I’d like to emphasize a couple of points today:
1) You don’t need to sell to EVERYONE in the whole world to be a successful writer. The Harry Potter series sells something like 40 million copies per book (give or take 10 million). There are 7 billion people on the planet. Doing the math, poor J.K. Rowling is ignored by more than 99 percent of the population. How tragic! But she scrapes by. If you sell to 1 percent of 1 percent of the world, that’s still 700,000 people! If you sell to 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent, that’s still selling MORE COPIES than 98% of all books sell.
2) US readers will consider just about any spot on the globe exotic, if the story is made to FEEL exotic. GORKY PARK was set in Russia. THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD was set in East Berlin, among other places. (Many great spy novels have been set in Europe.) WHALE RIDER was set in New Zealand. THE NAME OF THE ROSE was set in Italy. The James Bond movies are set just about anywhere.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you are–that’s what you are. Use that as part of your brand.
Now to some of today’s questions:
I live in Brussels, Belgium. My native tongue is dutch, then french. English is only my third language. I know I want to write novels in english, so I can just about forget publishing a book in Belgium.
It will be hard for me – probably harder dan most people – to get published in the USA. But I’m thinking now that branding could seriously help me here. Am I wrong to use my home country as part of the brand? It might scare people of instead of attract them.
Randy sez: Yes, use your European location to your advantage. It depends exactly what you’re writing, of course. If you were writing a World War II novel, for example, being on location in Europe would be a huge help. Or a contemporary spy novel. Or a novel about international banking. Tell us more about what kind of novel you write and we’ll pool our brains to come up with a brand for you. This is a great group of brains here!
Can you have a brand that crosses genres? My biggest problem is that I can’t seem to narrow what I write because I read anything that looks good regardless of genre ( I’ve even read literary novels -gasp-). This is probably me still being a rookie but I’m cool with that ( the part about narrowing down my genre not about literary novels :)).
I guess this is just a long winded way of saying how specific do you have to be and is there a process to go through?
Randy sez: It’s good to read multiple genres. I do. Most writers do. It’s OK to mix genres. A mystery with romantic elements, for example. Or a thriller with a coming-of-age subtheme. But a novel should be clearly definable as ONE MAIN GENRE. Reason: Suppose you score big and Barnes and Noble orders 100,000 copies for its chain. And then all those books arrive at the store, and the stockers open them up and say, “Um, where do we put these? The mystery section or the romance section?” That’s a problem. They have to know what to call it. They have to know where to shelve you.
I would say it’s good to be quite specific when you define your brand. A brand is a combination of the genre you write, the person you are, and the angle you take on your writing.
Well, now there are three of us! Although I was born in the United States, I have lived more than half my life in Chile, South America. I also plan to get my work published in the United States, but I want my books to have a Latin flavor.
Randy sez: Yes, that makes sense. Just make sure the publishers know that your book is set in the EXOTIC country you live in. For those of you who are not in the US, an idea that may play well is to bring a US citizen to your country and then immerse them in your culture. But that’s not necessary. The novels and movies I mentioned above were mostly non-US characters.
Remember that readers read to escape their everyday lives. Some of us want to escape to another country. So give us that option. Just don’t treat your country as if it were a boring, everyday place. Show us how cool it is where you live.
Mary (RelevantGirl) finally told us her brand:
Communicating Truth from the Inside Out
Randy sez: OK, that is Mary’s tagline, which is an important part of her brand. But it’s not the whole hot dog. The tagline, in fact, is merely the ketchup. Mary’s brand is far more than that. Let’s start with genre.
Mary writes contemporary Christian fiction that tends toward the literary end of the spectrum. Her books are set in Texas and feature dark, heart-wrenching stories of children who are victims of abuse . . .
I won’t finish this, because it’s Mary’s job to finish it. But a good branding strategy would highlight why Mary writes about abused children and then would give a tagline that captures all of the above in one short phrase. A branding strategy would also include a lot more, such as how to encapsulate all of the above with graphics and a color scheme for her web site that suit her brand. (You can check out Mary’s web site here.
Let’s make it four! I’m a born South African, served as missionary in several African countries for a huge part of my life, but chose to marry Mr. Perfect in Houston 7 years ago. I was told by an editor, a well-known one, that I will not get a novel with an African flavor published, because most readers are not interested in foreign stuff. I believed him, because I didn’t know better. This novel never wanted to leave my heart, though. Now I’m getting so encouraged… Randy, do you think it could work?
Randy sez: I think the book you’re most likely to sell is the one you’re most passionate about. Jannie, one thing that would work very well for you would be take an American character for an adventure into the heart of Africa. I don’t know what you write, so let’s take some examples.
If you write romance, then send an American woman off on safari and meet a mysterious, exotic man. If you write mystery, send her on vacation to somewhere Africa and have her implicated in the murder of her tour guide (or someone else). Does this make sense? If you’re writing for the American reader, it’s good to connect to that reader via an American character, but you really only need one.
