Sunday, November 16, 2008


For most of my life, I've had this peeve about being categorized. It wouldn't be too far a stretch to say I really resisted it and, when pressed, would act in a seemingly atypical manner just to prove a point. Like, you know, ordering the sushi for lunch when everyone assumes I'll get the same grilled chicken sandwich I got last time.

Thing is, I haven't had to overreact this way in my real life too often because my tastes are NOT that easily defined, and I've never been all that consistent in my habits. My friends and family know this about me. Some days I quite honestly prefer the sushi to the chicken. Some days I'm a burger girl. Other days it's Cobb salad or pizza or loaded nachos or vegetable lasagna. Food provides excellent examples because I like so much of it.

And music. Music is this way for me, too. ACCORDING TO JANE is an homage not only to Jane Austen but also to the sounds of the '80s. I love '80s music like I love gelato, but that doesn't mean those are the only things I'll play or eat. And I love Austen, but my favorite reads include more than her six novels.

Which is, to a large extent, why this focus on "author branding" has been so challenging to me. I've been forced to think about the concept more frequently in the past year or two and am now a product of that machine. I've been stamped a "women's fiction author," which is true, of course, but within the genre there are further delineations, and I've had to adhere to some them. The point of branding is to clearly provide for one's consumers the product they're anticipating. Women's fiction can be light or dark in tone, commercial or literary in intent, involving one main character or a group, having a small-town setting or a global one, employing some paranormal/suspense/romantic elements or not, etc. In saying yes to some and no to the others, I'm supposed to willingly shape my packaging so that my audience will know exactly what to expect when they open one of my books.

I get that. I really do. And as a reader, I've appreciated the gift of this literary shorthand on more than one occasion. I'm angry when I'm misled by a backcover blurb. I feel betrayed when an author known for her romantic comedies takes a depressing turn. And I'm surprised and disappointed when a novelist with a really strong erotic-fantasy voice tries to fake her way through a different genre.

But today, as a writer in the midst of a first draft...on a cold, dark, November afternoon with snow flurries outside...forcing my storytelling inclinations into a prescribed box is going against the grain. I'm sure I'll feel more up to being "light," "commercial" and (theoretically) "witty" tomorrow, but if I try to write another scene today, it'll come out as "dark" as my 7th novel or as "quirky" as my 4th.

And we can't have that, can we?


Pam said...

Marilyn, I think anything you write is witty and commercial! And I'm trying for dark and gray, so maybe we should switch houses for a while--would that help? Though the southwest isn't real big on sushi...

Good luck!!!

Caryn Caldwell said...

Nicely said. That's one of my concerns with branding -- I read such a wide variety of books, and so my writing tastes vary as well. I don't like the idea of being stuck in one particular writing style for long.

Robin said...

Marilyn, I haven't been at this all that long, but it seems to me one can't force themselves to write something that isn't inside them. That doesn't mean you can't stretch and write new and different things. It means at certain times, or maybe I should say certain cycles in our lives, whatever is inside of us at that moment is what we should write. If writing becomes a chore rather than a joy (and I realize once you're published and have contracts writing is a job and not always a joy, but hopefully it is most of the time), then the words on the page are going to reflect that.

Best of luck with your branding! I think you're great no matter what. :) And darn you, all this talk of food has got me hungry.

Pamala Knight said...

Go ahead and write whatever you want because it will be completely worthy of being read, no matter which genre you get labeled. This is another one of those unfortunate by products of someone, somewhere, ages ago, taking a marketing model where you have to 'fit' into a marketplace and then instead of letting the work/product drive the talent, they made it the other way around. That's sometimes to everyone's detriment and it can be demeaning to both the consumer and the producer/author.

So sorry that you're having to deal with this. I do hope it doesn't interfere with your creativity. That's why I say GO AHEAD AND WRITE IT. LOL, don't mean to yell at you, but I want you to understand that I and many others like me, will adore it anyway.

Marilyn Brant said...

First of all, thanks to each of you for brightening my day. I appreciated it...

Pam~I'll happily switch houses with you for a while, esp. since I'm definitely in a quesadilla mood right now :).

Caryn~I know what you mean about reading widely--it leads to wanting to try a bunch of different styles. Though (thankfully for all horror fans), I've never wanted to try my hand at that genre, even after reading something great by Stephen King.

Robin~You're right. I know I'm absolutely led toward particular themes (I really like what you said about the "cycles," too), and I feel fortunate that the genre I'm in allows for the exploration of them. But I was in a crabby mood yesterday and wished to be contrary more often than not... Probably better for my book's overall tone that I chose to blog rather than draft!

Pamala~your knowledge of marketing is vastly superior to mine. I see the wisdom in branding, though, even when I'm resisting it. Kinda feels like marriage: date (experiment) all you want but, in the end, you've gotta commit to someone (some genre)... But the limitations of both are still aggravating sometimes, aren't they? :)