It’s All About You — Sometimes

When I visit the bookstore or library, I seldom fail to see at least one novel where the entire back cover consists of an author photo. That’s it. No endorsements, no story blurb, no author bio. Just a picture of the author. And usually the front cover doesn’t offer many clues, either. Maybe a vague illustration, along with the title and author’s name. To my mind, this means this author has built such a strong fan base that they will buy any book the author writes, regardless, as long as the book shows the author’s name and image.

Likewise, when I was a teenager, I bought every recording by certain artists I enjoyed. I didn’t have to listen to the songs before plunking down my hard-earned bucks. These artists had proven to me that I would enjoy their work so I wasn’t taking much of a risk to buy their albums. Sure, I liked some collections better than others, but I could find at least a few songs on each album I enjoyed, making the investment of my time and money worthwhile.

Forming this type of fan base is what you’re doing by building your brand. You want to create a group of readers who will buy your books no matter what. How to do this?

Consistency Is Key

If your fans enjoy a particular genre, keep writing that. Why? Because if you make a drastic change without warning, your core readers will be disappointed and may not buy your next book. Or the next, or the next. Assuming there are any subsequent books after the switch.

But I Want to Write Something Different!

Anyone can understand the desire for a writer – or anyone else – to crave some variety in work. However, your readers are not buying your books to help you self-actualize. They buy books for their entertainment, edification, and knowledge. Through consistently high quality, you must convince them that they aren’t rolling the dice when they purchase your book. When you demonstrate to them often enough that you provide what they’re looking for, they’ll stick with you. Hence, the effort you have made to build your brand will come to fruition.

So don’t run away from your brand. Embrace it, and enjoy your fans. If and when you want to branch out, it may not be impossible to do so. Ask your agent for direction. It’s what we do!

Your turn:

Is there an author whose books you’ll buy no matter what?

What is your brand? How are you building it?


46 Responses to It’s All About You — Sometimes

  1. Leslie DeVooght January 18, 2018 at 6:34 am #

    Branding has been my focus for a few months. Mine is southern romance on the coast and at the beach. I’m trying to mention this in my blog posts and on social media. I just took new headshots at the beach. I’m hoping people will start identifying me as the sassy southern author who writes about love on the beach.

  2. Karen Saari January 18, 2018 at 6:50 am #

    Well, this is timely for me. I’ve written three books (a series) in one genre. The book I’m working on now is different – because I wanted to know if I could do it. But maybe this will hurt me in the long run. I have some thinking to do!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 6:54 am #

      Here’s my take: just because you write a book doesn’t mean it has to be published today. If you were writing it to see if you could, then your true mission is accomplished. But the team you have working directly with you on your career can better advise!

  3. Sarah Hamaker January 18, 2018 at 6:55 am #

    I used to buy every book a certain author wrote (and she had a new one each spring), but then I stopped because the level of writing went downhill. It was like the author was phoning in her copy to a typist. What used to be clever and twisty plots became mundane and predictable. This author has since “recovered” and her books are better, but still nowhere near the level of her earlier ones. So I might check it out from the library, but I no longer plunk down cash for a copy.

    Just a reminder that writing in your genre is good…unless you stop caring about writing good books in your genre.

    • Rebekah Gyger January 18, 2018 at 1:45 pm #

      Exactly! I have given up on a lot of writers for that very reason. Or because, while the books were of equal quality (so a new reader could pick up and love one of the newer ones), all the plots and surprises remained the same and predictable.

  4. Sami A. Abrams January 18, 2018 at 7:03 am #

    Two authors I’ll read no matter what are Lynette Eason and Irene Hannon. I have yet to be disappointed.

    I’m writing romantic suspense that take place in small Midwestern towns. However, I don’t want my stories defined by location, but by content. My stories focus on physical and emotional traumas. I like bringing to light the struggles not always seen by others, and how we can lean on God and our friends or loved ones to overcome the pains of our past.