My first novel had a young American female archaelogy student (from my hometown of San Diego) on a dig in Israel. I had one other American character, but he could have been any nationality and the story would have worked just as well. Everyone else in the story was either Israeli or born in ancient Jerusalem (it was a time travel novel). The moral here is that you only need one American character for your reader to connect.
Mary H. wrote:
Do you think eclectic reading is beneficial or possibly detrimental in helping writers develop as Steve implies?
Randy sez: I vote for being eclectic. That’s what I do. My bookshelves contain a truly bizarre collection of books. I have read something in practically every genre known to man. Yes, I even have read a few romances. I love Diana Gabaldon’s first few in her OUTLANDER series.
So, if I understand this branding thing (and I doubt that I do) it seems we want to define our purpose as a writer and our unique flavor or style? That doesn’t sound easy, but seems more freeing than being confined to a genre.
Could someone share some examples of “brands” or taglines, like RelevantGirl’s…(I’d like to see someone try to top that one)…some you’ve heard of or come up with yourself?
What’s your line, Randy?
Randy sez: For this site, my brand is extremely well-defined and is everything a brand should be. For my novels, my brand has been very bad. So I’ll talk about this one right now and my fiction brand another day.
A brand should always start with a target audience. For Advanced Fiction Writing, my target audience is very simple: novelists. That’s a well-defined niche market, neither too broad nor too narrow.
What do I have for this target audience? Information on how to write fiction. I define that to mean three things: Organizing, Creating, and Marketing. If a writer excels at all three of these areas, he or she is going to succeed. It would be very hard to fail. So the entire goal of my site is to provide info in these three areas. Period. No Amway ads. No editorial services. No ads even for writing software. Of course I have some ads, but so far only for products I’ve personally created and that therefore match my vision of what information I think writers need to know.
But a brand also has a personal element to it. My online persona is “zany physicist writer.” That is exactly who I am, so it’s not hard to create a site that captures that persona. I am also known around the world as “the Snowflake guy” on account of my famous Snowflake article. Recently, I have encapsulated all of the above in the phrase “America’s Mad Professor of Fiction Writing.” I’m not entirely certain that this is the best tagline for me, but I’m experimenting with it.
A branding strategy should also explain WHY. In my case, I never intended to become a writing teacher. It just happened. People asked me to speak at conferences. I tried it, stumbled some, but generally enjoyed the process. And I got enough encouragement that I kept doing it and learned better how to present information. And I discovered something I never expected–I LOVE teaching. I don’t know why, but I do. I think that oozes through into my brand.
I only wish that my branding strategy for fiction had been as well defined when I started writing fiction 19 years ago. But I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll talk more about my fiction brand in another post, maybe in the next few days.
Okay, I’m not trying to start an argument or anything, but aren’t there exceptions to this? Nora Roberts comes to mind, with her J.D. Robb books.
And I know an author who’s written over 90 books under a variety of pennames and genres. He’s quite successful.
So did these people ignore branding?
Randy sez: Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb is one of those amazing people who are incredibly productive. I don’t know her publishing history, but I’ll bet she established herself first under one of those names, and then branched out. And the reason she chose a pseudonym was precisely to preserve her existing brand. It’s a good strategy and it works for a few people with way more energy than most of us.
Every pseudonym gives you an opportunity for a different brand. These people don’t ignore branding–they are simply multiply branded. As I look at the landscape of writers today, virtually all the really successful ones are very well branded.
So Randy, here’s my quandary: I write romantic suspense about Crimes Against Children FBI agents with my target audience being moms. I have a website dedicated to the Defenders of Hope series. But I don’t have a brand that encompasses my suspense. At least I don’t think so.
My brand that I established through my author site is “Heart Chocolate~ words to enrich heart and soul.” The site is full of chocolate and heart chocolate, which lots of people seem to love~ moms especially. This brand covers my heart as a writer and my non-fiction stories. And in my suspense I talk about heart chocolate both in the novel and in my author letter.
Then I read all of your blogs about branding and methinks I’m in need of some help. So, help!
Randy sez: Hmmm, I looked at your web site. The main page and most of the pages are effectively branded as gritty cop stories. They have that look and feel. It seems like your books would appeal to men too, not just moms. The heart chocolate theme on your discussion board seems to be a whole different personality. That’s definitely targeted at moms. So I’m not sure what to say here. Just how much romance is in these books? Does the heart chocolate theme fit the books? I can’t tell without reading them.
Randy, I though about your comments on a possible branding, and came up with a rather lame one last night. “Kiwi Scenic Suspense.”
Randy sez: That’s a start. That’s a tagline, and it might work or it might be just one stepping stone on the way to where you eventually want to go. There are questions to ask. What type of suspense do you write? Targeted to men or women or both? Guns? Intrigue? Spies? What kind of personality do you have and how does it tie in to your fiction? What drives you to write this kind of fiction?
All of these questions will help you create a branding strategy that is much more than just a tagline.