Wednesday, October 3, 2018

You're Branded

Over a month ago author Lawrence Block retweeted this tweet from fellow author Chuck Wendig.


The thing that occurred to me is that whether you set out to or not, you’ll probably end up creating a brand.  Wendig’s foul-mouthed, in-your-face attitude is his brand, whether he consciously set out to do that or not.  Noir-ish crime stories set in New York are Lawrence Block’s brand, whether he set out to or not.  Soft-core gender swap and age regression stories are Eric Filler’s brand, which he only semi-consciously set out to do.

The thing is, it’s not just “voice.”  For most authors it’s a function of the genre they write, the language they use (“voice,”) and the way they look at the world.  If you asked me to do a “blind” taste test of authors--names and titles removed from a book--could I tell a John Irving book from a Michael Chabon book?  Most likely.  Could I tell a Stephen King from a Dean Koontz?  Maybe, though I haven’t read much of either.  Could I tell Chuck Wendig from Chuck Palahniuk?  Possibly.  Could I tell Lawrence Block from Donald Westlake?  Probably.  Could someone tell an Eric Filler book from a Lisa Change book?  Um...I hope so?  Could someone tell that Eric Filler, PT Dilloway, and Ivana Johnson are the same person?  “John Daniels” couldn’t, but he’s an idiot.

Because I’m very familiar with both authors, let me use my first example.  I could tell Irving and Chabon apart because the language would be different (Chabon tends to use “bigger” words while Irving’s style is blunter) and the subjects would be different--Irving tends to do more cradle-to-grave stories while Chabon has a narrower focus.  Irving frequently references wrestling, Vienna, and hookers.  Chabon frequently references Jews and at least one character usually turns out to be gay. So yes I could probably tell them apart.

If you take a classroom of writing students and give them a topic sentence they would all come up with something different--unless someone cheats and that would tell you something about him/her.  It’s more than “voice,” it’s how they see the world and approach it based on their background.  If you write enough books, eventually you’ll establish your “brand” for good or ill.  It’s simply not possible to change your style and way of looking at things and solving problems enough to be completely different.

That’s also why it’s foolish to try to force a brand.  Chances are you’re not a good enough actor to maintain a personality in your writing, in person, and on social media enough to keep it up for too long.  It’s one of those times where “be yourself” probably is the best advice because few people are good enough to be someone else all the time.

2 comments:

  1. Readers are the ones that brand authors. They associate the name with a certain genre, and it confuses them if say Eric Filler starts writing cozy mysteries. So I agree, you get a brand without trying.

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  2. At one point I tried to brand, but found it's really out of my control. Not trying anymore, just writing, and I feel better for it. :)

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