On a recent episode of South Park the writers made a central point of the episode’s plot to revolve around certain characters trying to define and broadcast their brand. I won’t go into the details of the episode’s plot, though I do encourage everyone to check it out because I love that show, but it did get me thinking about what is my brand when it comes to my books and/or as me as an author compared to what I broadcast through my social media.
As I sat there pondering this question, I first thought about my Ascension Legacy series. It is an epic high fantasy series involving the typical races of elves, orcs, gnolls, dwarves, gnolls, and everything else that people have come to expect from that genre. But that isn’t my brand. Sure, I wrote multiple books in that genre but I also write sci-if books that involve time travel, space travel, aliens, and things of that nature. I have plans for a spin on vampires, a spy novel, and more.
My brand as an author exceeds the limits of my first few released works.
So what is my brand? To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve never really given it that much thought until now. I always thought of writing the books and then letting the books simply speak for themselves. To me, it wasn’t about me as an author or as a brand but about the story on the pages that were nestled between the book’s covers.
But when I think about established authors, they have brands. Stephen King’s brand is creepy, twisted horror. Dan Brown is religious suspense/mystery. Danielle Steele is murder mysteries aimed at female readers. These successful authors have a brand that includes their bread and butter genre. Sure, other authors write horror stories but King is especially known for his twisted stories. And J.K. Rowling, despite her plummeting popularity, was far from the first to write a book about witches and wizards but Hogwarts became her brand.
And this presents something of a conundrum to me. Those authors who found success and established a brand for themselves did so in a single genre whereas I’m still trying to find what genre works best for me. Just because I published a high fantasy series means that should be my brand or genre of choice moving forward? It just means that was the story that was written first. What if my sci-fi books are better than my fantasy books? I’m still an author figuring out my style in a sense. And so it seems, I’m also figuring out my brand.
True, I could just brand myself a general nerd who loves multiple genres, because I am and I do, but something about that doesn’t appeal to me as a marketable brand. “Read my books because I’m a nerd who likes to tell nerd stories,” doesn’t come across as a brand I think people would be attracted too.
My son and I had the same problem with our podcast, Nerd Sh!t. We started off with a very general scope of nerd topics. We would discuss random comics, movies, TV shows, video games, card games, and whatever else we perceived as being nerdy. Such a broad scope left our episode runtimes much longer than anticipated and our number of listeners small. After we ended Season 1, he and I had a rethink about the show’s brand and decided it needed to be more concise. We cut out a large portion of topics from our first season and focused Season 2 to the ongoing DC vs Marvel battle in the cinemas. So far, the more focused brand has led to tighter show development, shorter runtimes, and more active streams from listeners. It seems to be working.
The increase we’ve seen at Nerd Sh!t would seem to suggest that I need to focus my brand in my writing and establish myself in a single genre rather than writing in multiple genres. But this is easier said than done. Sure, I’ve already written 6 high fantasy books with 4 of them published but I’ve also completed 3 sci-fi books that I’ve intentionally held back from publishing to ensure that my high fantasy series sees all of its books released in a timely manner. And while I have a few spin-offs in mind for my high fantasy world, I have far more books in mind outside of the fantasy genre. If I had to pick a genre to say was my most prolific genre then I would have to say sci-fi and then fantasy.
Does this mean my brand should be sci-fi? I can’t imagine so, especially right now. If I brand myself as a sci-fi writer now but only have fantasy books released then what picture that does paint for prospective readers? How can I be a sci-fi writer but publish fantasy books? It doesn’t make any sense. But at the same time, if I establish myself now as a fantasy writer what will that mean for my sci-fi books when I publish them soon? Who wants to read sci-fi books from a fantasy writer? Would you read a romance novel with the name Stephen King on it or a book about space travel by J.R.R. Tolkien? Maybe just out of name recognition for the authors but certainly not because what you knew based off their work in other genres that these books would be equally engaging. That would be like an architect trying to design a car or a musician writing a screenplay. Just because you are good in one area doesn’t mean that you are good in a slightly adjacent one.
And so this brings me back to my original conundrum, what is my brand? I’m not a sci-fi writer. I’m not a fantasy fiction writer. To a degree, I’m both, and then some. This makes me lean towards the general nerd brand because that’s what I feel like but also because it allows my brand to be more encompassing of a broader ranger of genres. But at the same time, I don’t feel such a generic brand really represents my body as an author. So what that I like reading comics, playing video games, designing Dungeons & Dragons campaigns to play with my friends, and am very tech savvy. None of those things really correlate to my ability as an author. They may help reinforce my inspirations for my books or add to my level of nerdiness but they in no way are features that would compell anyone to read my books.
”Oh score! Check out this new sci-fi book from Gary Richardson. That dude is such a computer nerd this must be good,” just doesn’t seem likely.
Or,”Whoa! I heard this Gary Richardson guy is some kind of IT dork. We have to read his fantasy fiction book,” seems equally unlikely.
I’d really like something like, “Oh, no way. Another book by Gary Richardson. That guy always has these cool twists in his books. He’s like M. Night Shyamalan, you know back when he made good movies.”
And maybe that’s the brand I should be aiming for, the guy with the twists. But even that feels too generic to me as many books by a lot of authors incorporate clever twists, probably several more clever than mine. Really, I just want my books to be entertaining to those who read them. I don’t set out to write books that are thinly veiled social commentaries, or even blatant social commentaries. I just write stories that I think are fun. If people want to read into those stories to draw from them connections to social commentaries, that’s up to them, but that’s not the point of the stories when I write them.
And looking at it, I think that is my brand, and has been my brand from the very beginning. My brand is about writing what I enjoy and not trying to burden my books with social commentary or expressing philosophical ideals. I don’t try to teach my readers a lesson. There are no “and the moral of the story is” crap in my books. Instead, I have a story that leads to a climax that I think is an entertaining story. The end. And I don’t care if other people like my stories because I didn’t write them for other people. I wrote them for me. I am my brand. My brand is I write what I want to write. My brand is I don’t want to limit myself to single style of genre of writing. My brand is I write a variety of stories spanning a variety of genres and sub-genres because not everybody likes to read the same genre of books. So yeah, my brand is broad but so I am. I’m not just a computer geek. I have a wide broad of interests and those interests are reflected in the broad topics and varying genres of my books.
My brand isn’t some enigma. My brand has been staring me and you in the face this whole time. My brand is what I’ve been blogging about for the past few years. I’m a recluse who has many passions, many skills, something of a wild past, and a love for knowledge that I’ve turned into crafting entertaining stories, entertaining to me at least, into fully realized works of fiction to be shared with the world.
To know me is to know my brand. I fight furiously for my children, I passionately love my wife. I have few real friends but love and protect them like my family. I have my fingers in many different pies, so to speak, but never feel burned out by it because I love the experience and knowledge I get from exploring different avenues. To some people I am one of the nicest people you will ever meet while to others I’m the biggest asshole to walk the face of this planet. I love science, technology, history, and a good conspiracy theory.
That is who I am and that is my brand. To know my brand is to know me. Anyone who reads any of my books, regardless of the book’s genre, is sure to find part of my brand, and in doing so, part of me, in every one of my books.
And if you don’t like my books, I don’t care. I didn’t write the books for you. Get over yourself, you narcissist!