Friday, October 15, 2010

Building a Brand by Jacqueline Seewald

There’s been a lot of discussion among writers as to whether it benefits authors to be branded--by that I mean that writers want to market themselves by promoting their name, associating their name with a particular type, genre or style of writing. The premise? That this is the best way to build a readership. For example, when we see the name Nora Roberts we immediately think of romantic suspense.

Many writers choose to use pen names. They write in a variety of genres and assume a different nom de plume for each. The theory is that it will confuse readers if writers use the same name for different types of work. There is also a tendency for publishers to try to place writers in neat categories. It’s more convenient to connect a name to a particular format.

But what if you resist branding? Are you destroying your chance to be taken seriously as a writer or build a readership? I don’t limit myself to one particular format in my writing. My books are never “in the box.” They’re always unique and different. I confess I like to experiment.

I write historical romance like TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS which isn’t category or “formula” Regency. I write romantic mystery novels like THE INFERNO COLLECTION and THE DROWNING POOL and, coming in May, THE TRUTH SLEUTH. However, I also write books for children like A DEVIL IN THE PINES, books for young adults like the soon be released STACY’S SONG, poems, short stories, nonfiction articles and plays, all under my own name. Will I confuse readers and reviewers? I admit I am something of a maverick who doesn’t take well to branding. Is that a mistake? Does "branding" work well for marketing writers?

Your thoughts, opinions and comments are most welcome!


Unknown said...

Jacqueline, I struggle with this. My books cross genres and I'm really not sure how to "brand" my name.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

We share the same problem. For example, STACY'S SONG for L&LDreamspell is a YA coming of age novel with a sweet romance. But TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS is a very adult romance novel not suitable for teens. I wouldn't want readers to confuse the two novels.

Bobbye Terry said...

I think you seriously should consider using pseudonyms for your different lines. Branding is all about setting forth one solid image of what your name implies the book will be like. From a class I recently took, Kristen Lamb, the instructor and a specialist in social networking, explained the best thing to do is to make a list of as many words as you can think of that apply to your writing whichever genre. Then, in places like your blog, your topics would be on those subjects. All posts would have those tag lines attached so when people serach for you they think, this name means historical romance. This name means YA, This one means mystery. But more, because you have other words attached. For my mysteries, I added the words small town, Southern,character-driven, women's fiction, just to name a few. You always add your appropriate name as a tag too.

I have three names I can use right now. My own name for mystery, Daryn Cross for fantasy and Brie Bedford for straight romance.

Hope that helps.

Bobbye Terry
also writing as Daryn Cross

Terry Odell said...

Nora Roberts is JD Robb when she writes her In Death series. For a long time, the books didn't mention her dual identity. I think different names work in different genres so you don't confuse readers -- but the genres should be noticeably different. It's hard enough to get one name out there!

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Linda Style said...

I tend to agree with Bobbye that branding is all about a reader knowing at a glance what your book will be like. Having a pseudonym for each genre makes sense, too. That way each brand can be different. I have all I can do working with one, however. ;-)

Linda Style

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for this information and for sharing it with me and others who read this blog. You've given me much to consider.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Terry,

I agree with you about it being hard enough to establish even one brand or identity that readers will remember.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Linda,

Very true. The major writers especially if they do romance and mystery do differentiate by using different names. I'll do it too--if I ever get known!

Anonymous said...

I intend to use a pseudonym for my suspense novel, WHEN it's published. (How's that for positive thinking?) And Bobbye, great idea on using words that will describe your genre and your key elements for social networking. Thanks for sharing!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Rebbie,

Positive thinking never hurts, and it sure can help!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I asked my agent when I sold my latest futuristic romance if I should take a pseudonym to distinguish them from my Bad Hair Day mysteries, and he said no because I've already established my name. So that's a different viewpoint. Based on reader comments, I understand that my brand, whatever I write, includes a fast-paced story with mystery, romance, and humor. So I branded, not my series, but myself as an author on my website when I had it redesigned. I identified myself as a Florida author and that's my theme. It's also where many of my books (except the sci fii) are set.

Marie Lavender said...

I am trying to establish myself with two different names as well. One is Marie Ann Lavender when I write romances. And the other is just my real name for literary fiction because I was told that my grad school wouldn't take me seriously otherwise? But, does that matter in the industry?

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Nancy, I don't have an agent, but if I did, I would certainly listen to his/her advice. They
are pros in the field. And nothing wrong with being identified as an author from a particular place. Readers love local color.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Literary writers are sometimes skeptical of romance writers. It's totally unfair. But university people tend to elevate literary writers and look down on the romance genre--although some of our best romance writers have university backgrounds. No harm in using a nom de plume if it makes you feel more comfortable when you write romance.

Unknown said...

I've often wondered about the "branding." I guess it's a good thing if you constantly write in one or two different genres. But, I find myself all over the board. One may be a noir detective, another a western comedy with a bit of romance, another a historical fiction, another a paranormal thriller romance, another an older woman humor paranormal.
So, you see my problem. Yes, I get bored easily and don't like to stick to one genre. But, lol, I do have fun. So, I figure sticking to one name, putting the tag after the title will suit my whimsy much better. Are there anymore like me out there?

Jacqueline Seewald said...


We have much in common! I also like to write in a variety of genres and styles. I'm not one for sticking to set formulas. And yes, it does make life a lot more interesting. Maybe our brand is that we can't be pigeon-holed. We're always trying something just a bit different, pushing the envelope.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Jacqueline: From what i've heard, some publishers (Hqn especially) will change your name in a heartbeat if it doesn't sound, well, soft and romantic or whatever. I've stayed with the same name, for non-fiction, historical romance, and historical novel, but I think if I made a drastic switch in genre, like to YA, I'd use a pen name. I asked my previous agent about it before, and she said why change? So I didn't, but later, I might.

