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Disruption Through Brand Building

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PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2021

by Hannah Gordon, Publications Manager, Elva Resa Publishing —


Hannah Gordon

How to find the readers for your books—and connect with them using brand awareness.

Acquire a manuscript. Edit. Design. Market. Print. Distribute. Market a bit more. Hope your sell-through messaging reaches enough readers for your sell-in efforts to pay off—or to bolster your sellin efforts through demand. It’s a tiring cycle, isn’t it? Distribution can be one of the most sought-after efforts for a publisher—and it can be just as costly and overwhelming as it can be beneficial. Isn’t there a better way?

When I entered the publishing industry in 2016, I quickly learned that we are a comfortable industry. I joked that publishing’s greatest disruption since the printing press was the e-book. As audio took the spotlight from e-readers, it seemed that, as an industry, we are focused on innovating through our media rather than our communication. Weird for an industry centered around language and stories, don’t you think?

Communication may be the key to the next big breakthrough in publishing. Communication with whom? Our readers. “Our readers” sounds like a mass collective of zombies with books, but “our readers” is different for every publisher. The trick is to find the readers for your books—and connect with them. This marketing concept is called brand awareness. From brand awareness, you have the opportunity to grow brand loyalty.

Why does all this matter? We live in a hyper-localized age. Readers are people. People who have—whether they know it or not—become accustomed to personalized advertisements, coupons, emails, and more. Some may complain that they talk about a toaster and all of a sudden receive Facebook ads for toasters, but algorithm marketing isn’t meant to be invasive; it’s meant to cater to buyers, let them know they are understood, and, when done very well, create community.

When a brand is strong, a community usually follows. Think of the music industry, for example. Dedicated fans of a band usually know what label they are signed to. Labels often coordinate tours, using smaller acts as openers for larger ones and thereby elevating the smaller acts’ status and fan base. This act of crosspollinating listeners from artist to artist is a small part of creating a strong brand for the label. They can become known to listeners for a particular genre or subculture within the industry.

In the same way, publishers can build and capitalize on their brand. When publishers have been the wizard behind the curtain, recognizable only to booksellers, colleagues, authors, and savvy readers, the most innovative thing we can do is flip that model on its head. We can become the champions of our books by building our brands with intent to connect to readers and create community. Rather than think of the publishing house’s brand as an afterthought, as less important than the author platform and title marketing, it should be the primary goal of a publisher. Building a strong brand is to create a community of readers who will come to you for new books they may like, because they know you publish the authors they enjoy, represent something that feels good to them, or have cornered the market on a niche topic.

You could argue that circumventing traditional distribution models could hurt bookstores. If readers are buying from the publisher, why do they need a bookstore? This revolutionary change could actually strengthen the bond between bookstores and publishers. Strong publishing house brands mean that branded sections and displays could become a staple in bookstores, which will always be magical spaces of discovery for readers.

The opportunity to disrupt—to build a strong publisher brand—is much more available to independent publishers. The big guys are just too, well, big. Consumers connect more authentically with small brands because brands are built on trust—and 76% of consumers trust small businesses more than large ones. So, while you’re pondering the best way to get your next release into the hands of readers, consider a portfolio approach. Understand the value you bring to readers and begin to engage with them as more than a sales tactic for an individual title. You may not see a clear way to your defined brand as you begin this journey, but the first step is to admit we can do better as publishers to connect to our readers.

If we fail? If readers simply don’t care to connect to the publisher at all? Well, then you’ve done the work to define and curate a brand so strong that you may receive better submissions, develop new industry relationships, and, heaven forbid, have tried something different.


Hannah Gordon is an editor, marketer, author, and podcaster. She is the publications manager for Elva Resa Publishing and regularly freelances in the publishing industry. She welcomes connections through @HR_Gordon on all major social media platforms and her website HannahRGordon.com, where she blogs about plants, books, cooking, and life.

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