My writing group talked last night about "branding" for authors. No, this isn't a roundup of recalcitrant writers to be marked and lobotomized, but is when an author essentially turns themselves into a name "brand." Like KFC or McDonalds. When you buy a "brand" name you get consistency. You know what you're getting and it's always going to be pretty much the same. This seems to be, essentially, what bestselling authors who want to continue to be bestselling do. Tom Clancy. Dean Koontz. James Patterson. These are all examples. When you pick up a Clancy book you have a good idea before you crack the cover about what you're going to get, and at the highest selling levels branding is apparently a very effective and desirable tactic. And the "brand" extends well beyond characters. The characters may be different, but the basic form of the work is the same.
My problem with this is twofold. First, as a reader I almost never like brand names. Yes, I read most of Koontz's work, but I actually liked him better in his earlier days when he took more chances with his material. I also like Louis L'Amour, and he was definitely a brand name in his day. But I've only read one James Patterson book. I've managed two Clancy's. I'm thinking of a couple of military thriller brand name types that I can't remember the names of because I've never been tempted to try even one of their books.
Second, as a writer, I actually like to think of myself as a flexible writer. I want to write different kinds of things, lots of different kinds of things. Writing gives me the freedom to imagine so many different kinds of stories. I would think that I would very quickly get bored writing essentially the same story over and over. Where's the fun in that?
So what's your opinion? Is branding good for you as a reader? As a writer? Or do you care one way or another?