When I was first looking into independent publishing, one of the phrases I kept stumbling across on blogs and in articles was “author brand”. It’s not really a weird phrase, since your writing becomes a commodity when you publish, but it always left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m sure someone somewhere could do an in-depth analysis of the phrase, complete with cynical conclusions that we–and my fellow Americans in particular–tend to trust bigger brand names because that is what we perceive the greatest number of people to be consuming. So when we suddenly start talking about authors needing an established brand, we already condemn those who are just starting out. In a way, I think this whole idea of branding yourself as an author encourages you to set up an illusion of an already-established bond between you and your readers.
Which, unfortunately, is something that you just might have to do.
And I get it. I do. When you go visit Amazon’s or Barnes and Noble’s online shops, or head to the bookstore, or whatever else you do, you probably look for books that others have already said are good. As a reader, you don’t really want to take a risk on a book, which makes a lot of sense. Reading is a leisure activity. If you’re going to invest time in it, you want to invest in reading something that you will enjoy. So, more often than not, people will go for authors that they recognize, or books that have a lot of reviews, or even just books that have glowing quotes on the dust jackets. And that’s okay. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But when you are starting at the bottom and trying to work your way up, that is the most intimidating thing in the world.
As a new author, your first impression is everything. Does that mean you need your very first book to achieve global success? No. There are a lot of authors out there who will tell you that success did not come to them until their second, third, seventh, nth book. So no, it doesn’t all hinge on the first book, and even if your first impression isn’t great, you can have the chance to bounce back from it. While that sounds contradictory, I’d like to point out that an author’s first book has as much, if not more, impact on them as it does on their readership.
If you don’t have an established following from that thing you did at the place with the guy at the time, putting a book online is a lot like dropping a stone into a bottomless pit, and listening for when it hits the ground. You can’t see where it’s going, when it’s going to land, what it’s going to hit. You just see the point from where and when you released it, and you hope for the best.
As a budding author, you know that you’re taking a risk, just like whoever happens to read your book first, whether it’s a customer who bought it or a reviewer that you sent the book to. There’s no guarantee that they will like it, but as the author, you have to be confident in your work, and trust it to carry itself. For those who are not brimming with self-confidence, that’s easier said than done. But it has to be done. You the author have to trust your work, trust yourself, and trust your readers.
We know that trust is a two-way street. And so, by that extension, is an “author brand”. Readers have to trust the author, and the author has to trust their readers. You have to be willing to put your book in someone’s hands (or on their eReader, etc.) and let them have an honest reaction to it. That’s what you do when you solicit reviews, and like it or not, that’s what you do when you make your work available for purchase.
There is, of course, more to an “author brand” than just getting reviews. You have to take into account your behavior and presence online and in the real world. And that can feel an awful lot like a balancing act. You have to be honest and open, but stay professional. You should be passionate, but not to the point where it’s overwhelming, and when we’ve drawn a hard line in the sand at that point, do let me know. You have to be enthusiastic but not arrogant, present but not annoying, engaging but not overbearing. Some of these things come more naturally to people, and some do not. And that’s okay. Not everyone in the world knows exactly what they’re doing at any given time, and I think that’s especially true for those in the creative industries.
But at the end of the day, I do think it circles back to trust, and as an author, you have to learn to trust your readers. If you don’t, they’ll never trust you. It can be hard in the beginning, because your work is important to you, and the idea of the first reaction to it being a negative one can be stressful. Eventually, though, you learn that you have to let it go, and trust it to carry itself. And sometimes, it can surprise you.