Monday, October 12, 2009

One Author, One Brand

Branding. It's something you hear of a lot when you talk to writers, especially those who are making their first attempts at breaking into the world of publication. But what exactly is branding?

In the livestock trade, branding is used as a way of marking your property. When someone sees your brand on your horse or cattle, they know it belongs to you. Branding for writers is pretty similiar.

The idea behind branding is that someone knows what to expect when they pick up one of your books. Many beginning writers think this means they need to develop a tag line or personal brand early on, sometimes before they even finish writing their first book. But that's probably putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

I recently attended a workshop led by Allen Arnold, head of the fiction division of Thomas Nelson. According to Mr. Arnold, the author is his or her own brand. Everything else from the tag line, to the way the book covers are designed, is a part of that brand.

You may be asking, "So does that mean I'm locked into one genre?" The answer, which so many of us hate to hear, is "Probably." At least until you've established yourself. And even then, it's easier to move into a genre related to the one you're already known for. For example, if you write romance, you could expand into romantic suspense, and maybe even shift completely over into straight suspense. But if your debut novel is Amish fiction, you really don't want to follow it up with an epic fantasy.

We all know authors who became popular writing a certain type of story, then branched out and tried something new. John Grisham comes to mind. Famous for his legal thrillers, he'd already reached a "write it and they'll buy it" kind of status before he branched out and wrote Skipping Christmas, which is about as far from a legal thriller as you can get.

If you're working on your first novel, or you have several completed but you're still working toward publication, give some thought to what kind of an author you want to be. Write in the genre that excites you the most. Give it your all. Be your own brand.

Question for readers: How do you feel about authors who write in different genres? Do you prefer to always know what you're going to get from a specific author, or do you like being surprised?

Question for writers: How do you feel about sticking to one genre, at least for now? Have you found the genre you love?

To enter today's giveaway...Want to know what I'm giving away today? So do I! Yep, it's a surprise... but it's going to be writing related. To be entered, just leave a comment on this blog. Please leave an email address so we can contact you if you're the winner (include spaces or brackets around the "@" sign so Net spiders, etc, can't phish your address). I'll pick a winner at random on October 15th. Remember, all comments left today will also be entered in our grand prize drawing on November 1st.

Photo credit: Branding irons by


  1. Oh, it's nice to be back with the Inkies after a week's break!

    My story-within-a-story women's fiction fits me like a well-sized Spanx! I love Spanning Seas and Secrets" because of my mixed heritage of Irish and English and Native American. God has gifted me with amazing women...with amazing pasts.

    Thanks for a great post, Jen!

    P.S. To break "habit" I did try to start my fourth novel without the "frame" device and was booed and hissed at by critique partners until I switched back.

    I guess what Arnold (via Jen) said holds merit...

  2. Great post. I have been reading other gentre by the authors I usually read and to my suprised I have enjoyed them just as much, so I guess the bottom line is I do like to be surprised.THanks. Great post.

  3. Okay, I'm watching a Scooby-doo cartoon with my kids as I write this so I guess that's the brand I'll go with. It's really annoying me that they've started making shows where the ghosts and goblins are supposedly real. The cartoon's shtick is supposed to be that it's a mystery, not a horror.

    As for authors and branding, I'm thinking that I wouldn't be so hard nosed. I'll at least read the back cover copy before I buy, so if they've changed their style as drastically as Grisham did, it will be obvious and I can simply make the choice not to buy. If I really like an author though, and like the description of the story, I'd probably go along for the ride.

    I've been lucky so far that the things I've written can be lumped into a brand. Some of us (Jen) aren't so lucky!

  4. Yes, as Lisa noted, I'm one of those authors who slides around. My first book was romance. The book that's coming out in February is romantic women's fiction. And my current completed manuscript (which is not sold yet, but I love to death and really high hopes for) is paranormal women's fiction. So there is a connecting thread... kinda. And they are all very much Christian novels. For better or worse, my brain just won't be contained!

  5. Great post, Jen. I definitely have a Regency brand, but I also write US-set historicals. I'm stuck to eras with buggies and bonnets. I enjoy reading contemporaries, though. I just can't write them! Ugh!

  6. Jen, I'm too muddle-brained today to answer these questions. I think they'll sink in and I'll see if I have an opinion worth mentioning.

    I think it would be a good post just to discuss the differences between the genres - such as romantic women's fiction vs women's fiction vs... wait, is women's fiction with a romance element the same or different?

