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Branding 101 For Writers

12 January 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Readers identify these things as brands (in no particular order): Characters, Worlds, Series, and Writers. Readers rarely (almost never) consider a publisher a brand. There are exceptions—Harlequin has done a fantastic job branding its fiction. But most traditional publishers have not.

In fact, traditional publishers seem to have very little idea what branding is at all. They do branding on bestsellers, almost accidentally. Generally, the book’s designers have no idea how to brand anything. A few years back, Putnam decided to brand Nora Robert’s work, and the publishing trades made a big deal out of it.

But if you’re traditionally published, chances are your work has no individual branding—meaning, the branding is not tied to your writer name. The branding is tied to something else if branding exists at all.

Traditionally published writers of long-standing, like me, have books that look like mishmash of stuff, even if the books are in the same genre and same series. The lack of branding has hurt us. This is not an area where you, as indie publishers, should look to traditional publishing. You need to think outside their narrow little box.

You want your readers to identify your work as quickly as possible. You want them to find you easily. Hybrid writers who understand this are actually changing the industry. Their traditional publishers are starting to ask who their cover artists are and are copying the self-published designs of the hybrid writer, rather than the other way around. (Sad, isn’t it?)

. . . .

Every time you see a muscular woman with her back to the viewer, looking over her shoulder while brandishing a weapon, you know you’re looking at an urban fantasy novel. Genre branding is so ubiquitous that in some genres, it becomes cliché. Then some traditional publisher changes up the genre branding, and everyone follows suit.

I’m not telling you that you need to put that sexy mean babe on your urban fantasy novel. But…

The reason I use the phrase “indie published” instead of “self-published” is because if you write a lot and publish a lot, eventually, you will have a team helping you. Even if you’re only  publishing your own work, you have become an independent publisher.

And as an independent publisher, you must make decisions within your publishing house about branding.

. . . .

But if you’re a writer who writes in more than one genre, like I do, then you will need different branding for each genre you write in.

In other words, your stand-alone romance novel cannot look the same as your stand-alone mystery novel which should not look the same as your stand-alone fantasy novel.

. . . .

You must brand by genre. Readers expect it. They want to know what they’re picking up. For example, many romance readers read the genre to escape the difficulties in their lives. They have enough tribulations; they don’t want those in their fiction. They would be horrified if they picked up Sins of the Blood, without some clue that it’s a horror novel, not a sweet romance like Davy Moss.

You want to be discovered? Being discovered by genre is a fine way to do so. Make sure your tags on the various bookstores are correct as well. If you don’t know genre—and most writers don’t (even though they think they do)—then learn it.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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15 Comments to “Branding 101 For Writers”

  1. I have enjoyed this series she has been writing about. I think some writers were finally glad to see her actually start telling them how to this discoverability thing. They were getting impatient with her instead of listening first.
    Good post.

    • Well, I do think the introductory posts were getting a bit long winded. It was about time she got to the nuts and bolts.

    • Yeah, I mentioned that in this post as well. There are a lot of self-serving how-to books out there, and many of them fill space by delving into the history of self-publishing, or why you want to be a writer.

      The one thing I forgot to add is that while she’s right on branding, some of the book covers she showed seemed wrong for the genre. I couldn’t see titling a romance “The Death of [name forgotten]” workable, unless is “The Death of My Lousy Ex-Husband and How I Found Happiness with the Studly Cowboy.”

      • It’s a cross-genre book that she apparently went back and forth on with her cover designer. This was brought up in the comments there.

      • Tha was the one cover i questioned as well…other than the font nothing on that cover said romance to me. In the context of that post it made me curious enough to check out (and sample, and then buy and stay up past my bedtime to finish) but if i had seen it on amazon or a bookstore? I woukd assume it was mis-categorized and pass on by, especially given that i know the rusch name as a fantasy writer.

