I invited my friend Staci to chat about the M-word. I’ll let her explain. We’ve got a lot to get through. I’ll see you in the comment section. Be sure to check back on Friday for Part II: Landing Pages, Mailing Lists, Loss Leaders, Lead Funnels.
Welcome to Murder Blog, Staci!
Hi, Sue. Thanks for inviting me here today. And to all of you opening this post and expecting Sue, hello! I’ve been asked to visit with you and discuss something many, if not most (if not all), writers dread.
Before I became a novelist, even before I became a freelance writer and editor, I worked in marketing and corporate communications. If you work in that field, you quickly become an expert in creating many things—training presentations, user manuals, photo shoots, marketing brochures, ads, line art drawings, graphic manipulation… The list goes on, and it’s long and varied. But there was one thing consistent across all my work, one thing I had an affinity for and apply to my author brand today.
These days, it’s author branding.
But corporation or individual, the concepts are the same.
First: Who Are You?
At the beginning, you have to decide who you are. Then choose an image, a phrase, and a color palette to define you. (I’m not talking book covers here. I’m talking about you.)
· Sweet Contemporary Romance—roses and pastel colors.
· Sci-Fi—planets or scientific symbols and bold colors.
· Steampunk—gears or machinery and metallics and neutrals.
· Gothic Paranormal—crumbling mansions and black with a pop of red.
· Fantasy—elves or dragons and foresty greens.
· Crime/Mystery—fingerprint or footprint and dark colors.
These images are so common, they’re practically cliché. They also work. It’s what readers expect in these genres. And even though this is the first thing I suggest, remember—it’s never too late to go through these steps.
My current persona (I’ve been known to change it up) relies on a subdued palette, a mysterious eye, and an exciting swirl for movement. I’m a multi-genre author, so I needed something that spoke to romance (the eye can seem sexy) and suspense (it’s a single, hidden eye, so it’s mysterious). Then I chose my tagline to appeal to both.
Suspense, Passion… Fiction That Flutters The Heart
Second: Online Presence.
Now that you know who you are, you need to take these colors and images and create your online presence. By that, I mean your website, blog, and social media accounts. You will need headers for each. They will all be different sizes, so refer to your website/blog theme for your specific header dimensions there. For social media sizes, this is a handy reference site. Not only will you find always-up-to-date dimensions there for multiple social media headers and posts, you will find a link to Landscape, which will resize your artwork automatically for you. (And it’s free to use.)
Before you upload your graphic, let me make two suggestions. Well, one suggestion and one emphatic point.
The suggestion: Manipulate your graphic in a graphic editor before uploading it. This will give you a chance to customize any colors, textures, etc. you wish to change. GIMP is a free app similar to Photoshop (you have to download it to use it) and allows users to make very detailed changes. Apps like Canva and iPiccy are free online tools that allow for simple changes to graphics. You can also add text now, before resizing in Landscape, but you may find it better to add it in one of the other apps after the graphic has been resized. Try it both ways and see what works for you.
Note: With regard to text, your choices of font, size, and color are just as important as your image selection. Serif, sanserif, script, and display fonts all send a different message. For example, a regency author wouldn’t identify with a computer font, and a thriller author wouldn’t use script.
If this all intimidates you, study the identities of authors in your genre to see what images and fonts they use.
The emphatic point: Never, and I mean never, use an image that is not free-for-commercial-use unless you purchase the rights to it. There are plenty of sites that offer such free images (and some don’t even require attribution for use). Pixabay is a favorite of mine. But don’t just Google an image and take it for your own use. Not only is it not fair to the copyright owner (and we authors know all about how it feels to have our work pirated), it can subject you to legal action. It might interest you to know that fonts are also copyrighted. Be sure your choice is free-for-commercial-use or paid for. Look for free fonts at 1001Fonts, FontSquirrel, or FontSpace (for starters). Before you download a font, make certain to confirm the licensing rights.
