Revising Previously Published Work

Every author has that cringe-worthy first piece. That manuscript that, when looked upon years later, makes them scratch their heads in consternation and think, “Dear God! How did this ever get published?!” And usually, there’s nothing they can do about it. It marks their first victory in publishing with a pseudo-embarrassing reminder. But what if there was a chance to go back and fix those previously published works? A moment when, maybe, they aren’t printed in stone, and you can erase the flaws that haunt you? A publishing loop-hole, as it were.

I tried Googling this topic, and literally found one article, which wasn’t really so much an article as a discussion thread arguing over the merits of changing previously published novels. It was distinctly unhelpful, so I didn’t bother to save it. For every person that had a reason to do it, there were about six that disagreed, claiming it was akin to sacrilege.  So I moved on, looking for anything resembling helpful advice. I ended up posting my own thread on one of the literature sites I frequent, and finally got some interesting insight.

The general consensus is that no, you should never revise previously published work. Once it’s been published, leave it alone, because what can you really do with it at that point? Any attempt to republish would have to go up against the fact that it had been previously published, and most publishers aren’t looking for sloppy seconds. (Unless, of course, you’re self-publishing the second time around, in which case it returns to a philosophical debate rather than a practical one.)

But there was one exception to that rule: Re-branding.

I spoke about Author Branding previously, so I won’t go into detail about it here. Essentially, re-branding involves creating a new perception around your work, your name, and your Author Persona. But why would anyone ever want to do that? Creating an Author Brand is hard enough the first time! Why would you want to throw that all away and start over?

In my case, and probably a lot of other women out there, re-branding happens because of a name change. I was fortunate enough to accrue three publishing credits under my maiden name, and I will be forever grateful to Sam’s Dot Publishing for seeing potential in my work. But then I got married. Which pretty much negated those publishing credits and put me back at square one, trying to build a new brand under my new identity, and presenting me with a interesting conundrum. How could I tie my new brand to those previous works and save what little evidence of my awesomeness I had?

Eventually, I realized I had been given a rare opportunity to re-brand my previous works, which was instantly pounced on by my perfectionist side. If I was re-releasing them, what would be the harm in fixing them first?

Those first three stories aren’t horrific; they did, after all, pass the experienced eye of an editor. But they’re also not true representations of my ability now. Looking at that first story in particular, I can see all the places it comes up short. Which begged the question, why put this back out into the world if it doesn’t put my best foot forward? I could just let it fade away into obscurity, collecting dust in a drawer somewhere while the 5 people that read it completely forget about it.

But I don’t really want to do that. For one, self-publishing relies on being prolific and ignoring those three stories cripples my already bordering-on-pathetic offering of available products. Second, all three are precursors to larger bodies of work. And everyone loves extra content, right? That’s basically the whole reason Director’s Cut DVD’s exist and why they cost four times as much for the same movie. And three, they still represent my style and genre of choice, which makes them completely relevant additions to my backlist of available works.

Except that the quality isn’t up to par.

Now, I know what you’re thinking; there are lots of reasons why revising is a bad idea. And you’re right. Here are a few of the major negatives I came up with and how I justified my way out of them. 😉

Doesn’t revising previously released work ruin the integrity of the piece? You’re basically declaring that your first version was crap and everyone who read it wasted their time.

It does feel kind of wrong to essentially negate everything I’ve done before. But I don’t think it really ruins the integrity of the story. I’m not planning on doing a complete overhaul, just another layer of polish to bring the quality up to the level I am now. So if the story structure is the same, is it really that different?

Now, if I was planning on rewriting the entire thing from scratch, changing everything from character names to sequence of events, sure, this argument would definitely apply. At that point, it’s not so much a revision as a completely new piece based on a previous one.

What’s the point? If you’re spending time working on old stuff, then you aren’t creating anything new.

It’s true, if you’re working on old stuff, chances are, you aren’t working on anything new. There are only so many productive hours in a day, after all. But writers have a tendency to chase perfection like dogs chasing their tails. And it’s about as futile.

