"In these pages many mysteries are hinted at.
What if you come to understand one of them?"

"Words let water from an unseen, infinite ocean
Come into this place as energy for the dying and even the dead."

"Bored onlookers, but with such Light in our eyes!
As we read this book, the jewel-lights intensify."

- Rumi

Monday, July 2, 2012

I Am Not a Brand

Ever since I dove into the world of Indie publication, I've been hearing over and over, "You have to brand yourself," from a variety of successful writers. The explanation is that a "writer" transforms him or herself into a "brand," he or she will have created an "Image" that will attract new readers. To do this, a writer must have a consistent voice across all his or her works, write pretty much in the same genre, never discuss anything that doesn't fit the "brand" "image," and even one person went so far as to suggest only dressing in clothes that fit the "brand" a writer was trying to create.

This might work for some writers...I guess...but not for me. And ultimately, it sounds very, very short-sighted and narrow minded.

Now, I can partially understand why some people think this is the way to get to SUPER MASSIVE BESTSELLER STATUS. I mean after all, when we think of the writers who are superstars, some names come to mind more readily than others: Steven King, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Danielle Steel, Stephanie Meyers (just because she's super big right now)  - and if you're a fantasy/Science Fiction guy like me, some names that might pop up are: George RR Martin, Harlan Ellison, Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Issac Asimov, Brandon Sanderson, Neil Gaiman, maybe even M.Todd Gallowglas. (Hey, a man can dream.) With each and every one of these writers, someone even casually familiar would probably be able to come up with at least half-a-dozen words that could define the writer's "brand." I started to, and stopped myself at "sparkle" out of self respect.

Here's the thing: I can't make this claim with 100% certainty, but I'm fairly certain not a single one of them sat down at the beginning of a writing career and said to themselves, "I better figure out how to brand myself." If that were the case, Neil Gaiman would still be doing Sandman comics and never have written novels, Stephen King wouldn't have written even half of his masterful novellas that have 0% horror in them, let alone the Dark Tower series which really defies genre classification, one traveling storyteller wouldn't have been able to write both the dark and grim Tears of Rage books along side the rollicking adventure tales of Halloween Jack, and who knows what the hell Harlan Ellison would have done. These things wouldn't have happened because, they wouldn't have fit in with the original "Brand."

These writers put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard and wrote their hearts out. Yeah, even Stephanie Myers and Dan Brown. The brand that comes with their names came later, after they found their audience, and in some cases, wrote a bunch of stuff that would shatter the brand thing...if they'd started things the other way around.

Honestly, the only way you can find out what kind of writer you are is by writing a metric crap ton of work that you're probably not going to do a whole lot with. The early work you slave over while finding your writing self is unlikely to sell, unless you self publish it, and even then, you probably don't want to do that. It's going to be bad writing, because almost everyone does bad writing, especially in the beginning - hell, even later on, you'll pen some stuff that can't be saved. You have a lot of exploring to do inside your imagination.

"Write what you know," is one of the most used phrases of advice writers get. You know far more than you can fit into an artificial brand. I know old stories. I know Renaissance Faires. I know Arisoft. I know Boy Scouts. I know Ballroom, swing, and Latin dancing. I know a little about music. I know being a kid in a broken family. I know being a father and husband in a family fighting tooth and nail to make it work in crazy and insane world. I know intellectual elitism from both sides of that particular coin. I know all this and so much more. Everyone who ever dreamed of being a writer knows so much more than they could ever squeeze into a brand. I've either worked everything I know into my writing, or I've got something planned that draws on something. If I was going to stifle myself behind the M Todd Gallowglas "brand," I'd be severely limited in how I used all the things I want to write about - probably couldn't write about some of them at all.

Writers, don't worry about silly things like marketing or branding yourself while you busy building a writing career - and every writer I know is always working on building his or her writing career. Work on putting out the best quality writing you can. Put out your best work.Put your heart, mind, sweat, blood, tears, and Truth As You Know It into your work, and the brand will come. Do that enough times, and your readers will love you. They will tell others about you, and some of them will love you too. Eventually, enough people will be reader your work, and they will brand you. By then, your career will be at a point where you won't have to worry about it any more.

Normally, I don't ask for comments. Some of you do, and I'm thrilled by it, but this time around, I'm honestly curious to see what you have to say about this.



