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Monday, September 10, 2007

The lowdown on marketing for writers, part one

Marketing is two things for an author: brand and buzz.

Brand: This is where you decide as an author what to write so that you stand out in the market.

Jenny Crusie is the queen of real-life snark.
Tom Clancy is spy action.
John Grisham is legal thrillers.
I am Asian Christian chick lit.
Robin Caroll is Cajun/Southern romantic suspense.
Cheryl Wyatt is military action romances.
Deeanne Gist is slightly edgy historical romances.
Brandilyn Collins is small town suspense.
Colleen Coble is small town romantic suspense with animals.
Donna Fleisher is angsty military women's fiction.

This is the hardest part for writers to figure out. You have to actually tweak your writing so that your books will stand out from all the other pitches editors hear.

If you have a solid brand, editors are much happier to read your stuff because you're classified in a certain file in their heads. They can sell you easier to the VP of Sales and VP of Marketing because you're branded. An editor may love you but they're dictated to by Sales and Marketing, which is why so much good writing is not contracted.

It's not just looking at what you've written, but also looking at what you're willing to write, or willing to revise. Branding isn't just looking at your completed manuscripts and trying to find a common theme--it's looking at your own desires in writing, what you're willing to write about, how you can tweak your writing so that it's more marketable.

3 comments:

  1. I know you're talking primarily about fiction here, but what about authors who want to explore multiple genres/categories? Part of the problem with the way publishing works today is that authors are too quickly niched into particular brand identities, and then that ends up restricting their creative possibilities later. You might be the Asian American chick lit girl now, but what if that well runs dry after five or six books, and you want to try your hand at 18th-century gothic mystery/romance or 25th-century Starfleet Academy sci-fi thriller? Are you stuck?

    Of course, the flip side is that some authors think they can write in multiple categories when they should really stick to their knitting. Celebrity authors in particular sometimes get too much free rein by publishers to write whatever they want, just because they have a big name and it'll sell. Never mind if they have no experience or expertise in that field.

    At any rate, I'm conflicted here because I'm a publishing professional and I know how the branding thing works, but I'm also a cynical Gen Xer that doesn't want to get labeled and pigeonholed in a particular category. My three books so far have been a relationships book (singleness), a grief/loss book (suicide) and a sociological/cultural analysis (suburbia), and the only thing they have in common is that the topics all start with the letter S. That has probably prevented me from building a brand identity in any particular category, but I also am an easily distracted ENFP that gets bored with things I've done already and always wants to try something different.

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  2. ROFL! You'll start a new trend of subjects that start with S.

    My comments were primarily toward fiction, because there's just more leeway with nonfiction writers. That's the way the cookie crumbles. There are many very successful nonfiction writers who have several books all in the same area, but there are also many very successful nonfiction writers who have several books in different areas.

    I just attended a branding workshop with Allen Arnold (Thomas Nelson) today, and he mentioned how usually writers tire of their brand before their readers do. Sticking to your brand is usually the best business decision, because readers expect a certain type of story from the writer. And ultimately, the writer is not writing for him or herself.

    Camy

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  3. I'd agree that it's different between fiction and nonfiction. I don't tire of Sue Grafton's alphabet mysteries or Robert Parker's Spenser series or Janet Evanovich's number series, primarily because I've come to know and enjoy the characters, and new books are like new episodes in their lives. But I tire quickly of nonfiction authors that write the same book over and over again. I won't name names, but there are any number of prominent authors who have not really said anything new for years - they've just recycled their content and spun it out in different packaging. That's not serving the reader. (Though it may be serving new or different readers.) Nor is it culturally creative and productive. It's basically just brand extension.

    I'd also say that while the author is not necessarily writing for him or herself, there should be some sort of convergence between serving a readership and following a sense of vocational calling. Perhaps God leads some writers to write for a variety of communities and readerships, and that will enable them to pursue a variety of kinds of book projects. Yet all of those books should flow out of the author's core identity (the "brand called you," as some would put it) - they should not be artificially imposed if they are not consistent with who the author is.

    All this being said, I will say that a strong sense of brand identity and self-awareness is helpful for new authors. This is who they are and what they do, this is who they're writing for, this is their unique place and contribution in the market. Some authors have entire careers in a particular genre (and it was certainly fine for the likes of Jane Austen and Tolstoy), but it would have been sad had Shakespeare limited his "brand" to just comedies, or just tragedies, or whatever. Anne Lamott has done both memoir and fiction; Orson Scott Card has done both sci-fi and biblical fiction. Maybe a niche brand identity is a starting point, but it might not necessarily define an author's complete career and vocational calling. People change and grow and develop over their careers, and the nature and kinds of books we write will do so as well.

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