Showing posts with label branding. Show all posts
Showing posts with label branding. Show all posts

Thursday, December 27

Should A Writer Let Her Reader's Expectations Influence Her Artistic Judgement?

When Should A Writer Let Her Reader's Expectations Influence Her Artistic Judgement?

Today Kris Rusch published another thought provoking article on the business of writing, one which raised the question: When should writers let fan preferences influence their creative decisions?

First, an example. Kris mentions The Hobbit (some fans of the books think the movie is too violent, some fans of Lord of the Rings don't like all the singing) and Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise is great but a man-mountain he is not) but there are many more. For instance, some fans of The Walking Dead thought there was too much talk and not enough action--and definitely not enough zombies.

It's true that you can't please everyone all the time, but when should you take your fans' likes into account when you're writing/creating? How much should their preferences, their love of the world(s) you've created influence your creative decisions?

Kris writes:
At what point should fans influence a work of art? Should the writer/director/artist take fans into consideration, and if so, when?

That is probably the toughest question to answer of all.

Why Do You Write: The Economics of Creation

One way of looking at this is to say that there are two kinds of writers: business folks and artists. The former write solely for money--art be damned--while the latter do it for personal reasons such as the pure thrill of creation.

But I think that's a false dichotomy.

On some level, even the most refined artist is also a business person--they need food to eat and a place to sleep, just like everyone else--and the most hard-nosed business person ... well, the very act of writing tends (I feel) to bare the soul. I don't think it's possible to create a story and commit it to paper (electronic file, etc.) without baring ones soul, even if only a little.

But saying that doesn't help. It doesn't address the question: To what extent should you take your fans' preferences into account when you write?

Kris' solution: Don't choose. She outlines three ways writers can write exactly what they want and make their fans happy.

1. Write what you, the writer, want to write

Let's say you're writing a romance, the fifth book in a series. Let's further say that the first four books had happy-ever-after endings and that absolutely no one died or even chipped a nail.

In your fifth book your protagonist feels darker, she's making some potentially destructive choices, choices which will mean the death of one of your other characters. Choices which will mean there is no happily-ever-after ending.

What should you do? Should you wrestle her back to your outline and nix the edginess? If you do, you may get writer's block or the story might dry up on you.

Or it might not. I don't know. I think that sort of thing depends on the writer, but there's an alternative: Write the story your muse is pushing you to write, but don't publish it as part of that romance series. Instead, turn it into another series or a standalone.

I'm not sure if this would have been an option ten, or even five, years ago but today a writer has the opportunity to write the book her muse is dictating while at the same time respecting fan expectations. Nowadays there's no reason why a romance writer couldn't depart from expectations and write a horror. Here's the key: Make sure your fans know what to expect when they pick up a book you've written.

Keep your series characters, your series world, consistent. In other words ...

2. Don't set your readers up for disappointment: be clear about what you've written

Readers have expectations. If someone picks up your book thinking it's, say, a romance and it's a horror you're going to alienate a potential fan, and that'll be the case even if it was the best book ever written.

Kris gives a terrific example of how her expectations as a reader were violated:
More than once, I’ve read something “light” only to be betrayed by it. The example I use when I’m teaching is this: On a particularly difficult trip to the Midwest, I was reading a Nora Roberts romance novel in a Perkin’s Restaurant when—in the very center of the book—Roberts killed a baby. It was a plot point, it was on-screen, and it was ugly. I burst into tears and would have flung the book across the restaurant if I had a little less self-control.

That was the last thing I needed on that trip.

Did it stop me from being a fan of hers? No, not at all. But I became a more cautious fan. And when I needed one of those light, escapist reads, I avoided her books.
But don't worry, there's a way to prevent this. All you need to do is ...

3. Brand each book

A key part of respecting reader expectations is branding.

For each kind of book you write (scifi, horror, mystery, romance, etc.) set up a different pen name. You don't have to be secretive about your pen-names, they're just another way to tell readers what to expect in terms of a book's content. If one of your readers picks up a Samantha Raven book they'll know to expect a horror while if they see a Priscilla Frillbottoms book they'll expect a romance.

