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Developing Your Personal Brand As An Author: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

Developing Your Personal Brand as an Author: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

Does your personal brand as an author match your books? When we’ve been publishing for a while, we can sometimes lose sight of our author brand and what it’s saying to our readers. In this Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast episode, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn talk about pivots they needed to make to their author branding to make it more relevant and personal—and the lessons learned along the way.

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On the #AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing #Podcast: Does your personal brand as an author match your books? @OrnaRoss and @thecreativepenn talk about pivots they needed to make to their author branding. Click To Tweet

Show Notes

About the Hosts

Joanna Penn writes nonfiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com

Read the Transcripts: Developing Your Personal Brand

Joanna Penn: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors' Advanced Self-Publishing Salon with me, Joanna Penn, and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.

Orna Ross: Hi, Joanna. Hi, everyone.

I just realized I didn't open my document. I'm doing that now.

What’s happening with ALLi, Orna Ross, and Joanna Penn this month?

Joanna Penn: Today we are going to talk about developing your {audio missing} change it and shift it, and what's happening with us around personal branding.

But as ever before we get to that, we are authors too, and we like to give a bit of an update, so Orna, what's happening with ALLi?

Orna Ross: Yeah, ALLi is in the middle of gathering data right now. We are trying to find out, I don't know if people saw, but there was a major report from trade publishing about the effects that the pandemic had on reading figures and publishing. Overall, 5% more books sold around the lockdown time than prior to that. So, we were interested in seeing, now, we'll never get an overall percentage number like that, because we're just not documented enough, but it is a little bit overdue for us to gather figures, the last ones we have are pre-pandemic, so obviously quite out of date. So, that's what we're doing at the moment, Melissa Addey, the wonderful Melissa, is working hard on that and we are pulling together the qualitative data ourselves with feedback from our members. Then we are working with some of our partner members on what they can share with us data-wise in terms of.

And we can report to this stage that, yes, we sold lots more books during the pandemic, and some other interesting stats that are coming through, for example, 75% of indie books sold are in series, which is very high in comparison.

Joanna Penn: Fiction and nonfiction?

Orna Ross: Yes, across the board. That's just one figure that stuck in my hand. So yeah, we will have a fuller report on all of that next month, and we'll be sharing it with our partner members and circulating it. So, that's what we're up to at the moment. What about you?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, well, I was in Arizona for the Creator Economy Expo, and it was kind of weird to be back in America after so long, and I'm working on another podcast episode for my books and travel podcast about America being foreign, because I feel like I was traveling to America so much before the pandemic that it became normal, and then I went back and I was like, oh, it is a foreign country. So, that was interesting, and the conference was on the creative economy, so I learned a lot about that, still processing that.

And you and I are doing our first live event together for many years, actually, on the 12th of June, on the creative economy. So, that's going to be interesting. There's just a few tickets left, if people are watching this and listening before the 12th of June.

I've also almost finished, How to Write a Novel, which I have had as a 90,000-word draft for five years or so and have just had imposter syndrome and just not been able to get into it, I've just felt resistance over and over again. And then I'm finally into it, I'm loving it, and it will go to my editor this weekend. So, I've been working so hard on that because turning a big draft like that into something you're happy with, and also kind of interrogating the creative process, my own writing process for fiction, so, yeah, it's interesting.

I've also decided not to do a Kickstarter. I think I said on this show that I was planning on doing a Kickstarter. I did a project plan, I did a spreadsheet, I was all ready to go, I even set the project up, and then I just feel like it's not good for me, and it's too much stress, and I don't want to have this spike launch thing. Anyway, I just was feeling like it's not for me.

So, I feel like it's been quite a big month. I'm really trying to listen to my intuition, but I mean, you understand this intuitive process, and I guess we should also, for people listening, when do we listen to that? When do we muscle through and just do it, and when do we say, okay, I'm going to listen to it?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think listening to your intuition is the best thing to do, I think it rarely lets you down. I think we make the mistakes when we don't listen. Well, I should speak for myself, but that's been my experience, but I've also heard a lot of other people say that. So, I think, intuition doesn't tend to be lazy, it has good reasons.

