Is there an ulterior motive buried in your fiction? Is your plot a fun ruse to seduce readers to the dark side of chocolate? Are you making the case for a social cause like the elimination of injustice or world hunger? Or are you merely trying to convince people that good always defeats evil, love does indeed conquer all and mom’s advice really was the best?
In other words, do you have an author platform? Is your writing branded?
If you’re wondering what these things are, so did I at one time. A platform is more common among non-fiction writers; my colleague Stephanie Jones, for example, who writes about sexual abuse. Her book details a personal journey that has served as a springboard to speaking engagements with victims’ rights, support and advocacy groups, and freelance articles on spin off topics.
Branding gets a lot of attention among fiction authors because it helps define a reader’s experience of your work. More than a name or tagline, a brand is about expectations. In a grocery store, for instance, shoppers may attach higher hopes to flavor from a Sunkist orange than they do to the generic fruit in the next bin. Likewise, readers expect very different books from Toni Morrison and Stephen King.
As a horror author, are you known for your skin-crawling slasher scenes? Are you a romance writer known for gut-wrenching relationships? Are you a thriller writer known for page-turning plot-twists? Do you feed your readers a consistent diet that keeps them coming back to your table of titles?
It took me awhile to figure out who I wanted to be as an author. Paranormal romance tagged me long before I recognized the genre as what I wrote. Once I conquered that identity crisis, however, others followed. Fantasy/paranormal romance covers a big, broad range. I wasn’t sure how to stand out in that spectrum. I spent close to a year developing my tagline of “supernatural stories of passion and suspense” and creating the web site and materials to support it. I like the fit.
I also like the fact that beneath the marketing aspect of what I write (which is really what platforms and branding are all about), I have found that the stories of my heart revolve around second chances. More than anything, I love giving my characters another shot at something gone awry in their lives. When I can, I try to tie the struggle to a tangible current event. In HeavenSent.com, a couple’s second chance at finding each other happens amid the very real backdrop of sudden unemployment.
Though I don’t claim a platform, I find that the current event tie-ins help get the attention of people who may automatically bypass my genre as something they don’t like. The second chances and contemporary settings might win them over in ways psychic dreams and guardian angels don’t.
When I can, I do plant social seeds. In Where Souls Collide, I dealt with the downfall and transformation of a local newspaper. And I think we’re all aware of the plight of traditional media. In HeavenSent.com, I hope I paint an honest picture of what it’s like to lose a job and fear for your future. Again, how often do we hear about the country’s growing unemployment rolls?
There are many ways to sell yourself, make a point, brand your fiction, or elicit a smile (or scream for some of you). Does your writing do double duty? Or is it enough to simply entertain? I'd love to know your thoughts.