Sunday, May 25th, 2008 • 3 Comments on Branding The Wily Author
The thing about being a writer is that it is a contradiction. On one hand, it is a very solitary pursuit. In order to actually be a writer, you have to write—and that requires being alone for a good chunk of the time. However, once you are a writer, everything you write is under scrutiny from everyone. You go from being alone in the world to having everyone and his brother and his brother’s dog telling you what you should write and how you should write.
Everyone feels entitled to offer an opinion or observation and those who know you will (usually) be kind and tell you how incredible you are while you sit there and think, “How nice. If only they knew anything about writing and publishing and also perhaps owned a publishing company…” Those who don’t know you will offer up everything from the highest of praise to the cruelest (and most personal) of insults as if, by writing what you’ve written and making it public, they are entitled to offer an opinion. There is the assumption that all writers have tremendous egos, but it’s been my experience that the ones with the biggest egos are the indignant readers who think you should have written something better. As if their singular opinion will make a writer smack themselves in the head V-8 style and say, “Why, of course! You are
very right and brilliant for noticing what a lousy writer I am! Thank you!”
One of the issues about being a writer is branding. Branding, as in marketing. “Author branding,” as it’s called.* When I Googled “author branding” I came up with a variety of links. Candice Proctor/C.S. Harris does an excellent job of explaining why author branding is important:
In essence, a brand is a simplifier. In our society, simple is good. We have so many choices today that no one has the time to do all the research necessary to really make an informed choice. Branding makes life easier.
While I understand the concept of “author branding,” I have a serious problem with my own branding. I can’t do it. You don’t even have to know what author branding is in order to tell I’m hopeless at it. Just look at my blog. Fun and friendly cartoon illustrations interspersed with sexy and salacious book covers. Hmm. Am I sending mixed messages?
Forget the header and sidebar—consider the content. From one day to the next, I’m lamenting the sexism and exploitation in a Dairy Queen commercial, crowing about recent story sales to two forthcoming oral sex anthologies, showcasing a picture of wildlife in my backyard, indulging in a bit of pop culture humor with LOLCats and back to talking about my writing, from my foray into screenwriting to my fifty-something published erotica story that’s out now.
Who the hell am I?
I read a lot of writers’ blogs. I’ve seen author branding done incredibly well. So well, in fact, that the line is blurred between author and characters. Now that is author branding. Yet, I can’t do it. Not in my blog, which is a mashup of all the things that interest me, nor in my writing, which is… well, yeah, a mashup of all the things that interest me. I have made a little mark in erotic fiction; I made an even smaller mark in romance fiction. I’m trying to make a mark in chick lit and mystery and literary fiction, as well. Oh, and screenwriting.
How does one “brand” that mix? Well… it seems the way to do it is to assign different pseudonyms to different kinds of writing and develop different branding plans for each (including a different blog for every brand). Except, well, I don’t want to use a pseudonym. I write under my real name—everything I write is under Kristina Wright (with the exception of erotica anthologies in which I had more than one story—and then my “pseudonyms” were derivations of my real name) and I have no intention of ever writing under a pseudonym.
I know writers who have chosen to use pen names for a variety of reasons and I respect their choice to do so—but it’s not for me. I also know writers who have been bullied into using pen names by editors and agents. Publishing is a tough business and the lure of a contract is often enough to make someone with a difficult-to-pronounce name or a name which has been around the block in a different genre decide to bow to the powers that be. It happens. I don’t judge, I just don’t think I could do it for any reason. Of course, I will likely die penniless and obscure for sticking by my principles while other writers will go on to sell books in multiple genres because they have done such a brilliant job of branding each of their pseudonyms. Such is life.
The word “genre” gets thrown around a lot, too. As in: “What genre do you write?” Most often, the question is boiled down to: “What do you write?” It could be asked by a polite stranger or a friend of a friend at a backyard barbecue or an interested agent or an exhausted editor in an elevator on the third day of the fourth conference they’ve attended in six weeks. In all cases, a writer should be able to rattle off an answer—preferably one that is intriguing. It’s part of the author branding, you know. For the past decade, my stock answers have ranged from, “A little bit of everything” to “Whatever I can sell” to “Um… well… right now I’m working on…” followed by a brief and jumbled description of a current project. None are very awe-inspiring, but that’s why I’m hopeless when it comes to author branding.
Maybe one day I’ll get better at author branding. I won’t change my name, but maybe I’ll figure out a way to write everything I want and make that my “brand.” My tagline could be: “Something different in every bite!” Like trail mix. Variety. Crunchy, chewy, sweet and salty. Yeah, I could be trail mix.
Kristina Wright: The Writing Equivalent of Trail Mix.
Hmm. Needs work, I think.
I fear I will never really get the hang of author branding if the best I can do is compare myself to trail mix.
*(I will soon do a blog post on my issues with the word “author” as compared to my preferred word, “writer.”)