And I think it's so interesting, because I remember when Kickstarters were kind of all the rage. When crowd funding came in first, you felt then that it wasn't right for you, and it's interesting that then you go back in, and I think it's good to make ourselves do things that we feel we don't want to do. That's not a bad thing to do. But, yeah, it interests me that you still don't want to do it, and I love that we have these choices, I think that's the most important thing, and that we can explore something and see, and then go all the way to the wire and then say, you know what, I don't actually want to do that. And we don't have to do that, and I think that's great.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Oh good. And what about you, creatively?

Orna Ross: Yeah, creatively I'm back writing fiction, which is a really big deal for me because I have been so busy over the past number of years that fiction, and while I was chipping away at a novel, you can't really, that's what I realized actually from going back in, or I can't, the kind of novels I write, which tend to be quite complex, and multi-layered, and time shifts, and things like that, or big character shifts, it's very difficult to, unless you've got good chunks of time to devote. So, that's what I've been doing, and I almost have a first draft of one of, it's a complex kind of thing, I'm not going to bore people with the details, but I'm very happy with progress on fiction for the first time in seven years/eight years, so that's the biggie as well.

I also feel like this is a very interesting time where a lot of big things are happening internally, you know, not on the outside, but they happen on the inside first. So yeah, it must be something, somebody said Mercury's turning backwards or something, one of my astrology friends said, I don't know, mercury's in recline, that's why, apparently.

Joanna Penn: Well, yeah, there's lots going on in the world, that's for sure. Busy world, busy mind. And maybe when things are going on, we do need to cut back and just look at what really serves us as creatives.

What is an author personal brand, and why does it matter?

Joanna Penn:  So yeah, that's interesting. But anyway, so talking about changes and shifts, our topic for today is developing your personal brand as an author. So, we're going to go through a number of different things, but let's start with the question, what is an author brand and why does it matter? So, Orna, is it just the logo? Is the logo for the most important thing? Like, what is a brand, anyway?

Orna Ross: Yeah, it's so funny, isn't it, when people talk about that. It's so not the logo, I mean, the logo's in there, but it's a tiny little thing that's in there. It's really a composite of text, visual, and personal components, but that doesn't tell you very much either.

It's really kind of everything. It's how you look, how you feel, how you sound. Ultimately, it's the promise you're making to the reader. It's all the signifiers that tell the reader, here's what to expect from this author, this is the kind of book that this author writes, this is the kind of experience that you can expect to have if you read this author's books.

I think that's what it is for me anyway, more than anything else. What about you, how do you define it? It's one of those things that's quite hard to pin into a little definition.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Well, for me also, I think the promise to the reader, and you have one anyway, a lot of people feel resistance to this. They're like, oh, I don't want to be a brand. Well, sorry, you are. As soon as you put yourself out there in the world in any way, you publish a book, which everyone listening, I mean, this is the advanced show, we're assuming you have at least one book or you're aiming to write a book, and maybe you have loads, people will judge you.

So, you have to control that judgment somehow. In the same way that, as writers, we control what the reader experiences, what goes into their mind, we have to control our brand. So, as you say, that can be the images that you use, the colour scheme. It can be the way you talk. I mean, you and I, Joanna Penn, and ALLi, and Orna Ross, we align, I think, on a lot of our brand in that we're positive, we're kind of self-help, we're upbeat, you know, those kinds of emotional feelings. So, it is a feeling, it's a feeling that people get about a brand name, and I like using names. So, I am Joanna Penn, and I am J.F. Penn, as two brands, because they have different promises, but also, they are my names. They're not pseudonyms, as such.

My mum has written under Penny Appleton, she is not interested in being anything other than just a name. But for most of us with an active career, having our names is a good thing because we can change, and that's another kind of theme of today is the change that we have over time.

If you use your name, you can change, and a lot of people will come along with you to whatever else you do over time, I guess. But then, if you have a pseudonym that's also fine, but you will still have a brand, you know, you can have a logo or it will be, again, your colour scheme, it will be an avatar, or whatever. But all of those things come together as an author brand.

Can authors have multiple brands, and how do you manage them?

Joanna Penn: So, let's talk about multiple brands, because this is something you and I both do. So, tell us about your different brands and how you've continued to struggle with this.

Orna Ross: Yeah, it's interesting, and I think this whole theme of it changing over time is important. So, there are certain aspects of it that are rooted and that don't change, and that shouldn't change. But within that, there's a lot of fluidity, and in there also are things like your genre, obviously, and your values and stuff like that.

