Readers identify these things as brands (in no particular order): Characters, Worlds, Series, and Writers. Readers rarely (almost never) consider a publisher a brand. There are exceptions—Harlequin has done a fantastic job branding its fiction. But most traditional publishers have not.
In fact, traditional publishers seem to have very little idea what branding is at all. They do branding on bestsellers, almost accidentally. Generally, the book’s designers have no idea how to brand anything. A few years back, Putnam decided to brand Nora Robert’s work, and the publishing trades made a big deal out of it.
But if you’re traditionally published, chances are your work has no individual branding—meaning, the branding is not tied to your writer name. The branding is tied to something else if branding exists at all.
Traditionally published writers of long-standing, like me, have books that look like mishmash of stuff, even if the books are in the same genre and same series. The lack of branding has hurt us. This is not an area where you, as indie publishers, should look to traditional publishing. You need to think outside their narrow little box.
You want your readers to identify your work as quickly as possible. You want them to find you easily. Hybrid writers who understand this are actually changing the industry. Their traditional publishers are starting to ask who their cover artists are and are copying the self-published designs of the hybrid writer, rather than the other way around. (Sad, isn’t it?)
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Every time you see a muscular woman with her back to the viewer, looking over her shoulder while brandishing a weapon, you know you’re looking at an urban fantasy novel. Genre branding is so ubiquitous that in some genres, it becomes cliché. Then some traditional publisher changes up the genre branding, and everyone follows suit.
I’m not telling you that you need to put that sexy mean babe on your urban fantasy novel. But…
The reason I use the phrase “indie published” instead of “self-published” is because if you write a lot and publish a lot, eventually, you will have a team helping you. Even if you’re only publishing your own work, you have become an independent publisher.
And as an independent publisher, you must make decisions within your publishing house about branding.
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But if you’re a writer who writes in more than one genre, like I do, then you will need different branding for each genre you write in.
In other words, your stand-alone romance novel cannot look the same as your stand-alone mystery novel which should not look the same as your stand-alone fantasy novel.
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You must brand by genre. Readers expect it. They want to know what they’re picking up. For example, many romance readers read the genre to escape the difficulties in their lives. They have enough tribulations; they don’t want those in their fiction. They would be horrified if they picked up Sins of the Blood, without some clue that it’s a horror novel, not a sweet romance like Davy Moss.
You want to be discovered? Being discovered by genre is a fine way to do so. Make sure your tags on the various bookstores are correct as well. If you don’t know genre—and most writers don’t (even though they think they do)—then learn it.