Branding is a toxic word for me. It comes loaded with connotations, with expectations of corporatized life where the creativity has been sucked away by a vacuum, taken outside, and beaten into oblivion by a bunch of faceless goons.
This, of course, is stupid.
Branding (I tell myself), is better thought of as the way in which you help your audience find you.
Branding is the scattered bread crumbs in the vast forest of content that help your readers find their way to your newest book, article, latte foam art, etc. And it can take pretty much any form you want it to. Trademarked logos are popular with big companies (or companies that wish they were big). Ad jingles worked back when more people watched TV with commercials (or listened to broadcast radio) – you’d hear a few notes and immediately know just what was going to be talked about.
For authors, our best shot at branding comes from the book covers we get to display on store shelves or, more likely, in little thumbnails on the internet. Which means we don’t have a lot of real estate to use to capture eyeballs. Now, I bet if you look at your favorite authors, you’ll see that they (or their cover designers) tend to compose their books the same way. James Patterson jams his name in with huge fonts. On many Stephen King covers, the KING is enlarged and looks clear even at a distance. You know who wrote that one in a single glance.
With all of mine, I endeavor to slot my name towards the top. It’s not that large, though readable from a thumbnail if you try. That’s mostly because my name, alone, isn’t the point of the covers. I’m not a celebrity (I wish. Or do I?), so blowing my name up on the cover might not be the best tactic. A reader seeing that wouldn’t really know what to make of it (again, yet. this strategy might twist around if I ever achieve some modicum of fame).
The title is another “written” part of a cover and, odd as it may seem, does more with how it’s presented than with what it actually says. Take my cover up there. “Riven”, in and of itself, doesn’t mean a whole lot. It’s a somewhat obscure way to say that something’s split in half, but that doesn’t really convey genre or setting. Put it in a bold sans serif font, at a slant, like this: RIVEN – and you’ve got something that could work as a sci-fi or thriller novel. Presented as it is above, with the etched, somewhat “pen and ink” letters, and it conveys a more archaic, fantasy vibe (at least, I hope so). Point being: when it comes to branding, the words of the title are often second to how they’re presented in telling the reader just what they’re getting.
Lastly, and most importantly, is the cover image. If you look at N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, you’ll see that each book has a somewhat indecipherable close up of some intricate ruins. There’s no clear relationship between those photographs and anything happening in the book, but they convey solid rock, and with the carvings, an old fantasy. Each one also, easily, relates to the others in the same trilogy. If you glanced at the three of them next to each other on a book shelf or web page, just by their covers, you would be able to tell they’re related. With the Riven Trilogy, I’m doing something similar with the new covers – each has a different color flame, a different center image, but the organization is the same. It’s easy to tell that they belong together.
With the end goal being, of course, that the reader can find their way easily from one to the next.