Author-as-Brand: More Cons than Pros for Newbie Authors (part 1)

brandsEver since I turned author (in 2013 with the release of my first Harlequin title, The Indian Tycoon’s Marriage Deal) I have been lectured by one and all about the rules of marketing as it applies to a newly minted author. The argument goes something like this: Publishing is one heck of a competitive business; new authors are coming out of the woodwork and publishers’ marketing spends are shrinking. As a newbie author it’s up to you to be out there pushing your book aggressively among readers. To cut the clutter you need to build yourself as a Brand. Before I turned fiction writer I was a business writer who specialized in writing about brands and their marketing strategies.  I could see the merit in this line of argument and was happy to do what was needed to make my books more visible. However, having observed how branding is done (specially in India) in the publishing space, I believe that there are more cons than pros to the branding-works-for-newbie authors argument. Here’s why:

Brand building requires budgets. And new brands require even bigger budgets.
Consider the example of the well-known soap brand Lux. The mere mention of the brandname is enough to trigger an image of a soap that has been advertised endlessly as a product that is used by film-stars and is the “secret” of their youth and vitality. It has taken decades of pounding this message day in and day out over diverse media channels to build Lux as a mega brand.  Today, the soap can move off the shelves without much advertising but to bring it to this stage Unilever has spent billions of ad bucks. In comparison, a new contender that pitches itself in the same space (with more or less similar USP or unique selling proposition) would not only need a ‘different’ ad pitch but also a huge ad budget to make its presence felt against the big brand appeal of Lux.

Now let’s transpose this scenario to the Publishing Industry. Take any of the mega-bestselling authors. Nora Roberts. JK Rowling. Stephen King. Or our very own Amish or Chetan Bhagat. These authors did not have huge advertising spends to launch their books. They built their audience by writing books (I am loathe to call a book as a product and more about that later in Part II of this Book Marketing series) that connected with their readers. One might argue that they did so when the publishing space was not so cluttered with new authors and therefore they had an easier time in building themselves as “brands”.  Even though I don’t subscribe to that argument, let’s for a moment believe that is so.

Amish-tripathi-sessionGiven the new uber competitive scenario the logic therefore would be (drawing from the Lux example): new authors need to be promoted more heavily by publishers. They need to support them with innovative marketing, sampling of their books at author events and create strategies that help them find new niches. However, what’s happening in the publishing industry is just the opposite: it’s the big-brandname authors who are being lavished with full page ads in mainline dailies and whose new book launches are celebrated at events. The reason is obvious: for publishing houses, the big brandnames are the ‘revenue earners’ and they are diverting their ad budgets to sustain them rather than create new “assets” or “brandnames”.  An important reason why publishers would rather spend their budgets on big author-brands is they are protecting their own interests. If Westland drops the marketing ball in terms of pushing Scion of Ikshvaku (which is going to be a six-part series by Amish), they will not get the return on their investment in terms of the advance they have paid their bigname-author-brand. A newbie author-brand is a risky investment for risk-averse publishers. And publishers take only the minimum risk necessary by printing and distributing books by new authors.

Problem with such an approach is that the new author/brandname ends up spending his own money on launch events that are peopled by his/her friends and family; is not able to connect with readers and is unlikely to get a mention in the celebrity-focused mainstream media. Such a myopic strategy by publishers also means that publishers are losing out on new authors who have a potential to connect with new readers and build their new inhouse future mega brands. Moreover, without any buzz for the book, stores are unwilling to give it proper display and further reducing the chances of discoverability. As Ashwin Sanghi, best selling author says, “Jo dikhta hai, voh bikta hai” (For a book to sell it needs to be seen).

Ultimately, Newbie Authors are stuck in the bottom most rung of the Publishers’ brand portfolio. Unless the newbie author can pull a trick out of his/her hat and quickly scale the bestselling charts, publishers are unwilling to put their marketing muscle behind these ‘brands’.

Watch out for the Next Part of this Series on Authors as Brands.

