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,


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  1. Buddy
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    Hmm! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I win ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I win. I flipping f*cking win. You’ve driven yourself half insane because I declared you a brand. Well, you are a brand, funny man. You are f*cking brand! Brand A. Lee Martinez, get used to it. I win!!!!!!

    Now it’s time for you to implode.

    Bad Wolf

  2. Posted July 23, 2011 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    This really is a turning point in your career, since most artists don’t realize type casting can be good. Your books are amazing and funny, but if one was to re-read the book “Automatic Detective” one could read between the line of the plot and see the homage to old anti-Nazi pulp books. Though this is what I picked up from when I read my favorite book.

    Here’s a guy to look at Terry Pratchett is a funny writer, but he also has a great way of writing too, though he is more known for writing stories of humor. I say dive in, but keep your ideals of wanting to be more then known for having one trick because your more then just zany.

    Also maybe try writing an Anthology, but longer. What I’m saying is write a few stories in the same world, but about different people and plots, so the Twilight Zone pretty much. This would make things a little easier to brand. You have eight books, pick a few that you’d like to have an expansion pack of. Again this is just an idea, I’d rather read an amazing story then to force you into making something you don’t want.

    Stay well and awesome!

  3. Posted July 23, 2011 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    I think your reflex to say no to being pigeon-holed is correct.

    Are your books funny? Yes, I’ve read a few and think they are quite funny. However, they are also reflective, insightful, witty, and unique. The characters, their worlds, and their experiences are richly dimensional. Regardless of genre, that is increasingly rare.

    Branding is all well and good. Take what critics say and use it, but don’t let it somehow define you.

  4. Posted July 23, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Sweetie, just keep being yourself. That is the important thing. If it wants to be funny, it will be. To me, A. Lee Martinez stands for wit and style–both of which I sincerely envy. You appear (at the least) to glide effortlessly from one corner of the field to the next. If you want a tagline, it should be “Books Outside the Box.”

    Most of them are funny. I don’t think you have to accentuate that, because it is as natural for you as breathing. 😉

  5. Posted July 23, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I can’t claim to think about these things like a majority of people – I do sometimes wonder if I’m a completely different species* – but I think it’s less a question of either/or, and more a question of well, yes/and in addition.

    I thought immediately of Terry Pratchett. “Funny fantasist” probably did it. But do we really think of Pratchett as a funny writer? He does write comedies, and he can be as wacky as hell, but for my part I think of him as an unusually perceptive writer. The hilarious things and the very tragic things he writes about are all affecting because he shows us such a complete understanding of human nature. That’s where the funny bits and the terribly sad bits and the ennobling bits all spill out together.

    So maybe it’s worth thinking about wanting to be funny and… something else. Woody Allenish. The people who love the humor will still love the humor, but there’s something there for somebody else, too. It seems like that’s sort of where you’re headed, isn’t it?

    Now how you turn that into branding is probably a different thing. “It’s like The Marx Brothers Meets Battleship Potemkin!”

    On the other hand, who ever successfully brands himself or herself? Isn’t it one of those things that happens while you’re not looking, and which usually isn’t anything like what you’d have wanted anyway?

    * which probably guarantees that I’m as common as dirt, when you think about it.

  6. Posted July 23, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I personally brand your stuff as “oh good, another A. Lee Martinez book is out. Cool!” – but I can see how this might be difficult to categorize on, say, “Amazon…”

  7. Freesamples
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Not that a stranger’s opinion on the internet is really going to mean much but, please just write. Be you because it works really well. Let publicists and picky people have their brands but don’t try to be something you don’t feel you are. I have never seen your work as zany, zany seems like forced over the top funny that stabs me in the chest because hey it is that unpredictable. Your books feel like talking with good friends, sure they have issues and serious moments but we can still laugh.

  8. Katie
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Reading your entry reminded me of a Neil Gaiman short story “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire” Bottom line is just write, if you try to hard to make yourself into a brand you will lose us (the readers). Its not often you find a writer who can write truly a unique story each time. So what if there is some humor in them all, I don’t mind, I could use a laugh. Keep up the good work… I am almost done with Chasing the Moon so hurry up with the next one.

  9. Posted July 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    I could see being told your books are funny all the time being annoying, but I don’t think there’s anything to despise about it. I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy and most of it’s dry, boring, and just cookie cutter. Your books (admittedly though, I’ve only read two) are so much more than that. Yes, they are funny, but they are also well written, unique, and incredibly creative. I wouldn’t be disheartened or change your writing style to try and match what people say about your books either, just keep doing what you feel is best and whatever you write will be awesome.

    Also, man, write a series! >_>

  10. Posted July 24, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    just remember that the A is for awesome.

  11. Posted July 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    I would hope, as a fan of your work, that you would just keep doing what you’re doing, writing books featuring characters that I care about. The characters in your books, like in life, get into some nasty situations, and humor makes those scenes bearable, just like in real life we all need to laugh. You keep writing them books, that have humor, but also do have wonderful characters, and I’ll keep reading them.

  12. Buddy
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    These people have no clue what they are talking about. Do they understand what it means if your work is a brand? Oh, the monotony…hahaha. Everything you set out to accomplish has been a waste. And the hilarity of the situation is you are stuck. There is no escaping the brand. People who have read Gil’s or Monster or Automatic Detective will be able to easily identify A. Lee Martinez as the same person who wrote Chasing the Moon without seeing your name or the cover. In fact, I bet most of your fans could identify your work, blindly, by listening to any given passage of your future works. Better yet, I bet they could differentiate your work from similar works of different authors by reading a quick synopsis.

    You might as well hire a set of ghost writers, go live on a beach, and collect money from the five books you put out each year.

  13. Roth
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    As a whole, your books are fun. They have a little bit of everything, though it’s easy to see why people use ‘funny’ to sum up its parts.
    You merge many ideas and situations into something that, although has a brand, still stands out from the rest. It’s clever, witty, and sometimes wonderfully absurd in its humor, but most of all just flat out fun. You can read it for the humor, ponder the deeper ideas that the characters are presented with, or just enjoy the story as something different and fresh, absorbing what you will.
    I think that the humor is more obvious, given the situations and choice of characters (might be why people choose to note ‘funny’ or ‘zany’ first) but that isn’t what holds them together. The subtleties make a huge difference, make it something out of the ordinary and something to look forward to. It makes the humor work, makes it stronger.

    Whatever you’re doing, it works. If you want to fill a story with more humor, huzzah! But don’t sacrifice the wit just to appeal to the more ‘zany’ brand that people want to stick you to.

  14. Tom Brosz
    Posted September 18, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    The main thing I noticed about your books was the amazing originality. It’s one thing to create a series in a particular setting with mostly the same characters, but you generate a new universe in every book.

    As far as I’ve been concerned, the Martinez “brand” has been “if you pick up one of his books, you can guarantee that you’re going to have a good time reading it.”

    And exactly what’s wrong with writing and selling imaginative books that people have fun reading?

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