Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thinking Long Term, Part 2

Okay, so we already discussed the fact that this career is about taking small steps that add up to bigger ones, but how can you maximize making those steps as big as possible?

Well, this was something that I'd never really considered, to be honest. I'm pretty savvy at marketing (minored in it in college! - hee), but though I've definitely considered how I market myself as a magazine writer (always meet my deadlines, supportive of whatever an editor asks, etc), I hadn't really considered how to market myself as a novelist.

So...rewind to a few weeks ago. Once Time of My Life hit the New York Times list, my agent started asking me about my next book. Actually, she had been asking me about it for a while, but as I've said here before, I really need to be struck by inspiration, and while I was toying with some ideas, nothing had given me that electric jolt that I need. I considered a sort-of mystery/thriller idea, an idea focused on female friendships, and a few others along the way. But I realized that I really liked the magical, mystical element of ToML, so started to hone in on that. As luck would have it, this played into what my agent was hoping for.

So back to when the book hit the list. My agent and I had a chat again about my long-term strategy, and she mentioned that "branding" me as the women's fiction writer who deals with wish fulfillment could be really really smart. We talked about other writers whose models have worked really well for them: Emily Giffin who writes about modern women's romantic/relationship perils, Elin Hilderbrand who writes stories about Nantucket, Jennifer Weiner who also covers modern women's real life entanglements. I'd never really thought about this before - about the package that you can create with your work. But think about: their covers are similar (for example, Emily Giffin's covers are all pastels), their themes are similar, sometimes their title are similar. (Not to each other, I should clarify, but to each author's other books.) Another great example of this is my pal, Jen Lancaster. You think of her, and you immediately think of her similar covers, her tone, her subject matter, etc. And readers gravitate toward this because they have a general idea of what to expect. When you pick up an Emily Giffin book, you're picking it up because you loved her other ones and want something similar.

And I don't mean this in a bad way. At all. In fact, I think it's genius. Part of being a successful writer is writing for your audience. Does that sell you out? Not in my mind. Writing is a business. Your books are a commodity. You are a commodity. And if you want to succeed, you have to make yourself as valuable to your audience as possible.

So. Though I'd never considered this before, I thought this strategy made a lot, a lot of sense. Yes, I thought, I happen to do "wish fulfillment" very well, and I enjoy writing about it, so it's not like I feel like I'm under duress to please my readers. And it's also not like I have to write the same thing over and over again. Tom Clancy has written a million thrillers and Stephen King has written a million horror books and John Grisham has written a million legal page-turners, and that doesn't make them boring. There are dozens of ways of exploring the same themes, and once I realized that, I really freed up my brain to conceive the concept behind The Happiest Days of My Life.

Before my agent mentioned this strategy, I was sort of all over the map with ideas. But doesn't this make so much more sense? I know that readers responded to this sort of idea from me, why confuse them with something so entirely different? Look, some of you might be shaking your heads thinking that this really fences in a writer as to what he or she can write. And to that I'll say, maybe. Sort of. But think of so many of the best-selling writers whom you can name: many of them adhere to this strategy. And when you DO have a big enough audience, certainly, you can stretch your wings, just as Grisham did or even Jennifer Weiner did when she branched into short stories. Writing for the love of writing is a wonderful thing. But that alone probably won't pay the bills. You have to be strategic and consider the overall package. And the plus side of this is that I'm very, very excited about writing this next book - there's no compromise in it at all. I'm happy writing it, and hopefully, readers who enjoyed ToML will be happy to read it.

Anyone else out there ever considered this branding idea? Or is it as new to you as it was to me?


pamcl said...

I think it's very smart, to find your niche and to own it. It's worked out quite well for Nicholas Sparks and James Patterson, and certainly for Danielle Steel. You know exactly what kind of reading experience you are going to get. I don't think it has to be so narrow as 'wish fulfillment' necessarily but more about tone and voice. Emily Giffin and Sophie Kinsella, though their stories vary, their overall approach and voice is similar from book to book, which is why all these authors are auto-buys for many. (Myself included).

Interestingly, I think that branding yourself like this helps even more in recessionary times. Books that are viewed as 'escapism' tend to do very well. According to my local bookseller, the latest Danielle Steel book is flying off the shelves.

