OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Here's an outline of my two brands and how they contribute to my business, as well as my recommendations if you're thinking about these issues. I get a lot of questions about this topic so I thought I would address it head on 🙂
What is a brand anyway?
Whether you like it or not, you have a brand as soon as you publish a book, or you start tweeting, or blogging or anything.
It's how people perceive you.
It's the words and images that are associated with you and your books.
It's the emotions and feelings you trigger in the person who notices you or something you put into the world.
Therefore, it's important to control the perception of your brand.
You can do that by making sure everything you put out there in the world represents what you want people to see.
TheCreativePenn.com – and me as Joanna Penn
This site is aimed at writers, authors, and creative entrepreneurs. I am always upbeat and I want to be a positive force for good, so I will only share what resonates with that energy.
Of course, I have down days like everyone else, but I don't (often) share them here.
It makes income through the sale of online courses, non-fiction books, professional speaking, affiliate income, and podcast sponsorship.
I blog here regularly and continue to do the podcast, YouTube channel and everything else to drive traffic here because this is a business and it pays my bills. I love you guys 🙂 but this site was always intended to be a business.
The color scheme is red and white, the tone and website style is positive, upbeat, helpful, and smiley. That is a part of who I really am, but it is only one aspect.
JFPenn.com – and me as J.F.Penn
J.F.Penn is my fiction name and JFPenn.com is targeted at fans of my fiction, or people who might like to try my type of writing. The tag line is ‘Thrillers on the edge' because I find myself writing on the edge of thriller, mystery, crime and horror, as well as a healthy dose of literary and cultural references.
The tone and website style is dark, my picture is dark and brooding and the color scheme is black, greys and white. This resonates because my fiction is dark and twisty, and my themes are religion, psychology, the supernatural, violence and death, as well as global travel and fascinating locations. The tone is quite different to TheCreativePenn. It's also me, but only one aspect.
Income on JFPenn.com is purely from my fiction book sales, which continue to grow as a percentage of my overall income. I expect it to surpass the income from TheCreativePenn.com as I have more books available. The site itself is mainly marketed through the books themselves, and interviews I do on book blogs as JFPenn as well as podcasts and click-throughs from this site.
Why do I have two brands?
I started TheCreativePenn.com as a way to share my self-publishing learning curve, way back in 2008 when there was no international Kindle, there was no KDP or print on demand.
I made some mistakes around printing too much inventory without knowing anything about marketing, and I was really keen to share my story so others could avoid that pain.
I also saw my future as a non-fiction author and speaker, empowering people with live events and online training. A bit like a British, introverted Tony Robbins!
(a) I didn't ever expect to write fiction when I started this site in Dec 2008.
It truly didn't enter my consciousness, until this interview with Tom Evans in June 2009 about writer's blocks when we uncovered my own blocks around writing. That discussion identified the blocks and I moved forward, starting NaNoWriMo in Nov 2009. You can read the whole journey of writing my first novel here.
But essentially, the goal for this site never had anything to do with fiction!
I had originally set my path towards becoming a full-time blogger/entrepreneur, and that didn't change until 2011 when I realized being a fiction author was a possible future for me, and now it is my primary goal.
If you are writing fiction, and you want to start a blog, then for goodness' sake, start a blog (or a podcast) that attracts your target audience!
Don't do what I am doing — unless, like me, you have a goal for your writing-related site that relates to income or marketing. Or of course, you can write what you want if you just write for the fun of it (which is absolutely valid, but you probably won't put in the kind of hours I do if it's just for fun!)
But in terms of learning from my ‘mistakes,' I had to start from scratch with JFPenn.com when I changed direction, because such a small percentage of this audience are interested in my fiction.
If I was starting again today and aiming to make 100% of my money from fiction, I would continue blogging (or podcasting) as I do at JFPenn.com and BooksAndTravel.page about my research, videos about the books and interviews with other authors in the genre. I would rarely talk about the writing process, and I would never talk about publishing or marketing.
(b) Different target audience
The target market for TheCreativePenn.com and my non-fiction books is very different from the people who want to read my fiction and check out JFPenn.com. Yes, some will cross over, but as above, I have found it is very few. Maybe 5%.
To attract a specific market, you need to focus on specific topics, and give people a specific impression when they arrive at your site. You also need to build separate email lists for the different audiences.
You can separate your audience for your books through a different author name, as you can have separate author pages on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and the other book retailers so readers only see the books associated with that name.
