It’s time to talk branding. Specifically, my brand.
Yes, I am a brand. Of a sort. With eight published books, a ninth due out next year, and hopefully a long career ahead of me, it’s not an unreasonable observation. Though I’ll admit it’s weird to say that aloud. Or type it out loud in this particular case. Nevertheless, it’s become increasingly obvious that for my career to continue to grow, that branding isn’t something I can dismiss as unimportant or someone else’s concern.
Since I’ve so far written a collection of unconnected, standalone novels, I don’t have the option of branding a world or a character. I have to somehow figure a way to sell myself, to capture the idea of an A. Lee Martinez novel in some pithy, easily sold way. I don’t honestly know how to do that right now.
One of the biggest obstacles is that the writer I perceive myself to be is not usually the writer I’m perceived to be. There’s no reason to bang that same old drum again, but it does raise an interesting questions. Am I doing myself any favors by fighting my “funny fantasist” rep?
I don’t exactly rail at being called “funny”, but I do tend to avoid playing it up. Yet it’s clear that “funny” is the adjective that most often comes up when talking about my books. So often and reliably in fact that I can’t really think of anytime someone approached me and said a book of mine was thrilling or original. No, it’s always “funny” or “zany” or “silly” or some other adjective.
It’s no secret I don’t consider myself a funny writer, but maybe I should just accept it. Maybe it’d be easier it I dove headfirst into the category. Not by writing “funny” books. That’s not the problem. But instead, by being funnier. By writing blogs that are funny. By accepting that I will always be funny and that there’s nothing terribly wrong with that. This blog entry itself is a perfect example. Would it be more beneficial to write something about chupacabras than my thoughts on my career? If someone hears about “that funny writer” A. Lee Martinez and comes to this blog hoping to discover how goofy and zany I am, only to read a long, self-indulgent post of an artist struggling to define himself, is that a plus or a minus?
In a story, the best characters are the simplest. The characters that can be easily defined with one or two qualities are the ones that stand the test of time, the people can relate to. If I am a brand, if I am a character, then I’m not doing myself any favors by confusing things.
Granted, many writers in my category can have reputations for being both funny and smart. But they almost always start with “funny” and work their way backwards. They embrace humor in a way that I’ll admit I just haven’t done. Even when my publisher emphasizes the humor in my work, I cringe. Almost instinctively. Because it’s just not how I see myself.
But in the court of public opinion, how one wants to be perceived always takes a backseat to how one is perceived. If most people think of me as “funny”, it really doesn’t make any difference if I disagree. Because I don’t determine my brand. Or rather, I’m just one determining factors of many.
My publisher is another of those factors, and they will continue to sell me as funny. And I can’t say they’re wrong to do so.
My audience is another factor, and they will continue to most likely categorize me with other funny writers. That hasn’t come close to changing in eight books. My ninth about a supervillain squid probably isn’t going to change that either.
And there are the critics. Again, funny is the name of the game.
So the A. Lee Martinez brand stands for “funny fantasy”. And maybe I should just accept it. But if I do, what does that mean? Should I take extra efforts to ensure that my books are funny? Should I emphasize my humorous side when doing interviews? Should this blog be a steady stream of zaniness? And when I talk about my books, should I be sure to push the humor above all else?
My reflex is to say NO, but as is often the case, reflex just might be wrong. Maybe I should stop sending mixed signals and just accept the brand I carry. It doesn’t actually mean I have to change what I write. It just means selling it in a more user friendly fashion. And that’s not a bad thing.
Chasing the Moon doesn’t have to be a strange exploration of an incomprehensible universe. It can just as easily be about a plucky heroine who finds herself in over her head while trying to keep her monstrous roommates from getting into trouble. Emperor Mollusk Versus The Sinister Brain could be my homage to pulp adventure. Or it could be a madcap story of an evil genius without a spine.
It’s all in how you spin it. And maybe it wouldn’t hurt to put a different spin on my brand. It’s all about finding my audience, selling books. I gotta make a living here. And if I should happen to trick a few people into buying books with more than just “wacky” at their heart, then that’s all the better.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,