3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer - Jenn Stark(Branding Expert/Know Your Brand)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Marvelous Marketer - Jenn Stark(Branding Expert/Know Your Brand)

Guys - ask your questions, Jenn will be stopping by today periodically to answer them! :)

Hi Jenn, before we pick your brain on marketing, can you tell me a little about yourself?

After more than 16 years in corporate America, most recently as a vice president of media and communications, I am now working full time as a writer and branding consultant including the Know Your Brand Class that many new and publishers authors take.

I am also an aspiring romance author as well, writing dark, romantic urban fantasy. In 2007, I won the Golden Heart award for best paranormal romance manuscript.

Do you have a website/blog? If so, when did you start it and who manages it?

I have two sites. My fiction site is http://www.jennstark.com/, managed by Bemis Promotions. My branding site is http://www.knowyourbrand.com/, managed by Glass Slipper Web Design.

I started the branding site in 2006, and my other site launched in January of 2009, though I have had it since 2005 in various iterations.

In your opinion , what are the top 3 things every author should and must do to promote their book?

I consider a website absolutely essential—it provides reader access to an author both before and after the sale of the book, and gives a “complete” reader experience. I am a huge fan of guest blogging as well, and I do recommend book signings if you can do it in a group and make it an event! In addition, look for the niche marketing angles for your book—what group of “fanatical advocates” can you develop for your story to help get the buzz out for you?

In your opinion, how important is social networking?

This is becoming more and more important, particularly for authors targeting tech-savvy readers—such as Young Adult writers. For most authors, having a site and maybe one or two social networking pages is sufficient to help build buzz, but if you’re a YA author, I absolutely would make online marketing a critical part of your promotional efforts. That said, be sure to keep a solid balance for yourself. If you find that you’re spending more time tweeting than you do writing, step AWAY from the internet.

How important is technology to an author's marketing plan?

Regardless of whether you’re targeting readers in their teens or eighties, building and maintaining a solid online presence is critical for authors today. Remember that it isn’t just readers who are looking for you online. Media representatives, publishing professionals, publicity firms, reviewers, librarians, booksellers—they all have a reason to check your site for information about you and your books. So keep your site as up to date as possible, manage your online promotion in a timely manner, and respond to any contacts you receive online to keep the digital conversation going.

What can you do before you are published to begin your marketing/branding?

Many things.

You can create pitch materials for it by identifying the high concept, writing a concise blurb, and (hopefully!) an engaging query letter.

I would encourage any actively-submitting writer to take a similar approach to their work. In today’s market, it’s more important than ever to present yourself as a marketing partner with your editor or agent—not just the supplier of the product.

Do you feel it is beneficial for authors to team up and promote books as a group?

Why?YES! First, there is safety in numbers J. In all seriousness, readers are more likely to approach a writers group vs. a single, lonely writer at a table – and if you are having FUN with your writing group, then it creates a no-stress, engaging atmosphere for others to approach you. Whether you are teaming up with authors who write books similar to yours (i.e. all romantic suspense or all historical or all funny/light in tone) or with simply a fun group that offers “something for everyone”, group promo is often the way to go, especially for newer authors.

What other advice do you have for authors/writers regarding marketing?

Whew! I could fill up pages on this one, but I’ll just keep it to this: Before you promote your work, develop your "Writing Brand" and slogan. You can check out some articles on branding on my web site. Slogans are optional, but they are a lot of fun, so it might be to your advantage to have one for your work. Be able to answer the question “What is it that you write?”

Knowing succinctly WHO you are as a writer and WHAT you write may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many writers stumble over this question before they take the time to really identify their Writing Brand.

My class, "Know Your Brand" takes authors through the branding process.

How can writers brand themselves if they write in more than one genre?

This is a HUGE concern among writers, whether they are new writers who have yet to be published (and who may be marketing books in multiple genres) or established authors looking to branch out into new fields.

The answer all depends on your unique situation—authors have successfully marketed multiple genres with one Brand (Christina Dodd), or marketed multiple genres using two separate pen names, but with heavy cross promotion (J.D. Robb and Nora Roberts, Kinley Macgregor and Sherilynn Kenyon), or had a more distinct separation (J.R. Ward and Jessica Bird).

Writers with this question should consider what the carryover potential is for their existing audience to enjoy their new work, as well as the confusion factor in introducing a new Brand to an existing audience. If you are just starting out, I would recommend against

Branding yourself as a multiple-genre writer under the same name – it’s too difficult for your readership to get a “fix” on who you really are.

Won’t establishing a brand limit me from writing something completely different?

In a word… Yes! Particularly in the short term. But that could be a good thing. Take Nike® for example. When Nike first got started, all they were known for was outstanding running shoes, sold to fanatical runners. They OWNED that market, and then, later they expanded to other fitness equipment, clothing and accessories. Now you can put a Nike swish on a headband and suddenly it turns you into a fitness guru, but it took quite a bit of time for the Nike Brand to extend out naturally to all things fitness. And note, they kept the emphasis on fitness. There is no Nike brand carpet cleaner. Or Nike brand nail polish. So even this mega-Brand’s expansion has kept the focus fairly specific.

So it should be with your writing. If you Brand yourself as a writer of spooky gothic romance, then I know what it is you write. Clearly and concisely. If you want to write light, funny contemporary stories later, then you have the issue of multi-genre branding, covered above (and in this specific case, you could use two pen names and two different Brands for your very different styles of writing).

