Friday, November 25, 2011

To brand or not to brand: that is the question.

I'm going to talk about branding in this post, and I think I'm going to do another post talking about career writing, because in some ways this has also got me thinking about writing in general.

First: branding.

I've been thinking about branding a lot lately. Many people say that authors need to stick to one genre, at least while they're establishing their writing careers. It makes sense, right? Readers will maybe read a book by you and like the type of book it is, so they'll look for or expect more like that. Certain agents or publishers only take certain genres.

Knowing this doesn't stop me from writing the stories that come from my heart or the characters that rampage through my brain. Sometimes I stop and think, "What if no one wants to read story C because they've read story A and liked it, and C is so different?" I shrug and move on with whatever I'm writing.

I have two books already published, and they're different from each other. Restoration Book 1: Awakenings is YA inspirational fantasy. Confessions from the Realm of the Underworld (Also Known as High School) is contemporary YA.

If I'm looking at it from a looking-for-a-brand perspective, I can go okay, two novels of different genres isn't so bad, and they're both YA. And I consider that my publisher is going to continue publishing the Restoration series, so there will be more YA inspirational fantasy to add to my writing resume.

Then I look at the finished manuscripts sitting on my computer. I have, almost ready to go for publishing or submissions or whatever I decide to do with these, the silliest, most fun story I've ever written, and the darkest, most intense story I've ever written.
My Kingdom for a Newt is a YA fantasy book, a mishmash of fairy tales and magic and very lighthearted. It was wonderful to write, the release my brain needed from the intensity of other stories I was writing. I had a blast and thoroughly enjoyed the characters. They were some of the easiest ones I've ever written.

In contrast, I have two books, Rising 1: Resistance and Rising 2: Rebellion. This is one story, but it was so long I had to divide it into two books. This Rising duology is considered secular adult fiction. It's also speculative fiction—not quite fantasy, not quite science fiction, and not quite steampunk, but hints of each. It has been loads of fun trying to pinpoint a genre here. These two books have consumed my brain for almost two years. The first book is written, polished, edited, and ready to go, but I'm not doing anything with it until I have a draft of the second book done. (I'm almost halfway done with this draft.) In these two books, I have pushed myself out of my comfort zones, made myself cry—and let me tell you how weird this is; I never make myself cry with my own characters, even when I write painful, heartbreaking things. I have been to the point of such frustration with the characters so many times because they have been the most difficult ones I've ever written.

So I sit here and look at the wild differences between these books. The only similarities between them would be that they both have fantasy elements. I've gone back and forth deciding which one I would want to come out first. Would I want to release the Rising duology first? Would I want to release the Kingdom story first, since it's quick and easy and lighthearted, and the last book I released was rather lighthearted? But if I do that, people might be in for a shock if I released the Rising books following that and people go, "Who are you and what did you do with the lighthearted author?" 

I love writing stories that address deep character issues. Sometimes these character issues come out in lighthearted ways, and sometimes it comes out in very intense ways.

And I have no idea what stories might come in the future.

Maybe I'm never going to be the writer with a brand. Maybe I'm going to spend the rest of my life writing whatever story and characters come to mind and maybe some readers will like some books and some will like others. Maybe I won't be popular or gain as many readers if I don't have a very specific set of books. 

So now I ask you all: Do you have a brand when you write? Do you want one? Do you read authors who write in several genres, or do you prefer to read authors who write only one thing? I'm very, very interested to know what all of you have to say on the subject.


  1. Ugh. I've heard about this before myself. I know the old school, bookstore only, thinking was brought on because if you wanted to find the books by an author it was easier to do it if the author only wrote one genre. All the books would be together. But with the advent of the Internet and places like Amazon where you can search for an author by name, it's not the same problem.

    However, you raise a good point with your upcoming books being so very different from each other. Perhaps the issue isn't branding so much as making sure the readers know what they're getting in each?

    Good luck with that. I love your writing, so I can't wait to see what you do.

  2. This question used to drive me nuts, because I was querying for an agent and they kept saying I needed to stick to one genre for my brand. But I wrote sci fi, fantasy, paranormal, and even historical. I wrote YA and adult. I was all over the map. Now I don't worry about it, since I don't have an agent and I don't have any plans to get one in the near future. The books I've released so far are all fantasy, but that may change. Who knows?

