If you were lucky, you got to attend the Digital Book World 2014 conference and hear some of the amazing presentations about where the publishing industry was, is, and will be soon. One of the presentations, by Peter Hildick-Smith of Codex Group LLC, is about the importance of author branding. In his presentation, Hildick-Smith states that most book conversions (from discoverability to availability, and then of course, to reader purchases/sales) occur because of author branding and/or the book’s topic or message.
In this new publishing world where digital production is an equal giant next to paper production, author branding (sometimes mistaken for an author’s platform) is even more important, because there is unrestricted accessibility to publishing—which means there is the threat of oversaturation of new content, which has already started to happen (hence the “discoverability” buzz word at DBW14). Authors and their publishers are struggling to maintain book discoverability and find new ways to maximize their resources, so there is more reader conversion.
One thing Hildick-Smith makes note of is that there are “three pillars of initial new book sales.” They are:
- Discovery – Wherein the reader needs to know about the existence of the book. This is where marketing (niche marketing, adjacent customer marketing, social media marketing, author branding, etc.) comes in.
- Conversion – Does the book offer anything interesting to the particular reader to make them want to purchase it? This, of course, can be a direct result of successful (or unsuccessful) marketing and author branding. If you’re marketing to adjacent customers as Peter McCarthy suggests (“fans of John Grisham” or “Doctor Who fans”), niche markets (YA paranormal romance, women’s contemporary fiction, etc.), and/or utilizing social media (including online reader communities), you will succeed in book conversions and good author branding.
- Availability – Is the book available to be purchased in a variety of formats? Can the reader purchase it easily? At any time? This is where mutli-purchase points, distribution channels, and even a direct sales channel become important factors in book conversion sales.
The current bestseller lists boasts a number of “brand authors” who have built up a fan base from their author branding, their content, and their reader interaction. Unknown authors and new authors with no platform or author branding campaigns tend to get little recognition or attention.
A classic example that Hildick-Smith mentions is the J.K. Rowling book, Cuckoo’s Calling. Originally published under the pen name Robert Galbraith, Cuckoo’s Calling had very little book conversion, selling a measly 1,500 books in hardback in April 2013. Why? It lacked author branding because Robert Galbraith was an unknown. Once it became known that J.K. Rowling was indeed the author, book sales multiplied 500 times and it became the #1 bestseller.
Sarah Wendell, co-founder of SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com, says that author branding unfortunately has some unsavory connotations. Too often, the world wide web is filled with corporate pushiness, spammy “buy my book” requests, and a feeling of insincerity.
“Branding an author (not with a hot piece of metal, I promise) is really about consistency and making sure readers can recall the authors they like when shopping for books, and can easily identify what they’re going to get from those authors’ books,” says Wendell.
Author branding isn’t so much about selling books as it is making the author’s name and presence memorable with readers. The most successful author branding tends to happen when authors and publishers don’t even mention sales and promotions, instead focusing on subjects related to the author or publisher’s genre, other content or books, including TV shows, games, and interactive or transmedia stories (adjacent customers are great converters from this). This kind of interaction with readers is itself a form of promotion. Authors and publishers build a brand by the way they interact with potential readers, not by the product they force on them.
As Wendell states, you want “name recognition and recall.” That’s what a successful and effective author branding does—it “creates a connection that lasts beyond any one book.”
Simply put, publishers and authors should remember that author branding isn’t about the book(s) at all. It’s about the consistent and sincere connection with readers.