So, I mean, Orna Ross is a brand. Aine McCarthy is my name, Orna Ross is an actual brand, and the Alliance of Independent Authors is a completely different kind of brand. So, the second one was easy, ALLi was easy. It was very clear what it did, and it was very easy to convey the values and really, almost nothing has changed about the ALLi brand since I started.

Orna Ross was hard, I found it very difficult because I write across lots of different genre, and I also made the fatal mistake of mixing up all kinds of thing, you know, non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and so on. So, about a year, it was really only about a year or 18 months ago, I decided I had to put a hard split between these different aspects of the Orna Ross brand.

So, there are certain things at the heart of it, you know, there's an engagement with language, it's kind of lyrical. All of those kinds of things are there across the fiction and the non-fiction, but I have separated out my social media, for example. So, my poetry goes out on Instagram. I talk about my fiction on Facebook. I talk about creative tools and things on Twitter, and I used to talk about all of those everywhere. So, it's much, much better this way and readers then are fine because they come to you one way and they understand that you've got other aspects to you and you're not just this thing, but they know when they go to your Instagram account what to expect and they fall into the world.

And I think that's one of the most important reasons for clear branding, is to make your reader comfortable, to actually guide them. So, just as you wouldn't throw them into the climax at the beginning of your book, you don't throw them into everything at the start. It's about kind of leading them gently into your world. So yeah, and it's an ongoing elephant for me, the Orna Ross brand.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, although you said that a fatal mistake using the same name, you didn't really mean fatal, did you?

Orna Ross: I didn't mean, sorry, a fatalism, that's, you know, how I love to exaggerate.

Joanna Penn: Everything didn't fall apart because you used the same name.

Orna Ross: It didn't. It wasn't fatal, I'm not dead. Orna Ross is not dead, she's still here. No, it wasn't fatal, but it was a lot of, I felt like I was dying and trying to crawl out from underneath it. It would have been so much easier if I had understood more about all the branding when I started, and I suppose that's the point. I just saw Orna Ross very much as an extension of myself and kind of a bit of everything everywhere, you know?

I mean, there is no good reason, for example, why I use my writing name in my ALLi work. I could quite easily have split those two up. So, they are the kinds of questions that would come up when you have multiple brands, and which I didn't think about whatsoever. So yeah, no, it wasn't fatal, and people found their way to my work all the way along. It's not like they didn't. But it's also about me and how much more I enjoy my work when it is in the separate compartments and I understand what I'm doing, and how what I choose to say today feeds into that whole thing of the promise to the reader. So, it's a lot more comfortable, I think, when you understand your brand, than when you don't and you're going, oh my heavens, what am I, where am I, who am I?

Joanna Penn: What am I doing? Yeah, well, it's interesting, and again, this is what I wanted to emphasize. It's not a fatal mistake to start as one name and then change it later. So, when I started writing fiction, my first three novels were published under Joanna Penn. And then what happened in around 2014, I decided to, for various reasons, start another name, J.F. Penn. And I am so pleased I did that, and I feel like I've grown into JF Penn.

And we should say upfront, it is very hard work to maintain different brands, like two is hardcore. Some people do more than two, I don't know how they manage it. So, J.F. Penn, the website has a darker colour palette; it's thrillers, dark fantasy, edge of horror, it's graveyards, it's travel, it's memento mori – remember you're going to die. It's very, it's not bleak, but it's definitely darker themes. I mean, you can see behind me on the video, some of my book covers. And then my Joanna Penn book covers are primarily white, and they're business, and they're completely different feeling with my two different brands, but I didn't start out that way.

And this is so important. We do our best and then things change, and we pivot, and we change things. And I maintain two different, obviously two different websites, well, more than two, I have Books and Travel, which is under J.F. Penn, as well. And I have, in terms of social media, I kind of do Instagram as J.F. Penn. I do Twitter as Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn, and it's funny because people ask to interview me on their podcast. So, I'm here as Joanna Penn, that's who I'm here as, right. But when people ask to interview me, I often have to check, who do you want to interview? What's the angle of this interview?

Because it depends how I will almost turn up as a brand, and so that doesn't mean I'm schizophrenic or have difficulty reconciling the two, it's just they are quite different focuses for my creative life. I write differently as those two different people; I sink into a kind of a different world.

I think you feel this too with your fiction and your poetry, right?

Orna Ross: Completely. I mean, I suppose the gap for me is between what I think of as the literary work, the fiction and poetry on the one side, and then the non-fiction on the non-profit work on the other side.

