Last time we talked a little about our author brand and why, these days, our brand is almost as important as the books we write. It is an awesome time to be a writer, but also a scary one. Why can’t it be like the good old days when all we had to do was write the book?
Because that world no longer exists and, frankly, it wasn’t all that great to begin with.
Granted, in the pre-digital publishing world we authors didn’t need to tweet or blog or be on-line, but it was also a world with a 93% failure rate. According to the Book Expo of America, as late as 2006, 93% of all books (traditionally and non-traditionally published) sold less than a 1000 copies. Only one out of ten traditionally published authors would ever see a second book in print.
These days, anyone can be published. This is good and bad and we can talk about that another time. But with more titles than ever before and bookstores becoming an endangered species? Our brand is our lifeline. Whether we decide to self-publish or traditionally publish is a business decision only we can make, but we still must have a viable author brand if we hope to sell books.
So What is a Brand?
There are all kinds of answers to this question, but my answer is the correct one 😀 .
A brand is when a name alone has the power to drive sales.
In an age where we are deluged with choices, consumers are relying more and more on brands. We rely on a brand because the NAME comes tethered to a promise. There are 753 brands of cereal, but we trust
Cookie Crunch…okay, Cheerios.
Author brands aren’t as impersonal as selling cereal, but the idea is similar. In a sea of infinite choices, who do we trust to provide an enjoyable experience?
Brands take time to create, but my way is fun. As I mentioned last time, I have ZERO interest in turning any of you into mega-marketers. I know you didn’t take up writing about spaceships or unicorns or unicorns on spaceships just to hold you until you could land that dream job selling life insurance.
Today I am going to let you into how I teach branding. I’ve never blogged about this before namely because while it isn’t complicated, it IS complex. I go into far greater detail in my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.
In the book I also show you step-by-step how to create your own unique brand. Not meaning to hawk a book, but I can’t have this blog be 20,000 words so if you desire more “meat” than what is in this blog, y’all know where you can find it 😉 .
How an Author Brand WORKS
In the “olden days” before Instagram and Twitter and YouTube, the only way a novelist could build a brand was through his/her books. Think about it. Why did we (fans) love these authors? Because we felt we were part of the worlds they created.
Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Tony Hillerman, David Eddings, etc. were all a part of my teenage world. They brought me love, pain, fear, resolution through their characters and stories. By getting to know the author’s characters I felt I knew the author and became emotionally bonded TO that author through story.
If you need a refresher on how that works, go re-watch Misery.
Come on! Admit it. There are some authors you would really creep out of they met you 😉 .
*Drives car over Kardashians because OMG!!!! DEAN KOONTZ!*
When I decided to be the social media expert for writers, I spent over two years studying successful brands. All types. What made a brand iconic? I studied movies, fashion, soda, cars, authors, and pop phenoms.
I also studied the neuroscience behind branding. What made content go viral? Was there something about content that the human brain reacted to positively or negatively? Was all content equal? (NO) Was some content actually damaging? (YES) Is some content WAY better? (YES). I became a student of human behavior and created a step-by-step plan for writers to recreate that magic.
But for the purposes of today’s blog…
Like successful fiction, a successful brand must be HIGH CONCEPT. High concept is RIGHT-BRAINED. It is visceral and emotional.
Authors are in the business of selling feelings. It’s what we do with stories. We sell love, action, adventure, community, and happy endings.
Virtually all successful stories on the page and on the screen have harnessed what is called “high concept.” The reason Titanic was one of the most successful movies of all time is because it was “high concept”. It wasn’t a story about a doomed ship, it was a story about LOVE.
And we hear this term “high concept” in writing class, but what the heck is it?
High Concept has THREE Components:
Gives the Audience Something to Contribute or to Take Away
If virtually every successful story/movie is high concept, doesn’t it make sense that our brands should be high concept, too? We don’t write novels with titles like:
The Virtuous Semicolon
The Sentence that Kept Running
That Amazon Prime Harlot
The Dangling Participle *RAWR*
If we write books about love, why are we trying to connect with “readers” by lecturing them about punctuation?
Writers have the power to create interstellar dynasties and invent entirely new species. With various combinations of 26 letters, writers can travel in time, rewrite history or wipe out a
planet, a solar system a universe. But, the second they start a blog? Tweet? Get on Facebook?
All they can talk about is writing.
Why does all this talk of “writing” fizzle? Because “writing” is not high concept.
Trust me, readers do not give a crap about three-act structure unless we screw it up. Readers don’t care about Amazon vs. Smashwords, why we love the Oxford Comma, or how to write deep POV.
