According to many knowledgeable sources, an author’s brand is essential to success. If readers enjoy one book, they’ll come back for more. When an author produces works that don’t fit that brand, readers walk away. That’s the message about brand.
And that’s a problem. I’m not a one-genre writer. In fact, my problem is even bigger than that. I’m not a product. I don’t fit in a box with a logo. I’m a creative force channeling whispers from the universe.
Or something like that.
Under my real name, I write non-fiction: whimsical essays about life and the world around me, local history, biographies. For my real name books, I have an author page as an offshoot from my personal Facebook page. I have a website and blog. I’m on Goodreads and maintain an Amazon author page.
Under my pen name, I first wrote and will continue to write erotic romance. I have a Facebook presence as well as an author page. I have a website where I blog. I have a Goodreads page and an Amazon author page. (Aside from that, I maintain two Facebook pages for my commercial rental properties.)
I feel like the Red Queen: It takes all the running I can do to keep in the same place. I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be writing.
In November, I published Salvation, a dystopian novel, under my pen name. According to the knowledgeable sources, this was a big mistake. My pen name readers expect erotic romance.
I’m sympathetic. However, other knowledgeable sources say one pen name is enough. I agree. There are only so many hours in the day.
In reading about author branding, I was struck by one cogent comment to the effect that if the emotional payoff for a reader is the same no matter what genre an author writes, then sticking with one genre isn’t necessarily critical. There’s no clear cut answer here.
When readers of my erotic romances pick up Salvation, my dystopian novel, they won’t find the main character in a happily ever after. He’s an anti-hero at best. In Denial, Book II of this House of Rae series, the main character grows more toward his potential, no longer an anti-hero. Still, there’s no HEA. Maybe by the end of the series—at least two more books down the road—there’ll be a happy ending. For readers who start reading in hopes of romance, they’d have to last a long time to get to that payoff.
But then, the hellish other horn of my brand dilemma is that most dystopia readers don’t expect what I include in these books.
A word of explanation seems in order here. Set in the mid-21st century, the House of Rae series involve legal, upscale houses of prostitution that serve women. (Yes, there are houses that serve men as well.) The sex energy produced there, along with pleasure energy created at dance centers and meditation rooms, is channeled by psions to a grid that redistributes the energy over populated areas. The energy serves a vital purpose—it heals a mysterious illness that leads to brown death.
(An entirely other issue revolves around whether ‘dystopian’ is the appropriate description of this series. Other useful terms might include slipstream, utopian, ecotopian, and soft science fiction, but none of those are options in official book categories.)
There’s much more to the storyline than that, but there is sex, some of it explicit. So these dystopian stories of mine bust through the general wisdom about genre margins which says, more or less, that you don’t mix explicit sex with science fiction. Sci fi readers, especially the men, don’t like to read explicit sex because it slows down the action. I refuse to believe that men or women readers are this narrow.
What is my brand if romance readers pick up Salvation and don’t get their HEA? What happens if a Salvation reader picks up the uber-explicit BDSM story of Jarrod Bancroft: The Novel and walks away shuddering? What happens when I start releasing books in my Chroma series, which is way-out-there sci fi with no sex at all?
By any metric, I seem to have successfully mixed up genre elements enough to alienate any and all readers. Yet the reviews coming in are four and five stars on all my books.
I refuse to be crammed into a box where I write only one genre. I refuse to dilute my time even further by creating another pen name. My compromise is to make it clear in the blurb that this book is erotic romance. Or dystopia with sexy bits. Or what the hell ever.
I’ve decided my ‘brand’ is to be known as a writer of realistic characters, dynamic immersive plots, and innovative ideas. My scenes will be rich in descriptive detail. Readers will linger over particular phrases and thoughts. I respect my prospective readers enough to believe that what they want is to be entertained and to grow through the experience of reading. I can deliver that.
What do you think?