Branding for Authors—When Do We NEED Marketing & Advertising?

Okay so last time we talked about experts and why we need to be careful who we are listening to. Sure some “experts” are really predators. Others mean well, they just aren’t a good fit for what an author needs.

Here’s a simple truth that a lot of writers miss and this is so fundamental. Marketing and advertising are NOT brand and platform. These are not all synonyms and interchangeable.

Brand/Platform and Marketing/Advertising are distinctively different activities and when writers don’t understand this? They have panic attacks, get overwhelmed and start requesting information on-line for dental hygienist schools while drinking straight from the spout on the boxed wine.

You can do this. Calm down. Breathe.

My expertise is in helping you guys build the brand and the platform. I am NOT an expert on advertising and marketing. I have no interest in being one either. But what can often happen is that writers believe they need marketing and advertising experts when in fact, they are not yet ready for that.

Brand and Platform

Brands can be built any number of ways. In the olden days, brands and platforms for novelists could only be built ONE way. Books. Good books. And the more the better. Since there was no regular interface with an author, the singular interaction one could have with an author was through the stories he/she wrote.

This is STILL the strongest way to create a brand and platform and the reason is this. It takes an average of 12-15 hours of undivided attention to complete a novel. This is a LOT of intimate time with a person. I can’t remember the last time I spent 12-15 hours of undivided attention with my husband or child. This immersion creates a profound intimacy in regards to the feelings a reader has for the author.

One of the reasons that the mega authors don’t have to work terribly hard at social media is they already put in their time through lots and lots of BOOKS. I am finishing the unabridged version of Stephen King’s “It.” This means once I finish I will have spent (just with that one book) FOURTY-FIVE HOURS of time with King (and this is not the first King book I have read).

Thus the successful authors of the pre-digital age came onto the social media scene with an established brand and platform.

And all social media does is help keep that thriving. Ads and marketing also do very well for these authors because they are already household names. One does not have to be an avid reader or member of a book club to recognize the name J.K. Rowling. Walk through any airport and all you see is James Patterson books.

For the author emerging onto the digital scene who cannot already put NYTBSA in front of her name, who does not have an extensive backlist, there is some work to be done regarding building a brand and platform since you don’t have one. This is where I come in.

Other than books, how can you establish a brand (what people think when they see your name) and a platform (people who will eventually be interested in buying books). My training is to cultivate that following (those who know you, your voice, your books) and those relationships (those who care) and you can get all of that in one book, Rise of the Machines. I also offer training to make your books (product) as strong as possible thereby enhancing your BRAND.



Original image via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of FEMA

The problem with some “experts” we mentioned last time is they want to skip steps. We can’t blast out newsletters to people who don’t know us let alone care to hear from us. We need to do some relationship building and establish trust and rapport.

This is not something that can be outsourced or automated. We need to do the work. And any expert who tries to skip this fundamental step of brand and platform-building? I’d think twice before handing over money.

Regular companies offering services or products (restaurants, bars, computer services, vegan body wash) can do this, but that is because they have the big budgets to saturate with ads and marketing. Yet, I will point out that most of these ventures fail. When we rely on ad saturation it is expensive and risky.

But we (authors) obviously don’t stop with just the brand (books/blogs) and platform, and this is where experts REALLY come in handy.

If brand is WHAT IS IT? And platform is WHO CARES? Then marketing and advertising are simply magnifying these two things that already exist.

Marketing & Advertising


As I just mentioned, marketing and advertising can only enhance what already exists. Ads work for Starbucks because there is one on every corner and they have a known reputation.

Marketing works for Kia because people need cars and see Kias on the road all the time. We know what they are. We KNOW what a Starbucks is. We know what Levis are. We know what all these “things for sale” are and probably have formed an opinion or impression…which is why it makes sense to use advertising and marketing.

As writers, will eventually need marketing and advertising and I am here to deliver a simple yet possibly uncomfortable truth.

Money and time are in a reciprocal relationship. The more time we spend cultivating the brand and the platform, the less money we will have to fork out on marketing and advertising. The less time we spend cultivating the brand and platform the more money we will have to fork out in marketing and advertising.

See, when we try to make marketing and advertising take the place of the platform and brand? That can get REALLY expensive.

We can feel free to write the book on our own, never be on social media then hire a marketing team, but the sheer volume of ad saturation it will take to garner attention? That’s gonna cost big.

I love marketing and advertising people, but here’s the deal, they are marketers not magicians. The more we do our part (write books, build a social media following, blog), the more they have to work with. The more people already KNOW us. We get a lot more bang for our buck.

A lot of writers are paying lots of money for these large email lists to blast out newsletters to people who don’t know them and who never signed up to hear from them in the first place.