Does this mean we can’t blog about writing at all? NO. There is a difference between writing a blog about writing and creating a writing blog.
Even though I teach writing, this is not a writing blog. This is Kristen Lamb’s blog. Yes, I blog about writing and social media, but I have also blogged about zombies, my addiction to Febreze, being ADD, why I hate skinny jeans, and how to deal with bullies. And, frankly, those were the posts that went viral.
Blogging only about writing will wear you out. And the real bummer?
Articles, interviews, and reviews are all informational. This is LEFT-BRAINED content. If all we are posting is left-brained content, we have a left-brained brand. Thus I posit this:
Why are you trying to sell a right-brained product with a left-brained brand?
Writers cannot fathom why a funny kitten meme gets 50 likes, 6 shares and 17 comments, but then a post about their upcoming release gets crickets.
Which topic is high concept (right-brained)?
Is a kitten universal? Yes! People in Japan actually pay money to pet adorable cats. Are kittens emotional? Yes! If you don’t smile looking at this little guy, you likely have no soul…
Does a funny kitten meme allow others to contribute or to take something away? Yes! Odds are, you will get all kinds of comments with people sharing about their pets. Oh, Fluffernutter used to do the same thing!
Does a cute kitten meme offer something to take away? Yes. It brightened our day, so we pass it on.
Now, if I post about a new book I have coming out, is that universal? No. Is it emotional for anyone but me and my mother? Not so much. Does it offer you anything to contribute or take away? Eh, not really.
And before anyone blasts me that sharing cute kittens isn’t “real” branding activity, we need to remember that we are no longer in a world of traditional media. Yes, we need to mention that book for sale, but if it is all we talk about? It turns people off. It is also making our brand reliant on content few people will share.
Hey, my new book “Sexy in Sneakers” is now available! PLEASE SHARE.
Yep, right on that. Not.
But, if most of the time we post fun stuff others enjoy, when we DO post about a book, others are more open to doing us a solid.
Remember, when it comes to social media, content that goes only ONE direction is already dead.
If I share something in a blog on Twitter or Facebook and no one else shares? My reach is limited to the people who are following me. Social media has the best impact when content goes VIRAL. This means lots and lots of other people want to share my content.
Guess what the most likely content to go viral is?
High concept ;).
See, you guys are smart!
This is why my kitten friend above has almost a million views.
We can talk about having a new book out just like we can feel free to blog about three-act structure. But, since these topics are NOT high concept, they will never ever go viral.
We can post this kind of stuff, we just know not to camp on it.
Remember, name recognition alone is meaningless. A name only truly holds power once we tether it to an emotional experience. Which means…
Welcome to High Concept Branding
The key to creating a strong author brand is to understand what we are trying to create. We are creating a positive emotional experience and then tying that experience to OUR NAME.
Do this enough and eventually our name alone will have the power to drive sales. Btw, that is called an author brand 😉 .
If we are able to produce content that 1) resonates with a wide audience 2) creates a positive emotional experience 3) by nature engenders sharing behaviors, we can do a lot more with a lot less. This also elucidates why ranting, name-calling, hyper-politicization, and spam are all behaviors that can and will tank a brand.
We will talk on this more later, but I will say that it is possible to have political, religious and social beliefs without giving everyone who sees our name indigestion. Remember we want to create a positive emotional experience. This is what ALL successful brands do. Apple, Coca Cola, Corvette, Levis, Harley Davidson, Hershey’s and on and on and on. ALL good brands capitalize on emotion. ALL strong brands use high concept.
Soap companies don’t have a thirty-second commercial about the merits of good hygiene, they show a woman moaning in the shower and having an “organic” experience. Thus, if every single successful brand is relying on the holy trinity of high concept, why are authors still spamming about their books and then confused why badgering strangers for money doesn’t work?
One Last Thing
Aside from possibly going viral, brands built on emotional connection have one major advantage—LONGEVITY. Since our brand is based on relationships and not algorithms, it is far more resistant to change. Facebook can go away and twitter can flitter and your brand will be just fine. I had Shingles and was down for MONTHS. The reason I still had a strong brand when I returned? I built it on people.
I hope this has made you feel less intimidated about creating your own author brand. We writers tend to overcomplicate stuff. A platform isn’t built overnight, but it also isn’t terribly hard. And yes, platforms built on simply sharing funny cat pics are stronger than you might have realized.
What are your thoughts? Do you now see this high concept pattern in your own behavior? The stuff you enjoy sharing? The content that gets the most interaction from others? Did the clouds part and angels sing now that you know why that dog-shaming meme scored WAY more likes than your thoughtfully crafted book review?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.