My friend Michael Barry is the originator of Holistic Marketing. It’s a more organic approach to getting the word out and his monthly newsletter from Princeton Creative Marketing is always sure to include very useful points. This month, he discusses the concept of branding. While this is primarily directed towards service and small consumer businesses, many of his concepts can be easily adopted by Indie Authors and small press publishers…
Branding: It’s Not Something
You Do to Cattle…
You know how important the quality of your product or service is to your customer. Your customers judge their experience of your business through the product or service they receive from you. But there are many other indirect and subtle ways in which customers interact with a business. Businesses can foster positive impressions from their target markets through applying smart branding strategies.
Successful and cohesive branding can tell your audience immediately who you are and how you want to be perceived. For example, do you want your audience to see you as a cutting-edge innovator or as experienced and reliable?
One critical aspect of successful brand messaging is consistency. You want your target audience to readily recognize you based on a logo or tagline or certain color combinations. The audience associates an impression or feeling based on your branding. If your message is not consistent, your audience will keep changing what they think and feel about you. You may be perceived as confused or even dishonest and lose your audience.
So how do you create successful and cohesive branding? It all starts with some essential components:
Name – The name of your business can, of course, have a strong influence on impressions. You want your business name to reflect your uniqueness and value. This is likely the first brand asset that you created for your business.
Logo – A great logo can be a powerful asset for fostering brand recognition. Once you have a great logo, you can place it everywhere. You want to make sure you have several versions and formats of your logo available for different uses: color, black and white, on a white background, on a black background, JPEG, PNG, EPS. It is also helpful to have a printed reference sheet to show how the logos should look.
Color Scheme – In addition to your logo, you can use consistent colors in your materials to help support or reinforce the look and feel of your brand. Make sure to select colors that complement and do not clash with your logo colors. Once you have determined a color scheme, use it on your website and on printed items such as postcards, newsletters, business cards, etc. Again, you will want to be consistent in using your chosen color scheme to help strengthen your brand message. Make sure you know the exact values of all the colors you are using in both RGB and CMYK models. (If you are not familiar with RGB and CMYK color models, speak with a designer or someone who can explain this or obtain the correct color values for you.)
Font – The consistent use of chosen or specified fonts helps reinforce your branding message. Fonts and typefaces can actually have a significant impact on how customers relate to and perceive your brand. Make sure you utilize font faces on your website that are easy to read online and align with the impression you want communicate about your brand.
Usage Guidelines – In case this concept has not been repeated enough, the key to successful branding is consistency! Creating and adhering to a set of Usage Guidelines will help ensure you and your staff are absolutely clear about how to use all the branding assets listed above. Your Guidelines can contain specific instructions on how to use your logo such as where and how often your logo can appear on a page, minimum and maximum size boundaries, etc. You can also create instructions on how colors in your color scheme are to be used, how text should be formatted for different uses (e.g., bold, underline and color for headlines), and include formatting templates for standard documents.
Photos – Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words so make sure you have a good digital photo library that can help support the story you want to tell. Make sure you have different available formats too. For example, high res for print, low res for web, color versions, black and white, and different sizes. But please make sure your photos are good quality, preferably taken by a professional photographer. And, once again, it is important that the quality of all your photos is consistent. The one terrible and blurry photo among a dozen great ones will stand out in the customer’s mind!
Boilerplate –This is the short blurb or key message you want to communicate about your brand. This should be similar or identical to your short-form value proposition and every employee should be familiar with it. Keep your boilerplate statement in a Word or text file so it is ready to send instantly to anyone (e.g., designers, media) who might need a quick description of your brand. Don’t leave it to an outsider to create this statement for you!
Digital Document Library – Keep a digital library of all your printed materials including newsletters, white papers, articles, marketing collateral. It is always a good practice to keep all your materials organized in an easily searchable and retrievable format.
The proper – and consistent – use of brand messaging is essential to establishing your business identity and differentiating you from your competitors. Good branding strategies help your customers take the guesswork out of figuring out who you are and what unique value you offer.