The hardest thing to learn as an author is when to let go. When to declare something done, finished, and untouchable. Revising published work goes against that. It says that it’s OK to linger in the past, tweaking and perfecting into eternity. And that’s a dangerous line to walk. Nothing will ever be perfect. You’ll continue to grow as an author, and with every progression, all your previous work will suck in comparison. But I still think it can be done if you put restrictions on it. For instance, I know this is my only chance to do this. Once I re-release them, that’s it. I’m not allowed to touch them again. If it weren’t for the fact I was in the process of re-branding myself, I wouldn’t have succumbed to the temptation at all. But for the sake of presenting my best work, I’m choosing to play with fire. I may get burned, but as Walter on The Finder would say, “I’mma risk it.”

They’re short stories, why even bother? The reader market for short stories is small, and you’ve already said they’re part of larger projects. Why not just write the full versions and forget about the shorties?

Honestly, the reason I’m not willing to just set them aside is simply because I don’t want to. (Picture that with a four year old’s petulant foot-stomp and crossed arms.) I spent nearly a year refining each of them, and I don’t want to throw away three years of my life. Plus, I’m a super slow writer, as evidenced by the fact I just admitted to spending a year on a short story. So writing the full version of each will likely take me eons. And really, what else am I going to do with them? There’s virtually no market for republication of short stories. At least this way, they’ll get to have a longer shelf-life and maybe reach more than the 5 people who read them the first time.

As you can tell, I’ve had quite the long argument with myself over this, at times feeling like I was battling a split personality. But the conclusion I’ve drawn is that, like everything surrounding writing, it really comes down to the individual author and what’s best for their career. In my case, I feel the pros outweigh the cons. I’ll get to erase all the little things that irritate me in each story and re-release them with a feeling of confidence instead of resignation. For now. I’m sure later on, I’ll wish I could fix them again. But by then, my brand will be established and that would be like diving head first into the flames of perfectionist hell. I’d probably never get out alive.

But what about you? What do you think of revising previously published work? If you were presented with the opportunity, would you do it?

Marketing via Wattpad & Authonomy– Smart?

If you wander around the online literary community, chances are you’ve heard whispers buzzing about names like Wattpad, Authonomy, Fictionpress and the like. But what are they? If you’re curious, and bored on a regular basis like I am, then you’ve probably already meandered your way over to these sites to investigate. But in case you haven’t, here’s the rundown:

All of these are Manuscript Display Sites, or in less glamorous terms, online slush piles.

The idea is that authors post their work online for free, gaining exposure to droves of readers, as well as peer feedback and critique, and the elusive possibility of being scouted by editors/agents prowling for new talent. Think Facebook for writing. And while there are accounts of authors finding success this way, they’re maybe a handful compared to the thousands of writers flooding these channels. Making the statistics for success about the same as they are via traditional routes.

So why would you want to use these sites when a) you’d be giving away your work for free, and b) you waste your first digital publication rights in the process, making the chances of finding a traditional publisher even less likely? That’s a surprisingly difficult question to find answers to. I was amazed at the lack of search results that really shed any light on the subject. After weeks of wading through pages and pages, I could only find 6 articles that had any real substance. (Links are below, if you’re interested.) So what follows is mostly conjecture– my own impressions of the situation. Feel free to correct me if I’m way off in my interpretation.

Typically, these sites are not recommended if you plan to pursue traditional methods of publication for the exact reason I mentioned above. Posting your work online counts as publication. And it’s difficult enough for a debut author to beat the slush pile without the added pressure of convincing publishers to republish their work. So, despite the attractive tag lines touting the possibility of being randomly selected by agents of the traditional publishing world, it’s really not worth the risk. Besides, there’s not much evidence to support the claims that agents/editors actually do use sites like these to find talent. Most publishing professionals are so inundated with manuscripts coming through traditional veins that I find it highly unlikely they would need to go scouting online for potential clients.

Where these sites do have potential is with self-published authors. Retaining publication rights in pristine condition is less of a concern in the self-publishing world. And in that regard, sites like these offer a tantalizing prospect– instantaneous access to potential readers. Success in publishing relies heavily on exposure, regardless of your mode of publication. And for indie authors, it’s absolutely crucial. You don’t have anyone backing you, helping you with promotion tips and steering you in the right direction. So how do you go about finding readers?

