Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Branding and Career - Part One: What is Your Brand?

Welcome to my five part series on Branding and Career Planning. I will finish my characterisation series. That’s next on the blog line up.  This week though:


What sort of career do you want?
When you’re thinking about your brand and career, you need to know what an author brand actually is, and what sort of career you want. Let’s start with the career part, because I think this is obvious to some and confusing to others.

There are many types of writing career. There is writing novels, one a year, every year. There is writing for TV or plays. There is writing hundreds of short stories and chasing award accolades. There is non-fiction writing. The ever mysterious children’s books. Writing for graphic novels. Journalism. Magazine articles. You get the idea.

All of these have their own career trajectories and many require very different skills to be successful. In this series, I am going to focus on novels (and novellas) and a path that is reasonably suited to indie published and traditionally published authors, or hybrids, like myself. However you should sit down and think about what you want. If you have no idea, pick an author you want to be like, and map their career path to give you some ideas.

What is your brand?
Firstly, what is a brand? An author’s name is not a person, it’s a brand. A logo, of sorts. Apple, Stephen King, Sony, J.K Rowling. They identify the quality and type of product being offered. In the case of an author a brand is, generally speaking, a combination of your genre and strengths.

In Stephen King’s case, you know you are likely getting a certain type of character driven horror, a little slow, and a little wordy, but beautifully developed with a lot of relatable characters and powerful motivations. It will also be off-beat, original and strange.

In J.K Rowling’s case, you are getting easy-to-read prose, very English settings, themes about class and financial inequality and identifiable, easy to connect with characters. Of course, most people hear JK Rowling and just think HARRY POTTER, however now she has done some other works, it’s easier to identify which elements have been maintained.

So when you are identifying your own brand, you need to look at your genres, themes and writing strengths. Specifically, what people enjoy about your work. I have diversity in my characters and themes that address disability, sexuality and identity. I am also well-known for my grimdark style. People who like my writing, like those elements. That is the Talitha Kalago brand.

Make a list of what you think your strengths are, and be sure to ask people who have read your work. Write a few paragraphs about your brand and what you want it to be, it will help with later exercises in this blog series.

My romance brand has different strengths and themes, which is why it is under a different pen name. There is not necessarily a lot of cross-over between the fan base. Which brings me to the last point: you may need more than one brand.

Some people will insist you need different brands for different genres. Some people lump everything together and do just fine.  I believe each brand doubles the work load, but gets you four times as many readers and your decision should be based on your time and your drive for success.

Why Have More Than One Brand?

Because it makes it easier for readers to find books they want to read. There is a scene in one of my horror novels where a monster cannibalises its own infants. It’s very graphic. There is also a scene in one of my romance novels where three band members have sex with a fan. It’s also very graphic. I suspect there are very few people who would enjoy both of those scenes equally.

So if all my books were published under the same name (brand) people who brought both books would be disappointed with one or the other. Because they have very little in common. Even if people love the first three books by an author, if they hate the fourth, they probably won’t by the fifth.

If you want a career as an author, you should always be aiming to create repeat customers. This is more effective with different pen names for different genres. However, two pen names is double the work. Three is triple the work, and so on. More brands make things easier for readers; it does not make things easier for you.

So what if you want to put it under the same name? That’s fine. It just means your pool of readers will be much smaller. Because (in my case) they will comprise of people who enjoy both scenes of graphic infanticide cannibalism AND scenes of erotic, sensual four-ways. And, let’s face it, that’s really just me and a few people who are in prison.

NEXT WEEK: Knowing Your Target Audience.

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