Saturday, June 11, 2011

Do You Have A Brand?

   I began writing CANALS in 2004. I dragged myself out of bed every morning between five and five-thirty, booted up an old Windows 95 PC in the spare bedroom, and sat and forced myself to write. Writing almost every day, it took five months to complete the first draft.
   Writing CANALS was an experience I’ll always cherish. I thought I was going to be another Stephen King so I wrote CANALS the same way King writes, in the style he calls “a found thing” in his book On Writing. Other writers call it “by the seat of your pants” writing. I started with a premise but no plot.
   Countless times I sat at the computer, when it was pitch black outside, with no idea what would happen next. I’d force myself to type something, just to get started, and then an idea would come and off I’d go, galloping up to the next roadblock. It was thrilling.
   I edited the manuscript a couple of times and thought it was ready for primetime. It weighed in at 200K words. A bit long, I know, but I’d read many King books that were twice that and I like long reads.
   Sure my book would be snapped up by an eager publisher, I dreamt of large advances, book tours, appearances on The Tonight Show, and a vacation home on Maui. Most of all, I dreamt of a full-time writing career. I’d be like Dean Koontz and buy a house overlooking the ocean, with a writing room on the third floor.
   Out went the query letters, printed in 1200 dpi on fine stationary. I got an early hit; they asked for three chapters! The rejection letter must have been in the mail the same time as the sample chapters. I thought later a new intern likely asked for the pages as the info I had on the publisher said they didn’t publish books longer than 90K words.
   I received about twenty-five rejection letters, most tenth-generation photocopies--tacky and impersonal. One publisher sent a nice letter stating he liked the concept and was interested but the manuscript needed editing. The story “told” more than it “showed.” I had no idea what he meant but by then had given up. The digital file was backed up to a USB drive and the printed manuscript was banished to a shelf in the garage.
   Never at any time have I thought CANALS wasn’t a good story. I just thought I was a lousy salesman. Which I was.
   I was sure it was the genre; few publishers and agents list an interest in horror. And check out the bestseller lists, you rarely see a horror book in the top ten.
   Four years later I decided to write another book, this time a thriller. In fact, I told myself I would stick with the genre. Instead of wanting to be Stephen King, I now wanted to be John Sandford, my favorite thriller writer.
   I’ll save the story for my writing THE MIGHTY T for another day.
   I queried for THE MIGHTY T. While waiting to hear back from agents and publishers, I thought I’d resurrect CANALS now that I thought I knew a lot more about writing. Sure it’s length was a hindrance to it being published, I edited with a heavy hand and got it down to 145K. A lot of bad bloat was cut, words and scenes that added little or nothing to the plot.
   I queried for CANALS again, even tried to reconnect with the editor who’d written the personal letter. He was no longer there and Google had no idea where he’d gone.
   With an impressive pile of paper rejections, and a few megabytes of email rejections, for both manuscripts, I was discouraged and dejected. This would’ve been late 2009. I knew little about ebooks then and nothing about self-publishing other than I’d read agents and publishers look down their noses at writers who self-publish. Why I was concerned about what people who had no interest in my work thought of me is anyone’s guess.
   Then, in February 2011, I found Smashwords and eventually Jack Konrath’s blog, which I devoured. I bought Konrath’s philosophy, as well as John Locke’s, on how to successfully self-publish. I have a two-page crib sheet from a few Locke blogs and interviews I’ll throw up some day. Very enlightening.
   I decided to publish on Smashwords and chose to publish CANALS first. It would be my practice book. Once I learned the ropes I’d publish THE MIGHTY T and yank CANALS. Remember, I’d chosen to be a genre thriller writer; I thought it would be bad for thriller readers to find a horror book with my name on it.
   Is there a point, Everett, or does this post ramble on forever?
   The version of CANALS I published in March, 2011, while far better than the version I tried to get publishers to buy, was inferior to the version that’s now for sale. The editor was right: I had way too much telling and not nearly enough showing.
   Here are my points:
1. CANALS shouldn’t have been published in March. It’s not fair to ask people to pay for something that’s not polished. I apologize to the people who paid for that version, all five of you.
2. I’m flip-flopping on the “I’m a genre writer”. I’m currently writing a second Grant Starr thriller but I have no idea if I’ll write nothing but thrillers after that. This flip-flopping has me troubled. I’m not convinced it’s good for marketing.

   Here’s my question: If you’re a writer, have you defined your “brand”? Do you think having a brand is even important? I think it makes marketing your writing a lot easier.


  1. Thank you for your interesting blog.

    After a year of writing for professional markets, I am just now coming to realize some of the same things. The core of my writing is my faith and positivity. Even my horror stories are written with a light touch and from the perspective of a Christian.

    How well I have managed to bundle this as a brand is another question altogether. I love writing in every genre. The only thing I've done as far as branding is to separate my romance under Rebecca Wakefield.

    I haven't been very successful with marketing so I'm sure I have a great deal to think about.

  2. John Locke is trying to change his brand with the westerns. We'll see how that goes. His audience is large enough; he might be able to do it. He's a savvy marketer.

  3. Personally, I say write what you feel. I'm both a sci-fi and /sigh chick lit nut, so I write both.

    Thank you for this very enlightening post. Like you, I once thought self-publishing to be an undesirable route. Now, through Jack Konrath and others, I feel as though it may be the ideal way to traverse my path to publication.

