Discover Your Brand by Emlyn Chand

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Many novelists resist the idea of author branding. “I’m a person, not a brand,” one might say. Or, “my writing is too creative to fit into a small box.” As a publicist, Chand has heard those reactions, but she’s quick to reassure writers that finding your brand isn’t about changing what you write just to sell books or win awards. Nor is it selling out your vision or writing the same book over and over.

Finding your brand is simply a shorthand way to tell potential readers the kind of book you write, and making sure you’re marketing your book to the readers who are interested in it. In a crowded marketplace, it’s essential to stand out, and having a consistent brand is the best way to guide the right readers to your books.

But how do you do that? I’ve read many marketing books that tell writers to “picture your ideal reader,” without helping you identify who that reader might be. But DISCOVER YOUR BRAND is full of ingenious exercises to tease out the answer. There are ways to find your books’ common denominator, discover the key things that readers of your genre are looking for, (and what they aren’t) and let readers know what they can find between the covers of your books.

The weakest part of DISCOVER YOUR BRAND is the chapter on finding your genre. It’s meant to be interactive, and by answering a few key questions, Chand promises to tell you the exact genre you’re writing. But the questions are vague, as are the categories. Most writers don’t need help figuring out if they’re writing romance or science fiction or fantasy. Writers do often need help teasing out the subgenres their books are in, since there’s a big difference between hardboiled and cozy mysteries, or cyberpunk and space opera. But Chand ignores subgenres altogether, so I’m not sure what the point of the chapter even is.

But once past that hurdle, Chand helps authors zero in on what truly defines their books. She guides you through the process of discovering what’s unique about you and your novels, and shows you how to wrap it all up in a carefully chosen phrase that tells readers at a glance what you’re all about.

Author branding, ultimately, is about making a promise to the reader and then keeping that promise. By telling the reader upfront what kind of book you are offering in a memorable way, you are helping to attract the exact readers you are looking for, because those readers are also looking for you.

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DISCOVER YOUR BRAND can be found here.

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Rating: 4 stars

 

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This book is best for: intermediate writers

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I recommend this book.

 

Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo

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Sooner or later, most writers will be called on to talk to a group. Whether it’s teaching a class, doing a talk at a bookstore, visiting a school, or being the guest on a podcast, public speaking is a skill writers need. I’ve done a fair amount of it myself, but I’m always trying to improve.

I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks lately, since these eighteen-minute talks are considered the gold standard. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, although the talks can be about nearly anything and each speaker has a different style. All the speeches I’ve seen have been terrific, and I hoped that TALK LIKE TED would give me some insight into how these talks are put together and why they succeed.

However, TALK LIKE TED is an extremely simple overview of public speaking best practices, with a lot of blow-by-blow summaries of TED talks that Gallo likes. The how-to advice isn’t bad for beginners: be passionate about your topic, tell a story, teach new things, add humor, keep slides simple, and practice a lot. However, to be at a TED level, one has to go beyond the basics, and Gallo never does.

The subtitle of TALK LIKE TED is “The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds.” This is somewhat misleading. Gallo isn’t really sharing pubic-speaking tips in general, but simply showing us what all TED talks have in common. It’s more about what a TED talk is rather than how to give one. As such, it’s crammed with anecdotes, with Gallo constantly straying from the main point to share the details of yet another talk.

TALK LIKE TED has some solid advice for someone who has never given a speech before. It’s well-presented, but it does not break any new ground. It seems at once too basic and too specific. It seems geared toward helping you make a single speech, rather than helping you becoming an overall more effective speaker.

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TALK LIKE TED can be found here.

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Rating: 3 stars

 

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

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We live in the internet age, where your mechanic is on Facebook and your dentist has a blog. Everyone is a writer now and everyone publishes. And that’s great. But without good content, the sleekest website and the coolest Twitter handle are just a waste of electrons.

There are tons of books that show you how to set up a webpage or use Twitter, but Handley isn’t telling you how to use the different platforms. She telling you what should be on them and why. Of all the marketing books I’ve read, EVERYBODY WRITES is the only one that puts the emphasis on the reader.

Handley starts with the basics of good, clear writing—avoid adverbs, use strong nouns and verbs, and be careful of easily confused words. She then goes on to explain how to put together stories and interviews. The next section covers every kind of marketing copy imaginable: social media, email, blogs, and even how to craft an eye-catching headline.

The chapters are short and snappy, but Handley never crosses the line from educational into preachy. All of her advice is practical and easy to follow.

Through it all, Handley has a relentless focus on readers. From the landing page of a website right through to a twitter bio, she wants writers to constantly ask how they can serve readers. Handley definitely practices what she preaches. She is honestly invested in making us more successful online writers. And she knows what questions to answer, what topics to cover, and what advice to give to do just that.

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EVERYBODY WRITES can be found here.

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Rating: 4 stars

 

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This book is best for: Advanced writers

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I recommend this book.

Gotta Read It by Libbie Hawker

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“So, what is your novel about?” is the sentence that strikes fear into the hearts of many a writer. Whether sending query letters to agents or talking to a friend at a party, many writers become tongue-tied, or worse, babble on and on. We may know our characters and their stories inside and out, but summarizing three hundred pages in just a few short paragraphs can seem impossible.

Of course every book is unique, but when pitching, Hawker wants us to keep it simple. She recommends starting with the five universal elements that every novel has: character, goal, obstacle, struggle, stakes. She shows writers how to put these elements together into a succinct summary, and how to choose the details that will help flesh out the setting and the story in the reader’s mind.

