I have been thinking about branding for quite some time now. When I say "quite some time," I mean years.
Branding myself has been a problem because while I am a children's/YA writer (which you'd think would be a brand, itself), I haven't published the same types of things within that genre. Two of my early books are often considered science fiction, and I have an unpublished manuscript that is definitely science fiction. Yet I don't write traditional, what you might call "hardcore," scifi. I bring science fiction elements into the real world. I definitely don't write fantasy, though one of my books had elements of magical realism, which is sometimes considered to be fantasy. I used to call myself a writer of contemporary fiction, but my most successful book, critically, is a historical novel. I also used to use the word "humorist" in relation to my writing, but I think that's misleading because it brings people like Dave Barry to mind. He made his original reputation with his early humorous personal essays, not fiction. I can't call myself a mainstream writer because of the scifi and historical fiction forays and
the mystery manuscript I'm sitting on right now. I've sometimes thought of myself as writing outsider fiction because the aliens in the Will and Robby books, Butch and Spike, Therese LeClerc, and Walt and Nora are all certainly outsiders. But except for Therese LeClerc, none of those characters are the protagonists in the books in which they appear. The books aren't actually about the outsiders. Jasper Gordon, the lead in A Year with Butch and Spike, is the ultimate insider grade school student. He makes a conscious choice to break away from his traditional behavior. We never see Hannah in the Hannah and Brandon stories in a social setting, so we don't know if she's an outsider. She is simply a child who has chosen to behave a certain way.
My interests, as I've been known to say, are all over the place. And that's the way I like it. I really have no desire, and probably no ability, to limit myself to just one kind of writing. I think there is an aspect of branding that does that. Branding has the potential to typecast a writer the way an actor can be typecast. Just this past week I met a writer who was slammed with negative reader reviews for one of her books because it wasn't what they had expected from her. She had left her niche, her pigeonhole, and she suffered for it.
In this sense, it seems to me, authors who are expected to brand themselves are being asked to impose limits upon themselves.
However, I also understand that there's an aspect of branding that involves definition. If you can define yourself in a way that keeps your options open, it could mean "connecting your work to readers who will appreciate it most," as Dan Blank said in Branding for Authors.
A few weeks ago I realized that my subject matter is all over the place because that's how I am. I started thinking about me, personally, as well as my writing. I am not a bandwagon person who has any desire to adhere to one genre, one type of writing, or even one school of thought. Hell, I don't even work well in groups, because it's so hard for me to conform to one. What's more, I like those qualities in others. Readers with natures similar to mine may be my people. I have to help us find each other..
So this weekend I came up with a brand for myself--"Real world fiction about characters who go their own way." That is what I write. It's there at the top of my website for all the world to see. I have defined what I do.