The word choices are completely different. The amount of time it takes me to write 50,000 words of fiction versus 50,000 words of non-fiction. I mean, I probably put 50,000 words of non-fiction through my fingers every week if you count all the emails, so it's a completely different experience.

Fiction for me is slower, how I produce it, but that is then reflected in what goes out from it and the colour palette, all of that historical stuff, is completely different to a non-profit, logoed, brand association that is out globally in a completely different way.

But I don't think about that now. That all comes either in the setup, as it did with ALLi, or evolves over time. I don't think now about, Ooh, I'm changing myself now to go over and do some ALLi work because I've be working on poetry, it just happens organically then over time.

And I do feel that one of the great things, and we talk a lot about the downside having different brands, but one of the great things is that they're great refreshers for each other. So, when you get to the point that you can't squeeze out anymore lyricism, you can just go and do something practical and helpful, or vice versa and, and use a whole different side of your brain, a whole different side of your personality. And I guess we wouldn't have these different brands if they didn't express different aspects of our values and our personality. At a deeper sort of level, when you go beyond just the experience for the reader, they're also serving us as writers in some way.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, that's really important, and I think both of us hit these points where we're like, oh, if only I could just do fiction, or, things would be so much easier, but then we can't, that's just not us. That's not who we are as creatives. We're multi-passionate creatives. Like, I always think, oh, if only I could just write one series or whatever, but that's just not who we are. So yes, there are some challenges with managing multiple brands, but I think it's exactly what I needed to do, and I will continue writing as both people over time. And I kind of have business plans for both of them, and they make money in different ways, so I'm really happy.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think it leads to a very rich writing life. And I think, for example, you were just talking about doing your book on writing a novel, there's no question that when you finish a non-fiction book like that then you'll go back to your fiction, your fiction gains something in that process, and vice versa.

You wouldn't write {inaudible} you know, there are people who write books about how to write novels who have never written novels, or written only one short, tiny, you know. So, your non-fiction is enriched by your fiction and by your poetry as well, and vice versa. And also, poetry can be used to market fiction in interesting ways, and so it is more complex, but it does make for a very rich body of work at the end of the day, each of which informs the other.

What are some questions to think about when building your author personal brand?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, so some questions to think about so far, what is your promise to the reader and how can you position your work in a way that fulfils that promise?

And you put a quote here from Maya Angelou, “they may forget what you said or what you did, but they never forget how you made them feel.” So, the promise to the reader is that feeling once they finish your book, or they listen to you speak, or whatever, and they're like, this is how that brand makes me feel.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, yeah. It's all about the feeling of it.

We've talked lots on this show and in other places about understanding your readers and understanding who your ideal reader is, and so on, and branding is very connected to that and in understanding what your reader wants and expects from you, and also how the different aspects of, you know, is there a crossover, do they go from one to the other, what are the commonalities, I think, if you are running multiple brands, what are the commonalities between them in terms of crossover, that can be really useful to think about.

But overall, whether it's one brand or multi-brands, you do have to think about words, images, colours, everything that's going to resonate and give them the sense of that feeling that you are trying to get across, and that can come all in a flash and just be perfect, or it can be, like in my case, a slow process to build up over time.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think one thing to consider, and I talk about this in Your Author Business Plan, is where do you see yourself in five years? Do you want to spend the time building up this brand? Because one of the things that communicates your brand, obviously, is your books. So, you need to be putting out books and they'll have certain types of covers that communicate brand, and feeling, and what the reader's going to get. But equally, do you want to build this brand for years, because, and you've said this to me before, by the time you're bored with what you're doing other people are only just discovering who you are, so you don't want to keep switching things up. People change things up too soon. It actually takes many, many years.

I've been self-publishing since 2007, and you were writing many years before that, but you self-published after me, but people find us all the time, is the point. So, you have to commit to a brand for the long-term, which again, coming back to your name, your name is the thing you can easily commit to you because that is your name. Or like you, you've chosen a pen name, but it's become who you are. I met you as Orna Ross, I can't call you anything else.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and that's where it got very confusing, but yes, half the people in my life know me as Aine and half the people in my life know me as Orna, and that's fine.

How can I stop myself from negatively impacting my author brand?

