Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 22: Marketing 201, Branding for Authors

“Branding,”  not “Brandon,” just so we’re clear. Brand-ING.

We open with the definition of “branding,” talking about what it is, and (just as importantly) what it is not. With that out of the way we forge ahead and talk about author brands, brand messaging, and why any of this really matters. We throw down a few examples, and use them to help the listener arrive at a decent author-branding strategy.

Writing Prompt: Pick your favorite author and in 50 words or less write down what you think their brand is, then compare it on the forums with what others write.


23 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 22: Marketing 201, Branding for Authors”

  1. These marketing podcasts are great. I would love to hear another where you three do this writing prompt on three or four authors.

    Also, I’m thinking there are two parts to this. There is the type of experience you deliver the reader as defined by:

    1- Genre
    2- Emotional effects: humor, suspense, mystery, tragedy, etc.
    3- Themes (as in repeated situations/conflicts, places, or character types): Marriage, dating, growing up, Mexico, medieval fantasy land, etc.

    Then there is the type of person you are. It would seem to me that the personality would be the less important of the two, as long as it’s not off-putting in some way. I guess I can see where the personality was part of the value delivered, Weird Al Yankavich (sp). But I think that would be in the minority of cases.

    Another data point: Tess Gerritsen straddles two genres (romance and thrillers) and has had a hard time with crossover (I’ve got a pointer to her aritcle on my site). I believe the marketing folks would say that when you try to do this, you make a mistake. Extending the brand too far from home just doesn’t work. It’s like Tide trying to go into the soft drink business. Nobody, wants Tide cola because the washing detergent brand is so strong.

  2. @Cy Reb–no, I got static, too.

    @ Howard: 50 words? So does “snappy dialogue, satisfyingly complex societies and internally consistent magic systems” not go far enough to qualify as a “brand”?

  3. Static on my end as well.


    Website design fills a big role in author branding as well. What colors, font, design elements, etc. are you using. You shouldn’t pick them based on what which one you like the best, but what emotions and feelings they convey.

    For example, just looking at the logos and graphic design elements of the branding, when I see:

    Apple: I think of hip, clean, modern, simple things.
    Coca-Cola: I think of this as a comfort brand. Must have to do with the rosy-cheeked Santas and Polar bears.
    Pepsi: I think urban, hip, (not traditional and cuddly like coke.) etc.

    Anyway, the colors and design elements will make a difference.

    Just my $.02

  4. Brandon may have unintentionally pre-branded himself because now, (esp on Facebook) he is: “The Guy Who Finished That Robert Jordan Series” even though it hasn’t even come out yet. Once it comes out and is read, does a “branding” die down or is it a millstone or mantle rround your neck?

    Frankly, I think I already like your original works better.

    But, it’ll be interesting to see if you can get “Stephen King” size lines outside Rediscovered, or even the Boise Borders. (Poetic justice, don’t you think)?

    Take Care!

  5. Static should be gone now, something must have happened while uploading becasue the MP3 on my computer doesn’t have any static.

  6. Elizabeth Moon is one of my favorites. I think of her writing as “detailed, richly-researched, down-to-earth military SF&F with stalwart, honest, believable characters that can still be accessed by the less-military-minded.”

  7. Great episode, as always. I have a question, though. If you don’t want to associate your brand too closely with one of the series you write, how can you do that and still write a book with powerful, compelling characters? If your characters are interesting and done really well, wouldn’t that tend to make readers think of the characters when they think of you as a writer? And wouldn’t that tend towards the series-brand mentality more than anything else? Or do you have to make sure to publish something outside of your first series as early in your career as possible, just to avoid that?

  8. its also possible to an extent to brand yourself as a writer who also blogs a lot. The best example is John Scalzi. While clearly not everyone can be John Scalzi, he seems to manage to both brand himself as a military SF guy, as well as someone who will consistently blog about just about anything, from politics to pop culture.

