Hey everyone, Kalayna here filling in for David today. As we are in the middle of convention and conference season, I thought today would be a great day to talk about in person appearances and visual brands.
Now I know branding has been discussed on MW before, but let me briefly define my understanding of it. Branding is a part of marketing that ties an author’s name into a reader expectation. That means that even without actually seeing a book, a reader knows by hearing an author’s name that they will be getting a certain type of read. For instance, the name “Faith Hunter” means the reader will be getting an action packed urban fantasy following a strong lead character. Readers who like that genre can buy Faith’s books with confidence and can assume the next book she releases will also be in that genre. As most of you know, Faith also writes under the name Gwen Hunter, but Gwen has a different audience and brand. Gwen writes southern mysteries, and while some of her audience crosses over, having two names distinguishes the two genres and helps prevent a reader who loves one genre but abhors the other from auto-buying and ending up terribly disappointed (which can lead to bad feelings associated with the writer’s name and skeptical readers less willing to take a chance on the next book).
What does any of this have to do with in person appearances? Well, how a writer presents themselves becomes part of their brand. Faith will tell you that her Gwen name and Faith name have different clothes, and which outfits she packs depends on which of her names was invited to that particular event. I also have a particular style I aim for, but I didn’t realize until recently that my ‘look’ had become an anticipated part of my personal brand. If you’ve ever seen me at an event, you know I favor corsets and boots, which I tend to build my outfit choices around. This is a personal preference, one I’ve had since before I was published, and as I wore such outfits to fantasy cons when pre-published, I started showing up in the same as a guest. In the beginning, I didn’t consciously realize that I was building a visual brand (guess I’m lucky urban fantasy and big black boots go well together) but now I receive more remarks if I don’t show up in the anticipated style than if I do. Of course, this has led to a bit of fretting for events that aren’t fantasy conventions as trying to mishmash my look with something more conservative can be tricky, but I think I’ve pulled it off.
So why have a visual brand? Obviously not all UF writers should walk around in boots with big buckles or stripped tights–that would become terribly cliche very fast. And what would all mystery writers do, dress like Sherlock Holmes? No, visual brands are personal and can be anything from an extremely laid back and approachable jean and tee-shirt garb to a propensity for period costumes. If you fall on a more extreme side of clothing, it probably helps if it compliments your genre (such as a steampunk author making appearances in Victorian clothing) but of course, be aware of the expectations of the event you’re attending–some venues don’t appreciate divergence from the norm. At the end of the day, a visual brand is about being yourself (or the side of yourself that best compliments the books you’re promoting) while still being consistent and recognizable.
Now that’s the visual part, but there is more to an in person brand. You wouldn’t want your name and face associated with a grouch readers don’t like. While on panels try to be interesting but also considerate of your fellow panel members–neither your fellow writers nor the audience likes it when one panelist monopolizes the topic. Remember that when you are at an event, you are always ‘on’ and making impressions. Even when you are at the hotel bar. Be friendly, be approachable, and be positive. Personally, I’m an obnoxiously shy person. Unfortunately, shy can often be mistaken for snobbish (I learned that the hard way in high-school) so I use my personal brand as a type of armor. When I’m at an event, I’m a professional writer, not that shy girl who spends more time with her computer than with people.
So tying this all together, what is an in person brand? It is a look, but also the way a writer acts at an event. While a name as a brand deals with a readers’ expectations in books, an in person brand deals with expectations on a person. For con coordinators, it lets them know if this is a writer they’d like to have at future events, and for attendees of events, it lets them know if this is a writer they like as a person and if the writer is someone they’d want to hang out with again. Is it effective marketing? Well, that is hard to measure. I’ve definitely bought books by authors because I liked that person and was more than willing to see what they had written. Conversely, on one rare occasion, I discovered an author was a total jerk and stopped reading that person’s books because I just didn’t like them. But, over all, I would say I’ve never met most of the writers I read, so their in person brand doesn’t influence me at all.
How about you? Have you picked up books by people you met at events just because the author was interesting? Has someone (no need to name names) negatively branded themselves to you by being obnoxious at an event?