Branding is often one of the most confusing topics under the umbrella of marketing. In this episode, we return to look at the second step of creating a breakthrough author brand.
Other Episodes in this Series:
- Step 1 – Look in the Mirror (Who am I)
- Step 2 – Look at Your Readers (Who are my readers?)
- Step 3 – Look Through Your Readers (What do my readers say about me?)
- Step 4 – Look in Your Reader’s Mirror (What does my brand allows readers to say about themselves?)
James Rubart: This is episode 2 in our 3-part series on author branding, how to create a breakthrough author brand. So if you haven’t yet listened to episode 1, you might want to go back and check that one out before you dive into this one.
Thomas Umstattd: In the last episode, we talked about what a brand is, what a brand isn’t, and where to get started. If we are to sum it up in one or two sentences, it would probably be to look in the mirror, figure out who you are and to be true to who you are. And that is the most important step, but it’s also often the only step a lot of authors take. And this episode and the next one, we’re going to be talking about the more advanced steps, the things that set you out and set you apart from the crowd.
So step 1 is to look in the mirror.
Step 2 is to look at your readers and figure out who it is that you’re trying to reach. This is a very critical step in the branding process.
James: As some of you know, that came out – I started an ad agency in ’94. But before that, I sold radio advertising, and that’s where I first understood the idea of demographics. And demographics very simply are who are you trying to target using an age range?
So one of the last radio stations I sold airtime for was KLSY Radio, and we were trying to get to women between the ages of 25 and 54 years of age. So that was our demo. Not men. We didn’t care about men. And we didn’t care about women under 25. We didn’t care about women over 54.
But what we did is we – 25 to 54, that’s a pretty broad range. And so, we had to determine, all right, in that range, who do we care about? Well, it turns out who we cared about was that 36-year-old woman because she was right in the heart of it. She had the income that we wanted to get to for our advertisers.
And so what we did is we designed a person. We gave her a name. We gave her a type of car. We could tell you where she lived. We knew what kind of restaurants she wanted to go to. So we drilled down and created this demographic, this specific person. And everything we said on air, everything we promoted, the music we played was all designed for her.
Thomas: And we forced our clients to go through an exercise where we put together demos or as it’s called then web design web marketing ad persona for their readers. And almost universally, authors hate this exercise. They hate it so much. And sometimes we’ve thought about not requiring it of our clients. But it does make their websites better, and it makes all of the marketing better because it forces our clients to focus.
And one of the challenges that a lot of authors feel with defining the readers is that they feel like it’s a limiting thing. It’s like, “Well, I’m only targeting women. What about all of those men?” And that is just very faulty logic.
First off, no book appeals to everyone. In fact, the books that have the broadest appeal are often the ones that have the narrowest focus.
What are some of the best-selling books of the last decade?
James: Well, you take a look at like Hunger Games, right? Not only a best-selling book but a massive film franchise.
Thomas: Right. Or Harry Potter. Hunger Games in this decade. Harry Potter in the last decade. These are books that are targeted at a very narrow niche of teenagers. And yet, since they hit that niche so well, it spread the ripple. So it’s kind of like when we’re asking you to define your target reader, we’re not asking you to limit to where the stone plops in the river or the pond. We’re asking you to figure out, where do you want the ripple to start?
James: And this will not only help you in your branding to your readers, but it will also help you with editors and agents. If you want to go the traditional route, you walk into an editor appointment or an agent appointment, and they say, “Well, who are you writing for?” “Oh, I’m writing for everybody.” That will mark you as a rank amateur, and they would roll their eyes and go, “Oh boy! Here we go.”
But if you walk in and you go, “My target is a 33-year-old female who lives in da da da da da, and she does …” they will go, “Oh my gosh! This person understands the idea of targeting.
Thomas: So to give a perfect example of this, let’s talk about one of the, if not the greatest communicator of all time, Jesus Christ. So you think, “Oh, he had a message for everyone, right?” Well, his earthly ministry was incredibly focused. He came specifically to talk to Jude. He never set foot as far as we know in the home of a Gentile and almost never even talked to Gentiles. Mostly, Gentiles who interacted with him did so through an intermediary. They sent someone, a Jew, to talk to him on their behalf.
But he didn’t just focus on the Jews. He focused on the 5,000 that would follow him from place to place. But more than that, he would focus on the 72 who would go out and do what he said. And more than that, he would focus on the 12 that would never leave him alone. And more than that, he would focus on the 3, Peter, James, and John. They were in on all of his deepest secrets.
