Learning how to make your writing stand out in a crowded digital marketplace or physical library is key to building your audience. Here are 8 branding tips to help you deliver a dependable author brand:
How to make your writing stand out: 8 steps
- Develop your own, unique writing voice
- Carve out your niche
- Know your point of view
- Build on your interests and passions
- Use your expertise to build your brand
- Help your intended audience fit in
- Do the work so it speaks for itself
- Enlist professional help in weak areas
Let’s explore building your author brand and how to spotlight your storytelling:
1. Develop your own, unique writing voice
Writing that stands out is not generic, cliché filled. There’s a sense of voice. Identity. Persona.
When we read Kafka, we marvel at the strange, singular mind that came up with lines such as this (the thoughts of an alienated narrator):
Please, passers-by, be so kind as to tell me how tall I am — just measure these arms, these legs.Franz Kafka, The Complete Stories, text available here.
Whether you’re writing literary stories about alienation and transformation or wild romance, the same applies: Develop your writing voice. A reader knows to read Murakami for strange, unsettling quest narratives, John le Carré for tense, involved espionage, or Helen Fielding for romance wrapped in situational comedy.
What tone, subject matter, personality can readers expect from your stories? Write as often as you can. You’ll begin to see patterns in your work. Themes, moods and subjects. A unique writing voice that is imbued with you and your brand.
2. Carve out your writing niche
To build an identifiable brand as writer, carve out your writing niche. Lean into what sets your writing apart.
Perhaps you have an innate gift for rich, evocative descriptive detail. An ear for fast-moving, back-and-forth dialogue like David Mamet’s.
Part of carving out an identifiable niche is recognising and identifying your own selling points.
Although a divisive figure for aspects such as her later in life conservatism or plagiarism scandals, the romance author Dame Barbara Cartland built a distinct brand off being prolific and producing hundreds of Victorian era, so-called ‘pure’ romances. Her brand was identifiable down to her book covers, which all feature portrait-style artwork. Whatever her work’s merits, she found a formula and a niche that served her comercially.
Aspects of your niche as a writer may include:
- A specific genre, subgenre or hybrid genre
- Specific subject matter or topics (e.g. focusing on the lives of a specific set of famous figures, such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series which focuses on the lives of Henry VIII’s advisor and his contemporaries)
- Writing in a specific form (Alice Munro is famous for exclusively writing in short story form, though some of her story collections have linked/cycle elements)
This is not to say you cannot be eclectic or branch out and try new things.
Many authors assume pseudonyms for this purpose (for example, Nora Roberts using the pen name J.D. Robb to publish futuristic suspense).
3. Know your point of view
In a session of Now Novel’s live monthly subscriber webinar, fiction writing coach Romy Sommer had participants perform a brief exercise on finding your writing voice.
The exercise included two brief tasks to get thinking about your voice:
- Write three adjectives that you would use to describe yourself as a person
- Write down three qualities you would most like people to identify you with as a person
Learning how to make your writing stand out is much easier when you know how to describe yourself as an author and your work. What your point of view is. It narrows the scope of your work, productively. Helps you find your desired focus.
Take the acclaimed author Margaret Atwood, for example. We know from her novels tackling gender issues (The Handmaid’s Tale, and its long-awaited sequel The Testaments) that Atwood is concerned with issues of equality and social justice. We know from her environmental speculative novels such as Oryx and Crake or The Year of the Flood that there is a strong eco-critical, speculative, ‘where are we heading?’ aspect to her work.
The above examples of points of view show how an author’s points of view becomes part of their brand over time. We identify authors with subjects, issues, passions and causes, whether these are political or personal in nature.
Make sure that how you brand your public author persona aligns with your point of view. Share material that reflects what experiences readers can hurry to your work for.
Network with other writers
Subscribe to Now Novel for weekly feedback in writing groups,
Q&As with authors in monthly webinars and more.
4. Build on your interests and passions
Write about what matters to you, what interests you. This makes far more sense than writing cynically to a market or brand.
Branding provides a way to align what you’re already doing to an audience that is interested in that same thing.
The way this blog talks about writing and writing craft because Now Novel is ‘already about’ helping and encouraging writers and creating community around writing, for example.
Take, for example, the American author Madeline Miller. Her novels The Song of Achilles (2011) and Circe (2018) draw on her passion for classics (which she has her MA in from Brown University).
A large part of Miller’s brand is built from not only her passion for classical subjects such as Greek mythology, but her resulting expertise, teaching and creative exploration in this area:
5. Use your expertise to build your brand
How does a reader choose between two books when holding one in each hand?
Deciding aspects include:
- Trust: Does the reader trust this author will give them a fun, authentic or otherwise meaningful experience?
- Brand awareness: Does the reader know this author’s ‘brand’, what sort of stories they tell, with what sort of qualities (e.g. uplifting, serious, comical, historical)
- Branding of the book: Details such as cover design, author recommendations on the jacket, synopsis and author bio/blurb
Using your subject expertise (the way Miller has) is an excellent way to build brand awareness and make your story stand out. You may have a degree in a specific subject or else practical experience that lends you authority for writing on specific subjects.
For example, if you have lived in a small, historical town all your life, and your stories are set in said town, this in itself may be a recommendation for your stories, and the idea you have ‘done’ (or rather, lived) your research.
Writing non-fiction around your area of expertise (blogging or submitting non-fiction pieces to journals or online papers) is another way to build your author brand (you can mention your fiction in passing in these pieces and tie the two practical areas of your expertise, such as teaching and ficiton-writing, together). This is something many writing coaches do themselves.
6. Help your intended audience fit in
Building authority and using your expertise is only one aspect of branding to make your writing stand out.
Branding, ultimately, is about audience. What segment of readers is your writing a love letter to/for?
Brand consultant Giles Orford writes in a LInkedIn article about James Clear’s book Atomic Habits:
[James Clear says that] behaviours are attractive when they help us fit in. […] Clearly, fitting in with your chosen community is of vital importance in branding. […] To imitate, and thus ‘fit in’ and connect with your community, you need to engage constantly.Giles Orford, ‘From Atomic Habits to Atomic Branding’, available here.
This idea of ‘fitting in’ is important in how we market our writing.
If you compare a self-published book you’ve written and submitted to Amazon marketplace, for example, to other titles in your genre, does it look the part? How does it fit in?
Similarly, how do readers ‘fit in’ with your brand as an author? What genre or other interests, passions, viewpoints might you and your audience share? What social media content will help your intended audience recognise what types of stories you tell?
7. Do the work so it speaks for itself
Good branding or even controversy can turn (and has turned) stylistically abominable books into publishing sensations.
The best writing, the loved, reprinted classics, proves the work that has gone into it just by reading the story. There is only so much that clever branding or marketing can do for a title that has been poorly edited or composed; a title whose characters behave in either doggedly predictable or unbelievable ways.
Putting time into making your story the best possible version of itself will automatically help you build a stronger author brand (and one that is commercially viable over the longer term, rather than a ‘one hit wonder’).
8. Enlist professional help in weak areas
Learning how to make your writing stand out means playing to your strengths, on one hand.
For example, using an MA or hobby interest in a specialist subject to your advantage.
However, you may also need professional help in weak areas. You may be great at writing expansive, sweeping epics but terrible at writing compact, hook-strong synposes.
Get an editor to help you craft that vital query letter. Writing coaches will also help you create more compelling development.
There’s a reason many authors have long acknowledgement sections – building an enduring author brand is often a team effort between author, editor, book designer and many others.
Looking for help to make your story stand out? Get a writing coach, book online consultations and get actionable feedback to improve your story.