Enter sites like Wattpad and Authonomy. (I wasn’t impressed with Fictionpress, finding it’s layout rather clunky and visually uninteresting, so I’m going to focus on these two instead.)


Things to Know About Wattpad:

  • Better known than Authonomy, claiming to be the largest online reading/writing community complete with mobile app
  • Attracts about 8 million viewers monthly (according to them)
  • Users seem to be primarily teenaged girls, but this is changing as the site’s popularity grows
  • Most popular genres are those targeted at younger audiences
  • No minimum word count to start posting

Things to Know About Authonomy:

  • Founded by HarperCollins Publishing with the supposed premise of finding new authors to publish
  • Has a built-in system for potentially gaining feedback from a HarperCollins editor
  • Generally higher quality work than Wattpad
  • Typically users are slightly older than Wattpad’s with a serious approach to writing as a career
  • Must post at least 10,000 words initially

Both of these sites offer writers that coveted opportunity to get their work before the public, with the best part being that it doesn’t even have to be finished yet. Both sites display work in a serialized fashion where novels are broken into bite-sized chunks, making them more appealing to digital/mobile readers. And because you can upload your work chapter by chapter, you have the unparalleled ability to generate a reader base before your novel is even published. How cool would it be to already have an established fan base by the time your book is finally available for purchase?

True, you are giving your work away for free, which does have potential to cut into your profits, but it’s not like this is a new concept. Offering books for free has been a long-standing tradition in literature, whether it be through libraries, or sharing circles where members pass titles back and forth, or even just within your family. How many times have you borrowed a book from someone? It’s the same idea. Just because you read a book for free doesn’t mean you won’t go on to purchase it if you really liked it, or that you won’t buy the author’s future titles now that you know you’re a fan. This core philosophy is what prompted me to consider the marketing strategy I’m about to explain, which inherently goes against every normal thought process about earning a profit.

Using Wattpad and Authonomy, I’m going to start posting my work-in-progress online in the hopes of generating some interest, getting my name out there and accumulating a fan base. Because Unmoving is the first in a series I have no intention of publishing traditionally, it’s likely I would offer it for free on Amazon anyway, for the same reasons– to generate a reader base and potential sales for the subsequent titles. By using these sites as well, I’ll hopefully be able to reach more readers; readers I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise.

Still need more convincing that I’m not completely insane?

Well, how about this: self-publishing is all about word-of-mouth. Without support from readers, your book will get lost in the digital ether that is Amazon. And indie authors, like indie musicians before them, are realizing that the best way to create this effect is through personal interaction with fans. Accessibility is one of the advantages of sites like Wattpad and Authonomy. They give fans the ability to communicate directly with their favorite authors, giving them a personal stake in the success of the book. Which translates into the exact type of grass-roots recommendations that spread like wildfire– networking at its finest.

Then there’s the potential feedback that could help me grow as a writer. I’ve been lucky to have an invaluable group of fellow writers for critique partners, (and I will continue to give them first run at chapters-in-progress), but that could be magnified tenfold by the sheer number of people that could now offer me their input and become part of my story’s journey. (Notice I’m optimistically ignoring the fact that the majority of feedback I’d receive, if any, would be entirely useless. I said I was crazy, not stupid. But it’s my fantasy. I can picture it however I want to.) It’s a pretty well-known fact that, despite all their claims otherwise, these sites are primarily filled with writers. But writers are also readers, are they not? With the added bonus of understanding the intricacies of writing.

So yes, you probably won’t get the casual readers, the people who only buy whatever’s hot on the shelves at the grocery store, or looking for something to bide their time with in the airport, but chances are good those people would never know about you anyway. And what’s wrong with targeting the hardcore readers? The ones who were labeled bookworms as children because they found reading a better pastime on a summer day than sports? The people who probably also have an inherent wealth of insight into the craft of writing because of that avid appetite for reading? The people who might one day become the very editors you’re looking for? Or at the very least, fellow writers? I don’t plan to discount them lightly. Those are the people who can catapult your success to the point you might actually register on a casual reader’s radar. A reader is a reader, right? Who cares how they found you?

