If you don't work in marketing and public relations as I do, maybe you're not sick of the word "brand." A brand is a set of attributes that goes along with a name. Say the word McDonalds and you might think of Ronald McDonald, greasy food, sameness, speed, children's play areas, crisp french fries, devastated rain forests. Maybe those new salads they are always advertising. McDonalds has some control over its brand, but clearly not all.
Name recognition - "branding" - is very important in the selling of virtually all fiction and many non-fiction books.
If I buy a Stephen King novel, I already know what I am getting. Stephen King is a brand. (For bonus points, you extend the brand, like moving from "baby wipes" to "feminine wipes." Or in King's case, "mobile phone users and Stephen King fans can take advantage of an exciting and innovative marketing campaign designed to allow King's publisher, Scribner, to interact with a targeted audience for King's new book, Cell (January 24, 2006) Teaming up with mobile marketing provider Flytxt, Scribner has developed an exclusive text message mobile marketing program that, through phone, interactive online, and print advertising will provide supplemental content that allows Stephen King fans to expand their experience of Cell beyond the printed page. ... "We're thrilled to be working with Scribner and Simon & Schuster to take this positive step towards extending the Stephen King brand through the mobile channel, forging an exciting and interactive relationship between the author and his audience, added Jonathan Hum, Account Director at Flytxt."
Ruth Rendell is a brand. So is Tom Clancy. So is pretty much any author on the best-seller list.
But what if you don't want to be a brand? What if you want your books to be different from each other? Is that possible?
Gary Paulen seems to have done it, at least occasionally. He usually writes action adventure novels with male main characters, like Hatchet, but he also wrote a Molly McGinty Has a Really Good Day, a funny book with a female main character.
Then again, in fourth grade, my kid really liked Predicktions. It was funny and quirky. So good mom that I am, I went online and requested his other book, Shooting Monarchs. Kid read it all the way through, but it wasn't until kid asked some odd questions about it that I went online and found out it was recommended for minimum 9th grade and it was about a serial killer. Oops. That's obviously not building a brand.
I feel into writing mysteries and thrillers by accident. When I wrote Circles of Confusion, I wasn't even thinking of it being a mystery, which is why it probably doesn't follow a lot of the "rules" for mysteries (no body in the first chapter, hardly any deaths at all.) My agent suggested it would sell well as a mystery, and she was right. I like all kind of books. But now I feel like I have a brand. Maybe it's a slightly different brand, but it's brand all the same. The two times I have written books outside of my brand, they haven't sold. But maybe that's just because they were hard to categorize. Books that are hard to categorize are sometimes called "tweeners" and publishers are reluctant to take them on because it's hard to define the market for them.
Can you think of examples of best-selling authors who aren't branded? Whose books really vary from one another?