  1. I despise the current practice of applying marketing terms to human beings. Yet there IS something to be said about developing your writer persona and making The Persona accessible, interesting, and engaging to readers (a la Neil Gaiman). If that weren't a good idea, then I can't imagine many writers having a blog, journal, Facebook page, Tumblr account, nor would they Tweet or do whatever other social networking suits their fancy and/or Persona.) [And they wouldn't pay an intern to do it for them either.]

    The point is that while contemporary jargon may call it "brand," I'd rather call it "Persona" and create a version of myself (almost as a story character) with whom people can interact and even connect, with the hope that folks would be more interested in reading the next grand work of fiction I extrude from my tasty, crunchy, nougat-filled, and only slightly twisted mind.

  2. Although newer, I would agree with the main point of this blog. Many of the author's I truly love can not be pigeonholed into one distinct brand (Neil Gaimian is a perfect example of this). C.S. Friedman is one of my favorite writers and she has done fantasy, sci fi, and horror (all in the same book sometimes). Great comic book writers are being found that are novelists and TV writers trying their hand at scripts, and vice versa. I think the most important thing is to be true to yourself as a writer and in the long term you will have the foundation to achieve the goals you want.

  3. I totally agree with you. Writers should just write the best stories they can and let the chips fall where they may. One of my favorite quotes by George R.R. Martin goes with that thought. And his career certainly followed craft over brand.

    "Sure, I knew the differences between a space opera and a hard-boiled detective story and a historical novel... but I never cared about such differences. It seemed to me, then as now, that there are good stories and bad stories, and that was the only distinction that truly mattered."

  4. I'm a media student and we have studied the importance of branding and marketing. Yes both are important but a brand isn't a rigid thing that produces one product, does McDonalds only sell one type of burger? Your brand as an author can be your style of writing, your promise to produce consistently good engaging work. Interacting with readers is a good thing and again consistency will help but you don't have to pick a genre or book length or anything else that limits your creativity, that would not work for you as an author and soon lead to it not working for your readers either. Your brand is all your work as a whole, your business if you like, each individual book is a different product within that brand. Having a theme could help, say your name always in a certain font or place on a cover or always having a green background, the choices are endless and yours to make so you can have as much fun as you like and still write what ever comes to mind.

    I've been told I have to brand myself if I want to pursue becoming an editor, I figure first I have to find someone willing to pay me.

  5. Here's an example for you to consider. I know a writer whose work is as good as if not better than mine. We uploaded books to Kindle around the same time. After a few months of my working my "brand" all over the Internet, mine began to sell. She wrote and asked why her books weren't selling. She wasn't visible online. Branding is simply getting yourself known. If you are known people will look for your books. Of course, I agree, if your books are bad no one will buy them, brand or no. Those authors you mentioned did not have to deal with the Internet and all those writers out there turning out good books and marketing them online.

  6. I like how Penny characterized branding as building a persona. One look at my avatar, and you'll see what I mean.

    I don't know how much having a persona or brand influences your success, but I do suspect that branding helps in the long run. It only makes sense that readers are more likely to buy more of your works if they recognize your name. That's really what branding is for: getting readers to associate your name with your work.

    I also think that's the difference between a reader and a fan: a fan knows who you are. Branding helps readers make the connection with YOU, not just one of your works.

  7. I had another thought on this topic, and it picks up on what Daniel wrote. That "Persona" we seek to create does need to have a consistent voice--not necessarily in the fiction we write, but in the external communication we do, e.g., websites and social media. Many authors I know hire assistants to do their social media, and it is uncomfortably obvious to me. It is jarring when the voice is radically different between your books and your blog (etc.). It confuses the readers. Worse, I think it is damaging to your own reputation when the posts and Tweets are full of spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. (Yes, I know my "brand" may be that of "Quibbler," but I hope I can be a charming Quibbler without too much English language abuse on my part.

    I'd like to share, if I may, a couple paragraphs from a piece published by a Clio-award-winning advertising copywriter:

    [discussing the marked difference in tone/quality between various types of external communication] "...That sort of dichotomy sends a mixed message to your reader about who you are, and in this competitive marketplace, that’s the last thing you want or need.

    "Instead, determine a voice that sounds like [you], that reinforces your image and philosophy, that is clear and appealing to your target audience. Use it consistently—whether you’re writing your [website] or posting on Facebook. Be diligent.... What you say—and how you say it—truly matters."


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