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Author Branding: 8 Observations from the Branding Match Game

Way back on Tuesday (it’s been a long week so it seems like eons ago), Toni and I decided it might be fun to play a game with you guys, to show the unifying elements of an author’s brand. We had a lot of fun pulling covers together from a wide range of popular authors and we hope you guys had fun trying to match the books that belonged to the same author. We gave out the answers yesterday and invited everyone to jump in the discussion about the ins and outs of author branding.

It was a learning process for us just like it was for you, and along the way we picked up a couple of observations we wanted to share.

1. It was hard to make this game challenging.

We purposely chose ten very commercial authors because we felt that most of our readers strive to be popular commercial authors. But that said, commercial authors have this branding thing down to a science, so trying to find two covers that weren’t obviously tied together wasn’t easy.

2. We could have cheated.

The one thing we could have done to make it more difficult (without just picking more obscure authors) was to pick covers from two different branding periods of one author. We noticed that some commercial authors who have been around for a while have gone through phases with their branding, updating it every decade or so to keep with the times. For example, check out the original cover for Carl Hiaasen’s Native Tongue next to a more recent edition with his current branding:

3. Bigger is better for commercial author names.

An astounding number of covers for commercial authors featured the author’s name in a type size that could be seen from space. On a few, it was actually difficult to even see the title of the book for the size of the author’s name. Unfortunately, for most self-published authors, making our names that big on a book cover would be a recipe for career suicide. Until you get to the point where people are buying your books because they just recognize your name, you have to rely on other elements of the cover to attract readers.

4. Similar subject matter makes for more consistent branding.

Whether it’s a series about one character (Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum) or about one particular subject matter (John Grisham’s courtroom thrillers) unifying elements in multiple novels can easily transition into a fluent brand. Just look at the books in the Stephanie Plum series and ask yourself if there’s any doubt those titles go together.

5. Fonts matter!

Take a look at the above titles from Janet Evanovich. Notice that the fonts for her name and each book’s title are exactly the same? A little font can make all the difference when unifying a variety of books. John Grisham is another example of an author who’s branding is largely wrapped around fonts. That’s why even when he ventured into new territory with his book A Painted House, his publisher was smart enough to keep the font styles similar like this:

6. Titles matter!

Have you ever noticed that the vast majority of John Grisham’s titles include the word “The”? Think about it. The Pelican Brief, The Firm, The Associate, The Client, The Appeal, etc. It’s a small word, but in his case it’s an essential part of his brand because it’s consistent in so many of his titles. Similarly, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series uses numbers (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, etc.) and Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series uses sports references (Drop Shot, Fade Away, Back Spin, etc.)

7. Sometimes branding is subtle.

Not everyone is as forceful with their branding concepts. Take Stephen King, for example. His books don’t always have obvious overlaps in style, but you usually know a Stephen King book when you see one. Why? Because it’s a little weird, a little intriguing, and little creepy. But that’s all part of his brand, that’s what he wants you to feel because that’s his writing style.

8. There are exceptions to every rule.

In the path of an author’s career, there is only one exception when your branding is not the most important part of your book cover design–when it’s made into a movie. Most author’s see their branding tossed to the wayside when publishers issue a special edition of their title to coincide with the release of the movie. Of course, if your book is being made into a major motion picture, you probably don’t give a rat’s behind about your branding.

As always, we welcome you guys to jump in the conversation through our comments below or hit us up on Twitter @duolit. We love to hear your feedback and learn as much from what you share with us as with what we share with you!

Later days,


  • This has been a fun series. Thanks for the lessons.

  • Although the benefits of branding with type and color association are great, I really appreciate Stephen Kings more emotional approach. It takes a huge name like his to pull that off I think.

  • Toni

    Thanks so much for the following the series and for your great comments, Susan and Christopher! We really appreciate it :-)