We have the amazing opportunity to create an experience for readers who land on our blog or social media through the power of visual storytelling.
As authors, our words are our tools, but your visual language can be just as powerful in communicating your vision and creativity.
I’m not a branding or marketing expert, I’m just an author with big dreams and a small budget. I’ve always loved visual storytelling, so I treat my branding as part of my creative process and genuinely enjoy it.
Don’t get me wrong ─ it has required a LOT of practicing, experimenting, tweaking, pulling my hair out, repeat. But that comes with the territory of challenging yourself creatively. Strengthening these skills and branding yourself from the beginning will put a lot of power into your hands as an artist.
While branding doesn’t only apply to design and imagery, it’s the area I’m focusing on in this post to help you with social media graphics, Instagram, and other visual elements of your author brand.
Other posts you may like:
- What to Post On Instagram as an Author
- Wisdom from Diane von Furstenberg on Confidence, Branding, and Failure
- 4 Ways a Vision Board is a Game-Changer for Goals
Visual Branding for Authors
What is branding and why does it matter?
Branding is simply the process of creating an identity for your business. It’s similar to creating a character or building a world for a book; it has a personality, a set of values, and a distinct look.
Your brand communicates who you are as an artist through everything you put out into the world so no matter what people stumble upon first, they immediately get a sense of what you’re about. If it resonates with them, they’ll be inspired to learn more.
Having a clear, consistent brand will help people understand what to expect from your work and build a relationship with you right from the start.
IT’S ABOUT CREATING AN EXPERIENCE
We have more opportunities than ever as authors to communicate our vision and connect with readers thanks to blogging and social media. These are amazing tools to expand our reach and our readers’ experiences beyond our books.
A brand is not just a logo, a website, or your business cards. It’s an experience. ─ Unknown
As storytellers, is there anything we understand more than creating an experience for an audience?
The visual component draws people into that experience at first glance and triggers it every time they engage with your content.
THE BENEFITS OF AUTHOR BRANDING
Having a strong, cohesive author brand in place has many benefits.
- It pulls people into your world before they’ve read a word of what you’ve written. You can create an experience across all platforms that can attract new readers who connect with your content and encourage people who have already read and liked your work to keep following you to extend their experience.
- It deepens your own understanding of who you are as a creator. The more you explore who you are as a creative in order to communicate it to others through visual mediums, the more you’ll discover about it that will help you become even more intentional about your art. This clarity also simplifies the content creation process so you can do it more efficiently.
- It helps you stand out on the market. In the competitive market of publishing (or any industry, for that matter), those who put in the extra effort to brand themselves and do so effectively have a much greater chance of standing out from the competition and drawing people in.
- Women are especially visual creatures. If your target audience is mainly female (such as with romance novels), then this is a powerful way to engage us more. We love beautiful things!
WHAT IF ALL OF YOUR PROJECTS ARE DIFFERENT AND YOU DON’T WANT TO GET LOCKED INTO ONE STYLE?
Your brand doesn’t have to be a direct reflection of your individual projects. It should reflect who you as an author overall, to the common elements that carry through each of your projects, regardless of genre.
When you think of the Disney brand, there are many different stories under its umbrella. They don’t all fall under one genre. They have action films, science fiction, fairytales, romantic comedies, and family films. Their television network, ABC Studios, produces the daytime soap opera General Hospital and the primetime hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy. They own ESPN and National Geographic.
Marvel and Pixar are very different. But everything that comes out of Disney always remains true to the experience they want to create.
If you still feel uncomfortable with this, consider creating separate pen names for your different genres. This is very common in the publishing world. Nora Roberts did this with her suspense thrillers under the name J.D. Robb. You can still link them together and openly claim them, but establish a distinct brand for each of them.
Defining the heart of your brand
You might be thinking to yourself, “But I’m not sure who I am as an artist. All of my stories are different!”
Each of your stories are going to have their own identity. Some of them could be similar and some of them could be vastly different in a multitude of ways.
However, I guarantee that there are common elements between all of them because they are all springing from the heart of one artist. You just have to do a little digging.
- What are the recurring themes threaded through all of your stories?
- What are your message and values?
- Who are you as a writer and storyteller?
- What inspires you?
- What do you want people to feel when they think of you as an author?
- How would other people describe you as an author?
- What sets your work apart from others in your genre(s)?
- What do you want your legacy to be?
For me, the common element is that I want people to feel a sense of magic, whether it’s in the literal sense (fantasy/paranormal) or in the figurative sense such as the magic of falling in love, going on adventures, and finding and fulfilling one’s purpose.
This is the core essence I come back to whenever I’m working on a project and creating content for my brand.
Creating your aesthetic
Your aesthetic visually captures and communicates the essence of your brand. Whether it’s your logo, Pinterest graphics, or Instagram feed, they should all tell a cohesive story about who you are as an author.
Design is the silent ambassador of your brand. ─ Paul Rand
Putting together a style guide for your brand will help you build your aesthetic and stay true to it whenever you create content. You can refer to it when you are creating something to make sure it is in line with your bigger vision.
