Welcome to an entire month of Top 5 Tips for Authors!
Every day this month my friends and I will bring you a new set of Top 5 Tips to help you along on your author journey. 2017 was a year of change in the Indie author world for sure. So many happenings. So many new things to learn. So many old things that didn’t quite do what you’d hoped. Well, every day is a new day. And every year is a new year. So we hope that this month’s worth of tips will get you the kick start you need to make 2018 your best yet and please feel free to ask questions and leave comments.
JA Motherfucking Huss is the NYT bestselling author of 321 and has been on the USA Today Bestsellers list eighteen times. She writes dark shit that isn’t for everyone but once in a while she gets a joke in her that comes out as a romantic comedy. She’s a workaholic who lives on a ranch in Colorado. (This is her blog, BTW, so her links are all over the goddamned place so I’m not gonna post one here.)
CREATING AN AUTHOR LOGO
All businesses need a logo for branding, but it is especially true for authors because even though you’re apparently not supposed to judge a book by its cover, we all do. And your website is like a cover. I admit, I haven’t thought about logos in a couple of years. Not since I turned my name into my logo back in 2015. Until, that is, I got a new writing partner and suddenly all those things I did years ago were on my to-do list again. I had to think about this logo stuff and it’s not easy, right? It’s not easy to sum yourself up into a print-ready image that can also look good on a business card.
So here’s my Top 5 Tips for designing an author logo.
1 YOUR LOGO TELLS THE WORLD HOW YOU’RE DIFFERENT
I set out to make a logo fairly early into my author career and came up with kind of a grungy heart and skull with my name on it. Which I still use, still like, and have a shitload of stickers in my swag closet because I still order them. The theme was pink and gray (and it still is) and it told the reader or website visitor something about me as a person. Most importantly being – I write edgy stuff. If you’re looking for sweet, you should probably move along. You should try and find a symbol that can sum you up as an author in one glance.
2 YOUR LOGO TELLS THE WORLD HOW YOU’RE THE SAME
Even though I could use that logo on my website, on a sticker, and on a business card (and I still do!) I couldn’t use it on a book. I know they call it “branding” now (making your author name the same across all books) but really, this is a logo in the author world. There’s no image, it’s just text, but it’s still your logo. So back in 2015 I was looking for a new way to organize my name on my covers and came up with this.
Which, when it came time to redesign my website, morphed into my main logo as well. I kept the heart from the previous logo because I write romance and what says romance better than a heart. I got rid of the skull and kept the colors. Pink and gray is feminine, but not girly. I write books for women, but the stories aren’t sweet.
While this logo doesn’t tell people I write romantic suspense in any way, JA Huss is a trademarked name for a reason. People kinda know me now. So I figured it’s more important to create something unique that people recognize immediately, both on the cover of a book and on my website, than it was to let people know what I was writing with that grungy heart and skull. Because…
3 YOUR PAST SUCCESS + YOUR NAME = YOUR BRAND
No, I don’t sell book like EL James. I don’t hit NYT every book. I don’t make Top 10 on Amazon. But I have made the same amount of money each year since 2015 and gotten my name on the USA Today Bestseller’s List 18 times since 2014 and most of those books have this name logo on the cover. The name isn’t exactly the same. It doesn’t have to be. The logo is the way I combine my initials and my last name. So even though each series has a new font and color, it doesn’t matter.
None of that USA Today stuff happened because of my logo. It happened because I’m consistent. The logo just helps readers associate my name on a book with what I’ve done in the past. When you see a Nora Roberts book, and you’re a Nora Roberts fan, you immediately think about who Nora Roberts is, what she’s done in the past, and how many times you’ve enjoyed her work. And then you decide… do I want something I’m familiar with? Or do I want to take a risk with something new?
If Nora has been hitting her mark with you recently you’re gonna choose her. Because she’s been consistent. She knows what you like, you know she knows this, and you trust her. Her name is what does that. And even though her name isn’t a logo, it acts like one on her covers. YOUR NAME IS YOUR LOGO AND YOUR BRAND.
