Kate Riley

Kate Riley is a business coach, creative specialist, and serial entrepreneur. She is also a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of romance and fantasy.  

  • How to Create a Bestselling Brand in Fiction

    With a clear and defined brand in your genre, readers know that your book has been written to their expectations and preferences. It becomes a one-click purchase for them, and you’ll be able to grow your fan base faster and easier than ever before.

    For example, as a romance author, I have learned that my readers expect:

    • A story written with conflict that gets resolved by the end.
    • A story filled with emotional and sexual tension.
    • A strong hero and a likeable heroine.
    • Readers don’t want cheaters in my books.
    • A story that ends with a happily ever after (HEA).

    If I miss the mark on any of these points, I’ll lose readers.  It’s the basic premise of a romance story, and so fans of that genre anticipate that those expectations will be met.  Failing to follow through is often a deal-breaker.

    Start by thinking about one main genre or niche you plan to write in.  Even if you wish to expand into different markets later, it begins by choosing just one and then crafting an author brand that matches reader expectations.

    Think about what readers anticipate from books published in your genre. This applies to both nonfiction and fiction

    If you’ve already written a book, then think about the promises you’ve made in all aspects of your marketing package, including your title, sub-title, Amazon category placement, as well as the book description featured in your marketplace listing.

    Does your book fulfill the promises made to readers?  Does your marketing message match up with the content of your book? Is your author brand easy to understand? Can you satisfy the most common genre expectations?

    And most importantly, does your author brand answer the readers’ question of why they should choose you when they are given hundreds of possible choices?

    I can’t stress enough the importance of understanding genre expectations because failing to do will make your self-publishing life so much harder.  You’ll struggle to position your book in front of the right audience, and it will be next to impossible to build a tribe of loyal readers because they won’t be able to rely on you.

    If you aren’t sure of the expectations within your genre, please take time to study your market. 

    Read through Facebook groups and forums.

    Buy 5-10 books from successful authors in your genre.

    Study bestseller lists!

    Get to know your audience and what they want most from the books they purchase.

    The more you read, the better you’ll write and the more purposeful your brand message will be.

    Let me show you an example of how someone interested in publishing romance might approach researching genre expectations so they can determine the best way to create an author brand that will resonate with readers.

    I’d begin by scouring the bestseller lists on Amazon. 

    In my example, since I’m interested in writing romance, I would visit the top 100 bestsellers list here: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Books-Romance/zgbs/books/23

    What I’d pay most attention to are:

    Titles: What keywords are used frequently in the top 100 romance books? This indicates commonly used terms and how authors are optimizing their books so they are found by on-site search queries.

    Covers:  What cover elements are commonly used?  Are there covers with couples embracing, or do most books feature a single man or a woman? What are they wearing? Be on the lookout for common themes. Trust me, you’ll find them.

    Tropes:  Scan through the first few pages of books and read the descriptions on the book listings (blurbs).

    What tropes are most commonly featured?  Are there a lot of books on secret baby relationships? Friends into lovers? Enemies into lovers? Brother’s best friend? Billionaire bad boys? Look for popular trends.

    Those 3 steps alone will give you a good idea as to what is currently selling in the romance market, and what readers want most. And again, the same applies to every genre whether nonfiction or fiction.  You always want to write to market.

    Now it’s time to drill down into a sub-category so that we can create a more defined author brand.

    Continuing with my example using the romance genre, you’ll quickly see that there are over a dozen sub-categories, including New Adult, Science Fiction romance, paranormal romance, fantasy romance, and erotic romance.

    My next step would be to spend time browsing through all the categories that interest me and where there seem to be a lot of available books (which means there are a lot of readers).

    Again, this is just an example of how I approach market research when creating a new pen name. It’s all about closely evaluating sub-genres and categories so you can create a stand-out author brand that will sell books.

    Because while your author brand will be uniquely you, it will also be based on what has proven to sell.

    I’ve published books in nonfiction markets as well as fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, erotic romance, and contemporary romance over the years – all under different pen names – and I go about my research in the exact same way.

    I base my author brand on existing successful authors who have proven what works and what readers want most.  And I’ve found no better place to conduct all my research other than Amazon because it’s the biggest marketplace for books.  Why go anywhere else?

    And remember, while nearly every story has been written, every author brand should stand out – and apart from others.

    You do this by:

    • Defining your storytelling tone and voice.
    • Connecting your books with a theme.
    • Creating an author brand that promises readers what they can expect and then always following through.
    • Allowing your brand to evolve as you do.

