How I Chose My Author Brand

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

When a writer starts attending conferences because, dear Lord you think you want to be published she hears “you need a brand.” What the heck does that mean? I couldn’t figure it out for years. How could I sell myself as something, especially if I wasn’t published yet.

The experts say, what makes you unique? I’m not an expert in anything. I don’t have a fancy degree in rocket science. In fact, I hated science in school and in college took classes like Writing A Review (we went to the movies!) and Film Form and Analysis, Theater Appreciation, Public Speaking (easy A for me) and stuff like that. I don’t have a strange hobby that I partake in like sword fighting or shark diving. Being the rocket scientist shark diver author was out of the question. Now what?

The first books I published were geared for the middle grade crowd about magical places with talking animals, and three teens running for their lives. Okay, my log line became “Where Fantasy and Adventure Collide.” Until a guy at a bar in New York City pointed out that line sounded like porn. Thanks, dude.

Let me back up a little. When I decided to take my writing seriously for the first time in my life, the book I wrote was a women’s fiction novel about a woman with a secret. I couldn’t get any traction with that one so I wrote another women’s fiction about a family whose child has a serious heart condition. (I think I had read one too many Jodi Picoult books at that point.) After that I wrote a romantic suspense with dead bodies, and ghosts. My heart was in the adult market.

Instead, I published those middle grade books for reasons we’ll discuss another time. I didn’t know what my brand was. Then I wrote A Second Chance House. And my brand hit me between the eyes. (Pardon the cliche. My writer’s slip is showing.)

me and angel
At a school visit in 2015. Mrs. R is one awesome teacher. That’s book one in the middle grade series. The cover came out cool. 

The thing all my characters have in common across every one of those books is a dysfunctional family.  In the middle grade books, Gabriel our hero, has two very messed up parents. In A Second Chance House, Grace has a father she never knew. They both are searching for a family to belong to because we can’t pick our parents. As I wrote the second book in the women’s fiction series (the Heritage River series), A Bridge Home, my heroine Harley, was dumped on the doorstep of her aunt and uncle because her mother didn’t want her.

I knew what my brand was without doubt. Family. Home. Second Chances. My log line changed to Family are the people who love you when you need them. You don’t have to be born to that family. Sometimes we pick them up along the way. (Please tell me that doesn’t sound like porn!)

I’m an expert in weird families. I’d rather be a concert pianist playing at Lincoln Center, and maybe some day I will be, but for now, it’s weird families. Lucky me.

I’m still not completely comfortable branding myself. (Makes me think of cattle and a hot branding iron.) Publishers used to need to know what shelf to stick a book on, so it made sense to know where you fit in, but now the shelves are disappearing, and with the aid of technology I can add keywords to my books that are specific to that book. This way, when someone searches, women’s fiction, home, family, second chances, sexy washed up rock star drummer, my books will come up. Do I really need to tattoo myself with a hot branding iron that will leave a scar? That sounds painful, no?

How would you describe yourself if you needed a brand? Maybe you have a brand already. Tell us how you decided to label yourself?

A Second Chance House is available for pre-order in digital format. The print version will become available March 7th from all major online retailers, and here on the website.

I’m hosting a Facebook party on March 7th from 7 – 9 pm in honor of the release. There will be games and prizes.

And since music is so important to me and my hero, Blaise Savage, I’m having a book launch concert at Patrick’s Pub, Neptune, NJ, March 28th 7 pm. I’ll be signing books and doing a reading. And right along side me will be fantastic bands playing awesome music. (I won’t be singing. Don’t worry.)

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “How I Chose My Author Brand

  1. A brand — like a fictional character — is nothing more than a defined set of limited traits, the unique combination of which make up an distinct identity, or personality, and allow for limitless new “spins” within the established parameters of that consistent assortment of characteristics.

    I mean, last time on this blog, we were discussing Van Halen, right? And the thing that makes Van Halen identifiably Van Halen through all their many incarnations is a consistent brand. So, what are the components of Van Halen’s brand?

