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?



17 comments:

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I really love your cover and the clever logo! Not sure what kind of goodies go with things like this, but how about a small backpack or fanny pack filled with "survival" or "camping" treats you might take along on one of your trips?

Lois Winston said...

Well, darn! Sue Ann beat me to it with the suggestion. So I'll second her idea. Great cover, Beth! Best of luck with the series.

Keith Raffel said...

All that thinking did pay off, Beth. Very cool cover and logo.

Peg said...

Camping treats have been mentioned...how about one of those all-in-one things that are a pan, plate, cup, knife, fork, etc. I remember buying those for my girls when they went to camp.

Or, an LL Bean tote...compass...waterproof flashlight...Army Navy yellow slicker...cooler.

Camille Minichino said...

Very interesting and informative post, Beth. Gives me something new to work with for own new series.

Beth Groundwater said...

I'm liking the ideas I've gotten so far, so keep them coming folks! What about ones related to a whitewater rafting day trip, where you aren't camping overnight along the river?

N. R. Williams said...

Your post was interesting. I have often wondered about branding and didn't realize it involved so many different avenues. I suggest a water proof map with Colorado white water rivers highlighted and bug spray or sunscreen. Maybe some trail mix too.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Lisa Bork said...

I've only been whitewater rafting once, Beth, but I distinctly remember the cinammon apple cidar the guide provided. You can buy packets of that. I would have enjoyed a little trail mix with it, particularly if it had chocolate in the mix.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Wow, some great ideas here. I like the idea of small waterproof totes that will attach to a belt -- useful for keeping that small camera (and your granola bars) dry.

Patricia

Darrell James said...

Nice post, Beth. I like the branding logo and the cover looks great! Since rafting/camping ideas have been suggested, how about a souvenir item from the white water area where each story is set?

Mare said...

I love the cover. The logo is very good. Eye catching without being obnoxious. There are some great ideas out there already. How about a bandana with your brand on it?

G.M. Malliet said...

See you at Left Coast Crime, Beth! I know next to nothing about the great outdoors, but Nancy's trail mix idea sounds good as part of a gift bag of some kind. Maybe a compass? Bug spray? Waterproof disposable camera?

I am stumped for ideas myself for the auction. No one needs another tea cozy, I don't think.

G.M. Malliet said...

p.s. love the cover, logo, etc.

Beth Groundwater said...

Oh, I like the waterproof map of Colorado whitewater rivers idea, Nancy! And Mare, I'll check into your bandana idea. First step is to get permission from the MI art department to use the logo and get a file with the art work. I'm on it! I knew I'd get some great ideas from the creative community that reads Inkspot, and I'm really pleased with what I've gotten so far. Keep them coming!

Susan M. Boyer said...

Beth, thanks for sharing the process of branding the series--fascinating stuff! I love the cover and the logo. Hmm...for a whitewater rafting day trip, you'd need a picnic, probably in a dry bag. How about a dry bag with some (non-perishable) gourmet picnic treats?

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Very interesting post, Beth.
There's a great deal of talk about "branding" as an author lately. Don't know if I'm completely comfortable with it myself as I enjoy a variety of writing and publishing experiences.
Best of luck with your new novel.

Picks By Pat said...

I'm a coin collector, so how about an uncirculated silver Colorado state quarter? The reverse features a nice panoramic view of the Rocky mountains. You could get one online for less than 15 bucks and they'll grow in value.