Creating Branding Strategies to Stand Out from the Crowd

During discussions about branding strategies with my college peers, it is common to hear about the importance of searching for the value a reader is looking to find when they are browsing through books, and then focusing on producing manuscripts that target these values. This initiative probably works well when producing and marketing most products, but how effective could this strategy be in the book market?
Like marketers at other product and service companies, marketers in the book publishing industry conduct research about what their readers are looking for, and even find topics readers haven’t discovered yet because they are so new. The difference between other marketers and book marketers is in how they put their findings to use. If we want to put what readers are looking for on the shelves of bookstores, we need to begin by finding those writers whose personal and professional principles mirror the values of the readers. By investing in enhancing these writers’ identities and brand values, we can help them connect with readers who will become life-long fans.
In 3 Steps to Building your Author Brand, Leila Dewji says that it all starts with brand values. She claims, “whether you like it or not, all authors have a brand that will be judged by readers, media, and book sellers.” Rather than inventing this brand, the brand is naturally created by a writer who is motivated by their own principles, interests, and values. The author’s passion and drive will produce topics and materials that will spark the interest of readers. Manuscripts will be created with the intention of communicating, educating, entertaining, etc., rather than being created for the sole purpose of having a high financial profit, which might come as a given result anyway.
Once brand values are clear, the author, editor, designers, marketers, and publicists should work in unison to strengthen that brand. Each of them has a different role, but the goal is the same: to present a clear and defined identity to the readers, social media, and bookstores. The author’s role is to express and organize their ideas in a genuine way by being themselves. In the article Brand Strategy for Authors: How to Truly Stand Out From The Crowd, Kimberly Grabas writes that the “first step is to very clearly define your brand purpose and values.” These are composed of “purpose, vision, and mission.” Through this reflective exercise, authors can discover their “unique areas of advantage or value” and their own voice, which is then communicated through their writing. It is also important that writers show these principles and values, not just in their writing, but also in their social and public lives. The editor’s role is to then help the writer shape the manuscript toward that unique identity.
The design, marketing, and publicity departments also play a very important part in this process. They work on creating strategies that bring cohesiveness to the manuscript; this can include details such as the content in social media, the colors used in the design, and the chosen fonts, especially on the book cover and media graphics.
By investing in enhancing the author’s identity and brand values, we can help them connect with readers and create long-lasting bonds with them, which will result in the overall success of the project, which benefits everyone in the end.

FAULTLAND's red book cover featuring a map of Portland in the shape of a piano.

FAULTLAND Shakes Up Social Media

Ooligan Press is in a flurry of excitement over all the new projects coming out in the next few months, and the Faultland team is busy at the frontlines of it all. Ooligan’s newest speculative fiction novel is the next book on our release schedule and is due to hit shelves on March 30, 2021! Behind the scenes, the team is working hard developing new ways to promote the novel online and coming up with original ideas for how to get more readers to engage with the book through the Ooligan social media channels.

Faultland is set in a near-future Portland that is rocked by a major earthquake. While not Ooligan’s first foray into speculative fiction, Faultland is unlike anything we’ve published before. Author Suzy Vitello masterfully combines future-tech and family drama to bring her “what if” landscape of a not-so-distant Portland to life before razing it to the ground. When the city is hit by the Portland Hills Fault earthquake, siblings Morgan, Olivia, and Sherman are faced with keeping their family alive following one of the worst natural disasters in living memory. Once separated by secrets and resentment, the Sparrow family realize they are now united by survival.

Right now, the Sparrow family’s survival is at the forefront of the book’s online presence as Faultland moves into the all-important social media phase of our production cycle. While each step of a title’s development helps Oolies hone their publishing skills, there are few moments in a book’s lifecycle that allow us to be as creative as social media, so our team is using this moment to put all of our creativity to good use. We knew early on that Faultland was the kind of book that could carry a strong and unconventional social media presence, and our Oolies are busily working away to demonstrate just how accurate that prediction was. The whole team is committing their efforts to creating engaging copy and images to generate interest in the book, and all the while they’re sprinkling in their favorite quotes and excerpts from our fantastic early reviewers to make their posts really pop.

