Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Branding Failure!

I read a blog post by another successful independent author today and once more he touted the importance of writing “one” type of story per name. The reasoning makes sense for those readers who primarily read in one genre. It makes sense for the idea of “branding” one’s name in the memories of those readers who like your stuff. It doesn’t make sense to me as a reader because I’ve never limited myself to one, or a dozen, genres. I guess it makes sense for authors who write almost entirely for business related reasons. Although I’d certainly like to sell more than what I do, I’m not one of those kinds of authors. I like to write just as widely as I like to read. That made me start thinking about the kind of stuff I’ve written and how it might be classified.

1. Swords of Talera, Wings Over Talera, Witch of Talera:  A series, primarily sword and planet fiction with some elements of sword and sorcery mixed in. Edgar Rice Burroughs and Alan Burt Akers wrote similar kinds of things.  

2. Cold in the Light: A standalone thriller with a lot of horror elements. Similar in some ways to Dean Koontz’s early thrillers like Midnight and Watchers.

3. Under the Ember Star: A space opera in the vein of Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore.

4. Bitter Steel: A collection of sword and sorcery short stories, with the main emphasis on swords and less emphasis on sorcery. Most similar probably to Robert E. Howard’s work.

5. In the Language of Scorpions: A collection of  horror stories, ranging from splatter punk type tales like “Razor White,” to twist endings like “I Can Spend You,” to flash fiction like “Roadkill.” 

6. Midnight in Rosary: A collection of vampire and werewolf tales, with a ghost story thrown in. It’s got brutal vamps, romantic vamps, and lots of sex. That last is a bit strange on its own because most of my other fiction has no sex in it at all.

7. Killing Trail: A collection of traditional western short stories. Definitely most similar to Louis L’Amour’s work.

8. Harmland: A collection of noir/horror stories, with the emphasis on the noir.

9. Days of Beer: A memoir containing humorous anecdotes and tales about my life growing up as a beer drinker and a hell raiser.

10. Harvest of War: A standalone fantasy short story involving Orcs.

11. Micro Weird: A collection of flash fiction running the gamut from SF, to horror, to humor, to just plain strange.

12: Write With Fire: A nonfiction collection of articles and tips about writing.

13: Writing in Psychology: A textbook on writing for psychology majors.

And all with some variation of the name Charles Gramlich on it. Guess I’m not doing well at following the advice of one genre, one name. 


Vesper said...

Perhaps he's right about the genre and the brand, but it seems to me that you have a brand and that brand is Charles (Allen) Gramlich. :-)
Also, very nice seeing a list of what you've written.

SQT said...

I don't know that it's necessary. I remember that Stephen King wrote under the name of Richard Bachmann for awhile and I don't think it made a bit of difference in his success. In fact he ended up re-releasing a bunch of his old works under his real name to capitalize on his later fame. I have no idea if his work under the Bachmann name was any different than anything else, but I doubt it.

As a reader I kind of find it annoying. I much more likely to pick up a book by an author I'm familiar with than spend my money on a complete unknown.

the walking man said...

I think that whole genre thing started from the large publishing houses, find a formula that sells and simply change the scenery. It worked for Dickens quite well.

But then John Grisham found his formula, lawyer good one stands up against evil firm good guy gets away in the end evil firm left to justice. But then in the middle of his run he wrote a beautiful little book just longer than a Novelette called A Painted House--I loved the story, depression era, human drama without a lawyer to be seen, and the critics panned it and his publisher did very little to push it.

I could never stick to genre in prose or specific form in poetry. I just am happy to tell the story--nothing else matters. Not even publishing anymore.

Greg said...

Branding makes sense from a business standpoint, to a certain extent. But as a reader, I don't want to have to work to find out what other books my favorite authors have written; if a horror writer I like has also written a detective novel or a poetry collection or even a book of jokes, I'd like to know it's the same guy 'cause if I like his style of writing, there's a good chance I'll also like his books in the other genres.

