Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Q & A 128 What's branding? Is it painful?

Can you talk on the topic of branding?

When you buy a bottle of Pepsi, you know exactly what you're getting: a bottle of water with sugar and flavoring added that somehow costs less than a bottle of water with nothing added.

Let's start over.

When you buy a bottle of Pepsi, you know exactly what you're getting: your ticket to youth, vitality, fun, friends, and beach volleyball. You know this because you've seen people drinking Pepsi in advertisements, and they all looked happy. Also because you've drunk hundreds of Pepsis and even though you aren't happy like the people in the advertisements, that's only because they've drunk thousands of Pepsis.

Now let's examine branding of authors. What did you think when you saw that Evil Editor had put out Novel Deviation, volume 3? Did you think, Maybe I'll pick that up in Borders and read the back cover copy and see if there are any good reviews online? No. You thought, Screw that, I can read most of that for free on the idiot's blog.

Let's start over.

No. You thought, Hmm, volumes 1 and 2 were utterly hilarious. I can always count on EE to come through with a quality product. I'm ordering this, and extra copies for all my friends, as it's only eleven months till Christmas.

Similarly, when you visit EE's blog and see the photograph with the laser eyes, a feeling of comfort engulfs you. You're where you want to be. When you visit and find that weird creature dressed in lilac, scowling at what looks suspiciously like your manuscript, you think, What is that, some kind of lizard? I must be in the wrong place.

Have I made my point?

Now, you don't need to be an international star like John Grisham or Nora Roberts or Evil Editor to be "branded." You just need to build a fan base of readers who know what to expect when they buy your books. Obviously you won't be a brand after one book, but you might want to think about what your brand will be like if it ever exists, and try to fit your books into your brand. If your first three books are a mystery, a historical romance and an epic fantasy, or if your first romance is a rollicking laughfest and your second is a gut-wrenching tearjerker, your fans won't know what to expect. Instead of pre-ordering your books, they'll wait for the reviews, and there goes your career, straight into the toilet.

That's why Nora Roberts writes her mysteries under the name J. D. Robb, and why Evil Editor writes his horror stories under the name Stephen King. Oops. Forget I said that. Wait, it was a joke. Obviously He I would have deleted it if it were true.


Anonymous said...

A brand is a promise to the consumer so he/she has confidence that they will get what they want when they buy.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Mr. King is so smart.

As it happens, there's an online branding class I -- and I'm sure other RWA PRO minions -- am being subjected to this week (can't fight it; it's in my inbox every day). Since I have a name and a Website handy, I'll pass them along. Not endorsing, just passing. Looks like there are a few articles about brand on the site.

Jennifer Stark

talpianna said...

EE, most of La Nora's books under her own name these days are romantic suspense, so I think the distinction for the Robb books is that (1) they are set 50 years in the future; and (2) they feature the same lead characters for 20+ (and counting) books.

Jayne Ann Krentz writes her contemporaries under her own name, her futuristics as Jayne Castle, and her historicals as Amanda Quick.

British poet laureate C.Day-Lewis wrote his mysteries as Nicholas Blake.

Both Erle Stanley Gardner and Elizabeth Linington wrote series about different characters under different names.

--Agatha Christie...OOPS! I mean MOLE!

Robin S. said...

So. Are these questions related in some way? Is blogging related to branding - for a newbie, that is?

I mean, EE, in your case, you already had a powerful "brand", if you will, your brand being that of EDITOR. I went back and looked again at your first posts. You talked about being an editor, and mentioned some strange, nincompoop-like query letters you'd received, and readers/writers, seemingly from out of the wooodwork, piled on in enjoyment and, my guess is, a delicious feeling that they'd gotten close to touching fire, but in a good way, not a burning way.

But what about brand building when you don't yet possess a brand? When the blopg itself becomes your brand? Is that helpful, potentially, to an author aspiring to publication?

PJD said...

If I may, EE's brand is far more than "editor". It's humor. It's an all-comers-welcome attitude. It's constructive criticism. It's participation by a loyal following, with encouragement of that participation. It's help for those who seek it.

Your question about whether building a brand through a blog is helpful to an aspiring writer was pretty well touched on by sarah, phoenix, and... oh, you in the other thread.

It mostly depends on what brand you want to build. If you are a writer of elitist, academic poetry yet the only public presence you have is a personal blog about your exploits in kinky sex (or vice versa), then you've built yourself a brand (whether you realize it or not) that may not help you in your poetry quest.

Think: "brand" = "reputation"

Things like logos, avatars, blogs, even the way you dress and the accent/dialect you use all contribute to make up your brand, but none of those is your brand.

