5 Steps to a Tribe-Building Author Brand by Katie Phillips

5 Steps to a Tribe-Building Author Brand by Katie Phillips

What scares you the most about becoming a professional author? If you said, “marketing my book,” you’re not alone! When I first dreamed of becoming an author, scribbling away stories and devouring books by the stack, I definitely wasn’t thinking about market research and developing an author brand.

However, building an effective platform and tribe of dedicated fans is key to getting visible in a crowded online market, catching the eye of publishers and agents, and creating a profitable writing business. So, what’s an introverted author to do?

Create a stand-out author brand! Your brand attracts your tribe of ideal readers and keeps them coming back for more. It authentically reflects your personality and stories, as well as telling potential readers what to expect from you and your work.

Most people think of branding as the visual aspect of the marketing process (logos, graphics, and the like). But there’s so much more to creating a dynamic brand.

Today I’m walking you through five steps to begin creating an author brand that feels authentic and attracts your tribe, so you can sell books without feeling icky and salesy.

Ready? Let’s get started.



We all have a story to tell. Some parts good. Other parts, not so much. But all of your life experiences shape who you are and the story you have to share with your readers. It’s so critical to embrace all the facets of your story. Odds are, you’re not alone in your joys and struggles.

This is the most intimidating—yet most important—part of creating an author brand that promotes deep, authentic relationships with your readers. Vulnerably sharing your story prompts that “me too” response from your potential readers and creates an emotional connection.

It’s tempting to skip to the “fun” parts of visual branding, but your core story is the foundation of your author brand. Give yourself some grace, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and dig in. What are three life-changing moments from your own experiences? What are key points in your characters’ stories? Are there some common themes?

Think about what you fear most, what makes you angry, what makes you happy, and what wrong you’re desperate to see righted. Is there a cause you believe in that’s tied to your own personal story? Key elements of your personal story are all potential connection points with your future readers.

Action step: Download my free fillable companion workbook and take some time to journal your answers to these questions. Keep them handy to reference as we move on to the next step.




 Getting to know your ideal reader at a deep emotional level is absolutely critical to developing a tribe-building author brand. Yet, I’ve noticed it’s often the aspect of marketing that authors dismiss or overlook. That’s a big mistake!

How can you develop an authentic, meaningful relationship with someone you don’t even know or understand? In my coaching calls, I always ask my author clients to describe their ideal reader or audience. Usually, I get either a vague, general answer, “everyone,” or—from the more honest— “I have no idea.”

If that’s you today, don’t panic. The key is to be intentional about getting to know your audience, so you know exactly how to speak their language and connect with them, without the guesswork.

I love this part of the branding process, because it allows you to use your imagination to create your ideal reader in your mind. Sometimes it helps to visualize a person you know. I encourage authors to create an ideal reader profile and develop it as you would a character from one of your novels.

Remember, you’re not writing to everyone. You’re writing to ONE person—your ideal reader.

What’s his/her backstory? What are his/her fears and struggles? What are his/her goals or deepest desires? How old is your ideal reader and what is his/her life stage? What’s his/her favorite way to spend a Saturday morning? What tv shows or books are his/her favorites?

I know it’s tempting (let’s be honest, effective branding is a lot of work), but don’t skip this step. Keep digging deeper and studying everything about your ideal reader. Invite a friend out to coffee who enjoys reading books in your genre and ask him/her some of these questions. The insights you gain will be invaluable.

Action Step: Create a detailed profile of your ideal reader, including age, personality, occupation, and likes/dislikes. The more specific the better!




 So, what is a niche, anyway? Your author niche is simply your genre + your unique twist. It’s that special place of belonging, a familiar place where you bring your own fresh take. Your niche is the place where your genre of choice and your ideal readers come together. It’s the gap in your genre that is unexplored, that you alone can fill.

Creatives are notorious for resisting boxes. That’s what makes them brilliant and able to come up with fresh, new ideas. But readers love boxes, because it helps them know what to expect from their investment of time and money.

A genre is a box describing a type of story. Each genre has their own tropes and set of expectations. It is to your benefit to learn the rules and conventions of your book genres, so you tick all the boxes for your potential readers.

That doesn’t mean you have to stay in the box, though! (In fact, let’s not). Authors who have a distinctive brand take the conventions of their genre and add their own personal twist. Look at your genre and identify what’s missing.