Good call comparing Cold in the Light to Dean Koontz -- I'd definitely agree, it's very similar in feel (although a completely different story) to the first book he wrote in the Frankenstein series.

Tom Doolan said...

Whenever this subject comes up, I am immediately reminded of David Morrell. Certainly a "big name" author, he has written in several genres himself; espionage, mystery, quasi-science fiction, war, horror. I think readers are smarter than publishers give them credit for.

As a genre chameleon myself, I am more inclined to seek out authors rather than genre books. I will read anything Morrell writes, though I prefer his spy-thrillers. Same with this Gramlich character.

SQT - King's Bachmann books inpired him to write The Dark Half. So, there's that. :)

Jack Badelaire said...

I think I read the same article you did. I understand where he's coming from, but he's also put out 20 novels in two years. If you're that productive, and writing is your primary source of income, you may feel it is in your best financial interest to stick with what works.

On the other hand, if you write because you love writing, and selling books is more of a bonus to you, then by all means, try anything and everything that comes to mind. I also agree that I'm more interested in reading books based on a good author than reading a "brand".

Of course, the writer has already earned a six-figure income in 2013, so...

Charles Gramlich said...

Vesper, I don't know why, but sometimes just listing the things one has done kind of helps raise my mood and lets me know it hasn't all been in vain.

SQT, I think you're my kind of reader, in the sense of reading all across the landscape instead of focusing on one genre. I've read a couple of the Bachmann books and they were pretty much just Stephen King.

Mark, I read a couple of Grishams but the formula left me pretty cold. I will have to try his other book you mentioned.

Greg, I actually have the Frankenstein books by Koontz but haven't read them, but Midnight, Watchers, and Lightning were definitely influences on my style during the time I was writing Cold in the Light. Midnight is just an incredible book.

Tom, when I was young I probably focused more on genre than author, but over the years I've steadily moved the other way. Certainly I was influenced by Robert E. Howard, who wrote in just about every genre too and yet still had the common "Howard" touch in them.

Jack,I haven't read the guy's work but it just seems very difficult to me to believe that you could put out 20 books in 2 years and really have them all be quality. Maybe some can do it. I couldn't even if I was writing full time. Of course, I think he had written some of them earlier and only later published them close together in time.

Angie said...

Actually, except for your non-fiction, I'd say your brand is for pulp-style fiction. "Pulp style" can cross genres, while still being a unifying thread, and from what I've read of your work, it's definitely there.


Aimlesswriter said...

I think some readers read for voice. They like the style of the writing and like new stuff.
I usually read for the author because I like the rhythm of the writing.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You win for variety!
I know many authors who write in more than one genre and still use the same name. I don't see anything wrong with it.

Snowbrush said...

I'm with you--strongly. I think that writing under different names for different audiences is cold, calculated, manipulative, dishonest, and degrading to the person who does it. I could be wrong, I guess, but that's how it hits me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, I like that. Pulp style. And I agree. That absolutely characterizes it.

Aimless Writer, I will try new books because of genre, but I tend to keep reading because of the author's voice.

Alex, I like to be varied! :)

Snowbrush, you may feel somewhat more strongly on it than I do but definitely it is calculated. I don't think it is degrading and is only dishonest if the person goes out of their way to hide the fact of the pseudonyms. Some publishers actually require pseudonyms, called house names, for all the authors of their series.

Jack Badelaire said...

Well I think it goes back to a day when smaller publishing houses like Ace, Pinnacle, Leisure, and so forth had "house names", and even if they didn't, authors would write under a plethora of pen names, covering different genres and series.

I don't feel it's dishonest, necessarily, but rather reduces the importance of the author, which seems to go directly counter to the idea of branding oneself and so forth. How can you make yourself a brand if every genre you dip into has a different name attached to it?

Randy Johnson said...