This has the same ROI as those folks who blast out messages that we have an inheritance in Ghana somewhere if only we will wire five grand via Western Union. Sure, some people DO bite, but you have to send a LOT of emails to get any return.

What then happens is the writer blows through a lot of money needlessly for no real results.

Very often I hear disenchanted authors who gripe the their book isn’t selling because they don’t have the mega marketing budgets of the NY heavy hitters. Here’s the deal though. NYC spends that kind of cash on Stephen King, and George R.R. Martin, and James Patterson because most folks in the Western world recognize the brand.

One doesn’t have to be an avid reader to know Stephen King writes the scary stuff. These authors have a brand and that makes the ads have a good ROI. To do this for an unknown author? Better to pile cash in the floor and set it on fire (my POV).

Thus, when we are looking for experts we will fare better if we appreciate that brand/platform is separate from ads/marketing. There are some really brilliant book marketing people out there and even dedicated experts like Rachel Thompson who teach writers how to do a lot of this for themselves.

She’s also a great person to go to to find those folks with the marketing mojo you need for your book and I strongly recommend checking out her blog Bad Redhead Media.

In the end, remember, experts are great when we find the right ones. The cool part about the digital age is we can look around, make friends and get opinions and referrals from those we trust. And yes, “goofing off” on Facebook or Instagram is platform building. You are forging relationships. Write the books, make the connections and then, once you are ready? These marketing mavens will be happy to dazzle you!

What are your thoughts? Do you have any pressing questions?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***Will announce April’s winner next post.


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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



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  1. Thank you, thank you, Kristen! Since I get dozens of unwanted, unsolicited author newsletters every day–usually with no unsubscribe function–I would like to see this blasted at every single writer who uses the Internet:

    “A lot of writers are paying lots of money for these large email lists to blast out newsletters to people who don’t know them and who never signed up to hear from them in the first place. This has the same ROI as those folks who blast out messages that we have an inheritance in Ghana somewhere if only we will wire five grand via Western Union. Sure, some people DO bite, but you have to send a LOT of emails to get any return.”

    It is also just as unethical as the Nigerian Prince scam et. al. These people are in violation of the CAN-SPAM act and can be fined up to $40,000 for illegally subscribing people to a commercial email, especially if there’s no unsubscribe function. And yes, authors ARE fined.

    1. I did NOT know that. You have any links/resources for this? Did you blog about it?

      1. I dunno about the States, but what Anne said IS true for Germany. As a translator I work with an army of lawyers, and I’ve had cases. Still, I had no idea this was also regulated in the States. As for sources, I’m sure googling the Act will do it.

  2. OMG, that book bootcamp GOLD level looks AWESOME! People, this is a great opportunity. I’ve benefitted tremendously from working with Kristen on my books over the years. And they are skills that transfer to your books to come. Wish you’d offered that when I was a newbie, Kristen, but you probably would have shaved your head and hidden in a Buddhist monastery to avoid me back then, LOL. Good times.

    As far as marketing…I used to feel pretty oogie about that. Heck, I couldn’t bring myself to sell gift wrap and candy bars at school fundraisers. I HATE selling. But lately I’m coming to see that when it’s books, it’s not a matter of selling…it’s a matter of connecting with readers. These are readers who are dying for a new series that fall within certain parameters or have certain features, and when they find something they enjoy, they are so happy! They don’t feel “sold to” at all. When it’s my books that make them happy, their enthusiasm keeps me going.

    Sorry I’ve been MIA these past few weeks (okay, months), but…long story. Suffice it to say I’m okay now…I’m BAAACK! *smooch*

  3. I have heard from multi-published authors that until you have 10-12 books out there’s not much point in spending $$ on marketing/advertising. Yet I see authors whose first book is coming out going bonkers on marketing. So you sell that one book to a lot of readers. Then what? You have no backlist for them to discover. You have to rebuild that readership to a certain extent when you put out your next book. I agree 100% that there are a lot of “experts” out there trying to sell their services to poorly informed authors. As my dad often quoted, “If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.” Thank you, Kristin, for clearly explaining brand and platform. I’m still trying to absorb all the information in Rise of the Machines, but I appreciate your informative blog posts. Agents and editors often won’t take on a book, no matter how good it is, unless an author has done the kind of work you discuss here. Makes sense, but it can take awhile and several books to get to that level.

    1. I guess people look at E L James and her success with Fifty Shades.

      I strongly agree with Kristen about building your brand and platform (in any business tbh).

      Writers write in the shadows and all of a sudden, they wan is to sell to people who dont know about them.

      The sad bit about being a writer in this digital age is that you need to develop that relationship and at the same time write your best work.

