Branding an author business through a book series

As an independent author you probably know the importance of writing a series. Through your books you create a world, or a character that readers grow to love and want to read more about. This way you are building a readership for yourself, the aim being that if a reader buys the first book in the series, hopefully they will go on to read the second and subsequent books.

Having a series is important as it establishes you as a writer who isn’t just a one off, fly by night author, but rather someone who is dedicated and professional and who they can stick with, knowing they will enjoy the work of that author. The more books you have out, the greater your visibility, readers stand more chance of finding your work if you have a large back catalogue.

But while keeping writing in a series is important, it is vital not to overlook the work the book cover does for the series. A continued theme through your covers can become more than something to link the covers and stories together, it lays the groundwork for your author brand and continues to roll that out with each book.

What is branding?

Branding is all about what you offer your readers. You may buy a particular brand of car, or even breakfast cereal because you recognise it and the name. You know from experience, or from recommendations what that brand has to offer and want to have that. The same works with a book as a car, or anything else that has a brand. You know what to expect from it, you are happy (as a customer) and you want more of the same.

You will recognise a brand from the logo, or from the colours used, or the slogan, or some other way the marketeers have used to make sure you instantly recognise the brand without even thinking about it. Clever marketing will use the same, or similar colours and fonts and type of packaging to sell you cheaper products because your eye and thus your brain will identify them as being recognisable.

We have already discussed having your cover designs similar to others in the same genre, this way readers will feel secure in knowing they are buying a book they will enjoy. Your branding will give that promise to readers. 

Be the same but different.

When you are establishing yourself as a brand, stick to a theme. Use the same colours, or the same font, similar images. A logo that is on every book, or a strap line. Something that you can have on the front cover, spine and also on the back to ensure readers instantly recognise your books.

If you are writing a series, have the theme throughout the same series, stick to the colour scheme or font. If you then go on to write a different series, make sure that you stick to something recognisable, keep the same font for your title or author name, so each of the books will be identifiable as being by you and also linked into the series.  Again, that vital, same, but different to bond the books together as the series, or as being by the same author.

It is important though that each series and book in the series has its own identity, that can be done through using different colours for each book, or having the title or author name in a different colour too.

When you first think of writing a series think about how you will identify each of the books in the series, will they have a number, either as a number, or written so that it is obvious where the book comes in the series.

When thinking about a series it is vital that the books are connected, they need to capture your potential reader’s attention, look fantastic as a piece of artwork and have a separate identity for a one off reader, but also link into the series. Not much to ask for at all!

As an author you probably won’t have the time, or the skill set to design the cover, but have an idea of the basic concept so you have a start point for the designer to work with.  Think of what you want to emphasise, the typography, fonts used, the colours or if there is some other way of linking the series.

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Authors may often have a phrase, the name of the protagonist, or the setting which can be repeated on the covers so readers understand the link between them. There may be a central concept, phrase or thought that runs through each of the books. That can be used as a link for the series.

When using your author name, chose a font and colour and stick with it on each cover, this is part of your branding. This should, of course match the genre you are writing in for example if it is romance the cover should look like it belongs in that genre.

The images used should link the books into the series. If for instance you are writing crime, the fashion at the moment is to have spooky looking houses, use similar looking images for each of the covers so that readers understand the link between them, and the author brand.

I have a number of books which are linked by a central character, each of the cover images is different, but still retains a similar ‘feel’ to it, each of the covers are designed in the same way, using the same colour and font for the titles and author name so it is clear they are linked.

It is clear from the covers the genre the books belong too so readers are confident of what they are getting and know from the first book they are reading s series. By having this type of branding authors are not constantly looking for new readers for each book, the audience is established and the aim is to attract new readers to the series and keep ‘old’ readers interested enough in the action to want to continue with the series.

Having the protagonist on the cover is a great idea, that way readers are instantly informed about the person who the book events centre around.

Design details on the book can highlight details, or emphasise the mood. These should match the tone of the series and give a look of a collection to the design.

A series and brand can be linked by colour, it is easy to get readers to associate work with you by this simple method.  Your books will stand out amongst others.  Use either the same colours for the fonts and typography, or for the background of the book cover.

It is essential to use the same font to establish a brand and to avoid a failure in the design concept.

Once your book is branded you are well on the way to establishing yourself as a bestselling author.

Copyright statements

Copyright is a declaration of rights the author, or publisher has over a book. An author needs to copyright their book to ensure that no one else can use the book, or sale or any other way without permission. Unless the book has a copyright statement anyone can come along, copy the book and sell it. This taking all of your hard work, and the expense of production and using it for their own means.

The history

The earliest concept of copyright began in Europe with the development of the printing press in the 15th century. The printing press made it easier and cheaper to produce books, and this anyone could buy a press and print a book and sell it. Because printing could be done so cheaply and because of the rise in literacy there was a demand for books by a mass audience. It soon became apparent a way of protecting the rights of the publisher needed to be established. 

In England, in reaction to the printing of what were termed ‘scandalous books and pamphlets’ the English parliament passed the Licensing of the Press Act 1662 which required all publications to be registered with the government approved Stationers’ Company, thus regulating what material could be printed.