I started out with Joanna Penn for all my books, but differentiating the target market soon became important, as did …
(c) The gender issue with my type of fiction
After Pentecost and then Prophecy, some of my readers came from this site and knew me as the smiley, happy person, I received feedback that my writing was ‘masculine,' and that my gender was causing people to double-take at the kick-ass action-adventure vibe of my fiction.
A lot of writers use initials to get over the initial gender bias, and so I decided to move to J.F.Penn in order to prevent people judging the books before they'd even read a sentence. I've written a much longer article on the gender bias issue here.
When is it a good idea to use multiple brands?
If you can avoid multiple brands, then it's advisable to try and stick with one. It's very hard to be active with more than one brand, for example, I gave up trying to tweet under two handles, so I use @thecreativepenn for everything.
I have a separate podcast as JF (Jo Frances) Penn at BooksAndTravel.page, and I also record some of my short stories.
I have a separate Facebook page, but I'm not terribly active there. I have Pinterest boards for JF Penn and not for TheCreativePenn, and I am on Instagram as @jfpennauthor.
I have two sets of business cards, two email addresses, two different official photos (one smiling, one brooding!)
But I'm glad I separated my brands as I need to keep my two audiences separate. My writing is quite different and aimed at a different group of people, and that's the main reason you might want separate brands.
You can use multiple author names and still only have one website, of course, but if you write children's fiction AND erotica, then you'll definitely want two sites. But if you write thrillers and romance, you could probably get away with one brand.
Questions to ask yourself around brand
- Who are my target audience for these types of books, or this type of site?
- Where do I want to be in 5 years time? Can this brand grow with me?
- Can I get away with just being one brand? (as this is much easier and I highly advise you do this unless you definitely need to keep your audiences apart)
- How do I want people to perceive me?
- How can I communicate that in what I create in the world?
Do you have any questions about author brands, or what I have done with mine? Do you have more than one author brand? Please do leave questions and comments below.
Francis Concepcion says
Thanks for the post Joanna! I have to admit I’m a bit conflicted when it comes to this as well. I started my blog as a single brand, but positioned it as a kind of online magazine wherein I post both non-fiction, as well as updates for my fiction. So like most magazines, you get a bit of both worlds.
I guess I started it that way because of the nature of the fiction I’m self-publishing. I’m making a webcomic with my brother, and the model I started following was from this one webcomic creator (Jason Brubaker of http://www.reMINDblog.com who successfully found his audience by blogging about his journey while posting the pages to his graphic novel online. His model got me interested in both sides of his brand, and so I followed suit.
The problem with most webcomics, though, is that they build a brand around the book, not the author. And so once Jason was finished with his webcomic, basically the updates became few and really far apart (not at all how author brands should be). So I thought of remedying this by creating a kind of publisher brand with an online magazine about the latest updates in both non-fiction and fiction.
Hopefully, our branding strategy works out better in the end.
Bethany Scott says
Hi Joanna! Long time reader, first time commenter! Thank you SO much for clearing this up. I find whenever I have a bit of an internal crisis about where I want to be as an author, I head to the Creative Penn. Juggling multiple ‘personalities’ is what makes me enjoy writing my characters – but it’s a nightmare when it comes to business! I’ve wanted to write professionally since forever, and I think I’ll continue for the rest of my life. However I don’t want it to be the only thing I do, and I can see myself wanting to switch genres in the future – right now I write folk horror. I love it, but it’s very niche, and I find myself depressed and moody after a while and want to switch to comedy!
So I think I’ve decided. One blog under my own name, where I can document my exploits in entrepreneurship and writing as a business, where I can express my shiny, more girly and happy side, and another blog under a different name for my dark and gruesome fiction.
You’re a star. I love your blog – thank you so much for all your advice! x
Joanna Penn says
I’m so glad this helped, Bethany! I’d also say check out this post around Plato’s Chariot – http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2015/09/10/lessons-learned-4-years-author-entrepreneur/ We have to satisfy all parts of our personality 🙂 You and I share a darker side!
Joanna thank you for this article. This has helped me define the voice and tone of my brands. What I’m struggling with is balancing my focus on both brands.
Do you have any particular focus pattern? As in, non-fiction book followed by a fiction book and alternating there after? Or do you work between the two simultaneously?
I’m especially interested in this as research for an article in working on for my blog, http://www.maketimeforwriting.com.
I’d love to quote some of your thoughts on balancing the two.