    Defining your storytelling’s tone and voice begins with the overall feel of your stories. This is what will tell your audience what to expect when they buy your books and essentially sets the stage for what you become known for.

    Examples:

    If you write non-fiction, are your books going to be written in a conversational voice as though readers are sitting across from a friend at a coffee shop? Are you going to inject humor into your books and keep things light and fun? Or are you planning to write in an instructional, authoritative voice?

    Your writing style and voice become part of your unique author brand.

    So, what do you want to be known for?

    If you write fiction, what is the mood and undertone of your writing?  Will your characters and dialogue be funny, serious, dark, quirky, or whimsical?

    In fiction, many authors further define their brand based on character types, such as military, single parents, cowboys, detectives, or bad boys.

    Others define their brand by a common personality theme throughout their books, such as sweet or sassy heroines, or cocky or brooding heroes.

    The overall tone of your book should be appropriate to its audience. Therefore, it’s important to spend some time reading books in your genre, and as I’ve mentioned before; studying what successful authors are doing.

    What if you plan to write books in different genres?

    My suggestion is to create a pen name for every main genre you plan to write in. The only time I break this rule is if my books cross multiple genres, such as paranormal romance + urban fantasy romance, for example.

    The reason for this is because you don’t want to confuse readers, or create an author brand that isn’t consistent.

    If a reader buys a few of your paranormal romance books, they’ll likely assume that you’re a paranormal romance author. So, what happens if you start penning non-fiction business-related books under the same pen name?

    You confuse your audience!

    Here’s where non-fiction markets differ.  With non-fiction markets, it’s often easier to get away with publishing books in multiple genres under one pen name, if there’s a strong theme in place.

    For example, if you plan to publish a series of How-To books, even if each book covers a completely different subject matter, you could easily theme them as a Beginners Guide to…  or Newbies Guide to …

    (Think of the “Dummies” book franchise and how they’ve written books on every topic imaginable while remaining in a series. They can do this because they carry a theme that ties the books together.)

    The rule of thumb in non-fiction is that if the genres don’t collide, confuse or contradict, there’s no reason you can’t cover multiple genres with a single pen name.

    The bottom line is, the more specific, unique, and direct your brand is, the easier it will be to connect with your target audience, build a relationship with your readers based on trust and reliability, and ultimately, sell more books.

    When a reader picks up your book you want them to know what to expect without having to think twice.  If you’re clear with your brand message, you’ll find that readers don’t even read your book descriptions – they just one-click because they’ve come to know you as an author of “your writing angle/genre/tone and/or series”.

    Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – this is a lot more work! After all, you must build multiple websites, create different mailing lists and develop different social media accounts for every pen name you launch.

    The upside is that by doing this, you’ll be able to create a strong author brand that clearly aligns with what your books are about and demonstrates to readers why they can depend on you to deliver what they’re expecting.

    And you know what means, right?

    You’ll sell a lot more books!

    Another great way to create a unique and memorable author brand is by coming up with a unique tagline for your niche or genre.

    Examples:
    Author of Fearless Fantasy
    Author of Curvy Girls & Alpha Guys
    Queen of Happily Ever After’s

    A tagline is important because it helps to create an immediate connection between you and your reader. You’re essentially acknowledging your genre and reinforcing your commitment to writing what your reader expects.

    As authors in highly competitive markets, it’s important to always go the extra mile in becoming memorable. A tagline can give you instant recognition in crowded markets.

    Not sure how to create a unforgettable tagline that helps to establish your brand?

    Start by thinking from a readers’ perspective. While this is a business to you, your books provide an escape for your readers from the daily grind, or if you write non-fiction, they offer solutions to problems. So, try to create a tagline that will trigger an emotional response from your readers.

    • What impression do you want to make?
    • What image do you want to convey?
    • What feelings do you want to invoke?
    • What connection do you want to establish?
    • What word would you want them to use to describe your author brand?

    Think about keywords that describe your books and overall genre and consider incorporating them into your tagline.

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  • How to Write A Winning Book Blurb

    Your book blurb is one of the most important components of a successful book launch because it’s essentially your sales pitch.

    Once you’ve persuaded a potential reader to click on your book’s link, your blurb will be the driving force behind whether they ultimately decide to purchase or not.

    Fact: Your book blurb is just as important as your book cover and title.

    With thousands of books published every day, you need to capture attention quickly and make sure they have enough information within a few seconds to want to buy your book.

    Here are a few tips for crafting killer blurbs that will capture attention and sell more books.

    Keep it short and direct
    Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you want to keep your blurb short and punchy so that readers can scan it in a matter of seconds.