And I’m like, well, if somebody is trying to reach the world with his message, why would he talk to so few people? Why isn’t he trying to – why didn’t he go to Rome and preach in Rome?
Well, he understood something that is very critical marketing and that most people don’t understand. And that is focus is critical to success and that you have to change people’s lives for them to share your message.
And so, Jesus knew how to do that. He had to change the lives of the 12, and so the 3 encouraged the 12 that encouraged the 72, and soon, it’s thousands, and in millions and then now it’s billions of people 2,000 years later, and it’s still spreading.
It’s more important about how viral your idea is than how many people you reached with the idea. So if you had a choice, I could reach ten people but it will double every year or I can reach 2,000 people, and it will never double, which is better? With ten people and doubling every year, it’s better. It takes longer, but that will reach the entire population eventually.
James: Better to own 100% of the small pond than have 10% awareness in the big pond.
Thomas: That’s right. Or as Randall Ingermanson says, “It’s better to drill one well a hundred feet deep than a hundred wells one foot deep.”
Thomas: And we’re going to take you through this exercise that we have our clients do at Author Media, and we call Creating a Persona Worksheet. In fact, we might post a link to a PDF where you can fill this out on your own. But we have you describe one, two, or three fictional people that represent your market. So no woman is between the ages of 34 and 50. Every woman is a specific age. So you have to pick. You have to make decisions.
And what we often will do is we encourage our clients to get a stock photo that represents this person they are trying to reach. So yes, you have the demographic information like what you’d have for radio like how old, are they single or married, and how much money they make. But you need to drill deeper than that.
So one question that we ask is “what are their felt needs?” What needs do they feel and how would they articulate their own needs? Why did they need to read your book? Why would they want to? What about your book would appeal to them or your writing? How can you thrill this person? And then finally, what is their number one primary pain point?
Maybe your book does not address their primary pain point. But if it can, then your book will sell so much better.
So for instance, there is a certain kind of person in the world. We’re going to call her Future Shock Franny. And she is suffering from future shock. Culture is changing around her faster than she can keep up with it and she feels like a foreigner in her town. She feels like a foreigner in her own house. Her children are using devices and are primarily communicating through their devices. She didn’t even own when she was their age, and she is experiencing future shock. That is a primary psychological pain.
So how do you help Future Shock Franny? Well, there’s a whole genre of books specifically for her called Amish fiction. And a lot of people are scratching their heads wondering why is Amish fiction selling so well? Well, it’s because it’s alleviating this pain point for a certain persona within the culture.
Now, it doesn’t appeal to somebody like me. I love the future. I love change. I love those devices and those gadgets. And I would prefer to read science fiction rather than Amish. But again, the whole point is to focus. They are not trying to reach me. And the people who write Amish are making very good money reaching people who are not like me.
James: Let’s give you an example from real life that everyone can relate to, and that is Disneyland.
James: If you go to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, each one of those rides is targeted at a different demographic. And so, there are rides like the Hollywood Tower of Terror where what am I trying to do for the people who come there? Well, I’m trying to make them scared. I’m trying to give them a thrill ride.
That’s very different than the spinning cups, what do you call those things? You know what I’m talking about where you’re getting the cup and it spins around and around, or it’s a Small World After All or Tomb Town or Flying Over California. Each one of those rides are designed with the question of, OK, what do we want to do for the person who takes this ride? That’s what you have to do when you’re thinking about who am I trying to target?
Thomas: And you need to be OK with not targeting most of the population.
Thomas: You have to get to the grips that you are not going to be widely read by a large percentage of the United States population because no one is widely read by a large percentage of the United States population. Probably the best-selling book of the 20th century is maybe read by 1 out of 20 Americans, maybe. But it’s probably more like one out 50, which means you’re going to have to settle on a niche eventually.
And if you could get 1 out of 300 Americans, that’s a million sales, which is more than pretty much every book, any book ever get.
Thomas: And so, you’ve got to focus. And if you’re writing, if you feel like God has called you to write, you need to trust that God is going to raise up somebody else to reach the people that he has not called you to reach. Jesus had to trust that Paul was going to take the message to the Gentiles because Jesus didn’t spend time speaking to the Gentiles.
So, back on to the branding, so we talked about creating this fictional person. So here are some tips on how to better do that because one of the reasons I see that authors struggle with is, is they have no idea who they’re trying to reach. They are writing primarily for their reasons and sometimes just to make themselves happy. And that limits their writing.
