What can cause a reader to expect a certain tone or outcome from YOUR writing and something utterly different from someone else’s? It’s a little thing called branding. But what is branding and how does it work? Here are two examples:
1) Let’s say Judy strolls down the romance aisle in her favorite Barnes and Noble. She happens to come across your book. She’s never heard of you before but feels the back cover blurb is interesting enough to take a risk and buy the novel. What’s Judy’s expectation? That your book will follow the same “formula” as other romance novels she’s read and loved. She wants the hero and heroine to meet fairly early in the story, but something will keep them apart. By the end, they will conquer that conflict and live happily ever after.
Judy’s expectation: ROMANCE. Why? Because your book was placed on the shelf with other romance novels and most likely had the word romance written on its spine.
2) Michelle has bought every book you’ve written thus far and has been excitedly awaiting your next masterpiece to hit the bookstores. When that finally happens, she rushes to the “New Arrivals” shelves and grabs the book without reading the back cover. She loves your work and KNOWS this novel will be as great or better than the last.
Michelle’s expectation: CONSITENCY. What do you think would happen to Michelle’s expectations if she was accustomed to your romantic stories only to discover your new novel was about flying monkeys and how they escaped from a lab on Mars?
Branding has a lot to do with your readers’ expectations. They associate your name to a certain type of writing including the style, tone, and genre you write. This is why agents and editors will tell you it’s dangerous to write a little bit of this and a little bit of that. They recommend you stick to one genre for example and build a following. Does this mean you will forever be writing romances when there’s a mystery novel brewing in the depths of your core? No, but it does mean you have to be smart about how and when you present this new genre to your readers. Some authors, like Nora Roberts, have chosen to use a pseudonym so their readers know what to expect when they pick up the book. Nora Roberts = Romance. J.D. Robb = “In Death” series. Other authors have kept their name and tried to please both their readers and themselves by releasing one novel in their original genre and another in the new genre during that same year. This is a little riskier and can alienate some of their followers, but certain authors are successful with this system.
Have you thought about branding? If you’re not published, now’s the time to decide what your brand will be. So, what IS your brand?