Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is Brand Name Better?

When it comes to publishing and promotion, many authors like to talk about branding, that like any product being sold, people look for brand name recognition. I believe there are a few ways book buyers consider brands:
  • Brand-name author. People buy books all the time just because of the author, myself included. If you are publishing numerous books with consistent style and content, you create a brand for yourself and people will buy books solely based on track record.
  • Brand-name series. This isn't only applicable to series characters, there can be other series branding as well. Soho Crime publishes books that are set in foreign countries so when you pick up a Soho book you expect to be transported. Blogs like The Outfit group authors together and send the message, "If you like one of our books, you'll probably like the others."
  • Brand-name publisher. When I receive books to review, one of the first things I look at is the publisher. Admittedly, it makes a difference. There are certain lines and certain houses I tend to enjoy over others. This has nothing to do with how large or small the house is; it has everything to do with track record. If I've read three lousy books released by publisher X, what are the chances of me picking up another?
  • Brand-name genre. The genre you write in is another form of brand, and within that genre, there are dozens of sub-genres. Do you think cat cozy fans read the backs of those books before they buy them or do they just see "cat" in the title and know they'll like it? Why do you think people subscribe to Harlequin, receiving whichever title is released that month? People are loyal to their genre and will pick up books solely based on where their shelved or how they're categorized.

Some of this may sound silly and superficial. After all, we read books based on content and quality of writing, right? It doesn't matter who published it or where the book is shelved. The reason we continue to read certain authors or certain genres is because they're consistently good, but if the book is bad, it's bad.

But how many people consistently buy authors like James Patterson and Tom Clancy, who barely write their own books anymore? If we're all about quality and consistency, wouldn't we notice when a different author is writing each of their books? To me, it's like the drug companies changing their formulas or Starbucks changing coffee roasters. Will people notice a difference? And if they do, will they even care?

As a person who buys generic everything and couldn't care less about labels, I find it interesting that such superficial branding has found its way into book buying. Like anything, publishing is a business and branding is vital to sales. But what happens when the quality of the product suffers? What happens when people buy books for the author or publisher regardless of the writing quality? Where does that leave newbie writers who are talented, but don't have a brand?

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