So one thing that I recommend that you do is to find your target readers and spend time with them. Have conversations with them. Take them out to coffee. Once you identify who your target market is, once you find somebody who fits that persona, be like, “Hey, I love to buy you coffee sometime and just talk.” And just listen. Just listen to them talk.
This is one of the things that I force myself to do with my company is I go to writers’ conference just to talk with writers to see what kind of challenges they have, what kind of questions they have, what words do they use because I’m not from that space.
In fact, sometimes people forget that. That me, Thomas Umstattd has not written a single book. I’m not a writer. I’m working on to become – to put some books out in the future, but I’m a part of a community out of choice. And it would be very easy for me to just kind of stay back like most web companies, and web designers do and just focus on the websites, but I’ve decided to focus on the people instead.
James: And readers love to do this. They love to tell you what they think. They love, love, love, love to give their input that’s why you have all these reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads and Pinterest posting on books and this kind of thing. So you can get some incredibly valuable input from who? From in business terms, the end user. You want to hear from the end user. And often, we don’t ask them.
Thomas: That’s exactly right. Another thing that you can do is you can survey your readers. So once you figure out where they hang out or once you start to build an email list, shoot out a survey. And this doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t have to hire a marketing company to conduct a survey on your behalf.
The best way to do it is to go to SurveyMonkey.ccom and you can set up a survey for free. I think currently, you can do free surveys up to ten questions, which is probably as many as you’d ever want to ask anyway. And if want to, you can pay a little bit more to ask more questions than that. But this is a great way to get feedback from your readers and learning how to ask good questions. You’ll get better and better at that.
Another great way to find out about your readers is to look at your Facebook analytics. So if you have a Facebook fan page, this is one of the benefits of a fan page over a personal page. Facebook will tell you the average ages and genders and locale of your readers. So you can find out, “Oh wow! I didn’t realize I was – our page is popular with women in their 50s in the Midwest. What I would have thought it was something different.” But with Facebook, you can see exactly the age ranges, the gender breakdown and what cities are you most popular cities.
James: And what goes back to is your brand is not what you say it is or what you think it is. Your brand is what other people are telling you what it is. And that’s – if the majority of your readers are in their 40s, well, that’s what your brand is. You’re a writer to people in their 40s. If it’s teenagers, oh, that’s going to influence your decisions on everything from newsletters you send out to the way you do your website and everything in between.
Thomas: Now, what most authors do is they write essentially to people who are just like themselves. They’re white middle-class women. They are writing to other white middle-class women. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the more you get out of that, the better your chances of success are because you have something more unique to offer to that community.
We, in our society right now, birds of a feather flocking together perhaps more than any other time. We’re all clustered very closely together. And Facebook just shows us who we are. You look at Facebook. You see yourself essentially reflected in the faces of the people you’re interacting with because of how the algorithm works.
And so, when you write to a different audience than what you live in or what you are yourself, that gives you a unique story. This is one of the reasons why YA is so powerful right now is that people have to get out themselves to write young adults because the YA authors are not as young adults themselves for the most part. It’s people who have made a conscious effort to spend time with young people to figure out how they talk and how they interact and what their values are and then write to that value system.
James: Well, we’ve got some bad news and good news. The bad news is we are out of time for this episode. The good news is we are going to come back for a third episode and final episode on creating a breakthrough author brand.
So this edition of the Novel Marketing Podcast has been brought to you by MyBookTable. Essentially, what this is, is its plugin for WordPress websites that will make you money when you don’t have to do anything. You just set it up. Let it go. And it can make you affiliate money with sites like Barnes & Noble and Amazon and CBD [Phonetic] [0:15:42], et cetera, et cetera. So once it’s set, it’s set.
For more info on that, you can go to MyBookTable.com.
Thomas: If you’ve been enjoying this podcast, we would love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes or on Stitcher Radio. If you’re an iTunes user, just search “Novel Marketing,” and you can leave a number of stars. Of course, you can also write a review. We would appreciate that as it helps new people discover the show.
James: And as always, if you have a question you like us to tackle in a future episode, you can email us at, that’s your intro, Thomas.
Thomas: You can reach us at NovelMarketing.com and click the Ask a Question button.
James: This has been the Novel Marketing Podcast, giving you novel ideas on how to promote yourself and your writing offline, online, and everywhere in between.