Seems to me that for a career aspiration, whether it's writing or computer programming, a blog is one of many available tools. And a tool is only as useful as you make it. And it's not always the right tool for the job.

ril said...

I'll echo that Evil Editor has done a pretty good job of building a brand around his blog. The humour, the clip art, the books all have a style that ties together into a singular identity that we know and trust; and the brand owners mess with that at their peril (New Coke anyone?). Just like McDonald's golden arches or Pepsi's logo -- we can recognise the product instantly and we know exactly what we're going to get; wherever we are in the world.

It's also interesting how Stephen King has been able to expand his brand to apply to those books originally written as Richard Bachman. His brand is strong enough now that he can break out of his original market "niche".

Robin S. said...

Hi pjd,

I meant that EE came into blogging with a brand - even if generic at the time of inception - that of editor. Of course, he is personally special. (Do you honestly think you're gonna get an argument from ME about that? I mean, really.)

My point was, he came in loaded with a brand of sorts- because writers really crave having an editor's ear. (I could go on here and list more stuff, but I won't. It's a brand thing, you know.)

I understand what a brand is - both in concept, and, in working out its execution. I help build one just about every day, in my 'day job'.

I think wes nailed down the basic, underlying point of it all, in his comment. And I understand branding and blogging are interrelated - however - I'm wondering if having an initial platform, (namely, published writing) comes first.

That's the crux of it for me-
1-brand, then blog, or

2-blog to build a brand, which will only work in two ways, in my opinion:

A-publish well-written works that build on the brand you've established on the blog


B-decide that blogging and the attendant value derived from that presence becomes, for a blog author, the new end game

Robin S. said...

Ha, ril-

I clicked on the "world" link on your comment, thinking, oh, it;s ril doing this, it will be something clever.

And then I saw all the books, and I thought, oh, ND3 is in there somehere, and I looked and looked, and just as I was about to go away feeling poned yet again, but for a different reason- I saw it.

Good one. Yet again.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hm. Just checking out the picture and wondering if we have a surefire way to find out who EE is.

All we have to do is check every editor for the EE brand. Anyone up for pulling down the pants of each editor you meet? We can eliminate them (and our careers) one at a time.

PJD said...

Robin, I think you've answered your own question. :)

Didn't mean to come off as a know-it-all. Those who know me well are quite confident I don't know it all. Or even half of it all. Though I did count to infinity. Twice.

none said...

Branding is a way of getting you to keep buying a product rather than trying a rival one that might be better and/or cheaper.

Robin S. said...

oh, pjd,I wasn't mad.

You're so sweet - how could I be mad at you?

Love the infinity and beyond bit.

Sarah, YOU pull their pants down, and we'll stand behind dumpsters in the alley and laugh our asses off! And take pictures.

The thing is - I don't think there is an answer that isn't individual to the question of whether 'to brand' or 'not to brand' before publishing something. I know the question was "what is branding" but once you know what it is, the next question is - how best to use it, right?

Chris Eldin said...

Step one:
Anyone up for pulling down the pants of each editor you meet?

Step two is *not* taking photos. At least not in an alley....

Love this discussion. And I agree that EE has a strong, consistent brand.

Robin S. said...

Oh, yes, I'm in full agreement.

EE has a strong and consistent brand all right.

And I know that means we'll be seeing X-Ray Eyes Mutton Chop Man, and Sexy Fox Gender-Neutral Guy is gonna be taking a backseat. I get it, brand identity and all that stuff.

However, what we DON'T know is, if he is actually, you know, wearing that EE brand. Anywhere. The letters, I mean.

PJD said...

robin said oh, pjd,I wasn't mad. You're so sweet - how could I be mad at you?

I only quote it because, well, it's worth repeating, especially on someone else's web site. I wasn't fishing for such kind words... well, yes... yes, I actually was.

But back to branding. I'm not sure what my own brand is. I had that Calvin-chasing-the-soccer-ball avatar for a while, and I think that does capture who I am to a point. But maybe I'm more Puss In Boots from the Shreck films--part Antonio Banderas, part Errol Flynn, part sweet big-eyed irresistible kitten.

How about all y'all? How do you think of your own personal brand?

Phoenix Sullivan said...

How about all y'all? How do you think of your own personal brand?

