We're all used to the idea of 'brand' in retail. A brand is identified by a logo, it is a recognisable characterisation that manages our expectations. We know what 'Marks and Spencer' stands for, how that brand is different from, say, Aldi or Tesco. Do we want to apply it to authors? Many authors do write the same type of book, and readers know what to expect. Jacqueline Wilson had a 'brand' long before it was a thing. But do we really want to cultivate a brand?
|Branding irons - heat them up in a fire, use|
them to brand your author
Nowadays publishers are keen on authors 'building their brand', preferably through social media, blogging, events, and so on. A cynical view of this would be that it saves the publisher some marketing effort. If the author writes only for one publisher, the two are in league and it's fine. Promoting the brand serves both equally. But what if the author has several or many publishers? The brand is then the author's own, it is not tied to a publisher. The publisher loses enthusiasm for the brand aspect of the author and wants you to build a brand for the series/book. (I'm the ultimate publisher-harlot and some of them don't care for my brand at all.)
Brand, of course, is an artificial construct. It's not the author's real personality, but the bit that's allowed out in public. When it was just created by our books, it didn't really need managing, but now we are on display in other ways, too - from Facebook to TV and radio, from blogs to Pinterest and Instagram - we need to keep a grip on it. It can be hard to imagine how our particular, personal 'brand' is seen from the outside. Building a brand, thoughtfully rather than by default, requires deciding who you are, who you want to be seen to be, and then creating that public image. To do it successfully, you have to do it consciously and deliberately. For many writers, that seems too calculating and perhaps even directly counter to the emotional honesty and openness that good writing demands. Building your brand is to ask Who do you think you are? And Who do you want people to think you are? Answer with caution. "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be," as Kurt Vonnegut said.
While a 'brand' might make your books more immediately recognisable, does it make it harder to step outside the brand and try something new? If as an author you always write (say) upbeat friendship novels for 8-11s but then want to try your hand at a gritty, hard-hitting teen novel, does your brand stand in your way? Is it a way of stifling your freedom to make life easy for the publisher? Or a way of making your life easier, too, by setting boundaries to what you will do and demand of yourself? Is it safe or constraining?
And what does brand mean to the people at the other end of the transaction - the readers, librarians, teachers and parents? If you have come to expect upbeat friendship novels from Fifi Ambergris, what do you think of her writing a gritty teen novel? Is it confusing, misleading, dangerous? Would you rather she changed her name to Amber Fifigris for those books to leave her brand intact with younger readers?
What do you think, as author, reader, librarian, publisher or whatever you are in the publishing-reading transaction?
aka Stroppy Author
Most recent publication: 'The Colours of the Day' in Daughters of Time, edited Mary Hoffman, Templar Publishing, 2014