Challenge,  publishing

What Is A Brand?

I Get Asked That Question At Times…

My answer is, “It depends on what you are asking.”

If you are branding a series of books, then branding is making the covers and layout of the books similar enough that a reader, at a glance, will know it is first, your book, and second, part of the series. You do that with name and title placements, fonts, similar art, and actual titles. Plus other smaller things, but you get the idea.

Then there is “author brand” which depends more on the types of books you are writing and what readers can depend on when they pick up one of your books. Author brands take a long time to build, and most writers never reach a brand. I had a solid author brand when I worked for New York publishers. I could write anything, in any voice, fast, and to deadline. In essence I was a “hired gun” brand.

Then there is building a brand for a project. You do this not only to help readers find the items in the brand, but so that you can license the brand. Brands of this type, that include a type of work, a look, patterns of presentation, and all the branding that goes with a series of books as well. They are protected in the trademark world. Simply walk down a cereal aisle in any store to see brands like this.

In a brand like that in publishing, the books themselves are protected under copyright, of course, but the overall brand (if it concerns making money, and meets some other criteria) can be protected under trademark rules.

WMG Publishing Incorporated has a number of these types of brands that are under trademark protection. One right now that you can see in action is the WMG HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR that has the Kickstarter going right now. WMG Holiday Spectacular 2022 Kickstarter Campaign.

This project is in its 4th year. It has bought from authors over 140 short stories at professional rates. And even though the 4th year is just in this campaign start and won’t start delivering stories until November, we have already started working on year #5.


Let me break this down for you how the protections work on this brand.

  • The author’s stories are all protected under each author’s copyright protection.
  • WMG Publishing Incorporated licensed from each author the right to use their story in the different aspects of the Holiday Spectacular, plus a reprint right. Those rights are protected under contract law and the author’s copyright.
  • The overall project of WMG HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR is a brand and that is protected under trademark law.

So the question of “What is a brand?” has a lot of moving parts. I just touched on the surface of a few of them.


  • Denise Gaskins

    When you say the series is protected under trademark, do you mean that you’ve registered it or that using it commercially counts as a trademark?

    I remember you started to write a blog series on trademarks for writers a while back, and at that time you concluded that registering a trademark wasn’t helpful for writers in most situations — if I remember it right. So I’m curious if that conclusion has changed.

    • dwsmith

      Well, can’t answer that question without writing a full book to explain how trademark works. And anything I say will just give bad information. Is the project protected by trademark? Yes.

      Book called TRADEMARK by Fisher from NoLo Press will tell you clearly why I cannot answer that question in a way that won’t give bad information to writers who do not want to spend the time to learn trademark or copyright. Which, sad to say, is most writers. Sorry, Denise. Good question. Just impossible to answer. So I am going to leave it at the project is protected by trademark and the books are protected by copyright.

  • Heather Hatch

    🎅🏼 Be kind, and ‘Believe’ that most of us who enjoy coming here and learning from your blog, don’t want to be lazy-about-learning writers, really! 🙂.

    Unless some folks think that’s just ‘advanced professional legacy talk’, and they aren’t producing enough yet to ‘qualify’.
    These are topics, and reasoning that we need to be exposed to, often. Pound nails hard enough, and some will go in, even in Hard wood, Hard-headed types.

    I will do what you have often recommended:
    I promise to read NoLo Press’s ‘Trademarks’ and ‘Copyright’ books.

    • dwsmith

      And for years you will silently thank me. And you will be rare and have an advantage on the business side over other writers.