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Personal versus Professional Branding in the Business of Book

In the age of social media, the art of personal branding is a vital aspect of ensuring the books that authors and publishers are putting out into the world are making it to the right audience. Everything from the cover design to the publishing business logo to the author’s Twitter account are all part of the message telling readers that this is a professional publication.
So what is the difference between personal branding and professional branding? Why does it matter, and when is it better to use one over the other? Let’s start by defining what each one is. According to Pamela Wilson of Big Brand System, a nationally recognized company that specializes in building online presences for both businesses and individuals, personal branding is “built around you—your personality, your interests, your lifestyle.” On the other hand, professional branding is “built around an identity that you create for your business.” This is not to say that a personal brand is not professional or that a professional brand cannot have a personal aspect or touch to it. More specifically, a personal brand focuses on an individual and a professional brand focuses on the business.
This is important for bookselling because, as mentioned above, branding fits into almost every aspect of writing and publishing. If you are a publishing company, you will need to have a brand for your business that represents what your goals and missions are. It should represent just what sort of books you will publish. Within your company, it is likely that you will either have inhouse editors and design teams, or perhaps you will work with freelance editors and design teams. In either case, these editors and designers likely have their own personal brand, even if this falls under the umbrella of the publishing company. They have a specific way they represent themselves to the authors and agents with whom they are working. If they are freelancers, they more than likely have websites, portfolios, and business cards with their own logos and individual branding that reflects the way they want to present themselves, both online and off.
Authors, too, have spent time building their images. At one point in time, we looked to the author’s personal history or biography, their book cover designs, and even their work itself as the evidence of how this author was meant to be perceived. I’m sure many of us remember high school or undergraduate Shakespeare classes where we discussed authorship debates. The things that we use to define a play or sonnet to be “Shakespeare’s” are the marks that his work has revealed with consistency: iambic pentameter, sonnets and the syllables and rhyme schemes therein, and the themes of the plays. This, for all intents and purposes, could be considered Shakespeare’s personal brand.
It is still more important today for authors to build their personal brands. So much of life’s interactions are done online these days, from Twitter to Instagram, Facebook to Snapchat, LinkedIn to TikTok, and email or personal web pages. Many well-established authors have, at very least, some form of social media. Many others have websites that are also linked to social media. In all of these aspects, they have learned the importance of building their online personas, or in other words, their personal brands.
A common misconception of personal branding and social media, especially among novice authors, up-and-coming artists, and other such individuals, is that self-promotion is a bit of a narcissistic trend when it is in fact a rather vital aspect of the success of one’s personal brand. It’s important to have that presence and persona in order to network both online and off, as well as aid in the success of your book sales. So yes, it is self-promotion, but for the purpose of self and for the purpose of your audience finding what very well could be their next favorite book. You want your work to make it into the right hands: the right agent, the right publisher, and the right readers. Making sure you are well-represented through a personal brand is the foundation on which you will build your career. Make sure it reflects yourself well.

Portfolio Tips for Beginners

Once upon a time, maintaining your portfolio meant taking hard copies to an interview or attaching them with your application. However, today most publishing employers prefer portfolio websites so they don’t have to worry about hanging on to (or worse, losing) the multitudes of work they receive from each candidate.

