Thursday, January 8, 2009

BRANDING FOR WRITERS, REVISITED

I was reading Cynthia Leitich Smith's fabulous interview with Big-Time-Editor-Turned-Agent Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary yesterday. When Leitich asked Davies, "Do you expect your writers to develop a market brand?, Davies' no nonsense "Why would you not?" ignited my marketing soul.

In the interview Davies says, "When an author is starting out, I think it's helpful to aim at a particular area of the market--so if your first novel is a paranormal romance it's a good idea to follow up with something targeting those same readers.

Why would you not? You are trying to establish your name, and your name is your brand. This enables your publisher to position you on their list, and makes it far easier for them to justify the costs of marketing and promotion.

Further down the tracks, when you're more established, I'd certainly be supportive if an author felt a strong pull to write something very different. I represent authors not books, so I'll look after my authors whatever they write (if I think I can sell it)."


If you all were with me back in November you may remember my first branding' post in response to Agent Chip MacGregor's wonderful and necessary advice, Branding for Writers. I wrote: Many writers are multi-talented and can write in a variety of genres. Yet, there is a strong school of thought that advises writers to BRAND themselves, to establish a writing persona. In short, writers provide readers with 'expected' material, and in turn, readers keep coming back for more. Conclusion: Branding leads to loyal readers which leads to stronger sales.

Last summer at the SCBWI Annual Conference held in LA, I was amazed at how many writers resented Agent Michael Bourret advice to write at least three books in one genre with a goal of becoming a brand. In an interview with CWIM Alice Pope, Bourret recapped his thoughts: "The key, I think, is to establish yourself as a writer of something. I think it’s tough to establish a brand when you’re jumping from one category to another or from one genre to another. You want to give readers what they expect while still satisfying your own muse. It’s a balancing act, but being an author and having a career as an author are two different things."

All of this advice is near and dear to my heart. I write both humorous picture books and poetry as well as heart-wrenching YA novels-in-poems. I have spent years on both and one day the light went on for me......I had to choose one path or the other to establish my career. I had to decide what I wanted the brand JILL CORCORAN to elicit in the minds of readers. For now, I have left the sad corners of my soul I frequented to write my YA novel and am concentrating on laughter.

20 comments:

  1. Great post!
    For me, I tend to rely on where my passion takes me... art.

    (A friend recently told me that she used me as an example in a class she taught. Kind of cool.)

    We'll still see the YA... your passion's there, too.

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  2. Enjoyed your post. It's interesting what he said about being an author vs having a career as an author. Food for thought.

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  3. Thanks, Anna and Nora.
    Anna, very cool:)

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  4. Great thoughts, Jill! My agent and I agreed that a post apocalyptic or magical realism or fantasy kind of approach was best suited to my strengths and we should push my career that direction for the first few books. And so the contemporary YA went in the drawer and the other manuscript came out. I don't mind the idea of branding at all . . . it makes sense to me, but maybe that's my advertising background speaking.

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  5. Some folks over at Verla's blueboards were discussing branding and trying to come to terms with its necessity. I added the following to the discussion and wanted to add it here as well;

    As I said in my post, if writers provide readers with 'expected' material, readers will keep coming back for more. Branding leads to loyal readers which leads to stronger sales.

    Think of your favorite shirt company, and since we are talking kids let's pick a company like Quicksilver. You buy a cool, surfer Quicksilver shirt for your child for his birthday. He loves it and begs you to take him back to the store to get a couple more but when he gets there there are only three other Quicksilver shirts to choose from, the first is a gold-studded cowboy shirt, the second is a preppy polo shirt and the third is a tuxedo shirt. Mom says, "OK, which ones do you want?" And the boy says, "None of these. Although the Quicksilver cowboy shirt, polo shirt and tuxedo shirt are the best cowboy shirt, polo shirt and tuxedo shirt I have ever seen, I want a surfer shirt." "Ok, says Mom. How about a couple of these Billabong shirts, all of the Billabong shirts are cool, surfer shirts." The boy says, "Well, they are not as great as the Quicksilver surfer shirt but I do want surfer shirts so thanks Mom, I'll take the Billabong shirts."

    Bottom Line: You might be the best YA fantasy writer, the best MG boy-humor writer and the best rhyming pb writer, but if the consumer wants only YA fantasy he will not buy your mg and pb. Now your thinking, well lots of other people will and you are right, the target audience for your mg and pb will buy those books but, and this is a big but, it is more difficult to get NEW customers than sell a second or third book to an already existing customer. This is the reason the development of 'writer brands' and 'book series' are sought after by publishers and agents.

