I spent time recently with a good author friend, and as always, the conversation turned to the ups and downs of publishing. One of the topics that came up was the need to build an author “brand”. We talked about what makes your individual writing unique and how we hope when readers see our names on the cover of books they know what they’re getting.
But here’s the funny thing about this conversation, it wasn’t about being known as a “contemporary” writer or a “historical” writer – it was being known as someone who delivered on a simple theme or premise. The idea that when a reader picks up one of our books they’ll get an honest story about someone struggling with identity or pushing back against societal boundaries.
Our discussion soon turned to authors we admired. The names that came up were ones who weren’t tethered to a brand. They were successful at writing in many different genres: historical fantasy, contemporary, dystopian, dark fantasy.
Ever since that day, the conversation has stayed with me. It had me thinking long and hard about what kind of writer I want to be. Some might say that because I’ll soon have two books on the shelves that are YA Historical that will default to my “brand”. But honestly, that feels suffocating. Not all the ideas brewing in my head are historical. I just finished a first draft of a YA Contemporary. The manuscript currently outlined on my laptop is dark YA Fantasy. I worked in marketing for ten years and understand how important it is to build a brand, but who’s to say a brand can’t have wings?
When you look at the long game of publishing you have to think about what inspires you. What story keeps you up at night. What idea digs deep into your head and begs you to put it on paper. In the past I’d heard stories of people not selling their option books because the publisher felt like it didn’t fit their “brand”. Or if they wanted to sell the book, they had to come up with a pen name because the content would attract a different kind of reader. And while it’s true you can’t use the same name to write picture books and erotica, I think the doors are opening wider now for authors to use their own name to write in a variety of categories and genres.
In Middle Grade, I see authors writing contemporary and then moving on to fantasy. In YA, someone may have a contemporary debut but their next book is a thriller. As writers I think it’s on us to be open to “breaking our brand”. To explore new genres. To tackle ideas that may be outside what readers expect from us.
Writing historical will always be a part of my body of work, but I don’t believe it has to define me as an author. The truth is I’ve become better at my craft because I’ve tackled stories in different genres. On my laptop right now I have an adult book written in third-person past and another YA Contemporary written in alternating male and female POV. I don’t know if either one will ever be published, but I feel like a stronger writer because I pushed past my comfort zone.
I hope to still be publishing twenty years from now. In the coming years I want to be able to write anything that inspires me. Not toss away a story idea because it doesn’t fit within the mold of what readers expect from me. My hope is that if my writing is strong enough readers will follow me not because of my brand but because of the story I deliver.
What about you? Are you open to breaking your brand? What genres inspire you and make you want to move out of your comfort zone?