This is about fiction writing not non-fiction.
We all know that publishers are not really the brand that readers worry about, though that might change in the future—if subscriptions take over from wholesale.
We all know that the author is the brand. The reader looks for the author’s name and then buys the book because they have enjoyed other stories by the same author.
Is the actual brand the author, or the writing?
The writing is what the reader reads, not the author’s life-story. Does it matter who the author is, what they have done, how they view the world, so long as the story does its job?
I worry about being called a brand. I find this whole ‘writer as brand’ nonsense. I have two pen-names, Stephen Godden and T F Grant. One for Fantasy (Stephen Godden) and one for Science Fiction (T F Grant) because readers of Fantasy may not be readers of Science Fiction and I think it’s only fair to let them know what they are buying before they open the cover and look inside. Though, to be honest Speculative Fiction is a continuum, so there is a large chunk of either/or stuff in the middle. I suspect T F Grant will be the truly weird stuff, because ‘truly weird’ is pretty much the preserve of SF. Fantasy can be weird of course, but SF is weird based on science, that is usually mind-smackingly out there, when you come right down to it.
But even then, with pseudonyms, is the author the brand or is it the writing?
See, if you say the author is the brand then anything the author does affects the brand. There is a danger that the author’s personality becomes fixed, that they keep churning out the same stuff, because they are seen as a brand.
My personality is not a fixed point, my tastes are not fixed, and I reserve the right to change my mind about just about any thing at any time for no more reason than I feel like doing so.
But if ‘I’ am a brand then changing my tastes, my opinions, the way I interact with the world becomes part of that brand. Changing any part of it can lead to accusations of hypocrisy or—that old favourite of the ‘we-so-special’ classes—selling out.
That’s the problem with making your personality, whatever flavour it reeks of, part of your marketing process, part of your platform. You are telling people, ‘This is me. If you agree with my political views, my philosophical views, my lifestyle choices, then please buy my stories’. You are asking people to join your tribe and fight all-comers on your behalf.
Then you write something that is an exploration of some facet of the world that goes directly against what you have told your tribe you believe in, and maybe your viewpoint shifts because of the writing of that work. Because at heart that is what I—as a writer—do; I write about stuff that interests me, in a way that gets my juices going, all the while learning something new about how I see the world. Without that interest, without that excitement born of trying something I have never tried before, without that exploration, then I get bored and churn out monkey-chum.
But what happens is you write something that says the exact opposite to what you said in your last novel? What happens then? Your ‘tribe’ loses all faith in you because you told them that you were one of them. There is no room for flexibility if your brand is a fixed point. There’s a falseness to a brand, if it is built from artifice.
So my advice is to make the writing the brand. Write the best you can. Range far and wide across all the genres and sub-genres you want to explore, don’t be fixed spot, remain a moving target. Who you are is inherently part of the writing process, but don’t make it part of the branding process. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep without slumping into tedium.
Essentially, get the hell out of the way. Let the writing do the talking.
Brands are fragile. They are a shared delusion (like cyberspace: *tips hat* to Gibson). I’m a real person. I’m robust. And I reserve the right to change whenever I feel the need.
PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.
First posted to ‘of Altered States’: http://www.ofalteredstates.com/blog/