Friday, February 6, 2009


Step away from the iron, it’s not that kind of branding.

It’s when an author writes in a specific subgenre, exclusively. Let’s think of some examples: Mary Balogh – historical romance (regency, sweet, amazing), Susan Elizabeth Phillips – contemporary romance (with attitude, love her), Suzanne Brockmann – romantic suspense (with hot Navy Seals, excellent). Well I could go on, but you get the idea. These talented authors write novel after novel in that subgenre, and the public has come to depend on them. I’ve come to depend on them (SEP’s newest novel is out and I’m dying to crack the spine).

So, I’ve written a medieval romance. Does that mean I should focus on writing medieval romances? If I want a following, such as the authors I’ve mentioned above, then yes. My name would be synonymous with historical romance. I will brand myself in the world of romance writing. (Projecting wonderful things coming my way, including "The Call", a contract, and perhaps a three-book deal – you know!)

But, wait! I don’t know if I want to write medieval romance forever. I have another two medieval romance ideas – one the sequel to Lady Bells – but I also have a couple of works in progress that would fall under romantic comedy (I think I’m funny, others might not). I also have a WIP that I would classify as romantic suspense (drug smuggling, hot cop). And should I mention my idea for a romance set in Tudor England?

Houston, we have a problem!

Luckily, there are authors out there who have succeeded in more than one subgenre. Jayne Ann Krentz, her married name, writes contemporary romantic-suspense. She also writes historical romance under the pseudonym Amanda Quick. That is how I found this talented author; I was on an historical romance reading frenzy. Now, she’s not finished yet. She also writes as Jayne Castle (her birth name). Under this name she writes futuristic/paranormal romance. Wow, now that’s working the market. As a trivia bonus, she began her career writing for Harlequin under the name Stephanie James.

Another example is another favorite author, Elizabeth Lowell. She crosses genre lines writing science fiction under Ann Maxwell, romantic suspense under Elizabeth Lowell, and crime fiction with her husband under the name A.E. Maxwell. And, of course, the queen of romance fiction Nora Roberts also writes under the pseudonym J.D. Robb.

So, it can be done. But these authors were established in their own right before taking on a new subgenre. Everything I’ve read says to brand yourself and then when you get a following you can branch out. Well, fine and dandy – I’ve written a romance set in the Middle Ages. Now I could argue that I have not found representation for that manuscript, so I should go ahead and write what I want. But what if, as I’m finishing and polishing that romantic comedy, someone offers to publish Lady Bells? I abandon the WIP, pull out my other medieval ideas and get my butt in gear? The romantic comedy might sell as well, so I should really finish it. The (I’m sure it’s coming) three-book deal is hinged on writing medieval and with time spent on another genre, well I have my work cut out for me.


Have you seen the commercial for the lactose royal highness (shh, Dairy Queen – copyright police may be reading) and the poor mouth that can’t decide? Single? Double? Single? Double? What are you doing? I don’t know, what are you doing? OK, I like that commercial. And it’s exactly how I feel when I think of branding. Historical? Contemporary? Historical? Well, you get the picture.

I have no idea what to do. So, I keep writing. When an agent does call and says, "Hey, I’d love to represent you and your work. What else have you got?" I’ll tell her about all the stuff on the word processor. She will squee with delight, sign me on the spot, and my only worry will be to come up with a couple of pseudonyms. J.D. Robb’s out, right?

So, People of Blogland – what say you about branding? Do you write in more than one subgenre (or across many genres)? Would you like to, or are you happy with the subgenre you’ve chosen? And readers – do you care that a writer writes in more than one subgenre? Would you pick up a book by a favorite regency author if that author has published a contemporary?

Janet (writer of romance – across the board)


Captain Hook said...

I have wide and varied tastes, both in reading and in writing. My WIPs range from MG and YA paranormal to vengeful chick lit to erotica to a memoir on growing up handicapped.

Sticking to a single genre (never mind a subgenre) would be impossible to me.

Karen said...

At the moment any story ideas I have floating around tend to fall into the romantic suspense and paranormal subgenres. While I definitely enjoy reading historicals I have zero interest in writing one.

As for favorite authors - I will buy a Nora Roberts book but I won't pick up a J.D. Robb. Not because it isn't well written but because I'm not interested in the story line. Christina Dodd comes to mind, I enjoyed her venture into the paranormal subgenre. If the books are coming from the library I'll give anything a try but if I'm buying the book I'm much pickier about who I pick up.

Great post, Janet.

Janet said...

