Branding isn't just for companies. Building an author brand will make you more recognizable and attract the right kind of readers.
I'm going to break down the most important elements of author branding, so you can design the brand that suits you and grows an audience for your writing.
If you want to make money from your writing or get your work out to as many readers as possible, building an author brand is basically a necessity, whether you intend to self-publish or get published traditionally. And even if you don’t have plans to publish anytime soon, creating your author brand can give you a head start if and when you do publish something. Better to work on building an audience now than when you release your book and realize there’s no one to read it but yourself. That’s demoralizing. Trust me.
1. Brand Brainstorming
The first step in creating your author brand is to determine what kind of audience you’re trying to build. It doesn’t have to consist exclusively of readers, either. A helpful exercise here could be to come up with an imaginary avatar that you’re targeting. Chances are, this person will have a lot in common with you. In fact, you can simply use yourself as a starting point.
To build a brand that’s authentic to you, think about the brands you’re most drawn to, and the qualities you most respect in them. A brand doesn’t have to be a company—it can be one person who has a cohesive, intentional way of presenting themselves. It might not appear to be a brand at first glance, but almost anyone doing anything on the internet has some sort of personal brand.
You should also pay attention to the kinds of personal brands you don’t like. What repels you, either obviously or subtly? Pay attention to the way these brands present themselves through visual design and how they communicate with their audience.
Take notes on the qualities you like, and the qualities you don’t like, in the brands you’re looking at. Maybe you prefer a brighter color palate, a casual tone of communication, and short-form video content. Or maybe you’re more drawn to a darker aesthetic, a cinematic style, and different kinds of communication like newsletters or podcasts.
Some things to pay attention to include:
What platforms are these brands using to build their audience?
How often do these brands post new content?
What kind of relationship are they trying to create with their audience?
What words or feelings do you associate with each brand?
And again, when I say brand, that can simply mean one person, even with a sparse internet presence. You don’t just have to look at author brands for inspiration, but find at least a few authors whose brands appeal to you. You’re not going to copy them, but you can learn a lot from examining brands you’d like to emulate in certain aspects.
Your Unique Qualities
You have something unique to bring to the writing world, whether you know it or not. Yes, that’s partially through your unique stories, but it’s also through your personality and presentation. When brainstorming for your author brand, consider what skills or qualities set you apart from other authors. For my YouTube channel, one of the things that sets me apart is that, in addition to being an author, I’m also a filmmaker. So I like to use B-roll, footage you see when my face isn’t talking onscreen, that I shot myself. One could use stock footage to create a similar style, but the fact that everything is something I filmed myself lends it consistency, and means you won’t see the same shots anywhere else. It’s just one way I make my videos, and by extension, my author brand, a little more uniquely mine.
In addition to skills, there are other attributes that can set you apart as a writer and creator. For instance, I’m seventeen, which is something most authors and writing advice creators can’t say. Your unique qualities make you more memorable—the worst brand is the brand everyone forgets about. Harnessing your individual strengths and incorporating what makes you you into your brand helps you stand out and be remembered.
Your unique qualities also help inform what audience you’ll naturally cultivate. I tend to attract a younger demographic because I’m young. It probably wouldn’t be a great choice if I decided that I wanted to instead attract an audience of senior citizens. So when thinking about what kind of audience you intend to cater to, you should do your research, or at least think critically, about the kind of audience best suited for your inherent strengths and qualities. You should not reinvent yourself merely to attract a certain kind of audience. Shape your target audience and branding around who you already are.
2. Brand Design
The visual aspects of your author brand are important, since they're usually what a prospective reader will see first. And first impressions matter.
Design is more than aesthetics. It’s more than just making something that looks good, or professional. Good design can communicate who you are and attract the right kind of audience. Bad design either tells you nothing, or the wrong thing. The design of your brand should suit you as a person and a creator.
Up until November 2022, I had a different personal brand that felt a lot more bland and corporate, and by extension, less authentic and interesting. When I redesigned the look of my brand, I wanted it to better match who I am and the kind of stories and content I create. Instead of harsh lines, geometric shapes, and a simple, brighter color palate, I wanted something with more character and less rigidity. Something that better matched the kinds of stories I write, and the kinds of personal brands I’m most attracted to.