    I’m building my brand by continuing to write stories addressing different types of trauma, which I also include in my flash fiction.

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 18, 2018 at 7:48 am #

    I think maybe it’s not about the author’s brand, Tamela, but that of the reader…what we become when we read a certain writer’s work.

    In film, “Lord Of The Rings” and “Star Wars” are not really about wizards and weirdos, or lasers and light-speed; they’re about the greatness the most unlikely people can find inside themselves when faced with dire and transcendental circumstance, when far more than life of death hangs in the balance. This is what calls to our heart, and brings us back.

    This is not to say that Peter Jackson, channeling Tolkien with such mastery, didn’t create a compelling world, and the same goes for George Lucas, but the inner journey is the viewer’s touchstone, the one that Joseph Campbell tried so hard to explain, and that to which Jesus, in calling His Apostles, gave full animation.

    So I guess my brand is defined not by what I say, but by what the reader sees, in holding up my words as a mirror to her life.

    It’s my readers who own my brand; to their hearts I am beholden.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 12:10 pm #

      Good points, Andrew. I think what you are really talking about is the story beyond the story. For example, a romance will be about two people falling in love. That is the surface story. But the deeper story will be about their spiritual growth.

      The skilled writer entertains the reader while imparting the “lesson” of the story.

      And I’m all about giving a shout-to readers!

  6. Sharon Cowen January 18, 2018 at 8:03 am #

    “The inner journey is the viewers touchstone. . . .” Love that, Andrew. Love Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey as well. Those Apostles had quite a journey, as did Jesus.

  7. Anne Carol January 18, 2018 at 8:09 am #

    Thank you so much for this article. It’ll give me direction on what to write after my current series. My brand is contemporary romance with themes of redemption or transformation. I also tend to gravitate toward musicians as characters, and I don’t see that changing. Music is a big part of my life!

    My favorite authors are Francine Rivers, Tamera Alexander, Becky Wade, Rachel Hauck, and Karen Kingsbury. I’m also on the lookout for Christian writers who have rock star or musician characters. There doesn’t seem to be very many, which tells me I need to keep writing in this niche!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

      Sadly, as you know, the “rock and roll lifestyle” (which many pastors would call a “deathstyle”) isn’t conducive to a rich and upright spiritual life. In my view, this is why you see very few, if any, rock star heroes in Christian books.

      • Anne Carol January 18, 2018 at 12:44 pm #

        Very true. I guess I have that “itch” to show the redemption of those who have come from a non-Christian lifestyle. I’ve read several biographies of real life rock musicians who have completely turned their lives around. Amazing what God can do!

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 18, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

        Deathstyle…aw, gee, Tamela, does that mean that beer for breakfast is a BAD thing?

        Seriously, there are miracles…Brian Welch of Korn became a born-again Christian, and has written four books on his journey back from the depths. He’s appeared with Bobby Schuller on ‘Hour Of Power’ several times.

        Welch returned to Korn after a ten-year absence, and has spread his faith among his bandmates.

        Still looks like a hard rocker, but hey…that’s the cool thing about Jesus. He’ll take anyone.

        Even me.

        • Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 1:08 pm #

          I love the story about Brian Welch! I was aware of his journey, and wish more rockers would discover the beauty of the Lord!

          And yes, I’m glad Jesus took even ME!

        • Anne Carol January 18, 2018 at 1:24 pm #

          I’ve read Brian Welch’s book, “Save Me From Myself”, as well as “Juke Box Hero” by Lou Gramm (of Foreigner). I also have a book by Richard Thomas called “Standing in the Fire.” He was a lead guitarist in Rev Theory under the stage name “Rikki Lix”. God can use anyone to bring people into His kingdom. Sometime using former “bad boys” is the only way to reach people. I pray my rock star romance readers (who would never read a “normal” Christian romance) will get an inspirational, yet subtle, message through my stories. (I love seeing messy people become transformed!)

          • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 18, 2018 at 1:30 pm #

            Anne, one of the best ‘bad boy transformed’ novels is William Barrett’s “The Left Hand Of God”. It’s about a mercenary in postwar China who tries to escape from his warlord employer by impersonating a priest.

            Close to my heart, because I was in that line of work myself.

  8. Mark Alan Leslie January 18, 2018 at 8:48 am #

    Well, no more George MacDonald books are coming down the road, or C.S. Lewis, either. But I’ll buy any Joel Rosenberg, even when he diverges into “Epicenter” territory. Bodie Thoene. Randy Alcorn and Michael Phillips, too.
    As far as mainstream: Brad Meltzer, Daniel Silva, Lee Child and Harlan Coben. Imagine, no swearing, no taking God’s name in vain, in any of their books. Go figure.

  9. Robin E. Mason January 18, 2018 at 9:08 am #

    so many authors on that list!!! and it’s constantly growing and changing!
    and I need to focus on my own brand – i write about identity and i’m trying to (ahem) identify how to best brand that, or what a logo might look like (i “randomly” chose Bird’s Nest Books for my name when i put my first book on Amazon – birds being associated with my name and therefore part of my identity, nest representing that which is most precious to me, family and friends)

    • Carol Ashby January 18, 2018 at 9:37 am #

      I like your choice, Robin. I used the same logic in picking my publisher name. I chose Cerrillo Press. Cerrillo means little hill in Spanish, and I’m the baby of the Hill family.

      • Robin E. Mason January 18, 2018 at 10:10 am #

        love it, Carol!!! i’m working on a minimalist logo – pages, wings, bird flying….

        • Carol Ashby January 18, 2018 at 11:07 am #

          Minimalist is best, I think. Mine is a crisp line drawing of a couple of distant hills with a pinon pine centered in front of them. You can see it if you click on my name here.

          • Robin E. Mason January 18, 2018 at 5:20 pm #

            very lovely, Carol, and very much what i’m thinking for mine!

  10. Carol Ashby January 18, 2018 at 9:34 am #

    This is a good exercise for us, Tamela. Developing a one-sentence summary of my brand hasn’t been a one-time effort. I keep tinkering and refining. For the moment, I’m using the following in my short Amazon bio. I write “stories of difficult friendships and life-changing decisions in dangerous times, where forgiveness and love open hearts to discover their own faith in Christ.”

    That fits my Light in the Empire series, but it also fits my stand-alone romantic thriller set in 1925 Colorado cattle country. Is that too big a leap for my Roman/Biblical fiction fans? About 10% of my sales are international, drawn in by my Roman history website. Will someone from Nigeria or the UK want to read something set on an American ranch?

    I’ll never be famous enough that my photo alone will make a sale. I don’t even put my photo or bio on the back cover. It would be clutter that distracts from the elegant design and the backcopy that I hope will stimulate readers’ curiosity enough that they want the whole story.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 12:18 pm #

      Carol, it sounds like you’ve done a good job of drawing a line of demarcation so your fans of each type of book won’t be disappointed. Nice work!

      I’d consider placing a photo inside the book, though. Readers enjoy those.

      • Carol Ashby January 18, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

        I do have a photo and bio in the back matter. My cover designer thought that was a much better place for them, anyway. She’s Roseanna White, who publishes her Edwardian historical suspense through Bethany House. She doesn’t have a photo/bio on the back of her novels, either.

  11. Ann Shorey January 18, 2018 at 10:06 am #

    Interesting post, Tamela.
    I’ll buy Charles Martin and Billy Coffey, no matter what. 🙂

  12. Janice C. Johnson January 18, 2018 at 10:32 am #

    One of my writer friends writes in starkly different genres, using different pen names for each.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 12:28 pm #

      Janice, that is definitely one excellent solution that works for many authors.

