How To Build Your Author Brand From Scratch (And Why You Need To)

by | Dec 16, 2015

You might be wondering if having an author brand actually matters or if you should only focus on improving your writing. 

The answer? These days it’s not enough just to be good at what you write. You need to be able to create an emotional connection with your reader – often before they’ve had a chance to read your book. The goal of creating an author brand is to intentionally craft that emotional connection with your readers.

How you position your work, how you distinguish yourself from others in your field or genre, and how you communicate to your audience can be the difference between a brand that attracts and retains viewers and one that falls flat.

It’s a bit naive to think you can win any acclaim as an author while avoiding having an author brand.

Effective branding is foundational to the development of your writer platform and audience-building efforts. The author who can tap into what their readers yearn for – and construct an entire experience around what they crave – is the author that earns the devoted fan base.

Your Author Brand Should Be Intentional

We are always being judged, assessed and evaluated by others. People will interpret your work, your relevance and the value you offer by what you intentionally – and unintentionally – share.

As your sphere of influence and visibility increases, so does the number of people who have the opportunity to form an impression about you.

It’s unavoidable.

Successful authors shape and manage readers’ perceptions by controlling the message. That’s why a powerful author brand is designed – not stumbled upon by accident. You must envelop readers in an experience, from the moment they come in contact with you, to after they buy, and beyond.

What is An Author Brand?

Whether you’re actively building your personal brand or not, it’s happening. So, why not be deliberate in shaping the direction it takes?

‘Author brand’ isn’t corporate-speak for “society’s attempt to force me to label (and limit) my creative genius.”

Everything factors into your brand, from your social media updates to your blog posts and your podcast interviews. Your author collaborations and your newest releases fit into what your brand is. Everything adds to the bigger picture of who you are, and what you can bring to the table.

Your author brand is an ongoing, continually evolving story that communicates what makes your work unique. It represents an implied promise to your readers of what they can expect you to consitently deliver.

Your brand doesn’t have to feel cheesy, packaged or restrictive. In fact, if you’re purposeful in your brand planning from the beginning – even before you publish your first book – you can frame yourself and your work in a way that is satisfying to both you and your future readership.

When readers have a multitude of other options vying for their limited attention, your author brand answers the question, “Why you?”

If you can elicit an emotional reaction in a reader, and emphasize what makes your work unique, not only will you stand out from the crowd and gain recognition from readers, you will earn their loyalty and trust as well.

Your “brand story” (and how well you tell it) determines the strength of your brand – the impact of which is measured by the ardor and devotion of your fans and supporters.

Brand Story Worksheet Graphic 657x250

A strong author brand is a credible signal of quality to book buyers, which means more authority, more influence, and even premium pricing. As you increase the perceived value of your personal brand, your brand equity rises.

Build Your Author Brand So It Makes A Dent In The Universe

The concept of branding, however, isn’t what most writers have a problem with. It’s the application that causes people to struggle. How do you actually build an author brand?

With the expansive growth of social media, and tech advances that help multiply reach and increase access, even the smallest of businesses, with the smallest of budgets (authors included) are able to grab and hold the attention of their target audiences in a very impactful way – through brand storytelling.

And guess who’s uniquely qualified to capitalize on this strategic marketing opportunity?

“Marketers have been telling brand stories for years through advertising, in-person brand experiences, and so on, but the art of writing those brand stories as effective pieces of online content is a challenge that few are trained to do. That’s because the best brand storytellers understand the critical elements of fiction writing, which are skills that few marketers have been formally trained to do.”

Susan Gunelius, Forbes Contributor

Well that’s convenient. Might you possess just such skills?

Then with the right mix of branding fundamentals (which we’ll explore below), and an intriguing, emotional and well-crafted brand story, you can expertly build a memorable and meaningful author brand.

Start with The Branding Fundamentals

When it comes to building a compelling author brand, there are two main areas that require your focus: brand identity and brand awareness.

There is no point in marketing and promoting a brand you have yet to crystallize, so your first step is to very clearly define your brand identity and purpose. Only once you have this nailed down can you confidently promote – and have your readers champion – your brand.

Brand Identity and Purpose

This is where you pull together the visual, written and in-person brand elements that support (or tie in with) your brand story, the needs and desires of your readers, and your personal objectives for your writing career.

Again, it’s not just what you say, but how you communicate your message to your audience that makes an impact.

It’s also important to note here, that there is a difference between brand and genre. Be careful not to over-invest in the stylings and look of one particular genre, unless you’re certain that it “fits” with your brand strategy and story longer term.

(If you already have an established author brand, use the following to revisit, review, and refine what you already have in place. Brands are not static, so an audit of your current brand strategy is a good way to ensure you’re still on track.)