The new design style I came up with had darker colors, textured elements, and a new sans-serif font that better reflected the literary side of my work. The tone was more in line with the kinds of stories I write, and the visual design was closer to the brands I like most. Yes, designing your author brand is largely about appealing to the right kind of readers, but it should also be something authentic to your own sensibilities. You should be confident in how you’re presenting yourself through your brand.
Design is about evoking feeling. When brainstorming for your author brand, come up with a list of words you’d like to be associated with you, your books, and your online presence. Then use those words to guide the design development process.
Now let’s get into the specifics of designing your author brand’s look.
Colors are powerful. They can evoke certain emotions and either attract or repel potential readers and followers. So don’t pick colors for your brand at random—be intentional about the kind of message you’re sending with your color choices.
First, decide whether a dark or light theme is best suited to your personality and writing. I'd recommend choosing white or black as a base color, which you might have as a basic background on things like your website. Then choose one or two main colors to use wherever your brand goes.
My author brand, for example, has a base color of black, with a dark shade of blue as a background color, gray and a lighter shade of blue as accent colors, and white as the main text color. This design palate is used consistently across my website, social media platforms, YouTube, and everywhere else my brand has a presence.
Your fonts should also be consistent and reflective of the genre, or genres, you write in. Pick fonts that are legible even when small; nothing too fancy. I primarily use two fonts, a sans-serif one for headings and a serif one for body text. Headings usually have a glowing neon effect, and I increase the tracking (the space between letters) and use all caps.
Make sure none of your text is too crowded; always give sufficient margins and line spacing.
Carefully choose recurring elements that will appear everywhere your author brand has a presence. In addition to colors and fonts, this includes shapes and visual motifs. For example, I use a lot of curved edges on everything from buttons to book covers on my website. I often use gradient colors, from YouTube thumbnails to the logo of my fictional universe. I have a set of similar textured backgrounds, all sharing a dark blue hue, that you’ll find on my website, account banners, and elsewhere.
You should have either a headshot or a logo to serve as your main icon, something that’s consistent across all platforms. This should probably be your profile picture for all of your author accounts. If you use an author photo inside your books, it might be that. If it’s a photo of you, it should be a really good one. Well-lit, not too close or far away, and not too busy or crowded. Ideally, you can work in your brand colors, whether with the clothes you’re wearing, the background, or both.
If you don’t want to use your face as the icon that represents your brand, you can use a logo. This might be as simple as your initials, but make sure the design, whether you make it yourself or get someone else to, matches your brand. Again, make it simple enough to be easily recognizable at a distance, but unique enough to clearly remind people of you, your author brand, and what you write.
You can also create a branded design for your name. In addition to an author headshot, I have a logo of sorts with my name in neon white text. Beneath that, there’s a divider and then a brief tagline that tells you who I am and what I do: Author and Filmmaker. On YouTube, that’s changed to Writing and Publishing, which clearly and succinctly communicates what kind of videos viewers can expect from me. This isn’t overly elaborate, but it matches the design of my brand. The fonts, colors, and effects used are consistent with my presence all across the web.
Consider adding a brief tagline that shows what kind of books you write, or what potential followers can expect from you. Make it catchy if you can, but more importantly, make it short—the less text, the better. You want people who discover your brand for the first time to be able to quickly understand who you are, what you do, and whether they’re interested in it.
The way you write, talk, or create content online is another element of your author brand. How much of your personal life will you share? How casual or formal will your interactions with others be? (I'd recommend finding a middle ground.) What kinds of phrases or language will you use in everything from emails to Instagram captions to conversations about your writing?
And how often can your readers expect you to be in touch? Where do you want them to find you on the web—social media, your website, a newsletter, all of the above? Think about what kind of relationship you want to build with your readers and fellow writers.
