Thursday, December 5, 2013

Do Authors Need to Build a “Brand”? ... by Jacqueline Seewald

Multiple award-winning author, Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Fifteen of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL, THE TRUTH SLEUTH and DEATH LEGACY. Recent releases are her co-authored family mystery THE THIRD EYE and an historical romance THE CHEVALIER. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies.

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Is branding a help or hindrance to writers?

There’s been a lot of discussion among writers as to whether it benefits authors to be branded--by that I mean that writers want to market themselves by promoting their name, associating their name with a particular type, genre or style of writing. The premise? This is the best way to build a readership. For example, when we see the name Nora Roberts we immediately think of romantic suspense. The name Stephen King is immediately associated with horror. But these writers have also chosen to write under other pseudonyms as well. Jayne Ann Krentz, for example, writes her contemporary romances under that name, her sci-fi’s under Jayne Castle and her historical romances under Amanda Quick. The advantage is that her fans know exactly what to expect.

Many writers choose to use pen names. They write in a variety of genres and assume a different nom de plume for each. The theory is that it will confuse readers if writers use the same name for different types of work. There is also a tendency for publishers to try to place writers in neat categories. It’s more convenient to connect a name to a particular format.

But what if you resist branding? Are you destroying your chance to be taken seriously as a writer or build a readership? I don’t have the answer to this question. I can only admit that I don’t limit myself to one particular format in my writing. My books are not “in the box.”

I recently won a contest with an Australian publisher for a sensual historical romance THE CHEVALIER. Set in the Georgian era in England and Scotland, the novel isn’t category or “formula” romance. This will be my first novel published initially as an e-book.

However, my latest co-authored mystery THE THIRD EYE is a family-oriented novel suited to adult and teenage readers.

In addition, I write series mystery novels like THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL and THE TRUTH SLEUTH. The fourth novel in the Kim Reynolds series, THE BAD WIFE, is being edited for publication at this time. Each of the novels stands on its own as a unique murder mystery although the main characters existing in each book grow and change much the way real people do. Harlequin Worldwide Mystery has brought out four of my novels in paperback that were originally published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale.

I also write books and stories for children as well as novels for young adults like the DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER which will be released by Astraea Press.

My poems, short stories, nonfiction articles and plays, are all published under my own name with a variety of publishers. In October, for example, three of my horror stories were published in three different print anthologies. Yet I am not limited to horror short stories. I write romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and literary fiction as well. See Beyond the Bo Tree: Ten Tales of Romance.

Will I confuse readers and reviewers? I sincerely hope not. I suppose if you were to ask what my “brand” is I’d have to answer I really don’t have one. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra, I am a writer of infinite variety.

What is your opinion. Does branding benefit writers or not? Your thoughts, opinions and comments are most welcome.

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Thanks for an informative and timely post, Jacqueline. I was also conflicted about using a pseudonym for different genres, but finally decided that I wanted all my work to show up under the same author name for booksellers, especially the online sites. Whether it's a wise move or not remains to be seen.

You can learn more about Jacqueline and her books on Facebook.

25 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I know writers who use pen names and those who don't, like you. I'd think if readers liked the writer's style, it wouldn't matter the genre. But those who are established in one, I can see why they want to keep fans separate.
I'll probably always write science fiction, but if I do turn to fantasy, I'll keep my real name. Took me too long to build up one name, let alone two!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Alex,

I feel much the same as you do.
Hopefully readers who enjoy our books will not be put off by the fact that we write in a variety of literary genres.

Vicki Sly said...

Great interview Jacqueline. I see authors struggle with this decision all the time and it can go either way. At the end of the day it is a personal choice usually based on a number of different factors. I always find the discussion interesting especially as I have never changed my name, not even in marriage!

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Jacqueline.

Jacqueline - You've raised an important point about branding. Authors have to do a very tricky balancing act between restricting themselves and making sure they're recognisable. Thanks for the 'food for thought.'

Alice Duncan said...

