Posted On September 13, 2009 by Print This Post

Building Your Brand

Good morning and welcome to Crafting Your Career.   Our guest today is CJ Lyons.  I first became aware of CJ through RWA’s Kiss of Death chapter.  I would see her name when she answered medical related questions that were posted by other members.  I saw her name a lot!  And it wasn’t necessarily for the medical questions.  CJ had such a presence that when her first book came out, I bought it.  How could I not? I’d never met her and yet, I felt like I knew her.  Talk about marketing!   

With that said, CJ is here to teach us how to build a brand.  Take it away, CJ.

CJ_Tall_Emergency_Sign_3AB_copy_optA 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 this 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.LIFELINES-2_copy

Also, be sure to talk to your editor and agent or your critique partners.  Who do they see as your target audience?  What label will be on your books?  Where will they be shelved in the bookstores?  What do they see you writing and selling successfully in the future?

All these questions will tell you how people who know your work see your brand, even if they don’t use those words–but they might, just ask them!

What you want to know is: what primal emotion does your writing trigger in your audience?  Laughter? Fear? Romance?

From there, you’ll know the central theme of your work—the goal is to inspire that same feeling on a subliminal level with your branding.

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

When you design your site/blog use the images and colors and words that apply to your brand.   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.  URGENT_CARElores_copyI tried to make the site have a lot of movement, a feeling of high-energy—just like my books.  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 well as where your strengths lie. 

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.  I’ve also included a lot of articles on my website—free, my way to give back to my readers and writing friends.

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 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,  WARNING SIGNS , and URGENT CARE reflect my brand perfectly.  They use real-life photos with hand-picked models–not stock art. They’re crisp and fresh and energetic.  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–have 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) have 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. 

These 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 <g>) 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!

So, let’s have some fun.  Tell me a little about your books (not just one book—a brand should encompass your writing career) and what you want to accomplish with them.  What primal emotion are you aiming for?

I’ll try to look into my crystal ball and see if we can brainstorm some potential branding ideas for you!

One lucky commenter will receive a copy of both of my current releases: LIFELINES and WARNING SIGNS. 

Hopefully you all will be on the lookout for my next book, URGENT CARE, when it comes out October 27th.  It’s a dark, edgy, fast-paced thriller where no one is immune to danger, so it fits my brand perfectly!!!

Thanks for reading!

Thank you, CJ!  To our readers, let’s take CJ up on her offer and ask her some branding questions.  We’d love to hear from you.

About CJ:

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about.  In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker. 

Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a “breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller” from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller.  Her second novel, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, was due out October, 2009. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to

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94 Responses to “Building Your Brand”

  1. Hi CJ,
    Thanks for joining us at RU! Fantastic post. I’m currently writing Regency books with a suspense element. My writing tends to lean toward the edgy side. My tagline is Sultry Romance with an Edge. Not very original, I don’t think.

    I currently have a homemade website and have tried to reflect my brand through colors. Once I’m published, I’ll treat myself to a professionally made website. 🙂

    BTW, love your books and your website!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | September 14, 2009, 5:35 am
    • Tracey, thanks for playing!!! I’m so happy you enjoy my books!

      First off, I love your website–to me, it immediately (without reading any of the words, just from the images and colors) evokes the idea of historical romance, the soft old-fashioned images, the muted delicate colors.

      But, if you’re aiming for a brand of “sultry romance with an edge” then I think your site misses the mark–it’s not sultry (which to me means overtly sexy, bordering on erotic) and not edgy–instead it’s soft and lush and delicate.

      Then I read the words on your site–you start with Passionate about Historical Romance…..and as a reader I was immediately engaged! We love someone who is passionate about their work, we want to know more, we want to read their work to feel that passion!

      Hmmm….maybe that’s your brand–let’s trim it, since it’s obvious you’re writing romance, to Passionate about History.

      But Passionate about History doesn’t evoke a feeling of Sultry Romance with an Edge. You’re giving the reader a totally different emotional promise with your website (visually) and your battlecry, Passionate about History, than you are with your tagline.

      So which is the real Tracey Devlyn experience? What emotions are you promising your readers with your books?

      I’m wondering (just brainstorming here, since I haven’t read your books) if maybe your tagline shouldn’t be: Passionate about History–what does everyone else think? Don’t those three words make you more excited about reading a book than Sultry Romance with an Edge?

      Actually, what does Sultry Romance with an Edge mean? Feels kind of generic, not promising me as a reader an emotional experience, instead it’s more directing me to which section of the bookstore to find your books…..can you FEEL the difference?

      Hope everyone else takes a quick peak at Tracey’s site and comes back to add their comments! This is one area where getting a lot of feedback from strangers (true first impressions) can be quite helpful!

      Hope that helps!
      PS: my site isn’t professional either!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 7:18 am
      • Having read Tracey’s work, I would says it’s edgy for historical romance. Her heroines tend to get into some deep, dark trouble, and Tracey deals with some serious themes. I’m wondering at the possibility of her using “historical” and “edgy” (or another adj) together.

        However, I agree that her website colors are softer than her stories (which ROCK BTW).


        Posted by KelseyBrowning | September 14, 2009, 8:43 am
        • Kelsey,
          Ah, thanks for the explanation–and doesn’t that just illustrate the importance of choosing the right colors/images to fit your brand.

          Which means you need to know the emotional response you’re aiming for BEFORE you talk to a web designer–otherwise, they’ll give you something that looks great but doesn’t work for you. Everything has to work to make that promise to your readers, even one element off and you’ll confuse instead of intrigue them to read more.

          You are right–I didn’t get “edge” at all from Tracey’s site. It would be easy to add some though, just off the top of my head:

          A sword slicing off the head of beautiful flower which is flying through the air (give it energy, motion and you’ll create tension in the viewer) BUT a lovely woman’s hand is there, waiting to catch/rescue/save it

          And add a few traces of an edgy color–maybe bright scarlet to contrast with the muted shades on there?

          Just a few brainstorms, lol, feel free to ignore!

          Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 9:29 am
          • Kelsey, thanks! If my writing rocks, it’s because of my fantastic critique partners, which also happen to be my blogmates. You guys rock!

            CJ, I REALLY appreciate the feedback. I’m saving your good advice for when I do a website overhaul. I don’t think I have your talent with building websites, though, so I’ll leave it to the professionals. I’m being positive that I’ll sell soon. 🙂

            I like your and Kelsey’s suggestions about combining historical and edgy. I’ll noodle this for a while to see if I can come up with something relevant.

            Thanks again. This has been an amazing lecture.

            Posted by Tracey Devlyn | September 14, 2009, 9:05 pm
          • Glad to help! I’m sure you’ll sell soon!

            Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 9:23 pm
  2. Thanks for the great info. I’ve just made my first sale and am paying close attention to marketing info now. I’m currently sitting on a website and blog I made myself.

    Like Tracey, once I get rolling, I’ll need to get a professional to redo everything. I’m not big on taglines. Mine comes from a Chinese saying which translates to “All that you desire” and it’s a common new year’s blessing. It might be fun at some point to put a graphic of that on the website. I think my brand would be a sort of exotic escapism.

    They say I’ll pretty much spend my first advance on promotion, so I want to put it in the right places. Do you think online ads on sites such as Romantic Times are effective? Which ones would you say are musts?

    Thanks again for the great topic!

    Posted by Jeannie Lin | September 14, 2009, 6:23 am
    • Jeannie! Hi there! Congrats on your first sale, that’s wonderful!!!

      I’m going to start with your question first, then we’ll move on to your branding elements. I wouldn’t spend any money on ads until you have your brand firmly established–why? Because until you are certain about what you want the reader to remember you don’t want to confuse them with mixed messages.