My identity is everywhere I am online. I use it on my site, on my blog, across social media. This is what creates brand cohesion. When a reader thinks of me, no matter where she’s seen me, she’ll have the same image every other reader does. And it should evoke the feeling of my brand, in this case, romance and suspense.
Third: Write the Best Book You Can.
In this business, Quality is King. Write your story. Then rewrite it. Revise it again. And again. Have it critiqued, beta-read, and professionally edited. (Indie authors will assume the responsibility of finding and paying for an editor; traditionally-published authors don’t have to worry about that.) At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how gorgeous your online brand is. If your work is sloppy, no one will care.
Fourth: Get a Great Cover.
Your best-effort book needs a stellar cover, and if you’re an indie author, that responsibility will also fall to you. Beginning authors usually have limited means. I’ve already suggested you pay for editing. Now I’m saying you need to pay for a cover, too. And you want to scream. I get it. You’re thinking you’ll never earn back what you spend. You’ve got a few options.
· Hire a pro. This can be pricey or inexpensive. There’s quite a range of costs. There’s also quite a range of beauty. Remember, unless you’re the luckiest person on the planet, you’ll get what you pay for.
· Buy a pre-made cover. These are adequate, but you also run the risk of other authors in your genre having the same cover as you. What if you’re beside each other on Amazon? That could be embarrassing.
· Learn to work with graphics and design your own cover. This is time-consuming and can be risky. And without extensive study, you may not ever understand current cover trends. But there are tools that can help. DIYbookcovers offers free templates as well as paid options (which are varied and quite affordable). You can also try their online cover design tool (also free). Or take online workshops or classes to increase your knowledge. There’s a good series on GIMP by Brian Jackson that can be found on Udemy as well as countless other tutorials elsewhere on the web.
Covers today—successful covers today—all follow trends. For example, look at these three books (currently numbers 4, 5, and 6 on the Amazon/Best Sellers/Crime Thrillers list). The colors are muted. The titles big and easy to read. They ooze dark and mysterious themes. It’s clear what genres these are based on design.
But let’s compare only books 4 and 5. The author fonts are sanserif. The title fonts are all caps, serif. The backgrounds are sunsets. There’s a single silhouetted woman on the cover with a halo/glow around her. For Pete’s sake, they both have “Truth” in their titles. At a glance, they’re almost interchangeable. You want your novel to follow your genre trends, because that’s what appeals to readers. But, if this example is any indication, there might be such a thing as too much similarity. You still want your cover to stand out. Consider changing the model. Or the warm oranges to cooler greens. Maybe move the title up a bit. Emulate, but don’t out-right copy.
Fifth: Write a Killer Book Description.
This is your last tool before a buyer decides to buy, so it has to be awesome. You can hire this out, you can buy books and/or courses teaching you how, or you can do the grunt work yourself. Go on Amazon and look at descriptions for the top sellers in your genre. Study them, then emulate them.
I personally shoot for a four-paragraph description, but I usually write in multiple POVs. I focus on an intro in the first paragraph, the hero and his problem next, the heroine and her problem third, and pull it all together at the end. I end with a question or statement that focuses on the primary conflict of the book.
Things to consider:
· Do use descriptive, punchy words. Specifically words that work for your genre to set the mood.
· Do write in present tense, even if the book is in past tense. It’s industry-standard, and it pulls the reader in.
· Don’t get lost in subplots and descriptions of scenery. This needs to be short and to-the-point. Try for between 150 and 200 words.
· Don’t give away the ending. That’s the juicy bit readers want to learn. If they know it on the back cover, there’s no reason to read the book. (Remember, this is not a synopsis for an agent or editor who will expect to know the resolution of the story. This is a marketing tool to entice readers.)
Sixth: Craft a Great Tagline.
Punch up that book description with a tantalizing tag line. After the cover image, this is the first thing that will grab the reader. It needs to be short and compelling. Think of it as setting a mood or asking a question readers have to have answered. (Picture a shower scene with the word “Psycho” on the screen while a deep-voiced recording artist says, “Check in. Unpack. Relax. Take A Shower.” I can hear the eek-eek-eek music of the knife scene as I imagine it.)