Susan Whitfield said...

I'm pretty much branded as a North Carolina mystery writer since I set my entire Logan Hunter series in various locations around the state. My readership expects a lickety-split pace and some humor in the mayhem. I use my own name. However, I'm now writing a stand-alone and then plan to write an historical novel. This article and its comments are thought-provoking. Thanks for another good conversation, Jacquie!

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Hi, Jacqueline,

Interesting topic. I tend to brand myself in two ways - as a children's author and as a writing coach. As a children's writer, I write about all sorts of topics in a variety of genres. As the Working Writer's Coach, I'm branded as a coach who works with other writers to help them build their careers.

Pauline said...

Lots of interesting info. I am also a maverick in that I follow the muse, not the genre, but I did (eventually) realize that I do have a central theme to my various genres: peril. And for all but one book: humor. So that's how "Perils of Pauline" because my author brand.

While you may wander all over creation with the writing, you still have your central core, your essential author voice. You might try looking at what is *similar* in your various genres, instead of focusing on what is different. Do your keyword study, but look at themes and concepts, ideas that you explore that might be similar.

It is one thing to have a lot nom de plumes when you are a big name author, but for the small press author, you need your readership to be with you, as much as possible, through all your books. IMHO.

The one exception, I might have, is with the YA book. If your romance writing is at all spicy, I'd carve it out into a different brand/name. Chances are that won't be the same readership anyway. (Though your adult readers MIGHT buy it for their kids. It's a tough call and one only you can answer.)

If you find and focus on what's alike in the books, you can then target your blogging and sales pitches to those elements.

I know when I moved from romantic suspense to science fiction romance, that's what I did. I pitched to my readers by focusing on what was the same: peril, humor, high adventure. That's my over arching focus when I write a book, no matter what the genre.

One of my writing mentors once told me that we will tend to focus on the same theme or idea in our writing, just find new ways to explore those ideas/themes. When I look at my body of work, I have to think she is right. Now some of it might be stuff only I'd notice, but that's okay. I need to know myself and my targets to market. :-)

Hope this helps some!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Joyce,

The Harlequin authors were told to use different names at one time especially if
they didn't have "romantic" sounding names.
You're right about that. I think the tradition
carried in romance publication for many years.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for the positive feedback! I do associate your mystery novels with North Carolina. And I think it's great that your settings are so vivid. Definitely a good "brand."

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Suzanne,

We always needs first-rate children's writers.
When I taught as an educational media specialist at the elementary level, I saw how much the children loved books at that age.
It really makes you want to write for them.
And we always need writing coaches!

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for your in depth discussion. I appreciate the feedback. And you have given me much to chew over. I will have to somehow make it clear to readers that my adult romances are just that while my YA fiction is suitable for readers anywhere from 11 to 16 on average.

Books Dudes Will Read said...

Cross-over appeal is becoming increasingly desirable in publishing. Some adult authors like Grisham & Patterson have successful novels in YA, so I don't think branding needs to be exclusive to age group, really. For those particular writers, content is what brands them. Even genre needn't be so limiting. I think of MT Anderson & his books that span some 300 years. In his case, his brand, I'd say, is his voice. Literate narrators that are always questioning. My examples are largely YA because that's my intended audience, but I think the same could be said of other age groups, within reason. Unless your material got too edgy, MGs might read YAs; YAs might read adult fic (like Piccoult). Adults might read YA. People who usually only read historical romance might enjoy a well-written sci-fi (though that's a bit of a stretch). I think a lot depends on the writer's voice. If a reader loved you in one book, I wouldn't assume they wouldn't love you when you stretch your literary legs elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Your raise an interesting question, Jacqueline.
Confess that after reading your post and those of others, I'm still on the fence about branding. I do admire you for being a maverick and writing different kinds of books. I had a very good writing teacher once who did this: his books were all over the map from memoir to sci-fi, to historical, he just kept re-inventing himself. Seem to remember he said something about how it was difficult to stay with an agent because of this. I haven't ventured as far afield myself, though I did spend years writing non-fiction. With my fiction, it's been mysteries, mystery short stories, and now I have a romantic suspense I'm marketing, and have wondered if I shouldn't write under a pseudonym for that, but haven't done anything about it. Also, my latest short story has a strong paranormal element, which is new for me and which I'm thinking of continuing. So there I am--still undecided about branding, but interested in the discussion.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Book Dudes,

I was really impressed with your knowledge and appreciate the good advice. I went to your site and hope you continue with your book reviews.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


It's funny you should talk about people who constantly reinvent themselves. I guess to some extent I do that as a writer. In my mysteries published by Five Star, THE INFERNO COLLECTION and THE DROWNING POOL, my heroine sleuth does keep reinventing herself. She does it again in the third novel in this series THE TRUTH SLEUTH which won't be published until May. I want her to grow and change just like a real person--or a writer.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I'll end this discussion of branding by saying that I totally appreciate and value the comments left here by my fellow writers. Thank you one and all!

Becky Gregory said...

I am the business mgr/publicist for my author/husband, Peter H. Gregory. He writes books on data security...23 of them to date.

I bought a copy of Branding for Dummies. I highly recommend it because it answers a lot of questions about branding whether it be business, personal, or personality (and there is a difference).

I am seeing a common trait amongst fiction writers; they are very creative people so the temptation to reinvent themselves would be a struggle but my advice is, don't do it.

For simple starters, create a personal logo, have a professional picture taken, and use these EVERYWHERE that your name appears and do it consistently because you want to be remembered.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm struggling with this same question since the novel I'm trying to place now is completely different from the amateur sleuth mysteries published earlier. I'm hoping to find an agent who will help me make good decisions.

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