Creating your branding strategy and setting up the key branding assets listed above can seem a complex task. A designer or marketing expert can help guide you through some of the initial setup. But once your assets have been established and organized, it is up to you and your business to regularly apply these strategies to clearly communicate who you are.
# # # #
Science writer and author Andrew May set out to create a smartly linked collection of short stories with a delightful, retro flair. He succeeded, brilliantly. My five star review on Amazon, follows…
If a reader can approach a thought-provoking novel as they might an epicurean meal, they would see, as I did, that Andrew May’s wonderfully-retro collection of short stories would be the dessert. Actually, more than one. One of the best things about collections of stories is that they can be entertaining and absorbing in smaller doses, when you don’t have the time or focus for a more lengthy read. Besides, how could I resist a collection that offers glimpses of both H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. In one story, no less.
I especially enjoyed the almost transparent thematic thread of individuals’ perceptions of reality which winds its way through these quirky tales. They exhibit a rare combination of both macabre subjects, considerable science (real and not) and exactly the right sprinkle of humor. I enjoyed each one in its own right as time and space were bent and broken repeatedly; but there… right in the middle… lay a jewel of particular sparkle, that so moved me I had to read it aloud. (it is titled The Collector)
Andrew May is a uniquely gifted writer that readers of SciFi, Spec Fiction and Fantasy should acquaint themselves with. His Author’s Notes in the endpages are a distinct revelation rarely seen in this new century, that gave me a great deal of what-ifs and wherefores to carry me into the evening. We are a mercurial species, who engage in many odd pursuits. Our on-going opinion of the fruits of our own labors often leads us down questionable alleyways of perception and belief. If reading, and then re-thinking stories of such strange excursions delights you as it does me, then don’t miss this excellent journey.
# # # #
I meant to add that this is a great book to leave laying about where it can be easily picked up when the mood strikes. Open it to any page and begin reading…
It’s also available on Barnes & Noble
Rubbing rosin into your grip, you tighten it and choke up a bit more, just in case. And wait.
Our world is often expressed in terms of sports analogies. Oddly enough, they seem to hold up well across cultures and languages. Just change the name and a few particulars of the sport used, chances are you’ll find a sizeable group able to relate. We can momentarily drop away from life’s real distractions to savor a tiny immersion into a game. With life more complex than ever, requiring more active engagement; we’re all looking for that momentary release of the pressure. Ready and more than willing.
Up to a point. I’m noticing that online, the pitching doesn’t abate much whether in conversation, mid-message or doing a search. As the social mediums that have so completely won us over amass the user data to finally make the transition to Full Revenue Sources, we can hardly dodge the pitches. They come from every direction in lots of different styles, angles and disguises.
Not that we don’t all enjoy the entertainment that comes with a well-conceived pitch, but being sold, non-stop, gets tiresome, doesn’t it? Having been in the business of crafting targeted marketing messages for most of my adult life (and to be honest, quite a bit of my childhood), I can see a pitch coming pretty easily. Lately, though my reaction times seem to be slowing and it’s getting harder to always keep my guard up. If you see someone knee-deep while cleaning out a well-used stable for example; offering them a wider, deeper shovel might not really be the best way to be of help.
Writers seeking publication and readers, seem to be well-past knee deep in all these kinds of offers of help. There’s almost no place you can hide from the pitch-men, without cutting yourself off completely. If you want to discuss book marketing for example, whether you find yourself online in a safe chatroom or writers’ group, you’re almost certainly being pitched in some way or another. One of the refinements of search engines and discussion forums is the ease with which pitch-men of all stripes can sugar coat their message with all kinds of pertinent information and even embraced opinion. Winning you over, post by post. It’s the nature of the game and when done well is a remarkable achievement. I don’t object to the fact of the pitching itself. It’s been one of my primary livelihoods for a long time. What I’m finding more annoying than the sheer volume of it though, is the stealth pitching being done in the guise of offering honest opinion or advice from personal experience to those who may be unaware of exactly how the game is played.