    One of the biggest mistakes that I see authors make is creating lengthy blurbs that feature chunks of endless text.

    No one is going to read that because most people scan pages of content! So, break your blurb down into short 2-3 line sentences and use spacing.

    Study Successful Blurbs
    There’s often a formula to a well-written blurb, and so the best way to come up with a killer one of your own is to study those that have proven to sell!

    Spend some time reading the blurbs from the top 10-20 books in your genre. Take notes. Pay close attention to the format and structure. Write down power words that caught your attention.

    Benefits Come First
    For nonfiction authors, you should take advantage of bullet points that will highlight the benefits of purchasing your book. Focus on digestible content, broken down into snippets that outline the most valuable information.

    For fiction authors, you should always include genre-specific action words.

    Keep the text moving with action and energy, and start with a strong headline that summarizes the type of story you’re selling. Your sentences need to be pointed and engaging, and you should always introduce your main characters by name. Just don’t give too much away!

    Start with describing the tone of your book, identify the conflict and promise a twist.

    Tip: Write your fiction book blurb in the style of the actual book. If your story was written in first-person POV, your blurb should also be written in first person.

    Use Powerful Headlines
    Whether you’re a nonfiction or fiction author, you should always start the blurb with a powerful headline.

    Start with your most significant benefit, or in the case of fiction, a shocking or engaging sentence that will appeal to readers in that genre.

    Using boldface text throughout your blurb will help your text stand out. Just be sure not to overdo it. Bold only important words or parts that you want to emphasize; otherwise, it’ll lose its effectiveness.

    When writing fiction, I tend to use headlines that immediately introduce my character to the reader.

    Example:
    Meet Angela Parker: Time traveler, skilled in magic, kick-ass witch on a mission.

    Or, I start with a headline that identifies the genre with a brief character description:

    Two gorgeous dragons and one woman who gave up on love a long time ago…

    Take Advantage of Amazon’s Code
    Many authors don’t realize it, but you can use HTML code to make your blurb instantly stand out. This includes bold, italics, underlining, strikethrough, and more.

    Note: You’ll have to do this from within your KDP account as it won’t work when editing your book blurb from within Author Central.

    Here’s a link to the complete list of available HTML elements:
    https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201189630

    I don’t use all the HTML elements as not to bog down my content. Using too much of it will also lose its effectiveness.

    The ones I tend to use the most include:

    <b> text goes here </b> – This will bold all text within the open and closed brackets.

    <i> text goes here </i> – This italicizes all text within the open and closed brackets.

    <h1> text goes here </h1> – This is what I use to make my headlines bold.

    Regardless of what genre you write in, your blurb needs to hook readers instantly and stand out in a crowded market.

    Fiction Writers
    Writing a blurb for a fiction book is often a lot harder than nonfiction because you need to get readers excited about your story without giving too much away.

    For many, they go too deep into the story, describing the beginning, middle, and end.

    Why would readers bother to buy the book when they’re given a complete outline?

    That certainly doesn’t get people excited or curious, right?

    What I do:
    One exercise that’s helped me write strong, concise blurbs without getting too wordy is to set a 30-second timer.

    Once it starts, I describe my story in as few words as possible while focusing on the most exciting, energetic, and captivating sentences that I think readers would care most about.

    By limiting yourself to only 30 seconds or less, you’ll learn to toss out ideas and sentences that do little to invoke curiosity or excitement. Instead, you’ll focus on creating the most powerful pitch possible.

    Always lead with a hook and keep them glued to the page.

    Nonfiction Writers
    Lead with the greatest benefit. Include a powerful headline, break down content into digestible, short sentences and use bullet points to highlight important information.

    If possible, include a bio, quotes from well-known authors, reviews, and any other social proof you have available.

    Your job is to reassure potential readers that your book offers tremendous value and that you are providing a solution to a problem they’re having.

    In nonfiction, credibility is everything, so if you have case studies or research to back up the content of your book, consider mentioning it in your blurb. You could also include an author byline that showcases any awards you’ve received, such as the title of a bestseller.

    Just be careful not to get carried away with an overly lengthy blurb. Again, keep your blurb copy concise and direct.

    Cut out the hype, use everyday words that your reader will understand, and do your best to connect to your audience on a personal level by using copy that addresses their concerns, acknowledges their most burning questions, and promises to deliver a solution.

    End with a Cliffhanger
    Your blurb’s objective is to get readers excited about your book and leave them with unanswered questions.

    If you write fiction, consider ending your blurb with a question or put your character in peril so that readers are curious to see how they get themselves out of a sticky situation.

