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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, June 26, 2008

BRANDING by Brenda Novak

It is my pleasure to introduce Brenda Novak to the wetnoodleposse today! Not only is Brenda a terrific writer, she is an amazing person who is always giving of her time and expertise. I met Brenda at one of our chapter meetings in Sacramento before she was published. Her determination and drive were apparent from the first moment I met her. She is a devoted mother and wife, a leader in her community, and yet she still manages to find time to work on her annual fund-raiser for diabetes research. Welcome, Brenda! And congratulations on hitting the NYT Best-Seller list!!!

There’s a buzzword in the industry that makes almost any author sit up and take notice: branding. Everyone’s talking about it; everyone wants to be effective at it. But…what is it, exactly? And how important is it that we learn to market in this way?

An author brand is like any other kind of brand—Coke, Pepsi, Kellogg’s, Andersen Doors. The most familiar brands evoke immediate recognition and association with particular products or even a level of quality in a certain product. Basically, branding translates into a sort of shorthand. I see a Nora book, I automatically know what kind of experience I can expect by reading it, so I pick it up without having to think twice or do any research. Branding is having a reputation and a loyal following and helps with all those impulse buys that are so critical in the book business.

Branding is important because it enables the author’s name in and of itself to become a marketable commodity. James Patterson is now using his brand to sell stories co-authored by other people. He’s even expanding his brand to include many different types of stories. Now that he’s so strongly associated with a good story, he can do that.

How did he build such a strong brand? By writing consistently great stories. That always has to be first. But there’s more to it than that. Branding is an on-going process and doesn’t generally happen overnight. It’s most difficult in the start-up phase. As well known as they are, Coke and Pepsi are still out there, advertising and building name recognition. It’s like pushing a ball uphill. If you stop pushing, it rolls right back to the bottom—something else encroaches and takes the attention of those you’re hoping to reach.

Specifically, an author brands herself by developing something that is consistent and unique in her writing. I do that by making sure every book I create delivers a deeply emotional, evocative story. How is my brand different from other authors who write in the same genre? My books are known for their deep characterization in a genre that is often more plot-driven (as you drift toward the suspense side). Once you know what you want your brand to be, you establish it through your writing style and “voice,” as well as your promotional efforts, until it becomes recognizable to others.

Some tools an author can use to build her brand are:

1. Paid Advertising
2. An interesting and constantly updated Web site
3. Strategic Contests
4. Blogs and chats (See? I’m building my brand right here )
5. Newsletters
6. Charity/Volunteer work
7. Networking
8. Joint-promotion with other authors and businesses
9. Speaking
10. Writing articles
11. Press releases/media attention
12. Author response to fan letters/e-mails
13. Mailers to booksellers/fans
14. Samplers

Your brand is your promise to your readers. When my readers buy my books they want to be able to count on a certain type of read. Therefore, I make sure I deliver that kind of read. Everything I do professionally is geared around building my brand and my career, so my Web site reflects that brand, my promotional materials reflect it, my charity auction reflects it, and my workshops/blogs reflect it.

Think about how solicitors make you feel. Because we are approached by so many who are trying to sell us something, the melee is deafening. We learn to filter and filter quickly, which means, in order to be effective in today’s marketplace, we have to be creative marketers. So my question to you is: How can you reach people who are already tired of the signals that are constantly bombarding them via the telephone, TV, computer, etc? How can you set yourself apart?

Throw out some ideas, and I’ll be happy to contribute.

Brenda Novak is the national bestselling author of 25 novels. This summer will see the release of her next three romantic suspense stories—TRUST ME, STOP ME, and WATCH ME, coming from Mira Books. Visit her Web site at to learn more about her and her work, or to enter her “That’s What Friends are For Contest,” where you could win a Caribbean Cruise for Two.

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At 8:07 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

Hi, Brenda - Good to see you. We do bump into each other, don't we.

Coming up with a brand that will work over a career is a challenge. When I started writing, I thought I was going to write mystery, but they turned into romances.

However, I still have this urge to write a straight mystery...someday. I worry that my initial choice of a "brand-blurb" or whatever you would call it, might not have been the smartest move.