There was a time that some of us remember, when discussing writing took place either in a college classroom, or in a booth at a local watering hole. In either case, those engaged were mostly protected from public scrutiny or being set up as a potential sales lead. This all changed with the advent of social media online. While we used to “know” our classmates or drinking buddies, our online groups are made up of people we get to know from an arm’s length, depending upon those things they share. Their identity and backgrounds are often carefully hidden. Of course, there are also lots of folks just hoping to engage with other folks with similar interests in order to learn more about the craft of writing. But not all discussion agendas are clearly stated. Smart pitch-men reveal only what is useful for them to reveal, which can disguise their intent pretty well. Simple trolls are easy enough to dismiss, but not all that troll are necessarily trolls. Fortunately, there are caution signs nearing sharp turns on rough sections of the road we’re on. With a little practice we can learn to see them even when they are behind those pesky bushes.
An example of this are hungry freelance book editors that might provide less than stellar reviews online, making sure it’s not too hard for the bruised author to make contact after the fact. Or people working for book cover mills disparaging self-published authors’ posted cover designs while making suggestions of who the author should approach. Since most writers tend towards insecure, we make perfect targets for stealth pitches like this. Whenever I visit a discussion site, I always like to check out the profile of the user who has begun any thread I have an interest in. Chances are, if there’s a professional service shingle hanging out there, the discussion thread is a roundabout service pitch. I’ve found useful information in such discussions, by keeping my skeptical eyes wide open and skimming off the information I can use. Remember, there are writers who offer helpful advice from their own journey to other writers that need a hand up, with no motive beyond the good feeling of being able to give someone a hand. I’ve been helped myself, several times, by these wonderful human beings. But the pitch-men often wear the same outfits, so it’s always a good idea to remain a bit skeptical.
We also can be easily fooled by sock-puppets supporting someone’s amazing claims of results through the use of (insert program, consultant, distribution or software name here). Back in the day, when medicine shows traveled about from town to town, the pitch-man wasn’t the only one working the crowd. Agents would have gone into those towns ahead of time to secure the services of folks known as “shills” who were paid to provide support for the pitch. They would faint away at exactly the right time during the presentation to be miraculously revived, or would shout out supporting encouragement. It was a recognized profession at the time, and it endures today.
Another caution sign pops up for me with high visibility, well-advertised ( read: well-funded) “groups” of writers banding together to market their books at a grassroots level or to improve their work through mutual editing and popularity-based writing contests. More often than I like to see, these groups turn out to be prospect mines for a marketing, advertising, consulting or vanity publishing company. One component of the growing crop of online book advertising venues is that they rarely provide accurate circulation/impression figures. Print advertising mediums have been regulated for years now and required to share circulation figures to give prospective advertisers some numerical basis for the fees they charge and the results that can be expected. No such regulation exists for online advertisers, who may make their fees appear more attractive by breaking down the cost per impression, or the smaller figure, click-through. Independent Authors that want to advertise their books are at a distinct disadvantage compared to publishers’ media departments that know exactly who is seeing the print ads and exactly what the response return should be for the money spent.
Not to be confused with P.O.D. Production companies, Vanity Publishers still exist and deserve their own comments here. The self-publishing explosion along with high-quality Print on Demand production has not forced them completely into the shadows. Instead, they are now gobbled up and added as new divisions of respected mainstream publishers. They show “interest” in new authors and active writers in emails, tweets and online contact through forums. The attention makes a writer feel good, resulting in a response to the initial pitches. But the bottom line hasn’t changed much. If it is going to cost you money out of pocket to bring your work to market, run. Run fast. I have never paid a publisher beyond the cost of proof copies, to put a title out for me. I have never had to purchase a large quantity of books to get them to market, and unless your garage needs filling with heavy boxes, I’d advise you to do likewise. Producing a quality book in a readable design with a well-conceived cover isn’t free unless you have the skillset handy, but then having to cough up again when your publisher bills you for publishing your book, is just wrong.
