Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Interacting with writers at writing conferences provides me with insight into what conceptions–some accurate, some not–wannabe authors have about the industry. During the recent Mount Hermon Writers Conference, individuals who sat at my table for dinner engaged in a lively discussion about how an author finds his or her brand.
Here are some branding pointers we examined:
—Branding is more than finding the commonality in what you’ve written. A novelist at the table suggested her brand might be writing about teenage, female protagonists. Or maybe, she mused, kidnapping was her brand since that was an element in all of her stories.
But a certain type of character or using the same plot device does not form a brand. The teenage protagonist might suggest that part of your brand be that you write YA. Or kidnapping might mean you write suspense. However, these are only the inklings of what might become your brand, not a brand per se.
–Your brand is a promise to your reader that you will deliver a particular type of reading experience. Looking at authors whose books you enjoy reading can help you to understand on a deeper level what a writer’s brand looks like.
I, for example, appreciate Walter Mosley’s writing.What expectations does the reader have when picking up one of his novels?
His most popular writing is his Easy Rawlins mystery series, which I know will deliver:
- a complex murder case
- that takes place in LA in the 1950s
- with Easy Rawlins, an African American detective, trying to solve the mystery.
- Rawlins will encounter prejudice
- and the story will depict life in an uneasy era for anyone with black skin.
- The characters will be depicted with depth,
- and the plot will be taut and disturbing.
Or let’s look at a nonfiction writer, Philip Yancey. What do you expect from one of his books?
Certain elements of his writing immediately come to mind for me:
- in-depth examination of a tough theological issue;
- spiritual questions we all tend to ask but can’t figure out the answer to;
- powerful writing;
- authenticity regarding his own spiritual journey.
Both Mosley and Yancey have made–and kept–their promises about the type of reading experience they deliver with every one of their books. That experience is an expression of their brand.
–Sometimes we figure out our brand when we violate it. Remember the one novel John Grisham wrote that broke the boundaries of his brand?
That would be A Painted House, which was published in 2010. Here’s how Amazon’s review of the book begins: “Ever since he published The Firm in 1991, John Grisham has remained the undisputed champ of the legal thriller. With A Painted House, however, he strikes out in a new direction. As the author is quick to note, this novel includes ‘not a single lawyer, dead or alive,’ and readers will search in vain for the kind of lowlife machinations that have been his stock-in-trade. Instead, Grisham has delivered a quieter, more contemplative story, set in rural Arkansas in 1952.”
The book sold poorly (for a Grisham novel), and neither reviewer nor reader seemed able to muster any enthusiasm for it. A Painted House was fated to have a sickly existence from the moment Grisham put his fingers to the keyboard to create the novel.
And that outcome was predictable. Grisham violated the border he himself had created when he wrote legal thriller after legal thriller. (Note how the Amazon review so aptly describes what Grisham’s brand is? See? Readers know what to expect.)
Is that fair? you might ask. But I would argue that’s the wrong question to ask. Neither life nor art is “fair.” Grisham’s success was based on delivering what readers had come to expect. To disappoint his readers was to choose not to have a successful book. He made the choice to step outside of his brand just once. Fair or not, he realized he was meant to write legal thrillers.
We feel the same way about the brand of Facebook. And Facebook keeps us emotionally roiled by changing the rules about how we relate to it without warning. The rule changes disrupt how we’ve come to think about Facebook. Eventually we might grow weary enough of all this brand violation to seek out alternative ways to connect with each other. A brand that stays true to itself.
Our coffee machines, our top choice in chocolate, our favorite car make, and our #1 TV show all have inherently promised to deliver a type of experience. That is their brand.
–Sometimes we are branded by the consumer. While we’d like to believe we have the right to brand ourselves, sometimes our readers brand us. They tell us what they like about what we deliver by buying a certain reading experience over and over again. If you write both fiction and nonfiction, and your fiction always outsells the nonfiction, your readers are branding you as a novelist. That’s what they want from you. If you write suspense and historical novels, your readers will vote for which genre they want from you; they’re unlikely to like both categories but will choose one over the other.
What author or TV show has disappointed you by not remaining true to his/its brand?
Have you resolved the question of what your brand is? If not, why do you think you are struggling to find an answer?
Can an author successfully break out of being branded? Click to tweet.
How does an author obtain a brand? Click to tweet.
Branding: Its pluses and minuses. Click to tweet.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net