One of the panels I went to at WorldCon was about author branding -- the marketing kind, not the kind involving hot iron. I'm from Texas, so this needs to be clarified. That's something I've been wrestling with lately, and something I need to clarify before I can do some other stuff, like get a new web site done.
The "brand" is really everything involved in communicating with the public -- the tone of the communication, the messages that are conveyed, the look and feel of things, etc. It's not just a tag line, but the tag line is part of it. Something mentioned in the panel was looking at what your work has in common. This goes deeper than genre. Even someone who writes in multiple genres can have a single brand identity.
I might say that magic is still at the core of my brand because I can't imagine writing something without it. Every single story idea I have involves magic of some sort. However, it might not be a great idea to hinge my author brand on that in case I do come up with an idea that doesn't have it. I already had to scrap my "fairy tales for modern times" tag line when I started writing steampunk, and I have ideas for more traditional fantasy. I suspect I'm fairly safe with magic, though, since that can be defined broadly.
Something that came up when I raised this topic on Facebook was the fact that my books are "clean" or "sweet" -- no gory violence, not a lot of bad language, no graphic sex. This is a pretty good differentiator for me, something that sets me apart, and I don't imagine I'm likely to veer from it because I just don't like writing that kind of thing. It's tricky to incorporate into a brand, though. There's been some backlash against authors who promote themselves as "clean and wholesome" because on the one hand there are people who are offended that some things aren't considered "clean and wholesome" and on the other hand, there are people who have a different definition or different standards and who take offense at things they don't consider to be "clean" that are included in books labeled that way. I'm not sure I'd make this an explicit message that's directly stated in a tagline or in any marketing materials. That's something best communicated indirectly by being consistent in keeping my communication and marketing within a range similar to what I write. So I'm not going to be posting pictures of nearly naked hunks on my Facebook page, I don't use a lot of cursing in my posts, I talk openly about being a Christian and my involvement in my church. You can read between the lines and imagine I'm not writing grimdark fantasy with lots of erotic content.
The other thing that came up a lot in the Facebook discussion was that my books are fun reads. They're escapism. There's going to be a reasonably happy ending, or at least hopeful (if it's in the middle of a series). You're probably going to like the main characters, who are decent people. I don't dwell a lot on villains. I get a lot of reader mail that talks about reading my books while undergoing chemo, on bed rest during difficult pregnancies, while sitting with a loved one in the ICU. My books are feel-good reads. I think this is something to focus on and work with in my branding. "Feel-Good Fantasy"?
Most of my reader mail/comments/feedback focuses on the romantic elements, even though I wouldn't classify most of what I write as "romance." I think that's pretty common across the board, though. If you look at Internet discussion about just about anything, the 'shipping tends to predominate, even if there's not really any romance there. Romance or even the possibility of romance seems to be what makes the emotional connection with a lot of the audience. So I don't know if this is actually something I do well that I should incorporate into my brand or if it's just a general thing that the romance is going to get the response. If I market as romance, people who are really looking for romance are going to be disappointed. I think what I do best is more the hope, the yearning, the possibility. I love the slow build.
A lot of this stuff is more indirect. I'm not sure how to convey "feel-good" graphically. Probably not a lot of dark colors. Maybe a touch of whimsy. When I get done with this round of revisions, there are some books I want to check out of the library to read more about branding and see if I can get better ideas.
Any thoughts on how you see my books and what you think is the key common element?