Interesting interview and questions. I've written under five names, and so far none of them have "caught." However, I recently went with an e-publisher with my first six "Spirits" books, they branded the covers like nobody's business, and they're actually selling! This is unusual for my books, believe me. Then again, this is a series, and I think that makes a difference. You can look at any of the new covers of those books and instantly know they belong together, are written by the same person, and are in the same series. However, I personally know NOTHING about promoting my work, and I've not been making money for more than twenty years now because of it. Sigh.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Vicki,

Thanks for stopping and offering your thoughts on this significant topic.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Margot,

You are so right about "branding" being tricky! As authors we want to be recognized. But if our books, stories, etc. are varied, should we be using different names for each genre? I haven't done that. I'd like to know what both readers and readers think on this topic.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Alice,

I think it's great that your "Spirits" series written under your own name is catching on so well.

Alice Duncan said...

Thanks, Jacquie. Unfortunately, I had nothing to do with it! I honestly don't know beans about promotions. Glad my new publisher does.

Jan Christensen said...

Jacqueline, I'm so glad to know others do what you and I do about only using one name while writing in different genres. I hate the thought of trying to keep track of two or three different names (signings would be a nightmare, possibly signing books with the wrong name while chatting with people). The only thing I see that might be a problem you didn't mention is that a lot of the famous writers who write with a pen name first established themselves with one name, then used a different one later, like Nora Roberts (J. D. Robb) to differentiate the genres. Thanks for posting this--it's reassuring. Hi, Pat!

D'Ann said...

I am banded pretty strongly, but I only write in two sub-genres, western and suspense, so it's not difficult. I don't know what I'd do if I branched out into say, Sci-fi!
Good post!

Julie Luek said...

Interesting. I know the concept of branding is important for nonfiction writers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts for the fiction

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I write under two different names but I'm not sure I should have. It's an interesting discussion.

pdichellis said...

I learned in my business career that branding (products and services) successfully takes time, effort, and discipline, even for top marketers. But it’s worthwhile to stick to it because strong brands are so powerful.

You raise a key issue for authors: it’s tough enough to build one brand, tougher still to build several pseudonym brands. What to do?

I’ll take the easy way out and say it depends. Some authors’ brands might stand for (examples) amazing storytelling, eccentric characters, or engaging settings across genres; others might focus on a specific genre, series, or character, i.e., I’d say Michael Connelly is a well-defined dark mystery brand, but Harry Bosch is a strong brand as well. Yet I also thoroughly enjoy reading Nelson DeMille, even though, for me at least, his brand ‘focus’ is harder to pin down.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

Best wishes,
Peter DiChellis

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Jan, Julie, Susan, D'Ann, and Peter,

I thank each of you for coming by the blog and offering such insightful comments. They are much appreciated.

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's hard to pin down a right and wrong here. I'm with Jacqueline, though. I plan to stick with one name.

Hi back, Jan.

LD Masterson said...

I don't know if I'd use multiple names but you mentioned Nora Roberts. I don't read many of her books, just not a big romance fan. But I own every one of the 30-something In Death series she wrote as JD Robb. I probably wouldn't have started the series if she'd published them as Nora.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Pat,

Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog today. I enjoying interacting with a lot of new readers.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, L.D.,

I think you pointed up a reason why many female mystery writers use initials instead of their first name. Men tend to shy away from female writers whereas women for the most part will read either if it's mystery. However, women prefer female names for romances. I know several men who write romance fiction under female names for that reason.

SherryGLoag said...

There is also the possibility that a reader unwittingly picks up a book written by a favourite author but penned under another name might confuse that reader into thinking another individual is trying to emulate that favourite author. But I'm so pleased I'm not the only one who uses a single pen name across genres.
I enjoyed your post.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Sherry,

Thanks for stopping by. I agree that it's often confusing for readers to follow the work of a favorite author through different nom de plumes. For myself, I try to make it very clear what sort of book they can expect since they are varied: books for adults, teens and children.

earlwstaggs said...

As always, Jacqueline, an intelligent and thoughtful article from you. Except for a few pieces written strictly for humor, everything I write is Mystery. Under that broad genbrella, I've written Hardboiled, Softboiled, and stops in between, but the only brand I've ever thought about is Mystery Writer. Someday I might genre hop, but I don't think I'll ever find a strong enough reason to write under another name. But that's just me, and to each our own, I say.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks for coming by, Earl. I appreciate your input.

Nikki said...

Thanks for an interesting and reassuring post, Jacquie. I struggle enough with promo for one name; I'd collapse trying to deal with two identities. Branding a series is one thing I'd do, but I'd still use only one name.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Nikki,

Thanks for dropping by. I believe it would be difficult to keep track of being more than one identity as an author. Yet many writers feel the need. It is problematic.