This article by Nicole Evelina is from the February 2019 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc.  (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership. 

In the October 2017 Nink newsletter, I covered the basics of author branding—from internal aspects like mission statements and core values, to external elements such as taglines, colors and fonts—and how they influence your book themes, website, swag, etc. Now I’d like to take that a step further.

Believe it or not, your brand can and should influence everything you do, or as a lot of experts say, you should “be the brand.” Now, this doesn’t mean being inauthentic; if you’ve done the work in your basic branding, it should already reflect who you are. This is just taking it to the next level. Your brand should be reflected in:

What you wear
You only get one chance to make a first impression, right? When you’re at an event, a reader should be able to look at you from across the room and gauge your brand. Most of the time, that doesn’t mean wearing a costume (but you can, more on that later). It’s all about purposefully choosing your clothing based on the message you want to convey.

On the minimal side of things, think about incorporating your brand colors in your outfit or makeup or wear a shirt with your book cover or logo on it. If you want to go a step further, you might think about what kind of clothing would appeal to or make you fit in with your audience. For example, a YA author would likely wear something more casual and fun and a non-fiction business author would wear a suit. I know an author who is very open about writing erotica and she dresses in revealing outfits and red lipstick to compliment her brand. It’s a perfect fit for her, but it wouldn’t be right for me because the heat level in my books isn’t nearly spicy enough. It would be false representation for me to dress that way.

If you want to go all out, you can dress like your characters. I know several steampunk authors who regularly show up to events in full costume. Whimsical children’s author Sheri Fink attends events in colorful wigs and sometimes dresses as a unicorn or mermaid, per her brand and characters. Leanna Renee Hieber actually lives her brand by wearing Victorian/gothic dresses all the time, even when she is not at an event, and by leading spirit tours of New York. It is just who she is.

You might also consider adopting a trademark visual as part of your brand, especially if it appears in one of your books. For example, the ouroboros is important in Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, so she wears a necklace with one on it to her events, which allows her to connect with fans in a different way. Similarly, Joanna Penn has recently adopted an octopus bracelet she often wears to events. It’s unusual enough to be eye-catching and memorable, it’s obviously symbolic of something she likes, plus it ties into her book Desecration. Author Laini Taylor is known for her bright pink hair, which fits with her being a YA fantasy author.

Your event booth/table
When you have a designated area to sell books and/or promote yourself at an event, your brand should be center stage. Your stand-up banners and table banner should reflect your colors and fonts, as should the items you place on your table, which should tie into your books. Oversize items, things that shine or sparkle or are interactive are all great attention getters. Like Penn’s bracelet, if you can make them odd, they will serve as a great conversation starter and a natural segue into talking about your books.

This is especially true if an item seemingly contradicts your brand and makes a passerby ask, “Why do you have XYZ on your table?” Take an author whose brand is light in color and tone, yet she has a big sugar skull on her table. On first glance, those two things don’t seem to go together. But perhaps when you ask about it, she explains her book takes place in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos, or her characters are of Mexican heritage and really love the feast. Perhaps this is her opportunity to educate on the holiday being a joyous festival (as reflected in her books), rather than the spooky/evil time often associated with Halloween. That’s a connection a reader won’t soon forget, even if they didn’t buy her book.

Additional ways your brand will be reflected in your events include:

  • Interaction – The way you interact with people ties back in to your internal branding. Are you open to answering questions? Do you pose for pictures with fans and engage them in conversation? Or are you more standoffish? Some authors will sign books for hours, while others refuse to ever give an autograph.
  • Hashtags – Hashtag mentions and brand impressions on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can easily show fans and followers what they’re missing and get them engaged even if they can’t attend.
  • Giveaways – Make sure they tie into your brand and your books. Giveaways that have thought and symbolism behind them are special to fans and give you another chance to connect with people as you explain their meaning.

Where you speak/appear and the topics
Obviously what you write and the opportunities you are given will be the driving factors in the events you attend, but your brand should factor in as well. For example, I’m a feminist and it shows in my writing, so you aren’t likely to see me at conservative functions; it’s just not a fit. Likewise, while my books have light fantasy in them, I may not be the best person for a convention that focuses on high fantasy and science fiction.

What you speak about should also reflect your core values as an author and the themes in your books. Sheri Fink speaks about courage, never giving up, and having fun every day, no matter what life throws at you—themes found in her books and also in her story as an author. If she were to attend an event and be serious and stern and speak in monotone, yet you pick up one of her books and it is all bright and cheery, you’d feel the disconnect, even if she was talking about raising brave children.

Do we really need all of this?|
You may be thinking this is overkill, and you may be right. But the purpose of a brand is to help readers distinguish you from other authors. They need to know what to expect; it’s a promise you make to them. All of these things tie into that promise and help strengthen it.

It’s up to you whether you just dip a toe into advanced branding or jump in with both feet. Neither way is right nor wrong. But I have personally found that every little bit helps.