We’ve been talking about branding all week. One question that has come up frequently is whether a new writer needs to get branded. So I thought I’d ask a newly minted author, Camy Tang, whose first novel comes out in September. Camy took my Fiction 101 lecture series three years ago at a writing conference. She’s made rapid progress and now calls herself the “loud Asian chick” who writes “Romance with a kick of wasabi.”
Camy is great fun to hang out with, and she’s put up with a lot of razzing from me because of the fact that ANYTHING makes her laugh. No kidding, if you say anything remotely funny, she laughs.
I once bet her that I could make her laugh by reading something chosen at random out of the newspaper. She took the bet and put on her straight face, absolutely determined not to laugh. I opened the newspaper and started reading an ad in my “Kansas hick” voice. (I was born in Kansas.) She started laughing hysterically. I feel confident I could read an obituary and make her laugh.
Check out Camy’s web site here. Notice how well the design, colors, graphics etc. all fit together. Graphic design is part of a brand.
Anyway, I emailed Camy yesterday and asked if she’d like to talk about how she got branded (and maybe show us her scars). She was quick to respond.
Randy asked: Do you think branding is a “good thing” or a “bad thing?”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say branding is one of the writer’s most powerful weapons (outside of God’s timing and His orchestration of the universe).
As an unpublished, nobody writer, what made my senior editor (who was a senior marketing director at the time, something to take note of) sit up and notice me was my brand. Fun, romantic, Asian American fiction.
Here are my theories why:
1) No one else in Christian publishing was doing Asian American fiction–some Asian American NONfiction, some overseas Asian (non American) fiction, but not Asian American fiction. I was blazing a new trail.
2) I was writing ROMANCE, which is a well-selling genre in Christian publishing, so I wasn’t totally out in left field.
When I pitched to Sue Brower, she hadn’t read any of my writing, but she was intrigued by my brand. It made me stand out from the other appointments she’d been taking at that conference because I had a definite MARKETING platform (remember I said she was marketing director at the time?).
If a writer can make him or herself stand out from the pack like that, then stellar writing is just gravy.
Randy asked: Tell us all about your brand.
I write Asian American Christian chick lit, although it’s also targeted at romance readers (which is by far the larger reader demographic). More on that below.
My tagline is “Romance with a kick of wasabi.” Wasabi is an extremely powerful horseradish used with sushi. I chose my tagline because my novels are romantic, but they’ve also got strong, unusual Asian characters (that kick of wasabi).
Randy notes: My wife is Korean and sometimes makes sushi with wasabi. It’s always fun to watch people eat wasabi when they think it’s guacamole. That’s a real kick!
Randy asked: What was the process you used to develop your brand?
Several things happened at once.
Originally, I had written a chick lit with ethnic-neutral characters. But then I did some research.
I looked at the books published in both the Christian and mainstream market. I looked at chick lit and also romantic comedy and comedic women’s fiction, since those genres are closest to what I write. I read a few books, but mostly I took time to look at the back cover blurbs posted on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
Those were the best couple hours I ever spent. I discovered that out of the books already published, there were no Christian Asian American novels, just Christian Asian American nonfiction titles or nonChristian Asian American novels. The Christian Asian novels out there were either historical or set overseas, not in America. That’s when the lightbulb clicked and I realized I had a unique perspective that could translate into unique fiction.
At the same time, Brandilyn Collins prayed over me at a conference. I told her to just pray however the Spirit led her, and the strangest thing came out of her mouth–“write your heritage.” Talk about weird. Just as I’d been considering writing Asian American characters, Brandilyn prayed this very specific prayer over me. Well, who am I to argue with God?
I already knew that I didn’t want to be just like any other author already out there. I wasn’t out to become the next Amy Tan or Kim Wong Keltner. I wanted to be original and unique rather than being “just like so-n-so.” I deliberately set out to NOT copy what was already published.
I also didn’t want to shoot myself in the foot–I wanted to make sure I appealed to the VPs of Sales and Marketing at a publishing house. At the time, chick lit was starting to die as a genre, but romance sales were (and still are) strong. While chick lit readers will read romance, romance readers will not always read chick lit.
So while my writing was still essentially chick lit with those strong female characters, I deliberately wrote my novels in third person to appeal to romance readers. It was a good gamble for me–this was one of many things that made my writing appeal to the editorial board.
If I’d discovered that my brand didn’t quite intrigue people, then I would have tweaked it even more until I found a brand that did. I wouldn’t ever write something I didn’t want to write, but because I enjoy writing in several different genres, I could have branched out to other things without any kind of pain or suffering.
Randy asked: Did your publisher or agent help you in developing your brand, and if so, how?
Most definitely. My agent and publisher both encouraged me to play up the romance aspect of the stories so that the Sales Team would have an easier time selling the book to retailers. Well, I love romance, so that wasn’t a problem for me.
My agent also pointed out something I hadn’t even noticed myself–my books have a very strong theme of family running through them. I enjoy writing about Asian American families, and it’s fun because all families are essentially alike, no matter the ethnic background. I have friends and readers saying, “Oh, my grandmother does that!” or “My mom is totally like that.”
So at the suggestion of my agent and editor, I’ve also tweaked my brand a bit even more, and I delve deeper into the Asian American culture to explore Asian American families. I’ve been reading Asian American studies books and also Asian American women’s studies books.
I have a feeling my brand will remain essentially the same, but there might be little “tweakings” here and there along the road.
Randy sez: Notice what Camy did. She thought about who she is and looked for things that were unique about her. She researched the market. When she talked to editors and her agent, she listened to what they had to say. (Other people often see things in us that we don’t see in ourselves.) Then she put it all together into an angle that she felt comfortable with–something she could feel excited about writing for the next several years.
You go, Camy! I’m hoping your book really takes off.