Tag Archives: Nero Wolfe

Writing Your Brand

Too often we view marketing only as selling and we forget about presentation, tone and targeting an audience. Together, these things create a brand and branding is something writers rarely think about. A brand is what we become known for and it is what people will expect from us and they’ll either love us or hate us for it.

Sometimes, I watch the singing competitions such as The Voice and X Factor. I see people mustering the courage to follow their dreams and I applaud them for it. What distinguishes the finalists and the winner from the rest of the pack? It isn’t simply the singing – many of them are excellent. When you’re garnering audience votes, there’s got to be something more. Commercial appeal is how one judge on the X Factor summed it up – nice voice, but no commercial appeal. Is your writing nice but has no commercial appeal? But, what is commercial appeal?

On the singing competitions, there are specific things about the finalists that make them commercially appealing. Each one has a distinct style (genre, sound/voice, song presentation), target market (demographics) and tone (audience appeal, song choice, personal appearance, passion). Overriding all these is passion. You need to express passion whether you’re singing or writing.  Are you missing the passion and depth to move an audience?

Let’s examine the factors from the singing competitions to see how we can apply them to the query letter, the story and our virtual presence. How we present ourselves in each of these areas determines how people perceive us (our brand).

The Query Letter
First impressions count – and the first impression we make is with the dreaded query letter. Most of us aren’t aware that we’re branding ourselves with this letter and that it determines our commercial appeal. Your brand is something that the editor/agent will glean from your letter. The specific information you convey plus overall feeling you convey forms your brand even though you don’t have a logo or jingle like commercial products do.

Tone: Is your letter polite and professional or obnoxious and whiny? Does the story pitch convey passion for the story and characters?

Style: Can you write clear concise sentences or are they run on, filled with dangling modifiers and metaphors trying to pack in too much information? If the latter, it makes you seem uncertain, not in command of craft, disorganized and lacking clarity in your story and that’s bad branding. Is your story pitch focused and clear? Does your letter convey that you understand the genre you’re writing in?

Target Market: The comparison pitch in your query letter positions your novel in the market and sets an expectation of what the editor/agent can expect. Do the works you’re citing accurately reflect your story’s style, tone, plot or theme? Who is your audience? Your audience is determined in large part by the genre or sub-genre you’ve chosen, your public presence and initial contact list.

Your Writing
Branding is what readers come to expect from you. That’s why author’s use pseudonyms when they change genres – each name is a brand for a specific genre – readers associate a certain type and style of book. A sub-genre is a very specific branding which writes for a narrower target market. Who is your target market? Will those demographics be moved by the passion in your work, your writing style and your messaging? For example, cozy mystery author M.C. Beaton has a very different audience than does Ian Rankin with his hard-boiled detective thrillers. Each author exploits different sensibilities within the mystery genre and has a writing style that appeals to a particular audience.

Sometimes an author whose book didn’t sell well (the brand turned bad) will use a pseudonym sell new work (rebranding).

Your Virtual Presence
Of course these all these things apply to blogs and any social media we engage in. Always think about your brand and how people will perceive you. As with your writing, they can interpret what they read and see only in relation to their personal context and experience. Therefore, your public persona on these sites is part of your brand and it affects word-of-mouth marketing.

Think about your favorite authors. What are they known for? What do they write and how do they write it? What is the tone, the language, the plot and messaging in their books? What do you expect to read when you choose his book?

Tom Clancy was one of my favorite authors. He was lauded by people in or connected to the military establishment because of the accurate details in his books. That was part of his brand and that’s what people looked for when they read his books. Plus he was an excellent story teller and writer and we’ll miss him for that.

Your brand is part of your commercial appeal. Be aware of it and make the most of it in your writing, in the business of writing and in your public persona.


Choosing A Genre or Mashing-Up Genres ““ What’s it All About?

 I read three well written novels novels recently and wasn’t sure what genre they belonged in. They were set in the future – one was set in a dystopian Calgary with some really cool cyborg people, another was set on Mars where people had the option of having their consciousness transferred into android bodies, and the third was set in another solar system with interstellar travel and neat technologies and alien beings. Science fiction seemed logical as they were all in the future, but their telling and basic elements were much more traditional.
defining diana
If mystery had a future-crime sub-genre, all would fit that category beautifully. Rob Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues has a delightful, laid back gum shoe detective. Defining Diana by Hayden Trenholm (see his blog on writing science fiction later this month) is a solid crime novel that’s gritty, hard and gruesome when it needs to be. K.A. Bedford’s Hydrogen Steel has a retired homicide inspector struggling to save humanity while she struggles to accept her own physical reality. These are three well-executed detective stories  marketed as science fiction.

The fact is, when we write, we use elements from several genres in our stories. Mystery in science fiction. Thriller in fantasy.  Romance in steampunk. The mash ups are as varied as the imagination! And yet, some work better than others. Why? The magic happens when the author understands the elements that make each genre unique. For example, a cozy mystery like Rex Stout’s adventures with Nero Wolfe, could have easily fallen into the annals of “literature’ as Stout deftly captures the voice of the time by using strong characters and a well-defined milieu. Yet, his stories are, first and foremost, mysteries and his novels are marketed as such.

ShanghaiSteam-110px-150dpi-C8In all four examples, it is each author’s ability to understand the genres they are mashing that gives their work depth and memorable voice. Most importantly, their writing is a joy to read as it pleases the intellect on many levels. Making it fun for the reader, transporting him to worlds he never dreamed of – that’s the true test of knowing your genre well and choosing mash-ups wisely. I recently had the privilege to edit Shanghai Steam , an anthology with a unique mash-up of steampunk and wuxia. Reading the submissions and editing the selected stories was fun because authors who understood the subtleties of both genres created distinct worlds, plots and characters. Fun, gripping, mind-blowing – that’s what it’s all about for writers and readers.

Do you choose to write in one specific genre or do you use a mash-up? Every novel has elements of several genres and the question is one of degree and desired market placement. Is it science fiction or mystery? That’s determined when you decide the character of your novel – what its unique voice will be. It’s no different than creating well-rounded, deep characters as was discussed in many of February’s posts. Frank Morin, in his post Complex Characters reminded us of Shrek thinking he is like an onion – layered. In his post Platonic Male-Female Relationships in Fiction (a.k.a. “The Glue”), Evan Braun compared the complexities of romance against friendship as he discussed how each creates a different dynamic in character interaction. What is your story’s dynamic? How will the  genres you choose relate to one another? Is your story more mystery or science fiction? Which genre will have the stronger voice? Like Shrek’s onion, how many layers deep will you go into each genre? What blend provides the best milieu for telling your story? How will your characters and your readers react? What will you choose?

March’s posts will help you better understand how each genre can give your story its unique voice and character. We’ll also have posts comparing genre writing to literature, choosing which genres to mash and how to market them, and there’ll also be a case for not worrying about any of it. There will be posts on specific genres including horror,  steampunk, fantasy, romance, science fiction and many others. What makes each genre unique? What makes it work?

Choose your story’s voice and character and have fun writing as you peel back the layers!

Let’s see now … Miss Marple in dystopian 2081? A western horror? Steampunk space opera? Romantic military SF? Historical fantasy thriller? Urban fantasy folktale? So many to choose from…