Another seemingly new pitch comes from “Marketing Platform Consultants”. All authors need to create a brand, don’t they? Well, platform consultants sometimes operate by suggesting such a huge, endless pile of activities a writer “must do” to build their brand, the writer at some point, has no time left to write. So, rather than lose all that valuable effort, the consultant invariably offers publicity services or a software package that will do it all while leaving the writer free to do their best work. Right. Back in the day, when print book sales were humming along and publishers actually had budget to promote their authors’ work, the idea that a writer was somehow responsible to create a platform from which to launch their brand was unheard of. All of that was handled in-house by a staff of professionals on salary. When the tech sea-change began, many of these same professionals found themselves laid off despite having useful skills, so they had to become pitch-men to survive. Fortunately for those in the biz, the market is always changing, often even faster than the technology shifts. Just trying to figure out your exposure goals can be daunting, as the numbers that signify you’re making progress change depending upon who’s doing to pronouncing.
An example for me hit home when two years ago, reading a respected lit agent’s blog, authors were advised to try and amass at least 400 followers on Twitter as that was the number below which an agent wouldn’t think the writer had done much to connect with their market. When I reached 500 followers, I felt momentarily self-satisfied… until in another forum, a different marketing professional suggested that you shouldn’t listen to anyone who hasn’t got at least 1500 followers. So, according to the numbers, I was less than halfway there after two years. I began to look up writers I knew on Twitter to find that many have followers well in excess of 2K! It seems, that on Twitter at least, it really has become a numbers game. Keeping up with your particular reader niche is not the kind of work you can do in your spare time if you intend to also perfect your writing skills. Finding help is a good idea, just keep in mind that real professional help comes with a price.
Of course, everyone offering a service has to get the word out to prospective customers, but I believe it’s always best that the customer knows up front, that there’s an invoice waiting at the end of the rainbow. I don’t want to suggest that promotion should not have associated costs, just that you should know when you’re entering into a commercial relationship or activity, especially through the back door.
Legitimate writing forums and author groups without hidden agendas do exist. There are many, but it’s getting harder and harder to find them as the bandwidth of social media is more full of advertising than ever before. It’s showing no sign of even leveling off. This means that in order for a writer to actually find some honest peer support out there, they’ll have to take some time making their choices. Spending some time observing on any site before jumping in can save you from having to grab a shovel to clear the exit. Same thing goes for blindly accepting the earnest advice you read in discussion posts. Listen carefully. Learn first. Make your decision when you know what the game actually is.
Think before you swing. Look for the pitch. Wait… wait… here it comes. If you decide to connect, step into it and be sure to follow through with the full twist. If you don’t, it’s easy enough to just stand there and let it fly past. Remember, it’s still sometimes possible to get on base without swinging at anything. Might even save you some money.
Suggested Further Reading:
- David Gaughran’s Blog: Avoiding Publishing Predators (he skewers some of the most egregious scams directed at authors regularly in his posts)
- Absolute Write Water Cooler: Bewares, Recommendations and Background Checks Like Wikipedia, be careful what you take as Gospel, but still a good resource.
- Trollologist: the troll catalogue. Forewarned is also pretty funny!
- The Behler Blog: Publishing from my side of the desk by publisher/ editor Lynn Price Behler. Truly priceless advice.
- LitReactor: The Single Biggest Mistake Indie Authors Make column by Rob Hart. Be sure to read the comments.
For the fun that’s in it, and possibly some retro-learning for design and print geeks, I’m introducing a regular contest on Saille Tales — Design Cents.
This will involve in my posting an image of a group of design and/or production tools from the mist-shrouded days of pre-digital artwork, and print production. Readers will have the opportunity for one month, to leave their guesses as to what these are/were (actual industry names, please) and what they were used for in the graphics business.
If you can name all three, and explain their uses, you will win your choice of any of my book titles in your choice of eBook format.
Let the guessing… or the erudite, informed commentary begin…
We’ve had no winning guesses, so I’d better let everyone off the hook. Here are the names and descriptions:
- “Oil Can” named for it’s shape alone, it was actually used to keep the volatile Rubber Cement thinner handy atop a production desk. The conical shape kept it more stable on sloped surfaces and the top nozzle can be shut off to prevent evaporation. Rubber cement was used to adhere elements such as type galleys, images and photostat prints of line art to a backing board when producing “mechanical art” for creating film to then burn offset printing plates from.