Speaking of discounting, don’t discount the motivational potential that posting online can provide. One of the articles below talks specifically about the idea of “little wins.” And I wholeheartedly agree. Self-motivation is actually a weakness of mine, which is surprising given my background in home-schooling and martial arts. But the truth is, I need a deadline, a purpose, to keep my lazy side from winning over and plunking me squarely in front of the TV with promises that we’ll be productive later. Knowing that people are waiting on me is better than caffeine for my productivity. So the thought that I would have potential readers, even if it’s only my four friends and my mom, waiting for me to post the next bit would be a massive kick-in-the-pants for my inspiration. And is probably one of the main things I find attractive about my reckless experiment in marketing, if I’m being truly honest.

So there you have it, my maybe brilliant, maybe ridiculously stupid plan. Is it wrong to use a project I’ve spent two years of my life on as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of self-publishing? Maybe. Will it backfire? Probably. Am I gonna do it anyway? You bet! Just as soon as I get the cover art done. 😉

Writing itself is about experimentation, so why not take that philosophy to the publishing side as well? If I pick up even one more reader out of the process, it will have been worth it. And maybe, I’ll finally manage to finish my aptly titled novel that seems more than content to languish in its incomplete state. Heck, if that happens, it will definitely have been worth it!

What do you think? Is marketing through Wattpad and Authonomy smart or have I completely lost my marbles?

The 6 Helpful Articles:

An Inside Look at Publishing

Morningside by Ashley Madau

Interview with Author Ashley Madau

Continuing with our topic for the past few weeks, author Ashley Madau has graciously agreed to share her journey from self-published indie author to traditionally published and on the brink of success. Ashley’s debut title, Morningside, is set to be released this November by Charles River Press. A Paranormal/Horror/Fantasy, Morningside features a fresh twist on the original vampire legends. Gone are the sparkly, vegetarian vampires popularized by the likes of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, and in their place is a return to the roots of vampire mythology.  With a uniquely positioned heroine who straddles the line between mortal and immortal, vampire and human, Morningside is poised to breathe life back into a mythology that is starting to get a little stale.

Much like the story’s protagonist, Morningside’s journey through publication has been rather unique, spending time as a self-published title before being picked up by a traditional publisher. Which gives us a rare chance to learn more about both sides of the process from someone who’s actually been there.  But rather than listen to me paraphrase, I’ll let Ashley tell you more about it herself.

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First, Thank you very much for joining us today and congratulations on the upcoming release of your debut novel, Morningside. Tell us a little about it; what kind of experience should readers expect?

Thank you for having me!

Expect blood, and a lot of it.

My main goal in writing from the protagonist’s first-person perspective started and ended with trying everything in my power to allow the reader to “fill in her shoes” as you learn more and interact with secondary characters. Since the Morningside protagonist is a woman, I imagine it’ll be more popular with the female reading population; of course there are strong male characters, and I hope it appeals to the guy who’s interested in a good adventure as well.  And first and foremost it is just that: an adventure. I often stress how the romantic “dilemma” (as I like to call it) should fall into the background, as the main story– the one about adventure and a struggle with self-discovery– takes center stage. All-in-all readers should expect a good, suspenseful tale with the vampires of old.

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“Vampires were myths, childhood stories, as were werewolves, mermaids and dragons. I believed none of it.” –Morningside, 2012

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Coming from a Romanian background, how important was it to you to move away from the glamorized variations of the vampire seen in current popular literature and return to the roots of the mythology? What would you say to people who might instantly shy away from your work as yet another Twilight copy-cat?

I often cringe at the thought of mentioning Morningside is about vampires because of the Twilight phenomenon. Of course I have taken creative liberties in writing about a vampire’s lifestyle (being fictional creatures, it’s safe to assume authors should use their imagination), but there were also key elements of the mythology I made sure to follow close– one of those key elements being their blood lust. It never seemed realistic (and I use that term loosely) for vampires to deny themselves their one craving, the very thing that keeps them alive: human blood. I touch on this idea in one of the later chapters of Morningside, and think vampire fans should appreciate the comparisons I make. I like the thrill of the hunt, and I think future Morningside readers will, too.

I also talk a lot about the idea of the sun, and how it affects vampires. There’s no sparkling involved, of course, but if you look back at Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he’s able to walk in the sunlight without bursting into flames. There are always repercussions, and Morningside vampires have those as well, but no sparkles.

Definitely no sparkles.

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“Death no longer frightened me, though I wasn’t sure it ever did. If anything, there was always a part of me which looked forward to the morning I wouldn’t rise with the sun; trapped forever in my dreams of nothing.” –Morningside, 2012

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Morningside was originally self-published in 2010, correct? Please tell us about your experiences with self-publishing– what led you to that decision?

You are correct. Self-publishing was a great experience, and taught me a lot about the publishing industry. I went into it thinking that as a designer I could make my story as appealing as the big name novels, you know, the ones on the New York Best Seller list. I didn’t take much else into consideration, other than wanting to see my words in print, and entertain people with the story. I used Amazon’s service, Createspace to publish, since I knew it’d be available at least on Amazon, and then hopefully syndicated to all the other online venues.

The tricky thing about any self-publishing POD service is how you end up being paid. Many times you have to reach a certain benchmark to get a paycheck, with the lowest amount allowed being $25. Keep in mind, when a book sells for $12, you don’t make 100% of the $12 in any situation. So it takes quite a few sales to make that mark, and if you don’t, the printer keeps all your profit. You’re really in a catch-22 situation at that point. It can be discouraging at times, but it’s an experience I will never regret, and has given me a new appreciation of a publisher’s role in producing a novel.

As an advertising professional, you had a slight advantage over most indie authors. How difficult was it to market a self-published title? Do you have any advice for other self-published/indie authors on the best way to gain exposure?

From working in advertising I’m able to realize how many different elements and disciplines go into successfully marketing a product, and then quickly realize after that that one person can’t do it alone. I had the advantage of a design background, which allowed me to brand myself fairly well, but I’m absolutely clueless when it comes to press releases, media buying, etc… So while everything I did looked “pretty,” pretty wasn’t enough.

Going the self-publish route, you have to put in a lot of work, and a lot of time (and at the moment, time I didn’t have). Expect to have to search for and recruit each and every one of your readers/followers/fans, and know just because you have their attention, doesn’t mean you have the sale. People, especially nowadays, are more likely to save their dollar than spend it on an unknown work. That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful; we’ve seen our fair share of self-published novels making it big, but those people didn’t gain that success by sitting back.

One additional point, as an avid reader, I do tend to judge books by their covers (I know, we’re not supposed to), but I don’t think I’m alone in this thought. My suggestion if you’re self-publishing and wondering what or what not to invest in, do hire a design professional to make you a publishing-house quality book cover. Pulling images into Paint, or incorrectly using Photoshop to do it yourself is a disadvantage to your story. A poor book cover instantly makes people think: self-published, and they may soon overlook everything you’ve worked so hard on.

I noticed that you don’t have excerpts from Morningside on your Deviantart profile. How do you feel about sharing literary work for free on sites like Wattpad, Deviantart, Fictionpress, etc? Do you think that’s a wise move for self-published authors; an excellent way to grow your reader-base, or is it a detriment to potential sales?

I think writing communities online are a fantastic way to grow as an author, learn about the industry, and progress towards publication. In fact, in 2009 I had Morningside on the popular website Authonomy, and my story found its way to the front page, #3 in the “Weekly Book Chart.” Then, later on in 2010 when the young adult version of Authonomy– otherwise known as Inkpop debuted, Morningside reached #2 on their “Editor Desk” ranking, and the first few chapters were read by Harper-Collins Publishers Limited. Both stints on those website proved a huge asset in honing in on my story, fixing inconsistencies, and growing a fan-base. I would encourage any new or old authors to join one of these many communities; I promise your writing will improve exponentially.

When you posted your work to Authonomy and Inkpop, was it the entire manuscript, or just a few chapters/excerpts? There’s a lot of debate about how much is too much to post online. But when building a reader/fan base is so important, if you had a piece you could “sacrifice,” would you post the entire thing for free in the hopes of generating more exposure and possible sales for your other titles? 

On both websites I put my whole manuscript for the public to read. I felt it would be a good platform to advertise my story, especially for those agents/publishers who actively search for authors. The incentive with both those sites, too, was for more and more people to read, then push your story up to the editor’s desk to be reviewed by Harper-Collins. After publishing, I don’t think it’s fair to my publisher to post more than a couple chapters online for potential readers to have access to. There is such a thing as too much, and especially if you’re selling your novel, giving too much may deter people from spending the money.

Most potential writers fear that once they’ve self-published their work, they won’t be able to be published traditionally, but you’ve done exactly that. Tell me, how did you manage to snag a traditional publishing deal after already self-publishing Morningside? Were you able to leverage its success in the indie scene to gain the attention of a publisher, or did you continue to submit your manuscript via the traditional channels even after publishing Morningside yourself?

Great question! It’s scary to take the step towards self-publishing, when all you’ve ever been told is once you do, your chances at traditional publication go out the window. Not just scary, it’s terrifying! I went the self-published route after receiving a couple offers from small publishing houses, and being unhappy with their process and contracts. I did start with the traditional route, querying anyone who would listen, and after that long year, I hired an editor with every intention of making it big on my own. That’s great ambition to have, and even if you have a contract with a publishing house you should maintain that drive, but as I said, it’s damn hard work. I didn’t go into self-publishing expecting to be picked up by a traditional publisher, though I did continue the querying process until I found my home at Charles River Press. They said they were drawn to my characters, and the interesting twist I incorporated through the vampire mythology.

How has it differed working with a traditional publisher? What made you decide to go that route instead of staying self-published?

I made the switch after realizing I was at a point in my life where I couldn’t devote the time and effort necessary to make a self-published novel work. I had just transferred universities, and in my third year of studies I knew where my priorities had to be. It was a bittersweet moment when I pulled my book off the proverbial “shelves” and signed the contract with Charles River Press. Looking back, it became the best decision I ever made. My experience with a traditional publisher has been an adventure in and of itself. I’m able to give input where I have the experience to, and at other points sit back and watch as those areas where I’m less experienced are taken care of. And I realized it takes a small village to bring a story to publication, something I don’t think I had the knowledge or energy to pull off on my own; I’m determined, but sometimes you have to admit defeat and work with a team of professionals looking out for the greater good of your story.

After having experienced both methods of publication, what advice or recommendations do you have for aspiring authors confused about which path to take?

Self-publishing is a great option for aspiring authors to have… keep it in your back pocket. It’s true that publishers tend to shy away from novels that have been previously self-published, which is why I’d recommend start with querying, querying and more querying, to both publishing houses and agents. If, after some time, you’re not finding any traditional luck, you have the fall back of self-publishing without the doubt of asking yourself, “what if?”

The self-published version of Morningside is obviously no longer available, so when can we expect to see it released, and from where?

Right now the release date is November of this year, and you’ll be able to find it at all the popular online outlets, Barnes and Noble and Amazon are the two big ones. And of course it’ll be available for purchase off my publisher’s website, www.charlesriverpress.com. Morningside will be available for wholesale order, so it has the potential to be shelved at a bookstore near you– be sure to stop in your local store and request a copy!

There will also be pre-release digital copy giveaways on the official Morningside Facebook page for fans, as well as post-release hard-copy giveaways.

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“When he whispered my name, that’s when I knew– this was how death felt.” –Morningside, 2012

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After the whirlwind of releasing Morningside has subsided, what’s next? Can you tell us anything about your next project(s)?

I’ve been working on the sequel to Morningside for quite some time now, but took a break to pursue my design career a little bit more (especially since Morningside was still in the pre-production phase with my publishing company). The story continues with many of the same characters, but a new foe– one who is actually referenced in Morningside, but isn’t displayed as being a threat.
Along with that story, I’ve also been dabbling with the post-apocalyptic world in a different novel; definitely a change from my comfort-zone of vampires!

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If you would like to find out more about Morningside, please visit the official website or the Morningside Facebook Page. I, for one, can’t wait to read it!

The Author Branding Conundrum

This is a topic that’s weighed heavily on my thoughts lately, over-clocking my poor brain until I feel like I’m running around in glitchy circles like a robot whose circuits are fried. But after quite a lot of research, and  a few sound-board sessions with my trusted advisers, I think I finally have a plan. Or at least have my thoughts straightened out enough to discuss it intelligently. Maybe.

The idea of creating a brand is one most people are familiar with. Building name recognition, consumer trust, and recurrent sales for a product line are all foundational practices in marketing. And since books are products, branding is something every writer will have to face eventually. Unless you plan on being a One-Hit Wonder.

An author brand is one built around the author’s name and it’s entirely dependent on the associations people attach to that name. It can also be built around the books themselves, but for the purposes of this post, and because I’ll dissolve into an incoherent puddle if I try to explain every convoluted aspect of author branding, we’re going to stick to branding through name.

Author branding is everywhere in the publishing world, but most of us don’t really notice it. To see it in action, let’s take a look at some of the prominent names in publishing and the most common associations attached to them. Anne McCaffrey is synonymous with Light Sci-fi/Fantasy. Anytime you pick up one of her books, you’re sure to get something set within that genre. Maggie Stiefvater will almost surely be found in YA Urban Fantasy. Stephanie Meyer is most known for her YA series, but she’s also written an adult Sci-fi title that no one ever really hears about, called The Host. And J.K. Rowling will have a hard time shaking her fans expectation for the next Harry Potter when she debuts her new title for adults– The Casual Vacancy; a title that, from all accounts, contains nothing magic-related and would probably be more accurately described as a political/mystery/drama and likely shelved in general fiction.

What we learn from this is that author branding has a lot to do with expectations. Readers expect a certain style/genre/voice from an author, booksellers expect a title that’s easily presented with other works by that person, and publishers expect something that is easily marketed and sold. But what does that do to the author? It corrals them into having to conform and deliver what their audience wants if they want to be able to put food on the table and pay the mortgage. An idea that doesn’t sit well with a lot of writers, but that is sadly the truth of the situation.

Once you’ve established your brand, there’s very little chance to break out of it, to extend those creative wings and experiment in true literary fashion. Say someone who’s well known for writing Historical Romance suddenly feels inspired to pursue Horror, Mystery or Contemporary Fiction. If they are able to sell something so drastically different from their established brand, it will likely have to be under a pen name. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, in which case you can write whatever and publish it under your own name simply because you’re a superstar. But even J.K. Rowling is faced with the potential loss of sales/fans because she dramatically altered her brand, so you know it’s serious business.

Personally, I’m not a fan of pen names. I know there are plenty of people who use pseudonyms quite successfully, (Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb being the perfect example), but to me it just feels like a lie. I would feel like an impersonator if I had to publish under an alternate name. Like I had somehow stolen the identity of someone more brilliant than myself and taken credit for their life’s work. I know that’s not how it is, and that a lot of authors do it because of branding considerations, or a desire for anonymity. But what can I say? I’m vain. I want my name plastered on every title I slaved over. I want that small chance of bumping into someone and having them recognize me for my work. I want a whole shelf dedicated to the trophies of my prolific career. Is that so wrong?

So that leaves me with two choices– decide forevermore what my genre will be and never step outside of it, thereby ensuring I never get splattered with rotten fruit thrown by angry fans, or figure out a way to market my brand that allows me some leeway in my creative endeavors.

Until recently, I’d never given this topic much thought. It never really applied to me, as everything I wrote was most definitely Fantasy. Set in medieval worlds, darkly dramatic, and action-oriented, there’s a definite structural similarity between 75-80% of my 168 ideas.  But then, along came my nemesis– Unmoving — with a whole slew of Contemporary/Urban Fantasy plot bunnies trailing behind it, and suddenly, I found myself facing the branding issue every author dreads– crossing genres without being pigeonholed into one or the other.