You shouldn’t stretch yourself too thin by being present on all social media platforms. Choose the ones that best suit you, the ones you’re most passionate about creating content for. Hopefully, these will also be the platforms that your audience is most represented on. But trying to post on every platform consistently is a recipe for burnout. And unless you love all of those platforms equally, you’re not going to have much fun after a while.
Part of your author brand might be giving writing advice to other writers. In that case, you have two distinct but overlapping segments of your audience: readers and writers. This, of course, is true with my author brand. Think about how you’re going to reach out to and interact with both of those audiences.
What kinds of things do you want to share with your audience? How much behind-the-scenes content will you put out, if any? Don’t feel like you have to get super personal in your communication with your audience. You should be yourself, since constructing a fake persona would get exhausting, but that doesn’t mean you have to share every aspect of your day-to-day life. In fact, for your own sanity, you shouldn’t.
And in your communication with your audience and other creators, be professional. You’ll never regret being professional, but you might regret getting too personal or reacting too emotionally. One can certainly come across as overly diplomatic and stiff, but maintaining professionalism doesn’t have to mean suppressing your personality. It just means that whenever you’re interacting with people in person or online, be respectful and maintain boundaries. If someone leaves a bad review of your book, you almost certainly shouldn’t respond. Be gracious and humble when you receive praise. Thank people, when you can, for supporting you. You don’t have to respond to every comment and spend hours interacting with your audience, but I would recommend trying to foster a connection with your readers and followers. Not only is it a nice thing to do, but it can also help create fans of you and your work.
Two key parts of good author branding are consistency and compatibility.
First, your brand should be consistent across platforms and through time, though it can, and likely will, evolve. My first attempts at author branding were… kind of ugly, but I improved at it over the years. Adjusting and improving your author brand is important, especially as you yourself develop more as a writer, but try to avoid changing it too often. I’d recommend creating several design styles for your brand before choosing one to roll out. Get feedback if you want, but don’t change your profile picture every week. That’s unnecessary work, and it’s confusing for your audience.
Once you've created a brand you're satisfied with, try to stick to it wherever you go as an author.
Compatibility means your brand matches your writing. The look and feel of your author presence should reflect the genre or genres you write. My brand's darker color scheme and font choices are better suited for sci-fi, dystopian, and mystery than for comedies or romances. Look to the branding of other authors and books in your genre for inspiration.
Your readers should know roughly what to expect from your writing when they see your presence online. Writing gritty thrillers? Probably best not to use flowery fonts and too many bright colors.
Your brand should be distinct from any single book, since even if you plan to write just one, you never know how it might expand in the future. Still, your author brand and the theme and branding of your book, or books, should be complementary. It helps if you write in a single genre, but even books in multiple related genres can be united under a cohesive author brand.
I write books in the genres of science fiction, mystery, dystopian, and action-adventure, and my brand works pretty well with all of those. I intentionally avoided creating a genre-specific brand design, but there’s still a common tone that weaves through my books and my author brand. If you only intend to write in one genre, your author brand might be more specifically centered around that genre. But especially when you’re starting out, I’d recommend not getting too specific in theming your brand around a single genre, since you might want to branch out in the future.
6. You + Your Brand
At the end of the day, creating and maintaining your author brand shouldn’t get in the way of writing. After all, that’s what all this is about—building a space in the world where you can express your creativity, and share your stories with others. If you want to make a business out of your passion for writing, then author branding is essential. But writing doesn’t have to be a business if you don’t want it to be. Like I said, authenticity is key when creating your author brand. And maybe, the most authentic brand for you… is no brand at all.
And of course, there are different kinds of brands and different levels of commitment. You don’t have to be constantly posting on every platform, and you don’t have to share any more of yourself with your readers and followers than you’re comfortable with. Your brand should build an audience, but it should also serve you.
This has all been about designing your author brand, but that’s just the first step in the process of building an author platform. I’m going to be making posts on all the aspects of that, from your author website to your social media presence. If you’ve got any specific topics you want me to cover, let me know in the comments.
If you want to watch the video versions of these blog posts, head over to my YouTube channel here, and subscribe for more videos on writing and publishing.
– Grayson Taylor