Author Branding- You’ve Got The Look

Somehow we made it to Friday and it’s my last day this round in the Tollbooth. We’ve covered an amazing amount of territory on author branding but in some ways we’ve barely skimmed the surface.

Today we’ll talk about taking your personal brand statement and translating into an active brand- getting the look. And I’ll recommend other resources on personal brands.

What does your brand look like?

If your personal brand is you… it looks like you. The way you dress and physically present yourself. But as authors, most of the time we aren’t meeting our audience face to face. The way you convey your image on the web, in business cards and brochures, in bios blurbs and conference materials must reflect you. It has to have THE LOOK of you.

But how do you get there?

This week both Mara and Shawn spoke about trying to come up with a website that reflects their own personalities. Today I’m talking to Julie Berry, author of the much buzzed about The Amaranth Enchantment. Julie has a gorgeous website. She’s also done a smashing job of conveying who she is in interviews and print media. How many other debut authors rate a prominent article in a major paper like The Boston Globe? She lives her brand and today she’ll take us through finding her look, step by step.

Hi Julie! I’ve told you many times how much I love your website. It’s packed with information and it conveys the “real Julie”. Was that hard to pull off? How did you do it?

Hi Tami. I spent a long time thinking about and planning my website, and my author “brand” in general, before I built or bought anything.   That’s probably lesson number one, the tailor’s proverb: measure twice, cut once.  I think many authors throw up a website, pull together a bookmark, a brochure, etc., and before you know it their non-deliberate brand is a hodgepodge of things that don’t fit.  But because you’ve invested time and money in those marketing collateral assets, you’re stuck with them.

Plan first! Great advice. Just the thing we’re doing with our branding worksheet and personal brand statement. What was your next step?

I looked at many author websites as I thought about what image of myself I wanted to project.  A part of me would have preferred not to need to create any type of image of myself — to just hide behind the books, so to speak.  There’s something a bit artificial and uncomfortable about promoting yourself, as opposed to your work.  But, I knew that as a new author, I would want to engage with my readers, and so I needed to come up with something that I felt was true to who I am (or as true as possible), and something that, at the end of the day, I could live with.

Great we’re still on track with you. So how did you seize on your own individual look? Your website is so personal, fun yet informative.

I decided to downplay the “me” part, keep my photo off the home page, and instead try to use illustration to create a tone, to subtly create an environment, a sense of place, on my site.  I asked an illustrator to design me a graphic that could be my mascot — not quite a logo, because I’m not a consumer product or a company — but a picture that represented something about me as a reader and writer. I did not want to suggest that I take myself too seriously, that I see myself as smart or wise or deep. After a lot of brainstorming, I said, “How about a gargoyle on a tower?”  And that became the gargoyle that appears on my website, sitting at the top of a tower, reading a book.  I liked the idea of a tower because it suggested castles and fairy tale settings, but I asked both illustrators I worked with not to be “girlie” or “high fantasy” in what they designed. I decided that storybook-like, youthful, cartoonish, and whimsical would suit me best.  The thought of myself as a monster made me smile. Even though my first book has tween and teen readers, I wanted to play up the child reader of storybooks theme.  And even though I plan to write non-fantasy works, I felt that a subtle use of these elements was consistent with “reading as a magical world,” so to speak. I chose to show myself reading, not writing, because reading is what all book lovers have in common.

I’m impressed! Not only that you came up with that gargoyle, envisioning even his tone and personality (a lot like your own!), but also that you carried it through. The reading rather than writing piece is fascinating. Once you had that image how did you translate it to a website?

So after one artist designed the gargoyle for me, I took that to a web developer who also has a children’s illustration background (Chris Becker of Becker Studios,and I highly reccommend him!) and asked him to design a website template for me.  I knew what I wanted: stones (to suggest the architecture of the castle) and the gargoyle image on the left, with some curling vines to suggest movement and life. It was a fun process, and barring a few tweaks of the vines, the colors, and the animation behaviors, we had the site done very quickly.  But, and this is important:  I did not hire the web designer until I had all the content for the site planned and written out.  Much money is wasted by not writing and organizing the content first!  I manage the corporate website at my day job, so I knew this from painful experience. Not having a full design plan that you’ve thought through, written, and laid out on paper, can double the time and cost of producing a site with a professional web illustrator/artist.
He delivered me the home page template, and the template for the secondary content.  I built the rest of the site from there using Dreamweaver (any web design product would do just as well).  So I administer the site and make changes to its content.
I’m delighted with how the site came out, and I hope that it sends a visual message about me that makes people feel comfortable approaching me, and perhaps feel that I love storybooks in the same way that they do.

Thanks Julie! This is all tremendously helpful. Julie was able to do lots of her development on her own but when she needed the help of a professional illustrator and web designer she sought help. What she ended up with is AMAZING. That gargoyle can follow her anywhere.

Now a few more links to branding and design resources.

I got ideas for my website by scouring design resources all over the internet. I particularly liked looking at sites that collect a wide spectrum of websites, not necessarily author sites. Here’s one. And another. And another. Talk about taking a peak at something and looking up to see the whole day is gone! But they’re great fun.

This site has some good articles about personal brands.

And hey… there are always books! I’ve ordered this one To be perfectly honest the cover was one the the things that sold me- I love the red spotted egg in the nest.

This article has GREAT information about how to project your brand on the internet and it’s specific to authors.

So that’s it for my week. There are lots of other issues to cover. What else do you want to know about when it comes to finding and projecting your personal brand? Comment here and I will always respond. Or you can email me after the week is done at tamilewisbrown at yahoo dot com.

~TLB