Thursday, 18 October 2012

Slow branding, or writing as fast as you can?

*** WINNERS! Thanks to everyone who visited and left a  comment on Aimee Duffy's post - she's now drawn the winners and they are... Nana wins a copy of 'The Monster of Fame' and Christy wins the Amazon voucher. Aimee will be in touch - any problems let me know!! Thanks again everyone and wishing you many sales Aimee ***

Now back to branding.....
I recently read a very thought provoking post, on the Kowloon by Night blog (which many of you may read), about the importance of author branding. It got me thinking (as all provoking posts should do).

The post was quite long, you can read it here, but in a nutshell it was talking about not spreading yourself too thinly, publishing too many books - diluting your author brand. Now, I do want to say upfront that I agree with a lot of what Adrien says, but I still have some random musings of my own to add to the pot.....

In the perfect world, we writers will all get snapped up by an agent (optional) and one of the big publishers (necessary). The story we have sweated blood over will be published, met with critical acclaim and soar straight to the top of every bestseller list. In some cases this happens, think JK Rowling, EL James, Nora Roberts, Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins etc. (sorry if I missed anyone fundamentally important - there are many more, and yes the latter two names probably show my age!). In the real world this might not actually happen (yes, note the optimistic might).

Okay, in the real world and today's changing market....After much toil we might not get an agent, but we do find a publisher (eventually). Said publisher might be relatively small, may operate outside of our country of residence and be offering initially e-publication only. Printing books costs money, lots of money, but e-publishing doesn't - so the publisher can afford to take a risk on a debut author (or one with previously moderate sales). The publisher still has to make an investment in terms of editing, cover art, marketing etc. and so will only publish books they expect to get at least a small return on.

So, the book is launched on the unsuspecting public. The debut author waits with bated breath. Whilst the book is free (often done on amazon initially to boost it up the rankings - a cheap way of making it visible, the only cost is in lost sales revenue) it does indeed shoot up the rankings. Yay!! Then the book switches to list price. It gradually drifts down the rankings. Not so yay! There are some good reviews and some bad reviews (often if a book is free everyone grabs it without even questioning the genre, gets one they hate or consider too short for the price - nothing - and so write a bad review. That's life!). The bad reviews may or not be damaging - though I do go with the 'all publicity is good publicity' train of thought.

Needless to say, the book which has been promoted via a small blog tour, requested reviews, FB etc. now gradually sinks out of the public eye. Why? Not because it is bad - just because there are so many books out there. The e-book isn't visible on shelves in the supermarket, or book shops, it is just one more entry on a massive online list. The only way people will find it is if
1) It is in the top 100, or 2) There is a lot of publicity about it to get it into the top 100!

So without a big publicity/marketing machine behind a book (which only the big publishers can provide) it is unlikely to sell in the thousands. The author brings another book out, similar sales ensue. A few of the readers of the first book grab the second, a few new readers that found the second book go and buy the first. The author now has two books on that massive list, and if one of them is in the top 100 it might help sales of the other. Continue Ad Infinitum ....

Do I have a point here? I know of many (and it need to be said here that they are good, proficient writers who know their craft), authors who turn out a lot of books a year, a mix of novel length and shorts that in themselves add to the marketing mix. They might write 4, 5, 10 a year and they make a living out of it. And enjoy it. I know a lot of writers who write as a hobby, not expecting to make money. They write one or two books a year and spend the money on a night out. And they are happy too.

Best-selling (and I'm talking real best-selling here) authors have a huge publicity machine behind them, they have a big following and one book a year for them is the optimum (or one series). Readers are waiting for it, will rush out and buy on release day (or pre-release order). This will guarantee it will go straight to the top of every list and be visible to all the potential new readers. Self perpetuating. Huge success.
It must be said though that there are some hugely successful authors, such as Nora Roberts, who don't follow this rule - they are prolific and successful! (Although some prolific authors do write under pseudonyms to allow them to publish more books a year without saturating the market and diluting their brand.)

Not everyone is going to be a best selling author (logically!). You may, as a writer, want to keep perfecting your craft until you have a contract with one of the big publishers - in which case the way you will be branded and your expected output will be carefully controlled. Or you may just want to write, self publish or go to a smaller publisher, and know that you need a backlist, and know that you will need to be fairly prolific if you want to make a living out of your writing.

