Building a brand

This is a topic guaranteed to set the teeth of the ‘writing is Art, not Business’ crowd on edge. Fortunately, there’s a comment trail so they’re welcome to put their own point of view.

From 1989 until 2006 I worked for a handful of small businesses. Computer sales, then home improvements, and finally wholesale giftware. I didn’t start out as a salesman, and I didn’t end up as one, but along the line I attended my fair share of product meetings, ad meetings, etc.

If there’s one thing I did learn in those 17 or 18 years, it’s this: Sell the benefit, not the product. If your window treatments block more light, last longer or cost less to maintain, that’s the magic ingredient. If your computer completes work faster, helps kids with their homework*, and is easily upgraded, concentrate on those features.

The problem with selling novels is .. what’s the benefit? Unlike all those self-help feel-good non-fic titles, what will the latest Harry Potter tome do for your youngsters? It might get them reading and expand their minds, but there are thousands of other titles which could do exactly the same thing.

That’s the problem with writing as business, and selling books as product. There aren’t any tangible benefits for the buyer. I can’t tell people my Hal Spacejock novels will improve their sense of humour or last longer than the competition. (“Buy Harry Potter 4! It’s twice as long as the earlier books!”) “You’ll like it” is one benefit, but if publishers didn’t think people would like a book they wouldn’t have signed it up in the first place.

So how do you ‘build a brand’ in the publishing world? Well, did you ever hear the saying ‘build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door’? That’s it in a nutshell. Write the best damn book you can and hope enough people find out about it.

Hey, maybe writing IS an art after all.

* Kids have been using this argument on their parents since the late 70′s. With the birth of the internet, the argument finally became relevant.

Filed under For Novelists, the business of writing. You can also use to trackback.

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  1. 1. Steve Buchheit

    See, I look at it as the writer is the brand. That if I like a writer, I receive the benefits from that relationship. The individual books is not as consequential as trusting the author. Once the author has my trust, I’ll follow their product. I like to use Steven Brust as my example this way. He has several product lines of writing (Vlad Books, Dumas homages, and the extra stuff like “To Reign in Hell” and “The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars”), and I’ve been willing try each because I’ve learned to trust the Steven Brust brand.

  2. 2. Simon Haynes

    Good point. You can tell I’m a one-series author.

  3. 3. Laura Reeve

    Hmm. The value (and benefits, usually above and beyond base value) of reading fiction is different for each reader, making a cost-benefit analysis impossible.

    Consider the argument I had with a beginning writer at a conference concerning the “high cost of books nowadays.” After she said she didn’t read fiction any more, she exclaimed, “A paperback can cost nine or ten dollars now — I can’t justify the cost!” [U.S. dollars] I replied, “Yeah, it’s getting close to the cost of a movie ticket, but it’ll give you two to four times the entertainment hours.” She was shocked by my comparison of books to movies. However, she said that since movies are more compact, they’re more efficient entertainment (made better use of her time, which has a certain cost). So she, triumphantly, wasn’t yet forced to reduce her movie-viewing because of the costs. In both cases, we were talking about newly released “products.”

    This is an example of how the perceived value of reading fiction is different for each person — and obviously defined through emotion, not logic. How do you “sell” something like that, except through emotion?

  4. 4. Bran fan

    @Laura: And yet, this person wanted to be a writer? Pity that she does not support the industry that she wants to support her.

  5. 5. Laura Reeve

    Bran Fan — I agree. After the above conversation, she asked me how many hours I spent writing each day, particularly under deadline conditions. She announced she might keep writing “as a hobby,” but she wasn’t going to spend as much time as I did and by then, I wasn’t surprised. Someone who doesn’t support _reading_ can’t really be that committed to _writing_, either.

Author Information

Simon Haynes

Simon is the author of the Hal Spacejock series, featuring intergalactic loser Hal and his junky sidekick, Clunk. His website contains a number of articles on writing and publishing, and he's also the programmer of several freeware apps including yBook, BookDB and yWriter. In his spare time(!) he helps to run Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Visit site.

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