    I think brand can be about more than genre--it can be about the reader's expectations in other ways. Are your books funny? Whimsical? Full of sizzling romance or unexpected twists? I can think of several authors who jump all over the place in terms of their subject matter and genre, but I know what to expect from them in terms of style. That, I think, is there brand. Not genre, but just their way of telling a story.

  3. I hear conflicting advice on branding all the time. Some treat it like our writing is toilet paper, that if we come up with some jingle, we're good to go, which is totally different than writing/art.

    Some say be purposeful with branding; one genre, one style. And some authors have found great success with this.

    Some say, the brand is you and don't worry about it.

    Maybe the best success is creating a brand of writing/storytelling that readers like, regardless of genre or targeted age group.

    Until we find reach lots of people, how much does it really matters anyway.

    I'm not sure what I think yet. I do think if I were to publish something completely different, I might alter my name a little bit so the reader knows. Like you, I write dark and light, so I might have to do this at some point.

    I'd say start with your strongest story, the one with the highest chance of blazing the trail! Good luck!

  4. An artist that's really good at painting would never ever refuse to try sculpture because she's known as a painter.

    Even people in normal jobs benefit from having experience in adjacent jobs.

    I think fiction writers, especially non-established ones, should branch out and try whatever they need to try to expand their skills. That doesn't mean people will love it or that anyone will want to publish it. But venturing into other genres can only improve your ability and confidence. I think that's more important establishing a brand.

    But then again, I haven't sold a book, so what do I know. :)

  5. I suppose the idea is to gather a reading audience that knows what to expect. And I think it's probably easier to stay in a genre where you know the ins and outs and expectations--and become more experienced with them.

    However, I don't do that either. I write YA, lit fic, and I've even tried my hand at a murder mystery--though I've only ever published YA. (But I'm planning on branching out.) With the expansion of indie publishing, I think we'll see more writers writing in multiple genres. It'll be interesting to see if the conventional wisdom is true.

  6. Donna-I think you may be exactly right--maybe it's a matter of making sure people know what they're getting. I hadn't really thought of it that way--you made some excellent points, thank you!

    Katie-I'm so glad I'm not the only one who writes this way. And you made me realize I kind of do have a "brand" in terms of style/what the book is like. Even when I write dark stories, there's always that light at the end of the tunnel, or hope of good things to come, or whatever. Hmmm. Thank you for your input!

    Laura-Haha, love the toilet paper analogy. And you're right--we never know what stories will reach what people. Maybe someone will like one story and hate another one, but if one story speaks to them, that's sure something.

    Tonja-I think you know a lot. :D What you said makes so much sense, and I love how you said that an artist who's good at painting wouldn't refuse to try sculpture. Maybe that's the thing with writing--writing is an art, but marketing is a business, and there are so many ways in which people say "do this" or "don't do this." But every person has different stories of success and failure, and sometimes what works for one person doesn't work for another.

    Connie-Wow, you're brave to try a murder mystery. Trying to put pieces of a mystery together is daunting for me. It will be really interesting to see how things go now that people can publish books themselves, for sure.

  7. Yes, I will go for branding, but I'm thinking of a strategy that will mean that I can pretty much write what I want. :-)

  8. I've thought about this, but don't have an answer. I've read different sorts of books by authors, and enjoyed the change because the author's voice was still there. I've considered writing significantly different books with a pen name, but I'm just not sure how that works these days, what with authors being expected to be more visible. Do I maintain separate websites for the different authors? Make up a persona? It just seems like too much to expect. I say write what you want. If different types of books get picked up, I don't see how it can really hurt you. Readers may like one type of book and not the other, but will that ultimately make them not read the types of books you write that they like? Will they not read the series they liked because they didn't like the other one? I can't see that being so. They may more carefully check the description of your books to know which type they are, but if you're honest in the descriptions and don't try to fudge a resemblance, I can't see that being harmful, either.

    Either way, good luck.

  9. I don't know the answer to this either except to say that at best, you should try to brand something, even if it's not genre. So that when a reader picks up your book, they'll know by the cover, title and jacket what genre it is-- but they'll also know by your name what themes or ideas or characters they can expect you to be tackling in the book.

    In this way, I think you can fudge by branding your personality and obsessions. Maybe I'm being optimistic (since I, too, often find myself exploring different genres for different stories). But if you're branding your name to a genre and your heart's not in it, I don't think it'll be the best it can be...

    Thanks for the post. Made me think :)



Thanks for sharing your thoughts!