Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More on Author Branding for Fiction Writers

In the comments to the post about Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and her brilliant branding, Josephine Damian asks:

Any advice for thriller writers? What sort of gimmick can we use?

Again with the warning that I'm no PR expert, let's take a closer look at ways that fiction authors of any genre might develop a persona or brand. To do this, because branding is so fact-sensitive, let's start with two imaginary thriller writers.

Author One has written a traditional crime thriller with a detective hero in an urban setting. There's a killer on the loose. The detective hero must stop the killer before he kills again. To flesh out the (potentially recurring) detective's character a bit, the author has decided to make him someone who cultivates orchids in his spare time. This hobby is difficult and demanding, but can be rewarding. There's a lot of science and lore associated with orchids which aides the detective in thinking through various problems.

Author Two has written a biomedical thriller about a doomsday virus on the loose in a remote desert area. The hero is a medical forensics expert, and the author does not intend to use this character in future books. The author has already started plotting a second book, which is about a tyrannical government attempting to exterminate a remote tribe as a way of ending border wars with that tribe.

So what does each author do?

We might be tempted to advise Author One to draw on the orchid thing for branding. If the orchid-loving detective will appear in several books, this might be a good option if the series takes off. The inherent problem, though, is that the orchids are part of the detective's branding. Not part of the author's branding. What will happen if Author One creates a strong website with orchid lore and cultivation techniques, and the series fizzles after three books? Must the next book's new lead character have something to do with orchids, or must the author begin a new brand?

Perhaps it might be wiser to think about the themes underlying the orchids. Precision. A difficult task. Some might call it an eccentric hobby. It's certainly something that requires a lot of study and scientific knowledge. The results can be exquisite, but fleeting.

By digging into these underlying themes, we might come to understand that Author One values tasks that require concentration, diligence, and specialized knowledge. It's not "orchids = interesting hero." It's "orchids = detail-oriented, science-inclined, intellectually curious hero = interesting hero." And if those are the qualities that make the orchid detective a good hero, then the next hero can be similarly interesting, whether he is a home brewer or a medical student.

And they're the same qualities that Author One can highlight in author branding. Maybe Author One can take a pen name that resonates with "Renaissance Man" qualities (Raleigh, Luther), or which pays tribute to an important amateur scientist (Newton, Franklin). Author One's web page can look precise and clean, with occasional flourishes -- symbolic petals on a wet black bough. (Poor Ezra deserves better treatment from the likes of me.) Maybe Author One's blog can report on interesting developments in the world of science, especially focusing on the accomplishments of amateurs or nontraditional researchers.

Two Questions for You to Ponder:

What else can Author One do to tap into those qualities of intellectual curiosity, precision, science, and absorption with a somewhat esoteric hobby?

How can you apply these same techniques to Author Two's branding?


Josephine Damian said...

Thanks the shout out and addressing my question.

Ironically, I was a commercial orchid grower, but it never dawned to me to make my character an orchid grower.

However, after I asked the question here, I thought I might bring along a crime scene dummy to book signings (I'd advertise it as: Get your picture taken with dummy - no, not me! lol), but those dummies cost a fortune and weigh a ton - kinda hard to pack in a suitcase.

I've still got my thinking cap on over this one.

BTW, when I get back from my blog hiatus, I'll give your blog a promotional shout out.

Edittorrent said...

I think it would be a good "come-on" to be able to claim that you're an expert at something your character does. I also think that editors like that. So go for it!
The crime scene dummy is a good idea too. But I doubt they'd let you bring it on a flight!

Natalie Hatch said...

Alicia, what about creating your world on Wikipedia? A bit like Stephanie Meyers did, you list out what happens in your world, the characters bios etc. That way a lot of the backstory for your book can still be published for readers to enjoy.
Facebook, myspace, youtube video promos? I'm just finding out how many wonderful ways there are out there that you can market. Oh and a good bookmark or two in libraries around the world doesn't go astray either...