In 1719, The Statue of Anne became the first legislation to protect copyright. A Copyright act in 1814 saw rights being extended to authors, although it did not stop British work from being reprinted in the USA. It was not until the Berne International copyright Convention of 1886 that authors were finally protected amongst the countries who had signed the agreement. The US did not join this convention until 1989, so you can see author’s rights are still very much in their infancy.

IN modern times copyright protects your work and stops others from using it without your permission. You automatically have the copyright of anything you have written. There is not a register of copyright in the UK.

You automatically own the copyright of any artistic, literary or dramatic work plus illustration and photography, any sound or music recording, etc. Copyright also extends to the layout of publications. Owning the copyright prevents people from distributing copies of it, for sale or for free, they cannot rent out your work, or in the case of a film of show, perform or play your work in public. Nor can the work be adapted, or used on the internet. Finding whoever has ‘taken’ your work and used it for their own means is another thing.

It is common to mark work with the copyright symbol © with the authors name and the year the work was created, although legally this does not affect any protection afforded to the author. Somehow it seems to make authors and publishers feel better that they have something  official written in the front of the book, it feels like a ‘real’ thing.

You can mark your work with the copyright symbol (©), your name and the year of creation. Whether you mark the work or not doesn’t affect the level of protection you have.

Copyright lasts a minimum of life plus 50 years for written, dramatic and artistic works, and life plus 25 years for photographs.

If a work has been jointly created rights are held jointly, however they can be assigned to another person, such as with a publishing agreement the author sells their rights to the work by the payment from the publishing company.

Different countries have different laws and it is important to check out the laws in countries other than England where this piece refers too.

It is standard practice to have a copyright statement in the front of a book, both to show your commitment and professionalism as an author and also to state a disclaimer to readers that you have not stolen anyone elses work, or character in your book.

A copyright statement consists of a few basic elements. It can help to state copyright is owned, rather than using the copyright symbol just to ensure there is no confusion. State who owns the copyright, presumably the authors name, although this can be a pen name just as easily. Also include the year of publication. This is the year the book is published rather than the year the book was written.

You then need to include a passage to say that you, the author reserve all rights, basically that no one is allowed to reprint the book or use it without your permission. Something that also should be included is the following which shows that you will not allow anyone to use the book. They can’t anyway, but somehow a black and white statement of that seems more official. Something along these lines is perfect. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form on by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Personally I prefer to have a statement such as the following on the copyright page, just to protect me as the author from anyone coming along and saying the character on page whatever is a dead ringer for their long dead auntie Mavis. It isn’t of course but because the character is a chubby elderly lady with a blue rinse and a huge blingy ring on her middle finger, they will say it is. The last thing you want is to get involved with solicitors and grumpy readers. Your focus should be on creating more books, not fending off lawyers and angry readers, so protect yourself as much as possible.

Say ‘this is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead, names, characters, places are purely coincidental and are the work of the author, or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, conversations or incidents is purely coincidental. There you are protected.

If you are fictionalising real events it is a good idea to have an appropriate statement along the lines of ‘all events happened, but the author has used his or her right to fictionalise them according to her recollection of them.

As an author you may credit, or give the copyright ownership of artwork done for the book. Assuming you have paid for the cover to be designed, you own the rights to that, although you need to check this out with the designer as some may hold the rights and the fee for design extends to your right to use the design for your own purposed.

If you have created a publishing company to print your books under then the copyright statement page is the place to credit this. Equally here is the place to give copyright information of anyone who has done things such as sketches or maps for the interior of the book. It is important to identify these.

Put the copyright page in towards the beginning of the book, along with the acknowledgments and dedication pages. I have a page saved which includes all of the necessary information, all that needs to be changed is the publication date.

If you are writing non-fiction the above needs to be written on the copyright page with a disclaimer that the facts detailed are the authors opnion or something similar, remember you are protecting yourself from being sued. This, in todays, litigation happy world, is very important. Make sure no one can come along and say ‘you told me to jump off a bridge and I’d be able to fly.. I can’t!’ you need to make it very clear that work, even in a how to manual is still merely the author’s opinion and should not be taken as fact. This way you are protecting yourself from legal problems that may arise.

If you have used someone elses work, like a quotation, it is important to acknowledge this, the copyright page is the best place to do this.

Something to note is a fair use policy – this is where a book or work can be used without stealing its content. For example, Pride and Prejudice with Zombies, is clearly a nod to the original work Pride and Prejudice, but because a work is ‘out there’ it can safely and legally be done for a ‘transformative’ reason, where a work can be parodied or critisised. There are cases of books which have continued stories not written by the author, such as Scarlett which continues the Gone with the Wind novel, or Mrs De Winter which continues the Rebecca/Manderley story quite safely. It can be a lazy way for authors to get attention for their work, when a book with a similar plot not using familiar characters would not get picked up. But this is not illegal. If someone uses your plot to write a second book it’s a difficult one, you could talk to a solicitor about your intellectual property rights, but unless a direct copy of your work has been done, you probably don’t have a case.

Libel is a horrible thing to have to deal with, especially if someone assumes they are the character you are writing about, or in the case of non-fiction, creative biography, or memoir, if they feel you have used them in an unsavoury light, this is why that copyright statement is so very important to give you the peace of mind that you are covered.