Ditching or Mixing my Author Brand– Part 1

As an as-yet unpublished writer, my main time and concerns in writing lean towards actual writing, revision, and getting my books (products) ready. That’s as it should be.

BUT…

There’s always the big thoughts about author platform and branding circling my campfires. These have come to my mind this week again, because I’m currently rejigging my goals and plans for the rest of the year. Goals and plans need rejigging often, but it brings up the question towards branding again.

Part One – My Concerns in Author Branding (specifically to genre).

Part One – My Main Concerns in Author Branding

I suspect that some of these concerns are shared with other newer writers/authors out there. I’ve seen similar posts and changes of mind in several bloggers I read consistently. Here’s my main concerns with author branding –

1. Defining My Genre as a Brand

GenreWhen I first started out, I took the whole “you must create an author platform” and “you must find your author brand” quite biblically.

It was relatively easy then, because I was concentrating on beginning the writing of a series of psychological thrillers ie. I had a genre, and eventually worked out the theme within the series (which helped me work out catch-phrases like “serious thrills” – I tend to use domestic crimes and serious issues as a basis for the suspense (issues like stalking and hate crime for instance) – not themes like ultimate world domination or destruction, or spy or technical suspense as found in different thriller sub-genres.

On Rachelle Gardner’s fabulous advice blog, she dealt with this issue of branding in ‘Novelists, Stop Trying to Brand Yourself’ (Oct 2011). In this post, she suggests that –

As a novelist, your brand is your name and your genre. That’s it.

The post goes on to provide some examples –

Name and genre. What’s John Grisham’s brand? Legal thrillers. Jodi Picoult’s brand? Realistic women’s fiction.  Tom Clancy’s brand? Espionage, military and techno thrillers.

When I read this recently, the post seemed to ring a little falsely. I agree with the thriller sub-genres  suggested for Grisham and Clancy, but am also aware that Jodi Picoult has been fighting the genre terms thrown around on her fiction for years.

Jodi PicoultPicoult’s most well-known works seem to fit the family suspense, medical problems, court-room drama type, but that dismisses the more (posher) mix of literary fiction.

So in some channels Picoult’s work is now termed “realistic”. I’ve not seen that listed as a genre or category before. And I certainly haven’t seen the contrary ‘not-realistic’ category – or would that be fiction? or speculative fiction? or pure fantasy?

Even less clearly, Picoult (or her publishers) has several websites. On her Australian website, Picoult makes sure that there’s no catchphrase or branding of her as an author. On the About page, she links to a New York Times interview where she makes sure the reader is aware she does not write chick-lit. On the U.K. website, Picoult has several catchphrases – on the home page a headline says: “Nobody makes you think, Nobody makes you feel like Jodi Picoult” and the books page asks: “What would you do?” The official Jodi Picoult website returns to not having any branding type phrases on it.

However, as Rachelle Gardner suggests, when you think of Jodi Picoult, you think along those lines of family-women-drama-intrigue…

When I Genre-fied Myself…

original brandSo, going back to me, I suspect a reasonably typical new writer who’s been told repeatedly that I must establish my brand and platform, I grasped what I was doing a couple of years back, and created an author website in preparation. Fortunately, I’d read enough to grab my author name as the domain. It’s a dark and moody website, and the topics covered there are for people interested in psychological aspects of crimes. Things like serial killers, for instance. It was built  with my future thriller readers in mind, and I took the “blog to niche topics” advice very literally.

For a while I also branded (in colouring etc) this writing blog similarly – it used a grungy template for instance. And it currently shares a similar sub-heading or catch-phrase with the author site – “writing serious & thrilling fiction, blogging not quite so seriously.”

BUT…

I tagged on the “blogging not quite so seriously” because I know that my blogging “voice” – built on for over a decade of blogging now, is very different from how I write fiction…

Blog chatter is much less formal, but also doesn’t require a succinct description of a setting or a character.

AND…

Then, within the Indie publishing world recently, we started to get further advice about building product, shipping (ala Seth Godin and other thought leaders) and rinse and repeat. Over and over. Create. Ship. Create. Ship…

Indie authors can do that, I’ve heard. I’m yet to master the quick work necessary.

AND…

I needed a rest from writing all that serious thriller stuff, and started thinking about rekindling a Steampunk Epic Fantasy, and recently, developing a YA Superhero novella with my ten year old daughter.

The thoughts changed my mood. They also changed the template on my writing blog here – I’ve gone to a Pinterest theme, and am liking the brighter colours, and enjoying the creativity of including many more graphics. The writing blog is becoming more “me.”

Accidentally, I also stopped genre-squashing myself when I created a new About Me visual resume, as shared on this post. I stuck in superheroes, Wonder Woman, and Steampunk as well as thrillers. All without thinking about brand. But I knew I would need to, somehow.

2. What Happens to Your Author Brand When You Write More than one Genre? And Should You?

There are quite a few authors out there offering advice, particularly to Indies, who claim they have written hundreds of books, just under different (and sometimes hidden) pen names. Their writing advice websites are well-read, but you can’t find all their published books listed on there, or being sold from there. What several admit to doing is writing in different genres, however.

Indie writers are told that the key to our success and to building our platforms sits with producing lots of books. This is sometimes controversial, if we take this out into different genres in particular. Why? There’s a chance that we will dilute our branding with different genres. In an October 2012 post, Kowloon wrote ‘Diluting Your Author Brand (or, Getting All Up In Your Kool-Aid)’. I got a little lost in the Kool-Aid metaphor, but he makes a good point.