    Here’s an example of one of my cliffhanger blurbs:

    I’m a skilled mage with an arsenal of magic at my disposal. I sure as hell don’t need some cocky, arrogant dragon shifter protecting me, even if he is drop-dead gorgeous.

    But what if I’m wrong?

    A murderous Warlock is on the rampage, and he won’t give up. The road to survival is marked with betrayal and deceit, some by the people I love the most.

    If I want to survive, I must put my life in the hands of a cursed shifter—that is, if I make it through the night.

    The blurb above ends on a note of danger. The goal is to keep readers on the edge of their seats and invoke curiosity about the story and fear for the character.

    Here’s another example:

    Hannah is no stranger to danger, nor is she afraid to roll up her sleeves and let her magic fly. Battling warlocks, goblins, and vampires is nothing new, but when she returns home, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

    And things are about to get a lot more complicated.

    What once made Hannah special has now made her a target, and she’s about to walk right into their trap.

    And yet another that ends with a question:

    Will Gabriel be successful in his attempt to rescue Senna from danger? And if they make a run for it, will they be able to survive in a world of ruthless aliens and shifters who will stop at nothing to destroy them?

    Inject genre-based keywords
    Keywords help readers find your books, so it’s important to use them in as many places as possible, including your book title, subtitle, series name, and of course, your blurb!

    Here’s a keyword centric blurb for an urban fantasy fiction book:

    Accidental Magic is the gripping first story in the Magic & Mayhem Series. If you enjoy stories filled with enchanting creatures, otherworldly monsters, inhuman allies, and a dash of romance in a fantasy setting, this is the series for you.

    You want to use words that cater to your audience and are genre-specific.

    For paranormal romance, you might use shapeshifters or Alpha. In nonfiction, a book based on finding a work-from-home job might include telecommuting, financial freedom, work in your PJ’s, etc.

    Hyperbole Works
    Words such as “Unbelievable,” “Incredible,” “Amazing,” and “Astonishing” are influential, powerful words that evoke curiosity and emotion.

    Use them sparingly! You don’t want your blurb to feel like it’s nothing but hype.

    The bottom line is that your blurb needs to connect with its target audience. A successful description will capture attention instantly and keep it long enough to convince the buyer to click the purchase link.

    Test out different blurbs.
    Ask for feedback from your street team, beta readers, or mailing list. Readers from my author group have helped tweak many of my blurbs, and since they’re my target audience, they also provide the most invaluable feedback when helping me decide what to write next.

    Invite authors to critique your blurb.
    Join author support groups and share your blurb with others in your genre. You’ll be surprised just how many authors are willing to critique your blurb and help you tighten up weak points.

    Don’t rush this process.
    Writing a powerful blurb that motivates readers to purchase your book takes time. Prepare to rewrite it several times before you’re satisfied. I promise it’ll be worth the effort.

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  • The Truth About Book Covers

    Fact: Your book cover is one of the most important components of a successful book launch.

    Get it wrong, and no matter how amazing your content is, you won’t sell books.

    Get it right, and you’ll be able to generate massive amounts of pre-orders, sales, and build a die-hard fanbase.

    In fact, some may argue that it’s more important than even the title or the book blurb!

    How’s that for pressure?

    So, when hiring your cover designer for your next launch, you need to make sure that they know your market and what readers are expecting.

    Here’s how to make sure your cover will sell books:

    Step 1: Study the color schemes

    The best way to create a book cover is by studying what is already being used within your genre, starting with creating a snapshot of the most commonly used color schemes.

    When it comes to catching the attention of readers, you always want to stay true to the genre by providing a visual message that’s aligned with the type of book you’re selling.

    Die-hard readers will be able to tell what kind of book it is simply by color (and font style) alone, so if you get this wrong, you’ll send a mixed message that will minimize sales.

    I write paranormal romance as well as urban fantasy. So,

    This means that you’ll want to spend some time analyzing the different color schemes commonly used in certain markets, especially in fiction genres like sci-fi, thrillers, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance.

    While you want your cover to stand out and not look like every other one on the market, you also want readers to quickly identify what kind of book you’re selling. So pay attention to whether a color scheme is commonly used.

    For example, when I was publishing urban fantasy I noticed that most of the covers included a female heroine. They were also either mainly in blue and purple hues and featured magic (bolts, swirls of light, etc). 

    So every book cover I created featured these elements.

    Typography/fonts:
    Certain genres use specific font styles, especially in fiction markets like paranormal romance, science fiction, and horror. 

