Last Wednesday, Terry O’Dell wrote a wonderful piece on the importance of branding to an author’s work. This week’s post from me started out as a response to her post, but as it grew longer, I decided to make it my topic for this week.
A lot of writers, I believe, misunderstand one key element to this branding business. They spend tons of time and money on trying to make their books and their characters well known–which is fine, if you’ve got the scratch to spend–but they forget that books have a short shelf life in the brick and mortar world. Even popular series get canceled by publishers. After the dust settles on all of that, there will stand the author, still talented and still anxious to write.
But will anyone know? That will depend in large measure on whether or not the author himself has left an impression on people.
I attended a conference a few years ago where a major publishing bigwig addressed the fairly recent trend among franchise-name authors sub out their storytelling to others, often giving cover credit to the visible ghost writer. He revealed in that talk that he couldn’t think of a single case where the success of a book written by one of those cowriters inured to the benefit of the cowriter himself when he reverted back to writing under his own name. The cowriters I know make pretty good money from those deals, but “writing as” does little to make them more visible to the readerverse.
So, what’s a body to do to make an impact in among all the published books as well as all the other entertainment options that dilute the pool of available readers?
Truthful answer: No one knows.
But I have some thoughts:
Consistency. I’m a thriller writer. Hard stop. I’ve spent a quarter of a century developing a reputation (such as it is) of telling fast-moving, action-filled stories that I hope also show a lot of heart. Too many authors, I think, dabble in too many genres. If I were inclined to write a romance, I would have to write it under a pseudonym, if only to not confuse the repeat customers who would feel that they’d bought a book under false pretenses.
Pick your lane and stay in it. This is a follow-on to consistency, but to me, it’s different. My chosen lane within the thriller highway is military(ish) action with lots of cool toys for my characters to play with. The brilliant Brad Thor writes books similar to mine, but he dips more into the realm of technothrillers and hardcore military action. Because he was an active duty SpecOps guy, he can pull off stuff that I can’t simply because I don’t have access to the source material that fuels his fiction. I recognize that and I stay away from it.
If you write crime fiction and you’ve got a quirky sleuth whose voice is unique to your imagination, resist the urge to wander into realm of Thomas Harris or Michael Connelly.
Be visible. The world will soon be back to normal with regard to public mingling. When that happens, get your butt to conferences. Even more than that, choose the same conferences year after year. Whether you’re looking for comradery, professional guidance or an increased fan base, you’ll be forgotten if you’re a one-off presence. But if you’re always at Conference X, and if you’re outgoing, you’ll meet people and people will come to recognize you.
In her post, Terry mentioned her trademark cowgirl hat. That resonates with something a publicist told me years ago when I asked her what I should wear when I’m in public and in author mode. She told me that it didn’t matter what I wore, but everybody should be able to tell which person in the room is the writer.
Don’t be an a-hole. This should be obvious, but you’d be surprised at how elusive this is to some. Clearly, you’re going to be kind to fans, but it’s equally necessary to be kind and giving to fellow writers and industry professionals. The writing community is a very small town, where people talk and rumors spread with blistering speed and accuracy. You want to be easy to work with and easy to talk to. NEVER speak unkindly about other authors or their agents or editors. As the great philosopher Thumper the Rabbit preached, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
Okay, TKZers, what am I missing?
Oh, and it’s Launch Week: