Today, I’ll answer a few more questions on branding. Then tomorrow, I’ll post some comments by another author I consider very well branded, Camy Tang. And Camy is not even published quite yet. I wish I’d known as much about branding when I was just starting out as Camy does. I was hoping to get her interview pasted in here tonight, but it’s late and I’ve got a few good questions from you all left to answer:
Okay, I’m sold. I realize I need to be branded (fortunately this won’t be done with a hot iron – right?). But as an author starting out on her career I have no idea on which genre I need to focus. I read nearly everything (except chicklit – sorry but that genre just can’t get me past the back cover). This I believe is going to take a lot of research and trial and error. And to be quite frank – and please correct me if I am wrong – a great deal of rejections until some literary agent and editor decides one of my novels is publishable, whatever the genre. At that point I am assuming I will have a pretty good idea where my niche will be, but will that be enough to satisfy the animal in me that wants to explore all genres and the adventures they entail?
Randy sez: We can arrange the hot iron, for those who want one. But normally, it’s more painful than that, because you have to think about who you are and define yourself. That’s something we all struggle with. It took 3 folks from Zondervan to hold Brandilyn down long enough to brand her!
It is normal, Lynn, at your stage in your career, to want to branch out and try different things. There’s nothing wrong with that. As is well known, I spent about 10 years as a pre-published writer, trying various things. Eventually I found the things I loved to write most. Unfortunately, there were two or three different genres that I loved to write most. I’d have done much better if I’d settled on one.
So try stuff! Experiment! That’s great when you’re a freshman and sophomore level writer. But when you get to be a senior level writer and ready to graduate, you’ll help your cause immensely if you show those agents and editors that you know who you are and what you write.
I guess I’m a little nervous about getting branded and then not liking what I’m stuck with. I’ve got this “thing” going with being an interrupted writer, but I don’t see that translating into my fiction branding. I don’t see how that fits in to WHAT I write, just HOW I write.
Randy sez: You are more likely to be stuck with a brand you don’t want if you FAIL to brand yourself effectively. Because other people will decide what your brand is, and they’ll feel no responsibility to decide the way you want them to. That has been my problem for years and years. But if YOU choose your brand, then you get to choose what you LOVE writing and be who you really want to be.
I think the theme of being “interrupted” might play into your brand as a novelist. Not sure how it would work, but it could be unique and different. Some brands capitalize on “coolness”–for example Apple, which is mightily cool. Gina, you might be able to turn being an interrupted writer into a cool factor. But your genre will also play a role. And your personal style.
My personal style includes offbeat humor and a strong analytical streak. Not everyone appreciates those traits, and that’s OK. The fact is that both of them are authentically me. So I’ve woven those into my Advanced Fiction Writing site as part of my brand. When I say on my site that I was “both class nerd and class clown,” that’s fair warning of the kind of person I am. That’s part of my brand.
I’m not sure I understand about “branding.” Is it “what I want to be known for?” I started a web site to start building a platform about my main focus or message as a writer. Perhaps that will brand me.
Randy sez: Yes, that is part of branding. One of the questions you ask in brand development is “How do I want people to perceive me?” Or sometimes it’s even simpler–“How do people already perceive me, and is that a valid picture of who I really am?” That was part of the path Brandilyn took. She listened to her readers and they told her things that she then took and turned into her brand. There is a give and take in the brand development process.
I think a brand isn’t what you WANT to be known for so much as what you ARE known for. The trick seems to be in finding a way to make the wanted brand and the known brand one and the same.
Randy sez: Yes, it seems to be a bit of both. You can’t completely control how people perceive you. But you can give them guidance. And if you listen to them, sometimes they know things about you that you don’t know about yourself. Branding is a two-way street, and being authentic is a big part of it. Communicating that to people clearly is another part of it.
Christophe Desmecht says
Maybe if you can’t find your brand, then eventually your brand will find you?
I figure that must be true somehow because I’ve been looking hard for a few days now and I’m still no further to finding my brand. I figure it’ll come to me one of these days/weeks/months/hopefully-this-lifetime.
Grace Bridges says
I had this story in me, and finished the first draft before finally figuring out it was science fiction… later I grabbed a tagline “the future is what you make it” to refer to the significant inspirational aspects of my sci-fi. I also call myself an “international sci-fi author” since I’m an Irish New Zealander living in Germany. All of this fell into place over the course of the last year, and I must say, I feel comfortable with it – right at home with Back to the Future, Star Trek, and the Lost Genre Guild (google it). Of course it’s going to need to be developed, but I’m more than happy to stick with sci-fi. However, I have a few WIPs in sub-genres like sci-fi chicklit, interplanetary dystopia, and New Zealand Cyberpunk. Do you think it would be harmful to add in these other aspects, or are they similar enough to my original brand?
Judith Robl says
Thanks for your note about “interrupted.” It sparked an idea for me.
I speak as Reflected Light Ministries. So could my brand be Reflected Light: Rainbows and Mirror Shards?
Actually that relates to the non-fiction I’m writing about God’s promises and our brokennesses.
Hmmmm. Something to ponder
OK, I’m consulting with a marketing guru right now and he mentioned that my tagline “communicating truth from the inside out” isn’t really cutting it because it involves me, not my reader. In other words, what’s in it for them? How do I tweak my tagline/slogan to appeal to a reader, rather than communicate about myself. I’m a little confused.
Can you have a tagline for yourself, such as the one you mentioned, and also have a writing brand?
I think that may be effective. I’m going to mention Liz Curtis Higgs again. Her brand, as listed boldly on her site, is “Encourager.” That’s rather vague, but true. It talks more about Liz than her readers, though. I don’t think it’s her writing brand. That could be more specific.
Christophe, I would say you have a starting point for your brand with the werewolf/gothic theme. I guess Randy would say “Now what’s your unique angle?”
Being Belgian could be part of that. Are there forests or castle ruins or Gothic architecture/history that would justify branding yourself as a writer from the Gothic Heartland, (or the Werewolf Heartland)? Belgium’s a bit West of Transylvania, but if you’re within a few days’ drive of the Black Forest I think you could get away with it.
The term Heartland really resonates with Americans. It would be an exotic twist on something they strongly relate to.
I am a Canadian who’s 1/4 Belgian (with DeSmets in the family tree) so I feel like I ought to be a little more knowledgeable than I am about the uniqueness of Belgium. But many of Grimm’s stories (early Gothic literature) came from France, and that’s certainly nearby.
All of this of course is assuming you WANT to continue writing Gothic-type novels. That’s the really hard part of branding that no one can really help with.
Hope this is any help at all,
A Confession: Where’s Toto, I want to go home!
I went to the link for the teleseminar, read, scrolled, read some more, scrolled, then my eyes began to cross and I broke out in a cold sweat.
WHOA! I’ll just be honest now…I’m really freaked out!
Get some cheese, here comes the whine: I’m still trying to write the blasted novel that launched me into writing. Since that recent launch, I’ve learned there’s a dark, joyless business side to this. OK. But now, the Wizard has pulled the curtain back a little further, giving me a glimpse of more than I wanted to see.
I am unfortunately an obsessive type who wants to learn everything and do everything right, and do it all NOW. (prayer warriors: you might put me on your list now, thanks) I can see myself getting so wrapped up in branding, strategizing and organizing my writing “career” that I’ll lose sight of the writing, which needs my blessed “all-or-nothing” attention now, if I’m ever to learn to do it WELL.
(Which is dangerous enough in itself…I have 20 books on writing—all bookmarked in the middle because I’m reading them all at once—stacked around my computer. If I get to pounding the keys too hard, these stacks will topple over and kill me.)
I hear you Randy; this is what you would have done from the start if you could do it over. It’s smart—even critical—to think about branding and planning at any point in the career, even for those of us just starting out.
The branding discussion so far has really helped me look hard at why I write, what I have to offer, and who it’s for so I can better understand WHAT and HOW I should be writing. Thank you!
But (here, have a little more whine) beyond analyzing me and my audience, now I have to face lawyers, IRS, CPA’s, CIA, FBI…
To be quite honest, I’m just afraid I won’t have anything TO brand if I look behind that curtain now.
Can I take the info now but look at it later?
Christophe Desmecht says
I hope Humor will be in your brand and novels, Camille, because that comment about your stacks of books toppling over and killing you, put me on the floor laughing my *beep* off. 🙂
Bonne, your comments are right on the mark. I hadn’t even thought about how Europe is the heart of the original gothic stories out there. That indeed might be something I could base my brand on! Thanks a lot for pointing me in that direction 🙂
Jannie Ernst says
Camille, you nailed it. I don’t even have to turn my head to see all the bookmarks sticking out in the “most important” books on the craft that found their niche between two bookends on my desk. And then there are the others, just 12 inches from my left ear, waiting get their own bookmarks. I have good news for you. Somehow, what you read and study goes in and stays there, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. I’m so glad God brought me to my Christian writer friends. Now we can at least take hands and do it together!
Karla Akins says
Camile and Jannie,
And I thought I was the only one with those piles of books on writing that I was in the middle of!