    If you see a commonly used font style that you’re not familiar with, you can take a snapshot of the book title and then upload the font to https://www.myfonts.com/WhatTheFont/

    You can also find 100% free fonts at http://www.DaFont.com, https://fonts.google.com, and http://www.FontSquirrel.com

    Tip: When searching for available fonts, search for “Public Domain” and “100% free” by customizing your search on DaFont.com as shown below. That way you’re sure to use fonts that are freely available for commercial use and not just for personal use.

    When it comes to font styles, you’ll want to make sure that your style is sharp, clear, and visually appealing. You also want to pay attention to how the cover looks when it’s smaller.

    • Are the title and sub-title clear and easy to read in smaller sizes?
    • Does the font take away from the background image or character pose? 
    • Could the font placement be improved so that it stands out?
    • Does the cover stand out to you on the Amazon marketplace when it’s smaller?

    Character Types & Poses:
    If you write fiction, you’ll want to study the marketplace to see what kind of poses and character types are commonly featured.

    For example, since I write paranormal romance, it’s common to have a male lead on the cover along with the type of shapeshifter featured in the book. 

    In urban fantasy, it’s far more common to have a female lead with lots of magic and mayhem on the cover.

    When readers wanted bare-chested men on covers, that’s what I gave them. Then, in later 2016 there was a shift and readers were more interested in seeing sexy couples on covers.

    Basing cover designs on popular styles makes it easier to reach your audience since they’ve grown accustomed to seeing a specific style.

    That doesn’t mean your covers should be generic!  I was able to create a bestselling brand and I believe that a huge part of that came from creating covers that immediately captured the attention and stood out on Amazon.

    In non-fiction, it’s common that book covers focus more on typography with fewer images and visual elements.

    Again, study your genre before you hire your cover designer so that you’re able to tell your artist exactly what you’re looking for.

    Provide examples of some of your favorite covers and let your graphic designer create something uniquely yours, but based on a popular look and feel.

    Series Covers
    If you write multiple books in the same world, you’ll want to consider creating covers that keep the same look so that it’s clear to readers all books belong in the same series.

    This typically means you’d use the same font style and placement and the same color scheme, but you could also feature a sub-title that includes the series name and where each book belongs in the series (Book #1, Book #2, etc.).

    You can, however, switch up the color scheme and character pose on each cover. That way readers immediately recognize all the books are part of a series but don’t become confused about whether they’ve already purchased any of the books.

    Tip: Remember to add your series title to every book page via your KDP account. That’s the only way Amazon will create a series feature page on their marketplace for all of your books.

    Set the mood
    Regardless of your genre, you’ll want to make sure that your cover accurately reflects the mood and setting of your story.  Every image used on your cover should encapsulate the theme or highlight a scene from your book.

    Think Action scenes.

    What weapons does your main character use?

    Is your book based in a particular region or city? 

    Verify Image Licenses

    Never use photos found freely online unless you make sure that you are allowed to use them commercially. I recommend only purchasing stock from places like:

    http://www.iStockPhotos.com

    https://www.Dreamstime.com

    http://www.PeriodImages.com

    https://www.ShutterStock.com

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  • Top 10 Free Commercial-Use Script Fonts for Print Books

    When it comes to choosing fonts for your print books, it can take a lot of time and effort to not only find finds that are free for commercial use, but that look clean when printed out.

    Here are the script fonts we use in many of our print books. These are all 100% free for commercial-use.

    For page headers, splash pages and areas of our print books that we want to highlight, we tend to use a combination of bold, uppercase fonts and the following script fonts:


    Autery

    You really can’t go wrong with this script font by MasAnis. Download it here.


    Arabella

    This is one of our go-to fonts for sub-headlines on our journal pages. Download it here.



    Ballet Harmony

    Great commercial-free font for when you want to make your page just a little prettier. 🙂

    Download it here.

    It’s a font often featured in our KDP books and printables.


    Sweat Pants

    Cute italic font, useful for sub-headlines, logos or on your journal splash pages (front cover).

    Download it here.


    Clarissa

    One of our most used fonts, Clarissa is a beautiful script font that comes with commercial-use rights.

    Download it here.

     


    Mattilda

    Want your text to pop? Use the bold Mattilda font in your headlines.

    Download it here.


    Fox Lite Script

    Foxlite Script is a cool font that is best used for headlines or wherever your text will be larger.

    Download it here.


    Sallita Cursive

    Sallita is such a pretty font and works great for cover pages or as a decorative-style headlines.

    Download it here.


    Handletter Ink

    Gorgeous font, best used in larger titles or headlines.

    Download it here.


    Viksi Ink

    Viksi is a beautiful script font that we often use sparingly in sub-headlines.

    Download it here.


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