Change Will Scare Your Readers Away

The Book Marketing Tip for November 24, 2012:

Consistency and integrity of an author’s brand is crucial to her success. Changing gears is highly risky.

Various branding irons

When you have too many irons in the fire, it is hard for anyone to know which one is yours.

Don’t confuse your branded identity as an author with the author you are in real life.

Branding is often a sore subject for most new writers. No one wants to pretend they are someone they are not. Authors sometimes think that the readers follow them because those readers really like them.

Let me be blunt. Your fans are not your personal friends. Even if they act like it and share their flattering sentiments. It is not you hey love. It is your work they love.

Fans become fans because the author’s work touches them in some way. The reader has a need. Perhaps the reader loves cozy mysteries. Perhaps the reader has been using the information in the book to improve her position at work. Perhaps the reader enjoys the foibles and humor of a the author’s main character through an entire series. Perhaps the reader has come to enjoy the author’s style of writing.

Whatever the reason, it’s not because the author and reader have become true friends. The reader won’t help the writer move, nor loan the writer money, nor babysit the author’s toddlers.

The author’s brand should represent the author’s work that readers should expect. Once branded, readers become confident that their particular reading needs will be met, purely on byline alone. When readers become this confident, it is fairly easy to sell them on the author’s next book.

The reader’s thinking is that since the author was worth the effort and cost once before, it will likely be again. The more often the brand is reinforced with similar works, the more strongly the reader will identify with the brand.

However, a brand is a fragile thing. Once it is applied to an experience that does not match the reader’s needs, the reader gives up. She immediately comes to understand that the brand does not deliver on the current promise, or any promise for that matter.

So, if the author is knows for cozy mysteries and that is what the readers expect, and suddenly the author writes a science fiction technothriller, the readers will be disconcerted. this is not the cozy they are looking for. Worse, new readers, those who like technothrillers, will be equally confused as they will find that the author is a cozy writer once they elect to understand the brand.

There is perhaps no greater example of an author changing her brand than that of Anne Rice.

Anne Rice

Anne Rice, a portrait in genre changing.

Anne Rice is famous as the author of the Vampire Chronicles series. However, it took a while for her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, to find an agent. The book also received some dramatically negative book reviews, which gave Rice considerable stress.

Rice turned to BDSM-style erotica, under the pne names of A. N. Roquelaure (The Sleeping Beauty series) and Anne Rampling (Exit to Eden and Belinda).

Meanwhile, Diaries of the Vampire defied the critics and found an audience. It endured as an immediate classic of the vampire genre. Rice returned to write more Vampire Chronicles titles, and sales soared. She won over the “vampire” community, the Goth community, and even was considered a literary champion of the LGBT community. Her followers could not get enough of her.

Then came the big genre shift.

Rice nearly died of diabetes. The gastric bypass that saved her life had complications, and she almost died again and went through another dangerous surgery.

In the aftermath, she found Jesus, so to speak. She returned to the Roman Catholic Church, after decades of being a devout atheist (and a mover among the vampire and Goth communities). She turned from vampire novels to Christian fiction, namely, the Christ the Lord series and other books for the Christian market.

While Anne Rice did not disavow her earlier works of vampires and bondage, she clearly stated that she needed to stop encouraging demonic worship that tended to find comfort in her vampire novels.

Here is where Anne Rice was foiled by her own brand.

The shift to an antithetical genre seemed like a slap in the face to the Vampire, Goth and even the LGBT communities. They felt betrayed. Rather than support Rice, who had been through difficult times and found solace in religion, the readers went on to other authors.

Meanwhile, the new market Anne Rice sought to please refused to be pleased. Here was that awful Goth-vampire, dirty-book, homosexual-supporting author now in their midst. They were quite aware of Anne Rice’s brand, and could not forgive her for it. Few of them read Anne Rice’s new books about the life of Christ. In fact, the third book in the Christ the Lord series has been postponed, perhaps indefinitely.

Not long ago, Rice seemed to have a public breakdown on the Internet. On July 28, 2010, Rice proclaimed on her Facebook page that she was quitting Christianity. While she made it clear that Jesus still had a place in her life, she refused to bow to the conservative ideologies of the Christian Right. Her primary argument with Christianity was its so-called stance against gay marriage.

Anne Rice now continues to write. She is trying to reclaim her brand as a horror writer. Her recent novel, The Wolf Gift, is one of the sleeper hits of 2012.

The change back to horror seems to have paid off. Her Vampire, Goth and LGBT fans always recognized Rice as a writer of allegorical social alienation. These old fans learned how Rice quit Christianity for a perceived slight she felt the institution held against the socially alienated. They were quick to forgive and to welcome her back. They took a chance on her new werewolf story, and proclaimed her once again as the leader of their pack.

The story most writers can take away from this is that one should change genres only rarely, and only with the understanding that it requires building a new fanbase–a fanbase that will not appreciate the writer having a bibliography in the old genre.

Some genres, like fantasy and science fiction, have an affinity for one another. Fans will easily follow a writer into such synergistic genres. Others, such as romance and science fiction, tend to be at odds with one another and have a clear need for separate pen names.
(photo credit: Diorama Sky via photopin cc)

Once your writers come to expect a certain type of book from you, stick to it. They will not follow you into other types of work that you want to pursue; they are not those kind of friends.

Note: Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is still the number one vampire horror book on Amazon, her Sleeping Beauty novels are seeing a lift from the Fifty Shades of Gray blast, and The Wolf Gift is pulling in sales during the holiday gift-buying period. Anne’s doing okay, if not perhaps a bit discontent with the world.

(Branding Irons photo credit: Diorama Sky via photopin cc)

(Anne Rice Portrait photo credit: wikipedia via Creative Commons Public License)

How would you go about changing your brand should you need to?

About David Rozansky

Publisher of Flying Pen Press; Author's Business Manager; Author of Fishnets & Platforms: The Writers Guide to Whoring Your Book; Aviator; Author; Adventurer.
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