Sunday, February 28, 2010

Author Branding -- No Hogtying Necessary

If you’ve been hop scotching around to various writing blogs of late, no doubt you’re reading a lot about building your author “brand” and having an “online platform” from which to launch your work.

What does this mean? Well, without getting into a lot of technical marketing jargon, building your brand means the same thing for writers as it does for, say, the makers of Pine-Sol. People want to be sure that if they buy your book, it will clean their kitchen floor with no chemical residue and leave a fresh pine scent.

OK, actually what I think it means is that when people see your name on a book cover, they should know what to expect, and if you are consistent from one novel to the next, they will keep buying your books even if they don’t have a coupon.

I personally have taken this notion on board, and let me tell you what I’ve done so far in the interest of building my author brand. I don’t mean to make you feel bad – Lord knows that’s not my intention – but I think you should know just how far you’re falling behind in the great marketing race:

• Well, of course I have a completed manuscript, but more to the point, I also have my newest WIP well under way, along with complete outlines for fifteen more novels that are all variations on the same theme;

• I have a huge online presence that not only includes this (clearly awesome) blog but also four different Facebook accounts in seven different languages. And that’s in addition to three distinct websites that feature CGI images of my characters interacting with famous people (dead ones, of course, to avoid copyright infringement issues). I’m also running a software program on my mainframe that generates extremely funny statements of 140 characters or less just so I can post to Twitter every 90 seconds;

• I recently hired a personal assistant who handles my email, babysits, and works out for me so I can focus exclusively on my writing 19 hours a day. Sure, the kids have begun to call her Mom lately, and that stings a bit, but, hey, that’s a small price to pay for a chance to do a book series;

• I have twice crashed White House events because I’ve heard this will help boost my visibility;

• Recently I met a guy who knows a guy who’s going to talk to Steven Soderbergh about directing my first book trailer, so when we get our schedules in sync, we are good to go;

• I’ve already selected the designer dress I’m going to wear to the Academy Awards when my book is made into a movie. Remember that green Versace gown Jennifer Lopez wore at the MTV Music Awards, the one that got her all that attention? Mine’s just like that, except the neckline starts just below my kneecaps.

I know. I am way on top of things, and you are no doubt feeling self-conscious about your own paltry marketing strategy right about now. I don’t mean to pile it on, but unfortunately I’m now going to add something new to your already dizzying authorial to-do list.

Wait, you’re saying there’s more I should be doing?

Oh, yes. There’s more. Not only do you need to write a fabulous book and figure out how to market it effectively, but right now – and I mean RIGHT NOW, before you have signed a contract with either agent or publisher or really, before you’ve even finished writing your book -- you need to start thinking about all the ways you are going to leverage your success.

Wait. What? Leverage my success? What does that even mean?

Let me speak plainly, people: You need to have a plan for how you will be selling out down the road.

Now, I realize that you might be horrified at the thought of selling out, but trust me, rock stars do it all the time. Remember that Led Zeppelin song that Cadillac used for one of its commercials? And you were like, “Has hell just frozen over? Led Zeppelin is shilling for Cadillac now?”

I’m telling you, everybody does it and not only does everybody do it, they don’t even feel bad about it. Just think of all the stuff the Black Eyed Peas sell: antibiotic ointment, car insurance, seed packets for heirloom tomatoes, Plavix. They are actually proud of selling out because this is the new reality. Selling out is the next logical step in your development as a writer and for that reason, you need to plan for it. Besides, it shouldn’t be too hard. I mean, we all write stories with selling out in mind, right? I know I follow the George Lucas model of always inserting a character into my stories that could conceivably be turned into a plushy or an action figure. Better still, I’m thinking internationally already. I’ve got a line of merchandising items in mind that will only be available in parts of Asia because they are somewhat morally questionable, especially for someone who’s supposed to be writing books for young adults. These items include: cigarette lighters, diet pills, and a complete line of energy drinks with near-lethal levels of caffeine.

Horrible to contemplate, isn’t it? Yeah. Well. That’s life as an author, baby. You gotta be one step ahead every minute.

Of course I realize that this sort of strategizing is not for everyone. Some of you are too naïve or too full of integrity to ever be successful in the current marketplace. Sadly, it may come to pass that you have to face up to the fact that though you write well and people like your work, you just don’t have the stomach to take it to the next level.

Of course, you won’t know if you don’t try. So get out there and do some market testing. Go out onto the street corners of America and sell, sell, sell. Sell yourself until the vice squad picks you up. And if that does happen, no worries. I offer a complete line of bail bonds at very reasonable rates, designed especially for aspiring writers such as yourself.