Because I have a background in marketing and branding and it's second-nature to come up with this stuff, I've already branded myself in my avatar and how my pen name (Phoenix Sullivan) signs her emails:

Fantasy and Romance
That Captures the Heart
And Dares to Dream

And pjd, I lust in my heart for Puss-in-Boots. In my eyes, those are mighty big boots for you to fill! But see, you're already winning me over. I forgive you for cutting me out your query. Now stop looking at me with those sweet kitten eyes before I do something I shouldn't dare dream about.

none said...

I hate the idea of having my own personal brand. Why'd'ya think I hide behind fluffy animals all the time? Yes, yes, I know, now that IS my brand.

But the writing's the product, not me!

Robin S. said...

Ooooh, phoenix bird, it's kinda fun watching you do your stuff with pjd. You write romance, right?
practice some on pjd, as long as we can watch.

Speaking of pjd, what's your first name, anyway? Does it start with, oh, I'll make a wild stab here, "p"? Come on, confess. There's no Church Lady anymore, but, even so, she'd be all proud to see you come clean.

Buff- I swear if I saw you standing righ in front of me (which would admittedly be one hell of an hallucinogenic experience, as you're in Britain and I'm in Virginia) - I'd still see a cute little squirrel. So yeah, you're branded.

Yes, I am home now. Yes, I am having my nightly glass of white wine. Yes, I am more relaxed...

PJD said...

phoenix, all I'll say is that I have no problem filling big boots.

robin, were asking what my first name is? Why, it's pjd. Difficult to pronounce, I know. That's why I normally go by "Peter." I suppose you've never dropped by my blog, or you'd have seen my full name in my Sunday, January 27th posting. >snif<

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Well, Robin, I thought I wrote romance. But just awhile ago an agent, having read a full, said that while she "literally could not put the manuscript down" (yay), she thought the romance and sex were too subtle to work as a romance novel, but she'd be happy to read it again if I turned it into a historical women's fiction book. So to do that do I take the focus off the hero and heroine and cut out the sex scenes? That would bring it down from 110,000 words to, let's see, Chapter One and maybe that scene in Chapter Twelve where the heroine -- no, wait, she's thinking about the hero in that scene. Hmmm. Wonder how much I can expand Chapter One?

pjd, I will happily keep your claim in mind. ;o)

Robin S. said...

Hey! I just realized my own anniversary just came up - one year with EE. I just checked- I sent an opening one year ago, yesterday, 'cause he mentioned he was low on openings.

I remember - doing this scared the hell out of me. I thought about recalling the email.

OK, Peter, branding stuff. I like your actual picture better than the cartoon. Great jawline. No kidding. The caroon is cute - but I thought you were lots younger. Good to know you're not.

phoenix - what the hell!!! - if you have an agent's attention and she loves it - reframe that puppy and send it the hell back in there.
Very cool for you!

EE, have you ever thought of having a kind of a chat room around here on your blog for these ongoing converations that go off on tangents, or do you like them just to pop up when and where they pop?

ril said...

Hey, Robin. Happy anniversary.

I've been here pretty much since the start, though I didn't de-lurk for quite a while, when I lost my continuation virginity. As it were.

Whirlochre said...

Branding is like mind reading in reverse - but with more mugs.

Robin S. said...

Hi ril. Thanks!

I think you did my first continuation, so I figured you'd been around a while. I was lurker too. I think you almost have to be, until you figure out the method to the madness around here.

PJD said...

Happy anniversary, Robin! I had to look back to find out my first query was ripped to shreds in December of 2006. I think, though, that I began lurking after EE's third or fourth post, and I started submitting GTP entries around face-lift 45. Hard to believe it's been nearly two years.

none said...

Saturday, May 20, 2006, my first query was eviscerated. Ah, memories....

McKoala said...

I suppose I'm branded a dozy koala then. Works for me.

I think I was here from the start (thanks, Miss Snark!), but possibly just as a lurker for a while.

Robin S. said...

Hey guys - funny how the passage of time dumbs down the pain of evisceration until it becomes almost a sweet, exhilarating, good-ole'-time-was-had-by-all memory, huh?

And we all remember our first time very clearly (unless we were drunk or high at the time, of course).

Sound a bit familiar?

Robin S. said...

Oh- McK - I was wondering how people found EE in the first place.

Miss Snark sent you all over, huh?
Didn't know that. I saw her blog only a few weeks before I clicked on the link to visit here.

PJD said...

Yes, Miss Snark can be credited with arrival of many of the early minions. Who's the earliest minion still with us? (I mean the earliest to have their query appear on the blog, not just us early lurkers.) So far it appears that Buffy is the eldest and therefore Most Wise.

talpianna said...

Yes, branding IS painful.

---Milady de Winter