- “Linen Tester” a magnifier with a set-focus and marked graduations, it could be folded flat and carried in a pocket. While originally used in the weaving trade to check thread counts, it was adopted by prepress “strippers” and camera men to check the consistency of dot-shape in halftone film before burning a plate, or to check the density of specific color halftone areas when making up the individual plates for process color printing. I used this one, mostly for checking to make sure that small-sized type galleys were clean, than the letterforms didn’t have broken sections in the thins especially, and also to check newsprint-level (55, 65 or 85 dots per inch) halftones for camera artifacts or too-dense backgrounds.
- “Ruling Pen” In the days before the German Engineers at Pelikan, perfected the nested tube style of India Ink ruling pens (mostly called Rapidographs, after one of the leading brands),fineline ruling in black ink was handled using one of these pens. Ruled forms, crop marks and division ruling used the kinds of lines these pens produced. I even owned on that did two-line rules with two attached heads independently adjusted. Ruling Pens were infinitely adjustable for width of line using a small, graduated wheel which squeezed the points closer or further apart, the dipped into a bottle of India ink, tapped on the edge, to drain off a bit, or quickly blotted to remove the pesky drop at the bottom. Most of us who did production artwork would have splatters of ink all over our hands and even our faces by day’s end. The small knob at the end of the pen’s handle was shaped to allow an artist to hold the pen between their teeth for situations when you needed both hands free.
# # # #
This was a hard one. Everyone’s been such a good sport with this, I’ll continue the series every few months. In the mean time, anyone who commented either here or on Facebook, can contact me if they would like a free copy of any of my titles in eBook format of their choice!
Retold, brilliantly, by author Robert Davidson…
Time is like a river. You cannot touch the water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of life.
As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or
friends, so the service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in the Nova Scotia back country.
As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn’t stop for directions.
I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew
left and they were eating lunch. I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late.
I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn’t know what else to do, so I started to play.
The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played
like I’ve never played before for this homeless man.
And as I played “Amazing Grace”, the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together. When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and
started for my car. Though my head was hung low, my heart was full.
As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, “I never seen anything like that before, and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for
Apparently, I’m still lost….it’s a man thing.
# # # #
Thanks! We needed that!
It’s been a long, very cold winter this year. I usually enjoy the serene beauty of the occasional snowfall, but with the stuff on the ground more than a foot deep for weeks, despair finds its way in. We haven’t been sleeping that well, either.
This morning, at a quarter to seven, we were suddenly awakened by the raucous sound of a crowd cheering and whistling. Very loud, I couldn’t tell if it was coming from outside, or… inside. Terrified, I crept down the hall and around the archway into the living room. A low, trombone growl alerted me that if it was a home invasion, at least they brought instruments!
The traditional sounds of “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”, began blasting from our loudspeakers, to paraphrase Clement Moore, it soon let me to feel I had nothing to dread. Why of course not. It’s Fat Tuesday, and the parade bands are tuning up… somewhere along Saint Charles Avenue, far to the South, where it wasn’t actively snowing.
We’d been to New Orleans in January where my grandson and I contracted the flu. Still, some good old voudou must have hung on, to spring free when it was needed the most, up here in the frozen North. I went into the den, with a lively step, to turn down the music. We keep our gear in a tall entertainment armoire with doors that close so we don’t have to look at the electronics when we don’t want to. I’d closed those doors securely when I retired for the night a few hours before. One door, lay slightly ajar… just wide enough.
I knew when I saw that, how the magic had worked. One of our cats is a bonafide tunnel-cat, preferring to tunnel under bedclothes and inspect dark places in his spare time. This morning, he must have crawled up inside the armoire and stepped on the remote lying next to the receiver, to turn on the music. It had been set to our Satellite Radio station (Sirius/XM Channel 67, Classic Jazz) yesterday afternoon. I switched it off when it was time for the news.
So that’s what I’ve decided to tell myself instead of the alternative, which is that the ghost of Marie Laveau, knowing we were beginning to let the weather get us down, sent one of her familiar spirits over the miles to bring a little Mardi Gras cheer just when we needed it. Besides, I’ve got two handy bathrooms here.
Laissez le bon temps rouler! Where are those purple crew beads anyway?
