Branding – What’s in a Name?

Well, it turns out quite a bit. (Long story follows.)

I get regular “Google Alerts” – whenever one of my books is being distributed through a disreputable site for “free.” Rather, it’s free to folks who subscribe to these sites, or the pirates running those “free book” sites are being compensated in some way – advertising, subscriptions, patronage of some sort or another. I, in turn, receive nothing, because it is a pirated copy. I get it. Free stuff is sometimes nearly irresistible, irresistible like looting during a disaster! It’s theft, but it happens with more regularity than we like to think about.

When I learn of a new pirating source, I typically send a form “cease and desist” letter and they pull it or they don’t. It’s nearly impossible to receive compensation (they are pirates, after all. Arrrgh) and lawyers and court fees are more costly than the amount of compensation due, so a C&D is about the best you can do. Ask them to take it down and hope for the power of plenty – a lot of authors who are being pirated, filing C&D orders, or someone else suing the company and getting them shut down for a short period of time until they re-open their “store” under a different name, or slightly different name, etc. That’s not the sort of name I’m writing about. No, this story gets juicier. 😊

(Image by Felix Lichtenfeld, but offered free for commercial use through Pixabay. – i.e., not pirated.)

So just last week, I received another “alert”, this one regarding my photos that are being sold through a questionable source. I do the occasional pen and ink drawing and offer it through various sites for printing on mugs, shopping bags, book plates, etc., so it was not beyond the realm of possibility that my “pictures” were being offered for free without compensation.

My kids constantly warn me, “mom, do not google that. Whatever you do, do not plug that into a search engine! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, do not google that!!!!” It’s good advice.

I didn’t google it. I just followed the link to find out which of my pen and ink drawings was being pirated. (It’s a vanity thing in that someone thinks they’re good enough to pirate.) So I clicked the link… and oh-my-goodness!

Let me say first and foremost, those pictures are not me. Rather, do not confuse SoFie Couch, spelled with an “f” with Sophie Couch, the film star of the exercise tutorial, Naughty Pilates. She is not me (bless her heart). I am not she. Her. I don’t avoid photographs, but I don’t seek them out… and I sure as heck never posed like THAT in front of a camera! I am still laugh/crying!

But then it occurred to me, how many of her followers are clicking on my link, hoping for the reward of an entirely different brand? She may not want to be associated with my MURDER MYSTERIES or romantic comedy.

But here in is the dilemma. If a part of an author’s brand relies on her name/pseudonym, what to do with the cross-over from another person – author or film star – whose brand, er, clashes with your own? UGH!!!

In my own defense, I’ve used this nickname since it was bestowed upon me in middle school. (Sweet Sarah? Brat Pat? Joanie Macaroni? Which of you is responsible for this silliness?) I thought using a childhood nickname was a great solution to being vaguely anonymous, yet having a name to which I readily answer. Well, I guess it’s back to the drawing board. I suppose I’ll find a new nom de plume. Sadly, it means reserving that name under all of the most prominent social media sites, acquiring a new URL, etc.

Or I could just continue as SoFie Couch… and enjoy the Facebook friend requests meant for a different Sophie Couch. She is very pretty… and young… and… oh my! Maybe not.

A Writer’s Brand

Okay, you heard this here, first. (Rather, you’re about to hear my version of it here, first, er, in an iteration of many others, but here goes.)

“A brand is made up of a promise of consistency, paired with the trust that you build over time represented by a consistent style-set that elicits an emotive response.” You can quote me on that. In fact, you might say I wrote the book on this. I wrote a book on this. Well, it’s in progress, and there you have a quote from it.

Cover Rough Sketches… Coming… Not very soon…

That’s a mouthful. “A picture’s worth 10,000 words,” and brands are certainly one of the best examples of this.

(“Just do it.”) Swishhhh.

That’s the short, but a meaty version of my definition of brand, but now I’ll break it down, dissecting what that means for a writer. The major components of an author’s brand are…

Consistency.

  •  Consistency of Genre. – Usually, the first thing someone wants to know about a writer is, what genre do they write in? or for those who are persnickety about prepositions, in which genre do you write? That leads to…
  • Consistency of Voice – a style and tone recurrent through a body of work. (For example, I would never ask “in which genre do you write?” I’d say something like, “what genre do you write in?” Nah. I’d just ask, “what genre?” Grammatically, my voice is a tough nut to crack and annoys some people. They’re not my readers. People who forgive the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence, or those who are unbothered by incomplete and oddly worded questions – they’re my peeps.
  • Consistency of Quality. This is a loaded mark. What is quality? Well written? Grammatically flawless? Probably not, as exemplified above. A complex plot? That might eliminate much literary fiction. It’s up to the reader to decide… and to come back for more. Whatever your mark is, you want to hit it every time.

Trust

  • Time – it requires repeated effort and accomplishment to build trust. There is the odd bird or two who takes everyone at face value, bless their hearts. But a super fan has typically never been let down by the writer who delivered on their promise.
  • Commitment – I, as the writer, commit to delivering the same genre, voice, and as well-written as I am capable of creating.
  • Persistence – You. Show. Up. Every. Day. Full stop.. I create every day and to the best of my ability, I release what I have promised in previous books. (but more on this later.)

Style-Set

  • Author name – it’s the hinge pin of your brand. You should own it, (in the sense that you want to have control over that name.) You want to make sure it fits your genre. Destiny Hardon would hardly be an appropriate pen name for someone who writes inspirational romance. (And my apologies to all of the Destiny Hardons out there. Your parents are precious.) Google your chosen or your actual name to see who else may have it. (Go ahead. Google Sofie Couch. Sophie Couch. Not my genre, although I respect her right to make those films. I just wish my friends had googled it before they gave me that nickname.)
  • Font – look at other books in your genre. Comic sans has a place in this world, but it is not on your doctoral thesis. Do you notice the consistency of font over a body of work by one writer? Google John Grisham, Mary Burton, Joanna Bourne, Louise Penny. Check out those consistent brand messages!
  • Covers – what do you notice about their covers? Do you see consistency in the cover art? Subject matter? Tone?
  • Colors – the other kind of “tone”. Are the covers consistently dark, earth-toned, or bright and bold? That’s a part of their brand. My blog site/website has a pretty consistent color palette that was inspired by the colors in my office/studio. I do admit though, they are also the colors in the buckets of paint I had sitting around in excess in my workshop, but I like them, so… it is now a part of my brand.

For most of us, when we think of “brand”, we think of words like:

  • “Images”
  • “Icon.”
  • “Logo”
  • “Style”

But this is just the tools meant to elicit an emotive response provided you’ve consistently fulfilled your promise of the first two parts of “brand”. You tie that promise to an image, a logo, a style, you stir up that secret sauce and let it bake for a long time, and “poof!”

You will know when you’ve achieved “brand recognition”. It’s the first time a repeat reader picks up your book from a shelf of books and recognizes something about the cover, the font, and the style that reminds them of the heart that they were promised would be within the pages.

So, can you judge a book by its cover? Every writer should be so lucky, although I think it has more to do with hard work and conscious decision than luck.

I hope you’ve found your brand. I hope this helps define it a bit.

In the meantime…

Make some art. Read a book!