      And yes, you are absolutely right to try to research the effectiveness of any one marketing element before spending money! Good for you! Ads by themselves probably won’t sell books–but they may be part of a marketing plan by helping to build name recognition. (that’s a whole other post in itself, lol!)

      If you have the money to add in that element to your marketing plan, great. If not, there’s a lot of ways to get free “advertising”–write a story for RWR and barter it for an ad. Exchange banner links with other writers who share your target audience. Write feature articles for ezines and widely read online news sources ( or Huffington Post are the biggies, but there are others)….you get the drift. Build a complete plan of exposure and only pay for ads to fill in the missing pieces, if you need to.

      Okay, now to your branding. You didn’t say what kind of books you write, so I clicked to your site. I loved your visual images–using purple and indigo immediately made me think dark, sensual romance. And the woman’s image made me think exotic, sensual romance, maybe historical (because of the way she’s posed, evocative of so many historical romances).

      You label yourself as “historical romance” but the welcome page talks about a GH win in historical romance but then you talk about the fantasy world of ancient China, making me wonder (and a bit confused) about what kind of book I’d actually be getting. Then you mention all your meticulous research which adds to the puzzle, because that sounds like work, academic, not as much exotic, sensual romance as what the images promised.

      The first words on your site cement the brand that your images evoke. I’d consider changing them both so they work together.

      Here’s my brainstorming (assuming these are fantasies of ancient China–if not, just use this as an example ): Ancient China is a definite hook, something that sets you apart from sooooooo many other historical, fantasy, romance authors.

      So why not use it? When I think China, I think Red and Gold and Black for colors (is that just me? I think it’s a subliminal thing because of their flag and I always think of that gorgeous, richly red pottery glaze and red silk and red dragons)

      I think using that very specific deep, rich dark red with gold contrast as your colors will promise: China. The female image you chose wears a golden gown, so that already fits, it’s probably just changing the background colors a bit.

      I also think of rich textures when I think of China–maybe your background image could be a photo of rich jacquard silk? And I’d use your tag line both in English as well as the Chinese characters on the left side to balance the photo on the right. Paint them in gold on top of the red background so they seem to feel like they’re floating in air.

      Hmmm…..just with my clumsy description aren’t you starting to FEEL like you’re transported to ancient China, aren’t you just waiting for the romance and adventure to start???

      Now, the words….always the tough part. I’d start by inviting the reader to enter this FANTASY world–in other words, do some worldbuilding in your welcome instead of using the dry, business, almost academic tone you have now.

      Engage all their senses just as you do in your books–let them know right away what you’re offering: an escape into a fantasy of ancient China filled with swordfights and sensuality and adventure and romance, this is a world different from what they can find in other books, so let them know that up front! That’s part of your brand–just like your hook, you’re promising them, All they Desire…..

      Then change your page descriptions so they know they’ll find the research under a tab called something like “The world of ancient China” or just “Ancient China” or China of *** date or dynasty or whatever.

      Don’t break the spell you’ve woven by jumping back into a dry business like tone, keep that magic going!

      Hope that helps!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 7:44 am
      • Lovely suggestions! I’m excited already.

        I think I’ll just paste your description and give it to future web designer. 🙂

        Thanks C.J.

        Posted by Jeannie Lin | September 14, 2009, 8:41 am
        • Glad to help! And I just noticed your avatar–wow, isn’t that giving off exactly the right vibe??? Maybe play off the image that inspired it.

          Have fun,
          CJ, who keeps trying to update her avatar to reflect her current books, but it keeps reverting to the original one…sigh

          Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 9:31 am
          • I love my swordwoman! If I get asked at all about cover art (unlikely), she’s what I’m going to describe.

            Posted by Jeannie Lin | September 14, 2009, 1:25 pm
          • Don’t wait to get asked!!! Send it to your editor with a polite suggestion–or even just a hint, say you’re considering this image for your website and what does she think of it? Will it tie in with the cover art?

            Never hurts!

            Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 3:36 pm
  3. Hi CJ! You make such a common sense point: that your brand should elicit an emotional response as well as promise a subliminal experience throughout your books.

    Well, my tagline’s “Writing On The Edge” and I haven’t blogged in quite awhile as I’m trying to complete MS’s. I’ve started using my pen name, which I decided on because we live in a very small town, my dh’s away on sensitive work, and I didn’t want to compromise his career in any way.

    I want to create an edgey theme, obviously, but my writing “theme” I always seem to come back to is “second chances”. I think that’ll fit whatever genre I’m pubbed in, although right now I’m concentrating on romantic suspense and a bit of paranormal.

    I love your idea of using your covers as much as possible, and the Tshirts. I have a couple shirts I’ve “won” through websites or as thank-yous for reviews and I wear them a lot. I think they’re a great investment as someone’s far more likely to wear one than keep your pen handy in their purse.

    How important do you think having a website with some content on it is *before* you’re published? Do you think agents and editors really check these out when they’re considering you?

    Other than getting your name visible by participating in loops and judging contests, what other things are helpful as you’re struggling to make that first sale?

    thanks for blogging today! “branding” seems to be a mysterious topic and you’ve carved it down to it’s essentials in one simple post. 🙂

    Posted by Milena Edwards | September 14, 2009, 7:03 am
    • Milena,
      Hi there! I think you are very wise to be thinking about how to brand yourself before you’ve sold!

      Having a basic website can be very valuable if you’re at the point where you’re submitting manuscripts.

      It gives potential readers and publishing professionals a chance to “see” you at work–not just the words on the page (which is why you’ll sell your books) but also a peak into the “real” you—now the trick is to control what part of you they see.

      I once visited an unpublished writer’s website that had an opening page filled with her boasting about contest wins and finals–by comparing her work to the other contestants! It was so narcissistic and egotistical that I was immediately turned off–she’d actually went to the others websites and where available read their work and then critiqued it on her site, complaining about why she should have won and they should have lost, etc…..then there was a whole page of a diatribe against contest judges!

      If I was an agent or editor I wouldn’t buy her even if she was the next Nora! Who’d want to work with someone so unprofessional?

      Build your web presence now by keeping in mind that what you say on the web lives FOREVER!!!! Even if you delete something it’s never really gone and can come back to haunt you.

      So take control of your brand (including your personae) and start building it now. That will give you time to polish it so you’re ready when you get that publishing contract in hand!

      Leave people with an impression of a professional who enjoys reading, loves what they write, is knowledgable about the industry, and loves interacting with readers and you’ll be a hit!

      As far as specific content, that depends on where your comfort zone is. I never mention my family on my site–but I am very generous with providing free content by posting my articles and interviews. I’m not comfortable reviewing other writers’ books–but I do monthly feature articles about other writers and link those on my site.

      Ask yourself where your strengths lie and use those.

      Have fun with it!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 7:56 am
      • Thank you so much, CJ! I know what colours I want (and don’t want), but until I sell one of these MS’s floating around , I can’t really get in to a specific style till I know which direction it’s going in. I have some great ideas on pics and icons, but again, it’s going to depend on what sells. So, I guess I should compromise a bit.
        And I loved your advice to Jeannie Lin! What tremendous power any of those incorporations will give to Jeannie. All of your advice to everyone is special and helpful. Yes, you’re a great teacher! And I’ve taken most of your classes and have them printed out in binders. 🙂
        I’ll keep reading them till I pull that first sale out of a hat! Thanks again.

        Posted by Milena Edwards | September 14, 2009, 11:34 am
        • Milena,
          Don’t worry about which ms you sell–you can always go back and change everything to suit. But definitely go ahead and brand yourself now–you know which emotional chords you’re tugging on in your stories, use them to make others remember you.

