Thursday, August 26, 2010
Branding an Author
No, contrary to what the photo might indicate, I'm not going to talk about searing initials into an author's flesh with a hot iron stamp! Instead, I'm going to talk about the marketing concept of branding, creating a recognizable identity in the marketplace. A well-regarded brand name is a mark of consistent quality. That's why people keep returning to Nike shoes, Cascade dishwashing soap, and Gerber baby food. They trust the brand name to deliver what they expect and desire. This is what publishers and authors want people to think about them. That if a reader picks up a Midnight Ink book in the bookstore, they know they're in for a suspenseful mystery with interesting characters. And, that if they pick up a book written by Beth Groundwater, they'll get the same thing, with the added feature of a setting in the Rocky Mountains.
The Midnight Ink art and marketing departments have been working on creating a brand for my March, 2011 release, Deadly Currents, and the subsequent books in the series. They immediately nixed my idea of calling the series the "whitewater river ranger" series because it was too limiting (My protagonist, Mandy Tanner, and her boyfriend Rob plan to expand their adventure outfitting company into climbing, horseback riding, and fly fishing guiding.), and because it was too close to the author's name--Groundwater. So, after some brainstorming, the first idea was to call it the "Rocky Mountain Adventures" series, to allow Mandy to have adventures other than whitewater rafting in locations outside of Colorado.
Then, when the art department got involved, the question was how to develop a pictorial logo for the series that would be carried onto each book cover. That's when the idea came to have the series logo be the actual logo of Mandy and Rob's outfitting company. Unfortunately, Rocky Mountain Adventures is the name of an actual rafting outfitter based in Colorado. So, I did some research and gave Terri Bischoff, our acquisition editor, a list of the names of all the existing outfitting companies in Colorado. Also, I suggested some alternative names for the fictional company that wouldn't conflict with a real one.
Terri came up with the really creative idea of naming the company "RM Outdoor Adventures," where RM stands for both "Rocky Mountains" and "Rob & Mandy." Success! If you look at the cover of Deadly Currents below, you'll see a round logo at the bottom with mountains and a river inside and "An RM Outdoor Adventures Mystery" in the red rim. This is the brand logo for the series, and is the brand for Mandy and Rob's company, minus the words "An" and "Mystery."
What else did we do to establish a brand? Terri requested an outdoor headshot from me, and I provided one where I'm standing in front of trees while wearing a PFD (personal flotation device or lifejacket) and holding a kayak paddle. Also, I posted photos of my whitewater rafting "research" trips on my blog, and I will continue to do so. I mention my outdoor-oriented activities and research for my books on my blog, my Facebook page, and in mystery-oriented yahoogroups. For mystery conferences, I suggest that I be put on adventure/outdoor-oriented panels. In collecting blurbs from other authors, Terri and I chose ones who write mysteries set in the Rocky Mountains and other outdoor-oriented settings.
I've rafted, hiked, biked, and skied Colorado before, but I haven't talked and written about it as much as I do now. That's why I love living in the state, because of its beautiful settings and the outdoor activities it offers. And, that's probably why I chose to write a mystery series starring a whitewater river ranger!
I will be on the lookout for further opportunities to establish my brand for the series and for me. Here's where you Inkspot readers can help. I'll be attending a few mystery conferences next year to promote Deadly Currents, starting with Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe in March, and I usually try to donate an item to the charity auction at such conferences. A gift basket donation really goes with my other series, the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series. I could always go with an old standby, a character name, but I'm hoping you Inkspot readers will come up with something more creative for me that's related to the series brand. For information about Deadly Currents, to give you ideas, go to my website. So, what do you think I should donate?