I think of myself as a toddler in this industry right now. I know how to to talk a little bit, but not enough to know who I really am in the book business.
It is hard to wait on God and His timing in this! I’m impatient and want to get it all wrapped up yesterday!
Still, I am going to get the seminar and use it when the time is right. It doesn’t hurt to go ahead and learn the techniques even if I’m not quite ready to use them.
Heck, I’m still trying to figure out the MRU!!
Lois Hudson says
Camille’s comments seem to have hit an itchy spot. I’ve learned that the books on writing are primarily inspirational (as well as structurally efficient holding up certain items of furniture–though potentially dangerous); however, trying to absorb and use all the methods often leads to frustration and “slaying the spirit” of what I write.
I think there’s a difference between those young ones of you who are just starting out on the adventure and can organize your route (calling it a career), and those of us who have great stories to tell (but perhaps too late to pursue with the intensity of a career).
I’ve been enjoying all the conversation about branding, resisting it for me personally. But this morning I listed my three major fiction WIPs and two more in the idea files, all different in style, time and place, and began to see a pattern that might qualify as a brand, or at least a tagline.
“Climbing the Depths” or “Climbing the Deeps” resonate with anyone?
Or “Scaling the Sideroads”? May be too vague, but I’m purposely not describing what that means just yet. I’ve registered for the teleconference Monday and will evaluate after that to see if I’m getting close.
Great to visit with you all.
Relevantgirl: how about Letting out the truth?
Vicki Davisson says
I have four novels completed. They are Christian Historical Romance novels, set between 1870 and 1890, my favorite historical period.
I posted excerpts at writing.com and have had about 100 people request copies for review. Many I don’t hear back from, but perhaps 1/4 of the readers/reviewers do answer back to tell me they loved reading these novels.
I was in an online critique group for a while and got along well with the other writers. However, I didn’t seem to make any additional progress. I got minor edits to my novels, and that’s about it. I tried to help others but some folks are happy with their current state of skill so they don’t welcome comments. So, I’m not active there now.
In any case, I don’t feel badly about much except that I haven’t submitted my work to many publishers for consideration. So I guess I’m a sophomore (does that mean I can stay on the blog, Randy?). I guess I’m on the ten year track since I started these books in 1995. My work is about right for a Harlequin specialty line such as Steeple Hill, and I’m ok with that.
My question is, do I need marketing/branding for what are practically subscription novels? (That is, assuming my work would even be accepted.) Harlequin readers are shipped four new novels each month, without preview, like a set of magazines or some such.
I need either advice or a kick in the seat, or both. I do make a living as a writer—a technical writer, which I have done for 15 years.
Dan Schawbel says
You need to identify who you are and what specific niche you are interested in and execute on your brand aspirations.
ML Eqatin says
All the comments on branding are very good and thought-provoking. Randy, you’ve covered that writers have to narrow themselves down to be recognizable to a market segment as a desirable read; they need to be consitent in delivering a quality product that fits that segment’s needs/wants; and they need to find media materials — brands, logos, taglines — that communicate that idea to their chosen market.
But one important item that hasn’t been emphasized enough for me is that you have got to find some communication shorthand (brand, by another name) that will actually stick in your customer’s brain. I won’t give examples from my other businesses (sorry about that Randy, I notice it was removed, but I wasn’t advertising as that business is no longer doing business) but one thing we learned was that if people can’t remember your business name, they can’t find your product. The internet will only give them a forest of similar options to choose.
So the gist is, pick a brand, make it yours, but find a phrase/name/theme that is memorable.
Enjoy the ride! -MLE
I’m still trying to nail down what it is I *MUST* write more than anything else. Is brand more about voice, or genre, or flavor? Right now I’m using the tagline “Adventures on Paper.” I love to travel, and I think books should transport us as we read. So far I’ve had 2 historical and 2 contemporary novellas published, but then my first cozy mystery (in a series of 3) comes out next spring. I think all of my stories (except my latest contemporary) have a tiny thread of suspense in them. I did have a professor tell me once that I had a “folksy” style of writing. It was a backhanded compliment, I think, because I tend to write without a lot of flowery stuff (he liked my style). More on the quirky side. I suppose branding isn’t so much about confining us but releasing us to move in our best gift as a writer. I’m just trying to find it. Thanks for this series, Randy…
Kathryn: No, that’s about ME, how I let out the truth; it must appeal to the reader.
Randy: What about this tweak: Lifechanging (or life altering) truth from the inside out.
Camy, if you’re reading this, what do you think?