Kris writes:
Communication is part of the key. Before indie publishing, I did a lot of my communicating via byline and branding. Kristine Kathryn Rusch is an eclectic writer whose work covers the gamut of genres and emotions, but tends toward mystery and science fiction or fantasy (sometimes in combination). Kristine Grayson is always light read, with little or no violence and more often than not a happy ending.
 .  .  .  .
I didn’t want my Grayson fans to pick up my Fey series, which is also fantasy, only to discover horrific violence, melting people and flaying skin. I knew, from personal experience, that it would piss fans off. I’d rather let them choose to read both Grayson and Rusch, rather than surprise them with a dead baby scene in the middle of a very sad real life day.
To sum up: Regardless of what's currently popular or what fans would like, write what you want to write. This won't cost you readers--in fact it'll probably attract them--just make sure it's clear what kind of book you've written. Also, don't underestimate the value of a pen name to help brand a book.

As Kris writes:
Write. Finish what you write, and do your best to get it into the right hands, whatever that means for you.

And most of all—have fun. The more you enjoy what you do, the more your fans will—no matter what part of your writing they like best.
Have you let fan expectations influence what you write? What do you think of Kris' advice?

Other articles you might like:

- Getting Ready for 2013: A Writer's Guide
- Writing And Publishing in 2013: How To Survive And Thrive
- Writing in 2013: Bend don't break

Photo credit: "a dog and it's boss" by Pixel Addict under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, October 13

Penelope Trunk: Blogging And Branding

It's raining.

I love rain and the gentle patter it makes on window panes. I don't love bundling up and sitting, damp, in my favorite coffee shop sipping overpriced espresso. So this Saturday morning I stayed home, curled up with my iPad, and caught up on reading Penelope Trunk's blog.

Penelope can make anything interesting! One of her posts was about bedbugs and I was fascinated.

I've posted about Penelope's blog before, but today I noticed she has a page devoted to the topic: How to blog. Why hadn't I seen it before? Anyway, as you'd expect, she gives great advice, and I'd encourage you to read it, but what I want to talk about is something Penelope said about branding.

Penelope didn't call it branding, she talked about picking a topic for your blog, but what she said made me think. She writes:
Pick a topic — you can change it when you know what you’re doing.
This is like dating. Pick something that seems good, and if it isn’t, try again. Don’t get hung up on topic. As in dating, you’ll know when you’ve found one that’s the right fit. There are some obvious things, like pick a topic you have a lot to say about, pick something that interests you, pick something that will help your career. This is great advice, but you already know that if you look for a perfect match you’ll never actually go on a date. (The easiest instructions for how to start a blog)
I think this advice applies not just to picking a topic for a blog--making a blog a cooking blog, or a book blog, or a personal finance blog--but also to picking a public face, for building a platform, for branding.

It turns out Penelope has written a post about this: Tips for building your personal brand. If you're in the process of building a community it's worth a read even though it wasn't written specifically for writers.

Other articles you might like:
- 12 Writing Tips: How To Be A Writer
- NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready
- 7 Tips On How To Get Your Guest Post Accepted

Photo credit: Amanda Slater

Friday, October 12

Building A Platform That Meets Your Needs

Building A Writer's Platform That Meets Your Needs

A while ago I wrote an article entitled: How To Build A Platform: Why Every Writer Needs A Website, in which I argued that just having a blog wasn't good enough, you need a website too.

These days, I'm not so sure. I think having a blog, even a blog on, might be good enough. Here's the thing: What you need depends on what your goals are.

What is the main thing folks are going to come to your website/blog for? And who are these folks going to be? You might be staring at these words shaking your head, thinking, "And how the heck would I know who's going to come and visit my site?"

That's a fair question. Often in the beginning we don't know who these folks, our visitors and, ultimately, our readers, are going to be.

Come one, come all

Whether you decide to go with a static site, a blog or a full-blown website (I talk more about this later) you'll need to keep at it. The key phrase here is: be consistent.