Adding in different genres has all kinds of issues – and opportunities: confusion in the reader’s mind, over-dilution of our writing (or simply over-exposure), confusion in the writer’s mind, likelihood of missing deadlines with over-commitment, risk to quality of writing, to not understanding a genre fully; and on the pro-side: more fun for the writer. Read as – more motivation to write. Secondly, more work out there means (hopefully) more income generation.

Lots of writers do do it, and use various methods to maintain the work and brand. In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss a couple of writers who have differing genres or brands for different aspects of their writing.

3. A Writing Blog and Brand Vs. A Fiction Platform and Brand

brandAs writers, when we start off building up a web presence – which is what all the platform pundits tell us to do – we create a blog. But we don’t have anything much to write about as yet, other than our writing journey. Yes, there is lots of advice to not write about writing too, and it makes sense of course – this writing blog finds me a community of fellow writers, not many of the future readers I need for my fiction.

But then we have agents and editors advising us that new writers should be able to support their submissions with signs of a growing platform – so many Twitter or Facebook followers, so many blog subscribers….

Without actual books or excerpts or product, we can only find so many genuine potential readers out there to support our platform statistics. But what we can do is blog about our writing, and build our writing community if we say things well enough.

The conundrum of blogging as a writer and blogging for category or genre readers, is one that I’ve watched several people out there meet differently.

the creative pennJoanna Penn comes to mind. She long had a well-read writing advice website under the brand of ‘The Creative Penn’. I was reading it years ago, long before Joanna actually came out with her first published book in the Arcane thriller series. Before the Creative Penn brand, Joanna had published a non-fiction book, ‘How to Enjoy Your Job’. As she states in a 2009 post, ‘How to Discover and Build Your Author Brand’, she had mistakenly branded herself towards this non-fiction book with words like ‘career change’ and a business image, and had to rebrand towards her writing work.

jf pennFor The Creative Penn brand, Joanna has a large readership of other writers, but when it came to branding for her newer fiction, she was known for her writing advice, not particularly for her fiction. For some time, she used The Creative Penn blog for news on her fiction works, but recently with further books coming out, Joanna decided that for her thriller fiction, she would re-brand herself, including a different author name – J.F. Penn, and she has a website at http://joannapenn.com/ now supporting these books, including a blog for all the news on her thriller fiction.

The Creative Penn website still provides a page towards her fiction and non-fiction books, but has the masthead or theme of ‘Thoughts on writing, publishing & book marketing’. Many posts and guest posts provide advice and learnings for writers. In a more recent guest post (March 2012) the subject is discussed again. Dan Blank from WeGrowMedia.com provides some author brand considerations in ‘Branding for Writers: An Essential Step to Building Your Author Platform.’

Joanna has a model where her writing brand website – The Creative Penn now supports her non-fiction book, and fiction brand of JF Penn thrillers, alongside specific branding and items like her Author 2.0 social media programmes, guest posting, and speaking business.

Other more prolific fiction writers don’t have fiction platforms for all their books, but do have writing blogs which they use to lead any interested readers to their works.

I think Joanna’s model is workable for me, and something I already (accidentally) have in place. It’s something that more and more experts are now suggesting – that we have an author named website – a place where our growing fanbase and readership can find us, and our books, and it’s still okay to hold a blog covering our writing journey.

However, the question remains – what would happen where a writer wants to write in more than one genre? In Joanna’s case, she’s currently got a non-fiction in the business stream, thriller genre fiction, and a brand of writing knowledge products.

In my case, I want to also write fantasy, as well as psychological thrillers. I also have my writing blog to maintain (and perhaps a book from the blog posts at some point, who knows).

  • Others attempt to maintain separate websites / platforms for the different fiction genres.
  • Some use different pen names to differentiate the genres – something needed in certain bookstores which shelf books under author names, rather than genre. (There have been a few cases reported where parents have picked up the latest JK Rowling title to give to their kids, and been mortified to find the more adult themes in her village mystery). Nora Roberts, the bestseller romance author uses the pseudonym J.D. Robb when writing her futuristic suspense series, In Death. She’s also used two other pen-names that we know of.
  • Famous authors like JK Rowling tend to run off the established reputation when changing genre  or category nowadays.

But, unlike most of them, I’m not deep into branding. I haven’t published as yet, and the thriller branded website hasn’t picked up in followers as yet, because I’m concentrating on actually writing the books – as I should be – and not building the site.

I also am not established, with a readership or fan base. And I’m certainly not branded by my characters (as in Harry Potter) or genre as many famous authors are.

So, perhaps I’m in a lucky place, where I can do something different with it.

In Part 2 of this short series, I’ll be discussing Branding Without Genre.
In Part 3 and the final part, I’ll summarise what this means to me as an author brand, and provide all the referenced posts in one list.

7 thoughts on “Ditching or Mixing my Author Brand– Part 1

  1. Hi Hunter – thanks for your considered piece on branding and for mentioning my own experiments, which are still in flux! My next fiction book will be a dark mystery with a hint of the supernatural, but then I am really interested in writing some travel memoir, and some other books that don’t even fit my “new” fiction brand – plus some more non-fiction that will fit under The Creative Penn. So I totally get what you mean and I struggle with this a lot!
    I started the new site purely under my own name – JoannaPenn.com – and also redirected from JFPenn.com which is my thriller brand name. I think using your name means you can grow into it and morph the brand over time. Hopefully some readers will come along with you too.
    All the best with your brand thinking!

    Joanna

    1. I think it’s a sign of the times for many of us contemplating the changing industry, that state of flux you,ve talked about. Great opportunities, though, to be in control of our brand. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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