Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Author Branding (a needle in a haystack)

I brought up some issues in Monday's post that I'd like to revisit. To use my husband's #1 most reviled catchphrase: let's unpack this concept. Doesn't it just make you wanna gag? ;)

Back to branding... A few weeks ago I spent some serious time trying to identify themes in my body of work. As you may or may not know, I have three books in print, one awaiting publication, and two half-written. So who is Nicole Baart as an author? What does she write? And if I've read (and enjoyed) her first book (or her second or third), why might I also enjoy reading her other work? These were questions that I seriously wrestled with over the course of a long, contemplative weekend. Not because I want to make my name (or my brand) great, and certainly not because I want to diminish my art to some palatable tagline. My reasons are much more varied and complex. (Though I'd be a big, fat liar if I said all my reasons are pure as the driven snow. What author doesn't want a break-out bestseller???) From a statement I wrote after that soul-searching weekend:

"Branding is a concept that I’ve shied away from since signing my very first book contract three years ago. It seemed somehow unctuous, false and ingratiating as if I was trying to package and sell myself as a product. And I do think that some branding has that certain identifying trace of salesmanship that seems unnecessarily smarmy. But since the release of my debut novel, I’ve learned that proper packaging is not so much greasy peddling as it is truthful marketing. It’s about distinguishing the strength and passion of your work, and helping the right audience to discover the art that has been created just for them.

To that end, I’ve given a lot of thought to my own brand, and though I haven’t nailed down the perfect essence of what I write and why, I think that the body of my work is beginning to have a specific shape and purpose."

My brand (though I hate that particular term) is not something that I'm creating as much as it is something that I am discovering. I'm learning about myself and my work. I'm taking my passions seriously and trying to make connections between the many threads that tie my books together.

Why do I think this is so important? Well, my agent, editors, and other friends and professionals in the industry have told me so. But really, I think it's rather commonsense. Most people don't walk into a bookstore and say, "Where can I find Ford County?" They say, "I'm looking for the newest John Grisham." Or Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Michael Crichton, James Patterson, Anne Rice, Mary Higgins Clark... You get my drift.

There are certain authors whose books I will always and forever buy just because of the name on the cover page. Elizabeth Strout, Leif Enger, Sarah Addison Allen, Anne Patchett, Donald Miller, and Robb Bell are just a few of the authors who have (for one reason or another) stolen my heart. I want to own all of their books, lined up neat and pretty on my bookshelves, even if every book isn't a five-star. Why is that? The answer isn't necessarily easy to ascertain, but I think it's partly because there is something honest about their writing that resonates deep inside of me--even if I'm not always wowed by the story.

What I would like to do is find the readers that are going to resonate with what I write... Like a needle in a haystack, right? Stay tuned--I'll explore different ways to do this on Friday.

If you're a writer: Have you spent some time struggling through these questions yourself? Can you identify even one thing that sets your writing (your books) apart? What aspect of your identity as an author do you think you could play up?

If you're a reader: What authors are you "loyal" to? Who gets shelf space in your home, even if the books aren't necessarily your all-time favorites? Why do you think that is?


  1. I struggle with this every day, Nicole. So do I. :) My multiple personalities fight one another. Having had many childhoods since I moved around so much, I blame it on that. I hate this topic but you have to discuss it if you're an author who is planning on building a career. I recently came up with this line. It's not a brand but this is basically what I do: "Take a flawed character in search of redemption, add a twist, then sprinkle in some genre flavoring."

  2. I have multiple publishing personalities, too! I wonder if it's a prerequisite for authors. ;) And I totally agree--I hate this topic. But different situations over the last year have forced me to look at who I am and what I do. As much as I'd like to throw caution to the wind and write everything from fantasy to literary fiction to chick lit, I'm starting to realize that few people (if any) can make a career out of that... Sad.

    All the same, I think you have an excellent tagline. And your approach seems to work for you--though I think you may be one of the few that can pull it off. I'm jealous. What's your secret??? If you have one, do share. :)

  3. Hey, Nicole!

    This is something I've started to think a lot for myself and my future in writing. So far, all of the novels have included a certain theme that I love, one that has so many different ways to explore, develop, and learn about that I think it'll have a lot to do with my brand. Right now I have no desire to write outside of a particular genre, so that takes a lot of pressure off me. While I read multiple genres, my favorite to read (and write) is women's fiction. So that's where I'm going to stay.