While there are few specific parameters around what topics the team members are able to talk about in their posts, most have been focusing on the landscapes that the author, Portland local Vitello, creates in the book. We see the city both before and after the earthquake shatters it, filtered through the eyes of the narrators in quotes and in images created by the team. Another focus has been on the subject of emergency preparedness, with many early readers of the book internalizing the warning at the heart of the novel—that being ready for this kind of emergency can lessen the physical, emotional, and mental toll that just such an event takes on all of us. Several posts link to preparedness guidelines through the CDC, Red Cross, and other emergency agencies in order to guide readers to resources that the Sparrow siblings don’t have access to in the novel.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this social media initiative is our advanced planning for an upcoming scavenger hunt to get readers even more excited when the book launches. That’s right, the Faultland team is busy working on an emergency preparedness–themed scavenger hunt that will allow fans in the Portland area to follow along with Olivia’s journey after the book officially hits shelves. While the specific details for this initiative will remain a secret until we get closer to the book launch, the Faultland team will be centralizing Ooligan social media channels to get it off the ground and get readers engaged.

Stay tuned into Ooligan’s social media at @ooliganpress on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for the latest news about what’s on the horizon for Faultland and to see some of the incredible work the team has put together there.

How To Create a Persona and Identify Your Target Audience

The purpose of creating a persona is to take the abstract concept of an audience and create something concrete and relatable from it. Your audience is reachable, you just have to figure out who they are. The following list of three questions is designed to help you do that.

Who are they as a person? You start with figuring out what they’re like. Bring that hazy idea of your audience into reality. This will help you figure out how to talk to them in your marketing copy and on social media. It’ll set the tone for the conversation.

Why would they buy this book? Then ask yourself why they’ll actually buy your book. Identify the pain points they have and describe how this book will help relieve them. This step is very important for representatives and other book buyers in the industry. It also helps you know what things to highlight in marketing copy and on social media posts.

Where are they? Finally, brainstorm places you can find this person. Online, in person, or through print media. This step will give you a roadmap when creating the contact list.

Question 1: Who are they as a person?

Start with the superficial basics.

Think of this as the stuff you might find in their Facebook or Twitter bio.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexuality (if relevant)
  • Education level
  • Political party (if relevant)
  • Where do they live? City or suburb? A specific part of the country?
  • What’s their job and how much money do they make?
  • What’s their family like? What’s their relationship with them? Where do they fall in the sibling line up?
  • Are they dating? Married? Do they have kids?
  • How many friends do they have? One or two close ones, or a large group?
  • How do they feel about the environment?

Then figure out their personality and habits.

  • Are they an introvert or extrovert?
  • Are they a dog or a cat person? Do they even own a pet?
  • What style of clothes do they wear? Where do they go shopping for clothes?
  • What’s their alcohol of choice? Wine? Beer? Fancy cocktails?
  • Do they like to travel?
  • What kind of car do they drive? Do they take public transportation? Do they bike?
  • What do they do on the weekends?
  • What kind of sports are they into? Do they play them or are they just fans?
  • Are they physically active? What kinds of exercise do they enjoy?
  • What’s their Hogwarts house?
  • iPhone or Android?
  • Are they part of any fandoms?
  • What kind of food do they like? What’s their favorite kind of candy?
  • What’s their favorite color?
  • Are they organized or are they kind of a hot mess?
  • Do they dream big or are they happy where they are?

Note where they get their news and entertainment from.

  • Where do they get their news?
  • What kind of books do they read? What movies do they watch? Think genres and themes.
  • What kind of music do they listen to? Who’s their favorite artist?
  • Where do they find their music, movies, and books? Do they search for them or do they find them through recommendations?
  • What kind of social media are they involved in? Do they actively post or just lurk in the background? What kind of things do they post?

Finally, you can identify their core beliefs.

  • What do they care about most in the world?
  • What are the ideas and beliefs that define them as a person?
  • What’s their biggest dream?

Now Give Them a Name!

This is the final step in humanizing them. What is the name that fits this person?

Question 2: Why would they buy this book?

