Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Question of Branding

Branding is a well recognized marketing tactic. For those who do not know what branding is: this is when you essentially create a name for yourself and continually use that name as a way of differentiating what is yours from the rest of what is out there. Think of the little note on the front of Laurell K. Hamilton’s books that say ‘An Anita Blake Novel’, James Patterson’s Alex Cross, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight to name only a few. All of these are brands and some would call them ‘sure things’ as readers keep coming back for these same characters over and over again. There are also brands of places such as Pern by Anne McCaffrey or Castle Rock, Maine as done by Stephen King.

However, it is not the branding itself that raises a question for me, but rather something a little deeper. The question for me is: Do writers feel like they should or even have to brand in order to make it big?

With the state of the publishing industry, there is definitely some major trepidation that comes with backing a complete unknown. More and more, the major houses do the best they can to close rank and work with those they can be relatively sure will insure them incoming capital for their expenses and they are footing as little of the bill as they can possibly manage without turning into a vanity press. One of the best ways they have found to keep incoming revenue is through the reuse of the same authors, who occasionally revisit their old haunts to speak with familiar faces, or through the use of some very similar hook. This also allows for such things as books written in the realm of Star Trek or Marvel’s X-men (a personal favorite).

A recent opinion written in Game Informer, a magazine I often find interesting both as a gamer and just as a thinker, pointed out that while franchising can be a lovely thing, it can also lead to a stagnation in thinking. Which in turn lead me to a second question: if there is a pressure to brand, does it also stand to reason that the industry is now pushing quantity over quality?

I find myself sitting here thinking over these questions and wondering about myself as a writer. I automatically think in multiple book stories. Is that a product of this mindset and would I be better off finishing only the one and leaving it be? Or is there always some other story to tell in that universe allowing me to build up from that single book into multiples? Perhaps a few good questions everyone with publication aspirations should ask themselves.

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