Genre and Author Brand

Saturday, January 25, 2020
Back when I was new to the field, a seasoned children’s writer told me she didn’t try to determine what type of book her story would be. She simply wrote the story. Then she would figure out what it was. She had learned this lesson as she drafted an early reader that turned into a chapter book at the advice of her critique group. She later rewrote it as a picture book. When she sold the book, it was once again an early reader.

Sometimes you just have to tell the story. In the end, perhaps with help, you’ll figure out what it is.

When I tell people, especially writers, this story, I watch them panic. “If you write more than one type of book, how will your readers find you?”

How indeed? Given the fact that most of my readers are zoomers (Generation Z) or younger, I have confidence that they’ll Google me.

Oh, wait. I can still hear the die hards in the group calling out. “You can’t brand yourself if you write in more than one genre! It doesn’t work that way.”

But it does. Just this week, I listened to an episode of Literaticast. In this podcast, agent Jennifer Laughrin of Andrea Brown Literary Agency interviews children’s publishing professionals. Episode 39 featured author Kate Messner.  One of the things that Kate discussed is that she writes a wide variety of children’s books including nonfiction, picture books, and middle grade novels. What then is her brand? 

Jennifer explained that an author’s brand is whatever readers think of when they think of her. She followed by asking Kate what she thinks her brand is. Kate answered curiosity and courage. For her part, Jennifer identified Kate’s brand as being able to make difficult topics accessible to young readers and always writing with heart and courage. With two answers that agree so closely, I think it is safe to say this is her brand.

What does this mean for your writing career? If you normally write women’s fiction but your current novel is nudging into mystery territory, learn all about red herrings and write that mystery. If you are a nonfiction writer who has found an event that you can best write about in fiction, start outlining your story.

Write what calls to you and your brand will create itself. Maybe you write fiction and essays that shock and awe. Or you could be someone who pens mysteries and romances that titillate. Write what only you can write and your writing will create your brand.

For my part, I’ll continue to write about ancient cultures and evolution, headline topics and social justice. To do so, I’ll comb through history, eye witness accounts, court documents and the latest science to tell young readers the facts as we know them.

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins  March 2nd, 2020. 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Your advice of "write what calls to you" is what I've been embracing these days. In my opinion, passion goes a long way. It stokes the research. It fuels the revising. It comforts during rejection. Thanks for this post, Sue.

(And I love Kate Messner. I have one of her books for teachers. It's a wonderful resource.)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Hi Sioux,
I haven't seen her books for teachers but I love her middle grade fiction.

You are right about passion. It is essential to carry you through a project.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I hope this is true! I honestly hate branding--both in terms of being a graphic designer and working on a branding campaign for someone else, and in terms of my own personal writer/artist brand. If I were to brand myself, it would probably be someone who explores sad, weird, dark things in all forms--from confessional prose to beautiful paintings. Just writing that is comforting. It means I'm not for everyone; and that's what branding is, distinction.

I'll have to check out that podcast. :)

I also agree about passion, and often start out asking myself: what's your burning question? If you can uncover that, you will have your drive to write and keep writing.

Great post, as always, Sue! :)

Renee Roberson said...


This is such an important post. I've often struggled with this whole branding thing myself. I'm a journalist who also likes to dabble in writing fiction for young adults and teens, but I also love the occasional horror/suspense/thriller story. I finally came up with the idea of putting the words "Storyteller. Journalist. True Crime Addict" on my blog underneath my name, so maybe that covers off all my interests? This also made me think of the author Lauren Oliver, who started off writing for young adults, but has now penned books for adults and middle-grade readers. And she seems to have no problem selling books! As Angela said, I think you have the right idea--let your knowledge and interests fuel the creative spark and it will be more authentic.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Ha! Was just catching up and I've been doing a lot of thinking about branding lately. ('ll see what I mean tomorrow!)

I write all over the place, for kids, for adults, non-fiction, fiction, poetry, but years ago, an editor helped me see my brand very clearly. (Though I didn't think of it as brand at the time.)

I was working on a scary YA manuscript and finding it difficult to set the right tone at the start. As we went back and forth, she said, "Oh, Cathy. You cannot NOT be funny."

There's all kinds of funny, and that editor sort of freed me to figure that out. I gotta be me, whatever I write! Great post, Sue!

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