Thursday, October 14, 2010

On branding, I'm with her!

So, today, I was really influenced by a fellow author's blog post.  Maureen Johnson wrote an anti-branding manifesto. And it really resonated with something I've been thinking a lot about.  The humor in her post was fantastic, so it's worth reading in its entirety, but here's the text of her manifesto statement:

"The internet is made of people. People matter. This includes you. Stop trying to sell everything about yourself to everyone. Don’t just hammer away and repeat and talk at people—talk TO people. It’s organic. Make stuff for the internet that matters to you, even if it seems stupid. Do it because it’s good and feels important. Put up more cat pictures. Make more songs. Show your doodles. Give things away and take things that are free. Look at what other people are doing, not to compete, imitate, or compare . . . but because you enjoy looking at the things other people make. Don’t shove yourself into that tiny, airless box called a brand—tiny, airless boxes are for trinkets and dead people."   ~Maureen Johnson

I like this for these two main reasons:
1) It's easy to forget the people on the other end of Twitter or Facebook or email or chats are PEOPLE. And so we don't always extend the same polite courtesies we would in face-to-face interactions, where we would never just walk up and say "Buy my book!" without at least first asking the person's name, shaking their hand, introducing yourself, and saying "hello." The internet should facilitate the same two-way exchange a conversation would, and not just be a one-way billboard on which we sell ourselves. So, I'm all in favor of anything that creates civility.
2) About her last point: though my writing shares a common theme -- the [I believe] universal search for a place to belong -- I've otherwise been struggling with the idea of branding myself.  I write paranormal romance, but I'm not just a paranormal writer.  I write contemporary romance, but not just contemporary romance. I really enjoy delving into erotic romance, but will never focus on that alone. I'm at work on a women's fiction, but don't seem myself building a career or a brand around just women's fiction.  You see my problem.

Maureen is worth quoting at length again, here: "A personal brand is a little package you make of yourself so you can put yourself on the shelf in the marketplace and people will know what to expect or look for when they come to buy you....I don’t want a brand, because a brand limits me. A brand says I will churn out the same thing over and over. Which I won’t, because I am weird."

I get that, as authors, we don't have full control over our own branding--that is, readers and agents and folks we interact with will put us into little branded boxes whether we want them to or not. But that doesn't mean we have to define ourselves by how others define us.

So, let's hear it for us schizophrenic authors! I understand the potential challenges writing different things poses, but if writing what you love is the surest road to success, I'm hoping I can find a way to make it work if I wear quite a few hats along the way.

And, even more, I'm looking forward to making some lifelong friends and colleagues to join me on my journey. After all, what's success without people to share it?

Thanks for reading,


openid said...

I can understand the natural aversion to being categorized - we all want to be individuals and known for all our diversity. I feel the same way, and hope to branch out into other types of writing too.

However, as a reader, I like some way to identify writers I like. Call that a personality or a brand, I look forward to books by my favorite writers the same way I look forward to meeting an old friend. If I get a different persona every time I meet that friend, well, I'm going to be confused at the very least.

I, like you, look forward to writing in different arenas, and will more than likely use different pennames as I go. Part of that is branding, but part of it is also keeping my own writing personas separated. Maybe my schizophrenia adheres to different definitions, but if I'm trying to write a mystery, for example, using a different name is just one way to isolate my brain from the romance writer in me.

That being said, I'd find a way to connect my different identities so that readers, should they wish, be able to traipse through my ramblings easily. And there'd be no doubt that all would lead back to "me".

Thanks for an interesting post. Very thought provoking.

Saranna DeWylde said...

I agree. I hate the hard sell, it doesn't do anything for me. I tend to avoid people who don't interact as people, but just push push push.

Laura Kaye said...

openid--see, now, I agree with your points too. And, like you, will ultimately use multiple pen names. I'd never thought of pen names as a way to put yourself in a different head space--but I find that a very useful concept. I guess I'm just hoping to avoid a new pen name for every new subgenre I write in--yegads, the thought of operating multiple websites, facebook pages, twitter accounts for each one! Though I agree there are creative ways to hook them together! The business end of this whole writing venture is as much a creative venture as the writing, isn't it? Thanks for your thoughtful post!

And, Saranna--I completely agree!

Nicki Elson said...

Branding, blech. I do totally get it from the marketing standpoint though. But perhaps the branding boxes aren't so neat and distinctly defined as people think. Perhaps certain authors can be crafty enough to draw their own lines to connect their various works and make a whole new box. :)

naelany said...

Branding is a very tricky business, if you ask me. It can do wonders, I'm sure, but it can also limit you like nobody's business.
Walking that line is difficult, and I don't think there are too many people out there who can successfully go outside of their "brand", using the exact same name, and make it work.
That said...I for one love stretching the boundaries ;-) And I know that certain authors I love (you included...unf on The List, still), will more often than not be able to entice me to read something new from them just by being them.
Of course, it helps very much to interact with them ;-)

See? Tricky stuff ;-)

Amos Keppler said...

I don't package myself at all. I just reveal myself, as an artist and human being without revealing myself.

In other words, I'm just being me everywhere.