Marketing: The B-Word by Randy Ingermanson

This is an excerpt from Randy's newsletter which I HIGHLY recommend...

4) Marketing: The B-Word

Recently, I did an interview on the blog of Larry Brooks at One of the questions he asked was this one:

If you had an elevator ride with an aspiring writer who recognized you, what would you tell him is either the biggest and costliest mistake newer writers make ... or the best thing they can do for their skill-set and career ... or both?

That really got my neurons firing. Here's the answer I


New writers often fail to understand the importance of branding. When you attach your name to a novel and publish it, that's an implicit contract you're making with your reader: "I promise to produce more fiction like this in the future."

If you violate that contract, then your reader feels cheated. Even if your next book is fantastic, it's not what the reader was expecting.

This has nothing to do with being "typecast" as an author. It has everything to do with setting expectations and then meeting those expectations.

Let's say you go to a Chinese restaurant and order their "Buddha's Delight Vegi Plate." The meal is amazing. You tell all your friends about it. You come back a month later with your buddy and . . . that plate is no longer on the menu. In fact, all the Chinese food items are gone. Instead, you've got a choice between an incredibly tempting "Eggplant Parmesan" or an equally inviting "Chile Relleno."

Those are great dishes, both of them. But you came to the restaurant to have Chinese food! And that's exactly what you didn't get. No matter how good the actual menu is, the restaurant violated its implicit contract with you. And you're mad as heck. Rightly so. You won't go back to that place and you'll tell all your friends to give it a skip.

Consistency matters. Quality and consistency.

When we talk about an author's brand, we mean the set of expectations the reader has when they see your name on the cover.

If you don't want to meet those expectations, that's fine. Do the right thing and use a different pen name for that new, cool category you want to write.

Treat your readers the way you want to be treated.
They'll reward you for it.

That's a pretty long answer. Many authors hate the "B-word" -- branding -- because they don't want to be "typecast."

That's understandable. That's common, in fact.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes because he felt that his "literary energies should not be directed too much into one channel."

Eventually, public clamor forced him to bring Sherlock back for many more adventures.

Conan Doyle worried that the time he spent writing the Holmes mysteries "may perhaps have stood a little in the way of the recognition of my more serious literary work."

Can anyone remember what that more serious literary work actually was? Sherlock Holmes has trained several generations of young people to think logically. What could be more serious than that?

But what if you really can't be bottled up in one single brand? Then what do you do? Are you doomed?

Not at all. If you're running a successful Chinese restaurant and you desperately want to start cooking Italian food, the solution is simple: Open an Italian restaurant under a different name and sell some pasta.
Ditto if you want to open a Mexican restaurant.

The one thing you don't want to do is call them all the same thing. "Lotus Garden" would be a fine name for a Chinese restaurant. Not so much for Italian or Mexican.

A brand is a fairly squishy thing, but I like to think of it as a combination of three things:
* Your name.
* The associations people think of when they hear your name.
* The advance decision your fans make that "I want that author's next book, whatever it is" COMBINED with the advance decision your non-fans make that "I have read that author's work and I won't buy it again because it's just not for me."

If people don't know your name, then you have a weak brand.

If people know your name, but they really don't have any strong associations with it, then you have a weak brand.

If people know your name and if when they see your name on the cover of a book, they INSTANTLY know what that book is going to be about AND they know whether they want that book or not, then you have a strong brand.

So if you want to split your brand, the simple solution is to write under one or more pen names. You can make a big secret out of this or you can be totally open.
Either way, nobody will really care.

What your readers care about is that when they see your name on the cover, they know right away whether they want the book or not. Life demands enormous numbers of decisions from us every day. A strong brand is one fewer decision that your fans have to make.

If you write under multiple names, this will certainly mean that some of your fans are going to LOVE one of your names and HATE one of your others.

This is good. This means that you won't lose readers who don't happen to like everything you write. Your separate brands may lead to widely separate fan bases.

Have you defined your brand (or brands) yet? If not, you can get started right now. Bear in mind that branding is a life-long process, so you'll never really finish, but it's one of the most important things you can do in your writing career.

Here's how to start. For each category of fiction that you want to write, answer these questions:

* What author name will I use for books in this category?
* How many books do I intend to write in this category?
* What three things do I want people to think INSTANTLY when they see this author name in large letters on the cover of a book?

I strongly recommend that you use a different author name for each category.

The number of books that you intend to write in a given category will determine how much work you want to put into promoting the brand for that category.

The associations that you want people to make with your author name will define the length of your books, the quality of your writing, the type of art on your covers, and the publishers you choose to work with.

Branding is a painful process. It forces you to examine yourself closely, and that can be scary.

You can always soothe the pain of that self-scrutiny by going out to eat at your favorite Chinese-Italian- Mexican restaurant

8) Reprint Rights

Permission is granted to use any of the articles in this e-zine in your own e-zine or web site, as long as you include the following 2-paragraph blurb with it:

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 25,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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1 comment:

WomenGrowingInChrist said...

Thanks, Gina. My critique group and I were just talking about branding last week. I've resisted to some extent, but that analogy about the Chinese restaurant hit home (especially since a great new Chinese buffet just opened up near my house - LOL!). Anyway, thanks!

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