  2. I’ve enjoyed the series as well.

    Impatience-producing or not, all she wrote in the previous sections was critical to actually understanding (rather than just being told of) what she’s writing about now.

    I like that her work is geared toward those who want to understand rather than just those who want to be told. I’m sick unto death of seeing the “5 Ways To Be A Bestseller!” secret-handshake blog posts elsewhere.

  3. When I saw “Branding for Writers” I thought that the Trad Pubs had begun using branding irons.
    You know, a big HC on the forehead to let people know that you’re with Harper Collins.
    Talk about a mark of validation, and I just bet that there would be writers standing in line to receive it.

  4. I used to have a student who didn’t want to learn about the subject. She would literally tell me not to waste time telling her how the application worked or why something was a good or bad idea, she just wanted to know what button to push.

    And I told her — too bad. It doesn’t work that way. I wasn’t going to tell her what button to push. I was only going to tell her how the buttons worked, and if she wanted to figure out what button to push, she was going to have to listen first.

    And you know, she had been taking classes for years and never learned a thing, until she came to our program. At the end of the semester, she admitted, she now finally understood things well enough to no longer need a cheat sheet for everything she tried to do.

    If you’re impatient with Kris, then why the heck are you reading her blog? There are plenty of other people out there who are willing to tell you what button to push without without explanation or context. What Kris offers is her extreme depth of knowledge and experience. If you don’t want to take advantage of that… don’t. It’s not her problem.

    • This.

    • And then, you know, there are people in the middle, who read and enjoy Kris’ blog regularly (have for years) and respect what she has to say, but also don’t hang on her every word as if they were nectar from the gods. Who gain a lot from Kris’ wisdom, but also aren’t so in love with everything she says that they can’t think “5 posts of 2000 words in can we finally be done with the INTRODUCTION to discoverability?”

      • I don’t think the two are necessarily identical. I don’t agree with everything she says or hang on her every word, but I still prefer the in depth information and am glad she didn’t skimp or hurry. Also I read each post in context of her entire blog.

      • Agreeing with something Kris says and appreciating the depth she brings to it ≠ “hang[ing] on her every word as if they were nectar from the gods”.

        I have a lot of respect for what Kris and Dean say. I often agree with them (although it admittedly sometimes takes some arguing with Dean to realize we’re saying the same thing, just defining terms differently). Fact is, some of their most unpopular advice is actually backed by some basic business sense, like the “Don’t promote your first book” thing. It’s not because advertising a single product can’t take off. It’s because it’s unlikely to be a worthwhile ROI in the long run (for a variety of reasons I won’t get into in this example), whereas if you spend the time building more inventory and then advertise, your ROI should be better. The advice holds true as a general rule for fiction, though exceptions exist.

        That said, there are points where I, personally, diverge from their advice to a significant degree. For example, I’ll let other voices in my writing room, letting people give feedback on WiPs. I know, from experience, that I have no problem evaluating advice on a WiP against my intent for a WiP. It can even help me as a writer, even if I ignore everything those commenters say.

        But that does not make Kris and Dean’s advice wrong, when they say to keep others out of your writing office. Writers like me are rare (and that’s not getting into how letting people comment on WiPs could theoretically lead to legal issues—not that I’m a lawyer or giving legal advice; that’s just a concern I’ve seen given about it). When you consider the parameters common to writers like me—we usually started off writing online—it makes sense that Kris and Dean haven’t met many of us. The Internet hasn’t been around all that long, so we’re young—enough so that we’re unlikely to travel in the same writer circles as Kris and Dean.

        • True this. I often disagree with Dean particularly on points that are related to his long-term hybrid approach and my fangirl reader/writer approach. He doesn’t read his own work, writes in somewhat of a vacuum, and pretty much always writes spontaneously. Let’s just say I’m not that kind of writer. Or reader. I have a long memory as a reader.

          I generally agree with his business sense but not his writing process. :shrugs: As with everything, take what works for you and shelve the rest.

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