Brand Identity Checklist:

  • Main logo – graphic or font based.
  • Brand colours – choose two to three main colours (get the hex codes so you can use your exact brand colours when designing your own graphics).
  • Brand fonts – one main or body font and one accent font.
  • Brand style elements – patterns, icons, graphics or other style elements.
  • Brand tagline – your highly concise mission statement.
  • Website/blog – functions as your author headquarters. Does your about page, contact page, book/sales page, blog categories, navigation menu, blog posts and website design all convey a consistent (and accurate) brand message?
  • Social media accounts with on-brand design – same or similar handles/URL’s and consistent platform profile photo and description.
  • Social media graphics and image templates – Facebook and Twitter covers; logo/URL watermark (to add to all shared images).
  • Professional headshot and additional photos – consistent across all social media profiles, and for use on your about page and within your media kit (or press page).
  • Business cards and other printed marketing materials – old school, but still effective.
  • Blog post image templates – compelling (quality) images that reflect a cohesive brand style.
  • Other visuals – book covers, photography, illustrations, screenshots, quote graphics, book artwork and video.
  • Email – email newsletter template or other email graphics.
  • Domain name and professional email account – purchase your domain name for your site and set up an email that attaches to it.

Brand Awareness Plan

Once you have your brand story and other brand elements defined, the next step is developing a plan to promote and solidify your brand in the eyes of readers.

  • How will you demonstrate the feelings, values and unique qualities that you want attributed to you and your writing?
  • How will you grab your reader’s attention or pique their interest?
  • Who needs to know about your books? Which types of people would be most interested in your writing? (And where can they be found?)
  • What are other authors doing in your genre or niche? What are their competencies and how can you position yourself and your work differently?

There are three aspects to creating more awareness for your author brand:

1. Goals and Objectives

Identify your goals and objectives. Everything you write or create should be moving you closer to these goals. You need to know where you are trying to take your readers (the buyers journey), and create goals and objectives for your content that will move people to action.

As you start to promote and grow your brand, make sure you know what your end goals are.

2. Promotion Strategy

One of your main goals to build your author brand is to not just have the brand, but you need to reach others. You will need the following brand promotion essentials:

  • Content strategy – your publishing plan of action for your books, blog, social media, audio, video and email list). Capitalize on each platform’s strengths to share different aspects of your brand story.
  • Brand style guide – create a brand style guide that includes your brand specific fonts, colours, brand elements, patterns and imagery style, so that all your marketing materials are consistent and at your finger tips.
  • Ideal reader persona – by drafting a detailed reader persona, you establish a framework and a way to focus your efforts for reaching and connecting with your “people” – those who’ll benefit most from your work.
  • Digital media kit – a marketing package for your book that makes it dead simple for the media and others to feature you and your work.
  • Lead magnet – a “can’t-say-no” email opt-in incentive that builds your list.
  • Street team – word-of-mouth is the best form of promotion there is, so nurture your growing legion of raving fans and supporters with extra perks and benefits.
  • Collaboration – build your network and join forces with other authors and industry influencers.

3. Growth

As your brand evolves, you’ll need to gauge your audience’s interest and ask for their input and feedback along the way. Continue to build brand equity by continuously re-evaluating, refining and growing your brand reputation.

You can also consider additional markets and audiences you can tap into, additional platforms you can develop, or additional books or series you can write.

Even sub-brands – that target multiple genres and different pockets of readers with distinct colours, types of imagery, logos, different promises, and different positioning – are a possibility as you continue to grow your author brand over time.Just note that before adopting sub-brands, you need to ensure your offerings are not in conflict (writing erotica and children’s books, for example).

You’ll also need to decide if you can afford the creative and time costs required to build and maintain each sub-brand.

What Will It Really Mean to Build a Powerful Author Brand?

A well-defined author brand acts as a guidepost by which you position and gauge all your activities, objectives and goals. And, from your readers’ perspective, your author brand accentuates the experience of your writing and creates a memorable encounter that – ideally –they’ll seek out again and again.

If done right, a powerful brand will build your reputation as an author and assure your marketing success.

What are your thoughts on building a personal or author brand? How necessary do you feel it is to the success of your writing career?

Need More Help Crafting Your Author Brand?

We have a few great resources for you!

Read through this great article Author Branding: How to Build and Maintain Your Unique Brand.

Interested in using social media to build your author brand? Here is a resource for you! Social Media for Writers and Authors: Full Tutorial Guides

Photo: BigStockPhoto

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. C. S. Lakin

    Hi, I realize this post is years old, but I’d love to get the branding worksheet, and when I signed up with my email to do so, it says the page (leadpage) is no longer there. Is there a way I can still get that?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Susanne,

      At this point it would probably be more efficient to inquire with Kimberly Grabas, the author of this article and the person who developed the branding worksheet, I bet she’s still got it somewhere.

