Authors Are Companies: Sell Your Books Using a Brand Story

Imagine reading this on Facebook:

“Hi, Friends! I wrote a book! Click here to order.”

There’s no info—except that the world gained another spined reem of papers.

Would you click?

Go to any library, and you’ll discover we don’t need more books. You’ll be overwhelmed by the towers of nameless tomes. Our reading lists are exploding, and yet, hundreds of ambitious writers churn out books faster than the most avid readers can devour them.

Is there even a chance for new authors to be heard?

Yes, there is. But only if your messaging describes—clearly!—what your book is about and how it will improve your readers’ lives. Without absolute clarity, your title is doomed to drown in the deluge of daily new publications.

That’s why the message above doesn’t work, not even with a breathtaking book cover to adorn it. Artwork doesn’t clarify.

To achieve clarity, you need clear words. And to find those, you need to clarify your message for yourself.

You need a “brand story” for your book.

What Is a Brand Story?

In the business world, a brand story—or as I call it a “Company Epic”—is a company’s narrative, told through the lens of your customer, the hero, who has a problem. Your company is the mentor who, like in most story arcs, helps the hero on her quest to solve the problem and thrive.

As an author, you are a company, and every book you publish is a subsidiary of that company. Your reader is your customer, your hero, and he has a problem. Your book provides him with the wisdom to overcome the problem and be successful.

For example, a book about gardening is a guide to help readers solve the problems of

  1. not having a gardening plan,
  2. seeing the neighbor’s garden outbloom yours,
  3. being ashamed of the dead slab of wilderness behind your house, or
  4. all of the above.

.

A book on pregnancy solves the insecurity about what will happen to your (wife’s) body in the coming nine months.

Articulating the hero, the problem, and the solution helps you devise a clear message, which you can then use to promote your book.

Disclaimer: I didn’t make this stuff up. My marketing ideas come from my work as a corporate editor and studying the teachings of Donald Miller, Alan Sharpe, Jack Hart, Sol Stein, Bill Birchard, and many others. They deepened my understanding of story, style, and persuasion.

The Elements of a Book Brand Story: Company Epic Questions

For a complete brand story, you’ll need to answer the following questions:

1. Who is your hero?

    What kind of audience are you targeting with your book? The answer will determine which tone to use—how formal your register should be. Of course, by the time your book is done, this should be second nature to you.

    2. What does your hero want?

      What desire does your book fulfill? A book called The Joy of Fishing might help the reader finally go on a worry-free fishing trip.

      3. Who is the villain thwarting the hero’s desire?

      The villain might be the chief character to identify. The villain is the problem that stands between your reader and her success. If your readers don’t have a problem for your book to solve—at least a minor one—they will have no incentive to pick it up.

      The problem from the previous example is that the reader would like to go on a fishing trip, but he has no idea where to start. The villain is ignorance about fishing.

      The villain can also be a problem your readers didn’t know they were having. If you choose an inciting book title, you might spark desire in the reader and create a problem on the spot. A while back, I found the Dutch book Redbad in the library. The subtitle King in the Margins of History [my translation from Dutch] made me realize I had a problem: my understanding of Dutch history was lacking. I bought the book and solved my problem.

      3. How does your book serve as a guide to help the hero?

      Tell the reader what solutions your book presents. In our example, you could write, “My book takes you through all the steps to fish like a pro. You’ll learn everything, from what to take to choosing and preparing your rod.” This answers the main question on every reader’s mind, “What’s in it for me?” It can also be helpful to point out why you, as the author, are qualified to help. A simple phrase like this will do: “Having been a professional fisherman for three decades, I can […].”

      4. What plan and call to action will you use to help the hero out of trouble?

      Marketing hardly works without a plan and call to action. Make sure it is clear how and where the reader can purchase the book and what the benefits are for the reader. Add a call to action, challenging them to “Buy the book now and discover the world of the professional fisherman” or “Buy now and learn to fish like a pro!” Always tell your readers what you want them to do.

      5. What will life be like after reading your book and implementing its lessons?

      Describe the dreamworld the reader can create with the knowledge presented in your book. In our example, the reader will enjoy a lovely fishing trip, feel like a pro fisherman, and come home with a great meal to share with the family. In other words, he will be worry free, socially meaningful, and a hero to his family.

