Writing Anxieties: This Idea of Branding

Branding iron in a coal fire
Branding – a bit extreme for this writer?

Sorry to disappoint any of the folks who are looking at the title and thinking I’m going to be discussing branding as a kink. No, I’m going to be looking at this idea of the author brand.

The idea of having a ‘brand’ is an oft-discussed topic online – particularly in reference to the blogging world, and no where more so these days with more and more writers joining the internet to self-promote, because that’s the way it’s all going these days, isn’t it? The basic idea is that you have something distinct to market your writing, something that you can pinpoint to to find the essential kernel of what makes it your work.

For me, I’ve always been a fraction resistant to this, and a little suspicious. One, marketing still feels a little strange for me (the tension between doing it to reach people and doing it for financial gain bodes uneasily). Two, and perhaps more importantly for me, I really had no clue what my author brand is or feels like. (Note, I think I have a bit more of a clue now.)

I met up with a university friend in London the other week. She now works in publishing, and it was most interesting to hear her thoughts on how author brands work. Most people reading this will be at least a little familiar with Neil Gaiman’s writing. Some will no doubt be familiar with his blog and website too. What my friend pointed out was that Gaiman doesn’t necessarily just talk about his writing or his books on the blog, and yet somehow it all does tie into his brand as an author. The discussion was timely to me, and very useful, because I’d been wondering what the hell I was doing on my own website – which is for me the hub of my branding.

In part, it was thinking about this that contributed to my fallow period of the past few months. (That, and the realisation that I need to have a rethink about how to set up my life so I can both write and live, but that’s worth another post entirely). Not that I was seeking a slogan: ‘Just Do It’ or some other such catchy phrase. And anyway, I had one I rather liked already (Love, Blood, Sex and Dragons is pretty catchy if I do say so myself.) What I hadn’t figured out was how on earth to tie that in all together into the one space.

Part of the concern is that as a writer I don’t feel I have a comfortable genre label. When I was at Eroticon earlier this year, I was asked by someone what I wrote (a prominent editor at that) and I can’t say I acquitted myself well with a good answer. Sure, I say I write erotica, but even under that umbrella term, looking at my publications doesn’t yield a consistent, tidy theme: I’ve written some BDSM (see Body & Bow), some femme domme (Bottled and Bound in Under Her Thumb) (or femme domme-ish – check out some of my fiction online for that), a couple of contemporary stories (Meadow in Smut Alfresco), a couple of fantasy stories (Fool’s Gold, Silver Bells). Predominantly it’s been heterosexual couplings (or man and anthropomorphised pool of water (Oasis Beckoning) ), but Forbidden Fiction has just accepted four m/m stories and my work-in-progress ‘Stitched’ is also m/m, and frankly, that one qualifies more as romance with some sex scenes rather than erotica. And those dragons? Where the hell are they? (Well, they were once available in Erotica Apocrypha, and should hopefully be available again sometime next year).

One answer to this is find a theme I like best and stick with it. But there only is a certain amount of restriction (and that would be a restriction) that I can take before it feels like I’d be locking myself down to something I won’t necessarily love forever. Yet at the same time I can see there is a level of childish stubbornness in wanting to do exactly what I want, which, if I’m trying to make a career out of writing, is a little naive and, well, childish. Sacrifices have to be made are not only in time and effort put in to make a real go of it, but also the kind of work that I do.

There is always a ‘but’ there…

I’ve never been one for fitting into a box. Even an awesomely decorated one. I don’t have a collective set of interests that marry together neatly, in my music taste, in the films and TV I watch, in the books I read. Perhaps that’s why I’m don’t fit neatly into one category; I was never such a genre hound as to read one exclusively. My imagination is more like a collage, a magpie’s nest. It’s why I like Love, Blood, Sex and Dragons; four separate, somewhat related, or surprisingly so, but separate, and distinct too.

Frankly, no one has to read everything I write, nor even want to. I figure that I will appeal to some people at some times, other people at other times. Some out there, and you know who you are, and I am so grateful for those of you, will read just about anything that I write. I figure the worst case scenario is that I’ll have a consistent readership of about ten people in the world, and you know, that’s ten more than many writers ever have.

Ok, it isn’t going to help me rake in the cash. But maybe there are more than about ten people who will read an erotic novel with a violent murder mystery, that has a slightly femme domme edge with a contemporary realist tone where a dragon somehow, somewhere appears. Maybe. One can only wait and see.

PS – that above is not a work in progress. Oh yea gods if it was…

Image from Flickr by Derek Gavey, used under the Creative Commons License.