But those of you who haven’t spent much time coding or building websites are likely wondering: Where do I begin? Well, look no further. Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Choose the right website builder for you.
    This is perhaps the most daunting decision for people new to website creation. Consider easiness versus functionality. How much do you want your website to be able to do? Sites like Weebly and Wix are easy for beginners to use but don’t have as many features. Squarespace is frequently chosen by people who want to display lots of images. And then there is WordPress. While this platform tends to take a little bit longer to learn, the sky’s the limit. With basic coding, you can customize your site endlessly. If you don’t code, WordPress includes hundreds of thousands of free plug-ins that will do the work for you. Tyton Media has an excellent article that breaks down the strengths of all four so you can decide which is best for you.
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  3. Tell employers about yourself.
    Portfolio websites are an opportunity for a potential employer or client to learn more about you. Keep an updated copy of your resume on your portfolio site, along with a basic description of your abilities. In addition, include a bio and a decent professional headshot. You want anyone who visits your site to get a sense of who you are and what you can do.
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  5. Create an appealing design and watch out for typos.
    This is a no-brainer. Clients will be turned off if all of your text is lime green, particularly if you are looking for a job as a cover designer. Similarly, an obvious typo in a copyeditor’s portfolio is a surefire way to make an employer toss an application in the garbage. At the same time, your personality should be reflected in the design choices and descriptions that you put on your site. After all, you want to find employers or clients who mesh with your goals and style.
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  7. Make certain your website looks good on a phone.
    Let’s face it: when you’re on the go, it’s easier to pull out your phone and look something up than it is to use your laptop. As such, it’s important that your website looks just as amazing on a tiny screen as it does on a bigger one. Sometimes the theme that you choose looks great on a laptop, but hasn’t been designed to scale to a smaller screen. If this is the case, then you will either need to add code like this to your site, use plug-ins that do the coding for you, or choose a different theme.
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  9. Plan how you want to show your examples.
    If you are an artist who owns the rights to your work, then you can display your art directly on your website without issue. For others, however, there are issues of copyright to consider. You will have an angry author on your hands if you post their book online where anyone can look at it for free. You have to get a little bit more creative with how potential employers or clients can access your samples. Always make certain you have permission from the author or publisher to give employers samples. To ensure that a sample is only accessed by approved individuals, consider offering to email samples upon request. Another option is to put the samples on your site but use a plug-in that password protects them so that only people with the login can access them. You can also put the samples on Google Drive and post a link from your site to the Drive files so employers can request access.
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  11. Use resources if you get stuck.
    If you choose a website builder that fits your needs, creating your own online portfolio isn’t all that difficult. WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are all designed to be easy for beginners to learn. Should you ever find yourself stuck, there are a wide variety of videos and blog posts to help you.

Designing your portfolio need not be stressful. In fact, picking colors, typefaces, and pictures can be a lot of fun once you get past your initial anxieties. Although you want to make certain you create a professional-looking site, that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun while you create it. As long as you take the time to figure out what you need out of your portfolio website, you can create something you will be proud to show off.

Book Cover Design Tools for the Self-Published Author

Finally! After years hunched over your laptop tussling over which adjective perfectly captures your main character’s eyes and searching desperately for that perfect ending, your book is done and ready to be launched into the world. You already have the perfect title, but wait! You still need a cover. As a self-published author, it may be intimidating to start with all of the online outlets claiming they can make your book the next bestseller. After all, you’re a writer, not a designer. To help make the process a little less intimidating, here is a brief list of options that can give your book the beautiful face it deserves.
Hire A Professional Designer
As a self-published author, it may be beneficial to set aside some funds to hire a professional designer. The cover can be an excellent marketing tool and help communicate the subject, genre, and mood of the book in a single moment to the potential reader and having someone with experience in this realm may help increase sales. If funds allow, here are some options to explore:

  • Bookfly Design: For a fully personalized cover design experience, Bookfly Design will work with self-published authors one-on-one to create the design of their dreams. The small studio on the Oregon coast offers editing services as well. The intimate experience stands as the most expensive of these options with ebook design starting at $549.
  • BEAUTeBOOK: From cover to interior to website design, they will take care of all your design needs. Bestselling author Gregg Olsen took advantage of their services when designing Bitter Almonds, but the “bestseller look” may cost a pretty penny. Ebook cover design starts at $275.
  • Covertopia: If you are short on time, premade covers from Covertopia may be your best option. Choose from hundreds of genre-specific covers, and Covertopia will customize it with your title and author name. Premade covers start at $119.

Do It Yourself (for little or no cost)
Here in Portland, Oregon, we take pride in getting things done ourselves, and there are numerous online outlets that help guide you through the book design process with relative ease. For many self-published authors, making the cover is not the issue. Instead, the difficulty lies in making a cover that simultaneously captures the feel of the book and stands out among the sea of professionally and self-published books alike. If DIY is more your style, check out some of these online guides:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud: Want a professional looking cover? Invest in the applications used by professionals. InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator are excellent tools for creating both cover and interior book designs. Your subscription also includes video tutorials to help you navigate the tools and techniques available on the different applications. A single app subscription starts at $20 a month.
  • Cover Design Studio: This online resource claims anyone can make a cover on their site in under an hour. While the overall process is sure to take longer than that, this is a quick and easy option for authors short on time. Simply download a template and start customizing. Cover Design Studio offers a hundred DIY templates to choose from, starting at $19.
  • Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing has their own cover creator, complete with a video tutorial. Simply add a personal image, choose from ten design templates, customize your font and color scheme, and submit. This tool is free when publishing through Kindle Direct.
  • CreateSpace: The entirely free cover creator from this self-publishing outlet allows you to create semi-custom designs with relative speed and ease. You can begin with a premade cover, which you can customize from color to font, and incorporate images from their free gallery.