What color is your website? Is it dark? If it is dark, you need to write dark fiction.
Do you use a Hotmail account? AOL? Then the protagonist of your thriller needs to be a computer n00b.
See, what's important in selling books is branding.
Says so right here: Branding: The Secret to Selling More Books. The nice, helpful Penny Sansevieri -- CEO of something called "Author Marketing Experts, Inc." says that it is important to keep a consistent brand. Like Kleenex. Like Charmin toilet paper. Like Preparation H. Like Janet Evanovich.
Here is what the article says about branding product:
"Regardless of whether you are fiction or non-fiction, a brand is a brand. Think Nora Roberts or Dan Brown, both of these authors are brands. Their messaging is consistent and their packaging uniform. The audience is told in word, color and image exactly what they are going to get...."
See. Your writing is your product. And you are the spokesperson for that product. And why shouldn't you be? You do readings. Signings. You blog. And your brand needs to match up. You must have "consistent marketing materials," the article says. Your "leave behinds" have to match. Your bookmarks and postcards have to of a similar look -- color, font. The article preaches time and again -- do not confuse your readers. Let them know "exactly what they are going to get."
This is the way to move product, people. Whether you are selling your twenty-book series or your eleven stand-alones, the lemmings must know which cliff is yours.
Think about what makes you buy a book. It's the postcards, right? The bookmarks left behind at the signings? You know, that's how most of the books on my shelves were bought. I saw a catchy postcard near the register at the bookstore and said, "Damn. Look at that postcard. That's the same font I saw on a bookmark last week. That author must tell a damn good story."
But that's not all. What is the most important part of all this? The. Most. Important. Think about it. C'mon, you can do it. Some of you are writers. You probably already know this. Here. Let me step aside so the marketing person can tell you what is the most important part:
An author's website is the single most important piece of your brand. Yes, your book is important, but before a reader gets there they will often find your website first.
There you go. The author's website. I must admit, it wasn't the postcards that first drew me to Cormac McCarthy. It wasn't the bookmarks that made me pick up Dennis Lehane's newest novel. No. I went to their websites. I saw how professionally they were put together, how they used top-notch fonts, and I knew that I was dealing with talented writers.
Some readers may rely on word-of-mouth. Some on good reviews from trusted sources. Some readers might thumb through a few pages of a book to look at the writing before they decide whether to shell out $10 for the product in front of them.
Remember what is most important. Fonts. Color choices. Consistent "leave behinds."
As the article says:
A brand not only shows consistency but it shows you're serious about what you're doing; and if you show you're serious, your readers will take you seriously, too.
And if you want more than anything to move product, you need to devote yourself to your brand.
If you want to be serious about "being A Writer," then sure, spend your time writing. Editing. Revising. Whatever you think it means to "be A Writer" is different than moving product. Here, we're talking about moving product. Selling books. As the article at Huffington Post suggests, branding isn't about being a better writer. Branding is about selling, which is what Penny Sansevieri's business is about. And who wants to sell fewer books, right?
And, all kidding aside, these are really two different things. No, screw you. They aren't "two parts to a writer's life." They're two different things. If you want to argue that branding is part of a writer's life, then screw you. Seriously. I am not kidding. Screw. You.
I'm not trying to play semantic games here, but maybe it's part of an author's life. Maybe "An Author" is someone who writes for a few hours in the morning, then answers emails, then talks to a radio station eight states away about his/her new book, then has lunch at the club, then works on updating his website, then spends a couple hours editing some earlier work. Then dinner. Then a talk at the public service group two counties away about whatever it is you're building for your platform. Maybe there's animal abuse in your book, and it's important to you, so you want to talk to these folks about that aspect of your book. OK. Maybe you sell a few books, too. Great. You're building your audience. You're whatevering your platform. You're strengthening your brand.
But you're not writing.
You think Cormac McCarthy spent three seconds on his website last year? You think he even knows he HAS a website? Franzen? Hell, no.
You want to stand out? You think you're going to stand out from all the other self-promoters because your postcards have a nicer font?
Because your platform reaches more people?
You want to stand out as a writer, then write the ass-kickingest book you can write. When you're done, write a better one.
If you're worried about being popular, then study branding. Listen to everything the marketing people you. Spend your days on the forums and the boards and let people know how much you love puppies.
Look. I do this, too. Maybe we all do this. I'm not arguing at all that "branding" in and of itself is a bad thing.
I'm saying I've never bought a book based on a brand. Sure, the marketing people might tell you that the best branding works in the background. That I didn't even know I bought MYSTIC RIVER because of the branding. You know why I bought MYSTIC RIVER? Because friends I trust told me it was good. Because I read SHUTTER ISLAND and thought it was great. Why did my friends love it? The writing. The. Writing.
Think of an author you love. No. Love. OK. Now think about that author's website. Her postcards. His "leave behinds."
See, a writer writes. And that's what keeps me coming back to books. Not postcards. Not email blasts. Are they important to the brand? Sure.
So maybe the marketing people say this: "Of course you have to have a great book. We're talking about how to brand the book after it's written. How to market it consistently with the message the publisher wants to associate with this imprint."
Look, marketing is great. Important. Necessary. But if you tell me the most important thing is an author's website, well, then you and I probably aren't reading the same books.
As writers, we can all get caught up in this "marketing" talk, so much that we spend more time on that than on the writing.
See, if we would all just focus on the writing, we'd have more bookstores selling out of Daniel Woodrell, Tom Franklin, Dennis Tafoya, Patricia Highsmith, Reed Farrel Coleman, Hilary Davidson, Benjamin Whitmer, Lynn Kostoff, Chris F. Holm, Bill Cameron, and JT Ellison. We'd have more quality on the shelves. We'd have more people excited about reading.
Maybe, just maybe, we'd have fewer layoffs in the industry. We'd have fewer "Death of Publishing" stories.
Maybe, if we focused on the writing instead of the branding, we'd have fewer bookstores closing.
What color is your font, Borders?