Brand, Baby, Brand

by Michelle Willingham

There are some days that just call for chocolate. Not just any chocolate. When you have a really rotten day, you probably have your own chocolate of choice. For me, it’s a Snickers bar. I want decadent chocolate, peanutty nougat, and enough sin wrapped in cellophane to make me forget about that traffic ticket, or the frenzied day with the kids, or the day when I just couldn’t finish writing that scene. When I bite into my Snickers bar, I know what I’m getting. Pure heaven.

Sometimes I don’t want chocolate. Sometimes I crave spicy barbecue chips, ones that make my tongue tingle. And when I bite into that perfect barbecue chip, once again, I know what I’m getting and I’m satisfied.

Books are the same way. When I read a LaVyrle Spencer novel, I know I’m going to experience rich characters and lush settings. When I read Johanna Lindsey, I’ll get sexy heroes and fast-paced romance. When I settle back with a book by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, I know I’ll laugh out loud. I know this because it’s what I’ve come to expect from these authors-and more importantly, they deliver. These authors have “branded” themselves, and readers love having their wishes satisfied. Like that chocolate or barbecue chips, readers have their own personal tastes. If an author continually delivers a satisfying read, this is when that wonderful transition happens. The reader no longer worries about what the book is about. They buy it based on the author’s name. Why? Because the author has established her brand.

Branding yourself as a writer isn’t easy. It’s hard to know what sub-genre is best. What makes it even trickier is defining yourself in such a way that a reader knows exactly what to expect from you. Calling yourself an author of historical romance isn’t enough. Even defining yourself as a Regency author isn’t specific enough. What makes you different? A savvy reader knows the difference between a Julia Quinn Regency and an Eloisa James Regency. Do you write with a suspenseful tone? Are your stories gut-wrenching tearjerkers? Or do you make your readers laugh? All of this comes into play with branding.

Branding is necessary to building a readership. Though it is possible to write in other sub-genres a few years later, it isn’t advisable for a new author to do this. If a reader picks up your first book and loves it, they are going to want another one just like it. If your first book was a sassy contemporary romance and your second is about two-headed vampire slayers, the reader won’t know what to expect from you. Worse, he or she might not buy your books again because they aren’t sure what they’ll get.

If you could only write one type of book for the next four books, what would it be? Pick the sub-genre that is most natural to your writing voice. Pick the one that comes the easiest to you, that you enjoy most. You’re one step closer to achieving your brand. And if you consistently deliver on your promise of a satisfying read, the readers will pre-order your books the second they are available on Amazon. Or better yet, she will get up at 6:00 a.m. and run down the aisles of Costco, just to buy your newly-released book.

Hey, a writer can dream, can’t she?