GOTTA READ IT includes a useful list of “do’s” and “don’ts” that will be helpful to a beginning writer, including not using too many proper nouns and keeping the tone of the pitch consistent with the tone of the story.

However, Hawker only gives two examples of what she considers successful pitches, and they are both from her own books. This doesn’t really prove her point. It only shows that she’s found a formula that works for her. Without examples from other books (or even hypothetical examples) there is no way of knowing how to apply her advice more broadly.

GOTTA READ IT is a good introduction to the idea of pitching your book, but it doesn’t go deep into the mechanics of pitches, nor does it give enough examples to help writers build successful pitches of their own.

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GOTTA READ IT can be found here.

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Rating: 3 stars

 

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hague or Rock Your Query by Cathly Yardley

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

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SHOW YOUR WORK is the follow-up to Kleon’s STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST. Like the first volume, this one is a tiny book with big font and lots of graphics. There aren’t many words on each page, so you’ll get a full dose of quotes and inspirational messages, but not much instruction or advice.

The book is divided into ten sections, each with a basic marketing message like “share something small every day” and “don’t turn into human spam” and “pay it forward.” Every bit of it is good advice, but none of it breaks new ground. I kept flipping the pages faster and faster, hoping to find the real meat of the book, but in the end, there was no there there. It’s marketing 101 dressed in a very hip package.

This book is fine for someone just starting out in the creative life and wondering how to make a living at it. If someone is completely new to selling their work, SHOW YOUR WORK will tell them what to do. However, it won’t tell them how to do it.

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SHOW YOUR WORK can be found here.

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Rating: 2 stars

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I recommend The Author’s Marketing Handbook by Claire Ryan or Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran instead of this book.

Twitter for Authors by Beth Barany

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A new user of Twitter needs to learn two things: how to tweet and what to tweet. The former can be learned in about five minutes by looking at any internet tutorial, and Barany wisely doesn’t cover it in TWITTER FOR AUTHORS. The latter is more subtle, and is the topic of Barany’s book.

However, very little of her advice will help authors increase their Twitter followers or engagement. For example, Barany tells authors to tweet about other people’s books just so they’ll tweet about yours and to follow book reviewers so they’ll follow you. However, savvy twitter users see right through such fakery. Far better to follow people you find truly interesting and to be interesting yourself so that others will naturally want to follow you.

The chapters in TWITTER FOR AUTHORS don’t flow logically from one to another and much of the information is repeated in several places. The book has completely awful navigation with no hyperlinked table of contents, making it impossible to find anything. It’s also full of things that are supposed to be links to Twitter bios, but the links aren’t live. This seems like nitpicking, and perhaps it is, but it’s also a symptom of a larger problem: the book itself is not well organized and shows very little depth of thought.

Barany claims that Twitter can help an author sell more books but never explains exactly how. She is very interested in helping writers craft their online persona, but I’ve found that being my genuine self on Twitter works much better. I’m there to make friends, not sales. And what do you know? If you relax and have fun on Twitter, the sales take care of themselves.

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rating: 2 stars

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I recommend How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age by Dale Carnegie and Brent Cole or The Author’s Marketing Handbook by Claire Ryan instead of this book.

Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran

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Gaughran’s earlier book, LET’S GET DIGITAL, taught writers how to publish an ebook. But what then? Books won’t get discovered by readers without some work by the author. Overwhelmed with the urge to do something, many writers resort to cheap, easy, but ultimately ineffective ways to promote books. Let’s face it, tweeting “Buy my book!” every day won’t win anyone new fans. In LET’S GET VISIBLE, Gaughran offers true promotion plans that show writers how to connect with readers, not annoy them.

Gaughran begins by dissecting the kindle ecosystem. Amazon has many ways to connect readers with the books they are most likely to buy, but the algorithms are confusing for authors. Gaughran discusses the various list (bestseller, popularity, movers and shakers, hot new releases) and shows how to give your book its best shot at hitting a list. He also breaks down some of the myths that surround Amazon and its recommendation engine.

Next, he covers pricing, and how to change prices for maximum sales. Self-publishers, especially those whose books are exclusive to Amazon, have a great deal of flexibility about pricing, and the price you set today doesn’t have to be the price you charge tomorrow. Gaughran advises “pulsing” the price up and down depending on a variety of factors. Everyone loves a bargain, and putting your book on sale–when done correctly–can give it a real boost. He follows up with a chapter on advertising. After all, what good is a sale if no one knows about it?

It all comes together with a final chapter on launch strategy. Gaughran shows writers what to do in those crucial few days when a book is brand new. He suggests a slow approach, rolling out news and promotion over several days (or weeks) to make sure a book doesn’t shoot up the charts too quickly. A slower climb means a slower fall and is better in the long run.

LET’S GET VISIBLE is an ambitious book, and reading it, one might think that every writer who follows Gaughran’s advice is destined for the bestseller list. (He signs off with, “No more excuses. See you at the top of the charts!”) Simple math tells us that’s not true, since there are more books than bestseller spots. However, by following Gaughran’s advice, your book will do much better than it otherwise would, and is a far, far better option than chasing down readers through ineffective promotion or annoying them on social media. In fact, Gaughran doesn’t want you to chase readers at all. LET’S GET VISIBLE is all about helping readers find you.

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LET’S GET VISIBLE can be found here.

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rating: 4 stars

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This book is best for: advanced writers

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I recommend this book.