The first step is to determine how you want people to feel when they interact with anything related to your brand. All of your visuals ─ color, imagery, typography, etc ─ will stem from that.
Think about what you feel when Jane Austen comes to mind. Now, Stephen King. What about Anne Rice?
Each of these authors has a distinct flavor to their work. Just the name “Jane Austen” evokes feelings of romantic longing, elegance, and spirited individuality.
Tip: Check out some personal brands you love from fellow authors, creatives, and bloggers and ask yourself what you feel when you interact with each of them. What about their visuals is creating that feeling?
Color is very evocative. There is actually a psychology behind color that explains what feelings each color commonly inspires in people. Choose a color scheme of at least 3-5 colors for your brand that captures the vibe you want and can serve to form a cohesive look across all of your branding.
Using Jane Austen as an example again, what colors come to mind when you think of her work? I’d say ivory and warm neutrals, pastels and blush, and rich blues and greens.
Tip: Once you have a general idea of what you want, search for color palettes with those keywords on Pinterest. For example, “pastels and neutrals color palette.” Above is a sample of what I found under that exact search.
The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is definitely true. You should choose the images associated with your brand with as much intention as you choose your words.
Think about how much a book cover can capture your attention and make you hungry to see what’s inside. The experience has already begun before you’ve even made it to the first page.
Take some time to gather inspiration:
- Rewatch movies and TV shows that make you feel the way you want your readers to feel
- Explore aesthetic boards on Pinterest (just type in “[keyword] aesthetic” for tons of ideas)
- Follow Instagram accounts whose aesthetic inspires you (lifestyle bloggers are especially good at this)
- Look through WeHeartIt and Tumblr
- Cut out pictures in magazines
Save all of your inspiration to a secret Pinterest board on your account or to a folder on your computer so you can spot consistent themes, and to have for reference when you choose stock photos or take photos for your platform.
PHOTO PRESET OR FILTER
To make sure all of your images are cohesive, choose a filter or preset to use on all of them. You can use a few different ones that are cohesive or stick with one specific filter/preset for all of your images.
Just about every photo editing app comes with filters now (many of which are free with optional upgrades). Some of the most popular photo editing apps are:
- Afterlight 2
If you want to invest in something a little more robust and customizable, Lightroom is the best. It’s what everyone uses to create and sell their own presets (which are similar to filters, only much more customizable). You can get it with Photoshop for $9.99/month. You can find a wide variety of affordable Lightroom presets (usually under $10) in all sorts of moods and color schemes on:
Powered by Creative Market
The fonts you use also play a big role in your aesthetic. You should use the same fonts for your website, Pinterest graphics, ads, and social media graphics. Your logo and book covers can be exceptions to the rule but they should still flow with the rest of your branding.
Choose 2-4 fonts to use across all of your branding. I recommend choosing at least 3: a serif, sans serif, and cursive.
- Pinterest is a great resource for finding inspiring font combinations. Just search “font combinations” and you’ll have a ton of ideas at your fingertips.
- Creative Market has a variety of affordable fonts to purchase, some of which come in premade combinations.
- Google Fonts has an enormous library of completely free fonts that you can use for any project without restrictions.
Before you decide on a font, check the licensing to make sure it is free for commercial use or comes with a commercial license with terms that fit your needs.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER ON A MOOD BOARD
Now, it’s time to put it all together. Create a mood board that includes your main colors, fonts, and a small selection of images that best represent the mood and aesthetic of your brand.
Play with the combinations until it feels right. Go back to the questions you answered earlier and ask yourself if your mood board captures your intentions with your brand.
You can update it as often as you want to as your brand evolves. I recommend keeping that secret Pinterest board you’ve been collecting images in, too, so you’ll have a large collection of inspiration at your disposal that you can consistently be adding things to.
You can create a mood board using any graphic program such as:
I recommend using Canva for this particular project because it’s quick, easy, and free; they have a large selection of premade templates for mood boards that you can easily pop colors and photos into. With Canva Pro, you can even upload your fonts to it. (If you’re working with the free version, just upload a photo of the font from wherever you downloaded/purchased it to display it on your mood board.)
Here’s one I made with Canva:
Allow it to evolve
Your brand will evolve along with you as you grow as a writer, creative, and human being.
Don’t worry about getting it perfect. You’ll learn more about what your brand identity is and what you want it to look like, and get better at creating content that suits it as you go. You’ll only find clarity and improve it through the process of doing it!
It’s probably not going to look the way you want it to at first ─ I know mine didn’t. It took a lot of (frustrating) practice to get to where I am now and I still see a lot of areas for me to improve, but I’m finally at a place where I’m happy with it.
It’s a process; you have to start somewhere and be brave enough to stick with it and keep iterating.
Don’t worry about your tastes changing in the future. You aren’t creating restrictions for yourself by establishing a brand; you’re helping the right readers find you more efficiently. It’s a powerful communication tool, period.
You can tweak and alter it however much you need to as you gain new insight, grow, and evolve as a person and storyteller.