As promised (or would that be “threatened”?) I’m doing another promotional post today, to mark tomorrow’s release of the third and final book in my Blood of the Southlands trilogy. The book is called The Dark-Eyes’ War, and it is, at least for now, the final installment in the long-running epic fantasy story arc that began with my Winds of the Forelands series. I hope that you’ll all enjoy the book. For those interested in trying to win a free signed copy, there is a contest up at my website (the contest ends today, by the way). There are also sample chapters posted on the site, in case you want to check out the opening passages before you buy the book.
In the context of the release, I’d like to write a bit about branding, which is a word you hear a lot of these days in publishing circles. Branding is not some cruel form of medieval torture, though at an emotional level it can often feel that way. Rather, it refers to the marketing of an author, the association of his or her name with a certain type of product. In other words, branding in publishing is not all that different from the branding of, say, Quaker Oats or Toyota or General Electric.
Let me back up for a moment and offer a couple of tidbits about the publishing business. It won’t surprise any of you to hear that the business now is as competitive and unforgiving as it has ever been. There are more ways for authors to get their work out there — small presses, PODs, vanity presses, etc. But in the world of traditional publishing, things have never been tougher. Whereas once publishers were less wedded to bottom-line decision making, now everything is about profit margin. A book needs to sell, and it needs to sell fast. Bookstores are constantly looking to move books, turn over stock, and get the bestselling books out there on the most prominent shelves. For writers, the window in which their books need to sell has never been narrower. If a book hasn’t taken off in four weeks, booksellers will stop pushing it and look for the next “hot” title. That window used to be six weeks. Once upon a time it was eight.
One of the most concrete manifestations of all these trends is the reliance of bookstores on previous sales numbers in their determination of how many books to order. In other words, the way booksellers decide how many copies of The Dark-Eyes’ War they’re going to order, is to go back to sales figures for the hardcover edition of the previous book in the series (The Horsemen’s Gambit) and then order 80% of the number of books they moved. The sales of that last book have a direct bearing on the number of books I’ll sell of this one. And since bookstores are always looking to minimize the number of books they have to return to their distributors (that’s where that 80% figure comes in) I’m already working at a disadvantage. There is constant downward pressure on an author’s numbers built into the system. Not good.
David B. Coe is more than my name. It’s my brand. “David B. Coe” is a mid-list author of epic fantasy. His books don’t sell at the level of Robert Jordan or George R. R. Martin or Terry Goodkind (other epic fantasy “brands”) but they sell pretty well. They tend to be fairly literary with an emphasis on character, decent worldbuilding, and multi-strand plotting. They’re extended story-arcs, and each volume is a bit longer than the industry standard; they used to be much longer, but as fantasies have gotten shorter, so have “David B. Coe” books. They’re published by Tor, and so they have a certain look — the cover art, map work, and production are recognizably “Tor-ish.” They don’t sell hugely, but they do all right and they get good reviews. Based on this, readers know what to expect in terms of writing style and quality when they pick up a “David B. Coe” book. And bookstores know what to expect in terms of sales when they order them.
The new books I’m working on now — my historical fantasies — are very different. They’re shorter, they aren’t set in alternate worlds, they involve mystery as well as fantasy, they are written from a single POV, and they each stand alone, though events in one book do ramify through subsequent volumes (a true serial as opposed to an extended story-arc). In short, I wrote them, but they are not “David B. Coe” books in the branding sense. Which is one of the reasons why I’m writing them as D.B. Jackson. Tor doesn’t want a “David B. Coe” reader to pick up one of these books expecting one thing, only to find something else inside. And neither do I. I know that many readers wouldn’t mind, but some will, and that could hurt the series. So this new project is being branded in a new way: the “D.B. Jackson” way.
A brand can be a fragile thing; just ask Toyota…. If I write a lousy book or two, my readership will fall off. And then my numbers will suffer and the bookstores will order fewer and fewer copies. My publisher will see this, and offer me contracts that are worth less. Or, if things get bad enough, they’ll stop offering me contracts at all. Does that sound extreme? Well, maybe it is. But it’s the way things work now. I can name several authors who in recent years have been told by their publishers “Sorry, we can’t publish your books anymore. They don’t sell.” So there is another reason why my new books are “D.B. Jackson” books. “Jackson” doesn’t have an established sales record. There is nothing in the bookstore computers telling the buyers at Barnes and Noble and Borders and Books-A-Million how many copies to order. So they’re much more likely to listen to the marketing hype from Tor and order the recommended number of copies. Put another way, “D.B. Jackson” is, commercially speaking, a clean slate. And so my career just had its “reset” button pressed.
This is, potentiall, the good side of branding. Those authors I mentioned before, the ones whose numbers are too low — they’re not finished forever. Only their brands are. They can press the reset button, too, by rebranding themselves under a new name. Branding works in other ways, too. An author like Faith, who has enjoyed success in a number of genres, rebrands not to save a dying career, but to have several successful brands going at once — kind of like Honda also making cars that are marketed under the Acura brand.
What does all of this have to do with my release? Nothing, really. And everything. I’m writing as D.B. Jackson now, and I’m hoping that “his” books will be enormously successful. But I want to maintain the “David B. Coe” brand as well, because I have more epic fantasy that I want to write eventually, and I like publishing under my own name. So sooner rather than later, I’ll be using that brand again, and I want to keep it viable.
So I’ll be out there pushing these new books, working on “David’s” numbers. I want to keep my customers happy, and I want to keep the sellers interested.David B. Coe http://DavidBCoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net