Communicating an author's brand is especially challenging when you're an indie author not bound by the constraints of traditional publishing to stick to a specific genre. Australian author, poet, book designer and musician Jessica Bell describes how she rose to the challenge of branding her work – by branding the author rather than the books. Thanks to Jessica for sharing this detailed case study of the process that went into branding her self-published collection of books.
A Clear-Cut Genre
So, who are you really?
For at least five years, up until early this year, I’d been wracking my brain on how to boost my novel and poetry book sales by doing what all successful indie authors rave about and swear by: branding. But I just didn’t know how because …
- I don’t write series, so it’s silly to make all my covers look the same, right?
- I’m a different breed of writer. An acquired taste. A Patti Smith/Margaret Atwood/Anne Lamott/Christos Tsiolkas cross. (Forget that, I’m just me.)
- My books are literary in style, but also tightly plotted.
- My books are extremely character-driven, but not slow-paced.
- I take pride and care in the language I use as well as But language always comes first. I like to make music with my words. Who’s gonna give a damn about that?
- I am not afraid to blur or push boundaries, use coarse language when appropriate, or write about ugly human flaws and physical details that make people wince and shudder (and write negative reviews because I use the words sweat, finger, and vagina in the same sentence).
- My books have elements of romance, thriller, suspense, sci-fi, women’s fic, noir, family saga, and more, but do not fit under any one genre.
- My books deal with heavy subjects and themes such as mental illness, bullying, child/emotional/sexual abuse, death, depression, learning disabilities, divorce, drug addiction, institutionalization, nymphomania, obesity, organized crime, religion, sibling rivalry, suicide, totalitarianism … to name a few.
I’ve been self-publishing since 2011, and it was only early this year, after considering all of the above for the hundredth time, that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to brand my books … but I could brand myself.
You Don’t Need To Do What Others Do
So I started looking at the websites of popular authors, and noticed that many had tag lines that summed up the content of their books. For example, Jodi Picoult’s is “novels about family, relationships, love, & more”.
Again, it was impossible to think of a tag line to sum up the content of my books, but if I’m branding myself, I decided I could definitely sum up my writing style and voice.
I very soon went about asking my Facebook followers who were familiar with my work to chip in and help me think of a tag line. Keith Dixon very cleverly suggested The Bell Collection. I loved that, but decided it would be better used as a ‘series title’ rather than a tag line as it didn’t offer readers any clues about my voice.
Together we came up with a few options, I picked my favourites, and then conducted a poll asking my newsletter subscribers and social media followers to vote on the best out of the following three:
- beautiful ugly words
- books you live
- read your heart out
The voting didn’t help. Ha! Each tag line garnered the same amount of votes. But that meant that I had three good tag lines, so I picked the one my heart was set on, and went for it.
Cover Design Is The Most Important Thing
In the meantime, while all this was happening, I started playing around with cover designs. Finally, I was able to focus on producing covers that resonated with me. I decided that if I was going to brand myself rather than my books, there was definitely no point in following trends. I wanted my books to stand out. To represent me as a writer 100%. And I decided that I had no problem, whatsoever, in slowly building a solid following of people who love to read my books.
Side note: One day I want a random street conversation about books to go like this:
“What kind of books do you like to read?”
“Oh, you know, thrillers, suspense. I get into a bit of poetry now and again. How about you?”
“Anything from The Bell Collection.”
(I know, huge goal, but it can’t hurt trying.)
Back to book cover design. What decided I wanted was:
- Lots of eye-catching bold colour. Yes, the subjects and themes of my books are dark, but my language is vivid, colourful, and evocative. The whole point of this branding exercise was to represent me and my writing style. I had to keep reminding myself of that as I have been conditioned to focus on targeting specific genres when designing book covers. Despite the vivid colours I’ve used, I believe I’ve also managed to hint at the darkness within as well.
- Interesting and edgy, but clear, fonts for my name and titles so as to be immediately recognizable.
- A background pattern that remained the same for each book for consistency and a smooth visual transition from one book to the next.
- An image that reflected the content of the book in an abstract way. I use a lot of metaphors and symbols in my writing, so I was keen on representing that through imagery as well.
But the cover was not the only thing I needed to consider with regard to representing my brand. I also needed to consider trim size and interior design. Let’s take those one at a time.
Trim size, you ask? What’s trim size got to do with branding? A lot in my opinion.
I’m a fan of small paperback trim sizes so that when I’m reading in bed at night, the book isn’t too heavy and fits nicely in my small hands. Small books also fit on my bedside table along with my lamp, glass of water, and mobile phone. I figured that I wouldn’t be the only person out there who feels this way, so I chose a smaller than standard trim size for my books: 5” x 7”. After reading Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive, which is also 5” x 7”, I knew it was the perfect size for my own books. Through the trim size I’m targeting like-minded readers. I don’t need the entire world to read my books, but I do want the people who enjoy reading my books to enjoy the physical experience too.
Technically, I could have done this myself, but I didn’t have the time. So I paid Amie McCracken to design and proofread all my paperback interiors and format the ebooks. I briefed her on exactly what I wanted in order to make the process as straight forward and time-efficient as possible. The most important steps we took were:
- starting a shared DropBox folder in which every single possible file existed so that neither of us had to consistently email each other attachments or ask for things. If one of us needed something, we just went into the DropBox folder.
- created separate folders for each of the following: Covers (for reference), Front & Back Matter, eBooks, Fonts, Paperbacks, Proofreads, Final Files
- Amie also included an excel spreadsheet in which she kept track of tasks completed so I didn’t have to ask her about her progress.
Amie and I had a chat before she got started and I gave her some simple guidelines:
- We agreed on a clear deadline.
- I asked her to use the recurring cover pattern to make a flourish for the pages on which new chapters began.
- I asked her to include the same front and back matter in each book and that I would fill in the missing imprint information myself.
- I told her the trim-size, margin size, font type, font size, and leading size I wanted her to use for all the books.
- I told her to proofread all the manuscripts using Australian English using Track Changes, because I would like to approve the edits she made before she began typesetting.
But doesn’t all this cost a lot of money?
Yes. And I’m praying that all the work Amie and I have put in in the last few months is going to be worth it. Time will tell!
Cost of My Investment
I spent a total of 1891 Euros. And this was without having to pay for a cover designer. I’m hoping that it will pay off. But you know what? In the end, I’m extremely happy with the result, and if my sales don’t improve, I’m proud of finally having found my brand. It somehow makes me feel whole.
Despite everything everyone says, you do NOT need to write in one genre to create a brand and you do NOT need to write a series in order to have a cohesive set of covers.
We’re indie authors and have the right to market our work any way we wish.
Make your brand YOU and stand out in the crowd.
Jessica’s rebranded books are now available in paperback, eBook, and a 2016 Limited Time Box Set of all seven books in paperback. Visit Vine Leave Press for details.
OVER TO YOU If you've gone through a similar process, please feel free to share your experience via the comments thread.#Authors - don't brand your books, brand yourself! Smart advice on #bookmarketing from @MsBessieBell Click To Tweet
FURTHER READING Here's an inspiring post homing in on book cover design for indie authors