Watch the live NOLA Parade Webcam: http://www.nola.com/paradecam/
In order for writers communicate with readers, our words need to be presented in the most legible, effective ways possible. Selecting and manipulating typography to these worthy ends has filled entire libraries with nuanced discussions dating back to Gutenberg, but for our present purposes, we can simplify the process.
We’re fortunate that technology now allows us the luxuries of easy trial and error. Instead of hours of painstaking work, locking up a type tray and spacing the letters out with thin zinc strips to ink and print a galley proof, an entire book’s text font can be changed with only a couple of clicks of the mouse.
It’s a capability that is especially useful when choosing the typography for our work. We can select exactly the font that does the best job putting our words before our readers. I call it the Font Test, and it yields results that can be surprising as well as very useful.
My own books appeal mostly to adult readers, many over fifty, so I select the size of my text based upon legibility first. All of the test examples that follow, were set exactly the same way, in 12 point fonts, single spaced, no paragraph indents or extra line spacing. You can always do this yourself using a full page of text, sized to the exact trim-size of your book. This way, you can adjust the column width carefully, if using justified text, to minimize the visual problems that justified text can create as a result of the variable letter and word spacing. Some of the visual issues that cause eye fatigue when reading pages of text are vertical white “rivers” of linked white spaces running up and down the page, white holes, too much hyphenation and other issues that can be simply massaged away by adjusting the column width to the most optimum for reading and viewing. The place I start is a column wide enough to accommodate 39-42 letters and spaces of whatever type size you will be using, in which ever font you want to test. In the following examples, I set up an optimized width for Times New Roman, 12 point, but did not change the width when each font was applied to the text. You’ll see what I mean when you compare them.
You’ll see that the differences between fonts are quite startling, both for relative ease in reading, and also for the number of words that can be accommodated on a page. It almost appears that different sizes were used, but these are all 12 point. You can skip ahead, if you don;t need a quick overview of type design variables. It won;t be on the test.
You’ll notice also that the difference in legibility between sans-serif (no feet) type such as Arial and serif type such as Caslon are quite distinct. Also variable is the depth of the ink coverage, resulting in variations in the overall “grey” of a page when viewed with eyes slightly out of focus. Too much contrast over pages of text, can be quite tiring for the eyes. One of the primary reasons for this, is the differences in what is called x-height. X height is the relative measurement of the height of a lowercase letter (x makes a good comparison) against the full height of the capital letters. The higher relatively, the easier a font is to read, but it can get tricky if the x rises too high. Another consideration is the amount of stress in each letter form, caused by the play of the thick and thin strokes. Too much again, makes for hard reading, as does a font that is too compressed left-to-right. Condensed fonts can produce more letters per column width, but as text, it becomes too visually fatiguing when the compression is more extreme. Extended fonts, ditto. It isn’t such an issue in headline sizes, though. Of course, every designer has their favorite fonts
I suggest you go through the following samples, noticing as many differences as you can. It’s a process that will help make your own books easier to read, and can also add the shine of professional polish to your page design, once the right font, size and column width has been selected. You’ll also have to experiment with the kind of paragraph returns that you want to use, but remember, that introducing large amounts of white space between paragraphs can be very tiring for the eyes and slow down the read. I prefer a simple indent of less than 0.3″ for most of my books, but I have also added small bits of extra spacing, usually no more than three points, to returns for paragraphs, but it depends on the style of the book, the quantity of dialog, how you set dialog apart, etc. While there are so many variable details, it can set your head spinning, the place to start is with a page that looks good to your eyes, after trying out a selection of different fonts and sizes. Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to get really quirky, just for fun. You’ll doubtlessly pull back to a more legible type selection, but you’ll have something to compare it to, at least. You can also print out your range of font selections, trim the pages to their trim size and elicit responses and choices from readers you know.
If you have any design-related questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below the samples, or just your impressions. I’ll be sure to reply in a timely fashion. Here’s the Design Cents page link, for more information about book design. I’ll be adding new articles every couple of weeks.
My extended short story, Vermont Woods: A Music Fable is now available for Kindle, over the next four days completely free! Here’s the link: