Monday, August 26, 2019

Branding: At Least I'm Not a Cowboy

For one thing, it's hard to come up with an abstract logo - people still ask me what the owl griffin is - and for another, there's all these rules that seem kind of like a pain in the butt. Recently I read a book about a woman who thought she had a lazy M, but it wasn't because it was on its side in the wrong direction, and someone else had the "real" thing. To think that people had to do all this research before the internet too. I guess we writers have it easier. I mean, I could always take my granddad's if I wanted to get into the cattle life, but I have my doubts any of them would listen to me. And even that wouldn't be easy because you got to figure out all of the inheritance laws and fight with some cousin who decided she wanted it more.

That being said, good amount of artists cringe when using the word brand. I don't blame them. There is this weird sort of commercial, fake connotation to it. Authors don't like being limited on the best of days, and even the request of "Come up with a genre so we don't overwhelm our shoppers with options" can lead to a New Orleans amount of sweat.

We could call branding by many names. Style, voice, name recognition, theme, tone. It's all one in the same, really. Branding is about having a (seemingly) genuine consistency that tells you who that company/author really is. It's about being familiar to your readers in a way that makes you trustworthy. It's about being recognized when you produce something completely new. It's about utilizing the reward of a good reputation.

Which you absolutely don't have to do. But, in some ways, if you really are expressing yourself, you're going to have some sort of recognition in those who liked it. For most of us, branding is already there, we just have to emphasize it.

I've been thinking a lot about my brand in the past. Talked about it quite a bit too. I struggled with certain aspects, like who my target demographic is, or the fact that my skills as a painter aren't high enough to repeat styles.

Funny enough, a part of my problem was what I would call the "Bronie Effect," and the secret lovers of so many genres who you're not exactly allowed to write for.

My Little Pony, for those of you who have never met a little girl, is an ongoing brand of toys and T.V. shows that created a highly successful cartoon in relatively recent years. The strange thing about the show was not why it was popular, but who it was popular with. Yes, little girls, but also adult males. Some of their interest grew to obsessive degrees, changing from simple fan art to actually petitioning to marry a stuffed doll. Or so the Reddit rumors grow.

What's noticeable about this, however, is that once you decide to market for a certain demographic, it tells you it is only for that demographic. Commercially, this can be problematic because networks have canceled shows like Firefly and Invader Zim partially due to the viewers being outside of their target. Women rated Firefly much higher than they expected, men lower, while Zim was a cartoon on Nickelodeon that interested adults.

What I'm more concerned about is the fact that stating your book is young adult almost banks on the idea that it's major audience will be teens, probably girls, even though in my research I've found that the audiences of stories that are similar to mine are actually 60% male ranging from 20-35. As we all know, the shame that falls around someone doing something intended for children, and men enjoying something meant for women is pretty intense.

As I write what I'm looking for, I'm, at least partially, writing for 30 year old women who just want a little more bite out of young adult novels, and NOT the misanthropic, isolated pessimism of the majority of adult fantasy. Yet, I've heard adult women be embarrassed to be seen in that section.

So what made me change my mind?

Well, I went to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference with pages from my new working manuscript, Making the Horizon, and as I spoke to an agent, he felt the story would be pretty marketable to teens. He also agreed with me that teenagers do not need dumbed down language or struggle with complex stories, a criticism that made me hesitant in the past.

As he said it, I reflected on the students I'd been working with and the fact that I tend to like young people better, that they understand me (and my word choice) far more often than anyone else. Then, when I taught mapmaking camp, the kids and I, in our freetime, played around with liquid watercolor and made a map of Sandbysk to help me develop the cultures better. As I told them about each place, they grew more and more intent on my words, and three begged me to give them the book. They became quickly invested in the characters, each having someone they routed for and wanting to know all about them.

It was time to accept who I was, and that is someone who likes the younger generation.

Does that mean that I am going to turn into Cassandra Clare or Sarah J. Maas? No. Of course not. That's what it means to be you.

Sure, the decision to promote my books as young adult means some changes - two of the twelve characters have become teenagers, and the swearing was watered down - but I connect with them because I didn't write down to them. I didn't have simplistic language or spell it out for them. They responded to what I had already done.

Which lets me have my cake and eat it too.

I will still showcase the more serious side of things along with the beauty, I will still fight to challenge my readers just enough, and I will still talk about human issues that aren't limited to coming of age. Yet, I will acknowledge the fact that I like the youth of the fantasy community.

You will see some changes around my sites. The branding goes far beyond the demographic. I am looking to gain consistency and a style that people will recognize even out of context. Some of the drawings will not be as beautiful as the ones there now, but I am hoping, with time, I can come up with something that really tells people who I am and what I care about without too many words.





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