  4. Such a clear voice for a congested landscape.

  5. Great post. Everything is always so clear when you say it. Rachel Thompson is awesome, agreed.
    I’m going to goof off on Facebook now…

    1. Thank you, Charlotte! You’re too kind.

  6. Good stuff. This branding thing is so elusive because it’s so simple. The challenge is understanding the difference between shouting out to strangers (advertising) and reaching out to audience members (branding) And yeah, for the unknown author, branding – reaching out – is key. But the big difference that nobody talks about is that it is a building process – one reader at a time. You just have to keep pouring water into the watering hole. Folks do stop by.

    It really hit home when I stopped to ask a simple question: Who are the indie authors I know of? Now, I’ve been all over Facebook groups, Twitter, blogs like this and spend time on Amazon almost daily. And I’ve been at it for three years. I came up with two names. Two. And one of them hasn’t even written a book! (But she has a very strong brand. Riddle me this…) I could not think of one single author I’ve seen on Facebook, Twitter, Booksy, Goodreads or in Amazon ads. Hmmm… And yeah, I have free books in my Kindle I’ve never looked at. Don’t know who wrote those, either.

    The paradigm that I’ve gravitated to – the one that now makes sense to me – is to think of myself in a very small room with a few people milling around waiting for me to say something. So I talk to them. And every once in a while somebody new pokes their head through the door.

    The thing is this, though. You have to keep talking. That’s the trap. You can’t say something and then step out of the room and shout in the hallway “Hey, I just said something, come check it out!” Do that for too long and the people that were in your room will get bored and leave. I know. I’ve done it. Oops.

    I would dare say that successful writers are the ones who spend so much time writing they really don’t have time to do much else. They produce material, get it in their brand channel and get back to work.

    1. Excellent point — about what Indie authors can be brought to mind. I could come up with one, and her place in my memory is secured by her books and her connection with another editor pal of mine, who knows the author personally.
      My free reading time is precious and how I ‘spend’ it is a big deal. New authors have 4-5 pages to not aggravate me. If they manage to keep from triggering my editor side, I will keep reading until they solidly hook me.
      Marketing is! simple – especially when you remember that you must have something to market, and the promise of more to come, in order to sell what you’re marketing.
      Enjoyed your perspective and thoughts — well said!

  7. It would help if more agents and publishers explained this at writer’s conferences. Although when I used to simplify educational paradigms like “rubrics” at educational conferences (e.g. “A rubric is a nothing more than a list of what your students must accomplish”), the education people sneered at me. “If it’s that simple, they can do it without us.”

    Well, that was the idea.

    Reposted on

  8. It absolutely makes sense—now that you say it—that the more you put in to brand and platform (and writing awesome books) the less you have to pay for the stuff that comes after.

  9. Am I alone in hating newsletters no matter who they’re from? Seriously, if I follow a blog, I don’t need a monthly recap. Most (all) bloggers have already blogged any big events, book releases etc.

    Trying to figure out why the sudden spate of newsletters.

    1. As I understand, it is current de rigueur to sign up readers to a newsletter. Some authors do this well and use it for its intended purpose, which is to inform current readers of new material coming out. For my part, I agree that a blog serves the same function and I see my blog as essentially my mailing list, so I don’t bother with an actual mailing list. If my readers want e-mail notifications, it’s a follow button away. Their choice, one click. Makes sense to me. I’ve yet to hear anybody complain about following a blogger.

  10. Thanks for the wonderful shout-out, my friend! I’m fangirling over here.

    We do hear authors daily who are frustrated by the lack of sales — yet when I ask about their platform and branding, I’ll often get an old joke about cows. When authors realize publishing is a business, they’ll take it seriously and do the work. Read, research, take courses, hire people — whatever it takes if it’s important enough — and yes, keep writing great books.

    E.g., blogging is time-consuming, yes, but it’s also a crucial way to connect with readers (take YOU for example!), build a following, and is so important for SEO (if done right) and visibility. As you say, nobody can build our relationships with readers like we can through blogging, social media, email newsletters (that they sign up for!), etc.

    Book marketing isn’t rocket science, and it doesn’t take a degree. But it does take effort.

    • Monica-Marie Vincent on May 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm
    • Reply

    Yes, people like Rachel Thompson make it so much easier to get on the right track. Rachel is personable, truthful, & she doesn’t sugar coat things which means you get clarity. Yes, having an expert in your corner is a brilliant move.

    I also can’t tell you how awesome it is to see someone such as yourself stating the facts, but also letting us know that YOU aren’t the expert…that there’s far more qualified people out there that can do a much better job. But it’s great that you point us in the right direction.

    Kristen, you are made of awesome & your writerly advice is always on point.

    1. Hi, Moni! Thanks for the lovely comments.

      Kristen IS awesome! and I have followed her blog advice for years. She’s a straight-shooter which I admire so much. It’s important to be honest about our strengths as well as limitations. That’s how we learn, right?

