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?