Orna Ross: Another question to think about is, and this can be useful in terms of a negative question, am I doing anything that's degrading my brand? So, the obvious things, like poor quality of writing {inaudible}. But a lot of authors who are really good in their book and have nicely designed book covers, when you go to their website, it's very cluttered, it doesn't have the same sort of design and production values that their books have. So, I think your author website is absolutely key for your brand. I think it should be the hub of your brand, everything should kind of lead there, I feel, and lead back out from there. So, yeah, just make sure that you're not doing something that's going to actually make people see your brand in a negative light.

And I think the other thing is, we talked about the splitting and the multi-brand aspect, but the other thing that happens is that a brand can be too diffuse, you don't really know what it is if it's a hodgepodge of offerings and they're not brought together by a unifying narrative. And so, if you are doing lots of different things, I think that can be even more important, and you might have to either drop sub-brands completely or realize they're not important.

So, for me, for example, I got into a bit of a thing about my non-fiction. I took the Orna A. Ross non-fiction name because of the whole Amazon thing, my also-bought’s were being messed up completely, and I was thinking about Orna A. Ross and how am I going to brown her on top of, you know, and how am I going to differentiate it, and then I realized, actually, Orna A. Ross is not a brand at all. The Alliance of Independent Authors is a brand and Orna Ross is a brand. Orna. A Ross is just a handy little tool to keep my also-bought’s straight on Amazon. So, it took a while for that penny to drop.

So yes, sub-brands, if you have them, if they're hanging about, either kill them off or minimize them, don't give them any attention, make sure that the name you're using and putting out there and repeating over and over again, because it takes ages for a name to sink into people, just make sure your clear and consistent.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Let's talk about some other things that can degrade or make your brand problematic, because of course we have social media now, and we've seen some classic examples of people putting stuff up that have really damaged their brands. There's lots of examples, we don't need to talk about them, but when you have your own thoughts, as you, think about, if you share those in public, and even if you think they're on a private Facebook group, people screenshot things and share them. So, you have to be very careful what you share.

And this is something that, I mean, I find myself saying ridiculous things now, like, I need to protect my brand, but it's not ridiculous, it's actually true. So, I'm quite careful. Like at the conference I went to, some people knew who I was, which sounds weird in one way, but equally they listened to the show, my podcast, The Creative Penn podcast. And I think my promise to the reader is to be a certain type of person, and the listener, to be a certain type of person, and so I protect that. If I have opinions or thoughts about stuff that doesn't resonate with that, then I'll keep them to myself or share them somewhere else, but I won't go on Twitter and say loads of negative stuff. Or I will share when I'm feeling down or when I'm struggling, but I will share it in a way that hopefully helps other people move forward, and I'll often share it afterwards as opposed to at the time. So, how do you look after your brand like that?

Orna Ross: I think this is a really important question that you're raising, and I think the other thing that comes in there, very much right in the heart of what you're talking about, is opinion. As authors, we're opinionated, and this is something that I struggle with. I sometimes put out tweets and then I take them down because I've just needed to say something and it wasn't the right place, as you say, it wasn't the right place to say it. Put it in your book when the reader is in the right frame of mind to receive it.

I'm quite a political person, in lots of ways, but I try to steer clear of giving my opinions on political issues and stuff like that. A, it's for branding reasons, because in the main, I'm an optimistic and I lean towards the creative on the inspirational, and nothing sees off creative inspiration, like a big ranty, tantrumy opinion. Anger can be fuel, but that's a different thing and then that's part of your brand. If you're bringing that in, just because {inaudible} you were just annoyed about something that Boris did, or whatever, or it's something to do with whatever political inclinations you might have, you have to think about that, I think. And as authors, this is where brands can get very diffuse. You don't know a particular speaker talking about lots of different issues and stuff, you don't actually know what they stand for. So, I'm not saying we shouldn't have opinions, I'm not saying they shouldn't be part of your brand, but you've got to choose and be consistent and be clear and stay there and hold the space. And then, if it completely changes, yes, it completely changes, and your brand has to absorb that, but just mindlessly firing off is something to really avoid, I think.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, but then the question is there, I can hear people saying, but what about authenticity? How can you be authentic if you're not sharing like that? And I kind of see it as, it's not actually about all of your authenticity, it's curated authenticity. So, you're curating the way you're showing your brand to the world. And this is really us, this is really you and this is really me, but we're not showing you every part of ourselves.

