You Are Your Brand
By Matt Larkin
If there’s one lesson I’ve had to learn (and relearn) over my publishing career, it’s this: we are our brand, and we fail to stay on brand at our peril. Every time I think I know this, I get a wakeup call.
Self-publishing offers us unprecedented freedom. We can try things that would prove impractical or impossible in traditional models. It also grants us the freedom to hamstring our careers in creative new ways.
The first series I published was an Asian-inspired epic fantasy with heavy romantic elements. I failed to properly incorporate the tropes of the romance genre, however, because I didn’t really know anything about it. I wanted to write a fantasy that happened to center around star-crossed lovers. Despite my mistakes, I even got a small following for it. Then I wrote a space opera. Then a paranormal short story series that kind of led into a paranormal romance/ superhero series. Followed by some grimdark Norse mythology, some wuxia, and a series on Hawaiian mythology that harbored aspirations of being a mermaid YA tale.
I had no idea what brand meant.
Some authors succeed in spite of writing in numerous genres. Most, however, will find greater success by publishing exclusively in a single genre, and often in only one or two series.
The reason is simple, if we look at it from the reader’s perspective. To the reader, an author is a brand. They expect a particular kind of experience from reading that author’s books. They expect a certain tone, a certain kind of emotional satisfaction. And when we, as authors, ignore these expectations, we risk leaving the reader unhappy, even if they would have liked the tale had it come from someone else.
Eventually I heard about branding, but I thought that just meant I needed to stay focused in speculative fiction as a whole. Not quite. I had little traction with my work. Sean Platt (of the Self Publishing Podcast) was kind enough to take a look over my catalog and told me two things. One, get more professional covers. Two, make the name “Matt Larkin” mean something.
I thought I learned that, but I was still struggling. Then I read a post by my fellow fantasy author Rob Hayes. I think my books somehow rode the wake that the Game of Thrones popularity spike left behind. I basked in my sales and decided to write something completely different. Instead of dark fantasy like my debut trilogy, I wrote a fun, light hearted steampunk novel. It did not sell well and many of those who did buy it complained it was not in the same tone of my trilogy. … If you sell well with a dark fantasy novel, write another one. Give your fans more of what they want.
—Rob J. Hayes (winner of Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off)
So I had a longer conversation with Rob about what he’d learned. Even fantasy was not specific enough for a brand.
I wasn’t doomed, though.
The other great thing self-publishing offers us is the tools to change course at any time. My sci-fi is now published under a pen name. The other stuff is unpublished while I focus on building one, specific brand.
And I keep more readers now.
So can you. Find where you want to be, and make your name your brand.