Careful How You Brand Yourself

Authors are learn all about branding, that is, becoming known for writing in a particular genre or style. We’re told we must not be generalists. We must write to a specific audience, tend to and nurture this audience. Agent Chip McGregor counsels new writers to start with a category romance or other genre, because the competition is ridiculous for more meaty stuff. On the surface, this sounds very logical. But here’s a cautionary tale.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s say you’re a writer who, like me, would love to write the next bestselling mainstream novel. You know, the kind Oprah used to promote. You’ve had a novel published in the women’s fiction genre and it’s moderately successful. But the competition is steep, and they tell you that women’s fiction “isn’t selling right now.” 
So you look around for other things you can write which give you credits and/or experience. You read a LOT of books in the genre you hope to target, practice writing pitches and chapters. The editor loves one of these pitches, is so excited that the story is scheduled for pub committee. Then, everything grinds to a halt. The problem? You’ve already come out with a novel that deals with some issues of substance. Your published novel isn’t a beach read like the one you’ve pitched. The editor worries that you either can’t or shouldn’t start writing in a different genre from your first effort.
I know authors who’d love to write a contemporary novel but who are “stuck” in historical, that being the “brand” they created. And vice versa. What are your feelings, readers? Do you think writers should have a little more leeway in trying new genres and styles? Or does the market always trump everything?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

8 comments on “Careful How You Brand Yourself

  1. Q:What are your feelings, readers? Do you think writers should have a little more leeway in trying new genres and styles? Or does the market always trump everything?

    A: I’d love to see other genres by authors. I like variety, yet when they are good at historicals, which I love, I hate to see them leave that genre. I don’t think the “market” should determine what authors write, however.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Linda. I agree that when you have a favorite author, it would be disappointing if they never wrote another book in the genre you’ve known them for. Some authors write under pen names when they depart from their brand; to wit, Stephen King and Nora Roberts. ~Linda

  3. I don’t think authors should conform to the market. I know (not personally) two authors who stick with two genre’s: Michael A. Stackpole and Timothy Zahn both write sci-fi novels and fantasy novels.

    Another was Michael Crighton who for years wrote nothing but techno thrillers (Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Prey, Congo) and after his death, had published a historical/pirate novel (Pirate Latitudes).

    I guess it just depends on the author.

  4. This gets my ire up. If you are known for your great apple pies, it doesn’t mean you can’t also make a fabulous blackberry cobbler! They both have a crust, both have filling that contains sugar, and who wants to be stuck in the same rut day after day? Variety is the spice of life. People who pidgeon hole writers are wearing blinders. Let us spread our wings and expand the horizons.

  5. I heard well known author Sigmund Brouwer talking about this once at a workshop I attended. He got his start in the YA/ childrens market. Sine then he’s written about 20 adult novels, but he said people still often brand him as a YA writer. he said at one point he even considered writing under a pen name to shake the brand…

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