Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Author Brand in the Age of Indie (Indie Life)

Because being indie doesn't have to mean going it alone.

So, it's 12:37am and I'm awake. 

Not on purpose, actually, but never one to waste a good bout of insomnia, I've trolled a few writer's boards, googled my book, caught up on the news, and... decided to write a blog post about Author Brand.

You see, I've written some young adult science fiction novels. 
My "brand" was all about stories for young people - you can see that right there in my banner:

Which was fine when I had only published YA and had a few MG manuscripts stuffed in the drawer.

Then I published this:
Future-noir. Death. Sex. Life hits and drug abuse.
Needless to say my "brand" suddenly got a lot darker and grittier. And muddier.

Plus, in the next year, I plan to publish a middle grade fantasy, a steampunk romance, another young adult science fiction series, as well as Season Two of Debt Collector. These can all fit under the umbrella of Speculative Fiction, and perhaps that should be my new tagline:
Susan Kaye Quinn, Speculative Fiction Author!
all the zing of a dead possum, but functional and accurate

The freedom to publish that comes with being indie can easily mean a tangled mess when it comes to author brand. And if there's something the Blogosphere is Very Sure about, it's that Author Brand is Supremely Important. (Sorry, it's 12:37 am; the Capitalization Faery has been set loose.)

Is this cause for alarm?

I think not.

You see, I'm still the same author. I still write books that have mind-bending premises that make my readers think. I still revel in creating stories with wrenching emotional content, whether it's the love-story between a boy and his dad, or an aching need for love in a man who drowns himself in sex. I still like to look to the near future or alternate past, the shadow where stories hide just behind our eyelids, and explore what if... what if the world were filled with mindreaders? What if you could transfer life energy? What if a faery tricked you into swapping places and now there's only one body but two souls that need it?

Some people may like some of my stories and not others. I'm seriously okay with that. It could even be part of some devilishly clever plan of mine to grow a broad fanbase by dipping into many different genres. 

Or I could be easily bored.

But my point (and I do have one, even at 12:37... wait, it's now 1:04 am), is that having the freedom to write anything means nothing if you don't exercise it. Having just come off a vacation to Washington D.C. on the Fourth of July, I have Freedom running through my veins, pumping me up with an appreciation of just how much of it we truly have as indie authors. I don't know about you, but I didn't realize how heavy the shackles of publisher expectations were until they fell away.

And I'll be damned if I'll let a silly thing like Author Brand stand in my way. I'll continue to write and publish the stories that speak to me... because I can. To mangle John Paul Jone's brave proclamation in service of indie freedom... I have not yet begun to write!

Susan Kaye Quinn is the sword-wielding author of the bestselling YA SF Mindjack series, but she doesn't (often) wear a tri-cornered hat. Her future-noir Debt Collector serial is her more grown-up SF. Now that Season One of Debt Collector is complete, she can return her attentions to her steampunk fantasy romance, which has been pouting in the corner. And play even more on Facebook. Susan has a lot of degrees in engineering, which come in handy when dreaming up dangerous mind powers, future dystopias, and slightly plausible steampunk inventions. Mostly she sits around in her pajamas in awe that she gets make stuff up full-time. You can find her at www.susankayequinn.com
What's your life worth on the open market? A debt collector can tell you precisely. The first episode of Debt Collector, Delirium, is FREE.

Other Brave Indie Lifers...

39 comments:

  1. At this point I see many Indie authors with a variety of books for sale from contemporary to paranormal, so I think we're good. Like the tips say, the brand is us not our books. Some of our readers might transfer over to other genres, others might not, but we'll pick up new ones too. :)

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    1. Exactly! I think a lot of the branding advice came out of a time before the freedom of indie really flexed its wings. And authors have always had side projects or used pennames to write in different genres. But I think readers much more easily embrace a variety of books from an author than a publisher does.

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  2. I totally believe in writing the stories that speak to you even if your MC might be a total dumb dingbat or another one is a grandmom angsting over a babyshower on who will show up.

    Hugs and chocolate,
    Shelly

    http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/2013/07/indie-life-things-i-miss-and-irk-me.html

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  3. I love this post! Every time I read about author branding, I used to despair because I felt like my creativity was being straitjacketed. I define myself as a speculative fiction author but I write middle-grade, young adult and new adult fiction and I don't consciously market towards a particular readership. I don't think it's as easy to group people together as advocates of 'author branding' make it sound. Half of all YA books are bought by adults, and every reader has different tastes, even within the same genre!

    I understand the importance of branding in marketing, but writing is supposed to be about creative freedom! As you so rightly put it, I'm still the same author, and my style is similar in all my books, regardless of the genre and readership. Great post! :)

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    1. Thanks! And I should add that branding BOOKS (like a series, or similar themed books) is very SMART marketing. But an author is not a book. Some may become brands because of the uber popularity, but I think that's as much a curse as a blessing.

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    2. Definitely - like when J.K. Rowling wrote The Casual Vacancy, it got so much negativity from fans of the Harry Potter books because it was different from her previous work. I think that's a shame, but it's the double-edged sword of popularity...

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  4. Love it!

    That is one of the major challenges of those of us who've learned the traditional pub rules. I have been going around the brand bin for the past couple of months until I realized that I don't have to. All my worried had canceled out the major benefit of being indie: freedom.

    I think if we indie authors continue to write what moves us, then our "brand" will emerge. After all, it's still the same author behind all of our books. Our passion will shine through, whatever we write.