Hey, Captain Hook! I've been to your blog and I bow down to your prolific-ness! And your synopsis/blurb entry was great. I almost spewed coffee when I was reading the Revenge is Sweet blurb. And I love The Professor premise. When an agent signs you she will squee with delight at the product you have ready for publication.


Janet said...

Thanks, Karen. I'm with you on the library thought - I'll pick up anything and give it a go (book wise, people). My very Scottish blood is not so permissible when I'm opening the wallet for a purchase. I go with established authors, books I've heard a lot about, blurbs I find totally intriquing and unique.

FWIW - just picked up Victoria Dahl's contemporary (a lot of buzz around the net on this one). She was a new author to me, but she's now on my favorite list. Fabulous read. I have a lot on my "To Buy" list based on my criteria.


Janet said...

ACK! OMG! Someone just shoot me right now. I can't believe I posted this blog, talked about branding and FORGOT to mention our own JANA RICHARDS (check out her website link in Our Favorite Section on the main page of our blog).

Jana writes contemporary romance mostly, but has a romantic suspense (Seeing Things) that finaled in the 2008 Eppies. Now, as one of her readers, I can attest to the greatness of her books. Her sense of humor shines in everything that I've read.

So, my apologies, Jana. And the rest of you - go check out her website.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

I think my brand of fiction ties a lot into my voice as an author. Obviously I'm a fantasy writer through and through, but my voice tends to take on a cynical edge no matter what I write (I tried writing a S'toon stories romance, it morphed into something very different), which means my work will always fit best in low fantasy where things are less good/bad black & white. Plus, with all the world-building that goes into the work, I keep discovering other stories waiting to be told.

That being said, I would love to dabble in other contexts at some point in my career, such as Victorian-esque fantasy or maybe a a dash of Steampunk. The voice would probably be the same though, and that dash of the fantastic would remain.

To me, that's what makes a cross-branding author great. If the voice, the atmosphere, are similar between an author's brands, even if the genres are vastly different, I think the change can be successful. Neil Gaiman is a great example of that, if you look at the broad range of works he's written, from adult fiction, to The Graveyard Book which just won the Newberry award. Vastly different genres, but his work always carries similar touches, such as his blurring of reality and fantasy.

Of course, in all cases I think the author needs to establish themselves first, as you said. Your audience needs to be willing to explore new avenues with you, rather than waiting around for you to come back :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Good post, Janet. I have to say it seems branding works when I read the histories of my efriend authors. And it also makes sense to become an expert in one genre and learn all the nuances, phrasing and research techniques for that field.

But I guess I'm an ADHD writer. I can't settle down - yet. I'm still 'playing the field' and trying to find what I write best. As you're aware from my post last week, I started writing Historical and that is by far my fav genre. However, contemporary stories are in my head and I need to let them escape. That's why of the 5 books I've written, 4 are contemps.

Also, as I noted in yesterday's post, I've finaled twice (now 3 times - yay!) in contemporary contest categories. And although my subbed Historical entry rec'd scores above avg for that contest, it hasn't finaled anywhere. (Although it was requested by an editor and agent at the conference.)

And now, I've thrown the whole 1 to 4 list out of balance by starting a Suspense wip during BIAW. Why? Because I couldn't concentrate on anything else until I did. I'm half finished the first draft and there's more room 'up there' now so I feel a heck of a lot better.

But that's just now. Once I sell one of these puppies, I know I'll concentrate on that genre for branding purposes. Until then, I get to write for me.

Karen said...

I hate to show how ignorant I am but what is Steampunk? I have to know, it sounds very intriguing.

Janet said...

Well said, Hayley. And are you just dying for "Coraline" to come to a theatre near you?

Steampunk - a lot of buzz around the web about it. Lots of agents seriously looking for it. If you haven't already been to The Swivet's blog (aka Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint Lit Mgment - she talks about steampunk submissions.

And Karen - I,too, had no idea about Steampunk when I started reading agent blogs. Here's the definition "retro-alternate-19th Century-science fiction". Think H.G. Wells, Phillip Pullman, and James Gurney (Dinatopia Series). Movies - Wild, Wild, West; The Leaque of Extraordinary Gentlemen; The Brothers Grimm (with Heath Ledger). If you Google Steampunk, you'll get tons of hits.

It's a fascinating genre - with its own sub-genres. One I've looked at for a while and contemplated trying my hand at. You know, when all my other manuscripts are finished.


Janet said...

Good point, Anita. We must write for ourselves. There's no use chasing a market when we are not part of that market - yet! And I think you have branded yourself as an inspirational romance writer. Correct me if I'm wrong.

