Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Name Brands

Are you reading this?

Whew. I guess I did it.

Now to write something worthy of the jump in virtual space. (Also known as: Write Something Neither Boring nor Whiny. It's week 11 of summer--I'm surrounded by bored and whiny. But I digress.)

So why the new blog? This is where Name comes into the story.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a writer. So I did the most important thing--I wrote. And I did the second most important thing--I submitted. And I did the third most important thing--I didn't die when rejection letters poured out upon me.

And then I took a submitting break. Somewhere between death, mono, and childhood cancer, submissions became a vision of the distant past and the unknown future. Writing, for all my neglect of it, refused to retreat quite so far and struggled out of me in bits and bursts until finally, the submissions vision has once again become reality.

Only here's the thing: I changed my name in the meantime. Actually, I changed it back. And no, I'm not talking about legal documents or getting married or taking my daughter's suggestion of years ago and becoming "Super Princess Barbie Unicorn". I'm talking about the little detail of what name I submit under.

See, I can choose any name I want to have on my manuscripts. It doesn't have to be Laura Andersen. It could be Kate Bell or Victoria Lindsey or Elizabeth Bentley. It could be J.K. Rowling (legally--not practically--speaking). It could be Harold Everhart or Isis the Egyptian Goddess. Or it could be (and was) Laura Adrian. And because I was submitting under the name Laura Adrian and hoping to be published under that name, the address of my blog was lauraadrian.blogspot.com.

No more. My latest rounds of queries went out last week, and after a brief struggle (mostly having to do with changing my blog address) I realized that Laura S. Andersen is who I am and, mundane or not, it's the name I want to see on my book. Any book. Whichever book.

So here's the new blog at the new address: www.laurasandersen.blogspot.com. And that is the Name part of this post.

How does Brand fit in? I'm so glad you asked. Branding is a marketing term and it's a fairly hot discussion in certain literary circles, especially, it seems, in the YA world.

Branding, in these discussions, is the sum total of the decisions a writer makes about how to present herself to the public. This can go to extremes--think Lemony Snicket and The Series of Unfortunate Events. The author (Daniel Handler) created an alter ego author (Lemony Snicket) and stuck ferociously to that alter ego in every aspect of the books' publicity. It was a stunt--but a clever one that made full use of branding as part of the fictional world.

The thinking is that Branding yourself--everything from the types of books you write to the design of your website to the clothing you choose to wear for public appearances--is a shortcut for readers to recognize you. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Nothing. Except, like most things, when taken to extremes. I still think a writer's primary job is to write stories that she is passionate about to the best of her ability. And branding, maybe, when taken to extremes, can get in the way of that. Because publishing is a business. And a writer who has made her Brand as, say, a writer of chick lit is going to have problems with her publisher and her public when she decides to write a literary urban fantasy. She hasn't met the expectations of her brand, and disappointment will likely color her new project.

Unless . . .

I have quite a few favorite authors who write under more than one name. This allows them to explore different genres without disappointing their fans because the name on the book is shorthand to what kind of story it will be.

Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine? Rendell delivers a classic, beautifully structured, traditional mystery that very often features Inspector Wexford. Vine writes dark, psychologically disturbing character studies.

Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels? Peters gives us wonderfully humorous but complex mysteries with favorite characters like the Peabody-Emersons. Michaels writes stand-alone ghost stories.

Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter? This Peters is also mysteries, both contemporary and medieval. Pargeter is the writer of richly textured historical novels that make one say, "That's the way it must have happened."

So is branding good or bad? I reject that choice for a different word--useful. But like all useful things, branding should be kept in check. As applied to myself, for instance? Historical novelist or not, I won't be wearing my corsets and full skirts to any agent meeting I may be lucky enough to have in the future, and I'll probably continue to shower and brush my teeth and do all sorts of things my characters don't. I will, however, pay attention to what I write and how I write it, to how my blog fits with the style of my fiction and to the way I behave and the image I present when in public.

Because ultimately, the Brand I'm must interested in is Hard Working, Courteous, Funny, and Generous Writer. That's a name I can live with for good.

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