  4. I am just beginning to imagine what life would be like as a full time writer. I am practicing marketing with my blog, and feel like I am groping in the dark. I think what people most want to know is that they can expect certain things from "their" authors. I don't think you are limited to only one genre, even so; you could pick a pen name for one genre and use your real name for another and market both. Do you have any dos or donts about marketing you can share?


  5. It's great to know you're another "pantster" writer who goes along with a concept but the story fills in along the way. I love this method of writing.

    As for a brand, I think it's important for marketing. How else do you classify your work for readers to find? I would lean toward picking the one that best suits the book. And another thing, be careful not to mis-label your book.

    I've learned this with my recently published book TIES THAT BIND. I was so adamant that it was a mystery, but it actually falls into the subcategory of a police procedural. Without making potential readers aware of that, they may not enjoy it, and on the flipside those who love police procedurals may miss out on it.

    And I don't think there's anything wrong with a self-pubbed author writing a various of genres under one name. For example, look at NY times bestseller Sandra Brown. She writes suspense and thrillers, and yet has a few romance novels to her credit as well.

    I say as a self-pubbed author the best thing is to keep your name in people's view regardless of a book's specific genre.

  6. Good post. I am one of those aspiring authors that spend more time reading than writing.

    From what I have read, and it makes sense, you are right on about marketing being easier if you stay in one genre. As far as how successful one could be writing in different genres, I believe that depends on the author.

    While it would take longer to promote to two separate readerships, if you are good enough to write in both, you should be fine in the long run. I think the reason most authors stay within one genre is that their writing style, or their voice, fits better into said genre. Imagine Stephen King writing a YA novel... Lol, now I wish he would try it. I know I would give it a read.

    Anyway, I am a firm believer in writing what you love, otherwise, what is the point of writing? Just do not expect to be successful in both genres, and spend more time promoting the one you write better.

  7. Thanks for your comments.

    Sara, with publishing in the throes of change, self-publishing is a valid choice now and not just for those whose work "couldn't cut it" with agents and publishers. But as you know, even if a publisher buys your writing, you still have to market it. I suppose if you can get a deal like Hocking, with a $2 million payout, you could trust the publisher to do some marketing for you. Not sure if I would have takent that deal if I was her (but would like to have the chance to make such a decision). She was already making a ton and couldn't easily hired out all the stuff she didn't like doing.

    Nancy, if knew what works and what doesn't, I'd gladly run the list up the flagpole. I'm still figuring that out but am not in a rush. One thing I can say for sure is, it will take a while for readers to find you. Just be ready with quality products for when they do.

    I agree, Kirkus: write what you love. Both Koontz and King have written in several genres. But you have to be that good to be successful at it.

    Carolyn, do Brown's romance novels sell well? The main characters, the good guys, for both of my novels are cops. I specifically avoided writing details about police procedures because I wanted the focus on the people and what they were going through. There has to be some procedure, of course. Also, I dreaded the thought of having to look all that stuff up because it would have to accurate to be believable. That looked like a lot of hard work. You can have that sub genre. lol

  8. So you are a schizophrenic writer. We all have a little conflict going on. Great post Ev and loveed Mighty T. Awaiting the sequel. Have to check out Camels. Oops Canals now. Also use a pen name for horror novels. Evil Everrett sounded good. Reggie Ridgway. Struggling writer with a penchant for self depricating humor at Shameless self promotion brought to you by Echelon Press. Another good brand.

  9. Your blog is in my Blog List on the right. I've done your shameless promotion for you.

  10. I'll preface my comment with a quote.

    Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

    I believe that says it all when it comes to writing. I started out writing Sci/Fi and Fantasy in my early years. I later began writing Horror, at which I found I, for lack of a better word, sucked. When I got the concept idea for the Kelli Storm series and began writing it, I knew I had found my niche. That's not to say I will marry myself to on genre. I still have a fondness for the Sci/Fi and Fantasy realm. What can I say? See the quote above.

  11. EV, I think your question is something that'll haunt me for as long as I write. In as much as SF/Urban Fantasy is my current bent, I really want to writer other things. I don't know if I'm any good at those other things or not, but the pull on my interest is fairly high. Still, I push on with Urban Fantasy because it's in my wheelhouse. Maybe after I polish my form I'll take another foray into a second genre. I keep a notebook of detailed storylines close too. That way, as a pantser myself, when I go to write that new stuff, I'll have good form and a story to work on right away.

  12. Hi EV, I 'm in agreement; it's hard to do it all & balance a life as well. And I think Hocking will be surprised at the amount of marketing she will be required to do,even with her contract. If anything, I think she has such a following she'll be called on to even more. Mystique doesn't exist in this transparent world we've built for ourselves with technology. Seems the more we take on ourselves, we trade self control of career for personal life. I don't think it'll change anytime soon, but I do think it takes time to learn how to wrangle the brand beast.

  13. I might get bored stuck in a genre. I write with a specific style across topics. My "branding" if there is a tattoo on my rear (not) is going to be a hard sell as it is quirky but very easy to spot. I started as a slam poet wrote a thriller then a financial thriller/general/something. This year I was told by agents who were ready to sell me as the next great M-YA author (I took MMA classes to write my current book) that all I need to do is start changing my image, but no one could tell me what color I was supposed to dye my hair. ugh. One even suggested I wear fatigues and shave the head, yes this will certainly sell more books (not).
    Great post

  14. If writers like Joyce Carol Oates can be successful writing across genres, so can you or anyone else. That may make it more difficult for an agent to sell these days, though. I'm shocked at the size of the YA market; there seems to be no end to it. Good luck.