  9. onelowerlight,

    I think it’s a good question and I think it’s very hard to do. Sue Grafton will ALWAYS be associated with her series. So will Alexander McCall Smith, George RR Martin, Lee Child. Orson Card has tried to write non-genre stuff, but it doesn’t sell as well because his brand is unknown to the mainstream (relatively speaking) and the cross0ver from SFF is not as great as you’d expect.

    I don’t think the issue is so much moving around in the SFF genre as it is going between larger genre gaps like from SFF to Western or Romance or Hard Boiled Mystery. But even in SFF the effect is there. Terry Brooks (who tried to get another fantasy going failed–everyone wanted another Shannara experience).

    Brandon says he wanted to not get stuck with an Elantris series. But if you look at the feel of Elantris and Mistborn, they’re very close. He didn’t get set with one series. But he has his own feel. If he tried to do Bradley Denton comedy, he’d lose a significant portion of his readers, I think. Or those books simply wouldn’t do as well.

    Probably the best example of widening the feel is Stephen King who can do freak shows like Cujo and then also Shawshank Redemption. But he’s not writing series…

  10. @ onelowerlight

    I think one of the best way for a writer NOT to brand him/herself by a series is to do everything in his/her power NOT to write a series one after the other. Write Bk. 1., then write a stand alone. Write Bk. 2, then write another stand alone. Also, write more than one series.

    This is one reason why Orson Scott Card isn’t branded as the Ender writer, or the Alvin Maker writer. The 9 or 10 books in the Ender’s series were written over 25 years or so, and when he wasn’t writing an Ender book, he was writing an Alvin Maker book, or a book from the Homecoming saga, or one of his many stand alones, such as Lost Boys, Treasure Box, or Enchantment.

    Of course, to do this, you have to give each book in the series a story-arc unto itself.

  11. Listening to this at 11:07pm 3/9/09 PST there’s still plenty of static.

    Other than that this is an awesome podcast and really interesting.

    I often wonder, am I the only person who listens to this podcast fanatically that isn’t a writer or aspiring writer? I just love listening about this stuff.

  12. Just a comment from another reader (not a fiction writer or aspiring fiction writer, although I am a tech writer by day):

    Regarding Brandon Sanderson’s works, I am a crossover reader. After hearing Brandon at LTUE a couple of years ago, I kept an eye out for Elantris and enjoyed reading it when it came out.

    Later, I saw the first Alcatraz book at my local library and checked that out. Although I’m an adult, I laughed all the way through this “middle grade” story.

    If I like an author, I tend to seek out other works by that author, even if they are in another genre. But then, I also read across a lot of genres in general.

  13. @cornan

    If you had listened to this before in your browser you’ll have to clear your cache. If this is via a download let me know.

  14. If I like an author, I tend to seek out other works by that author, even if they are in another genre. But then, I also read across a lot of genres in general.

    I’m in the same boat. However, even Brandon admits he isn’t getting a lot of cross-over, ie Alcatraz is selling mostly to a different audience, not so well with his Elantris audience. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It sets up two fairly independent streams of work.

    I think one of the best way for a writer NOT to brand him/herself by a series is to do everything in his/her power NOT to write a series one after the other.

    I think this is accurate. However, doing that can also affect sales and readership. There have been a few houses in the last few years who have done relatively quick releases in a series, separated only by a few months instead of a year or more. And it seems to have boosted their readership dramatically. Tor is going to try that with Ken Scholes whose LAMENTATION was just released in February. I believe Tor will be trying that with our own Dan Wells too.

    For me, if I had to choose between more readers vs. more genres, I’d choose more readers and then deal with the genre problems later. I say this because getting more readers would, hopefully, lead to more $, which would give me more time to spend on writing, which would then allow me time to write the books in the other genres. If I can write one book in 2-4 months that pays the bills for the year, that gives me most of the year to satisfy my need for variety. Of course, that’s my preference. Ultimately, a writer must write from passion, and that may lead to choices that don’t follow tidy marketing programs.

  15. Patricia McKillip: Complex mythic story arcs interwoven with prosaic life of characters deep enough you will miss them when the book is over. All tied together (with varying degrees of clarity) at the end.

  16. Brandon’s easy. He has two brands: Wheel of Time finisher and cool magic system guy.

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