Here are some great examples (film and book):
· Alien: In space, no one can hear you scream.
· LOTR: One ring to rule them all.
· The Thing: Man is the warmest place to hide.
· Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Love never dies.
· The Girl Who Lived: Ten years ago, four people were brutally murdered. One girl lived.
· And Then She Was Gone: What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light…
· A Column of Fire: As Europe erupts, can one young spy protect his queen?
So, you see, there are questions, statement, themes. Choose what works for your title and genre, then run with it.
Seven: Make Teasers.
Talking about your book is fine, but showing readers is something else. There’s a reason they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
There are a few points to designing a good graphic teaser.
- Select a background that suits the mood of your novel and works with the book’s cover.
- Feature your book cover prominently.
- Include a quote from the book or an excerpt of a review.
- Repeat the title and your name in text form. (Don’t rely on your book cover alone.)
- Create multiple teasers with the same visual elements for each book.
- Do the same across series, so your five teasers for book one coordinate with the five teasers for book two, and three… That way, you can use an entire series or mix and match from a series, yet the “feel” doesn’t change.
Once you have completed your design, you need to use these images across social media (without being spammy) and include your purchase info. (I usually put the link in the comments rather than on the graphic itself.) Also include some in guest posts, your own blog posts, and your media kit.
I use a revolving carousel of teasers for my books on my site. These don’t have the book cover images on them, because the cover is already on the page. But the ones I use for marketing elsewhere have the covers on them. Here is an example of each.
Don’t forget to budget for advertising and promo. There are some good sites that offer free placement for your book (for a limited time, of course). Better are the paid sites, but I understand that funds seem to have evaporated by this stage.
I recently dropped my novel TYPE AND CROSS to free and paid for the following promotion:
- BookSends/Free Book of the Day: $125
- The Fussy Librarian: $18
- Robin Reads/Feature: $80
- Books Butterfly Top 100 Push Package: $240
You might think that’s nuts for a free book, but it got me to the number one slot on Amazon in one of my categories and garnered thousands of downloads. And assuming readers like the novel (and if I adhered to my third point, Write the Best Book I Can, I should have readers downloading subsequent novels at the regular price).
- Decide who you are.
- Create your online identity.
- Write the best book you can.
- Use a stunning, genre-appropriate cover.
- Craft a strong book blurb.
- Compose a catchy tagline.
- Make and use teasers.
I don’t mean to sound cavalier about all of this. It’s a lot of time and hard work, and it can also mean a monetary investment. And we’ve only scratched the surface. We didn’t discuss reviews, lead funnels, loss leaders, newsletters, specific social media platforms, drip campaigns…
Being an author today isn’t as easy as simply writing a book. We’re all business owners, and that means assuming control of our brand, our products, and our marketing. It can be daunting, but there are a lot of resources out there to make life easier. I hope you try some of the ones listed here. Or maybe you can share your favorites that we didn’t discuss. I’d love to hear about the tools you use.
Thanks for your time. And Sue, once again, thanks for having me here today.
Transformation is progress. Until it implodes.
Pursued across the globe by the forces of a shadowy, unknown enemy, the warriors of the Medici Protectorate face their most dangerous challenge yet in the defense of the Notaro sisters, the secret legacy of the ancient Medici line.
Nico Micelli shows the world a calm, mild-mannered personality, but under the surface simmers ferocious passions he struggles to suppress. To say he has a wild side is an understatement. As his work with the Brotherhood intensifies, he finds it increasingly difficult to temper his emotions. It doesn’t help that his charge continuously tests his limits.
Donni Notaro lives under Nico’s protection. She and her sisters are in constant danger simply because of their ancestry. Without the protection of the Brothers, their lives would have been forfeit long ago. But that security comes with a cost—her freedom. Essentially sequestered, she becomes Nico’s shadow, her clandestine pursuits putting both of them in peril.
To defeat their foes, Nico must not only acknowledge his wild side, he must thoroughly embrace it. But the transformation may take him down a path he can never return from.