Tuesday, April 7, 2015

5 Steps To Finding Your Author Brand

I've had a lot of people recently complimenting me on my consistent presentation across my website and all of my social media. I promised a blog post about how I did it. This will probably go long, like my Google Play post, but I promise it's worth it! Consistency is key to finding your readers.

My web presence is not something I arrived at overnight. It's something I've been working on and thinking about since 2007. My current writer persona took me several months to craft. I'm going to distill what I did into steps you can follow.

Step 1: Who are you as a person? Who are you as a writer?

This one absolutely cannot be skipped. If you don't know who you are, how can you tell your readers what to expect when they pick up one of your novels? I hope most of you know who are you are as a person, but I'll go ahead and use myself as an example.

I'm a girl who's as comfortable in jeans, a t-shirt, and no makeup, as I am with full makeup, my hair in an up-do, and wearing a dress. Both versions are totally me. But the former doesn't fit a romance writer, and it definitely doesn't fit the type of romance I write. When I did my author headshots, I put some serious thought into how I wanted to look.

There I am. The shirt I'm wearing is satin, and it's one of my favorites ever. I wear it a lot when I want to look really nice, but not stuffy. The necklace is freshwater black pearls from Hawaii. I am wearing full makeup in the picture and even remembered to touch up my lipstick before the session.

This headshot captures who I am as a person, and presents the exact association I want readers to have when they see me or hear my name. I am clearly a romance writer. My hairstyle and glasses are reminiscent of the 1940's on purpose, because it happens to be my favorite fashion decade. If my hair is up, it's a modern twist on a 40's style. Wherever I need a profile picture or an author photo, this is the one I use. Consistency is key.

For contrast to my look, go take a look at my crit partner Winter Austin. You can tell she writes gritty, dark thrillers.

Step 2: What's your tagline?

Mine is "romance for the hero lover." It's my guiding philosophy. I write romance. Romance is a HUGE genre. So I started early in my writing days figuring out how to stake my claim to a piece of romance real estate. My historical romance persona revolves around "romance with old-world charm." It was a great starting place, and old-world charm is still something you're going to find in my work.

While it aptly describes who I started out as a writer, it doesn't describe who I've become. My favorite character is always the hero. He's the star of the story and hogs most of the screen-time. That's natural to me. Putting the heroine front and center is hard work, and it never comes out as well as when I let him drive. So he always drives.

If you want your romance heroes to have more time on the page than average, and you want to read about a romance hero who carries the story, give me a try. If Rachel Leigh Smith is the author, you will find a hero-centered romance every single time. Come join me! It's fun.

Step 3: Pick a color scheme

Yes, colors. Remember, the key is consistency. You want all of your author stuff to be consistent. Color plays a huge part in that. It's easy for me. Purple is my favorite color, in case you haven't guessed. :D It's a color with a huge shade range, and I work within the full range. Except for electric/neon and pink undertones.

It took me several months to settle on a template for my website, and I'm really happy with what I have right now. There are screenshots further down in the post, or you can go look.

Readability is key. DO NOT sacrifice readability for a cool color scheme. If visitors can't read your website, what's the point of having it? To that end, please please please do not put white text on a black background. That was dumb even when it was cool 15 years ago.

See my color scheme? It's soft, evokes a romantic mood, and is totally readable. I have no italics or bold anywhere in the text. You land here, and you don't have to read a word to guess at the genre I write. That, my friends, is what you want.

Step 4: Build your website

I won't go into details on this point, because fellow Brigader Pauline Baird Jones covered it wonderfully last week. So go read her post.

I do have a couple of things to mention.

First, buy a domain name! Once you own it, you can point it anywhere you want. My site is currently a Blogger site with my own domain name. I paid $10 for it doing it through Blogger/Google. And I've been very happy with it. I did it mainly so I could run all of my author email through Gmail, and have Google Drive accounts associated with my domain name.

Domain names present you as a professional. Ones ending in blogspot or wordpress aren't bad, but they're not good either. Why would you do that when you get a custom domain for as low as $10 a year? Make sure it has your author name in it. If you have to, put "books" or "writes" into it. You will never show up on the first four pages of a Google search if your author name isn't part of your URL. It's also a business expense and you can deduct it on your taxes.

I plan to switch to self-hosted Wordpress over the summer, but my color scheme won't be changing. I really like what I've settled on, plus it stands out in a sea of rpmance sameness.

Second, use a responsive template! These templates automatically adjust to screen/window size and look super professional. Also, Google is about to start penalizing sites that don't have a mobile friendly interface. Responsive templates are inherently mobile friendly.

Step 5: Cohesion and consistency

This is where I'm going to share some of the little things I do. You may or may not want to go this far. It's totally up to you, and needs to match your answers in step 1.

I'm so much of a nerd that I have a favorite font, Microsoft's Georgia. I'm considering buying it... 

See all the text on my website? It's in Georgia. Took me two hours of digging in the Blogger code to get it all changed, but I deemed it worth the effort. From what I've heard, Wordpress themes make changing fonts no big deal. This template is adapted for Blogger from a free Wordpress one. You can click on the screenshot to make it bigger.

I also decided to have my name on my book covers always be in Georgia, as well as the series name. It's a minor thing most people will never notice, but it's important to me to be consistent. I may be one of those rare people with a firm opinion about fonts, but if you're like me, by all means pick a font and use it everywhere. Just not Comic Sans okay? And don't put everything in italics or bold. It's hard to read.

I have newsletter signup in multiple places. I made my decision to only put my social media links into the icons at the top of my site. I want my site to be clean and load quickly. To that end, I'm considering ditching a couple of my sidebar elements.

Note: Slider images are FANTASTIC!! My page hits went up when I switched to this template and linked my images. Currently it's three, I'm considering making it four. I doubt I'll ever go over five, though. Gets kind of clunky after that, in my opinion.

This should give you plenty to think about. And take it slow! There's no rush. You want to get it right, not do it fast. And be open to changing and tweaking, even once you've made most of your decisions. Like I said, it took me several months to settle on my current look. I went through about four templates in a month looking for just the right one.

If you know who you are as a writer, and you keep your online presence consistent, readers will find you and readers will recognize you. No matter where you show up. Go forth and have fun crafting your online presence!

Rachel Leigh Smith writes romance for the hero lover. She lives in central Louisiana with her family and a half-crazed calico. When not writing, which isn’t often, she’s hanging with her family, doing counted cross-stitch, or yakking about life, the universe, and everything with her besties. Her debut novel, My Name Is A'yen, is available at AmazonB&NKoboGoogle Play, All Romance Ebooks, and iBooks. The sequel, The King's Mistress, released January 20th, and To Save A Life releases May 4th.
She blogs sporadically at www.rachelleighsmith.com, hangs out on Facebook, and can sometimes be found on Twitter, @rachelleighgeek. You can sign up for her newsletter here.

Psst! See what I did there? I'm at the Brigade blog, but this post is in Georgia. Consistency.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this guest post are solely that of the author and not of the SFR Brigade.

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