well across multiple books, and multiple platforms. Think Penguin - everyone recognises their logo. If you see a book with a picture of an alcoholic drink, you know who wrote it. Consistency will get you remembered.

·         Tag it - Keep a tagline about what you stand for. Are you aiming to be the bargain basement 99c writer who goes for volume? Are you selling a series? Or are you aiming for premium priced products such as non-fiction.

·         Integrate your brand and ethos into everything. Make sure every message communicates who you are, and what you stand for.

·         Keep trying. Brands don't get built in a day.


  1. I'm a new follower and have read almost your whole backlist of posts today. Great stuff you guys. Especially today's topic.

    I'm a Regeny romance writer who built my Anne Gallagher brand on my covers. They are distinctly mine, no one else has anything like them. Which is nice. They sell well. Readers know what they're getting before they even open the book.

    I then wrote a contemporary women's fiction novel and released it under the Anne Gallagher name. Not a bite. Not one. Very discouraging.

    So I gave myself a new pen name, changed the cover dramatically, and will do a free promotion Mon & Tues -- something I hadn't done before with a novel. We'll see how it goes.

    I knew going into the women's fiction, it would be a hard sell with my Regency fan base. But I listened to the advice of others to keep the Anne Gallagher name because of the name recognition. My fans didn't want it.

    So hence, your advice is spot on. Be consistent with your brand.

  2. Hi Anne!

    Thanks for joining us. I love your covers - very distinctive. Changing away from a brand is like starting anew - hopefully your freebie run will help build the new contemporary brand. At least you've got some name recongition to build on.

    I did notice, at least on the UK site, that you have a lack of reviews - a few reviews would probably help those ailing sales quite a bit (especially pre-free days). The other thing I'd do is make the novellas clear - A Wife for Winsbarren gives no clue that it's a novella, until you see the negative US review. I know some will guess from the price, and then check the print length but a quick 'x thousand words' add on to the main description would prevent any possible backlash there.

  3. great post guys. As always, you talk a lot of sense and make us think about things we've never thought of. We should know all this, but we're always learning from you. So thank you and keep up the good work