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    1. Exactly! Either you like my style or you don't, and that's fine - there's plenty of books out there for everyone. And I think we do a severe disservice to readers by assuming they only read one type of thing anyway. Personally, I read a wide range and appreciate just about anything that's well written. All you have to do is tell me what the book's about and who the author is - I can figure it out from there. :)

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  5. Wonderful post, Susan. I've branched into writing YA and I've noticed that the people who buy my romance and women's fiction novels have also bought into the YA book. I guess fans will follow wherever we go as writers and I'm in total agreement with not being cast in one mould as a writer.

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    1. I think there is a lot of cross-over, and from romance to YA is not such a big leap. However I don't like zombie books, so even if my favorite author in the world (Hugh Howey) writes a zombie book (I, Zombie), I'm still not going to read it. I'll consume everything else he writes, however. :)

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  6. I completely relate with this. Without brandishing a sword though. I don't like being told I can't write something because I might alienate my fan base. I give them more credit than that to choose if they'd like to read my newest offering or not. Readers are smart that way.

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    1. Exactly! Never underestimate readers. They (we) are very smart people. I read everything from middle grade to... well, let's just say very adult material, and I'm quite capable of deciding if something looks interesting. Or if I'm willing to try something new just because I enjoy the writer's style. As long as writers are clear about content (i.e. put a warning on there if you have graphic sex, etc.), readers are more than capable.

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  7. This is great! Publishing is evolving so much, it only makes sense that authors should be able to do the same. I whole-heartedly believe an author should write what calls them.

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  8. As an indie, I enjoy the freedom to write the stories I need to write (and I'm with you on that John Paul Jones' paraphrase). IMO, it's more important to develop a unique author voice for your work than an author brand. It's the voice and style that will keep the readers seeking you out no matter what you write.

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    1. Very true - they might even take a chance on a different genre, if it's a writer they love!

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  9. I think the best part of being Indie is the freedom to write what we love . . . even if it takes us in may directions. Your voice and your writing is unique.
    I haven't really developed my brand fully yet . . . and I know I need to, but it scares me for the reason you've stated here. How do we brand without being branded?

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    1. I think as long as you're determined to be yourself, no one can really stop you. :)

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  10. I've never been a brand name guy myself.

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  11. I've been wondering about this exact same thing, so thanks for this post! I'm hoping you're right and that we shouldn't worry too much about the changing indie author brand, because I plan to write different genres and age categories in the future. Like you said, each of us is still the same AUTHOR, even if our different books have different brands :)

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    1. Yes - although I will caveat and say that for sales purposes, it does help to have more than one-book-per-genre. For example, I may be hopping between YA SF and Adult SF future-noir, but each of those is actually a series, building a fanbase within itself. That way you have the best of both worlds - for sure carry over sales and breadth of genre.

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  12. I love the mangling of that line! I completely agree that one of the best parts of being an indie writer is having the ability to go where ever inspiration takes you. I'm still finishing up my series but I can't wait to explore a few different genres in the future.

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    1. Have fun exploring all that you want to write! :)

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  13. I love the mangling of that line! I completely agree that one of the best parts of being an indie writer is having the ability to go where ever inspiration takes you. I'm still finishing up my series but I can't wait to explore a few different genres in the future.

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  14. I see lots of Indies with stories in different genres and age ranges. I even have a few of my own. At first, I was worried about having stories that weren't all in the same genre, but now, not so much. It's exciting to know I'm not bound that way.

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    1. I know, right? It helps to see that other people are doing the same thing and not suffering (quite the contrary).

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  15. I'm writing in two genres also. And as much as the nay-sayers say it can't be done, I can't help myself. Though I'm considering a pen name for the new genre.

    Interestingly, a writer friend who's traditionally published is being told by her agent and editor that it's in her best interest to explore new genres as well as the one she's currently writing in.

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    1. That IS interesting! You know, more and more, I think indie publishing is a the true cauldron of innovation. Trad-publishers for so long have followed certain "conventions" or "rules" that were received wisdom about how publishing "worked." And now the indies come along, upend all the rules, and lo and behold, it works! So the publishers watch and follow... but still the innovation is indie.

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  16. While author brand is important I'm glad you're not letting it stop you from writing what you want Susan. I write mainly YA but I recently started an MG novel and I'm enjoying that as well. Indies unite!

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  17. I've started out with YA fantasy and I was wondering how important author brand was because I'd like to branch out from the YA umbrella and venture into new territory. Thanks for the post!

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    1. You are most welcome, Michael. I think especially for indie titles, the audience is mostly adult, even if you're selling YA (or MG for that matter) - so branching out is easier than you might expect (in terms of audience cross-over). Good luck!

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  18. My first novel was New Adult Contemporary. The next book/series I'm planning will be a Young Adult Time Travel Romantic Drama. They're not too disparate, but they're not exactly the same either. I'm definitely all for variety. Really enjoyed this post. :-)

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    1. Thanks Cally! And I would think your audience would cross over very nicely between those two!

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  19. I *LOVE* this. I feel very passionate about AUTHOR BRAND and feel I have a strong handle on it--BUT, I have recently allowed some (I think) outdated opinions on branding to sway me. To make me doubt.

    Thank you for reaffirming for what I myself believe--that we, as indie authors, are FREE TO WRITE WHATEVER WE WANT TO WRITE! And honestly? I think if our story pool is "muddy" it's exactly what our readers will love about us. Maybe our muddy water is really healthy--like a health spa or something. :)

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    1. Yay! That's reassuring to hear from the Brand Guru! And things shift, requiring us to rethink our old standards... this is not a bad thing, although I think sometimes it can feel uncomfortable.

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  20. Shew! I'm really glad to hear you say this, Sue, b/c lord knows I'm all over the place--LOL! And I think all your books are YOU, which is pretty cool~ <3

    (Now, fairies???)

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