          Good luck,

          Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 11:53 am
  4. Hi, CJ and thank you for being here. I’m curious how you juggle your writing and workshops. Do you have a schedule you stick to each day?

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | September 14, 2009, 7:12 am
  5. Hi Adrienne!!! Thanks again for inviting me, what a fun day!

    Schedule???? Stick to it???? Gosh, no–I’m a seat of the pants writer and never keep track of word count, don’t write at the same time every day, have no schedule, and GASP! don’t even write every day!!! Although I am always thinking about my writing.

    After 17 years practicing medicine where I was at the beck and call 24/7 and had to follow a rigid schedule, now that I’m writing full time, I just do what I want, when I want it.

    It works for me–although I’m still a fast writer (especially with a deadline, lol!) honestly I did write even faster while I was still juggling medicine and writing–I had no choice. But now it’s nice to take my time and enjoy myself!

    After all, if I’m not having fun, how can I expect a reader to find my work enjoyable?

    Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 8:00 am
  6. Hi CJ…

    Thanks for posting – what information you have! wow! I’m currently building my website – and tagline. =) Couple of questions – I write romantic comedy and my tagline is Smart Ass Romance. Too offensive? lol….I can see where it certainly can be…and yes, I’m just playing with it at the moment…my test headers are at
    I definitely want to use the color orange, it’s my absolute favorite. I love bright colors, neon even. Anyways, those are a couple of the headers I worked on this weekend, before I knew you were going to do this!
    Also, I am definitely pre-published. Haven’t submitted even yet, but that is going to change in the next month. Yikes. So I am going to get this website up and running. Other question is the domain name. is taken…but ccspencer and carriecaespencer are both open…I am thinking of buying both – any ideas on that one? or should i buy
    lol..just a few minor questions!



    Posted by carrie | September 14, 2009, 8:31 am
    • Carrie,
      Hi there!!! First, can I just say that I love the energy you’re showing? That vibe will definitely translate to readers!!!

      I love the colors you chose for your second graphic example–bright orange and neon purple. Those are almost opposite colors on the color wheel and thus by combining them you automatically create a tension in your reader.

      (This is why Lowe’s competitor Home Depot chose to use orange as their branding color–it’s a direct opposite of Lowe’s blue brand. And why Pepsi is blue and Coke is red)

      Whenever you create tension visually you also generate energy and anticipation–it’s NOT the same ole, same ole, so we’re visually primed for something new and different and exciting.

      Your tag line certainly provides that! And I liked the tongue in cheek second graphic of a donkey’s ass that you added……now, here’s the thing you’ll need to decide–and only you can decide this because you know your books and their target audience–how much is too much?

      There’s a spectrum here. Say it starts with sour-puss on one extreme and goes to in-your-face offensive on the other extreme.

      Where’s smart ass fit on that spectrum? Definitely past the midline for older or more conservative readers but maybe right on the midline for younger readers.

      Who’s your audience–everything you do isn’t about YOU but about THEM, making a promise to them and keeping it, immediately revealing what kind of book you write (via your brand) so they know if it’s the kind of book they may like.

      And here’s where it gets way subtle and there’s no right answer–if you played with the tag line and removed the word “smart ass” would the image alone, via that cute donkey, carry the emotion you want to evoke?

      Or vice-versa? Are the words alone enough and the image not needed?

      Or do you need them both????

      I love the idea of having a graphic image you can make into your own icon–you could use it on everything! Stationary, biz cards, bookplates, etc.

      But it’s up to you to decide on your readers and what they’ll respond best to. No right or wrong answers–and it may take some trial and error.

      As for web domains, get the one closest to the name you’ll be using on the books. If you write under cc spencer that’s fine, but don’t get it if you’re using carrie spencer as your penname. Instead go for or or

      You’re striving for name recognition here–you want your readers to put your name into their memory, so don’t mess with it because they won’t remember more than one name. Adding a neutral word like books or author doesn’t mess with your name–it distinguishes you from the carrie spencers who aren’t authors or don’t write books.

      Does that make sense?

      Best of luck–looks like you’re on the right track!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 8:48 am
      • Everything isn’t about me? wow…what a concept…=) lol….
        thanks for the input…I almost wish I could have 3 different websites….one for each name, and each one a different writing style….but I have enough on my hands just trying to put ONE together!
        Anyways – thanks so much for your (fast) input! I’ll definitely keep your words in mind while trying to decide!


        Posted by carrie | September 14, 2009, 9:20 am
  7. Hi CJ –

    Wonderful post! And thank you for putting so much time into answers for our commenters today.

    I had a website ( created about a year and a half ago, and although I’m happy with it overall, I haven’t really created a tag line to go with it. Currently, I write contemporaries and have a paranormal series I’ve started. So you can see I’m already struggling with brand :). Do you have any suggestions for branding when an author writes in more than one sub-genre? Perhaps branding her voice?


    Posted by KelseyBrowning | September 14, 2009, 8:39 am
    • Hi Kelsey!!!

      Ah boy, the headaches of cross-genre!!! I hear you!!!

      I went to your site–very clean, energetic colors across the top, but the most dynamic part and the one that fits your brand of “romantic comedy with a Southern sizzle” is your photo.

      It’s perfect–you look like you’re having a great time at the beach, so we think fun, Southern sizzle just from the image.

      Now, how to translate that into paranormal? It depends. If your paranormals share elements of any of: Romantic, Comedy, Southern, Sizzle (think Venn diagram) then focus on that element–pick the most specific one possible.

      For instance, if the only thing they have in common is the romance (the most general element) then you might actually need to think about creating a alter-ego paranormal personae with their own name, brand and website.

      But if the comedy, southern, or sizzle factors are shared (or any combo) those are all very specific and can be evoked by the same visuals so you can combine the two elements (contemp and paranormal) into one brand.

      Let’s say both have sizzling sex and tons of humor. So for colors we’ll seize upon the word sizzle–we have the colors of both Hell (paranormal) and a backyard BBQ (contemp), we can use lots of different shades (in fun combos) of yellow, orange, blue, purple–all colors of flames (notice I’m avoiding red, why? Because it’s too serious for you and it’s overdone in paranormals, it’s almost cliche)

      Your site wouldn’t be the dark, dark paranormal website of someone like Christine Feehan, no your site is where the Fun-loving vamps (or whatever paranormal character) come to play–and where their readers come to have fun as well.

      Keep it light and breezy–a page on fun facts about dating the undead alongside your contemporary heroine’s 10 Clues that You’re Dating a Momma’s boy advice column.

      See where the contrast between contemp and paranormal actually INCREASE your brand awareness in your reader? Why? Because they fulfill the same EMOTIONAL promise, so that’s where you concentrate your efforts.

      Let me know if that makes any sense at all!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 8:59 am
      • CJ – this is great stuff. Thank you! I guess if I had to pinpoint the true common denominator, it would be the “sizzle.” That and my characters tend to have a wry sense of humor. Tracey & Adrienne might have something to say about all this, but I think my readers would get a lot of the same emotional satisfaction regardless if they were reading my contemps or my paranormals.

        I love the idea of using flame colors that aren’t the norm! I can’t justify a re-vamp (no pun intended, I promise!) on my site right now, but I’m going to give this lots of thought and see if I can add to what I have online to hit my brand a little better.

        Thank you again, CJ!

        Posted by KelseyBrowning | September 14, 2009, 11:45 am
  8. Hi, CJ.

    Great post. I’ve taken a few of your classes – some twice! I have a brand and a new website, both partly born from what I’ve learned from you.

