Hey! I wanted to talk a little bit about branding. It’s this elusive thing I’ve been trying to understand for what feels like forever now. Artists develop a style for you to know them by. Authors write in a specific genre and have a specific tone to their stories. Musicians have a certain sound. The list goes on.
So why is it so hard to pin down, and why is it so important?
Unfortunately, I often go down rabbit holes like this. I’m supposed to be working, but then I get stuck on some aspect of this business I’m trying to build. If I’m going to make a living as an author, it’s kind of important. Okay, REALLY important.
That’s why I’ve tried pennames before.
I tried to make a really specific brand under a penname. Readers would always know what to expect from me, and it’d be great, I thought. But it turned out being really stressful for me. And I ruined that brand I tried to build.
Let’s back up. This is going to get into some real-talk, so bear with me.
When I was ready to go hard at this writing thing, I made a penname called Kamryn Hart. The idea was to write only shifter romance and only in the male/female world of romance. I picked that genre because it has a big enough reader base that it’s possible to make a living and because there are aspects of it I REALLY like.
Specifically, I was shooting for steamy shifter romances–though I’m not the steamiest writer…
All of that to say, I think I started out pretty strong with that steamy shifter romance brand. Immediately, my penname, launched in Spetember 2017, was a million times more successful, in terms of these monetary goals I have for writing, than anything I had tried in the past. That was awesome and very encouraging with all of the research I had done! I was like, “It really works!”
I did well for the first five books in my Marked by the Moon series, the series I started my penname with. Except, for when it came to the male hero in the last book of the series: Her Bad Cat.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Her Bad Cat. I thought it was a great ending to the series, but I tend to let my characters have their way. Rogue told me he was bisexual. That was in direct conflict with the brand I was trying to build, and yet I didn’t tell him no.
Writing can be really hard when you’re trying to fit into a mold that isn’t you. I picked the M/F variety of romance for a reason, because apparently most people are straight. It has a bigger market, and I already picked a very niche genre to write in, so writing LGBT characters was going to put me into an even smaller niche.
Since I don’t fit into the “majority,” I often get this romance thing “wrong” in some way, especially when I start writing characters I much more closely relate to.
Taken by Werewolves started out as a pure reverse harem romance, in that the girl is supposed to get all the guys. (Unless you grew up on Eastern media like me, with harem stories and visual novels like Clannad, but I digress, this is the Western book market we’re talking about.) While this is still true to The Lost Princess of Howling Sky, the second book has made it more of a polyamorous variation than pure reverse harem. I made some people mad by doing that, by listening to my characters instead of strictly sticking to the genre rules.
Now, you’re not going to please all the people all the time, even if you do stick to all the genre rules. Maybe someone will call your work uninspired, who knows, but the point is this: I didn’t do what I said I was going to do.
That’s where the problem in my branding lies.
For some people, their business, their brand, is a natural part of them. They are their readers. For others, to reach that monetary success, we need to write stories FOR our audience.
I’ve internalized this. I know this is true. But it can be a lot harder than it sounds. Mostly when you’re stubborn like me. After writing Saving the Werewolves, I decided to write an M/M romance, Halloween Werewolf. Directly against the brand I set up. The last book in that series, Valentine’s Day Tigers, is beyond that. What I mean is it’s really a story that has no place at all in the brand I tried to forge, but by golly, I was sticking to my guns, telling the story I wanted to tell, and nothing could stop me.
I fucked up my brand, Kamryn Hart’s brand, pretty good, guys. Since that happened, and I wasn’t any good at maintaining a penname, I decided to just move everything under Kestra Pingree. That’s another thing I’m not good at. I see the value in a penname and a solid brand like what I tried to build, but I wanted MY books to be under MY name. I’m proud of them after all.
Anyway, as you can imagine, Valentine’s Day Tigers didn’t do well in helping me reach these monetary goals. Likewise, it did nothing to help me build a group of core readers. None of my holiday books did. That’s for multiple reasons again, but the biggest is because they didn’t fit in with the brand I had initially laid down.
I didn’t keep my promise.
My brand is pretty much a mess, as you can see. And let’s not even get into my jump from music into writing. It’d take a person who really adores YOU as a person to follow you through that big of a jump. Especially when it was Eastern, Japanese-influenced music to writing Western steamy paranormal romances.
See what I mean? You probably have no idea what to expect from me. And even if what you can expect is CRAZY JUMPS FROM ONE THING TO ANOTHER, that doesn’t mean you’re interested in sticking around for that, because who’s to say you’ll like my next jump?
It’s not a healthy model for a lifelong career.
I used to say I want to write all the books. While that’s still true, I’ve written enough books by now to ask myself what’s the same across all of them. I am ME after all. There have to be some constants.
Fantasy. Okay. So everything I write has an otherworldly element. Check. Earned endings? I mean, I sure do try. Bittersweet is how I would describe my go-to endings, since life is bittersweet.
That’s about all I got. Emphasis on the otherworldly element.
If that’s the only thing I have tying all my stories down, so be it. I’ve come up with another solution to my brand.
So I like to do everything? Fine. What’s the main thing, the constant, people can expect from me? M/F paranormal/fantasy romance. Less emphasis on steamy.
My work hours are dedicated to that. Of course, my brand narrows down from there into my own style of M/F paranormal/fantasy romance, but that’s a good thing. Big worlds, all the fantasy, not-so-steamy-but-still-steamy romance that builds. I want epic quality. I have to be unique somehow, or else why will readers want to follow ME?
The only problem with that is when I do write a random book here and there that isn’t M/F paranormal/fantasy romance. This will be done in my own time, so there won’t be that many in comparison, but it’ll still be outside the “expected” when I do publish one.
Branding and running a business is hard.
I still don’t have a definite answer, as you can see. There’s also something to be said for changing with the times. No brand is going to stay exactly the same for its entire life. At least, I wouldn’t think so. Things, the world, change too quickly.
I guess I’ll just have to see how and where this goes. I feel mostly good about my decision. It’s a compromise on my artistic, all-over-the-place heart and the way a business needs to be run.
Queen of Werewolves – The Lost Princess of Howling Sky Book 3
Slow and steady on those edits. I’m in the line editing phase though, so that’s progress! I got through 6,573 words doing that this week. Also, I’ve made progress on the book cover. It isn’t finished, but it’s getting there.
Once Soulmates – These Immortal Vows Book 3
I’m back to prioritizing ONE personal project at a time, or nothing ever gets done. So much for what I said about switching things up last week. I want to finish things more than I want to do all the things. That means I got in another 2,482 words for the first draft of Once Soulmates.
And I’m probably going to change the book title. This story has been all over the place in terms of titles and where books are going to start and end. Let’s just call it These Immortal Vows Book 3 for the time being… Starting next week.
You want to seriously consider your brand when you’re trying to make a name for yourself, or if you’re trying to turn your artistic pursuits into a career.
You’ve got this.