When I hear the word branding, I smell scorched hair, envision charred flesh, and bawling cattle. The word signifies ownership and control at best, and at worst, slavery.
So, why would I want to brand myself an author? Well, according to Robert Wood, developmental editor for Standoutbooks, branding is a necessary step in marketing your book. You can read his savvy article here.
Once he convinces you of the reasons why branding is necessary, Wood suggests three exercises to help you discover your unique brand. I decided to try it, more or less, and see where it would lead.
Question 1: How should my work make the reader feel? Brainstorm.
- intrigued, suspicious, excited, curious, richer for the reading of it, entertained, surprised, and emotional.
I want my readers to feel that anything is possible. I want them to need to know more about something, any little thing that arises from the story. I want my readers to feel like they’ve just indulged in a glass or two of their favourite beverage while reading.
I think we need to add another question here. Question 1b: Why? Why should the reader feel anything at all?
- because I take readers on a journey. My characters literally travel. While on a quest to solve a mystery or save a life, they explore unfamiliar territory, finding friends, lovers, and enemies along the way. In To Charm a Killer, Maggie and Estrada travel the west coast of Ireland on paths I’ve physically trod. In the sequel, To Sleep With Stones, Estrada flies to Scotland to save his friend Dylan from a life in prison and what he believes is certain death. They are not travelogues, but the settings are real and accessible. I am intrigued by Celtic mythology and pre-Celtic archaeology (particularly megaliths) so both appear in my stories.
- because my books feature myth and magic. The witches of Hollystone Coven solve mysteries. They are intent on saving the world through rituals and ceremonial magic, so I incorporate elements of magic realism into my work. In this modern profane world, the characters encounter vampires, druids, and gods; yet in the end, they are just people, like you and me.
- because my books are interwoven with literary text. To Charm a Killer is wrapped around Macbeth, while To Sleep With Stones explores The White Goddess, a treatise by poet Robert Graves. I’ve taught literature for several years and I see it slipping away from us. This is one way that I keep it alive.
Question 2: Think of an author who you’d like to be compared to, especially in terms of how they make readers feel.
Well, wouldn’t we all like to be compared to JK Rowling or Stephen King? Though I write about magic, the Harry Potter set is simply too young for my books. They are not intended for children or even young adults. My characters engage in sex…consensual sex that has consequences, as sex often does. That’s the realism in the magic. Estrada falls in love hard, fast, and often. And, his best friend Michael is a libertine, a faux vampire who believes himself the reincarnation of Lord Byron. Both are free spirits who don’t discriminate when choosing lovers; both are flawed and find themselves enmeshed in tricky situations more often than not. Still, I would love to be compared with JK Rowling. I am impressed by her world building, her skill as a storyteller, her strong characters, and the simple complexity of her hero’s journey (from orphaned boy in the cupboard to saviour of the magic world).
In A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King writes: “If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
I like this quote because it’s my licence to write. King gives me the courage to tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them. I’m no longer afraid of offending my neighbours.
I want to be as bold as King. I want to write a Carrie or a Salem’s Lot or a Misery.
3) Now, taking as long as you need, whittle the entire list down to the three adjectives that you feel most accurately describe your aims when writing.
When I write I aim to be intriguing, entertaining, enriching. Do I? No, not really. When I write, I just tell the story as it comes. Conversations banter in my brain, images appear, and I just know, this is what happens. I don’t think, “I want people to be curious,” but I am curious myself. I am intrigued myself. Writing entertains and enriches my life. And this is why I write. My hope is that my passion will filter through the text and envelope the reader like The Mist.
At this moment, in a Stephen King novel, the word AUTHOR would suddenly appear etched in blood across my forehead. Branded. Forever.
PS. Thank you Robert Wood at Standoutbooks for a post that made me curious.