Sunday, October 11, 2015
Why Branding is a Lovely Word: Part One
Branding is seen in some quarters as a creative sin: the creation of soulless concoctions by bankers with button-down brains. It's often that and even worse--if the branding precedes the creation. That is: when money only-minded fools set out to create their sure things. Which is like hitting the dance floor with your ass where your heart ought to be.
Nothing good will ever come from force-birthing a novel or film from tried and proven strategies based on purely commercial intents. Another way of saying this: if the branding precedes the birth, it may make money...but at a great cost.
Then again, if even the greatest of novels or films are launched with poor branding--or worse, none at all--most of them are doomed to fail. Or to wait for Lady Luck to goose them decades later.
Fearful of poor public reception, studio heads locked up a great film for three decades rather than contrive a way to market it to win:
Branding took on special importance for me when I began to wonder why my Boss MacTavin mysteries weren't selling. I'd published three on Amazon and they'd won, mostly, rave reviews. Don't ask me why it took so long, but finally I realized: readers really had no chance to get any feel for the series. Take a look at my three covers and I think you'll see what I mean.
The books themselves had scored high points for Originality. And there's nothing else out there quite like my main character. But let's get back to the first illustration above:
1) The covers lacked consistency. The visual tone was all over the map. Are these wild and woolly thrillers? Are they dark and Chandleresque? Or are they 50 Shades of Gross?
2) The inconsistency created its own invisibility. If the covers have nothing in common, then they can't be seen as a series. And mystery readers are well-known to want the 'meat' they crave repeated with slight changes in sauces or spices.
3) Though the first cover was wildly different, the other two were disappointingly conventional, And neither 2 nor 3 suggested an original talent at play.
Three months ago I approached my new cover designer, Jean Schweikhard, and asked if she'd be interested in creating a series template. Wanted: a look that turned heads and showed, at one glance, the real soul of the series. Within the template, we could change from book to book one image.
We began to swap ideas in July. Three months later I received the first 'roughs' of Jean's work.
I'll share the covers when they've been tweaked to perfection. For now I report with burning conviction: there is nothing noble about sinking with no sound. And there is nothing cool or admirable about ineffectively marketing one's work.
Readers are busy and they are bombarded with pitches and Tweets from those with more chutzpah than talent.
So: work with all the talent and force that's within you. Then, bubbas, if you love your work: by God, learn how to brand it!