Are there lots of “chosen one” tropes, but none featuring people of color? Are there lots of badass fighting females, but not many making an impact through the sciences? Take a genre trope and turn it on its head.

What original elements from your personal experience and imagination can you bring to your genre? What questions can you ask that no one is considering? What issues can you address in a fresh and unique way? Finding the gaps in your genre or combining familiar elements in an unexpected way gives you your niche.

Identifying and communicating your niche through your author brand helps you attract readers of your genre and intrigues them with your original perspective.

Action step: Research other popular books in your genre and/or sub-genre. What common tropes do they use? How to they add their own unique twist? Brainstorm ways to “fill a gap” and add fresh originality based on your unique interests and experiences.




 Okay. You know how your personal stories and experiences will resonate with your ideal reader. You’ve created a detailed profile of your ideal reader. You’ve identified your niche. Now what?

Your brand messaging is one of the most critical pieces of the brand puzzle. It’s the written portion of your author brand that tells potential readers who you are as an author and as a person, as well as giving them a taste of your unique author voice.

Think about people who are familiar to you. Maybe a friend, family member, or spouse. You’d recognize their voice instantly, wouldn’t you? It’s not just the tone. It’s the inflection, the word choice, the themes and topics and things they’re passionate about.

Take what you’ve learned so far and start identifying prominent values and themes in your work. Is it freedom? Authenticity? What is most important to you as a person? To your ideal reader? To your characters?


Brainstorm how you can showcase those values in your stories and in the way you interact with your readers. For example, if you’re passionate about valuing people with disabilities, write a character with those struggles into a heroic role in your novel. Showcase the stories of people overcoming disabilities on your social media. Talk about your personal experiences in this area (if not your own, then perhaps the challenges of a friend or family member).

You’re an author. Your words matter. What do you have to say? Your brand messaging is your voice to the world.

Action step: Brainstorm at least 15 keywords that reflect your values. Choose your top five and incorporate at least one of them into your next social media post.




 We’re finally to one of my favorite parts of the branding process – creating your visual brand! The aesthetic of your brand provokes emotion in your potential readers and gives them a feel for your personality as a person and as an author.

It’s not enough to just have pretty graphics. The imagery of your brand must communicate to your ideal reader your niche, values, and message.  Your visual brand is your first impression. It’s a powerful way to help your ideal readers get to know you in a glance.

If you’re not a photographer, artist, or graphic designer, creating a simple, stand-out visual brand can feel like the impossible task! But this today we’ll break it down to create an aesthetic that feels authentic and right for you.

Images are one of the most valuable tools in your marketing arsenal, yet most writers seem to overlook their power. With one glance, they can set the scene, evoke a feeling, and either repel or attract a person. The key to choosing images – whether for social media posts, book covers, or author headshots – is intentionality.

Understanding how visuals affect your potential readers’ emotions and create expectations will allow you to choose a visual brand aesthetic that will attract your ideal readers at a core emotional level.

Begin collecting images that resonate with you or remind you of your story and themes (I recommend using Pinterest’s board feature). Refer back to your message and values and do an image search with your keywords. Make note of common elements that appear in the images you’ve chosen, especially colors, fonts, lighting, and subject matter. Be aware of the different emotional responses these elements can evoke in potential readers. (I recommend searching color and font psychology for more detailed information).

Think about how you want potential readers to feel when they see your graphics, book covers, or website. Happy and whimsical? Moody and edgy? Cool and mysterious? You can convey all these emotions with strategic use of fonts, colors, and thematic elements in your images.

Action step: Keep it simple! Choose your three brand colors (a bold, eye-catching header color and two neutral background colors). Choose your three brand fonts (a unique, memorable header font, a contrasting sub-head font, and a basic body copy font like Times New Roman).


Note: Download my companion workbook HERE for specific examples and more details on choosing colors and fonts that complement your author brand.

More About Katie Philips

Katie Phillips is an author, fiction editor, and author craft + business coach. She has been writing and editing professionally for over 10 years and is the mastermind behind Katie Phillips Creative Services and the Facebook group, “Authentic Women Authorpreneurs.” She was a finalist for the 2017 AWSA Fiction Editor of the Year award and her clients have gone on to sign with agents, earn multiple book contracts, and win awards, including the 2018 ACFW Genesis Award. Katie lives with her ballet dancer/carpenter husband in Kansas and is obsessed with sushi, travel, and YA sci-fi/fantasy books.




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