Over at Wordmakers – an author community – we are doing an ongoing course on author branding. It’s really valuable and I’m going to run through some of the things as they apply to “Renee Dahlia” (aka me) in this blog.
But first – feeling like a fraud.
Perhaps it’s emotional burnout or perhaps it’s a reflection of the last couple years in my life, but phew, I’m feeling a lot like a fraud at the moment. I’ve published 36 books and I appear to be successful, and yet I still have days were the only books I sell are the three permanently free ones. The last couple of years in my life have been emotionally draining – first with COVID and schooling four children at home, and then with the breakdown of my marriage. I used to escape into my writing, but lately it’s been harder to do that.
Am I a fraud because I write about romance but my own marriage failed?
Am I a fraud because I’m not making a living wage from my books?
Am I a fraud because my social media makes me appear more successful than I am?
The answer to all these things is no. Hell no.
Reality isn’t fiction. Sometimes marriages fail because (redacted). I haven’t achieved a living wage from my books YET – I believe I will be able to do this. Social media is about marketing the best parts of my books. If I don’t believe in them, how can readers?
Author Branding – Finding Your Ideal Reader
- What genre/s do you write?
- What are some common tropes/themes across your books?
- What are your core values?
One: I write queer romance, both contemporary and historical, across a range of pairings, sapphic, mm, and books with a hero and heroine (often one or both are bisexual). This isn’t very helpful from a branding point of view because some of my readers will only read sapphic historicals or mf contemporary, for example, while others enjoy my author voice and will read across different subgenres and pairings. I also write racially diverse books because that reflects where I live. The summary is that my books will not appeal to anyone looking for white straight romances.
Two: I found this question very difficult as I tend not to think in tropes and only apply them to a book after it’s written. For historical romance, I like to find pieces of history that aren’t well known; the little ways that people thrived in societies that didn’t want them to thrive. The women who achieved despite society wanting to stop them. The queer people who found love when it was illegal. And when I find these snippets, I build a fictional romance around them. I also like a good mystery sub-plot as a way to keep the two characters working together.
Three: Kindness, fairness, finding ways to help others thrive, and knowing that no one is the first and we all stand on the shoulders of people who’ve come before us. Even people who achieve a ‘first’, eg Marie Curie the first woman to win a Nobel Prize only got there because there were other women studying at universities before her, and before that other women ensuring girls got educated. I’m constantly unlearning my own biases; someone once said to me, “Is anyone bisexual or is it just heteronormativity?” Actually, it’s both, not either/or, yes people are bisexual and yes, heteronormativity prevents people finding their own truth easily. Another example is that I’m white in a society that uses whiteness as the superior default, and while it’s fairly easy to unlearn overt racism, it’s a much harder job to unlearn all the small ways that whiteness centres itself. It takes listening and a willingness to be uncomfortable while learning.
Branding is more than speaking out about issues that matter to an author – it encompases the themes that infuse themselves through their books. My books often deal with difficult topics – toxic parenting, alcoholism, domestic violence – with an emphasis on my characters finding a way to thrive. Often the two main characters have different pathways towards thriving, and they support each other in finding a happy ending for themselves and each other. My books are about everyone deserving happiness.
Building a solid author brand requires relationships – go and interact with authors, reviewers, and readers who share the same genres/themes/values as you.