I know I'm looking forward to your next book.


Jennifer said...

I think it is a very savy, and strategic idea that will help to draw in readers. (Side note: I absolutely LOVE the cover of Time of My Life - and I think it is a great idea to have similar covers for your forthcoming books!).

Trish said...

Hi, Allison, I think I decided on my branding a few weeks ago when I got into the groove on my newest WIP.

I love writing historical fiction, books that show a woman in a part of her life that changes her forever. My strength is writing scenes through dialogue and description from different decades and making them authentic. Who knew?

As for your niche, I think your subconscious was already there before the NYT's list. It just seems like you already knew at some level, don't you think?

Congrats on a great strategy. I think it's brilliant and I'm really excited that you have a place that is yours in this crazy market. Nice feeling.



Amy Sue Nathan said...

I've been thinking about this a lot, in relation to my WIP, my blog, my persona on places like Facebook and Twitter. What appeals to people about my published essays and articles that transcends into my fiction? There are themes - there is voice - and to bring a manner of it all into books is key.

I'm finishing up my first novel and already have ideas for subsequent books with similar themes, from a different perspective.

My brand is still in the works, of course. Yours has skyrocketed and it's a model for us all to follow as we build our own.

Larramie said...

As a wannabe Fairy Godmother, I honestly thought this was YOUR plan when writing ToML. It just makes sense and offers thoughtful, insightful and positive novels for readers.

Btw, Allison, I've been referring to you as the "Emily Giffin of Random House" for the past few weeks. ;) They must be thrilled to have you!

Sarah Y said...

This is really fascinating. No, I've never thought about this before, but I've been thinking about marketability quite a bit since you posted Part I.

Any writer who publishes successive times successfully has a flavor. Maybe not the specific thriller/wish fulfillment/historical romance genre exactly but I know what kind of book I'm picking up with anyone who's written several. I've never before thought of it as a brand though. Thanks for the great post, as usual.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a great idea to brand yourself. I too love Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella and love love Nicholas Sparks. I love your two books so far, and look forward to your next book!

MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

Question for ya: Do you plan to have all your books with similar titles with Of My Life at the end of them?

I can see this really working, and it is a great concept!

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that all of your book titles kind of sound similar and long enough to use abbreviations. Has anyone else notice that? ...

The Department of Lost and Found
The Time of My Life
The Happiest Days of My Life

(listening), yep, definitely sounds similar!
That could be part of your brand.

Aimee said...

These posts are fantastic, thanks for sharing your process with us! I just attended a luncheon with author Lisa Scottoline who has branded herself very successfully as crime novelist who writes about strong women in Philadelphia. Makes sense to me. Here's to your continued success!

Angie Ledbetter said...

The branding thing has been all the rage the last several years. It's good business on authors' and publishers' part. You get an identifiable niche to which readers connect you, and the publishers get more bang for the buck promoting your "flavor" or brand.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

This may sound crazy, but I've thought of this right from the start! This is probably due to my background in marketing (designing newsletters, brochures, ads, etc. to small businesses.) I think it's not only smart, but really quite necessary to distinguish yourself ("brand") as a writer in a true and unique fashion. By true, I mean that your brand must be an honest representation of your work (i.e., "wish fulfillment"), and by unique I mean the book cover or design of your work (blogs, etc.) must be eye-catching and consistent.

Thanks for bringing this up! This is my first visit -great blog!

Anonymous said...

I didn't intend to go for a brand. But, it came for me. I have about a third of a novel written in the stupid-criminal comedy genre like Carl Haaisen and Tim Dorsey.)

My question is: When you know the genre, do you look for an agent who has experience in that genre or simply an experienced agent who believes in your work?

Allison Winn Scotch said...

MM-I'm late to answer your question. Sorry! Yes, this was intentional...ideally, all of the titles will play off each other in some way.

Joanne Rendell said...

these posts were fantastic, allison (sorry I came to them late). i think you and your agent have been incredibly smart. the brand is everything these days. maybe you could write a non-fiction/memoir book one day, "The Brand of my Life" !