Monday, December 14, 2009

Branding (not the cow kind)

Growing up in a rural, farming community, my definition of a brand included a hot iron and a cow's backside. Granted, this may have more to do with cowboy movies than reality--I'm not sure I've ever seen a cow being branded in real life. Thank goodness. Sure I dehorned, immunized, wrangled and medicated my fair share of bovines in my brief and never realized (but very exciting) journey to becoming a doctor of veterinary medicine, but I never participated in the act of branding one of my four-legged friends. I think if they could, they would thank me for that small act of grace.

Funny thing is, in my two years working as a ranch hand on a dairy, I never gave branding a second thought. And now, as a veteran wife, mother of two, and fledgling novelist, the concept of branding is something I wrestle with on a regular basis. Of course, my definition has changed a bit.

So what is branding? I found this excellent (and concise) definition at Branding is the... "Entire process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product (good or service--books, in my case) in the consumers' mind, through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers."

There are lots of words in that definition that jump out at me: unique, consistent, significant and differentiated presence, loyal customers. The more I write, and the more I deal with publishers, agents, and other industry professionals, the more I'm starting to understand that if I hope to do this gig long-term, I need to figure out just exactly who I am and what I write. What makes my books unique? What about my writing will help me create a significant and differentiated presence in the vast (and ever-growing) publishing market?

According to R.R. Bowker's publishing statistics, there were 407,000 books published in 2007. That's a significant year to me because it is the year that my first book, After the Leaves Fall, was released. My sweet, little debut is lost somewhere amid that overwhelming mass of books. Think about it. How many books do you read in a year? I manage probably one a week. That's 52 books a year--only a miniscule fraction of all that was available in 2007. And more books just keep coming and coming and coming...

Okay, I do have a point to all this musing, but it's going to take me a couple of days to flesh it all out. In the meantime, I want to leave you with some questions to mull over.

If you are a writer: What is unique, different, or attractive about your writing? What sets you apart? If you had to write a one or two-line branding statement, what would it be?

If you're a reader: Do you notice different "brands" in books? What brands are you drawn to? Do you think that creating a brand is a good idea? Or does it limit authors and create cookie-cutter books?

Join the conversation! I can't wait to hear what you have to say.


  1. I think "branding" or what I like to call the uniqueness of every writer is an essential part of what sets us apart. God has created each one of us with distinctives, and as writers we bring those unique characteristics to our craft.

    I believe careful thought and observation about how we write is essential. Discovering those unique writing traits that are "you" is more important than trying to create a style of writing that isn't authentic to who you are as a person.

    I don't believe this limits authors at all. As we grow in our relationships with others - husband, children, friends and especially enemies - so we grow in our understanding of what forces shape humanity. That is all brought into our craft. We are challenged by what we see and think and our writing reflects that. It goes deeper and can become more personal.

    Nicole, you already have challenged yourself in the three books you have seen published. There is a difference between the first two books you wrote and The Moment Between. But there are characteristics in all three that are unique to "you".

    Many writers like James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Rudy Wiebe and Margaret Atwood (had to get some Canadian authors in there) have a distinctive voice even though the characters they create and the topics they tackle vary immensely.

    These distinguishing traits create a loyal reader following. They will not limit the scope of what you are doing if you continue to pursue characters and topics that challenge you in your life and faith.

    I hope you will always write what your heart is telling you to write, Nicole. That you will listen to who you are and create books reflecting your distinctive voice. I pray you will continue to challenge yourself with difficult subject matter. You have shown how aptly you can handle it in The Moment Between.

    Be true to yourself and authentic in your craft and your work will always reflect it. Readers will then be drawn to your books like cold hands to a warm flame!

    doris fleck

  2. This idea of branding is an important one, and I like the way you've approached it with this post. I'd like to think I've been branded - like, I think I've found my niche, my common themes, and voice - but I don't know if I'm far enough yet to define it. My readers say my written voice is unique, going by the style and fiction samples on my blog, but at what point does one know? And who determines such a thing?

    Pfft. That whole paragraph sounds presumptuous.

    How does a one- or two-sentence branding statement go? Is it like a book's blurb, but referencing the author, instead? Would it read third-person? Great food for thought.

    Like your blog! And best with all your writing.

  3. Doris, I think you've summed up my next several blog posts--and much more concisely and eloquently than I intended to! Anyway, I couldn't agree with you more... I believe we have to give much thought and observation to what we write. But I didn't always feel that way. In the beginning I decided I was still "finding myself" and recoiled from any attempt at what I considered being boxed in. Suffice it to say, my feelings on this subject have changed. Thanks for your comments--I look forward to hearing what you have to say about subsequent posts (if you happen to stop by!).

    Janna, you don't sound presumptuous at all. We're all trying to figure this out. :) As for what a branding statement looks like, stay tuned! We'll continue to explore this conecept together. Though I should admit right off the bat that I'm no pro. I'm learning alongside you.

    Blessings to you both!


  4. My stomach got all woozie when I read your question to writers...because my answer was an open mouth and a mind that went unhhhhhh......

    What if nothing about my stories is unique? What if I'm just one more romance writer with nothing special to say? It's SO easy to get lost in that HUGE shuffle. SO easy to get intimidated. SO ridiculous to think I could ever do this on my own. Thank you Jesus, that I don't.

    So, as of right now, I have NO clue about a brand. I'm excited to hear more about yours, though!

  5. I am a writer (tho not published) and a reader...when I tell people what I like in your books it is the way you put words together. You define things in an interesting and true way. I love the art of words and you are a word artist. Just write, Nicole. Let others worry about the branding.

  6. I had to do a project in ENGL 102 this past Spring semester at school, and my project was on the - uh - "book" I'm currently writing and the process of getting said book written. One of the questions my professor asked me after my presentation was if I had any ideas on how I would brand myself if I ever got published. And I just thought, wow, what? Branding? And my mind basically flat lined like Katie described. I told her I had absolutely no idea, but that would be good to figure out along the way. That wasn't even a whole year ago, and I still have no idea. I have a better grasp of who my audience would be, but as far as branding clue. I know that I have never meditated a story idea that didn't approach a serious topic. So far, the story I'm currently working on deals with child abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, lies, deception, redemption...I mean, that's a bunch of serious stuff. And all the other ideas I've mulled over for stories are running in the same vein. That's about as branded as I can make it at this point. Haha.

  7. Katie, don't worry if you went woozy. I've only just started thinking about this and I have three books unleashed in the wide world. Your questions are totally normal and expected: What if I'm just another half-rate wannabe?!? I think that every day. But I do think you (me too!) have something unique to offer. It's just a matter of identifying it.

    Nikolyn, thank you for you assessment of my work. I love the art of words, too, and I think my passion for poetry plays out in my prose whether I want it to or not. ;)

    Lauren, have you talked about this in-depth with your professor? Maybe she has some words of wisdom to impart. As for figuring out what you have to offer the reading public, sounds to me like you have a good start. Being aware of what moves you and what you write is a great beginning.

    More tomorrow as we keep exploring this topic!