  2. harris

    Good day Kim nice post by the way and I surely don’t believe that building an author brand is necessary to be successful a writer. but as for me i don’t know anything about book writing but it surely want some exceptional skills to establish that i don’t know whether i have or not.
    besides i need every information about everything as a new blogger if i am aware of all types of articles then one day i would be a good blogger so your ideology will definitely help me in future.
    Thanks for sharing with us and keep writing like this.

  3. Maggie

    Oh and I really look forward to all your posts and materials this year, here’s to 2016!

    • Kimberley Grabas

      Thanks a bunch, Maggie!

      All the best to you and yours in 2016! :)

  4. Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound

    Kim, can I expand on one of the items on your excellent list?

    Nine out of 10 author websites don’t include a shipping address, phone number or email address in an easy-to-see location on the homepage. This is also part of your brand.

    If it’s missing, visitors think, “She must not want to hear from me” or “She must not want the $25 check I was going to mail her” or “I don’t want to have to work hard to find her phone number so I can invite her to be a guest on my podcast. I guess I’ll have to find someone else.”

    • Kimberley Grabas

      Excellent point, Joan!

      If your goal is to “get known”, there is no point in playing hard to get, is there? ;)

  5. Maggie

    Thanks Kim, another wonderful post.

    I was wondering if you can recommend a step by step marketing plan that can be tailored that aims to drive readers and subscribers, an in turn build my brand?

    Everything you mentioned under the ‘Promotion’ section I agree with, but do you recommend a specific time frame to implement those strategies?

    I suppose what I’m looking for is a plan that will help me structure how I market/promote myself. So for instance, on Monday I should use Twitter. On Wednesday I should put up a blog post. That kind of vein, something that I can follow methodically. In my mind the marketing plan should go for at least 3-6 months.
    Ultimately the whole point of this is to not only create awareness of my writing and brand, but build my email list.

    Hopefully this makes sense!


    • Kimberley Grabas

      Thanks for the positive feedback, Maggie!

      As for a marketing “schedule”, it’s difficult to get too specific, as there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan of action that will suit the needs of every author.

      But keep this in mind: your marketing strategy must be tailored to fit your target audience, your goals and objectives, your market (trends and issues), your “competition”, as well as your resources or finances. And EACH book should have its OWN marketing plan.

      A list of marketing tactics or to-dos aren’t enough – you first need to develop a thorough book marketing plan to get your book into the hands of your readers.

      Here’s a simplified example of the hierarchy:

      1) Author Business Plan (plan for your writing career over the next 1-3 years)

      A) Marketing Plan or Strategy (building and promoting your brand)

      a) Book #1 Marketing Plan (brand + book specific marketing plan)

      b) Book #2 Marketing Plan

      i) Target Audience (research)

      ii) Market Analysis

      iii) Competition

      iv) Goals and Objectives

      v) Marketing Strategy (the 4 p's: product, price, promotion, placement)

      vi) Marketing Tactics

      – Tactic #1

      – Tactic #2

      Any marketing tactics you adopt (i.e., when to post on Twitter), should be considered and evaluated AFTER you have a clear book marketing plan in place to guide your decisions.

      So, the short answer to your question, Maggie: first know where you want to go, before you determine the steps you’ll take to get there. ;)

      • Maggie

        Thank you so much ! I totally agree that writing, like anything else needs to have a business focus. Yes you can hope that word of mouth will give you amazing sales but you should still take a more serious hardline approach and do everything you can to drive up those sales.

  6. Cheri Fields

    Wow is this concise and powerful! I spent several years, a lot of time, and even money to learn most of what you have here. What an awesome resource.
    Think you could make a printable check-off sheet of the bullet points to tack up somewhere? Some, like picking colors, you need to have on hand long term. I have a file with both my brand’s Hex and RGB values in DropBox along with my portrait and brand photo (dreaming about a logo at this point). I can’t imagine how complex this would get with a team.
    Plus, keeping things like Build a Street Team in view helps when motivation to stay engaged gets low. I need my people, and it will be worth it long term to stay in touch with them.

    • Kimberley Grabas

      Fantastic Cheri! Glad you found the post useful. :)

      I’ll be tackling “author branding” in-depth on my site in the new year, so I’ll make sure to include a printable cheatsheet or checklist with the post/video (thanks for the idea!).

      Good for you for having the beginnings of your style guide in place, and you’re right – it gets much harder to ensure a consistent message as you add more people to the mix (author assistant, web designer, street team, etc.).

  7. Ernie Zelinski

    I don’t believe that building an author brand as you describe it is necessary to be successful a writer. Indeed, when I look at your “Brand Identity Checklist”, I don’t adhere to any of these.

    I like to do things my way. For example, I make my websites intentionally ugly just to show that an ugly website can get a lot more traffic and be a lot more profitable than so-called “Professional Websites.” Marketing guru Seth Godin recently did a brief blog post agreeing that the ugly websites normally get more traffic and make more money.

