Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Janet Evanovich – what do you think of when you hear these names? If you know them at all, you’ve got a pretty good idea what you might expect from their books. You might be wrong. They might write something unexpected but probably you’ll get something thrilling from Mr. King, social commentary from Margret Atwood and just plain fun from Ms. Evanovich. It’s what they do and they’ve crafted their careers along those lines.
People in marketing regard brands with the degree of awe some might reserve for the Holy Grail and it’s true, branding is important. While there are some, possibly many authors who think of themselves above commercialization, it’s also true book selling is a brutally competitive market place and every author, whether he or she likes it or not, will have a brand. The only question is whether it is well known or obscure.
At a high level, an author’s brand is the genre in which they write. As a result, someone may be cross branded. It’s possible for someone to write both detective novels and sci-fi although sometimes a pen name will be selected for one of the two to avoid confusion. But genre alone isn’t quite sufficient to define a brand. Consider three well-known authors, Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. All three write science fiction, yet if you are familiar with their work you’ll know they’re quite different. Mr. Asimov is noted for technology. He created intelligent robots and a future formulated along mathematical projections. Robert Heinlein was more preoccupied with societal trends and human interactions in various societies. Mr. Ellison is much edgier, taking facets of current society and extrapolating them in unique and unusual ways. Each of the three wrote in the same genre and each has a different brand. While they may not have set out thinking about branding, they acquired one over time.
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What would you like people to think when they hear your name? It’s important they recognize you but if your name invokes a sense of boring drivel, your sales will suffer badly. Ideally, even if they’re not interested in your specific material, you’d like them to think you’re a leader in what you do. For example, I seldom read romance novels. Nevertheless, the name Nora Roberts is quite familiar. I think of her as a leader in that genre because she’s published so much and is so widely read. Simply put, she established a brand for herself as a romance author and stuck to it. For mystery and other genres she uses pen names.
How do you go about establishing a brand? The first step is deciding what you want it to be. Being recognized as the world’s greatest author might be nice but a little impractical. Personally I write in the genres of light and dark fantasy, detective and coming-of-age set in the 1960s so that’s where I start. My light fantasy is mostly adventure and not far removed from YA although I don’t want to limit myself so I don’t pigeonhole my work into the latter. Therefore I’d like readers of those books to think of me as someone who can keep the story moving, provide interesting plots and a measure of excitement. For my dark fantasy readers, I’d like them to relate to more subtle and complex themes. Books within the detective genre are absurdly humorous in nature. If readers would think of them as silly but fun, that would be optimal. Lastly I want the coming-of-age readers to enjoy nostalgia, to think of my work as providing a comfortable escape from the present into a simpler time.
Each of these series has a brand image I’d like to convey. The first step to conveying it is to make sure the series and individual volume blurbs make it clear what the reader may expect. If you write in series format, and if possible, try to have something you can use on each cover. For example, in my series, Buck Slade – World Famous Private Investigator, I try to have a small fleeing man tucked away somewhere. It’s not always possible but frequently I can manage it.
Ultimately your brand is a statement to the world telling everyone who you are, what you produce, and possibly what you’re attempting to accomplish – humour, insight, social commentary etc. Whether or not you set out to create one, if people know you at all, they will come to perceive you in some manner or other. Your objective is to align their perception with how you want to be perceived.
This guest post was contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published thirteen books on Smashwords.com.