And, as I said on your blog this morning, congratulations on finaling in the contest. Good luck with the next stage of the contest.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Janet, absolutely thrilled about Coraline. Unfortunately we have to wait until next week to see it. It'll be worth the wait, I'm sure!

A few other Steampunk gems I'd suggest checking out as well are the anime Steamboy (stunning piece), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Disney's dabblings, probably more widely known), and the film of Howl's Moving Castle (based on the YA story by Diana Wynne Jones).

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Also thanks for the link Janet, her blog looks like a lot of fun, and self-proclaimed nerds are my sort of people!

PS: Gaslight Romance subgenre of Steampunk, sounds very interesting.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I've thought about these same issues myself. As you mentioned in your comment (thanks for the plug, btw!) I have 3 contemporaries and one romantic suspense available as ebooks. Of the 3 contemporaries, one is a Superromance length with a strong sub-plot, one is a romantic comedy, and one is more of a straight up romance, sort of like a Silouette Intimate Moments. So I'm all over the place just in my contemporaries. I've plotted a second romantic suspense (love Suzanne Brockman too) and I'd love to try my hand at Historical romance. As well I have a fascination with the World War II era, and am currently researching a couple of stories set during that time.

If someone said to me I could only write romantic comedy from now on, I'd say "But I've got all these other ideas." It would be like abandonning one of my children. I'm not sure what I'd do.

I know it makes good career sense to stick with one sub-genre, but I'm not sure it would make me a happy writer.

Lots to think about...

Janet said...

Glad I could be thought provoking today, Jana. And, again, I apologize for not mentioning you in my original blog.

Now, about those WWII stories - I'm dying to read the one you told me about (you know which one). I think there is a market for those romances!

And I never knew you wanted to write historical! Learn something new every day.


Suse said...

Hi Janet, I know just how you and the Dairy Queen mouth feel, and all the others who have expressed multiple writing personalities. I feel like I'm not going to advance with my writing until I can make a decision. But as others have mentioned, I too like to write in more than one genre.

I really enjoy interviewing people and writing their profiles. And I have made money at this. But I had a contest win with a romance where an editor requested the novel with some changes, but I was in a space where I no longer wanted to write romance, so I didn't pursue it. (That's when I left the SRW several years ago.) However, I am a romantic and I prefer to read stories with a romantic element to it, so I came back to the genre. I then received an honorable mention in a romance short story contest. Still no money or publication with the romance though, so what's a girl to do?

One story keeps running through my head and this is why I feel I need to choose a line of writing some day: The famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti once said, “When I was a boy, my father, a baker, introduced me to the wonders of song. He urged me to work very hard to develop my voice. Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in my hometown of Modena, Italy, took me as a pupil. I also enrolled in a teachers college.”
On graduating, I asked my father, “Shall I be a teacher or a singer?” “Luciano,” My father replied, “if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.”
“I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book — whatever we choose — we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key. Choose one chair.”

Check out the following link for another look at things:

The story of Pavarotti is mentioned here as well, but the author of this link reminds us that if we sit on one chair, we don't have to stay there our whole life. We can sit on another chair if we choose.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I haven't actually tried to write an Historical (nothing before WWII anyway). But I love them, including Regencies. I am totally in awe of Historical writers, such as yourself, who can make the past come alive for me. I'm not sure I could pull it off, but I'd love to give it a shot.

Did I mention that I also love paranormals and that my romantic suspense has a touch of the paranormal? So many genres, so little time.


Janet said...

Suse - what an inspirational posting. I had never heard the story of Luciano Pavoarotti. Wow, that gave me goose bumps. Thank you for that.

I think you can certainly do both - your interviewing/articles bring in the money while you write your romance and pursue publication. There's a ton of writers who are doing just that (freelance while writing of their heart). I think that's a win/win situation.

Now, I'm off to check out your link.

And Jana - I almost wrote paranormal when I was commenting on Seeing Things (had to go to your website to see that it was acturally listed as a romantic suspense)!


Anita Mae Draper said...

Janet - thanks for the congrats. I keep hearing that theme song from the old sitcom in my head, 'We're moving up on up...' :-)

Well, I'd never heard of Steampunk before either. Very interesting.

I think you're right, Janet. Regardless of the genres, except for the mss I targeted for the HAR, they're all basically inspy's. And even the HAR one touches on it. Thanks. Maybe I can get a brand, after all.

Jana - the WWII era is just starting to become 'fashionable', so it's a great period if you do decide to write historical.

Suse - love the Pavarotti story.

Great post and comments today, ladies.