Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
I know, I know, some of you have heard about branding so often that your ears flap shut when the word is uttered. But, having just returned from the Mount Hermon Writers Conference, I noted that the topic keeps popping up, even if it isn’t invited into the conversation.
This week I want to discuss with you linchpin topics that sneaked into my exchanges with conferees and editors because we haven’t finished talking about them yet…even if we wish we were done!
Is branding a “bad” word? One that you can’t bring yourself to care about? Or is it a word that can help you to breakout of your current status (be that midlist or trying to break into publishing)? My answer is…it’s both a bad word and a good word.
Here’s a recap of a conversation I had during the writers conference:
I was chatting with a woman who is unpublished but makes her living as a marketer. She clearly was savvy about how to position her pr0jects. But the problem was that she had written a historical romance and a nonfiction book that would appeal to a specific, broad, and easily located readership. Her question to me was: “Am I shooting myself in the foot by presenting to editors two very different types of writing?”
My answer: “I don’t think so.” Here’s my reasoning:
While some people are born “branded” and know who their audience is and how to reach it, most writers enter the world of publishing not sure of the direction they should go. I advise those people to knock on all doors to see which one will open. It’s a simple matter of The Open Door Policy. Once you land a contract, you can think about focusing on branding.
Receiving a contract offer means you have put together a project that the publisher believes will find a ready audience, is tightly focused, and you have the means to help to publicize. It’s a thumb up on all fronts!
This particular conferee had presented her fiction and nonfiction projects to a variety of editors and had received 100% requests to see the project. Now, here’s the smart action point that she took: She only presented one project to each editor rather than talking about both projects.
Why was that smart? Because, if she had presented both, she would have looked as if she were flailing around to grab publishing’s attention anyway she could. She would have looked unbranded. Editors and agents don’t like unbranded because that often translates to unfocused.
But that’s not always the case. This writer could, and I believe would, put all of her focus on whichever project ended up with a contract being offered. She had the know-how and the passion to pursue either. That’s the crux of branding; it’s a combo of walking through the door that opens and remaining true to your passion.
Two dangers exist in presenting more than one project at a time:
- You could find both projects are happily received by different publishing companies. While that sounds great, two giant, golden-egg-laying geese have just landed in your lap. Now you have to write and market two projects, with two different audiences, at two different publishing houses, and figure out how to brand yourself while you’re going in two directions. It’s like starting two businesses simultaneously.
- You could distract yourself from purposefully branding yourself and becoming known as a certain type of writer to editors. Editors and agents have awfully good memories about what you’ve pitched them in the past. So if you pitch a nonfiction book to an editor one year and a fiction title next year, that editor is likely to remember…and to wonder if you “get” the importance of branding.
I also would advise against having more than two genres you’re working in because it’s very difficult to write middle-grade fiction, adult fiction, and adult nonfiction. Well, it might not be hard to write in several genres, but it’s only the extraordinary person who can effectively market in all of them. Most authors struggle with how to write fast and well and aggressively market their books and develop a significant platform–all of which are requirements in today’s competitive publishing world.
Now, you tell me, do you agree that branding is a good word and a bad word?