I’ll try to answer some more questions on branding today.
First, let me thank those of you who jumped to my defense today, when Strephon took a shot at me. Honestly, I just laughed when I saw his comment. And I laughed harder when I read all your responses.
I’m reminded of the scene in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN where the British commodore tells Captain Jack Sparrow, “You are without a doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.”
And Sparrow gives him that wicked-crazy grin and says, “Ah! But you HAVE heard of me.”
Enough said on such silliness. I think we all saw a lesson today in the power of negative branding.
Now let’s get to your questions:
I’m getting dangerously close to a brand. Here’s my question: I’m using the word “writing” in it, but since I’m wanting to beef up my speaking ministry, I’m considering, instead, the word “communicating.” Is that okay or should it always be “writing”?
Randy sez: Yes, that’s a commonly used word. My corporation is “Ingermanson Communications, Inc.” My literary agent is “Alive Communications, Inc.” And there’s the publishing house “Cook Communications, Inc.” Of course, your name is only part of your brand. (A big part, but it’s not the whole enchilada.)
So, RelevantGirl, do you want to elaborate on your brand a bit more? I think it’s fair to say that part of your brand is your reputation for gut-wrenching honesty. That’s something many attempt, but it’s something you’ve succeeded in doing. So tell us more!
Ok, I think I’m still having a little trouble understanding how to pin one down. Can it be as general as just fiction? As I said before, I’m currently working on two: one is a real-life sort of romantic-type but not like a Harlequin romance, and the other a fantasy-type with a historical background that also will have a bit of romance but not as centered on it. Both probably will have some comedic points as I can’t seem to keep that out of any of my writing. But I don’t want to say I’m a romance writer. How specific does the brand need to be? Especially when starting out.
Randy sez: “Just fiction” is a bit too generic. Just about all of us here write fiction (we do have nonfiction writers here too, and they’re welcome, but this site is about writing fiction). The question is what kind of fiction? That generally means, what genre and what’s your angle on that genre?
If I can give an example, Stephen King’s brand is “master of horror fiction.” But it’s more than that. You expect him to have great characters.
Tom Clancy’s brand is “technothriller”. He in fact invented the genre. But it’s more than just technothriller. You expect lots of characters, an intricate plot, and guns, ammo, explosions, helicopter crashes, and maybe the stray nuclear bomb. And American military men who are dedicated to doing their job. I think that’s what appeals to Clancy’s readers–his solid, hard-working military guys–Clark, Chavez, and especially Ryan.
You mention to Debra that disabilities can be a part of your platform. I’m dyslexic (I’ve compensated for many years and wasn’t diagnosed until last fall) and I would like to make this a part of my platform but, not sure how to work it in. Thinking something along the lines of being dyslexic and being successful.
You could do this by having a dyslexic character as your main character for a series of novels. Then in your promo materials, you could mention that you have dyslexia and tell what you’ve had to do to overcome it in order to write fiction. The character would need to be a really good character, but the dyslexia (and yours) would help make him/her memorable. And you could do this no matter what genre you write. So your brand could be “the dyslexic detective story writer” (if you write mysteries) or fill in the blank for whatever genre you write. Part of branding is to put your personality into your writing.
But here’s my problem: I have 2 other novel ideas worked out a little bit, and I’m looking forward to working those ideas out in the future. However, all three novels will be 3 different styles.
The novel I’m working on is gothic horror, the other ones are technopunk and detective. I know I’m a weird person for having such diverse interests, but as you said yourself, being a Novelist I’m not Normal. So I guess I can be forgiven.
Anyway, here’s my question: I can find a way to fit both my cyberpunk and my detective novel into the gothic horror genre without a problem. The question is, should I do so? Wouldn’t it seem like a stretch to fit them all into the same brand?
Randy sez: Hmmm, tough question. My gut feeling is that you CAN blend these genres someday, but it might be best to start with three novels that are all in pretty much the same genre. So choose the one you like BEST and do a few novels in that genre. Then you can start bending it a bit. Your readers won’t expect you to stay in one place forever. What you want to avoid is yanking them all over the place. Give them some continuity.
On a personal note, I’ve written in multiple genres and tried to stretch them all to fit, and I don’t think it’s worked. I love ancient history, whereas I merely like contemporary suspense a whole lot. So I’ve made the tough decision to not do any more contemporary or futuristic suspense for the immediate future. Instead, I’m going to focus on ancient history, (but it will have a stronger suspense element in it.)
It’s hard for me to focus on one thing, but my feeling is that I need to do that. So I’ve chosen to focus on what I love best. Of course, I discussed it with my agent to make sure I wasn’t going to paint myself into an unmarketable corner. He’s in favor of this move.
How about target readership? How does that fit in with branding? I am currently working on contemporary YA (young adult). Would I someday be able to transition to adult/suspense or am I locking myself into YA?
A good branding strategy does ask the question, “Who is going to like my kind of writing?” (Besides my mother.)
The answer should never be “Everybody.” Even J.K. Rowling only sells to about half of one percent of the world population. Figure out who will like your writing, and then write a book that your target market will love. If they do, they’ll talk it up to their friends, and some of those will like the book too.
As for “locking yourself in,” the answer is no. A brand doesn’t lock you in. It’s just a promise of consistency for delivering a particular quality of product. Yes, that puts certain constraints on you. (Sue Grafton is pretty much committed to getting through the whole alphabet.) But you can always evolve your brand in a new direction.
Is it wrong to kick back and let your branding find you?
I’m dabbling in different genres, but my passion and focus is suspense/mystery. Yet, what if I’m not a suspense writer and instead I’ve got a voice for women’s fiction or momlit? How will I know if I don’t dabble?
Just because I love to read suspense doesn’t mean I’ll have a knack for writing it. So what is a unpublished writer to do? Genre jump or narrow in on a specific genre?
Randy sez: It’s OK to dabble, but do dabble in the things you love. If your passion is suspense/mystery, then go for it! You’re most likely to have talent for the thing you love. There’s no guarantee, of course. But we tend to like the things we’re good at. And we are most willing to spend the thousands of hours developing skills in the things we love.
One thing I love doing is writing software. And it turns out I’m pretty good at it. Do I like it because I’m naturally good at it, or am I good at it because I like it? I don’t know. But there’s a correlation, one way or the other.
Pursue your dreams! It beats the heck out of pursuing your nightmares.
It seems to me that genre plays a big role in this, but genre alone isn’t enough. Am I right so far?
If that is the case, and I need something a little more specific than genre, would “fiction with a kiwi flavour” work as a brand?
Randy sez: I would say that genre is a part of it, but your style or your angle or your special sauce is another part of it. “Fiction with a kiwi flavor” is a start, but it needs more. Think of Camy Tang, who calls herself the “loud Asian chick” and who writes “Romance with a kick of wasabi.” That’s enough. Camy is well-branded and is going to do great when her first book comes out.
So Vennessa, my suggestion is to add the kiwi to your genre, and throw in an extra twist if you’ve got it. Remember that a lot of US people consider New Zealand pretty exotic, especially after seeing so much of it in Lord of the Rings. A suspense novel set in NZ, with the land itself as a part of the story–that could be strong. Or a kiwi romance. “Kiwi Suspense” or “Kiwi Love” or “Kiwi Chainsaw Surferpunk”–any of those could work.
Re branding, I have written 100s of articles and short stories, among other things, and am now working on a YA novel. If/When this book gets published, I will then be known as a YA author. Does that mean I should forget trying to market my picture books?
Randy sez: No, not at all. It means, however, that you should focus on one thing at a time. Don’t just do one YA novel. Do a series. Three or four. Then see where you want to go next.