I like what I like and I love authors who don't limit their imaginations to one genre. I suppose those who only read westerns, or SF, or fantasy, or thrillers might like that. Not me.

Randy Johnson said...

I like what I like and I love authors who don't limit their imaginations to one genre. I suppose those who only read westerns, or SF, or fantasy, or thrillers might like that. Not me.

Angie said...

Snowbrush -- look at it this way. Someone who writes five genres and uses five pen names is trying to help you, the reader, find books you want to read. If you like my fantasy but don't read horror, and I write both under one name, then you have to examine each book before you buy it to make sure you're not wasting your money on a horror book. I'd say that's the opposite of cold, manipulative or dishonest, if the writer is specifically NOT trying to trick you into buying a genre you might not care for.


Jack Badelaire said...

As a counterpoint to Angie, I'd say A) make sure your cover and your descriptive copy make it extraordinarily clear what tone/genre your book falls under, and B) I feel it always behooves the reader to examine each book before buying it. I feel little pity for the reader who gets something they didn't want, when that mistake could have been avoided by reading the descriptive copy.

Deka Black said...

I thonk this post branded you... as a wordsmith with a variety of works to choose from

Ty said...

Charles, I'm in the same boat as you. I write fantasy, horror, literary, a little science fiction ... just whatever I want. Maybe even a thriller in the near future.

From a purely business/career point of view, yes, I think it makes perfect sense to have various pen names for different genres, or to simply stick with one genre. But then I don't write just to make a buck, just to have a career. Sometimes I write for the fun of it, sometimes I write for mental/emotional/spiritual exploration, but I always write for myself first. There are writers who scoff at such thinking, but if I didn't think that way, I couldn't write, or what I would write would be very, very bad, even by my shabby standards. ;-)

It's that plain and simple. Whenever I sit down and think, "okay, I'm going to write a mainstream blockbuster thriller/romance/erotica/Dan-Brown-Bridges-of-Madison-County-with-teen-vampires ripoff novel that will draw in readers by the millions," I just lock up. I can't write. But when I focus on what I want to write, then I can write. Bad entrepreneur I might be, but I write more for my own amusement and sanity than to get rich or win awards or make bestseller lists.

Ty said...

And I'd like to add, I'm not condemning those who write from more of a marketable point of view than myself. More power to them. I just can't do it.

Besides, nothing agitates me more than when someone suggests writers should not write for money, or that writing for money is some kind of sin.

Riot Kitty said...

I am going to go get Days of Beer.

I agree with you - why limit yourself? Some great writers write in multiple genres.

SQT said...

@Tom-- You are right. I forgot about "The Dark Half." I did like that book.

I may borrow this post from you Charles (if you don't mind). So many SF/Fantasy authors are doing this (probably more than I realize) and I think I'd like to expand the conversation.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

"I like to write just as widely as I like to read" and that reflects in your writing under a variety of genres and sub-genres. Charles, it's obvious you enjoy what you write and you should stay with it. I'd like to think of an author writing in more than one genre as being able to reach out to readers with different tastes, and that's a big plus.

G. B. Miller said...

Writing is one of the few things that a person can multi-task in and not fail at. No matter what genre you happen to write in at a given moment, you give that particular story 100% of your attention and it shows.

sage said...

I always thought that branding failure occurred when the calf bucked...

Although I have only published articles, they have also been all over the genre map.

BernardL said...

Name recognition is the holy grail, and writing under other names to me means starting all over again from scratch. I write in different genres too, and they will all have one name on them... mine. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Jack, that question occurs to me too, the diffusion of name recognition by using different names. Koontz wrote about that and said it hurt him in the early days by writing under different names. As for the cover and description thing, that's absolutely true. We all want unique covers but they can't be wholly unique most of the time and should reflect what the story is like. The description is even more important and I always read those.

Randy, it's not an option for me really. I just couldn't limit myself that way and enjoy it.