By releasing Unmoving first, I would essentially be declaring myself to the world as an Urban Fantasy author. My droves of fans (a girl can dream right?) would be waiting eagerly for my next release, expecting it to be another Urban Fantasy. Publishers would eagerly accept my next submission, expecting more of the same, and booksellers would recommend me with other Urban Fantasy writers. Not a bad scenario, right? Except that I’m not really an Urban Fantasy author, aside from the 7-8 titles that would be considered as such. My other 160 ideas are most definitely not Urban Fantasy. And, when asked, I would classify myself as predominantly a Dark Fantasy author. So what happens when I want to write the Light Sci-fi title I have in development, or the Dark Fantasy ones that are my more standard fare after I’ve released Unmoving? Would they be unsellable unless I wrote under a pen name? True, I have a kick-ass pen name just waiting to be used thanks to the telephone company, but still. That wasn’t how I saw my empire forming, disjointed into two halves. So you see my dilemma. And the reason I’ve lost so many brain circuits trying to figure out the right strategy.

I know a lot of you out there are probably wondering why I even care at this point. I haven’t finished anything longer than a short story, and I’m not on the threshold of publishing my first novel. Yet. Most of the advice you’ll find from other writers, professional and otherwise, on this topic says to simply write what you want to write and deal with branding later. But I think that position is naive. Branding can define your entire career, so figuring it out beforehand just seems like smart business sense to me. I’m the type of person that likes to have a plan. I drive my friends and family crazy with my need to always have a schedule/routine/itinerary/strategy for everything. And I usually have at least two or three back-ups in case Plan A derails beyond redemption. (Yes, I know, I’m an OCD freak.) I’m also the type of person who’s never been good at focusing on the small picture. My dreams have always been large, overly-ambitious, and probably impossible. But they’re also long-term. Simply finishing one book isn’t enough for me; has never been enough for me. I’m drowning under an avalanche of continually breeding plot bunnies and if I don’t give them their moment in the sun, they might actually become carnivorous and eat me in a fit of rage. So yeah, ignoring the business aspect of writing until you absolutely have to deal with it might be sound advice for most people. But that’s just not how I roll.

So what have I figured out about the author branding conundrum? Well,

  1. It sucks and makes my head want to implode.
  2. It makes me add one more thing to my list of reasons Unmoving is a giant pain-in-my-ass and I’m not sure why I wanted to write it in the first place.
  3. It makes me want to crawl in a hole until someone else figures it out for me.
  4. It’s almost as brutal as trying to decide between self-publishing and traditional publishing (a debate for another day).
  5. It’s a critical step in understanding writing as a business/career.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I had finally figured out my strategy for dealing with this difficult decision. And in the interest of helping other writers struggling with this topic, I’ll explain. Be warned though, the validity and success of this strategy is still to be tested, so it may be a giant load of crap and you’re better off figuring out your own path. At this point, I’m counting my research a success by the sheer fact that what I’m about to say actually sounds like a coherent plan, instead of the confused jumble ending with a flat-lining  “uhhhhhhhh…..” that’s been my verdict on the subject up til now.

First, I’ve decided to tie all of my Urban Fantasy titles (with the exception of one or two that really only work as stand-alones) into a single series. This will allow fans of my work to follow the series, while keeping my options open for straying outside those expectations. Those same fans may not ever buy my other titles, but they won’t automatically expect everything I release to be Urban Fantasy unless it’s tagged under that series header. (Plus my strategy for connecting all the books will add some really cool, extra layers that I think fans will appreciate.) Who knows, maybe they will eagerly follow me down other paths simply because they like my style. I’ve read everything ever written by my favorite authors, regardless of genre category. So it does happen.

Second, I think I can manage to get around my conundrum of successfully crossing genres by marketing everything solely as Fantasy. I’m lucky in the fact that so far, all my titles are within that overarching genre header. They might cross between sub-genres of that category, but at their roots, they are all Fantasy, and they’d all be shelved in the Fantasy/Sci-fi section of bookstores. So by marketing them as Fantasy with shades of the various sub-genres, I create a brand expectation that everything I write will contain fantasy elements, have my signature voice and penchant for dark overtones, and most importantly, be published under my own name. Which was my ultimate goal for my author brand, because I’m conceited like that.

Now all that’s left is to figure out my mode of distribution– traditional publishing or self-publishing. But I don’t have enough brain circuits left to tackle that one right now. In the meantime, I’d be very curious to hear thoughts/opinions from other writers, or even readers, regarding author branding. Have I figured out a solid strategy, or is there some piece of the puzzle I’m still missing? And if you have first-hand experience with this concept, please share. Insider tips are always welcome. 😉