4 KEEP IT STUPID SIMPLE
I know the saying is keep it simple stupid, but really, keep it stupid simple is better. Because keep it stupid simple tells you WHY you’re keeping it simple. To make things easy for readers. Your name is your logo with some extra flair. When I had to come up with a logo for Johnathan and me (my new writing partner) I wanted to tell the world two things:
ONE – we are different
TWO – we are the same
And I came up with this. Julie and Johnathan.
It’s not JA Huss. It’s not Johnathan McClain. It’s both of us, same people doing new things. Also, because we truly are PARTNERS, we wanted the world to know that. So we share the J in our first names. It says – Yes, I’m still Julie and yes, he’s still Johnathan, but together Julie & Johnathan are one brand. I also think it says something about our commitment to each other and I think he agrees. And I think, even if readers never put that sentiment together into a coherent thought, they feel it. We have a version of it with a feather because the feather is on our first cover together and the feather was what brought us together on how we wanted the world to see us.
But the feather isn’t really necessary. It’s just an embellishment. Just like the heart in that website version of my name above. It just reminds people of what I do. In the future, once readers get to know Julie & Johnathan, that feather will act in the same way.
5 LET YOUR LOGO EVOLVE WITH YOUR BRAND
I didn’t start out with the current name logo. It took me a couple of years to really put the two logo ideas together. If you look at the first Julie & Johnathan cover design, we don’t go by Julie & Johnathan. Or Huss McClain (which is our website). We might change that in the future, but who knows? We might not.
The important thing about a logo is that it says something about your brand and your brand needs to evolve. Johnathan and I are new, who knows what our logo will look like next year. This is just a start.
I first came up with the pink and gray grungy heart in 2014 and didn’t change it over to the pink and gray name until 2016. But before I got to the heart I had this science fiction version:
And even after I had the idea of the heart as a logo, I didn’t immediately put it up on my website. I had this:
In between the grungy heart and the name logo I struggled a little to find the image I was looking for. I redesigned my website a few times with various themes. Partly because I was defining myself along the way. The author I thought I was in 2012 didn’t match up to the author I knew I was in 2016.
So be open to change. If you get your logo completely wrong the first time no big deal. You didn’t know who you were when you were five. Hell, some of us didn’t know where we were at thirty-five. So don’t expect to get it right the first time. Be open to change, think about the message you want to send, and then keep it stupid simple.
6 INSIDERS AND OUTSIDERS
You can have more than just one logo. For instance, my fan group on Facebook is called Shrike Bikes after one of my earlier characters in my Rook & Ronin series, Spencer Shrike. Spencer makes custom bikes and owns a bike shop called Shrike Bikes (hence the name of my fan group). Since he’s also an artist, there’s lots of talk about the Shrike Bikes logo in the books. He makes t-shirts and stuff like that.
Well, pretty quick in that series fans started asking me to make t-shirts of the Shrike Bikes logo. Now understand this – this is a FICTIONAL business. The bike shop only exists in my story. But to them, it felt real and they wanted something physical to merge their fictional world with their real one. But in addition to that, they wanted to be an insider and this Shrike Bikes merchandise with that skull and raven logo on it was what they chose as their insider symbol.
Only certain people know what it means. So if you go to a book signing and see bitches wearing a Shrike Bikes shirt, that’s them saying, “I’m a JA Huss Insider”. Fuckin’ blows my mind in the best way possible, because that shit really happens.
Today I have a whole Society6 store that sells physical merchandise about my books and lots of designs are popular, but the most popular designs all came from the fictional shop of Shrike Bikes. Spencer’s logo became an extension of me, and so that’s how I ended up with two logos.
So think about that when you write. Give your readers symbols they want to carry with them into the real world. it bonds them to you. It makes them feel special, and it’s a walking advertisement.