Naturally if all you're going to be putting up is a static site--a webpage with information about who you are, where you can be reached (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)--then being consistent is fairly easy. You just need to update the page every six months or so, or when something changes (you put out a new book, become active in new forms of social media, and so on). Otherwise, there isn't much to do!

If you don't know who your visitors are going to be you can still design a website. I'll go into more detail later, but there are roughly three broad kinds of sites you can put up. I call them the starter package, the starter package plus blog and the full-featured site.

As the name implies, the most basic of these is "the starter package". This is a static website that simply tells visitors how to reach you, where you are on the web (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), what you've written and how to contact you. If this is all you want, or would likely meet your needs. Make sure, though, that the service you choose allows you to use your own domain name ( does and does but you need to pay a fee). That's a must. Why? If you ever decide to move your site from, say,, to another hosting site, your readers will be able to find you at you new home through your domain name.

By the way, I know it might seem like a contradiction in terms to recommend blogging sites for a static site! As it happens, you can set up as a static site (I should probably write a blog post about how to do that) and I imagine the same is true for as well. The great thing about starting off with a site like is that it does all the search engine optimization (SEO) for you and can list your site with all the major search engines.

If you want to be slightly more ambitious, you could go with a "starter package plus blog" and blog regularly (keep in mind that if you blog once a month you're blogging regularly!). You can blog even if you don't know what sort of audience you're reaching out to, just talk about whatever interests you. Over time you'll see themes emerge. Also, after looking at your viewer statistics, you'll notice your readers are more interested in certain articles, certain themes, than others. After a few months you'll get a feel for what you like to blog about and also what your readers are interested in.

If, in the beginning, you don't have an idea who your audience will be then I wouldn't advise you starting off with what I'm calling a full-featured site. The way I think of it, a full-featured website one that is dynamic and easily customizable, you likely would have a blog and could even have forums or open an online store! (For example,

But with a full-featured site you'll also have additional concerns. This kind of site can do a lot but, as with everything, there are tradeoffs. For instance, the more cool features you add (e.g., link tracking), the slower the site will run. A few bells and whistles may not make a difference but at some point you'll wonder why your pages are loading slowly. Also, this sort of site is complex and complex things tend to break. If you can fix it yourself, great! Otherwise maintenance can be expensive. Either way, maintaining this kind of a site is time consuming.

You have an idea who your visitors will be

We've just discussed how to go about building a site if you don't know who your target audience is. Now let's talk about how to build a site when you have some idea what kind of a community you want to build.

Shared interest
How do you build community? You reach out to those who share an interest of yours. It could be anything. What are you interested in? Steampunk? Scifi movies of the 80s? Doctor Who? Skiboarding? Cooking? Hiking? Whatever it is, there are people, lots of people, just as passionate about it as you are. The trick is letting them know your site exists.

By the way, when I said you could build your site around any theme/idea that was a bit of an exaggeration. What you write about has to have some connection to the shared interest you've built your community around. For instance, if you write science fiction, by all means, talk about scifi movies, conventions, trivia. Talk about collectibles. Even talk about other scifi writers! Eventually, if you keep at it, a community will form.

Cookbooks are popular. They sell well. Why? The tie-in between a writer's community and how to reach that community is obvious. You write books about food and it is very easy to blog about food, post pictures of food, conventions, good places to eat in your local community and across the country, and so on.

I mean, who doesn't like beautiful close-up pictures of desserts? Especially chocolate ones. (Oh my gosh, if I wrote cookbooks I would gain SO much weight. Anyway, moving on.)

Making the connection between your area of interest and your community
How do you make the connection between what you are interested in--for instance, mystery stories with sleuths who cook--and building a community? 

If I could I would have that word, "interaction", blink red and blue and have big yellow dancing arrows pointing to it. But that's not a surprise, is it? That's how me make friends. Interaction forms the basis for any social endeavor. And that really is the other key word: social. I'm talking about building a community, not a list. For that to happen, for a community to form, there has to be interaction.

And that means you need to find a way to interact with the people who you would like in your community.

