First of all – hello everyone! It’s a tremendous pleasure to join you here at Magical Words – I’ve followed this blog for quite some time, and I’ve been inspired and edified by so many posts here! I am thrilled to be an occasional guest post-er, and I look forward to learning more from this community.
On to business…
I’ve been reading a lot lately about author branding, about why it’s a great thing, about how every author worth his/her salt will invest tons of time, effort, emotion, and hard-earned money in creating a brand, including reworking our websites and all of our extensive print and electronic promotional material to reflect that identity.
And I’m skeptical.
Full disclosure: I was a trademark lawyer in a former life. I know a lot about trademarks — brands — and how they function to indicate the source, sponsorship, or origin of a particular good or service. I know that brands are valuable to their owners (who can take marketing shortcuts, exhorting consumers to “Buy Branded Good” because it’s a known entity considered superior to Generic Good.) I also know that brands are valuable to consumers, who can take purchasing shortcuts, guaranteeing that the Branded Good they buy is of a known, familiar quality.
An example of branding, related to publishing: Years ago, I worked in a bookstore. We had one customer who came in on the first Friday of every month to announce, “I have to take the red eye tonight, and I need a book. What do you have that is good?” The first time I waited on this customer, I offered a dozen options before she spied a book on the New Releases table: Jackie Collins’ HOLLYWOOD WIVES. “Here,” she said. “This is what I asked for. Something good!” I mastered the formula before the next red-eye: Jackie Collins = Good. When my frequent flyer eventually ran out of Ms. Collins’ backlist, I was able to transfer her to other authors who wrote glitzy romance. Ms. Collins’ brand helped Ms. Collins and my bookstore-employer to sell books, and it helped my customer to buy books.
Alas, as a speculative fiction author, I’m not at all convinced that I can — or want — to brand myself. Bear with me for a little trip down Memory Lane, Publishing Edition. My first novel (THE GLASSWRIGHTS’ APPRENTICE, followed by four sequels) was a traditional fantasy, set in a caste-bound society that functioned without magic. My second bite at the apple (SEASON OF SACRIFICE) was another traditional fantasy, set in a world overflowing with elemental magic. My third publishing gig was the Jane Madison series (GIRL’S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, followed by two sequels), a contemporary comic fantasy romance with a chicklit flavor (say that three times fast), about a librarian who finds out that she’s a witch. I’m currently in the middle of the As You Wish series (WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD will be in stores on April 1) about a genie who grants wishes to theater professionals, and it is very similar in tone to the Jane Madison books.
Recently, I queried many of my readers, asking them what word they thought of when they thought of a “Mindy Klasky” novel. A handful of readers who had read only my traditional fantasies said “dark” or “grim” or “ambitious”. The vast majority of my readers used “fun” or “clever” to describe my Jane Madison and As You Wish series.
As thrilled as I am to hit the “fun” nail on the head for my current books, no one in his right mind would call the Glasswright or Sacrifice books “fun.” And as appropriate as “dark, grim, and ambitious” are for my traditional fantasies, those words have nothing to do with my most recent five publications. I’m trying to picture my website now: Mindy Klasky: Ambitious Clever Dark Grim Fun.
Um, maybe not.
In fact, at the moment, I’m hard-pressed to think of a speculative fiction author who has published more than five books and who can be summarized as a single, coherent brand. I think that branding might work better in genres other than speculative fiction. Each of John Grisham’s thrillers covers similar ground and presents a similar feel to readers. Same with Danielle Steel romances. With Jodi Picoult’s literary fiction. Obviously, branding worked for my Jackie Collins fan, years ago.
So, what do you think? Are readers of speculative fiction served by authors’ attempts to brand themselves? Can you think of a strong-branded, oft-published speculative fiction author? (I’m sure there are plenty out there – I’m just drawing a blank…) Is there something about speculative fiction, as a genre, which makes it different from other genres, for branding purposes?
Or should I just go back to my writing closet, and forget about all about this branding stuff?