  13. Angela Carlisle January 18, 2018 at 11:32 am #

    I’ll buy anything by Lynette Eason or Sarah Sundin. I have another author I nearly always buy, but if I realize it isn’t her normal genre, then I skip. Her writing is just as good in the other, but it just isn’t a genre I care for.
    As for myself , I write romantic suspense but am new enough in the writing arena to be rather at a loss for how to establish that branding short of sticking to it.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 12:29 pm #

      Keep writing in that genre, make sure your online presence reflects what you write, and build your audience. Ultimately your agent and publisher will help you form your brand as well.

  14. Linda Riggs Mayfield January 18, 2018 at 11:43 am #

    I wrote and obtained a publisher’s commitment to buy two children’s books without an agent, then internal dissention at the publisher kept them from being published. I actually received an email from a member of the board of directors telling me they had overruled the editorial division’s decision to purchase and publish my books! After all the time, effort, travel, and expense that had gone into that project, I was discouraged (cynical?) and haven’t tried to publish them elsewhere. I’ve completed several YA and adult novels in different Christian genres, including suspense and historical. (I, too, love the Thoenes.)The idea of different pen names for different genres and building different core followers for them is appealing, but is any agent likely to be open to a plan like that? Clearly, you recommend consistency in order to keep followers coming back, and I know you personally have a very specific area of representation. Would an agent ever be willing to deal with multiple genres from the beginning of the relationship, or does a writer have to become well established in one genre before attempting to publish in another? Thanks.

    • Carol Ashby January 18, 2018 at 12:08 pm #

      Linda, the thought of trying to create a platform based on a fake me seemed so daunting that I dropped the idea of using a pen name shortly after I started reading this blog. (It’s hard enough with the real me!) If readers want to feel like they have a connection with an author, like I’ve read here, then how do I create an attractive-but-fake “real person” to go with the pen name?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 12:33 pm #

      Linda and Carol, I think it’s good to ask agents from the start what their feelings and ideas are about this. Form a plan with the agent from the beginning. If you’re going for two or more types of writing and personas, you may want to take the extra step of hiring someone who specializes in branding to help you manage your online presence. Also realize that success with more than one genre can actually be a problem as you find you need time to write, edit, and publish.

      As for myself, you’re right — I do have a brand! But I am open to other types of works, including nonfiction, and have represented those successfully.

  15. Sheri Dean Parmelee January 18, 2018 at 11:58 am #

    Tamela, great information! My brand is contemporary romance suspense with a Christian world view. I hope to get established enough to publish my Suddenly Single series; since it will also have a Christian world view, I am hoping that it will be accepted by my readers.

  16. Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 12:26 pm #

    You’re getting good advice. And I know what you mean about that sweet spot, Rebekah!

  17. Martha Whiteman Rogers January 18, 2018 at 1:27 pm #

    Ahh, I have so many authors whose books I buy as soon as they come out. Lynette Eason and Terri Blackstock are at the top of the list along with Brandilyn Collins. Can you tell I like suspense. 🙂 I read it, but don’t try to write it. I stick with romance either contemporary or historical. All of my books have generally the same theme . . . mainly reconciliation of man with God or man to man (or woman as the case may be). Plan to keep writing in this genre as long as God allows.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 18, 2018 at 3:14 pm #

      I’m just like you — I love to read suspense but wouldn’t try to write it — at least the Lord hasn’t led me to as of yet! What wonderful authors you recommend, Martha!

  18. Vanessa Burton January 18, 2018 at 1:40 pm #

    I love this blog post because it’s so relatable! I love reading young adult fantasy and will buy anything Marissa Meyer writes! I love to write young adult fantasy because so much of it is plagued with unnecessary content (explicit sex scenes, graphic language, etc.) and I desire to see a young adult fantasy that had a fantastic story, exemplifies Christ, and doesn’t compromise to what’s trendy. Thank you for this post! 🙂

  19. Ashley Schaller January 19, 2018 at 9:31 am #

    Thank you for your great advice on branding!

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