KATE FITZROY says
Another excellent article, thank you, Joanna. I have been angsting since Christmas about the publication of my next book. I have written 13 books under the name KATE FITZROY, and now have a successful platform in the genre of romantic thriller… BUT my next title is a very different. Although there is still the thrill of romance it is dark and dramatic… and almost twice the word count. I can’t decide if I can let it lose under Kate or whether to invent another pen name. I have even thought of using a sister name like Mary Fitzroy… maybe borrowing some of the popularity of Kate but having the opportunity to explain the difference?? Still struggling! Help!!!
Joanna Penn says
If it’s still romance, you can probably get away with it – unless it’s really on the edge of horror. Maybe check out some of the authors who do edgier romance as examples.
Deborah James says
Hi, Joanna. Nice article i must confess. But i have a question, i have been in the tourism sector for a while, although i had always wanted to write motivational and inspirational books. However, i’m writting romantic stories at the moment and want to use a pen name different from my real name, i’m kind of confused on marketing a different brand other than the one i’m already knwon by.
How do i go about it?
Joanna Penn says
You basically have to start again 🙂 It’s hard but worth it if you have a long term plan for both names. See how I do TheCreativePenn/Joanna and J.F.Penn quite differently. Different websites, different email lists, different social media etc.
Nny Nny says
I’m thinking about writing clean/sweet romance and thrillers and I’m really wondering whether one name would really work for both. I’ve heard romance readers may not be keen on book without HEA which is what you’ll likely find in my thrillers. Or the thrillers may have some gore which the romance readers may not like. How would you recommend dealing with this?
Joanna Penn says
I keep mine separate but as this article states, it is a lot of work to maintain more than one brand, so you have to have a long term plan for both.
Erica Anderson says
I am an aspiring author. I want to publish poetry and fiction(paranormal superheroes, shape shifters, etc). My poetry will touch on real life issues, mental illness, love, persistence, etc. My poetry is not always happy go lucky as life isn’t always happy go lucky. My poetry persona tends to reflect the subject that I am writing about at that moment. Overall, the poetry will always be positive but I also want it to be truthful and honest which will sometimes require some more dismal moods. My long term plan is to continue to do both poetry and fiction. I have created social media handles that center around my name. So, currently my social media handles are authorericasanderson or Author Erica S Anderson. My question is this: Would you recommend that I separate the poetry work and the fiction work with separate social media handles and websites? Or is it possible to keep them both under the same social media handles? I have not yet created a website as I was hoping that your answer to this question would provide me with some clarification to help me make this decision. My first poetry book is due to be out sometime early next year and I am still currently working on my fiction work. I expect to have my first fiction work out in late 2019/early 2020. I hope that this wasn’t too confusing of a question.
Joanna Penn says
I think poetry and fiction work well together. It is so much work to do multiple brands, I’d only recommend it if there is mostly no overlap between the markets.
I find your advice and podcast very inspiring but this is my very first time commenting.
I have a question I am really struggling with, and (if you ever see this comment on a very old post) I’d be so appreciative of your advice, as I don’t really have anyone else to ask.
My very first traditionally published book (YA contemporary) will be released this year (2019) and I hope to continue publishing YA traditionally in the future.
However, I also write Asian-set historical fiction, and my dream is to become an indie author for that stream of my work, inspired by your approach to business and the dream of being in control of my own publishing schedule.
I am trying right now to decide whether to publish my Indie books under my own name, or launch a separate brand under a pen name.
I have started building a platform for my YA, so it would be nice to use it to launch my indie books, but at the same time, I feel like a pen name would be very beneficial in other ways (very different genre, lots of adult historical fiction readers won’t like the association to YA, in some ways the traditional industry unfortunately still looks down on indie publishing (yuck!) and I want to give myself the best chance I can for my traditional work too ).
I am really unsure what to do, and am worried about making a decision I will regret in the future after it is too late to turn back.
Thank you so much for your time, and for all the inspiration.
It really means a lot to me 🙂
Joanna Penn says
This is a question you will have to decide for yourself – there are pros and cons either way. I’d definitely check with your agent and publisher contracts as sometimes, if you publish under the same name, you will have to give some of those self-pub royalties to the agent, or the publisher may not allow it. So check that first, and then write down all your pros and cons.
Whatever you choose, it’s not the end of the world, as you can always change your mind later. You can republish under other names etc.
Thank you so much Joanna! I will take your advice and speak with my agent etc. and then make a decision that feels right for me once I am sure of the facts.
I am so appreciative of your time and advice.
You have made it sound less of a terrifying end-all decision either way. I can adjust as I need to in the future.
Thank you very much and good luck with all your new projects!