Angie, yet, I agree that it's not tricking, unless the author was trying to hide incompetence that way, and I doubt that happens very often. Plus the whole house name thing makes it impossible to avoid for many working writers.

Deka, thankee! You're too kind, but don't stop being that way now. :)

Ty, twice in my life I have set down and started novels that I cynically thought might jump onto the bestseller bandwagon. I never even made it through one chapter of either book before just giving it up. I always say I don't write 'just' for money, but I certainly pay attention to it and try to figure out ways to get more money writing what I want to write anyway.

Riot Kitty, I hope you enjoy Days of Beer. I had a lot of fun recalling those memories. Amazingly my memory was good in those days.

SQT, sure, no problem. Let me know and I will certainly spin by.

Prashant, it's also possible, I imagine, that a writer might break out in one genre and not others.

G.B., thanks, man. I appreciate that!

Sage, lol. by the time we were growing up cattle got 'tagged' in the ears instead of branded. I'm kinda glad of that.

Bernard, yes, name recognition. It could occur quickly,I guess, but usually requires a lot of hard work overtime. As I mentioned too, Dean Koontz thinks using too many names hurt his development of name recognition.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess it depends what your goal is. Mine is to try to write as many different stories as I can. If I were a novelist I might be more concerned.

Snowbrush said...

Angie, I write as an expression of my learning on my journey. If someone writes to entertain, they're in a different mindset. What you say about helping readers find books makes sense, and I hadn't thought of it. I gave my off-the-cuff opinion, and such things often mean little.

LoveRundle said...

You're right. If I like an author, I'll read whatever they put out. I don't read in just one genre, so it's hard to write in one genre.

laughingwolf said...

what vesper said, so well :)

laughingwolf said...

posted too soon: also what mark sez...

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, I stared out as a short story writer primarily so that kind of my goal as well, to write many different kind of stories.

Snowbrush,all fiction has an element of manipulation in it, but it is generally an agreed upon manipulation. The reader knows that information is being withheld but they go along with it because the payoff in fun is greater.

Christina, I don't know a lot of modern day big authors who write in really varied genres. I think some writers get sort of trapped by their success. J. K. Rowling's adult book was not nearly as well received as her Potter series.

Laughingwolf, indeed so.

Oscar Case said...

I like the one name for everything. If you keep changing your name for each type, a person looking for your writing will be thrown off the track and a lost sale may result.

Snowbrush said...

"Snowbrush,all fiction has an element of manipulation in it"

I rather regret that I offered an opinion because this really is a kind of writing that is alien to me. I've wanted to want to try it, but I've never wanted it enough to actually do so.

Ty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ty said...

Related, Weston Ochse recently guest blogged over at Brian Keene's site about many of the things we've mentioned:


Lisa said...

but I do see a brand Charles, I do not know what to call it but I do see it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Oscar, I think that's the heart of it, getting and keeping readers.

Snowbrush, all opinions and comments are welcome. I've always been more interested in fiction than nonfiction myself so we balance out! :)

Ty, thankee. I'll check it out.

Lisa, thank you, I appreciate that. It's what I'd certainly like to be true. :)

Travis Cody said...

We can't all make bazillions writing one genre/one name. Hell, we can't all make bazillions writing.

So, write what you like. I'm more likely to pick up a book because I know you wrote it, no matter what name you put on it. That's because you're damn good.

RK Sterling said...

It's funny, Charles, but I do think of your books as being the same brand. I know I can expect a well-written, somewhat dark, entertaining story with lots of twists and beautifully described worlds - whether leaning more towards horror, psychological thriller, or fantasy. They all still have the same Gramlich touch.

As for me, I'm torn about switching names right now. I started out writing erotic romance under the name of "Kate Sterling" but want to switch genres, and reach a larger audience, so am thinking of switching names. Mainly so that I won't be embarrassed if someone from work comes across my earlier stuff. :)