Branding is a term you hear a lot in the marketing world, and I find that a lot of authors don’t really understand what it means for them. Most people understand branding only in visual terms—usually in the form of a logo—and, that’s certainly the easiest way to discern it. However, it goes a little deeper than that, and understanding the essence of your brand will help you to better reflect it visually.
The core of branding isn’t visual. It’s the positive emotions you want associated with you/your company/your work.
As an author, your work is your books. But it’s also you. When you do an interview or do a book signing, you are a part of your author brand too. Now, when we add in different pen names, things start to get complicated, and you can think of each pen name as its own brand. If you are (like me) writing in multiple genres under one name, then your brand has to encompass that. Though, you can focus on different attributes for your different areas of focus, just like a company with multiple divisions and product lines does.
Think about branding this way; you trust certain companies for different things. You might trust one store for a broad selection of clothes at an inexpensive price, and trust another store for specialty clothes like suits or plus size clothes. You might go to one grocery store for inexpensive produce, and another for quality cuts of meat. Or you might trust one television channel for accurate news reporting and another channel for the types of TV shows you like to watch. Some restaurants specialize in desserts, and others in entrees. In other words—you don’t trust everyone for everything.
A company’s logo is usually the easiest way to sum up what we trust that company for. Similarly, with authors, you trust certain authors for certain things.
With author branding, it’s your name that is the brand. Your book cover is the easiest way to get across what you are promising. You’re telling the potential reader what you want them to trust you for. So before you get into how your visual design of your book covers should get across your author brand, you have to know what your author brand is. You’ll want to know the overarching themes of your books, what your strengths are as a writer, and then begin to boil these down to several brand attributes that you want associated with your name. You might also create a tagline.
When you are working with book covers, particularly within the same genre and especially within a series, you want them to share some visual elements so that they make a clear visual connection to one another. This is crucial with a series, but any of your books falling within the same genre should have some kind of visual cohesion. If your books are all sitting on a table, or if you’re using images of your books on an ad or postcard, you want them to have some “family resemblance.”
The visual characteristics that you employ should speak to your author brand, or at least to your pen name’s brand.
I’ll use some of my own works to show how I do that even across genre lines. My own illustration style tends to be dark, mythic, and evocative. Right now my working tagline is “Awaken Mythic Imagination,” which seems to fit across my fiction, my nonfiction, as well as my graphic design and artwork. It even works a bit for my leadership and facilitation consulting.
I use a similar visual style for my fiction and my nonfiction because it works for the topics I’m addressing, and it makes my work visually cohesive. For many of my book covers and other illustrations, I use a visual technique sometimes referred to as a vignette. Basically, it’s a frame around the main image content. It’s an evocative way to invite people into the “world” within your book, and it’s also a tidy way to offer a similar visual to tie various books together within the same series. You’ll also notice I use the same font for my name on my book covers.
In my Dreamwork book, the frame is a border of leaves with texture. As it happens, I’ve started writing a follow up book that has the same border. I’ll post a sneak peak of that cover here, though that book isn’t finished and the cover might change a bit.
I created an entire series of illustrations to use for the interior of the first book. Those designs are all images I adapted from magazine covers I designed years ago for a very small metaphysical magazine called Between the Worlds back in 2006. The magazine was only ever seen by a hundred, maybe a thousand people, and the organization that ran it went defunct several years ago. Thus, I had the opportunity to re-use some illustrations I’d already created.
Similarly, here are two of my published nonfiction books, also focused on the metaphysical and Earth-centered community. But I’ve already gone ahead and designed covers for books that I haven’t finished yet. The unpublished covers aren’t finalized, but you can see how I use the same texture pattern around the main content area, as well as similar elements—hands, a key, and a butterfly.
If you want to see a lot of very nice visual branding on covers, check out these authors. Whether or not you like the covers, or the genres for that matter, these are all effective ways to ensure readers know your book is part of the same series.
- Karen Marie Moning
- Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge Series
- Jon Messenger
- M. Black
- Colleen Gleason
- Bella Forrest
- Marissa Meyer
- Aprilynne Pike
- Angie Sage
- Yasmine Galenorn (Click the little “View Otherworld Books” to expand and see all the covers side by side)
Visual Branding Challenges
As I’ve addressed in previous posts in this series, getting images people that look right, and that are in the right poses, is pretty tricky, especially working with stock photos. Worse, you also need cover images that communicate your genre.
One challenge I face is that with my current published works, I’m working with a few different genres, and I’m only very slowly building up books in any one series. And for the SpiralStone series, I have some books that are M/F/M ménage (Werewolves in the Kitchen, etc.) and some books that are M/F paranormal romances (A Golden Heart of Glass, Three Brothers Cursed). The characters overlap and center around the SpiralStone community so it’s definitely a series…but one that includes different subgenres. And I want my covers to articulate as much of the genre information as I can.
Covers have to do a lot of heavy lifting—they have to tell the reader in a glance what the story is about. My ménage cover has Ellie on the cover with both Kyle and Jake, plus two wolves; I have to make it as clear as I can that it’s a ménage. I don’t want a reader to pick up the book and be surprised at the threesome scenes. I have a similar challenge in my ongoing Winter Knight series; A Winter Knight’s Fantasy contains a threesome scene, though the other two books are M/F.
You want to do your best to communicate the genre and theme of the book. And, you also need to be aware that even if you do all that work, the reader still may not actually read the blurb and any warnings. Let’s recall that we live in an age where people skim things. So the cover should do as much of this work as possible. Covers work to communicate on an intuitive level.
Here are a series of unfinished designs I’m working up for a series of at least three books. They are all paranormal romances with heavy urban fantasy crossover. The covers aren’t quite finished, but you can see the visual elements that I’m pulling together for all three. Also, notice how they still reflect the visual style of my other series with the textures, colors, and borderwork.
Choose stock photos that you can easily make memes and banners out of. Here are some FB banners and banner ads I’ve designed for a few of my books, as well as a general one for my fiction.
If you’re not sure where to start on creating your author brand, here’s an article I read recently that might give you some ideas. http://www.marketing4writers.net/home/how-to-create-your-author-brand
You also can use my Creative Brief template that I posted earlier in this series to begin to answer questions about your goals. Next time we’ll talk about designing collateral materials like postcards, ads, and banners.
A graphic designer, artist, author, and presenter, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations.
She’s the author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels includingWerewolves in the Kitchen, A Winter Knight’s Vigil, and A Fading Amaranth. She is also the author of the nonfiction books The Leader Within, Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path, and forthcoming The Facilitation Handbook: Enchanting a Group
Shauna’s writing and artwork is inspired by the mythic stories of heroes, of swords and magic, and of the darkness we each must overcome. That the challenges we face shape us, and help each character—each person–to become heroes. Shauna is passionate about creating experiences, spaces, stories, designs, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination. Web Site: http://www.shaunaauraknight.com
Graphic Design and Consulting:
Shauna’s artwork and graphic design are used for fiction and nonfiction book covers and marketing collateral. Her work often has a dark, mythic, textural flavor. If you’re looking for an honest opinion on your covers or other collateral, she’s happy to offer a brief review for free. If you’re interested in engaging Shauna for graphic design, mention this article for 30% off your first project (maximum of $200 off). You can view her portfolio here: http://shaunaknightarts.wordpress.com