I hugely respect Adrien, and love his editor tips on twitter (@smoulderingsea if you aren't following him why not?) and he has a valid point, a lot of valid points. Author branding is important, I write under two names because of this, but I think each person, as an individual, needs to consider what type of author they are, and what type of branding suits their style. We're all unique, we all have different needs in life. I'd love to be a hugely successful author - and I'd love to be able to concentrate on one book a year with guaranteed sales. I'm not.

If you've not read the post I would recommend it - think about it, question what you're doing and where you stand in the debate. Because knowing your brand is important - and then you can work out what you want to do with it! And that might well mean investing the time in two author brands!

Quality is important, being true to yourself is important, not over committing and burning out is important. And the rest? In the words of the great Sir Humphrey, in Yes, Prime Minister 'You might say that, but I couldn't possibly comment' (apologies to all those outside the UK who haven't got the foggiest what I'm talking about!)

There are only a few certainties about being an author - there is no guarantee of success and it's hard work, but fun. So, there are a few of my thoughts (from very limited experience of the industry I should add) where do you stand?


  1. Hi Suzie, it's an interesting question, one that probably doesn't have an absolute right or wrong answer. I would imagine it depends on the author and the genre(s) they're writing in. From my experience, I would expect to find proliferation in category books because they're short and quick to read and set up for being consumed like sweets. If I find someone whose voice I love, quite often I'll go and buy all the books they've written and glom them. I guess I'm lucky that I can afford to do that though. I think one of Adrien's points was that in these cash-strapped times, a lot of people are cutting down on their spending and books are taking a hit. For a lot of people it's an either/or.

    It's a fine line. I can see Adrien's point about not flooding the market with your stories, but if you're not 'out there' there's a danger that readers will forget about you. Your point about dropping down the rankings once the launch is over is a good one. Like you say, that's when a backlist comes in really useful - the more stories out, the more opportunity to grab and keep a fan.

    Working at the pace I do, I wouldn't expect to have anything like ten books out at once, but it wouldn't bother me if a favourite author did.

    Anyway, good post, it got me thinking...

    Btw - very excited to have won Aimee's competition! Thanks for the opportunity.

    x Christy x

    1. Hi Christy,
      An interesting one isn't it? I sometimes wish I could write faster - but I can't, so no danger of me flooding the market :-) I think it is horses for courses, and like you say it depends on the genre as well.
      Shortage of cash is a worry - it is great (as a reader) that there are so many free/cheap ebooks out there, prices have dropped tremendously. But, as a writer, it's worrying - a book priced at less than a £1 gives very low returns (as Adrien detailed).
      E-publishing has led to an increase in the number of people writing, but the low prices will probably lead to many stopping when they realise they can't easily make a living out of it.
      It will be interesting to see if over the next few years the number of authors, and books published, actually drops again, which would make Adrien's comments even more relevant to everybody. And if the traditional publishing industry changes further.
      Interesting times! Thanks for commenting, hope you enjoy Monster of Fame - it looks great and is next on my TBR list :-)

  2. Well, this is all rather a moot point in some respects. I happen to be one of those prolific writers. I will have been published a year come November and will have a total of seventeen published stories by then. A mixture of novels, novellas and short stories in Anthologies with three different publishers.

    For me, every new release brings an influx in sales and new readers, so having a back list is important when you publish in the e-book industry.

    As a reader I love discovering an author with a back list, 'cause I will swoop them up and read them. If you only publish one, two books a year, chances are I will forget about you. The e-book industry is fast moving and ever changing.

    Having said all that, if my characters aren't talking, nothing gets written. You can't force words on the page for the sake of pushing another book out. Your readers will notice.

    So, after all that rambling, do what feels right for you. I write, because I have stories to tell, and I couldn't not write. Thankfully my readers like my offerings :-)

    1. Hi Doris, You're one of those writers I consider proficient and prolific! It makes my head spin imagining writing as many stories a year as you do (no way could I do that), but they are all great - original, well written and I'm sure you have tons of readers champing at the bit for the next one.
      I've only had two published so far, but the second definitely re-stimulated sales of the first so on a personal (but limited!) level I can agree with you about the backlist.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting - I agree so much with your comment 'do what feels right for you' - I think that is the most important part. Forcing stories out because of outside pressures will be damaging, but if you write fast and write well then do it!