Thursday, August 21, 2014


Okay, this is going to be a writer’s rant. So let’s get ranting.
The publishing world is undergoing enormous changes. Writers need to find themselves, their particular place, within the fluctuating industry. You’ll hear advice from everywhere. One popular piece of advice is, “create your brand”.

I disagree. I’m a human being. I am not a brand. My books are not products.

Branding and the whole inglorious myth behind it starts with the idea that the internet is not primarily a place of Community, that it’s The Marketplace,

that people are Consumers and we authors should get out there and make products for the Consumers to Consume the same way they consume hamburgers.

I do understand the importance of knowing what I write, the importance of creating stories that speak to readers personally and make them want to read more.  But steering my storytelling by determining what sells and/or what the audience wants is backward. It stifles new ideas and pares tales down to products.
Branding turns creative ideas into cattle.
So I’m having a cow here.

Part of the problem with branding is the limitations it creates for authors. I can see how it works for genre authors. Someone like Agatha Christie who wrote only mysteries. Then again she also wrote six novels which she could not publish under her own name. So they came out under the penname  Mary Westmacott.

Some authors write picture books, fantasy for young adults and adults, and historical fiction. Yes, some authors spread their wings that wide. What kind of "brand" aside from prolific author, could a writer like that use? Should they never write for adults because they also write for children? Should they only write for one age group of children, ditch the picture books or the young adult books so they can clearly define their "brand?"

Suzanne Collins wrote a fantasy series and was well established as a children's fantasy author before she branched out and wrote Hunger Games (listed under Sci-Fi in her website). What if her "brand" as a children's fantasy author limited her vision? What if she decided not to explore the plot idea because sci-fi wasn't her brand?

I think it's terrific for authors to write series, to stay within a genre they love. Yes to all of that and to the readership that loves their books. What I'm worried about is that moment when the same author also wants to write other kinds of books, books that might be radically different, books that express something new.

 I am not a brand.  My books are not products. They are stories.
C.S. Lewis said that each story has a best way of being told. So rather than say, I’ll write a picture book that really sells or I’ll write a young adult fantasy that fits my "brand." I start with a compelling story idea – one strong enough to wake me up at night and chase me around during the day.
In short, a story idea that nudges and haunts and makes a nuisance of itself until I agree to write it. I don’t start stories with sales figures. I don't determine genre by brand. I start by asking 3 questions. What does this story want to say? What’s the most interesting way to structure this story? How old is the central character? Answering those three questions naturally shows the type of story I’ll write and what age group will eventually read it. 
Then it’s my job to develop the plot, tweak the twists
infuse the characters with hopes, burden them with hardships, and write the very best book I can write, one that will touch a chord, and hopefully resonate with readers.
Branding is about sales and product and web presence, but if you start with story as your root, you might find your place in the world wide reading and writing community. You might find fellowship. You might also find a unique web presence which grows naturally from the types of tales you write.     

Note: I read Maureen Johnson’s marvelous manifesto post  after drafting this one. It encouraged me. If you like my rant, swing by and read her manifesto.
Until next time Dreamwalkers, walk well


Molly/Cece said...

Hi Janet,

Okay, this is certainly my kind of rant. I'm going to respond on my blog cause this is going to take some time. Watch for it on Saturday. Hugs. Molly

Peggy King Anderson said...

Yes! Right on. This post really made me think--and re-think how I will present this whole aspect of writing/marketing to my writing class.

Faith Pray said...

This is so good. Meat and bread. It warms my writing fire. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I cringe when I see people say you HAVE to create a brand for yourself.

Indu Sundaresan said...

Agree with everything, Janet! I cherish the time we spend together talking writing, exploring ideas or books we've read. This sort of a process happens only when you think each book is unique--and has its own demands on your attention as an author.