by Tamela Hancock Murray
It is All About Expectations
What if you bought a recording from a music group expecting their usual collection of ballads, only to hear guitar anthems? Or what if you picked up a book with a pink cover that promised a love story but ended up reading a novel where hapless and nameless victims suffered gunshot wounds on every page? You’d be disappointed, right? I would be. You don’t want to disappoint readers, so branding has become a consistent topic.
Your Best Friend
Some writers find the concept of branding to be limiting. When they think of branding the TV show “Rawhide” and Cattle comes to mind. And despite the awesomeness of such a theme song, they want to keep their options open.
While freedom to explore new avenues is desirable for growth, the fact is, writers need to first establish an audience. And to do that, their work has to be consistent in quality and content. The idea is to become a friend to readers, one they can rely on for certain reading value, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. Think about it — what if you had formed a relationship with a friend who consistently gave great advice from the context of her loving family and marriage. Over the years, you come to rely on her for Wednesday afternoon chats over tea in her cozy breakfast nook, watching birds from a bay window. In return, you might bring over some sugar cookies. You find comfort in her usual appearance — a white t-shirt and jeans, blonde ponytail and cotton-candy-pink lip gloss.
How would you feel if one week you kept your Wednesday appointment but were greeted by a stranger with cropped hair dyed the color of onyx, coal-black lipstick, a newly-pierced eyebrow, wearing black leather? Only this isn’t a stranger. It’s your friend. “How do you like my new look?” she asks. “I was tired of the old look and thought I’d spread my wings. And my husband? I threw him out and he took the kids with him. Oh, and I changed brands of tea. But come on in!” Would you trust her not to have spiked the tea as well as her hair?
This isn’t a comment on fashion, it is a comment about expectations. This is akin to what happens to readers looking for a certain type of story associated with your name. Sure, you might be a cotton-candy-pink writer with a vampire novel sitting in your files. What with self-publishing, shouldn’t the vampire come out and play? Probably not a good idea. The idea of giving blood is not going to appeal to your audience looking for a sugar fix. If they happen upon the vampire novel, your readers devoted to light romance will be confused and disappointed. They will be looking for their friend. Granted, a very, very select few writers are able to write across genres and be successful at several. And others are skilled at using pen names and creating dual marketing identities. But that takes work and an intentional strategy to market to divergent audiences. For most writers, concentrating on a quality and valued friendship with a devoted audience is reward enough.
Who are your favorite writers? And if you had to identify their brand, what would you say it is? (Remember a brand is not a slogan, that is a topic for another day.)