Let's take something quite important for a lot of people, which is their children. A lot of authors do not share their children's names or their images or anything about their children online for very good reasons. Is it inauthentic that they don't talk about being a parent or whatever? No, completely not. That's their choice, and we all have to choose the lens that we show with our brand. So, it's not inauthentic, it's just curated. That's kind of how I think about it.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, or which parts of your person you're amplifying. You can't go out with all of your, you know, as Whitman said, “we are large, we contain multitudes.” We can't go out with all of it because it becomes confusing, and it's also a very good thing for you as an author to decide what are the main values that you are actually going to mainline on? Again, it doesn't mean you can't bring in other ideas, other concepts, and other emotions and feelings, of course you can, but you need to, as an author, decide what is your main message overall, and your brand is very, very key in that. So, having to make these brand decisions helps you to make decisions that also feedback into the writing.

How can you build or change your author brand if you get things wrong?

Joanna Penn: So, how do you build your brand, or change direction if you get it wrong? So, first of all, I would say, just talking about the basic design element. I mean, if you go to the Way Back Machine and have a look at The Creative Penn from 2008, it's really, really funny. I just love red. My site was all red and all flowers, bright red flowers everywhere. I didn't have a clue. So, look, if you get it wrong, it's fine, because what happened over time is I started working with professional designers.

Also, my book covers, I did my own book covers for my first few books. Again, we all start out doing something like that, and then I started working with professionals. I now have a brand manual from the wonderful JD Smith Design, Jane Dixon Smith, and you can ask designers to do brand manuals and then they give you those codes for your colour palettes so that you use the right colours. You can get a logo designed, if you want a logo, or if you want an imprint for your books. You can do all these things over time. Before you've even written your first book, you do not need to get this stuff sorted out, but it's something you can develop over time. So, start where you are and then start looking at professional branding.

I read so many books on branding over those first few years, trying to figure out what it really meant, and to get away from feeling like it was icky to really embracing what it meant. So, what else?

Orna Ross: I think looking at what other authors are doing in your genre. It's very important that your branding resonates with your genre, and it's also equally important that you stand out. So, you have to differentiate yourself from everybody else but first you have to understand what's going on in there. So, I think one way is, absolutely, is to read guides to branding, and there are lots of them, lots of really good stuff on online on this, but another way is to look and see what other people are doing and see what sorts of feelings you're getting from that and make notes about them from a branding perspective. So, looking and seeing, you know, what's brand saying to me, how am I getting those feelings, what's actually bringing that out in me? What sorts of words are being used here in book descriptions, obviously, as well as in the surrounding promotional material, and colours and design elements that we've been talking about all along. And carrying those two things in your mind, how can I take what this author is doing and do it in my way?

And this again is where the curated authenticity comes in, you put your own stamp on this, but it's very important to understand what's going on in your part of the publishing ecosystem.

And brands subtly shift over time in publishing as a whole. As well as your own individual brand is shifting so are expectations from the reader. So, we see very often where a certain type of cover comes into our genre and suddenly it's everywhere. So, that's going on as well, and you need to have some sort of awareness of that and where you fit in; you're either going to do that or you're not going to do that, you make those choices and know why you're doing it.

And sometimes you just have to hold out for the brand as well. I deliberately, on the GoCreative! books, chose a branding that wasn't trendy, it never was trendy, it never will be. But to me, it's very colourful and speaks the aspect of creativity that I was trying to get across, and I've held with that all the way through, when lots of other aspects of my brand has changed. So, sometimes you go against trends, and you feel you have good reasons for doing.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and then of course it's creating content around that brand. So, obviously your books, creating books within the brand, we're authors, but also other content. So, blogging, podcasting, your social media.

So, as Joanna Penn, my Creative Penn podcast, and this, the AskALLi podcast, is similar. It's educational, it's inspirational, hopefully, it's helpful. It's all those things. So, I'm not going to talk on this show about why America is a foreign country, and Orna is not going to talk about, I don't know, WB Yeats on this show, unless it's in a way to help other people. So, we are very careful to keep to our lane, I guess, stay in your lane, and that's how people find you. If you want to have a podcast or a blog, it's unlikely to be successful if you cover loads and loads of topics, that's kind of the way content works really, is that it's about certain things.

