Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Branding for Writers

My good friend David Robinson has kindly provided today's guest post, which is likely to be of use to most authors, both self and traditionally published.

“Self-publishing on the Kindle? You need a brand.”
That’s what they said, so I lit the fires and jammed the irons into them. I wasn’t too sure how the Kindle would react to burning my initials onto the plastic casing. I know the dog played hell when I branded him, and the wife wasn’t so happy when it was her turn.
Now that we have all the gags out of the way, the bestselling indie authors on the Kindle are those who produce series of books based around the same characters. This is not the most devastating of insights. When it comes to pulp fiction, Holmes, Poirot, Bond, even Harry Potter have been around a lot longer than the Amazon Kindle. But from an indie point of view, it’s even more important. Put out a series of whodunits with the same loveable characters, and the readers will be queuing all the way to virtual checkout.
Simple, innit?
In principle, yes, but does it work?
The signs are promising. Earlier this year, bored with sci-fi and horror, I put out a novella entitled A Death at the Seaside, a cosy, British murder mystery with three amateur sleuths from the Sanford Third Age Club. Mostly whodunit, partly humorous, I stuck to the old adage of writing about what you know, and I know about lunatic third-age rockers reliving their teens because I am one.
To my surprise A Death at the Seaside began to sell, so I wrote a second book, An Heir to Murder, and that, too, began to sell. Titles three and four are complete-ish, scheduled for release in October (Halloween) and December (Christmas). This is not an accident. This is branding. When do Christmas puddings sell? Clue: it’s not the 3rd of August.
Like any brand, the secret is in the stability of the ingredients. The Sanford Third Age Club go away for a weekend, a crime is committed, Joe, Sheila and Brenda put their sleuthing heads on and solve the crime before coming home to their workaday lives. The locations vary from a day out in Filey to Christmas spent in a classy hotel in Leeds, and I have plans for a minicruise to Bruges and a week in Tenerife. The baddies and their motives vary, too, but every tale is recognisable by its similarity to the predecessors.
Formulaic, is one way of looking at them, but it’s that essence which keeps the hard core fans buying. They’re looking for the repartee between Joe and his female companions, seeking out Brenda’s innuendoes, looking for Sheila’s lectures, and all the while, the reader is also digging for the little clues that will help them solve the crime.
This does not mean that you can churn out a heap of old rubbish and bung it up on Amazon. I’m traditionally published, too, and I know the value of editing. Maureen Vincent-Northam, a friend of both Lorraine and myself, proofs and edits all my work, and the finished product then goes out to independent readers before it’s unleashed on the Kindle.
It’s early days yet. I’m not breathing down Amanda Hocking’s neck (she’d probably have me arrested if I did) but the signs are promising. Without any serious marketing effort, my titles are selling. STAC Investigates has its own Twitter account (@stacinvestigate) my website is currently under reconstruction to concentrate on STAC and my other brand, Space Truckers, my Facebook author’s page focuses on them, my blog concentrates on the characters and background, and I have another blog which gives away FREE reads from the STAC Casebook. Pricing doesn’t appear to have as large an impact as many indies would have us believe, but I’m still playing with it as part of my research.
Creating a brand is like creating a new detergent. When you go to the shop, you don’t ask for a packet of Unilever soap powder, but a packet of Persil. You don’t ask for a bar of chocolate, but a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. When the buyers come to the Amazon Kindle Store, they won’t be looking for the latest novel by David Robinson; they’ll come for the latest STAC Investigates title.
The Writer’s ABC Checklist

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