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Brand Decks for Authors

Every big company has a branding guide. You should too!

Living in a modern civilisation, we encounter branding every day. Walk into certain stores and you’ll recognise them by their smell. See certain colours on billboards and particular companies will pop into your head. Read a phrase like “just do it”, “finger lickin’ good” or “because you’re worth it” and you’ll probably know exactly who created them. Branding is powerful. Publishing executives understand this, too, so much so that they pay experts significant salaries to manage their brand. Why? Because establishing a memorable brand is hard, and optimising one long term is even harder. It only takes one employee to derail a reputation and alter consumer perception.

Companies that excel at branding do so by keeping their messaging and visual tone tight and consistent across departments. Many use a brand deck to achieve this feat. Also known as a brand guide, it’s a document or pack of documents that outlines the look, feel and identity of a company. The theory is that any employee using one can replicate the brand’s image consistently across any material or messaging they produce, whether they work in product development, social media marketing, or even accounting. Not only does having a brand deck save business owners time; it can also reduce mistakes.

As an indie author, you are a publisher. You might not have hundreds of full-time employees or publish other authors’ books like Penguin Random House or Hachette, but you probably experience branding challenges just like them, especially when working with freelancers. Hence, a brand deck could help you collaborate more efficiently. But what do you need to include? The reality is that your brand deck will differ from those created by peers. Every author has unique needs. Today’s blog post will outline a range of common components most indie authors, including you, can include to create a useful brand deck.

Text Elements

Text plays a much larger role in the average author’s business than simply making up the content of their books. Look and you’ll find it on book covers, ads, social media posts and in a wide range of other places. Even if you haven’t considered branding, your text probably has a consistent look and feel across all mediums. Your taste shapes your output automatically. If your work doesn’t have any consistency, that’s a problem. Unless you’re creating something wacky and unorthodox, it usually means you don’t yet have a consistent brand, in which case a brand deck could benefit you even more, as well as guide prospective freelancers who work with you.

Do you have a logo? A brand-specific font? How and where should someone display your logo? How big should it appear on marketing materials? Do you use a grid to ensure any text you use displays consistently in terms of size and positioning across book covers and ads? Do you use different fonts for your author name and book titles? What about chapter headings and body copy? If you have more than one pen name, do you use unique fonts for each brand? Perhaps your designer has made these choices for you, in which case you should ask them for future reference. Knowing the answer to these questions is vital if you want to build a consistent brand.

Colour Palette

Just as we can recognise businesses based on the fonts they use on their products, we can often draw similar conclusions from colours. Combine black and orange elements on a white background and what do you see? Amazon. How about deep purple with white text? Cadbury’s. Even storytelling companies use colour palettes. The Minions franchise, for instance, consistently uses blue and yellow. And Mad Max uses a yellow tint. The colours you use on books may change from cover to cover, but you’ll likely feature some distinctive colour combinations across whole series.

Recording the colours that represent your work in a brand deck is vital, especially if you work with a team of designers. The best way to do this is to include official colour codes. Typically, HTML colour codes work as a definitive reference point for consistency. You can use Photoshop’s eyedropper tool to find out which HTML colour code you use. That way, designers can always ensure everything matches. You can also add CMYK, RGB, and PMS code equivalents to cater to the needs of different designers and whether they work on digital or print mediums. It’s a foolproof way to keep your colours consistent.

Graphic Elements

Space Jam is a great movie filled with conflicting visual elements. It features 2D cartoons and live action footage. Thanks to great storytelling and an expert production team, though, it just works. But not everyone can pull off the same feat. In most cases, mixing graphic styles doesn’t work at all. Have you ever seen a book series published where the author has had different designers work on separate covers, some created with digital art, others with stock photos? The result is messy and inconsistent. In some cases, it can even be confusing. Even great books will struggle if readers can’t find a sequel because it looks nothing like book one.

Your brand deck can help you avoid such a fate. Specify in it what sort of visual elements represent your brand and you will create consistency. For instance, if you write romance, you could instruct designers to use black and white images with a single coloured element like the Twilight and 50 Shades series. If you write sci-fi, perhaps tell them to style the covers with digital art. As a comedy author, maybe presenting your characters as cartoons is a better choice. Done right, a brand deck will cover lots of common questions designers ask, helping them to work efficiently without having to guess at your style, get it wrong and re-do work from scratch.

Ethos and Messaging

Many authors have their virtual assistants write book descriptions, newsletters, social media posts and other brand-related materials so they can focus on writing books. Problems arise, however, when a virtual assistant publishes a message to fans that the author would never say. This could be as innocuous as starting an email with “Hey peeps!” instead of a formal, “Hello from London.” or getting creative with a tagline without running it past the author. In some cases, it can be as extreme as saying something on the author’s behalf in a way that offends their readers or promises something to them the author would never knowingly offer.

Depending on the severity of the gaffe, a slipup like these could either slightly bemuse your readers, or completely change the perception of your author brand. Mistakes are easily done. Yet, a brand deck could just as easily avoid them. Anticipating potential faux pas and making rules about them in advance is proactive. You could, for instance, include notes in your brand deck regarding:

  • Your brand elevator pitch
  • Your key values and aims
  • Business policies
  • Expressions you like and dislike
  • Key messages and slogans

It’s impossible to predict every way another person could taint or distort your brand. Setting up a database of values, messages, responses and policies, though, is a good way to stop many mistakes ever making it to market. Plus, you can always update your brand deck to make it more watertight over a longer term.

Written Style Guide

Language is complicated. How it’s written depends on a person’s geographical location, intended audience and, occasionally, personal preference. For example, do you write in American or British English? If you do have a preference, do you use a certain style guide to govern your editorial calls? And what about your tone? Do you use truncated, staccato sentences like some modern authors, or meandering ones like Jane Austin? Having virtual assistants and collaborators know your preferences is important. It’s even better if you can also provide examples of work you’ve published that encapsulate your preferred style and vocabulary.

Writing an extensive style guide and making hundreds of case studies for punctuation would take weeks and could result in a massive brand deck that overwhelms collaborators. Hence, you might prefer to take an easier route here. For instance, how about offering a short reading list of reference texts that collaborators can get as extra reading material instead? That way, you won’t bloat your brand deck into a dreaded behemoth of a document nobody ever wants to check. Using the list, they can look up your written style guide if they want but don’t have to wade through it every time they want to get to other brand deck components.

Creating a comprehensive brand deck might resemble unnecessary work at first, but you needn’t view it that way. Consider it an investment. Spend time on it now and it will save you more in the future. As it’s only for you and your collaborators’ eyes, it can be extremely granular or as simple as a series of bullet points. Many established companies codify their brand so rigidly no employee could ever make a mistake, but you don’t need to follow their example. Start simply and flesh it out as collaborators come to you with follow-up questions. Yes, it might require some upfront work but, over time, that effort will help you run a smoother business with better training resources, fewer costly mistakes and a stronger brand.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.