So you are writing or have written your first book. Congratulations because now the easy part is over. What’s that you say? Writing is hard? But it’s cool because you KNOW that your first book is going to sell a metric shit ton of copies and you’re going to sit around and revel in the adoration of countless fans and have your royalty checks delivered in solid gold checks? You’re also going to be an overnight New York Times best seller and the talk of the town. You know this to be true.
Good fucking luck with all of that.
The fact is, there are so many books, so many authors, and so many voices shouting to be heard, it’s very difficult to get your book in front of people. Gone are the days of the new writers landing an agent, publicist, and mega budget, all in one fell swoop. Don’t get me wrong, it still happens, but it’s very infrequent.
That’s why it’s important to start branding yourself and branding yourself early on. So the question is, what is a brand?
“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room”. – Jeff Bezos
BOOM! That’s it, my job is done here. Have a nice day.
You’re still reading, allow me to elaborate.
If you’re a new author you need to ask yourself a few questions. First, why the fuck do I want to be a writer? Seriously, when I do cons, panels, or readings, and the inevitable question comes up “How do I become a writer?” I always say “Have you considered every single other job in the world yet?”
Now that you’ve really made up your mind, (and don’t say I didn’t warn you!), how do you want to be perceived as an author? Do you want people to recognize your name and associate it with a certain style or genre of writing? Do you want to be known as a serious prepper or someone who embraces the lighter side of the inevitable zombie apocalypse? Do you want to post pictures of yourself with lots of guns, or maybe a lot of gin and tonics?
It’s been all the rage to build up a fan base on social media but there are many other places to work on building your brand, again, communicating with the public. The fact is that no one cares that you are an author except you and your mom, unless your name is Stephen King, or Clive Barker. You have to go out and build up your fan base one person at a time. So how does one communicate their writing to the masses?
Another place to establish your brand is through writing groups, a ton of social media, and or by attending conventions. I started this way. I purchased table space at local conventions, brought a bunch of books, and talked to every single person that walked past my table. I handed out business cards, writing samples, sometimes free books. The hope was always – well, if I sell a book and someone likes it, they may tell a friend. Boom – word of mouth.
What kind of book are you going to write or have you written? While this series of blogs is focused on the zombie sub-genre, it can also easily cover horror, or even sci-fi/fantasy. It’s important to start building your brand right away, don’t wait until you’ve sent a manuscript to an agent or an editor if you’re self-publishing. Start talking about your book NOW. Tell everyone you meet about your book. If you’re at a convention, assume no one there has ever heard of you so be cool, be humble, and talk to everyone. Trust me, don’t be that guy wearing shades, looking smug, with his first self-published book, on display, handing out nuggets of wisdom to everybody that stops by. I’ve been the guy on the other end of the pitch, trying not to laugh out loud, because brother, you look ree-goddamn-diculous.
Look somewhat humble and make eye contact. At least make an attempt not to be a douche-waffle. You can save that for when you’ve established your brand and you’re feeling cocky.
Build a website even if it’s just a simple blog with weekly posts. Talk about your book and relate it to your posts. If you’re writing about the end of the world why not write a blog about bunkers and how to survive underground. Sure it will take some research but it’s research that will help you with your book. Plus, you never know who is going to read that post. Maybe a hardcore prepper reads it and tells his prepper buddies, you know, in a secret bunker somewhere as they count grains of rice and bullets.
While building your brand you need to think about what themes will run through your book. Do you have a message? Do you want to be known as an author who writes ultra-gory scenes or do you add a little bit of romance or build on friendships. Once you’ve identified your themes or messages, how will you convey those in your work? This is the time to sit down and really visualize how to get this to readers. It may be as simple as plotting out an entire series, or maybe you want to write in the same genre but approach different themes.
You may have a common setting in your books. I write the majority of my stuff in the Pacific Northwest but mainly Seattle. Why? Because I’m from this area and I know it well. There’s an old writing rule: write what you know. This is one of my themes. If you read one of my books, there’s a good chance I’ll try to make you feel what it’s like to live in an overcast and rain soaked part of the US.
Early in my writing career I did this by writing a serious zombie book called Among the Living. The way I marketed it was not your normal posts that read “Hey, I wrote a book about zombies, go buy it!” Instead I wrote a free serial that also had zombies but the book was a comedic piece called The Zombie-Wilson Diaries. It might seem like fans would get confused by writing two completely different styles but they didn’t. Fans that read the free serial moved onto my serious Z book and thus my brand was born (see how I worked two of my books into a blog post about building your brand? Bazinga!)
Trust me. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time but one small incident showed me. A few years after I’d put out a few more books a fan approached me at a convention and said something along the lines of “When I think of the zombie genre, I think of Timothy W. Long” – this seems to be my brand and so I embrace it.
As you work on your first book it’s important to take a minute and decide how you will carry forward once the book is done. Write down ideas for spin-offs or sequels. Maybe there is a way you can write a young adult book set in the same world, or follows the same theme. Jonathan Maberry has done this to great effect with his Rot and Ruin series. Maberry also very cleverly writes horror, but under the genre of thriller, with his Joe Ledger books.
Having built your themes or message as an established brand, will go a long way toward helping you land an agent. If you already have a following, chances are an agency will look on you more favorably. If you’re going to self publish, having that core group of people who now follow you means you have a built in customer base.
This brings us to the final part of how to get started on building your brand. If you’re going to write in a particular genre then start looking at successful authors in that genre. don’t be shy. Get out there and find out who is ruling the roost and set your sights on them. But be nice about it. Reach out to them and ask questions. Authors are pretty cool and will generally share information with you. Don’t be shy and be sure to check out their platforms to see how they are communicating with their audience. Writing is not a competition, we are all here to help each other out.
Take the things I’ve mentioned in this post and make a list.
- Series or spin offs
- Other authors in the genre
Start with this, write them out, then put them in a folder called ‘business plan.’ In a future post I’ll talk about why it’s a good idea to start thinking of writing, as a business. Until then, write on, writer.
My first convention in 2010 with Jonathan Moon, and S. G. Brown.