Then again, I know that even in a straight mystery, I wouldn't be able to avoid bringing in character relationships. I don't think I'll ever be able to write a book that's not more character than plot driven.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Hi Brenda, I love how you have branded yourself through writing very emotion driven mysteries. AND it seems that a big part of your branding is also by being everywhere! Name recognition and then writing great books...and consistently getting your books on the shelves.

I need to give this some more thought. Thanks for being here today.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Hi, Brenda! I know your charity auction is doing tremendous things for your name recognition. What's your take on branding through paid advertising?

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Terry--

Good to "see" you again. We definitely run in the same circles. LOL

What is your branding blurb? Bottom line, your name is your brand, and that transfer with you, so I wouldn't worry too much about the blurb. When we hear James Patterson's name, we just think "great storytelling." We don't think of his tag line (does he even have one?). The same for Nora Roberts. She writes more than one genre and hasn't really promoted a brand-blurb, as you call it. This tells me that the best way to brand is to be consistent in delivering what you do well. That's how you set yourself apart, IMHO.

Brenda Novak

At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Theresa--

Thanks for having me. Yes, I think a part of branding is getting in front of people and building name recognition. That's why I try a variety of things for promotion (rather than sticking with the same things on every book). I think speaking really works well to build your name, but it's also time-consuming. There are limitless possibilities on the net. I'm not that savvy there, so a lot of them are going unexplored for me, unfortunately. LOL

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Brenda Novak said...

I can't remember my Google password, so I guess I'm going to be anonymous today. There's an example of how NOT to do promotion. LOL

Welcome to the blog, Esri. You pose a good question. What about paid advertising?

I think paid advertising can be effective. I just think it's cost per impact is much greater than so many other, more effective forms of branding.

My auction has been a good sort of "test market" for some of these tools. I've tried to promote it via print advertising, on the net, in my books, with coupons, with networking, etc. I can see the impact of these various forms more easily there because shoppers put down how they came to hear of it. I've actually been amazed by how few say they come to the auction because of an ad. Most of them come through networking, which is free. It's really taught me the power of this tool (which is partly why I wrote an article about it in the July issue of the RWR).

That said, I will still do some print advertising. Why? Because it takes several impressions to become memorable to most people. If someone hears you write a good book, and then they see an intriquing ad with your cover, that ad is going suddenly going to have more of an impact. So you build in more than one way.

Brenda Novak

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

Brenda - thanks for the answer. I was thinking of my 'tag' or whatever it's called ... "Romance with a Twist~~of Mystery" which is the title of my website, and I have it on my business cards.

But what I want readers to expect when they read anything by me is a character-driven story that tests and challenges the characters to dig deep and find out what they really can do if life demands it.

They're not suspense/thrillers. I just want to write characters readers fall in love with. (Like Eve & Roarke!)

Of course, a wider distribution of my books would help a LOT in getting 'branded'. Small press, limited distribution isn't exactly a quick shot to the top. It'll be a while.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

I think speaking really works well to build your name, but it's also time-consuming. There are limitless possibilities on the net. I'm not that savvy there, so a lot of them are going unexplored for me, unfortunately. LOL

You need to clone yourself, Brenda. You make a lot of good points here. As a buyer/reader of books, I must admit that whenever I see someone speak at a workshop or conference and their talk appeals to me, I go right out and buy their book. That happened to me with Elizabeth Boyle and Stephanie Bond. If I see a name, a picture, a cover, over and over sometimes I find myself buying it just to find out what all the ruckus is about. LOL I always buy a book based on word of mouth (i.e. if someone tells me I just HAVE to read this book!)

When I was a newbie writer, I bought every book of any author who helped me. And once you can get a reader to buy ONE book, and then if they like it, you've done your job!

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Brenda, I think your notion of branding is more than a catch-phrase, although I am a great admirer of authors who can define their work with a "brand-blurb."

I feel more secure that even if I can't define my work that way that the brand can encompass my website, my promo, and my books.

Thank you so much for guest blogging with us!!!


At 1:50 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I hadn't really thought about branding the way you described it--"your name is your brand" and that we as writers need to figure out what we do that sets us apart from others. I'd been thinking of it more as a tagline. So thanks for providing this perspective on branding!

Can you explain more about how strategic contests relate to branding?

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous BrendaNovak said...