People have their certain areas, and I know that's annoying, it can be annoying, and that's why I've started another podcast, Books and Travel, because I was like, I really want to share this other side, but it just doesn't fit. And I even thought about starting another podcast on futurist stuff, but in the end, I decided to do it on The Creative Penn. It could still spin onto another site, but everything that is the future becomes the present.

But what are the other forms of content, Orna, that we share in our brands?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, absolutely everything you do in a public sphere adheres to your brand, and I think the other key kind of decision that you need to think about is, are you primarily branding the books or are you primarily branding the author? And if you are an author of a certain type, you can probably, if you're entertaining enough or inspiring enough, you can probably have your author name as your podcast, and then just riff off on whatever takes your fancy, because you're really good at podcasting, and you're highly entertaining, and people just love listening to you no matter what you talk about. Or will read your book no matter that you've got 16 standalone novels that are all completely different.

But the people who succeed in that way, it's in a tiny, tiny minority of authors. However, they are very visible and that can lead indie author who are starting out to think, that's the way to do it, but it's almost certainly not the way to do it.

The other way then is to brand the books, and so you have different series. For different aspects of you as an author, you may even have different names, and the names are not as important as the content of the book, the design of the book, the promise of the book. So, a lot of this depends on how much you are leaning into your genre and how much you're leaning over into your way of writing, or your style, or your form, all that kind of thing. So, that's a decision that, depending on the kind of, and this is to your point about where you want to be in five years’ time, if you want to be an award-winning prestigious literary fiction author, then it's the name, your author name will become your brand.

But if you want to have fun writing genre fiction and make more money, and make it very clear to the reader what they're getting, then you'll lean more into branding the book.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely, and I guess as we're rounding up now, the main thing is also to think long-term and don't get annoyed because you haven't got it right yet, or because you're pivoting, or because you just haven't got enough content out there.

It all adds up over time, and like I said, since 2007 when I started writing and publishing and then blogging, The Creative Penn has been going since December 2008, and I've changed themes, I've changed lots of things, but it's The Creative Penn, and by the way, that was my third website. So, it wasn't just, oh, that's a good idea. I'll do that. It was not my first idea. There's been a lot of mistakes along the way.

But think long-term, and I guess you will get there eventually, and then probably by the time you're there, you'll want to pivot, but don't pivot too soon because people might just be realizing who you are.

Yes, and stay core.

Orna Ross: Very often, even though you change lots, so you think, over the years, actually, your core promise has not changed at all. And so, I think that's the other thing for us to think in terms of thinking long-term, what's core, what doesn't change, and be consistent around that and be clear around that. And then all the superficial stuff will change, but if you can get the core thing right from the start then that really helps.

Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Okay. So, we are done for today. Orna, anything you want to say about ALLi coming up in the next month?

Orna Ross: I can't think of anything. We've got our event, that's the major event that's coming up that you and I are doing in person.

Yes. You and I, the creator economy.

Yes, and we'll put the link to that in the show notes for anybody who can make it from the UK. It is in Bath.

Joanna Penn: Yes, Bath.

Brilliant, and next, actually, because we were a bit late on this one, Tuesday, 7th of June, we'll be talking about endings, transitions, and new beginnings, which shall remain mysterious until then. So, all that remains to say is, happy writing.

Orna Ross: And happy publishing. Bye, bye.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads.

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This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I enjoy the brand concept of “telling the reader what to anticipate,” thus honesty is a crucial component. A horse brand seared into its flesh is not a pleasant sensation.

  2. Thanks ladies for all this “gathering” of information. Interesting to hear that series sold so well during the pandemic, which of course stll lingers all over the globe.
    What is this “Imposter Syndrome” about? Love to hear more as to why you cut over 30% from the ms?
    I like the idea about brand, “Tell the reader what to expect” therefore integrity is one of its important components.
    Brand is not a nice feeling, like a horse brand burned into its skin.
    Is the Brand just the Heading. The genres we write in can change, so that makes the Branding complicated.
    Maybe design a “Brand” logo that can be added to, like a house with another room.
    Surely as we grow, learn and mature into who we really are, our genres must change, but our name must also be altered to accommodate changes perhaps.
    Nobody likes the same thing over and over again as it is boring. So, why not change a smidgen in name and spirit along the journey.
    Could a writer have several brands and several names with genres to match?
    This was all very interesting to listen to.
    Who am I? What am I? Where am I? What am I doing? Love these phrases.
    Using initials seems like a stroke of genius.

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