Being a Brand

I read an interesting blog post recently: Rachelle Gardner on “The Dilemma of the Prolific Writer.”

Rachelle writes about writers who are prolific – who write fast and well – and what they should do after the first novel sale. Because, and this is something I hadn’t really thought about, the publisher will want to see the sales figures for the first novel before purchasing the second one. And so there’s going to be a lag time after that first novel comes out, when the writer will probably have books written but won’t be selling anything. (The same issue comes up with a two-novel sale, because the publisher will still want to see sales figures for the first novel before purchasing the third one. And a prolific writer will probably already have the third and fourth ones ready to go.)

During that lag time, Rachelle tells the writer to do the following:

“1) Keep writing. We should be able to sell those books eventually.

2) Since there’s no hurry to write more books, spend more time on carefully building her brand and platform, including planning and writing her blog.

3) She can find other ways to make money from writing during this time. She can consider writing articles, or ghostwriting.”

What particularly interested me in her list was the second suggestion, that the writer build her brand. I’ve noticed that writers don’t particularly like to be referred to that way, as brands. And yet they are. We are.

Readers buy our writing based on our names, on whether they trust those names, what they expect those names to provide for them. Rather in the same way they buy Kleenex. And yet (you can quote me on this):

Writers are not Kleenex.

Our brands are who we are, not just as writers but as individuals. They are made up of our tastes, our aspirations, our beliefs about the world and other human beings. They are extensions of who we authentically are. So in a sense, we are brands that can’t think of ourselves as brands, because as soon as we start to write how we think we ought to write, that authenticity is lost. We become Pepsi One.

I can’t think, who do I want Theodora Goss to be? I have to think, who am I? What do I actually like? What do I want? Who do I want to become?

This issue came up for me recently in two ways. First, it came up because I was redesigning my website. (You know, this one.) It took me a while to get it looking exactly this way, in part because it took me a while to decide what I actually liked. But now, it feels so perfect. The William Morris wallpaper in my favorite color, the painting by Waterhouse up above echoing that color. The theme of the painting: what looks like a catastrophe is actually the start of something new and wonderful. Even the fact that Miranda, in the painting, looks like me from that angle. And I thought, yeah, that’s a Theodora Goss website. I mean, it’s me. It’s all the things I love.

Second, it came up because I was asked to write a story for a themed anthology. And I just couldn’t, and couldn’t, think of a story that actually interested me. And then I sort of distanced me from myself, and thought about myself objectively. (Or tried to.) And I thought, what sort of story do I usually write? Well, I usually write stories about characters who don’t have a chance to speak, who are silenced in some way. I give them a voice. And that’s when the story came to me.

Oh, I’m not saying don’t experiment. But if you’re going to be a brand (and you’re going to be), figure out who you are, what you stand for. That process can actually be fun and informative. You can discover so much about yourself. And for that, I highly recommend a blog. Writing this blog has been such a process of self-discovery. You may think that when I blog, I’m telling you things – but really what I’m doing is discovering them for myself. I’m figuring out who I am, what my brand actually is. Because like it or not, I am one, so it may as well represent who I am, what I care about. That will help guide my choices as a writer, because we all make mistakes, but if we hold to ourselves, we will make fewer of them. And our writing will be better, truer. Which is, after all, what it’s all about, right?

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4 Responses to Being a Brand

  1. Sofia Samatar says:

    Sorry to throw quotes again but can’t help being reminded of this lovely one by Proust: “Composers do not actually remember this lost fatherland, but each of them remains all his life unconsciously attuned to it; he is delirious with joy when he sings in harmony with his native land, betrays it at times in his thirst for fame, but then…finds it when he breaks out into that distinctive strain the sameness of which–for whatever its subject it remains identical with itself–proves the permanence of the elements that compose his soul.”
    That “native land,” that “distinctive strain”–that’s an artist’s brand. 🙂

  2. John Stevens says:

    I lot to ponder here. As someone just beginning, I wonder about this idea of “branding,” which on the surface utterly repulses me. But as you say, for a writer, you are the label that draws readers to your work. And that work is yours, comes from you, in a way more intimate (he thinks naively) that most other productions. That connection to the self is important to bear in mind.

    Another issue related to this is that of confidence. To be this brand you not only have to know yourself and what you represent, what art you create, but you have to possess a feeling of certitude about it. Whether that comes from trust of your artistic process, pride in your work, or a feeling of groundedness in one’s own skin, it’s hard to coalesce that brand without a measure of confidence in what your are doing, and who you are. That’s something that I am struggling with right now.

  3. Great thoughts. I’m in the process of trying to figure out who I am and how I can make this shine through on my blog.

  4. Sofia, I absolutely love that. Especially “the permanence of the elements that compose his soul.” We change so much, and yet I believe that at our core we remain the same, have a central identity that we have as children and always carry with us. And yes, in a sense that’s what a marketer might call the foundation of our brand, and what we might call our deepest self.

    John: I think you’re absolutely right about that certitude. And you’re right, it’s hard. What helps for me is writing every day and getting my writing out there, whether it’s stories, blogs, tweets, whatever. In any way I can, communicating. Through that, I learn who I am. And it gives me confidence that I’m finding and presenting my self in the process. It sounds like Katie is going through the same thing! I do believe a blog is a wonderful way to explore and discover your own identity.

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