Thursday, February 5, 2009

Guest Blogger C.J. Lyons - Build Your Brand

I'm away from the computer this Thursday and SVP reader CJ Lyons graciously agreed to guest blog on branding for us. Enjoy! - RL

A brand is a subliminal promise to your readers--that any book written under this author's name will promise this type of emotional experience.

The first step to finding your brand is to examine what you've already written. Ask yourself why these stories grabbed you? Why you wanted to write them in the first place, what you were trying to say with them.

For example, even though I love to cross genres from women's fiction to suspense to thrillers to romance, every book I write has a theme central to my life: they're all about making a difference, trying to change the world.

For me, once I realized this fact, the tagline came easily: No One is Immune to Danger

Note that is an emotional concept, not a promise of specifics. I did this on purpose because I knew up front that I didn't want to get locked into writing only medical thrillers. But it works with medical thrillers, woman's fiction, romantic suspense, mainstream thrillers, etc. And it reminds the reader that I’m a physician--which is part of my platform or unique selling proposition.

If this all seems very confusing to you, there's a book I found very helpful called Primal Branding. Instead of talking marketing mumbo-jumbo it discusses brands as ways to tell stories, so it was very intuitive.

A brand is more than a central theme, more than a tag line, it also includes visual images that evoke the same emotion.

When you design your site/blog use the images and colors and words that apply to your brand. See step#1. For instance, part of my brand image is that I'm a doctor, so I use medical imagery. I also use the color red a lot--again, creating an emotional response.

One thing that I wanted on my site was to evoke a response that it was fresh, dynamic, and different than other suspense writers' sites. Subconsciously this tells a casual viewer that here is a writer who's different than others, willing to take chances, and whose books are also fresh and different.

I checked out as many websites as I could. Many I fell in love with--but they didn't fit my brand and the emotional response I was aiming for.

So instead of a dark background (which 99.9% of mystery, thriller, and suspense writers have) I went with a light background. Instead of the boxes that many webdesigners use for images, I asked my designer to make the images feel more fluid and expansive rather than boxed-in. There's no way to totally get rid of the "boxes" without sacrificing clarity, but we got rid of as much as possible. You can see the results at

Other things to decide as you build your brand:
--to blog or not?

Base your decisions on your brand. As a doctor, teaching is a natural part of my life, and teachers are noted for making a difference, so volunteering to teach workshops, give keynotes, etc, was an easy fit for my brand.

If this didn't come naturally to me and fit my brand, I might have passed on some of these opportunities and spent my time and energy doing something else--like maybe blogging (which doesn't come easy to me so I use my blog as a news update and focus on guest blogging which is more like teaching).

Also, when choosing promotional items, make sure they fit your brand or reflect it by creating a similar emotional response.

Even your cover art should reflect your brand. Although this can be difficult since most authors don't have a lot of input into their cover.

I was lucky--the covers Berkley did for LIFELINES and WARNING SIGNS reflect my brand perfectly. They use real-life photos with hand-picked models--not stock art, crisp and fresh and energetic, and featured the color red. Perfect for my marketing platform of "real-life doctor writes stories as real as it gets".

I decided that any marketing I did would use these fantastic covers as much as possible.

So my business cards--had my cover art. My bookmarks (I like them to sign if someone doesn't want to buy a book and to give out at conferences) had the cover art and review quotes. The covers are on every page of the website. And the one promo item I paid for, to use for contests, charity auctions, and other give-aways, was a t-shirt featuring the cover art. They all fit my brand and create an impression.

I did not buy: pens, bath salts, magnets, stress balls, etc, etc, etc. Why? Other than pens they don't reflect the brand (well, maybe the stress balls could ) and for about the same price I could get the t-shirts. Again, you need to decide what fits your brand, not just buy something because it's cute, cheap or some other author has one….
Instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, keep your own brand--that subliminal, emotional statement that you want to make through your writing--firmly in mind.

Once you find your brand and start to use it, it's amazing what will fall into place!

Award-winning medical suspense author CJ Lyons is a physician trained in Pediatric Emergency Medicine. She has assisted police and prosecutors with cases involving child abuse, rape, homicide and Munchausen by Proxy and has worked in numerous trauma centers, as a crisis counselor, victim advocate, as well as a flight physician for Life Flight.

She participated in an archeological expedition in the Outback of Australia sponsored by the Kuku Djugan tribe and was one of few people allowed access to explore the Hell’s Gate Wilderness Preserve in Kenya on foot during an environmental impact survey of the Lake Navisha region.

For more information go to

Thanks, CJ! This is an excellent explanation of branding. What I like best about it is that it avoids feeling as if it is limiting one creatively in any way, which some explanations of branding feel as if they do.

Violets, I want you to pay particular attention to CJ's bio. Such a terrific example of how introvert doesn't have to mean wallflower!!

And because we're all about the books here at SVP, we'll be giving away a copy of CJ's LIFELINES to the person who guesses the answer to the following question: In what martial arts discipline does CJ hold an orange belt?


Anna Claire said...

I LOVED this post. Such a clear explanation of branding and what could work/doesn't work. Thanks!

Also, promotional t-shirts sound way cool.

Anonymous said...

"The Hong Kong Connection" is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It's a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.

Anonymous said...

She holds an orange belt in kempo.

CJ Lyons said...

Hi AC! Glad you found the post helpful! It's just trial and error, but I thought it might help others avoid the same pitfalls I made.

Mary Hershey said...

What a fabulous post, CJ! Thanks so much for being out guest blogger today. And, yes, what AC said! This is such a clear and helpful explanation of branding. Finally, I think I've got it! Loved having you with us today. What an incredibly busy and fascinating life you must have.

Enormous thanks, CJ, and wishing you much success in all your endeavors!

Mary Hershey

CJ Lyons said...

Hi Mary! I'm so happy that you enjoyed the post--have fun building your own brand!

Deborah K. White said...

Thank you for this post, CJ Lyons. I've been working on making my author website. This information is very helpful. I had a feeling that some elements weren't working, but now I know why. :)

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Deborah! I think websites are tricky because there are endless possibilities, it takes a strong editorial eye.

have fun with it!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post - thanks!

R.L. LaFevers said...

And Medwriter wins the prize! Email me at shrinkingviolet @ and we'll get that out to you!