Thursday, July 12, 2007

Branding quandaries

Earlier this year I did a teleseminar series with Randy Ingermanson and Alison Bottke. I confess the main reason was the first session offered, which was about cleaning up your office. Mine has improved, and when Officeworks decide to supply me with the bookcase I have been waiting for for nearly three weeks now, it will improve further.
I also looked at strategic planning and vision statements - all the stuff I've done in previous jobs in a business context, but not for myself. Writers tend to be haphazard. We live from acceptance to acceptance, hang out for the twice-yearly royalty payments (if there are any) and generally don't think further ahead than the next book. At what point does a published writer decide to get to grips with the business side of it all?
I've been telling students for years that the publishing industry is a business, that publishers accept and publish your book because they believe they can make money out of it. There was a huge article in the Weekend Australian newspaper about how commercial publishers have given poetry collections the big A (dumped the lot), but if you need to sell 4000 copies of something to break even, then 500 copies of a poetry book doesn't have a hope. That's why I believe so strongly in good small presses and quality self publishing, especially for poetry and things like family histories.
However, I digress. Randy's most recent seminar was on branding. I've been wondering about this for years, ever since the SCBWI conferences started running sessions on it. What is branding? How is it done?
Firstly, I thought about some children's writers. What makes them recognisable as "brands"? Andy Griffith - bums. Paul Jennings - funny short stories for reluctant readers (usually boys). Terry Pratchett - humorous fantasy. Ursula Duborsarsky - literary fiction for kids and YA (Sonya Hartnett, same). Morris Gleitzman's books are all for and about 11 year old boys, and when you see his books in the shop, all the covers are the same kind. Series have brands. Penguin's Aussie Bites and Nibbles are totally recognisable.
So I have been pondering on this whole branding thing. Wondering what use it might be. Where I fit. Or don't fit. Is it even necessary? (And the answer to that last one is - if you don't find your own brand, you might get one pushed onto you, whether you like it or not.)
I know a lot of writers gag at this stuff. Bring out the vampire garlic and silver crosses. But the one thing that has been clear to me in all the research and thinking is: it's not going away, so it's better to educate yourself and make your own decisions about it.
Randy's info is mainly on his blog but if you search further, you'll find more. Or just Google "branding for writers" and see what comes up.
More later as I work this stuff out for myself.

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