    Hope this helps and please do not throw sticks at me,
    jill

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  6. Gotcha, Jill. Great advice in a world that is seeking an identity in its favorite authors. Elise Broach has certainly broken this rule of late. But I have to say, until I actually get my name out there...I'm going to have to follow the best advice out there. This does not mean you can't love those other projects. Until I'm Cynthia Rylant...yeah, right!--I'll do what works. Kinda like we do in the world of teaching...when we're following the norm, we teach with the door open. But...there's always time to play, and for that...we close the door!! Love your blog, by the way.

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  7. Thanks, Gael.

    Oh, I love the exceptions to rules. I hope to be one some day:)

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  8. Excellent post. I know lots of writers are confused about whether to brand or not, and I do think "I wanna write whatever" is rather self-serving. It extends from the "writing is self-expression" mindset. If you think about authors who've written in different categories, you realize that most of them branched out only after they had a handful of good credits.

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  9. Branding is a good idea - especially for the beginning of your career. Some people might be able to brand themselves in more than one area if they are fast writers.

    I'm still working on the branding thing and leaning heavily towards YA, even though I still have PB stuff going on. I think I can probably brand my writing in one area and my art in another ... maybe.

    Good stuff to think about - thanks Jill.

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  10. This has all been very interesting and eye-opening, as I had been unaware of this branding trend.

    I've been working on several things at the same time over the years, and have been polishing up what I consider to be the strongest most marketable pieces before submitting to agents. But those pieces are not in the same genre.

    However, in the broader sense of branding .. things with the same feel ... I think I'm fine.

    A lot of the questions/concerns I have will be answered/settled when/if I get an agent/sell again. See ... lots of variables. But at least for now, I have a lot of information to go on and mull over.

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  11. There are "new" authors who have recently sold multiple books in multiple genres, but what I am picking up from this .. is all these books had the same "feel" and the author was going to continue writing in each category to build a following.

    I'm generally .. mainly mg .. and my pb's are "older" not really toddler/baby oriented ....

    so I'm not going to let this "branding" thing vex me too much, but it's certainly something to keep in mind.

    And now I'm off to think about and do other things.

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  12. Hey Jill! This is an excellent post! I have to go check out the discussion on Verla's also - must have missed it. I completely agree with this and my agent said the same thing to me.

    But it goes further - think of life in general. As a lawyer I was a corporate entertainment lawyer - I was branded in my expertise. Look at doctors. I think this applies to new writers. WE are untested so readers want to make sure we can do one thing well before we agree to follow them everywhere. And some can do it and others can. It's a leap of faith but the branding helps secure the trust.

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  13. Marcia, Stephanie (SRuble), and Ello - excellent points. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

    Ello, the thread on Verla's Blueboards is called PLIGHT OF THE FREE RANGE WRITER. Here is the link:http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php?topic=33291.0


    Lill, write what you love and just pick one to start your career with. If you do not want a second pb and you want to pursue mg, great. Get into your MG mindset and write, write, write. But of course, no full-manuscript-sequels until the first one sells.

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  14. There are quite a few threads on branding on Verla's. After starting my thread, I've read through several of the others. Just type "branding" into the search engine. Very interesting discussions.

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  15. Thanks, Lill. I guess it is one of those evergreen topics.

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  16. You could always write under another name to re-brand yourself.
    I've thought of doing that myself.

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  17. A great point, Douglas.

    But I would think someone like you who is so well respected and whose brand is solidified in your readers' minds would be able to cross the genre lines like Keven Henkes, Judy Bloom, Jane Yolen, etc. Your brand as an excellent and crafty wordsmith would seem a strong launching pad for your next non-poetry book.

    I think it would be to your advantage to write all your work as Douglas Florian since many of us wonder what else you have up your sleeve:)

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  18. thanks for posting this, Jill!
    I hadn't heard of it much either but it is a Big Thing worth thinking about!
    Cheers:)

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  19. Love your analogy......

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  20. Found you through Verla Kay's boards.

    Good post. I struggle with this myself. I love writing YA magical realism/suspense, but I also love YA historical. I keep thinking, which one will I focus on?

    I guess the one which nabs me the agent first will win out at the start...

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