About Adite

Author & Screenwriter
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29 Responses to Author-as-Brand: More Cons than Pros for Newbie Authors (part 1)

  1. Sudesna Ghosh says:

    I’ve been thinking about this since my first book was released last year. It seems that the publishing houses only invest in the big names and make them even bigger. It is disappointing when you are so passionate about your craft but yes, revenue is a reality. I’ve been reading other writers’ thoughts on being a marketer for the books and it seems to require much time and money which not all of us can afford to spend. *sigh*


  2. Shilpa Suraj says:

    Well said Adite….It is a bit of a vicious circle isn’t it? Breaking out of it is both a combination of luck and marketing smarts. Hopefully, someday…… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Book as a product makes sense to me because anything that is commerce will come under either product or service. That being said, yep. Newbie authors or even ones who have not seen instant success do languish in that middling space because we are just passionate and not business minded enough. I work in business journalism now and totally agree with everything else you’ve said. Looking forward to more on this!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reet Singh says:

    Sad, isn’t it? Sadder because it is true! Some good points, there, Adite – thanks for sharing… there a silver lining? I hope so – waiting for part two!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Adite, You have hit the nail on the head. It seems everyone is earning except the author. The ‘brand’ authors as we call them have changed the scenario of book marketing in India. Now the book shop owners ask for money to keep the book on the shelf (25k). An author hires a publicist (50k to 75k) and the author also has to pay for the venues and reviews in magazine (30k give or take). And if you live in the USA, Kirkuis Reviews etc cost 500$. A must if you want your book to be in the library catalogue. Where does it leave a writer? He or she is just a name … a print name on a cover. All for a dream. I, for one, am now totally disillusioned by the whole game. It is no more an art, a passion. But a strategy. A game plan. Thank you for this lovely post.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Loved your post. As a debut author whose book was launched by Westland under the shadow of Scion of Ikshvaku 😀, I can’t agree more!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. chsuresh63 says:

    How true. Do not really know how one moves away from the current situation. Publishing is not exactly a money-spinning business and one can see where the Publishers come from, though, even if one sees it as a business, it is hard to see how anyone expects to make a success of it by being totally risk-averse. And, supporting promising new authors IS a risk that publishers need to take. They cannot just keep sitting on their hands waiting for the next sensation in writing to pop out full-grown 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well said Adite, writers are in it for passion and recognition, whereas Publishers are in this field for commerce. I think this is the disconnect but money makes the world go round. Looking forward to the next part.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very interesting post Adite. An eye-opener, I must say.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Aditi Mathur says:

    What a good read! I agree with every point you make. A “best selling” author told me just as my first book was releasing, that as a new author you will have to literally sell yourself like a brand without any shame. I laughed then, but now I know how true those words are for a new author.
    Sharing this post! Thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. booklaurie says:

    The advantage of a publisher like Harlequin is that they already ARE a brand. It still doesn’t help the individual authors who write for Harlequin become brands in their own right, but they’re guaranteed a certain number of sales — even newbie authors with no background or connections or media savvy whatsoever — because of the Harlequin brand.

    Some of the big names in romance today, like Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber and Sherryl Woods and Jayne Ann Krentz, wrote for Harlequin while the quality of their books built a brand for them which transcended the publisher name. But for authors who don’t write Harlequin romance? There’s no comparable option out there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Laurie, that’s how it is supposed to work. But I’d think the publishing game has changed forever with the big publishers becoming bigger as they merge and consolidate and the new authors get even more squeezed as far as access to marketing funds is concerned. Thanks for visiting and commenting. 🙂


  12. Very timely post, Adite! I understand the viewpoint of the publishing houses because their goal is to make money and a “big” name means more returns, but where exactly does that leave those of us who are struggling to make even a ripple in the ocean of writers? The best advice really is to “write the next book” and struggle to keep your sanity until your brand is discovered.

    I’m looking forward to your next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Author-as-Brand: When a book is a product to be consumed…. | AditeBanerjie

  14. Pingback: Thinking on Self Publishing (aka Noah Get the Ark) | Jessie Clever, Romance Novelist

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