One of the mantras here at MGC is that there is no “one true way” to be a writer. Sure, there are a few rules you need to follow: you have to write, you have to pay your taxes, that sort of thing. The rest is pretty much up to you. Yet, when you look at a lot of how-to books or read a lot of other sites, there’s one thing so many experts tell you is a must: you MUST have a brand.
But do you?
Every time I see someone telling a writer, especially a new writer, they need to have a brand, I cringe. Why? Because many of those saying you need a brand don’t explain what they mean. Or, if they do, they give mumbo jumbo explanations that sound like they were born from the rules of traditional publishing 20 or more years ago.
Before anyone gets their panties in a wad, let me explain. A lot of the advice boils down to this: you need a brand so your readers know you write only this sort of book. They tell you brand yourself as this sort of author or another. You write mil-sf or clean romance, your books take place in 1880’s Texas Panhandle with mail order brides, etc.
While good, up to a point, there is a downside to all this. It limits what you can write.
It also smacks of what we’ve seen traditional publishers do. They have, for decades and longer, branded their authors into one or two narrow roles. Stephen King was branded as a horror author. So, when he wanted to branch out some, he wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman. J. K. Rowling, post-Harry Potter, wrote a novel aimed at adult readers under the name of Robert Galbraith.
In both of those instances, you can understand why they chose to use pen names. King was already established as a horror writer. Probably one of the most popular horror writers in history, but one whose readers expected certain things from his books and one who other readers would never read because HORROR! As for Rowling, she was not only changing “brand” but audience age range.
But in other cases, publishers have insisted on pen names because of “reasons”. They asked for pen names if a writer was too prolific. If someone wrote in multiple genres, the publisher insisted on a pen name. If an author sold to another publisher, a pen name was often used. Then you had the old saw of “you didn’t sell enough under this name but we really think this new series will take off, so you must have a new name for it.”
As readers, we fell for the ruse. At least some of us did. Even when indie publishing became easier to do, we saw writers using pen names for different genres. Why? Because romance readers wouldn’t read science fiction, and science fiction readers wouldn’t read mystery. We knew it because the “real” publishers told us so.
Even best sellers like King and Nora Roberts published under pen names that weren’t immediately made public because their publishers worried about their readers getting offended–or something equally as silly–when they learned their beloved author wrote something other than what they were known for. When those pen names because known and the publishers realized this branching out not only didn’t lose readers but gained them, they went back and “re-branded” the books to show they were written by Famous Author Writing As . . . .
Yet we, as Indies, are being told basically the same thing. We need to limit what we write for fear readers won’t keep reading us. In other words, we either write under pen names or we limit our market.
Does that make sense?
I’ll admit, when I entered the indie world, I published under pen names. Why? Because I bought the line publishers had been feeding authors and readers for years. Then I sat back one day and looked at my personal library. Titles ranged from a wide assortment of non-fiction topics to almost every genre of fiction. Okay, I’ll admit there are very few literary titles in my library and there are some sub-genres I just don’t read. But there was a wide variety of mysteries, fantasy, science fiction, even romance.
Then I started talking to friends. Their readings tastes were varied as well. When asked, they said they would give their favorite authors a try if they wrote in genres they didn’t usually work in. It made sense. After all, you already know the author and you trust them to tell a good tale.
So why were we limiting our audience by writing only in one genre or sub-genre, or writing only one series?
Since I was already writing in several genres, I went back and added my name to the Amazon pages of books written under pen names. Those pen names are still “active” but they are open pen names and my name appears on the product page of every title
This isn’t to say branding is a bad thing. It isn’t. You can write anything you want but it helps if you start out building an audience around a particular “brand”. That can be a series written around a cop who learns monsters are real when she starts turning furry. It can be by writing a mil-sf series based on the founding principles of our country. Hell, it can be writing a series based on another, classic literary series. Build your audience and branch out.
Don’t artificially limit yourself because someone says you need a brand and you have to stay true to it.
But don’t leave your brand if you aren’t convinced it is a good move for you to make at the time.
In other words, weigh your options and consider what is best for you and your readers.
Most of all, remember this. If your brand is based on a single series, what will you do when that series ends? Your brand is more than the series, or it should be. It is the genre or genres you write and the way you write the. At least, that’s what it is to me.
The question is, what is it to you and how are you going to implement it to your best benefit?