Defining Your Brand
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.