    Thanks so much.

    I’m counting the days until October 27th!

    Would love your thoughts if you have the time.
    Lucie J.

    Posted by Lucie J. Charles | September 14, 2009, 8:41 am
    • Lucie,
      Hi again! Good to see you–and thanks so much for the kind words! Can you tell I love teaching? That’s why it’s part of my brand

      Okay, I looked at your site–immediately it evoked the impression of mists–then saw you write about psychics, so that’s perfect! Also loved the way you highlighted your middle initial so folks don’t confuse you with other Lucie Charles out there!

      What I’d love to see in your site is more specificity–I think you feel the same way because you actually already made a list on your home page telling folks 10 things they can expect to find in a book written by you!!!

      Brilliant! But, instead of cold, sterile words on a page, can we translate the list into more specifics (many of them are rather generic and can be found in almost any mystery) and more importantly translate them into visuals???

      In other words, SHOW not TELL–jsut as powerful in branding as in our books, lol!

      What images/colors/textures pop into your mind when you think psychics? Or when you think Gemini Women, the title of your series?

      Instead of the plain grey background and the photos of generic books, use those more specific images…..when I saw the title Gemini Women, the images that flit through my mind were more of shrouds of mist over a verdant green landscape and lake (green, water = gemini to me–not sure if that’s accurate astrologically, but that’s where my mind goes), I’m thinking twins, two women sharing something mysterious and powerful, sensual but not necessarily erotic, more intriguing because there’s an unknown forces at play….something out of the ordinary–the opposite of generic, just like your psychics are!

      Now, that’s just my flight of fancy–it may not actually fit your stories at all. I’d try shuffling, very fast, through some website image compliations and start marking the ones that speak to you, that evoke the same emotions you want your books to.

      You might end up with black and white “ghost” photos or richly sensual abstract art or Victorian era images of spiritualists or…..anything!!! As long as it’s as specific to your work as possible and evokes the emotion you want in your readers.

      Go, do some google image searches and have fun with it!!! You might be surprised where it takes you!

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 9:15 am
  9. Thanks, CJ. I appreciate your time and your wisdom!
    Lucie J.

    Posted by Lucie J. Charles | September 14, 2009, 9:24 am
  10. CJ – Good to “see” you. We met on Isle of Palms a few years ago. I’m the perfect example of the barefoot shoemaker’s child. I’m a professional marketer who has trouble zeroing in on my own brand. I write historical romance, currently featuring 14th century royal bastards, but I don’t want to limit my brand to that hook or time period and may branch into straight historical down the road.
    Things I care about/write about:
    -the history is very important to me. I want readers to really feel as if they have experienced the time period and I get good marks from reviewers for hitting a good blend of history and romance.
    -I write dark, angsty, emotional stuff. Wounded heros. Characters who betray each other. Not light and fluffy! (Though there’s always the humor of the human condition.)
    -My books tend to deal with issues of gender, sexuality, law, politics, and religion. There’s always something else going on in addition to the romance.
    Any thoughts or insights welcome! I know my website needs an update: My current “line” is Intense. Emotional. Authentic.

    Posted by Blythe Gifford | September 14, 2009, 10:06 am
    • Blythe, hi there! Of course I remember you!!!

      And most importantly–I remember your books! Why? Because your publisher has done a very nice job of branding you!!! Yeah!!

      I agree that your website doesn’t reflect that brand–you use a bright (on my screen) modernish colored backgrounds and very modern buttons.

      Why not borrow some of the lavish imagery from your covers and incorporate that onto your site? That way it will say “historical” without limiting you to romance or any one period?

      And for dark, emotional material, I’d go with a darker, emotionally evocative background–perhaps a lush green (don’t know why but I associate dark green with historical times–remnant of a childhood growing up with Robin Hood???) broken up by an edgy glint of silver–like an ominous marbling???

      Something to evoke both the past and the peril of the period. But be careful you don’t go too moody (keep away from grey and brown) or too thrillerish, again look at your cover art and relevant images (thank goodness for Google image!!!) and play with your emotional response to the photos–look for photos that reflect your themes and your characters then steal some of the colors and motifs that give that same emotional impact.

      And, since your tag line consists of adjectives that other writers could also use to describe their work (heck, they’d fit my own contemp thrillers, wouldn’t they?) why not personalize them to YOU by using specific images (or an image) that SHOW the reader what you mean by “intense, emotional, authentic” in YOUR world.

      Not easy but it can be fun and well worth the time!!!

      Hope that helps,

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 10:31 am
  11. Thanks for your thoughts, CJ! Appreciate the perspective. Lots to think about!

    Posted by Blythe Gifford | September 14, 2009, 11:19 am
  12. Hey Cj this blog was recommended to me by a critique partner. I am currently sending out my finished ms to agents and editors, editing my second and writing my third. I’m hoping to really nail down my theme which I think is drama, adventure with a dose of strong heroines throughout history. There’ve always been those exceptions throughout history and that’s what I’m shooting for I guess. My writing tends to lean a lot toward’s Marsha Canham type, if you’ve read her. Her writing is very adventurous and vivid. My website is it’s a free site but I’ll be getting my own domain name soon hopefully.
    Loved your blog, its very informative and it’s given me plenty to think about.

    Posted by Melissa Dawn Harte | September 14, 2009, 11:35 am

    Hello CJ

    What a wonderful article and answers. I tend to find this subject daunting, but your descriptions make finding a personal brand seem like a possible liminal entelechy at gloaming, in an auspicious way..

    I am writing four novels that stand alone, and also have some of the same character’s in each book. The one I’m working on now is about a storyteller who ends up inside the story she tells, and has to learn to speak a language that has been forgotten- in order to free herself from being trapped in a world with a sexy trickster who only sometimes means her well. My novels take place in Scotland.

    Now my website is about Yoga, Tarot, Astrology and Meditation which I teach and offer classes on. The blog on that site, duende and desire is, a bit, all over the place.

    My other blog, Aisling’s Nano Novel, above, is also a bit wayward, quirky and clearly belongs to laurel, aisling and all.

    I’ve also used more than three online names during nano and other writerly things I’ve joined.

    Like you use your being a doctor, perhaps it is wise to use the tarot, astrology, yoga or meditation teacher part of me. I called myself a Transformational Counselor to try to bring all four together. I’d prefer not to have to add Tarot into my novels, but if it would help I am willing to. I have taught many kinds of classes and enjoy teaching and speaking. I like to imagine classes combining all kinds of subjects. Tarot and Writing a Short Story followed by yoga and wine tasting, (grin) or whatever.

    Words that describe my novels are quirky, poetic, magickal, sometimes erotic or, at least, sensual. I am not terribly logical and intuition and the celtic lands are nourishing to me. I like to blend worlds together and I’m not sure Magical Realism is what it is called, Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Labyrinthian interweaving stories.

    I once wrote the line “I write to save lives, perhaps mine.”


    Thanks so much for being here. Any focusing tips, or any tips at all are greatly appreciated.

    I so want to make the writing work for me and to have this be the main focus of my life.

    Kind regards

    Laurel and all

    Posted by Laurel Kahaner | September 14, 2009, 11:37 am
    • Laurel,
      I think you actually have a very, very clear idea what your brand is–you’re just trying too hard to label it, lol!

      Not an easy thing for us intuitives to do!

      Love, love, love the “I write to save lives, perhaps my own.”

      To me that line evokes spirituality, humility, a feeling of how awe-inspiring and magical the universe can be if we open ourselves up to it….and isn’t that what you do with all of your four professions???

      So instead of working to afix a label to it, why not instead think of focusing what you have?