  11. As always, you’ve given such good advice. Working on brand and platform now will pay off when you’re needing to marked your book. And those newsletter…I never even read them. Why would I expect others to read mine. 😀

  12. This is very helpful. Thank you, Kristen. Welcome back to Lisa Hall-Wilson.

    • Melissa Keaster on May 9, 2017 at 10:54 pm
    • Reply

    I remember reading this advice in Rise of the Machines a couple of years ago and feeling so relieved. It still has that effect on me now. My first novel, ELEORA, comes out on Friday. (FYI: I mention you in the acknowledgments for your 40 page Death Star treatment, which helped me streamline my beginning hook and save my character from being too dumb to live…LOL!) While I haven’t blogged as much as I would like lately, I’ve focused on building and maintaining relationships. Now I have a bunch of new and fantastic friends as well as an audience that has already pre-ordered the book or requested a signed copy. So the advice is legit for both business and life. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom!

    • Jocelyn Babcock on May 10, 2017 at 11:28 am
    • Reply

    Thanks for mentioning not blasting emails people didn’t sign up for. I received a handful of author newsletters on my personal email I use for close friends and family.
    I use my business email for these types of newsletters. I can only conclude someone I know well sold their list.

    The author also risks being flagged as spam, which causes hang-ups in the newsletter process in the future.

    • Patti Rae on May 10, 2017 at 12:09 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks Kristen for showing us that building our author’s platform isn’t so scary after all.

  13. Really loved your tips in this article. I’m glad you mentioned about those kind of “experts” that people should be careful about. Many don’t know this.
    Also I totally agree with you on e-mail lists…I get lots of them every day without the possibility to unsubscribe.
    Thanks for sharing so many helpful tips ! 🙂

  14. Thank you for this. I’m currently trying to decide on a marketing strategy and had just come to the conclusion to slow down a little. Get the next piece up and then look again. So, reading your information has made me even more comfortable with moving a little slower. Great advice for those of us wading in water that’s darn near over our heads 🙂

  15. I adore you woman! Thank you for all of this!

  16. The timing of this post! Just when I needed it. Thanks, Kristen

  17. I teach graphic design and creative advertising and what I find really weird is some authors might ask me how to sell more books, but they’re really uninterested in building a brand (“But I have a genre, surely that’s enough?”) and they’re not even that interested in finding new ways to get their name known. They’re just interested in the ‘sales’ part. And yes the sales are important but without brand platforms and advertising we wouldn’t have ‘Just do it’ or ‘This girl can’…

  18. I admit I have struggled with platform and especially with brand. This goes a long way toward helping. I know advertising is essential. After that, I also know it’s not my gift. I know a few things where marketing has made the difference. For instance BETA tapes were the superior product, but because they were marketed differently, VCR took over the world.

    Microsoft did not have the best operating system for PC’s. But they marketed much better and almost took over the world.

    So yes, marketing is important. Thank you so much for this article.

    I’m re-blogging this in

    • Robin on May 17, 2017 at 7:19 pm
    • Reply

    I like this way better then the other sites. What drives me crazy is that the tips are only going to work if you have thousands of followers already, they are useless for new writers’ just starting out. ?

    On Facebook I try to chat with other writers and readers. Have joined several book clubs and now am searching for readers that do book reviews. Will also search Google for book blogs.

    Making friends is the thing to do, Imop. I’m also going to post daily on Twitter, I like sharing articles, books, websites, and bligs on Twitter and FB. Any any well written books on Wattpad get shared too. Along with posting my own when a new chapter is finished.

    So, your article fits in nicely to what I’m already doing.

    It makes me angry that those articles say to spam people, add them, (without their consent!) to emailing lists, and try to convince people to download programs to steal people’s emails from blogs. Gerrrrr! ?

    That’s a perfect wsy to destroy a writers reputation before they even take off. ?

    • Robin on May 17, 2017 at 7:21 pm
    • Reply

    A request, for moible readers please take out that teal “UP” button as it covers up the submit button; real annoying. Tks!

    • Robin on May 17, 2017 at 7:23 pm
    • Reply

    Excuse the question markis they were emoticons.

    • Dereck Gligorijevic on June 23, 2017 at 8:17 am
    • Reply

    I really like your point here – marketing and advertising can not create a miracle – they can only enhance what already exists!
    Therefore, we should aim to create something of a great value first, and then use the opportunities of marketing and advertising to get the max out of it.
    Thanks for sharing this great point of view! 🙂

  1. […] The more we do our part, the more we have to work with. I believe this! Concentrate most on the writing, that will build success. […]

  2. […] branding, publicity—too much information and a lot of confusion! Kristen Lamb explains the difference between branding/platform and marketing/advertising, Carmen Amato has 3 mini-strategies to make marketing less overwhelming, Judith Briles reminds us […]

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