    – Eddie’s signature tap-harmonic guitaring
    – Flamboyant, even decadent behavior (both on- and off-stage)
    – Lightweight, feel-good (and often thematically immature) lyrics
    – A melodic performance style with vocal harmonizing, which stands in incongruous contrast with the hard-edged shred of Eddie’s guitar

    I mean, that’s just off the top of my head, but it gives you a sense of what makes Van Halen Van Halen, in contrast with Aerosmith and Rush and AC/DC. Those are the defined parameters within which they operate — what’s allowed them to change their sound (and, often, their frontmen) yet remain identifiably themselves. They have a strong brand.

    Or look at Ryan Seacrest. The name alone conjures a very specific image: He’s metrosexual; he’s milquetoast/inoffensive/nonconfrontational; he’s cheerful and vapid; he promotes an idolatry of celebrity culture. That’s him in a nutshell — that’s his brand. And it’s been a very successful one for him. It’s also why, when you listen to him talk on Live with Kelly about how he doesn’t know what to do with himself in New York, you think, “Of course you don’t. You belong in Hollywood. Why did you even take a job that was going to displace you from your beloved Sun Belt?” In that particular instance, the job itself conformed to his brand — Live is a celebrity-softball morning show if ever there was one — but it geographical location was too far removed from his home base of Hollywood.

    Branding, like the craft of writing itself, is very much something that can be consciously applied. I mean, a brand has to be true to who you are, but there are certainly ways to identify your strengths and interests, define those characteristics, and then arrange them into a grouping of traits that form your “public face.”

    1. What I love about your responses, is you make us all think. I wonder if it’s only over time that the brand forms. Can you really come out of the box and immediately have a brand? Maybe. Eddie Van Halen was certainly creating his sound playing backyard parties long before Gene Simmons found them in a bar in LA. And we all have interests hanging around us before we have a public. But sometimes I wonder, who really cares that I work out or enjoy yoga? I’m not Rodney Yee.

      Still, I look at myself and think, who am I? I’m not ripping guitars apart to make a sound I can’t get from either one. I’m not the cheerful, and perfectly coiffed Ryan Seacrest. Not that I or anyone should be. You have to be yourself otherwise your readers, viewers, listeners, customers won’t believe you. So, you’ll never see me write Erotica because that image is not me. I about near passed out when I found out CVS sells vibrators.

      But I am a middle aged woman with teenagers who sometimes looks around and says, “is this it?” And that’s what I bring to my characters. And yes, I work out so I can fight middle age every step of the way. And I’m a huge fan of music, theater, and books. Not super exciting. Not Eddie Van Halen for sure. (Thankfully, also not the alcoholic, drug using, difficult to get along with person either.)

      I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this, and since Sean is probably the only one reading it, I’ll beg his forgiveness and bid adieu.

      1. I think maybe the brand forms organically, but then at some point we recognize it intellectually and perhaps even codify (or at the very least articulate) it. Case in point: You and I have different views of Gary Cherone, but the one thing we both agree on was that he wasn’t the right fit for Van Halen. Here’s the thing, though: On paper, Cherone was a perfect replacement for Hagar. He’s a charismatic frontman; his vocal stylings are eerily similar to Sammy’s (listen to them duet on “When It’s Love” here); he knows how to use his vocals to complement (rather than compete with) a strong lead guitarist (Nuno Bettencourt); he draws from many of the same hard-rock influences that inspired VH (like the Who, etc.). Plus, at the time, Extreme had just broken up, so he was, fate willing, available to take the job!

        But… a closer analysis of Van Halen’s brand might’ve illuminated some problems with the pairing. Foremost, Gary’s lyrics have always employed complex wordplay and religious allusions (he’s a practicing Catholic), which is at odds with one of VH’s core traits: their lightweight, feel-good, immature songwriting themes. And when you listen to Van Halen III, you sense right off the bat that something is out of place, because one of the brand’s four key qualifiers had been violated. This wasn’t Cherone’s fault: It was merely a case of incompatible sensibilities.

        So, I think as you develop your own author brand, you can look for patterns in it and deconstruct it the way I did for Van Halen and Ryan Seacrest. And I think you can avoid career missteps, like the one that befell Van Halen when they hired Gary Cherone (or Seacrest’s ill-advised decision to take a job he didn’t need in a city he doesn’t like), by having an intellectual understanding of your own brand parameters — your own creative identity — and not merely an intuitive notion of “what makes you tick.” Let it develop naturally, and then deconstruct it analytically post factum.

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