I think I'm going to leave it there for today. I covered more material than I thought I would. In the next segment I'll talk about interaction and social media but I want to say here that I don't think social media is necessary for you to form and interact with a community.

Good writing!

Other articles in this series:
- What Is A Writer's Platform?
- Does Every Writer Need A Platform?

Other articles you might like:
- Jim Butcher On Writing
- NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready
- On The Art Of Creating Believable Characters: No Mr. Nice Guy
- Perfection Is The Death Of Creativity

Photo credit: "KIUKO"

Tuesday, September 25

Branding: Not As Painful As It Sounds

Branding: Not As Painful As It Sounds

Branding is a mystery to me. Those in the know say a writer must do it, but I never knew what 'branding' meant or why anyone would commit their precious time and resources to it. It could just be me, but doesn't branding sound uncomfortable? Isn't that something done to cattle?

Today I read a post by Copy Blogger that did the impossible, it explained branding to me. Here are the parts that did it:

"Branding is just another name for creating a perception."

"A brand is a promise. It's an expectation of an experience."
 That I can understand. For instance, Stephen King is branded as a horror writer. It doesn't matter that he writes a heck of a lot more than horror (Stand By Me for instance), when Jane Doe hears the name "Stephen King" she thinks horror.

When Stephen King's name is on a novel we expect it to be a horror story, that's the promise, that is the experience we want.

The very essence of brands doesn’t lie within your brand colors or site design, even though those are important.

The essence of a brand lies within its meaning. And words have meaning. Words matter.
As we all know, the goal of writing is the manipulation of your readers' emotions. That makes it easier to understand branding because when we brand ourselves we take ourselves as the subject of our own story. This story creates an expectation of an experience. A Stephen King novel? We expect to be scared, terrified, creeped out.

Sometimes, like Volvo, we don't know what our brand is going to be when we start out. I'm pretty sure Stephen King didn't think about branding when he wrote Carrie.

I'm glad I read Why Content Marketing is the New Branding. The article talks about more than what I've discussed here, but the revelation for me was in thinking of a brand as a story, my story. It is the mask, the persona, I hold up to the public. I find the idea both gleefully mischievous and sinister.

Other articles you might like:
- Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs
- Stephen King's Joyland (June 4, 2013): Cover Art Just Released
- Amazon's KDP Select Program: The Power Of Free

Photo credit: Daniel Schwen

Monday, August 15

What's An Author Brand?

What is an author brand? I've been asking myself this but haven't had much of a chance to research the question. One of my Google Alters sent me a link to Laurel Marshfield's article, What's an Author Brand?

She writes:
Brands are those vague but persuasive associations we conjure up whenever we think of any well-known product. Mac computers. TIDE laundry detergent. Nike running shoes.

Brands are also the far more complex associations that come to mind whenever we think of well-known authors. Often, they’re a flash of images mixed with a dominant feeling, or a scene from a particular book montaged with memory fragments.

Here’s a small demonstration. Does the name Stephen King conjure something different for you than the name J.K. Rowling? What about Dan Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jodi Picoult? Or Malcolm Gladwell, Joan Didion, Seth Godin? What association appears for a second or so when you first see each name?

People Aren’t Products

Whatever that instant of recognition is composed of, it’s there because that author’s brand put it there. Each association is complex and meaningful — unlike the association you’d experience for a brand of laundry detergent.

In fact, it’s that much-ado-about-nothingness which characterizes many product brands that makes it easy to imagine authors rejecting the B word as too schlocky, too commercial, too huckster-esque. So let’s substitute the word “story,” instead.

Your Brand Is Your Author Story

The author story (aka brand) refers to the complex messages authors put out into the world about themselves and their books — which we then absorb and retain in a highly individual way.

Suppose that you, like author Michael Cunningham, were interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” You talked about your struggles with writing, as well as your then-recent book, The Hours (later made into a movie starring Meryl Streep). You were articulate, charming, fascinating — someone any listener would want to know more about, because what you had to say was vivid and substantive.

So, you think, is that Cunningham’s brand?
Read the rest of What's an Author Brand?