    I don't know where it all falls. My first completed ms is contemp. romantic comedy. My WIP is historical romantic suspense with a gothic overtone. (I made up that genre). My first shot at writing was a family saga. It's all about learning your voice. This whole Grisham writes Christmas thing is quite intriguing.

    Good stuff to chew on, Jen!

  7. This is a question I'm struggling with. I hoped my brand would be medieval romantic women's fiction, but the medieval period is not an easy sell in the Christian market right now.

    Then, about a month ago, I had an idea for a contemporary romantic women's fiction that just won't let me go. I've written 130 pages, but I'm still not convinced its any good. We'll see what happens.


  8. Deb & Dina, I can relate. Some authors know their niche from the get go, and others need to experiment and find themselves. It is fun trying on different styles.

    I've got an idea for a comedic historical romance that I love... problem is, I've never written a historical. Read a bunch, really enjoy them. But when it comes to writing one, I find I get bogged down in the research phase and I never get out of it. Lisa said she'd help me find my way when I'm ready to move forward. She may regret that offer! LOL

    BTW, there are several successful Christian fiction authors who regularly jump genres. Nancy Moser and Angela Hunt are two of them. I'm sure you can think of others. So it can be done... just probably not at the very beginning of one's career.

  9. I enjoy authors who write in multiple genres. No problem with it, as long as when I pick up a particular book, my expectations are set correctly based on the back cover blurb, the cover art, etc. Nothing worse than thinking I'm getting a romance only to discover it's a story without the HEA.

    I think writers should play around a bit, to find their voice and discover what they are good at writing. It might be different than they think. But they have to be prepared to settle into a particular genre for a while, if required by their publisher.

  10. Hi Inkies and readers!

    For now, my stories are contemporary romance. I LOVE romantic stories, and can't imagine writing a book without at least an element of romance included. I've thought I might dabble in historical one of these days, but that's after I cut my teeth on at least one more contemporary romance.

    Have a wonderful Monday night!

  11. I've learned to understand the need for branding and that makes me happy that my last few novels haven't sold! They were all contemporary women's fiction, but my love is historical fiction (historical women's fiction, if you want to be specific). Last year I felt like it was time to return to historical fiction. The novel I finished is one I'm willing to stick with until it sells and I'm even willing to even write more books within the same timeframe of early 20th century because I've come to love that era!

    WIth all that said, I've read much of Grisham's legal fiction, and liked it, but I really enjoyed Skipping Christmas AND A Painted House!

    I think Angela Hunt and others can do some cross-genre because they have a loyal readership, which they have built through years of writing what their readers expect to see from them.

  12. I've just written a medieval romance, but the only ideas I have for new projects are contemporary! I really think God may be pushing me to try contemporary next. We shall see....


  13. From my experience, you can write the book of your heart and feel it's truly your best writing but you may not see it published if it's not the kind of thing that is selling at the moment.

  14. Barbara, you are SO RIGHT!!! But God is reading, and that's the most important thing.

    Looking for the Audience of One.

  15. Great question Jen,
    As a reader, I do like knowing I can depend on a writer to know their way around a genre. When something new pops out, it is an easy purchase, (or borrow from the library).

    As a writer, I like having different genre's to write through. It's like having different voices in my brain. It's a way to calm my desire for adventure...I can do it through research and writing.

  16. I'd sold five books before I realized that I had a brand--my heroines are all either women with careers, or women seeking a career, something beyond being a wife and mother. Not unusual, except these are women in history, and their careers are historically accurate, or at least plausible. So do I always have to follow up with ambitious women? Probably. Can I switch to contemporary? Not yet. Great article about Jayne Ann Krentz and her genre switching messing up her career and her continually reinventions of herself, in a recent RWR.

  17. Hey Jen, yes I'm late but I wanted to answer anyway...

    After being told repeatedly at the ACFW conf in Denver that I had to pick one genre, I've finally settled on Historical Inspirationals. But I really don't like that I had to choose. It sets restrictions on what I can write and I don't think that's fair.

    On the other hand, I remember when Judy Blume wrote a story for adults - or maybe it was just older kids - but anyway, these tweenies got ahold of the books and they were not meant for their age at all. Yet, she'd written several for that age group previously.

    So yeah, I can see where readers wouldn't like it if they expected one type of book, paid for it and then found it was nothing like they expected. And that's why I finally picked just one genre to write in. For now. :)

  18. Thanks for stopping by, y'all! Today's winner is Sherrinda. She's getting a copy of Les Edgerton's book "HOOKED: Write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go."


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