      Like posing a question for Tarot, if you ask a vague question you get a muddy answer, ask a focused question and the answer is like music, hitting chords and sparking new ideas.

      (BTW, I use Tarot, I Ching, and astrology for plotting and character development )

      What images inspire you? Haunting misty images that feel ethereal? High fantasy Maxfield Parrish images with vivid color? Gentle landscapes (set in Scotland, you have a myriad of possibilities–morning fog over a field of heather with craggy mountains jutting up beyond)? Or maybe all the wonderful, magical shades of wine….I could spend hours just staring at a glass of clear, Beaujolais, that gorgeous, indescribable color that you can taste!

      Whatever rings true for you–focus on that, keep it clear and simple.

      But as part of that focus (if you’re striving to write as a career) do try to keep one writing name and use that everytime you post about your writing–that way when you do sell people will associate that one name with your books and remember it.

      Ask them to remember four names? Much, much tougher on your audience–keep it simple for them

      Hope that helps!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 12:08 pm
      • Hi CJ

        Thank you for your wonderful response.

        I think you actually have a very, very clear idea what your brand is–you’re just trying too hard to label it, lol!


        Really, I’m still mystified. What is it that you are seeing that I am not, yet seeing?


        Not an easy thing for us intuitives to do!

        Love, love, love the “I write to save lives, perhaps my own.”


        I’m so glad. Thank you. Your words are nourishing and make me smile.

        To me that line evokes spirituality, humility, a feeling of how awe-inspiring and magical the universe can be if we open ourselves up to it….and isn’t that what you do with all of your four professions???


        So instead of working to afix a label to it, why not instead think of focusing what you have?

        I almost understand what you are saying. I so wish to understand/innerstand what you are communicating. Are you suggesting I ask the Tarot to help me focus? I’ve been pulling the Tower, the Exciting Intelligence, a great deal this year. How do you use Tarot in creating your wonderful characters and novels? Also Alchemy fascinates me. I can’t believe I forgot to mention that. My background is in Jungian Psychology and I find Alchemical metaphors help so very much in containment, distillation, calcinatio and all.


        Like posing a question for Tarot, if you ask a vague question you get a muddy answer, ask a focused question and the answer is like music, hitting chords and sparking new ideas.

        very very true.
        I taught a class, once on Quest ions, asking clear ones.(grin). I’m still not sure how to clearly focus what I am and what I do. It would blooming help to be able to, I must say.

        (BTW, I use Tarot, I Ching, and astrology for plotting and character development )

        Love that you speak these languages that I love to speak. How do you use them in your work?


        What images inspire you? Haunting misty images that feel ethereal? High fantasy Maxfield Parrish images with vivid color? Gentle landscapes (set in Scotland, you have a myriad of possibilities–morning fog over a field of heather with craggy mountains jutting up beyond)? Or maybe all the wonderful, magical shades of wine….I could spend hours just staring at a glass of clear, Beaujolais, that gorgeous, indescribable color that you can taste!

        **I am inspired by your description of wine. I love the wild vast beauty of a Scotland sky with a woman who is both quirky and has a shadow element, like the ‘perfume smells strongest just before a storm.” nuance woven into the Alchemical Mix. I have a fair amount of Scorpio in my star map and dealing with Pluto’s themes has to be part of the gentler quirky magick, at least that is how I imagine the unfolding now.

        Whatever rings true for you–focus on that, keep it clear and simple.

        Yes to clear and simple, but how? Blimey. Toasting to clear and simple, an Alchemical Recipe I clearly need.

        But as part of that focus (if you’re striving to write as a career) do try to keep one writing name and use that everytime you post about your writing–that way when you do sell people will associate that one name with your books and remember it.

        I will. I think I used so many initially is because I was not sure it wise for the eventual readers of my books to see posts like this one, where I am a wee bit lost in a labyrinth, but not, I think, a maze.

        Ask them to remember four names? Much, much tougher on your audience–keep it simple for them

        Hope that helps!

        Definitely helps..
        Thank you again.

        One of my favorite quotes that I did not come up with is

        “The essence of anything that grows is as much an exposure to as an arising from.” Kerenyi


        You are greatly appreciated.



        Posted by Laurel Kahaner | September 14, 2009, 12:31 pm
        • Laurel,
          Feel how even in your question and response your energy is scattering all over the page (I soooo understand, I’m the same way!) When I say focus, I mean for you to sit still and think long and hard about why you write….if it helps to ask the Tarot, that’s great.

          I think, though, that you’ve already answered when you said: “I write to save lives, perhaps my own.”

          You might consider using that as your tag line, even. To me that evokes a feeling that your stories would have rich, deep layers to them; that beyond the plot there would be hidden meanings unveiled to the characters; and that there would be a spirituality in your voice. Not unlike some of the magical realism out there.

          If that is true, then how can we represent those rather slippery concepts in visual images?

          If Tarot was a recurring element, you’d have it easy–use Tarot imagery. But since it isn’t, you need to think about what colors speak to you and are reflected in your writing? Or maybe it’s an absence of color–the meditation of an Ansel Adams photo rather than the technicolor of a Kandisky.

          That’s where you need to focus and make some decisions–but relax! you’re not locked in. Your emotional brand will stay the same, but how you represent it (colors, imagery) can change as you change!

          Play with it!

          As for how I use these tools in my writing–if I’m stuck on a decision for a character I’ll throw the I-ching, if I need help plotting I may use the Tarot (because it goes forward and back in time, just like a plot) or I may use Tarot to represent a character’s journey. I often use enneagrams, Myers-Briggs or astrology for character personality traits.

          Really, anything that keeps my scattered brain focused, I’ll use!!!

          Hope that helps!

          Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 12:50 pm
          • Hi CJ,

            Got it, thank you!

            Liminal Entelechy with Laurel

            “I write to save lives, perhaps mine.”

            The colors are all underwater colors with just enough quicksilver. It will feel like you are diving into the world of my books, and being pleasurably transformed in the diving. Welcome to Liminal lands. (a welcoming grin)

            Thank you


            Posted by Laurel Kahaner | September 14, 2009, 1:48 pm
          • Brilliant, Laurel! Love the imagery!

            Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 1:50 pm
  14. Hi, CJ! Thanks for all your input. I’ve been reading what you’ve posted to others and have to dive in here too. I’m not published in romantic suspense, but that’s what I’m writing now. A friend decided I needed a website and with some suggestions from me, she put it up on my host last spring. Then moved to another state before she had time to even show me how to make changes to it. I’m going to have to teach myself, but I’m concentrating on my writing now. The website is at And it highlights the next trilogy I want to write. I’ve gone back to another story now that is set in Portland, OR, and features a PI. So I definitely need to make some changes. I’m not even sure the colors are working for what I want.

    I’ll see you in Albuquerque! I’m looking forward to the retreat.


    Posted by Barbara Rae Robinson | September 14, 2009, 11:39 am
    • Hi Barb!!! Thanks for stopping by!

      When I look at your current site I don’t see Portland PI, lol! I see lots of sharp edges and colors that are bright (and clash on my monitor, but maybe my colors are off). Moving to the words, they’re curly script and hard to read.

      Not getting romance or suspense–mainly my attention finally focused on the pix of the Greek artifacts.

      So, hmmm….looks like for you we need to look beyond the “facts” that make up your fiction (Greek artifacts, Portland) and go for a harmonious emotional vibe.

      Your tag–go over the edge definitely lends itself to suspense (and romance if you think about it–kind of a sexy double entendre) but I wouldn’t use the other words, “sub-tag” to explain it. Let the reader fill in the gaps with their visual impressions.

      Which is why the color and images are so vital. Show not tell.

      I’d consider ditching the denim background and choose colors that are edgy without being hard to read. Shades of blue probably aren’t very edgy–but, now, this is just a brainstorm, so please don’t take it as gospel!–if your stories use ancient Greece and some of them use Portland (a rather noirish locale), maybe instead of finding colors you need to look at using anti-color???

      Shades of grey punctuated with black and sepia (like a Grecian urn) and ivory–evoke the past as well as the present and the shadows that need to be unveiled before solving a mystery…not to mention the rain and fog Portland is known for, lol!

      Just a thought! But black and white and shades of grey can also be very sexy if done right (think old movies, can you imagine anything sexier than some of those scenes–and they never translate into color) as well as suspenseful.

      Again, play with it–come up with a clear idea of what you want and what’s right for your books and your brand, THEN go to the web designer.

      For a great “achromatic” site check out

      Alex’s site creates a very suspenseful, hair on the back of your neck standing on end, vibe–and that’s exactly what her books deliver! And she does it with almost no color at all!

      Hope that helps!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 12:22 pm
    • Barb,
      I had this long answer for you but looks like it vanished! Sorry, I told you I’m a cyberklutz

      I’ll try to re-create it. When I go to your site my immediate impression was one of confusion–mixed signals. The denim background with a soft, teal but then bright red curly letters didn’t give me a clear idea of what kind of site I was visiting. The greek artifacts helped a little–but don’t fit with a Portland PI book

      And none of it says romance or suspense. So before you redesign the site, take some time to choose every element to reflect your brand.

      Crisp clear fonts. Colors that would fit a suspense about Greek artifacts or a Portland PI novel–in fact, you might want to think about NOT using color!

      A “atonal” site–like this one:

      Alex uses very little color and still evokes a ton of emotion with her site–by using shades of ivory and/or grey you could do the same and it would be harmonious with Greek artifacts and/or a misty Portland day.

      Hope that helps!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 1:08 pm
  15. I don’t see my comment here. Did it vanish?

    Posted by Laurel Kahaner | September 14, 2009, 11:44 am
  16. CJ, so good to *see* you here. I love what you have to say about branding and you’ve done it so well. Will you be at the South Carolina Master Class again this year? Hope to see you there!

    Posted by Misa Ramirez | September 14, 2009, 11:54 am
  17. This is a wonderful post! Thank you.

    I’m going to have to pick up a Blythe Gifford book because hers sound a lot like mine! My books are dramatic medievals with a strong adventure element. I’m getting kudos from readers on my use of history, particularly my incorporation of real historical figures as secondary characters. I’m told my complex plots, colorful secondary characters, use of humor, and strong heroines are also strengths. My editor thinks my heros are the big draw; I write about half of each book from the hero’s POV.

    I have been lucky with my cover art, and I love my website banner, both of which I’ve been usuing in my promo stuff. I do wonder, however, about my tagline and about my brand in general. Also, blogging and tweeting present a delimma for me. I know these are important, but the voice is so different from my books that it can’t be reinforcing my brand. I’m not sure what to do about that.

    I’d love to hear any thoughts or suggestions you may have.
    Thanks so much!

    Margaret Mallory
    Tales of Love & Adventure
    Knight of Desire-4 Stars, RT Book Reviews
    Knight of Pleasure-Nov 24, 2009

    Posted by Margaret Mallory | September 14, 2009, 12:00 pm
    • Margaret, Hi there!

      You’re right, your website especially the banner, really captures your brand perfectly!!!

      I agree you might want to tighten that tag line–It’s very obvious visually that these are historical romances, so you can delete that (your images are more powerful than the words, so don’t detract from them).

      What makes your tales of love and adventure different from any other romance writer? Those words are kind of generic–can we nail down some specifics? Maybe focus on your heroes since they’re your strength?

      Are they alpha males? Chilvarous knights? Scoundrels with a heart of gold? What makes them special? Why do your readers fall in love with them?

      Maybe that would make a good starting place? Play word association and brainstorm a bit–ask friends who’ve read your books (not writers, but readers) to tell you what they liked best and why. See if that sparks an unifying idea.

      Now, as to social media networking, don’t try to write like you do in your books–those sites like facebook and twitter are like the extra bonus DVD content on a favorite movie. There the actors aren’t acting, they’re being theirselves (well….not really—they’re acting like they want you to think they act when the camera is off–displaying their public personnae)

      As a writer you want to do the same. Just like the words on your website aren’t couched in ancient dialect, keep your social networking personae the same.

      Tweet or blog about the cool new research site you found or blog on how often people changed their underwear way back when or how long it takes to forge a sword or don armor…..don’t blog about your cat–unless your cat inspired a fictional cat in your books (like mine did, lol–so I’ve actually been invited to several cat blogs to talk about my cat!)

      See the difference? It’s not all about YOU (which is why I skip 90% of the tweets I get) it’s about what you can give to your READER that is unique, value added content–stuff they can’t get anywhere else, stuff that’d they’d pay extra for on a Director’s Cut DVD

      And of course, only use social networking if you’re comfortable with opening those doors–play to your strengths and have fun!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 12:38 pm
  18. Hi CJ,

    I am really enjoying all of the insight you have about building your brand. It kind of made me realize just how important it really is. I am currently working on building my website and after reading your suggestions I really want to make sure mine reflects my style.

    I have a novella coming out next month as well as a couple of manuscripts that I am doing the final edits on that are aimed at the Blaze line. All of my books tend to be fairly HOT! but they also have a pretty strong message in them as well. I worked in the child protection field for several years so I am pretty passionate about that and as a result my characters reflect that passion. One book’s main character is DEA agent another book’s main character works at an inner city youth center.

    The heat is definitely always paramount but so is the importance of strong character and the power of the family. I think what makes my books a bit different than others, but all similar in my own style, is somewhere in each book I have that key person who cared enough to help shape the main character into who they are. That aspect always seems to be pretty big in all the books.I don’t know if that all makes sense which is probably why I am having trouble coming up with a good tagline. LOL.

    Any suggestions or input you can offer me would be greatly appreciated. I am struggling on making the connection on the website since the family part makes me think of wispy, flowery stuff and the passion/heat elicits a whole different response.


    Posted by Lauren | September 14, 2009, 12:37 pm
    • Hi Lauren!!!

      I love sexy with a message–good for you!!! Because come on, what’s more sexy than the sight of a guy without his shirt on sleeping with a baby on his chest???

      If that’s the kind of vibe you’re going for, that nothing’s sexier than a guy you can trust to be a family man vibe, then you can definitely combine that to make a powerful website without being preachy (which I agree, you want to avoid).

      Now for a tag line, hmmm….that’s a bit harder. Maybe a twist on the old “a good man is hard to find” joke? There are a few directions you could take that in, depending how raunchy you want to get.

      Or put a spin on home and hearth/family–that would be unexpected and stick with readers.

      Hmmm…or maybe, since your books deal with some painful, edgy issues, use the metaphor of love as a crucible–passion that burns true?

      Again, brainstorm with friends who’ve read the books, start making a list of words–free associate–and I’ll bet you come up with something that fits!

      Good luck,

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 1:02 pm
  19. Hi, CJ! Wow, this is such a fantastic service you’re providing here, thank you! I’ve found your responses to everyone truly insightful. This topic is one that I struggle with. I’m not yet published, but I do want to work on getting my brand ready for prime time now.

    I have several WIPs, but the one I am committed to completing is an historical romantic fantasy series (vs fantasy romance; it’s not quite true to the rules of a “real” romance, but still very romantic) opening in medieval times and spanning over 1000 years to modern day. My characters are witches and shapeshifters, but not in the modern, edgy paranormal sense, more the historical, mystical sense. My tagline is “Romance Through the Ages.”