    As a writer whose books (mainly self-published) have now sold over 900,000 copies, I have always keep these words in mind:

    “The best effect of any book is that it excites the reader to self-activity.”
    — Thomas Carlyle

    By concentrating on writing books that do just that, I don’t have to worry about all the aspects of author branding. Once I write a great book, I then utilize truly unique marketing techniques that 99 percent of writers are not creative or smart enough to come up with. This helps get the book into the hands of many readers, who then generate a lot of word-of-mouth advertising that keeps the book selling well not only for several years, but for decades.

    • Kimberley Grabas

      Thanks for your feedback Ernie, although I’d like to respectfully respond to a few things from your comment.

      You note that you like to do things your way – which is fantastic AND the essence of what building your own unique author brand is all about. The less you “follow the crowd” in this regard, the stronger your brand, and the clearer your message and value to your readers.

      Second, you note “when I look at your “Brand Identity Checklist”, I don’t adhere to any of these.” However, when I took a quick look at your website, here’s what I found:

      Main logo – Ernie Zelinski (a font based logo)

      Brand colours – primarily red and navy

      Brand fonts – one or two main fonts (plus formatting like italics and bolding)

      Brand style elements – cartoons/illustrations (similar to your book covers)

      Brand tagline – “International Best-Selling Author: Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”

      Website – your author headquarters with relevant navigational options (all of which seem to “fit” and convey the same message)

      Social media accounts with on-brand design – you have a link on your site to “Ernie Zelinski” Facebook profile (although the cover image is not on-brand)

      Professional headshot and additional photos – you appear to be using a consistent headshot (used on your website as well as on your gravatar here in the comments)

      Other visuals – book covers, illustrations/cartoons, quote graphics, book artwork all have a fairly consistent look

      Domain name – professional domain name (

      So you may not have hit everything on my list, but intentional or otherwise, you have checked several boxes. ;)

      As for Seth Godin’s post, he’s highlighting the distinction between two different worldviews, “the worldview of people who are likely to sign up, ‘like’, share, click, act and generally take action instantly is not the same worldview of people that convert into long-term, loyal customers over time.”

      Should you agree with this perspective, then optimizing your site for one or the other of these worldviews is – once again – a brand choice.

      Now all that said, I certainly don’t presume to have all the answers. And authors have succeeded despite paying little to no attention to their “author brand” (although that’s often the exception, not the norm).

      If you’re not focusing on an author brand, Ernie, I’d love to hear what the “truly unique marketing techniques” are that you do focus on. :)

      • Ernie Zelinski

        I actually have between 75 and 100 unique marketing techniques that I have used over the years.

        Not so long ago book marketing guru John Kremer said he was looking
        for more ideas for the new edition of his book “1,001 Ways to Market Your Books.” So I sent him a few of my own marketing techniques — which I didn’t think he would use. Surprisingly (to me), he did a blog post about some of them.

        Of course, sending him some of my marketing techniques was another marketing technique to get me publicity in the new edition of his book. As it turns out, I get publicity on his blog post too.

        Regarding a creative marketing technique that is not one of mine, I like this quip by an author whose nickname is “The Name Tag Guy”:

        “I once saw my book for sale on Ebay. For two dollars. (sniff) So, do you know what I did? I bid $250 on it. Then bought it. That’s marketing baby!”
        — Scott Ginsberg (The Name Tag Guy)

        In short, I suggest that authors who want to be much more effective than 99 percent of authors in promoting their books go against conventional wisdom. Stay away from things the majority is doing such as the trendy free ebook promotions on Amazon. You will find, as I have found, that you will attain greater success than 99 percent of authors attain. As Scott Ginsberg says, “That’s marketing baby.”

        • Kimberley Grabas

          Thanks for sharing a few of your tips, Ernie, and I agree – following the pack will not help you stand out as an author.

          But many writers do not have the intrinsic business savvy that’s required to market and promote their work, and require a framework for structured creative thinking, as well as some tools and guidelines to minimize their struggle – which is what I hope to provide.

          Here’s an interesting twist as well, Ernie… I also live in Edmonton, Alberta! So if you’d like to continue our conversation offline, I’d be happy to meet for a coffee and a book marketing chat. :)

          • Ernie Zelinski

            Kimberly, sure we can meet. I frequent the Starbucks at Chapters/Indigo on Whyte Avenue from around 3 PM until 7 PM almost daily. Email me about when you want to meet using my yahoo email address listed on my websites.

            In the mean time, here is one of my favorite blog posts relating to book marketing by Bob Baker called “How to Become a Book Marketing Ninja”


            As Bob says, “Think in terms of opposites. Make a list of all the specific things that major book publishers and mainstream authors do to promote their books. Then imagine what would happen if you did the exact opposite.”


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