Who do you think you are?

Authors used to be able to hide behind their names or publishing houses, only becoming recognizable if they became wildly famous and had their pictures plastered on the back of their book covers or on tabloids. But now, we live in a very public world, where everyone shares the most personal details of their lives freely. Even if you aren’t famous, per se, your readers will expect to know who you are, what you like to do, your favorite color, the name of your pets, and whether or not you have false—eyelashes. Yes, false eyelashes.

This might seem like a huge violation of privacy—and you’re right, it is! Most of us just never stop to think about it. That is why you have to take control early in your career and decide what face or persona you are going to share with your fans, that will entice people to follow you and connect you to your work, but which will leave you some semblance of a private life. This is called building your brand.

It helps to begin by finding your writing voice, which is a huge piece of what draws readers to your particular work, and keeps them coming back for more. Some people write in different voices across different genres, and these should generally have different brands for each genre—but more on that later. Your brand should be somewhat reflective of your writing voice, but it can be broader and more expressive (or less so) of your personality. You can be unique and have twists between your voice and your brand, but your brand should have clear, recognizable markers to help your readers stay connected, or else they will feel like, Who are you and what have you done with my favorite author?! Then you lose readers because they get confused or feel betrayed and lose trust, and it’s a mess. So just trust me on this.

One way to find your brand-voice is to start a blog. You can explore the most natural writing style for you, which might be exactly like your writing, or not. People who read blogs expect to be addressed on a more personal level than in books, and will tend to connect better with a less formal style. If your book writing voice is significantly different than your blog writing voice, you may have to decide how to blend your two voices to create a fusion that speaks YOU. Just keep it natural and human.

Along those lines, something that comes up over and over again from successful writers is that basic human decency is crucial in connecting with your audience. Everyone is an individual and has a story, with challenges, heartaches, joys and triumphs, political views and other opinions, likes and dislikes. You will never be able to completely understand every one of your readers, and you may disagree with a lot of them on at least some levels. But they are still people, and deserve to feel safe and valued. If you approach every fan interaction with kindness and humanity, they are more likely to respond in kind, and everybody wins.

Your style will usually emerge as you are finding your voice. As you format your blog, you will choose the colors, fonts, and formatting that showcase both your voice and your product (your books). This is where the decisions of what to hide and what to share about your personality come into play. If you write vampire horror but you love kittens, it’s probably not going to work to have cute, fuzzy kitten pics interspersed between your bloody vampire slayer images. But if you write vampire horror and love light blue, light blue can look pretty cool in a slash with black and blood red.

After you’ve got your voice and style, then you can work on a logo. This can be as simple as a cartoon of yourself, or a picture of something that fits your mood or style or genre, or a really great picture of yourself looking cool/artsy/thoughtful/whatever fits your brand. Or it can be a design that fits your genre/style. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to fit your brand.

If you have more than one writing style, i.e. you write in different genres or subgenres, you may need to separate these styles into different brands (read: different personas, different websites, different social media accounts, maybe even different pen names). For example, if you write steampunk and sweet romance, some of those audiences will overlap, but not all, and you risk alienating the two unrelated audiences if you try to cater to both (remember the “Who are you, and what have you done with my favorite author” issue?). People respond to clear, defined brands better than mashups that seem careless and messy, and will feel betrayed if they pick up one of your books or read a blog post expecting one thing and they get another. So you’ll want to consider a separate brand for the steampunk that uses gears and Victorian styles in a rusty brown color scheme, and speaks directly to your steampunk audience, and one for the sweet romance that uses flourishes and flowers in a purple theme, etc.

The next step is to build a website (or websites), which is its own topic for another post. But, hopefully, you get the idea. You, by virtue of becoming an author, have become a company of sorts, and must build your brand to suit your products. Anything that your followers will associate with you should reflect your brand (including your book covers), and should remind them that the whole point of this is to buy your products—your books.