    I’ve created a little do-it-yourself website through Homestead, but am having one done professionally now. The Homestead site is nice (I’m ridiculously proud of it, actually, since I’ve never done anything like that before), but it turned out to be too limiting, as their “super advanced” and expandable features are not compatible with my Mac. I love the colors, the roses and the castle pictures, but I have no idea what my “brand” is, so any insight you can give would be very much appreciated.

    My stories, regardless of time period or genre, all seem to revolve around heroines who are overcoming something – the death of a spouse or child, abuse of some sort, or just being held back from discovering who they really are, finding their personal strengths so they are free to love and trust their hearts to the right men. When my hero and heroine commit to each other, it’s because the heroine has learned she can stand on her own (usually through a dark and dangerous battle between good and evil!), but chooses to share her life, love and partnership. She can be swept away, and often is, LOL, but she wants and allows it, she doesn’t NEED it. If that makes sense.

    I write because I love it, but what I would like to “get” out of being published someday is to know that I’ve made a difference for someone. I would love to know that a reader was so transported, as I have been by my own favorite authors, that they temporarily forgot their problems or escaped their day-to-day for a little romantic vacation, that they received real pleasure from something I was able to put out there. That would be the greatest accomplishment I can think of, and the highest compliment. I want to engage ALL their emotions – make them laugh, weep, cheer or sink into a sensual romantic haze. Passion. Eternal love.

    My crit partners have called my writing “lyrical” and if I had to pick a few words to describe the feeling I am going after, they would be: lush, layered, romantic, historical, regal, elegant, sensual, magical, passionate, intelligent.

    I also tend to go on way too long, sorry! “Trim it!” is the refrain in my crit group. 🙂

    Thank you so much for blogging here today and for any insights you might have for me. The responses you’ve given to everyone have been inspiring!

    All the best,
    Chassily Wakefield

    Posted by Chassily Wakefield | September 14, 2009, 1:28 pm
    • Chassily,
      Great job on your site! Your books sound wonderful (as have everyone’s here today–my TBR pile is going to be brimming over!!!)

      I would say that your site feels very “historic” and not very “fantasical”–it’s hard lines and edges and a modern photo of an ancient castle.

      I’d love to see your new design incorporate some lyricism into it, just as your writing has.

      And your tag line is rather generic–any historical author could use it, right?

      How could we find some power words to give the impression of ageless love, magical worlds of fantasy, a sense of history???

      How’s this? Here are a few words from your comment that came to mind (this is just me, you do this yourself, you know your work best!):


      Can we play with any of them to create a new tag line? Sure, why not?

      Here are a few off the bat:

      Join the Quest for Eternal Love

      Where Magic is Real and Love is Eternal

      The Power of Magic Meets the Power of Love

      See what I’m playing at??? Go, have fun–I think you’re definitely headed in the right direction already!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 1:40 pm
      • Thank you, CJ! Those are great ideas. I especially like “Where Magic is Real and Love is Eternal” that might just be The One right there! And I definitely agree about the website, you hit the nail on the head, not to be too cliched about it, LOL. It needs the fantasy, lyrical elements in it. My designer is pretty awesome (and very patient with me, I’ve been a major pain about it all!), so I’m hopeful we’ll come up with something terrific.

        Thanks for your time!

        Posted by Chassily Wakefield | September 14, 2009, 2:03 pm
  20. Hi ~
    Thank you so much for letting us pick your brain. I have a beginner’s question. My first book is being published in December (and haven’t sold my second one yet), so I don’t have much information to share on a website. Do you have any words of wisdom about how to keep it interesting with limited content? I’m at . Thank you so much!

    Posted by Christi Barth | September 14, 2009, 1:43 pm
    • Christi,
      Congrats on the sale and your first book!!! I love your site–you definitely have done a good job of branding yourself.

      A few suggestions–if your book is out in Dec, you should have cover art–get it up there in as many places as possible along with links to pre-order.

      Also a few lines of description on your home page about the book would be helpful–maybe the first paragraph (or a slight reworking so it doesn’t feel stale) that you use on the book page?

      As for added content: You can add an excerpt, helpful links to writing topics or research sites, an insightful essay on your road to publication with suggestions for other writers, interviews with your characters….really anything you want.

      The idea is for readers to feel like they’d have something to come back to in the future (and thus, you also get a chance to let them know about future books!)

      Don’t stress too much on it–you’ve done a great job already and once you start to get reviews and interviews, etc, you can always post those.

      Good luck!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 1:56 pm
  21. Ooooh, Timeless Men of Honor. I like it! I hope it isn’t too late to change. I only have one book out, but I’ve done a number of ads and sent out a lot of postcards & bookmarks. On the other hand, the art is probably much more memorable than the “Tales of Love & Adventure” tag line. 😉
    Thanks so much for the great advice and the suggestion for a new tag line. 🙂

    Posted by Margaret Mallory | September 14, 2009, 2:02 pm
  22. Thank, C J, for this absolutely fantastic post and Q & A series. They’ve given me so much to think about. I’m a hopeful medieval romance writer (Blythe and Margaret–love your books), but have yet to take the website plunge.

    After reading this, I think I’d best get it going.

    Posted by Barb Huddleston | September 14, 2009, 2:50 pm
  23. Your post is very informative. Thank you. I tried branding – but haven’t quite got it right yet. But it’s still a work in progress for me. “Tales that transport you to other times and unknown places” is almost too long for a tag line but it’s what I’ve been using. As for my web space, finances forced me to back down from a website to a wordpress blog, but it’s working okay so far.

    Posted by Vicky Burkholder | September 14, 2009, 3:02 pm
    • Hey Vicky! Love the idea that connects your writing–tales that transport….why not just shorten it to that? Let the reader fill in the gaps with your visuals?

      Even the free wordpress blogs allow for a lot of individualization if you choose the right template–pick one that lets you add your own image then create an image (or montage of images) that illustrate the wonderful times and places you create in your books.

      And….you know I’m gonna say it….have fun with it!!!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 3:22 pm
  24. Hi CJ,

    I really appreciate all your help to those of us starting out with our marketing. As someone starting out is fantastic to have not only someone experience to learn from but to interact with. It’s nice to have someone’s guidance from the very beginning of my brand. It gives me a great place to start from. I appreciate all your time you are devoting to the rest of us.

    I’ve been writing for my entire life but I am only now starting to get serious about being published. I haven’t started to brand and I don’t have a website yet, but I am starting to think about what I can do to market myself. I have completed several works and have even more ideas, but I seem to be all over the place, medieval, regency, contemporary, paranormal, etc…Yet each one of my novel has either an internal or external conflict of following your heart or dreams. Of being the person that you wish to be and not letting others determine who that is.

    Along with this commonality all my novels also have a similar tone. My books are usually light and sometimes humorous, with my characters laughing and smiling as much as I hope the reader is. They are smaller stories, not with complicated plots of murder, mayhem or dramatic aspects, but more often about falling in love with the boy next door, or dashing musician in a coffee bar.

    Considering that my location and time periods are all over the place I didn’t know if these similarities are enough to build a brand on, or if I need something more substantial. I was thinking of a tag line something like “Where you can follow your heart” or “Where you can be yourself” but it sounds pretty generic and fluffy to me.

    Or does it make more sense to split off into two different brands. Historical and contemporary, and explore the subcategories from there. I seems harder to me to try and create two separate brands. It also seems a publisher would value a writer who could sell everything under one name, oppose to splitting their readership. But I am open to separating out my work into different pen names and brands.

