Monday, September 19, 2011

Branding #3...product vs. author brand

I think part of the reason that authors get a bit stumped when it comes to branding is they don't realize the difference between product branding and author branding and only consider one or the other. I'll propose you have to think about both.

Product Brand
Most people understand branding a product - Campbell's Soup, Coca-Cola. When developing the brand for a product you have a few things:
  • Consistency of design
  • Consistency of tag line/messaging
  • Ability for easy classification
  • Ability for easy recognition
One of the panelists at dragoncon kept mentioning that big, traditional publishers don't do author branding, they only understand product branding and I'd have to agree with this. A lot of the marketing activities are centered around activities such as:
  • Cover design (product)
  • Title of book (product)
  • Tag lines (product)
These are all important activities that need to be done, and done well. If you are self-published you'll have to take over this side of things, but if you are published through another organization they'll take care of this for you.

Author Brand
Is what I've been focusing on in my other posts: Branding where to begin & Branding Part 2 The Basics and we'll have more on this important topic but for now I just want people to realize that there is a distinction between the two so let's get back to product branding.

Everyone will tell you that a good cover is a key to success and I couldn't agree more. I'll actually do a lot more on covers but today I want to focus on one thing in particular...series. If you are responsible for the covers (self-publishing) the cover is going to be your MOST important branding signal and if they are in a series you have to spend more time planning them out.

I'm going to pick on A.P. Stevens for just a minute. I bumped into him on facebook (which reminds me...please "like me on facebook" as I need to get to 25 likes to add a username ( In any case he was speaking about his books and a promotion he did and I asked him for a link. here are A.P.'s first two books in his "White Wolf Series":

I gave A.P. a ton of advice about these covers, and I won't repeat it all here except to illustrate one particular point which is I would never think that these two book are book 1 and book 2 of a series.

Messing up the "in a series" branding is not limited to self-published titles. I publish, through Ridan, a great set of books by Leslie Ann Moore. Originally the first two books were published through a company called Avari Press. Here are their covers:

Again, I would never think these are the same two books. Even though the publisher used the same fonts for the titles and author's name the graphics are so different that I can't make any connection. Moreover, the first book looks like some kind of young adult book and the second looks like a Gothic vampire novel.

Now let's look at what Ridan did when we re-released this title.

Now these, not surprisingly are reflecting a single product brand. My litmus test on branding is that if a table was filled with 25 stacks of books could you tell which ones went together. I think people would pretty easily pick these out as "together". They would struggle a bit with the ones from Avari, but because both books start with Griffin and the fonts are the same they might eventually figure it out. In the case of AP's books. I'm not sure I could ever connect the two.

We'll be looking more at covers in future posts but for now these are the points I want you to walk away with:
  • Your author branding is all about "you" - who you are, what you believe in
  • Your product brand is separate and you need to present consistent visual cues to the brand
  • If you have a series of books you have to apply additional care to make sure that your cover design can be coordinated across all the books.
More to come....


David Gaughran said...

Very interesting stuff, Robin.

I'm curious as to how you would apply these lessons to an other with multiple books that weren't linked in a series, or even were different genres.


Lisa Nowak said...

I'm trying to come up with cover ideas for the second book in my series right now, and it's a real pain. I totally agree with you about how important it is to tie them together, it's just tough to come up with ideas.

Robin Sullivan said...

@David - when not in a series I wouldn't try to make them too similar as they might "imply" a series that you don't want to.

Book covers fit squarely in the "product branding" space rather than the "author branding" space so it is best to brand them for their genre. It therfore would make sense that books by the same author from different genres or seies would not really look the same from one to the other.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Lisa - Yeah it can be hard - I would say try to make the font treatment of the title and author be paramount (both in look and placement).

It also helps if you can make the titles coordinated. Here's a few examples:

Theft of Swords
Rise of Empire
Heir of Novron

Are the titles of Michael's republished Orbit versions of the Riyria Revelations - notice each title is 3 words long with "of" in the middle and a single syllable word to start. (Simliar in length) that makes the typography easier.

Joshua P. Simon said...

I'm actually doing this very same thing with the covers to my trilogy and the short story/novellas that will tie into it.

Hopefully, "the look" I want will work and the branding will be successful.

I've also done something similar with the names of the books.

Rise and Fall

Divide and Conquer

Victory and Defeat

Suzanne said...

Gee, Robin could have used the original cover art for my first trilogy (Paper Woman, The Blacksmith's Daughter, and Camp Follower) as an example on this particular post. :-) The print publisher created ineffective cover art and didn't bother to tie the brand together visually from one book to the next.

I'd retained the ebook rights, so I hired a professional artist and got really good covers put on the ebooks to create a sense of product brand, as Robin discusses. The combination of effective cover art and correct categorization is what finally got my book sales moving. Now that the print rights for that trilogy have reverted to me, I'll reissue those in the Spring of 2012 with the effective covers.

Regulated for Murder, a new title to be released 14 October, starts a spin-off series from the above trilogy. The challenge here was to cue potential readers visually about the brand but allow them to recognize that it was part of a new series.

You can see the covers for all four titles here.

And I know that Robin has discussed this somewhere on her blog, but for best results with cover art, it has to speak directly to your specific target audience and inform them that they'll get a need met by reading your book.

Suzanne Adair

David Gaughran said...

Thanks Robin, that makes sense.

Gerhi Feuren said...

Weee! You can't tell those books are related can you?

I'd like to think of books in a series as siblings, even twins, with strong genetic similarities.

Books by the same author should still show family resemblances. Always the same font for the author name? Easy to accomplish if you self-publish, eh?

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Great post, Robin. I haven't done a whole lot of series work but it's definitely a "product line." I do think standalone books should have some distinguishing characteristics for the author--I often use the same font for my author name, for example, but I am not as rigid about this as I should be. These exercises also help one appreciate how difficult it is for a publisher to sell a book!

K. W. Jeter said...

Absolutely spot on. The Ridan covers for Nathan Lowell's books are another great example.

janeljoh said...

The illustrations of your the branding concept were very clear and nicely done. I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you.

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