On authors and brands

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sitting in meetings discussing what it means to have a meaningful brand. If you stop and think about familiar brands, brands you know and trust, you have an immediate sense, without seeing a product or service proposition, of what you can expect of that brand.

You know what Coke is supposed to taste like.

You know an Apple product is (mostly) plug-and-play.

You know JetBlue has TVs on their planes for every seat.

You know what to expect.

There’s been some hoopla about the slip by one of J.K. Rowling’s attorneys that revealed her identity behind an otherwise closely guarded pseudonym. She’s not pleased. I don’t blame her. But more telling is that a news story my husband watched the other night cited the Robert Galbraith novel as “Rowling’s first adult novel.”

Did they conveniently forget A Casual Vacancy?

Here’s the thing: I totally get why J.K. Rowling used a pseudonym. Her name, her brand, is synonymous with Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Anyone picking up a novel by J.K. Rowling would automatically expect another glimpse into the wizarding world. And can you really blame them?

There’s a reason Jayne Ann Krentz used the pseudonym Amanda Quick to pen her Regency romances.

There’s a reason Nora Roberts used the pseudonym J.D. Robb for her suspense novels.

There’s a reason we, as readers, pick up something by Ally Carter or John Green or Danielle Steele and have an idea of what to expect. Their bylines are synonymous with their style of writing. If I want something about snarky teenage girls, I’ll pick up something by Lisi Harrison. If I want to read a story rooted in mythology, I’ll pick up Rick Riordan. Why?

Because I know what to expect.

That’s what a brand does for consumers: It tells them, without being overt or blatant, exactly what to expect by purchasing something. It’s true of retail and consumer brands, and it’s just as true for musicians, artists, and authors.

I may be talking out of my ears because I’ve yet to sell my book, but these are the kinds of things I’m already contemplating, stuff I’m ready to ask about the moment my agent calls and says, “We’ve got an offer.” It’s why I repeatedly practice signing my pseudonym like a 14-year-old girl dating her first boyfriend, why I think of how an idea should be marketed before I even write the first sentence, why I obsess over marketing case studies as if I was still in business school.

A great product will bring a consumer in.

A great brand will keep them for life.

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