Branding is all about creating Perceptions through imagery that appeals to a specific target audience. To revert to the classic Lux soap example (see part 1 of this article), the brand perception created is: a soap for filmstars. Never mind that the movie stars who are roped in as brand ambassadors of Lux would personally not be caught dead using it. So, the marketer is basically selling an aspirational promise to lure consumers to buy the brand.
With authors-as-brands the same concept comes into play. JK Rowling’s standing as a top brand among writers of children’s books soared as Harry Potter worked like a magic charm. Stephanie Meyers, E.L. James, Stephen King, James Patterson, Nora Roberts in the Western publishing industry and Amish, Chetan Bhagat, Anuja Chauhan, in India, are all authors who are now identified as top author brands. The perception created in the readers’ mind for E.L. James is that of a bestselling erotica brand and that of Amish as one who has given Indian mythology a cool new avatar.
However books and soaps are not quite the same kettle of fish. To readers (let’s call them consumers) of these authors’ books (uh, products!) the connection is not purely ‘aspirational’ as it would be for Lux’s consumers. A consumer of books engages with them at several levels and the most significant of these is the emotional level. It would be laughable to suggest that if Lux killed off one of its variants, its loyal consumers would be emotionally devastated. But when JKR killed one of her major characters, Dumbledore, many of the fans exploded with outrage and an outpouring of emotions that would be akin to the grief experienced at the death of a close family member.
When JKR chose to draw the curtains on the Harry Potter series, she brought to a close a series whose brand value is estimated at $15 billion. While the series and its many media avatars will continue to make billions from new generations of readers, movie-goers and myriad consumers of digital entertainment, the author herself has moved on to other genres. Such is the power of the Harry Potter brand that only after it was revealed that newbie author Robert Galbraith who had penned the thriller, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was none other than JKR, did sales of the book take off. And herein, lies the rub: even the high-priestess among author brands found it tough to reinvent herself under a new pseudonym (pseudo-brandname?)!
If the marketing wizards are to be believed, there is only one way for authors to grow their brand equity: don’t genre-hop and stick to your ‘brand’ of writing. To go with our soap analogy, a soap can at best juggle with the fragrance, the colour and shape but morphing into a lipstick or mascara, no way! So, if you wish to establish your brand as an author write multiple books in a single genre or a sub-genre that is not too radical from your original genre. For instance, a romance writer can experiment with chick-lit but not horror. The logic goes something like this: even if you aren’t an instant runaway success at least you can hope to slowly build success one book at a time, build a fan base for your series, write like crazy (three to four books a year) and promote the heck out of it. This strategy is supposed to work for both traditionally published and self-published authors.
There are more than enough writers who are already working the above strategy with a fair amount of success. But if you are an author who likes to genre-hop, write standalone stories, and baulk at the thought of becoming a novel-manufacturing factory you would do well to curb your aspirations of becoming a household name like….er….Lux!