    Any suggestion you might have on how to strengthen or solidify my own brand I would greatly appreciate. I value any input you may have.


    Posted by Christine Lovejoy | September 14, 2009, 3:08 pm
    • Christine,
      I think that before you publish or know what types of books you’ll be writing, that a more generic tag line is just fine. No reason to pigeonhole yourself too soon.

      I wrote romantic thrillers, action-adventure, paranormal, SF/F, and mainstream thrillers before I sold. I look back at several of those early manuscripts and they all have that edgy dangerous feel of “No one is immune to danger” so they do fit my brand…..but, some of them aren’t right for the audience I’m building with my Berkley books.

      Does that mean I’ll never try to publish those books? Nope. Might need to publish them differently, though, so as to not confuse my readership. But the point is, there’s no need to limit my options–nor yours!

      Sounds like you already know your brand “follow your heart” I’d keep using it until more specific words spring forth–you never know what can happen!

      Remember the words and images you choose to illustrate your brand may change–it’s the emotional heart that stays the same

      Take care,

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 3:19 pm
  25. Thanks, CJ! That does help. I knew the site isn’t what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to tell her to change it before she left. I appreciate you taking the time to look and to analyze it. Now I have to figure out how to change it and to what. I don’t want the site to give the wrong impression of who I am and what I’m doing.


    Posted by Barbara Rae Robinson | September 14, 2009, 3:33 pm
    • Barb,
      You might want to play first with images and fonts just on your desk top (there are even free programs that will let you “build” a website without publishing it to the public) until you get the feel you want–then, even if you hire a pro to do the actual nuts and bolts, you know exactly what you want and why.

      Or go Vicky’s route and use wordpress (that’s what I do) There are thousands and thousands of templates for free! that you can customize with your own images and words–but the html stuff is done for you. Even if it’s not your final site, it might give you freedom to play around without spending money until you find a designer.

      Like I said, if cyber-klutz me can do it, anyone can!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 3:46 pm

    Hi CJ

    I am learning so much. This is brilliant. Thank you.
    Do you think my site,, as is, can work, if I add a section for writing that is focused with the underwater colors I described?

    I quite like the site, but would love your impressions. It is designed by my current soon to be ex and so if I want to conjure changes they will have to be done asap.

    Thank you,

    Posted by Laurel Kahaner | September 14, 2009, 3:53 pm
    • Laurel,
      You could probably make it work–I would advise adding a “click here to enter” on your home page–or ditching the home page and going straight to the index page since people still have to click through from there.

      People don’t have a lot of time or attention these days, so you have to make the path you want them to take clear.

      Take care,

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 4:28 pm
  27. did I vanish again?

    Posted by Laurel Kahaner | September 14, 2009, 3:54 pm
  28. Thanks, CJ! I have Expression Web on my computer. I’ll play with it and see what I come up with. I’m also studying what you’ve told other people and getting a few ideas. Now to find the time to play. I’m aiming for category romantic suspense right now and trying to finish a draft of a book before the KOD retreat in Albuquerque. I’m flying in Thursday so I won’t miss your workshop on Friday afternoon. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person.


    Posted by Barbara Rae Robinson | September 14, 2009, 6:13 pm
  29. Okay, I think I’ve caught up with everyone’s questions–if I missed any, please give me a holler!

    Thanks for having me today, it’s been tons of fun!!!

    Posted by CJ Lyons | September 14, 2009, 7:25 pm
  30. This was so helpful. Thank you.

    Posted by Laurel Kahaner | September 14, 2009, 8:20 pm
  31. CJ,
    What a great lecture. Your comments are as helpful as the lecture! Talk about great responces. I haven’t read your books, but they’re now on my reading list! I now have much food for thought.
    Thanks CJ

    Posted by Carol Pellegrino | September 14, 2009, 10:56 pm
  32. I realize that both a website and a blog are necessary to build a brand–yet I have not as yet done either. I appreciate your discussion and know how important it is to have our names known if we are to get people to want to read our books.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale 2009

    Posted by Jacqueline Seewald | September 15, 2009, 9:59 am
    • Jacqueline,
      I don’t think anything is “necessary”–but you’re talking to someone whose only rule is “No Rules, Just Write”. Play to your strengths. I do think a website is important because that’s how readers find you and more info about your books–it’s like a listing in the yellow pages under “writer”

      As for blogging and/or social network sites–totally up to you. If they turn you off and you end up feeling uncomfortable, readers will feel that and perhaps leave with a negative rather than a positive impression of you and your work.

      Marketing is the one place where you only want to put your best foot forward–so play to your strengths and always have fun!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | September 15, 2009, 12:14 pm
  33. Hi CJ and thanks for being a guest.

    I am just beginning my fiction writing career. While I have attempted to write several books I am finally finishing the first complete one. I should go into edits by October and begin query to agents in the winter.

    Previous attempts are chalked up to learning the craft and generally resulted in poor conflict, plot problems and more.

    I’ve always been good at characterization, building real three dimensional characters with strong individual voices. I also do a pretty good job of expressing the emotion. I have laugh out loud moments in my stories. I believe I have a clear voice that resonates through my work.

    I write within the romance genre. My WIP is a paranormal/ manage’ triad. I have a suspense under the bed suffering from rewrites by committee and bad conflict/plot issues. LOVE the characters, dialog and humor. ehhh what can I say, I am a very organic writer and my characters talk to me.

    I have thought about branding quite a bit without coming up with any successful answers for myself. I look for current themes in my work that I might build on. My sensuality level is Hot, romantica. I explore sexuality through a committed love relationship with graphic context and deep emotional elements.

    I have been told that usually writers write the same type of book. What I am attempting to say is….while your setting, characters, plot etc all change essentially there is a core essence that all your books will be about.

    Perhaps liken to theme. Broken heroes redeemed by heroine’s faith and love. Strong heroes rescue broken heroine renew her faith in forever love. etc etc.

    I haven’t necessarily figured out what “theme” I write. I have a fledgling tag line for my WIP. It needs work. “Shapeshfiting twins awaken a Dragon Guardian’s powers to rule their hearts and their people.”

    I appreciate any thoughts or advice you would have to help me find my brand.

    As to all the social networking stuff. The URL link I’ve given is my blog. I probably don’t blog often enough there. I’ve actually been very busy writing. I don’t have a real web page. I do interact with other authors and readers on facebook. I tried myspace but don’t visit there very often anymore. I am also on twitter.

    Posted by Eden Glenn | September 15, 2009, 11:23 am
  34. Eden,
    Congrats on finishing your first ms!!! Way to go!!!

    You nailed it when you said that you need to think about what themes you want to write about and then design a brand around those themes. Like I’ve said above, your brand is your emotional promise to the reader about the kind of books you’ll deliver–doesn’t mean the genre (see my answers to the folks who write multiple genres) it means the emotional response you want the reader to feel.

    Sounds like “wounded heroes saved by love” may be your brand–from your description of the themes that interest you.

    This is a deeply personal question, so take time to really think about it. Why are you driven to take time away from friends and family to write? Why these characters? Why these stories? Where’s your passion in all of this?

    From the answers you’ll find your brand–and perhaps learn more about how to bring that passion to life on the page. And that passion will translate to the reader–remember, it’s all about the reader!

    Hope that helps,

    Posted by CJ Lyons | September 15, 2009, 12:32 pm
  35. Great information. Thanks so much for sharing, I love your books.


    Posted by Jeanne Vincent | September 15, 2009, 1:44 pm
  36. Thanks for the advice. Lots to think about and more than a little soul searching is required. Hummm.

    Posted by Eden Glenn | September 15, 2009, 2:59 pm

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