      6. How will your reader be transformed?

      How does your book change your reader? It transforms him from ignorant to understanding, or from incapable to competent. It might teach him to empathize with the arcane ordeals of others. I recently read Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it transformed me into a person who improves his life by changing the small things. I’m reading Edith Eger’s The Choice, and I understand now more than ever the plight of youngsters during the Holocaust. Every book I read changes me a little bit.

      I recommend copying these questions into a Word template and answering them for each new book you want to promote.

      Promoting Your Book with a Brand Story

      It might take some brainstorming to answer the Company Epic questions succinctly, and there may be overlap. No big deal. The purpose is to develop your brand story.

      When you’re done, you can copy-paste your messages from your brand story into social media posts, sometimes slightly modified. Don’t feel obliged to use all the information in your brand story. It just helps to have it available.

      Think strategically when you present your book’s Company Epic. If your messages speak directly to your reader about her problem and how your book solves it—instead of saying, “Hey, guys! I wrote a book! It has 252 pages and took me five years to write!”—you will show your reader why your book is worth picking up from the towering stack of other titles.

      You’ll answer the question “Why should I invest my precious time reading your book?” and make a promise your target reader cannot resist. And those not attracted to your message wouldn’t enjoy your book anyway.

      Crafting a One-Liner, or Book Slant

      You can’t promote your book without a one-liner, or book slant. When someone asks what your book is about, you have a few seconds to respond before your friend dozes off. In that timeframe, you must also answer the questions behind the question: Will I like it? How will it help me?

      It pays to construct a one-liner that summarizes your entire brand story, including the hero, the problem, the guide, and the solution.

      Start with something like this:

      “Most [hero description] want [desire] but face the issues like [villain: problems standing in the way of desire]. My book helps them by [the tools your book provides and call to action] so that [what life will look like after reading the book].”

      For example,

      “Many men would love to go on fishing trips, but they don’t know how to go about it. My book helps them by showing exactly how to plan the trip, what to take along, and how to prepare a fishing rod so that they’ll enjoy relaxed fishing trips and feel like professionals on the water.”

      You can change the order of this formula and rewrite it to sound like you, but it works best if all the elements are present, either explicitly or implicitly.

      The Key Is Clarity: My Best Example of a Company Epic

      When you go to my homepage, you’ll see a banner with a short description of my services, the benefits of hiring me, and a call to action. All is clear in seconds.

      My messaging “above the fold” seems simple—almost random—but it took many hours of brainstorming to determine the underlying problem I help my hero solve. “Grow your confidence and authority as a nonfiction writer” is the inverse of my customers’ pain point: they feel insecure about their manuscripts—they’re afraid to make fools of themselves or to be ignored.

      A visitor combating this pain point instantly concludes: this guy understands me—and he has the solution! If I click that button, I get the help I need.

      Further down the page, I elaborate on how I help anxious writers. But not too much. For more information, they can book a discovery call—or in your case, read your book.

      Use these principles in your campaigns, and you’ll increase your sales—provided you’re selling something your readers want. The skimming reader will quickly understand how your book helps them.

      What If My Book Offers Just Information?

      Every book solves a problem—also those written to explain a theory. Your reader might have a limited understanding of your subject and lack a dummy-level book to teach it. Your book fills that story gap.

      Brainstorm the questions above and see how many you can answer. Whether that results in a unique brand story or not, it allows you to determine how your book serves your audience. And that helps you tailor a blurb to capture your ideal reader.

      Whatever book you’re promoting, always base your campaigns on your brand story. You’ll make your readers curious about your insights and create a consistent presentation.

      A Nonfiction Editor Can Help You Develop Your Book’s Brand Story

      Do you need help creating a brand story for your nonfiction book? Schedule a free discovery call below, and we’ll take a look at your project together.

      I also help companies write their brand stories with my “Editing Your Company Epic” service. Check the Corporate Editing section on this website to learn more.

      Enjoyed this blog?

      Have a look at my other posts. And if you need help finishing your story, let’s chat.

      Authors Are Companies: Sell Your Books Using a Brand Story

      Niels Kwakernaak

      Nonfiction Editor

      Thanks for your interest in my experience and ideas. I write these blogs to help you overcome the hurdles of being a writer.

      Would you like some one-on-one input? I’d love to help you develop your stories.

      Connect with me via LinkedIn or my contactform.

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