Opinion: Author vs. Publisher Branding

I posted a question on my Facebook profile yesterday that I didn’t expect to get as much attention as it did. I am still getting and answering comments today, and it’s drawing me away from the novella I was dead set on writing today and into an internal debate I am slowly unraveling into something that might come close to a coherent opinion on the matter. The question was:

What is your opinion on authors having their own logos?

By “logos” I didn’t mean a specific, uniform way their name appears on their books, websites, and other marketing materials. I literally meant a symbol that represents the author’s brand (something like the Nike swoosh symbol) as separate from their publisher logo, or series logo. Opinions were fairly evenly split between those who believe it’s tacky, to those who believe an author’s brand is absolutely worth marketing and logos are a powerful way to do that. Some back-and-forth happened, and the discussion turned to traditionally published authors vs. self-published authors, and author brand vs. publisher brand.

Of course, every self-published author is, in fact, a publisher. Therefore, one argument stated, a self-published author can absolutely have a logo, because they are their own imprint, and just as valuable as any other publishing house out there, so they deserve to brand and market that.

I don’t disagree with any of that. However, I do draw a solid distinction for myself as a self-published author between what I do when I write, and what I do when I publish what I write, and that distinction dictates what it is I want to brand and market in the first place. What follows is my own personal opinion, not to be construed as word of law, or any sort of authority on the matter. I welcome any counter arguments and commentary in general. Please do chime in in the comments below.

My Personal Opinion:

Publisher brands and logos are essential. They identify books and authors associated with a specific house, and therefore ensure a certain level of quality when it comes to those books. If a reader isn’t familiar with a particular author, the publisher’s logo provides a small level of security that the book has met a pre-defined set of industry standards, and is therefore worth the investment of money and time to check it out. But that is a very small part of the reason why publishing houses put that logo on books in the first place. The larger, more important goal is not to sell books, but to sell themselves. The more books and authors a publishing house has, the more brand recognition it holds, which makes them more attractive to other authors. That is the ultimate goal: To attract more authors and more content so they can make more money. It’s a business. They’re selling products, and they have to keep getting more of those products somewhere, so they need to attract a steady stream of content providers (read: authors) to stay in business. If that makes sense…

An author, on the other hand, isn’t trying to attract more authors. They want to attract readers and, for that, the brand recognition they need is for their own (pen) name. An author’s name is his/her brand and logo. That’s what goes on every single book, on every page of their website, on all marketing, swag, giveaways, newsletters, etc. For an author, traditionally or self-published, the name is everything. Readers rarely search for books by publisher name. They will search either by subject/genre, by book title, or by author name. Or, if they are simply browsing, by book cover. If the author’s name is always displayed the same way across all media and platforms, it becomes recognized from a distance, and thus becomes the author’s logo. Have you ever seen a bestselling author with an author symbol logo? No. A separate symbol would be a second step to brand recognition. The reader would first have to recognize the symbol as belonging to a particular author, and then connect that author to his/her books. If the goal is to sell more books, then that additional step is counterproductive to efficiency.

“But what about self-published authors?” you ask. “They’re both publishers and authors. Shouldn’t they brand the hell out of that?”

My answer is YES! Absolutely! But think about what it is you are branding. Do you want to market yourself as a publisher, or do you want to market your products, which are your books? Nothing says you can’t do both. But following the logic of the first two paragraphs, the deduction becomes that if you brand your publisher imprint, and you have no intention of opening a side business to publish other authors as well, your marketing efforts are wasted on the wrong audience: other authors, who won’t be looking at the book, but the “shop” behind it and what that shop could potentially do for them. If you want to attract more readers to sell more books, the logical choice then becomes to brand your author name as the most direct link to those books. Slap your author name on anything and everything. Make it pretty and uniform, add embellishments, and make sure that name, the way it is displayed will be instantly recognizable to a reader. That, then, becomes your author logo. But it’s still your name. Because your name is your brand.

You will never be able to compete in the book market as a publisher of one author. You will never have a large enough footprint as a publisher to stand out among the giants, or even small- to medium-sized imprints, if all you ever publish is your own books. There are simply too many publishers who are too big, and they are–please forgive the repetition–businesses focused on attracting other authors. You are an author. Your core business is books, and it’s already hard enough to stand out as an individual author as it is. Why would you want to split your time and energy, not to mention money, to market yourself as a separate business entity, too?

The best way I can see to utilize branding power as an author is to pick one particular way of displaying your name, and stick to it. Keep in mind that your books are still the best marketing you have available to you, so that’s where your name will have the greatest impact, and where uniformity will be the key to building brand recognition. However, also keep in mind that perfect uniformity may not always be easy or possible if you write several different genres–as I do. You still need to make sure your covers are thematically appropriate, so writing your name on a horror cover in the same flowing calligraphic script you used on your historical romance probably won’t win you any awards and might actually deter readers from picking up your book. If you can’t be uniform across all books, at least try to be uniform across each individual genre, or series.

Anyway, that’s my take on things. What’s yours?

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