What is it about this book that will connect with them? Why will they take their money and actually buy this book? Does it:

  • fit in with the things they already read and listen to?
  • have a story or theme that aligns with their core beliefs?
  • look good and fit their aesthetic?
  • seem like something that would be recommended to them?
  • support a cause they care about?

Question 3: Where are they?

  • What kind of blogs will they find this book on? Remember, it doesn’t have to just be book blogs.
    • Basic book blogs (obviously)
    • Specific genre book blogs
    • Travel blogs
    • LGBTQ+ blogs
  • Podcasts? What kind?
  • What magazines? Feminist? Travel? Think outside the box.
  • What kind of lists would they find this book on?
  • What kind of stores (not including the basics like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Powell’s) would they find this book in? Would they find it on a cruise?

Remember to have fun!

This is by no means a complete list, and each question doesn’t need to be answered for each persona. This is a guide to help you find the right questions to ask when crafting this persona and this exercise is most effective when you have a group of people doing it.

Most importantly, have fun with this! The joy you get when you recommend the perfect book to a friend is exactly why identifying target audiences is so fun, because it’s basically the exact same concept, just executed on a larger scale.

Preorder Gifts As a Marketing Strategy

Have you ever fallen prey to a beautiful book and bought it simply because it was pretty? It’s no secret that a visually pleasing book is likely to catch the eye of potential readers. Cover designers work hard, and well-made covers are usually responsible for someone stopping to browse. A similar phenomenon happens with preorder gifts, which leave readers desiring more than just the story.

Before diving into preorder gifts as a marketing strategy, let’s discuss the reasons for preordering a book in the first place. If your TBR list is as long as mine, buying a book now versus six months after publication won’t make a difference, especially since used copies might be available at a lower price. And there is always the local library.

The most important reason for preordering is that it helps the author. The more preorders, the more books the bookstores will stock. More stock means more visibility on shelves, which means a higher likelihood that people will see the book and buy it. The second reason is that preordering can be beneficial to the reader, as preorders usually come at a discounted price.

However, consumers are starting to take deals and discounts for granted. In his article “5 Irresistible Customer Incentives,” Sven, a content creator for Userlike, discusses how consumers have come to expect deals and how providing extra value—or incentives—attracts consumers. In the book world, incentives can come in the form of preorder gifts, signed books, special events, and giveaways, among other things. All of these are effective strategies to employ during a preorder campaign.But how does this apply to using incentives as a marketing strategy during preorder campaigns?

The first step to understanding the value of incentives is understanding the reasons consumers make incentive-based purchases. Sven lists scarcity, loss aversion, instant gratification, social conscience appeal, and social proof as five factors involved in a consumer’s decision to purchase a product. If the product is scarce, if consumers feel like they are likely to lose out, if consumers are able to obtain the product quickly and easily, if consumers feel like they are making a difference with their purchase, or if by purchasing that product consumers believe they are making a statement, consumers are more likely to buy the product.

To demonstrate this, I’ll use a purchase of mine as an example. I recently fell victim to Descendant of the Crane by Joan He, which I found while scrolling through my Twitter feed. More specifically, I came across Joan’s post about the gifts—an elegant-looking golden crane bookmark and a handful of beautiful character cards—for her preorder campaign. The beautiful character cards caught my eye and made me want to check out the story. Princess turned queen after the mysterious death of the king? Power struggles? Magic and mystery? Definitely up my alley.

The book was a week away from the pub date, and in her Twitter thread Joan had confirmed that all of the bookmarks were gone. I realized that if I didn’t make my purchase right away, the author might run out of character cards too. That’s the moment I decided to purchase the book—because of scarcity, loss aversion, and instant gratification. In less than three minutes, I had made the purchase and filled out the form to receive my preorder gift.

All that is to say that preorder gifts can serve not only as an extra incentive to preorder the book, but also as the gateway to a new reader. Additionally, they serve as a way to create buzz on social media. When readers see others on social media posting about the same book and receiving their preorder gifts, they will believe the book is good and want to buy it as well (social proof).

Since that purchase, other preorder campaigns have popped up on my timeline, including those for We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal, Puddin’ by Julie Murphy, and Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim. The possibilities for preorder gifts are unlimited, and these gifts can be approached very creatively depending on the topic of the book.