Saturday, January 26, 2008

Defining Your Brand

So, we’ve done some research into what our readers like about our books, and we’ve looked at what readers like—and don’t like—about the competition (yes, I know we’re all supposed to be one big supportive writing community, but we’re talking marketing here). Now what?

Now we look at our readers’ comments, and think about our books, and come up with a list of what makes our books interesting, attractive and different. We add to this list anything that makes us, as writers, interesting, attractive and different. Why? Because while it may not be fair, the truth is that if you’re young and pretty and graduated from Harvard or Oxford, it will help sell your book.

This is the tricky part. To quote marketing guru Malcolm Schwarzenbach, “The real genius is in the editing.” Getting this part right requires an intuitive, up-to-the-minute grasp of our current culture—everything from the emergence of a “sustainability” movement (which, since it’s about saving us instead of saving the world, seems to have caught on in a way the Green movement never did) to “casual collapse” (the loosening up of society, less attractively known as cultural decadence) to political trends. Ask yourself, What’s going on out there that’s interesting and that connects with me and my books? Who out there would buy what I’m writing?

This is where knowing and understanding the competition helps. What else is out there that people are buying? Why are they successful? What is the market crying out for?

This is also where I have a hard time. Having lived so much of my life abroad, I am woefully out of step with modern America (I still remember the time when I was visiting my mother from the Middle East and noticed a magazine near the checkout in Borders; I asked my companion, “Who is Oprah?” and twenty people turned around and STARED at me.). I don’t watch TV. I get my news from international sources online, although I have started checking abcnews every day just so I have some insight into the “news” most people are seeing (so yes, I do know the latest in Britney’s life). If you’re culturally challenged like me, you may need some help here. The trick, as I understand it, is figuring out what is unique and different about your books, and yet not too unique and different. Even I know that now is not the time to try to sell a thriller with a hero named Mustafa Haddad.

To look at our earlier examples, What was so interesting about Anne Rice’s vampires? My guess is New Orleans and sex. Tom Clancy? Uh…I know guys like gadgets and…somebody help me out here.

Anyway, in pondering all these questions, I’ve concluded that the selling points of my Sebastian St. Cyr series are:
*fast pacing and action-packed suspense
*a sexy, Regency-era hero (hey; sex sells)
*my own background as a professional historian
I’d like to try to work in some of the other things people said they liked about my books, but I can’t see how to encapsulate those important aspects of my work into an easily conveyed image or tagline.

Now, having decided on our brand, the next step is to figure out how we convey that image to the world. I’ll talk about that next week.

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Blogger Steve Malley said...

For me, St. Cyr's selling points are indeed the fast pace, the suspense and the sexiness.

I do love the way you handle the history, but not because you're a historian; maybe in spite of it. I always fear academics will give me something dry and, well, academic. You have this rare ability to use the facts with command and restraint. It's fantastic.

Oh yeah, and loving the series of posts, too...

12:40 PM  
Blogger liz fenwick said...

Great series of posts - really taking something that is viewed here (not here Dubai but here in the market I know - UK) in a negative fashion and turning it to the positive.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

I played some of this stuff up when I tried to sell "Cold in the Light" to the big publishers and/or to agents. 1), a biopsychologist writing about a biologically and psychologically complex non-human race, 2) a biopsychologist writing about psychological and physiological horror, 3) a widely published short story writer writing his first big novel, 4) Ozark mountain native woodsrunner writing about the Ozark mountains and the woods.

None of it worked.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Jo said...

Aside from your very inspiring and informative writing, I have to say that the decorum of your blog is absolutely enchanting!
- Jo

12:02 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I can relate to your "Oprah moment". I'd been out of the country for two years and was standing in the movie ticket line with my sister in 1983 to see "Trading Places". I asked her who was in it and she told me. When I asked "who's Eddie Murphy?" the entire line of people stared at me as if I was from another planet. Fortunately (or not -- I sometimes think not) it's a lot easier to be culturally in tune now -- although I still resist it. I still don't know who the heck most of the people on the tabloid covers are.

12:49 PM  

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