This week, I’m pleased to welcome brand expert Justin Foster, co-founder of Root + River. Over the past six plus years, Justin has become a friend and trusted brand advisor as I’ve grown and shifted my business. (Fun fact: an early discussion we had spawned ideation for what would later become my TEDx talk on raising brave kids.)
When I launched my new course for aspiring authors, I knew just who to ask about branding and books. Read on, and avoid the common brand pitfalls of book publishing. And be sure to check out his generous offer at the end of the article.
I’m often asked this question by those in the business of providing advice (coaches, consultants, authors, etc):
What’s the best thing I can do to boost my brand?
My answer is always this:
Publish a book!
This is not earth-shattering advice. I think most people know that having a published book is a credibility and exposure boost to a brand. It is really the ultimate business card and door opener.
The legendary Western author Louis L’Amour once said, “One does not choose to be a writer then starts writing. One starts writing and becomes a writer.” So if you’ve embarked on the odyssey of writing a book, congratulations!
Because you have been brave enough to become a writer, I’m certain you are brave enough to hear a truth that most people don’t want to hear:
A book can also hurt your brand.
Here is why: a book is a tool; a product. While it feels like part of your DNA, it’s not viewed this way by your potential readers. As such, a book follows the same rules of all product branding and marketing. And by breaking these rules, you actually can do far more damage to your brand. Here are five areas to watch for when publishing your book.
1. Boring cover design.
A cover design is a piece of art, similar to product packaging. As such, it needs to be treated as art. Unfortunately, most new authors are influenced to accept a design that has curb appeal—often a very literal interpretation of the book’s concept. Most of these can come across as cliché or trite. So keep this mind, sameness is death to brands. Looking like everyone else is actually a sign of insecurity. Be bold, be different!
2. Cut-and-paste book title.
If the cover is art, the title is science. It’s all about triggering the law of attraction (and repulsion). Many new authors inadvertently go into their cliché bucket and pick a title that sounds like something they’ve heard before. Here’s a different approach: think of the title as a scalpel. It needs to quickly cut deep. A boring title is like doing surgery with a butterknife. The only way to wield this scalpel is to be sharply different. As a rule, I recommend choosing an agitating title and an explanatory subtitle. This hooks their attention, then eases their mind.
3. Cover band syndrome.
This is really about the content of the book. Your book should be an expression of your original thoughts, your own journey and experiences, the fruits of your own curiosity. It shouldn’t be a regurgitation of other people’s stuff. It shouldn’t be a compilation of other books you’ve read. This is why digging into your brand is so critical. My strong preference is that all authors create a brand first, then write a book. This roots you in your originality, your mission, your values—all the soil for being a true thought leader and producing your own music.
4. One trick pony.
As mentioned, a book is a product, an extension of your brand as a thought leader. But it’s not the only product. I strongly recommend to authors that they also develop a powerful stump speech—a 20 minute TED-style talk they can give anywhere that can scale up to a longer talk or a workshop. This shouldn’t be to pitch the book. It’s to provide another medium for sharing your ideas. The book then becomes an extension of the talk. Think merch table in the back of a concert. The goal is to get to the brand trifecta of great book, great website, great talk.
5. First impressions of you.
First impressions are the cover design of your personal brand. From headshots to web to in-person appearance, projecting a positive, authentic personal brand is critical. In addition to physical appearance (style and energy), it also relates to how you interact with your readers in person and on social. Simply put, be original in appearance and kind in behavior. These two things go a long way to inspiring word of mouth and positive chatter. Of course, the opposite is true as well. And remember, having a book draws closer scrutiny, and if you’re not prepared for it, it will hurt your brand.
The bottom line: a solid brand rooted in your mission and message will prevent all 5 of these mistakes. And make your book even more worth it!
Justin is generously offering a free 30 minute consult to my readers. Come prepared to be challenged! Click here to reach him.
Based in Austin, Texas, Justin Foster believes that nothing matters until you connect to the heart. Co-founder of the branding firm root + river, Justin is a relentlessly optimistic advocate for unleashing the power of being human—and a vocal supporter of leaders who want to eliminate all that is average and stale in their organizations.