The standard advice given to writers is to brand yourself. Find a genre, and stick with it. This strategy has proven successful for many contemporary authors such as Danielle Steel and Mary Higgins Clark, but even Jane Austen had perfected the practice years earlier, and Agatha Christie used it to pen mysteries that ranked her in the sales zone with Shakespeare and the Bible!
So why have I chosen to go against the gold standard of good advice and cross genres? I admit, it’s probably because I have no business sense, but it’s also because I love to learn new things and to challenge myself creatively.
Let the Muse Take the Wheel
When I sit down to write a story, I don’t think about sales numbers or marketing strategies. I don’t even think about publishing it. Instead, I open myself to the creative flow and let the words find their way through me to the page. It’s not as hokey pokey as it sounds, but it isa beautiful, powerful, and spiritual process that helps me tap into something bigger than myself.
My first book was written with my daughter in my lap. Together, we wrote a simple story, searching online for stock photos to attach to each page. We printed the “book,” and stapled it together. In time, that handmade picture book was shared with her friends and their mothers, until it found its way to an agent and then to a publisher. Zonderkidz produced a two-book series, God is with Me through the Day; God is with Me through the Night. And before I knew it, I’d become a children’s book author.
I’d never planned to publish that book, and I hadn’t planned to publisher another. But life said, “Let’s do this!” So I sat down to write a novel, just to see if I had one in me. I’d always been an avid reader, and like most readers I thought maybe I had a story to tell too. I gave myself three months, from 3-5 a.m. Monday-Friday, and that’s how I wrote my first draft of Into the Free.
Again, I never planned to publish, and I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it. But the characters wouldn’t stop pestering me. I reached out to that old agent friend who’d landed my children’s book deal. Thanks to the fates and a brave publisher willing to take a risk on an unknown, I became a novelist.
From Children’s Books to Historical Novels to Contemporary Novels and MORE!
When that novel proved successful, I was fortunate to write a sequel, When Mountains Move. So with two historical novels under my belt, I suppose I should have stuck in that arena where my readership was strong and loyal. But the creative powers had to shake things up again with my third novel, taking me into the contemporary genre where I stayed for both The Feathered Boneand Perennials.
That too would have been a cozy place to perch, but life said, “Let’s not get too comfy, Julie.” Next thing I knew, I was being asked to write a creative nonfiction work, so now I’m excited to be launching Crescendo next week (July 16, Harper Collins). It’s my very first collaborative work and an inspirational story that brings me to yet another group of readers.
At least that’s what the marketing folks would tell you. Truth is, many of my readers have followed me from the start. Sure, some prefer one genre or the other. Some like the romance flair of When Mountains Move while others prefer the literary tone of Into the Free. Some dig the gritty edginess to The Feathered Bone while others enjoy the lighter themes in Perennials. Heck, my books even crossover from faith-based to secular audiences and from adult to YA. I just can’t find a box that fits me. And I think most of my readers can relate. I’m hoping these same readers will enjoy reading Crescendo too!
Magic in the Mix
Perhaps I’ve taken these chances because I’m also a reader who likes to mix things up a bit. When I find an author I enjoy reading, I love to see her try new things. Sometimes she wins. Sometimes she loses. But JK Rowling, Barbara Kingsolver, Jeannette Walls, and others will tell you, they just wanted to take on a new challenge, learn new things, and write what was being given to them by the universe.
I guess I tend to write like I read… a little bit of this, a little bit of that. And while it may not be the smartest business strategy, it certainly satisfies my creative curiosity. And for that, I’m a very happy girl.
PRO AUTHOR BRAND
- Gain creative freedom
- Reach diverse readerships
- Tackle new artistic challenges
- Work with authors of different genres
- Offer readers fresh material that isn’t formulaic
- Test your limits and expand as you grow
CON AUTHOR BRAND
- Limited by brand expectations
- Readership limited to that specific market
- May grow bored in time with themes/genre
- Author circles may be limited to those in your niche
- Work may eventually feel predictable to readers
- You may outgrow your own brand in time
- What genre do you prefer to read?
- As a writer, do you tend to stay in that genre or do you like to test the boundaries?
- What’s one way you’ve taken a risk as a writer? (whether on brand or off)
- If you veer from your main branding, do you use a pen name?
- What writers can you suggest as examples of those who have broken brand successfully?
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Julie Cantrell is an award-winning New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author, editor, and TEDx speaker. Her first work of creative nonfiction, Crescendo, releases July 16.
Learn more at www.juliecantrell.com.