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Sunday
Oct232011

Branding

Branding is something every writer deals with in some form. From the style of writing, to the typical settings or types of stories a particular writer might use more often than others, and then on to the look of a series of novels, the illustrations, cover design and even the publisher’s imprint. These are all important ways for readers to identify a writer, to find more of his/her works, and to feel comfortable with a genre choice.

Branding is difficult. In my day job, I work for the Australian Government as a Trade Mark examiner, so I have some insight. A trade mark (or logo or brand) is essentially a badge that indicates a particular business – when you see the trade mark, if it’s a good one, you should think “here be <insert business name here>”. An obvious example, is the Apple logo (of computing fame). You don’t look at it and think of an apple seller, or even a computer that apple sellers use. Its unusual and functions to direct buyers to that company.  So, the crux of my role as an examiner is to compare an applicant’s trade mark versus those that have come before it and have priority by virtue of getting in first. I also look to whether a particular trade mark functions as a trade mark.

Carry this over to publishing. All publishers have trade marks, words or logos (think Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins – none of these are “we publish books ™”, they are distinctive names that other publishers don’t need to use) and often have imprints for particular genres (Amazon most recently announcing its 47 North Fantasy and Sci Fi imprint). Writers who are looking to query publishers in their genre would do well to look at similar books to their own, and see what publishing trade mark appears thereon.

Carry it over to naming of books. Popular formats for novels is to have a logo announcing that a particular book is a “A <insert character’s name> book” as in Trent Jamieson’s Business of Death novels where “A Steven De Selby novel” is plastered on the cover. And of course the titles of the books are often variations, as per my YA viking novels, “The Runes of Odin”, “The Legacy of Odin”. Book 3 is in fact a black sheep in this pattern, and I made a conscious decision at the time of naming the book to step away from a likely title such as “The Throne of Odin” and create a minor dissonance by suggesting the finality of the series in its different title format. My publisher was initially sceptical, but eventually accepting. Titles aren’t minor matters, but their effect on sales is not something we can know except anecdotally.

Carry it over to the author brand her/himself. Have a look at any set of books. Those with lesser name authors are likely to have a larger title than author name on the cover. But any Stephen King, James Patterson, Dean Koontz, George R.R. Martin novel is almost certainly going to have the author’s name in a very large font. The title is almost incidental to the branded experience the browsing reader will understand just by the name. This is so prevalent that many successful authors use pseudonyms or alternative nom-de-plums for their writing in different genres, so as not to ‘muddy’ their brand in a particular genre, or to confuse the readers. Writing, unlike acting, is somewhat easier when attempting to break out of a stereo-type style. I imagine it'd be quite difficult for Jim Carrey to change his face when wanting perhaps to try his hand at a dramatic role, rather than a comedic one, but at least writers are able to work “invisibly”. Being invisible isn’t a great idea for sales however, and a name change essentially equals a new beginning in developing that particular brand.

Finally, and my main concern at the moment, is the thought of commissioning illustrations and cover design. I have found a number of talented artists, and the thought of using their different approaches even within the same genre is an important part of branding for me. Kentaro Kanamoto is my guy for The Bhel Sea series (forthcoming), but I may well use a different artist for my current work in progress, The Decay Chain, in order to set the two series apart. So too with cover designing.

Branding is important. Each literary work is an intellectual asset, a piece of virtual property, and consistent and appropriate branding is your professionalism on display, and a marketing tool of importance, in my opinion, only marginally less than the writing itself. A book is always judged by its cover, but a powerful story doesn’t always win through.

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