Distribution is key. Your books also build your brand--they're your #1 tool. So it's tough when you have a small print run or the books aren't visible in the community. Still, you've done a great job. You've entered a lot of contests and done well in them, which has put your book into the hands of readers who will talk about what they've read, etc.

I, too, like character-driven stories.


At 2:51 PM, Anonymous BrendaNovak said...

I've seen speaking make a big difference, Theresa. One event in which this became very clear was at an all-day event at a flower farm years ago. Before the authors spoke, various visitors who'd come for the tea milled around the tables, picked up our books, checked them out, but mostly put them back down. After we spoke, we each had a line and sold a lot of copies. It's that personal connection. You can't replace it. But, as I said, it's really hard to spend the time required, especially if you have a family and tight deadlines.

You have a great presence about you. I know you'd do well on the "speaking circuit."

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous BrendaNovak said...

Thanks, Diane. This is just my personal opinion, but I find that some aspiring writers are trying to do too much with a brand. They're trying to promote too many different things. I want to promote one thing: my name. That's it. I want people to see my name on my cover and pick up the book, and all my promotion is geared toward driving them to my web site, where they can become more familiar with my work.

In a way, it's simpler than you might think. In another way, it's very complex--when you start thinking about what works, what doesn't work and why. Malcolm Gladwell's THE TIPPING POINT is an excellent book and talks about what makes some things really take off while others languish.

Of course, the best thing we can do is write a great book that readers will talk about. We all know that.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger M. said...

Hi Brenda,
I was unsuccessful on bidding for your fundraiser, which made me actually happy becauseit meant others had greater 'wallet latitude' than I to benefit the cause.

I'm juststarting to wrap my head around the branding concept - what aspects would you recommend apre-pubbed writer concentrate on?

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Brenda! As a mom whose child has had Type I diabetes for almost 17 years, just wanted to say you have my everlasting admiration for your charity fund-raising. To be a great writer in addition to that puts your name at the top of "THE BEST" category!

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Brenda Novak said...

Hi Moh--

I'm not sure I understand your question. Are you asking how entering your work in contests can benefit branding? Or are you asking about running contests on your site to promote your brand?


At 4:05 PM, Anonymous BrendaNovak said...

Hi M--

I'm sorry you weren't able to win anything in the auction. I drew the winners of the raffle items last night and sent the announcement just now. I can't wait until I hear from some of the winners. They won some amazing items (I want that Kindle myself!).

You asked what I'd recommend a pre-published author concentrate on as far as branding. I'd have to say I'd concentrate on figuring out just what kind of a writer you want to be when you grow up. Get to know yourself and how your writing is unique. Figure out your strengths and play to them. Then remain consistent. Consistency is the easiest way to build a brand because your writing will do the work for you, for the most part.

At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Brenda Novak said...

What a nice note, anonymous. Thank you so much. I'm grateful that I've had the support I've had in my fundraising efforts. All of my friends and fans and publishing contacts deserve a big pat on the back!

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Jeannie Ruesch said...

Hi Brenda! :)

One thing I am realizing in this business is that brand is really wrapped in who you are and how you present yourself/extend yourself to those around you.

I have never met a kinder, more generous person than you, and that translates into how people think about you, and by extension your work..and wanting to help you succeed, I think.

I've dealt with some other authors who turned me off their books, even if I liked them, because they were far less than nice or generous.

I had an experience on my website with a contest I was promoting, someone had trouble entering it and was really frustrated by it. She emailed me, so I fixed the problem and sent her the item being promoted in the contest as a "thanks for your patience" gift. She was thrilled and since then, I've noticed her talking about the item and that experience on a bunch of blogs. It works in my favor, because I really wanted to make sure she had a good experience on my website.

But if I had been rude or dismissive, that would be all over the blogs, too, possibly.

I think being nice, cordial and helpful makes a difference, too. Being generous with those around you, being consistent.

Like you! You're my hero. :)

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Jeannie, well said. I agree with everything you said! Being a positive and nice person pays off in the long run!

Can you explain more about how strategic contests relate to branding?

Brenda, I think Mo H was asking about "Strategic Contests" that was listed as number 3 thing for authors to do to brand themselves in your article/post.


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