This doesn’t mean you can’t WRITE something completely different. It simply means that for a given specific pen name, you have a clearly defined Brand—and you extend that Brand only where and when it makes sense!

A Brand is a marketing tool, like any other—it’s intended to help you make the most of your writing, by helping you present yourself effectively in person or online. By taking the time to develop the best Brand for your work, you’ll ensure that your Brand can do its best work for your fiction writing career.

Thank you for joining us today!

Thanks Shelli!


Nancy said...

Jenn, I've taken one of your classes, and I always love "updating" myself on your advice!

What I struggle with is getting the word out about an event over MySpace and Facebook. My techie skills fall short there. Are you or is anyone teaching a class on how to get the most from these kinds of networks?

Nancy Haddock

Bonnie A said...

Thanks, Jenn (and Shelli)--good guidelines for why and how to dive into social networking.

Jenn Stark said...

Bonnie and Nancy, thank you for your posts! I've actually started doing research on the social networking process for authors and entrepreneurs, so maybe I'll be able to do an entire blog on that a bit later this summer. :) But if anyone else knows gurus on the subject, I am all ears as well!

Thanks again,

C.R. Evers said...

another awesome interview!!!

Lisa and Laura said...

Great interview! I love the idea of working with other aspiring/published authors to market books.

lynnrush said...

Hey, great post. Very helpful. When you say group book signings, you mean multiple authors, right?

If yes, are you thinking same genres or maybe mixed, to bring more to the signing?


Danyelle said...

Great interview! Thanks so much for sharing. Wonderful information. :D

Shelli said...

Lynn - i think it doesn't matter but you may want to stick to Children book writers and keep within same age group. (IE YA would be wth YA or MG. Maybe not PB b/c you would not get the right audience)

bec-fitzpatrick said...

Great interview! (I've taken one of Jenn's branding classes, and it was incredibly helpful.)

Jessa Slade said...

There's so much to know about being an author on top of being a writer. Thanks for sharing your insights.

You're definitely right about staying off the social networking sites during writing time. Twitter feels like work, but it's not. Write first; marketing second; real life a sad, distant third :)

Jenn Stark said...

Jessa, I have to agree! Social networking can be exhausting and ergo it *does* feel like work. But writing must come first--especially if you're under contract! :)

Bec (hi there!!), Danyelle, Lisa and Laura and C.R., thanks for your shout outs! And Lynn, for booksignings I have found that sticking to one or max two genres that are closely related makes the most sense -- mixing in too many genres makes you seem a bit like many islands grouped together, vs. one big happy island in the middle of the bookstore. (Okay, I clearly need to visit the tropics soon). Does that help?

Thanks again everyone!


Keri Stevens said...

I always appreciate your advice. I think as a published-author-to-be the work of writing novels is hard enough--getting your branding ducks in a row means someone else doesn't have to work as hard (and EVERYONE likes working with people who take a bit of the load off of them).

Marcia James said...

Great interview, Jenn! I always like to read your suggestions on branding and marketing!
-- Marcia ;-)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Hey Jenn!

I visited your romance website and it's REALLY something! So far, I use a simple website I can update myself because I'm both a freelancer and fiction writer and add/rotate clips. But now I'm wondering...is it better to have a phenomenal (yet static) website professionally produced, or a regularly updated, homegrown website that's (charmingly) basic?

Kay Cassidy said...

Fabulous blog, Jenn! Love the Nike example - Nike ROCKS. :-) Thanks for sharing your wisdom (and thanks to Shelli for hosting yet another great guest blogger)!

Kim Kasch said...

Oh, I just did a blogpost about branding.

Plus, I gave you the Lovely Blog Award, 'cause you're s always helping wannabe writers. Check it out over on my blog on Sunday's Mother's Day post.

Litgirl01 said...

Great interview. I am all about working to help fellow writers succeed. I am willing to help in ANY way I can. Thanks for the great info. :-)

Solvang Sherrie said...

I think the group book signing is a great idea! Not that I have a book to promote and sign...yet :^)

Jenn Stark said...

Wow! Thanks to Keri, Marcia, Kay and Litgirl1 for your shoutouts. :) Solvang, you'll have that booksigning eventually, and now you're prepared! Kim, I agree--Shelli's blog absolutely deserves a Lovely Blog Award!

Cathy, your website question is a great one. I would go with a site that best reflects you, whether it's home-grown or professionally-produced. My general rule of thumb is to spend as little as possible on marketing prior to getting contracted while STILL maintaining a professional presence. I had a DIY site that I managed in FrontPage for years, only moving to a professionally produced site last year because I just couldn't do the kind of design I wanted to do. But it's important to keep your site updated -- and the closer you are to releasing your book, the more updated it should be!

I hope that helps, and thanks again--to everyone!--for your posts!


queenbjan said...

I am still finding myself as a writer and am trying more than one genre. I have a Bible storybook with more planned and a marketing device underway, all awaiting a publisher. I also have a nature book awaiting a publisher, and a Christian children's novel that I expect to be working on next week at a Highlights Foundation workshop. Do I need to be thinking pen names from the very beginning? I'm recently retired and am now working full-time at writing and trying to get published.