Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Tale of Two Brands

Last week Rob and some no-name hack talked about Branding with a capital B. As Rob so eloquently pointed out to Monsieur Steinbeck, your brand must be not only clear but also consistent. In the business world, it is the job of the marketing department to make sure the company’s literature, web site, media, trade shows, ads, mailers, and all the cool stuff marketing departments spend gobs of money on, all match what your sales reps are saying in the field. In the writing world that is the job of the publisher and the author.

“Get the message out,” is the mantra of every virtually marketing guru you will meet. Your brand is everything—except when it isn’t.

That’s right. Except when it isn’t.

What happens when you’ve done everything Rob will teach you about tomorrow—you’ve differentiated yourself and your product, you’ve clearly articulated what makes you unique in the market place, you’ve got business cards, web sites, speaking gigs, reviews, articles by the boatload: in short all of your arrows are pointing in the right direction and they are big and red and flashing—and it’s all wrong?

Not what Rob is teaching. That’s right on the mark. Or at least as right as anything can be when you present it through a Q&A with a dead man. But sometimes your very brand can work against you.

“How can that happen?” you ask. How can branding be bad? Or at least not good? Well let’s say that your brand is IBM. Great brand huh? How many companies can say three letters and have instant recognition? Well AT&T of course, but they also have an ampersand. AOL. CNN. ABC. MSN. All right so lots of companies can do that. But you still have to admit IBM is a great brand. What do you picture when you think about IBM. Computers? Reliability? Dark suits and starched white shirts? Nerdy haircuts? Sounds kind of like James Dashner, except for the computers and the reliability.

Anyway, let’s say IBM came out with a really great new product. Except instead of an overpriced server with lots of flashing lights, it was a cutting edge, hip hop, rock the world, video game. How would the IBM logo help that product? It wouldn’t. Of course people would recognize the name, but they’d be expecting spreadsheets and networking, not fast cars and cool explosions. The very strength of the brand they’d spent years creating would work against them.

So how does this apply to the world of writing? Well let’s say your six-year-old comes home and says, “Daddy, daddy.” Of course that would probably freak you out if you were his mommy, but stay with me here. “Daddy, daddy. Teacher read us a great book today.”

“Really?” You say plopping your dumpling onto your lap. “Tell me about it.”

“Well, it was really neat. But a little bit scary. There are these two brothers. And a really bad man who kills their father. And it’s by a an author named, um, . . . Stephen King.”

How long would it take before you were on the phone to Jr.’s teacher? Or would you go in person? How angry would you be that your child’s kindergarten teacher was reading them Stephen King?

Except here’s the thing. Turns out that Stephen King wrote a wonderful fantasy novel called, “The Eyes of the Dragon.” It’s not bloody or gory. It doesn’t contain any profanity. It’s really a great fairy tale. Never heard of it? That’s because it’s by Stephen King. And who in their right mind would let their six year old kids read Stephen King? Shoot, even if you found out the story was okay, you might still very well have a problem with letting your kids read a book by Mr. King. And you would have lots of justification. What if your young son or daughter loved TEOTD so much they went out and grabbed another Stevie King book? Say like, “It” or “The Stand?” Good luck getting them to sleep alone before they’re like thirty-eight.

So what do you do when your brand works against you? Well, in the case of a publisher, you create an imprint. Essentially a sub-company or at least a sub-brand to market your different line of products. Big publishers and even some small publisher do it all the time. In the case of IBM, you might even create an entirely new company to sell your game. Because sometimes it’s better to have no brand then a well known brand that gives the wrong message.

How does that work for authors? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s say Frieda Feelgood is a prolific LDS author. She has published a dozen novels of mysteriously historical romantic suspense. She generally sells eight to ten thousand novels to an audience that is almost exclusively LDS. Great for her and great for her readers. Also great for her publisher. Everybody is happy.

Then something strange happens. Frieda writes a book that isn’t a mysteriously historical romantic suspense. And even more strange, it isn’t aimed specifically at an LDS market. Let’s say it is science fiction. Of course Frieda’s audience is excited to hear she has a new book coming out. But how excited will they be when they find out that instead of pioneers who solve grisly murders while finding true love, this novel is about a futuristic shootout story between two clans of mind-reading cyborgs?

The truth is that some of Frieda’s readers will think the whole Cyborg thing is the cat’s meow. Frieda is breaking new ground. And she’s every bit the great writer she has always been, In fact, this may be her best work yet. But most of Frieda’s readers will be disappointed. This isn’t what they expected. It’s like going to your favorite steak house to find out they stopped severing beef. Frieda could lose a part of her hard won following and not see a lot of crossover success either.

But that’s not the worst of it. Frieda is looking to break into the national market with this book. Of course, she loves LDS publishing and wants to keep writing for XYZ LDS publishing. But there is not yet a huge market for LDS cyborg books. And Frieda wants to take her book national. While Frieda’s previous books have helped her become a better writer, and provided her with some level of credibility, those dozen published novels could actually hurt her in the national market.

Why? Because publishers and bookstores are always on the lookout for “the next big thing.” How many times have you read, “The next Harry Potter” or “The next Stephen King?” The problem is, it’s hard to be “the next big thing” when you’ve published a dozen books but no one outside of the LDS community has ever heard of you. If you are an unknown author you could be amazing. Who knows since they haven’t read you yet? But if you’ve published a dozen books—even if they sold quite well in the LDS market—store owners are going to think, “This Frieda what’s-her-head can’t be all that good if she’s published a dozen books and I’ve never heard of one of them.”

Finally you have the problem of preconceived notions. Let’s say you hear about a great new mystery writer by the name of Mary Chin Flair. Everyone says her new book is incredible. Since you’ve never heard of her, you google her, or Amazon her, or yahoo her, or whatever flavor of searches you prefer. Only to discover Mrs. Flair has written a dozen sappy syrupy western romances. You hate western romances. (No offense, Jennie) So instead of trying her new book, you buy the latest Book of Mormon thriller from Uriah Milson.

In this case it is actually better to be a clean slate. True, you have no brand yet. But that means you can be judged solely on the basis of your new work. Of course it would be nice to get some cross over. Surely there are people who like mystery-solving romance-making pioneers and gun-toting cyborgs.

Which brings me to the last and mostly self-serving part of my blog. (Announcer’s voice says, “And now a word from our sponsors.” So feel free to go back to whatever you were doing and skip this last part.) As many of you know, my first national fantasy novel is coming out this August. It’s being published by Shadow Mountain, and I'm really pumped about what they are doing with it. For all the reasons I have listed above, and a few more, I will be publishing this five book series under the nom de plume of J. Scott Savage.

I’m excited about this opportunity for several reasons. For one thing, Shadow Mountain has had a lot of success with not only their YA novels, but other novels as well, in the national market. For another thing Shadow Mountain is putting a lot of time and money into this series. The first three YA series they have done, Leven Thumps, Fablehaven, and The Candy Shop War, have all sold very well, and all three have sold movie rights. That’s all pretty cool stuff.

The other thing I’m excited about is the chance to try my marketing skills on a much broader scale than I have been able to in the past. The first part of this effort was to set up a J Scott Savage blog. I’ve actually been holding off on doing this because up until recently not a lot has happened since I signed my contract. Not very exciting when your blog says, “Still no news. Check back later.”

Finally though, things are starting to cook. I have an artist to do the cover and inside illustrations. My editor is now working on my book. I’ve been putting together things like a map, discussion questions, and all that cool stuff. In the coming months, I’ll be getting ARCs, doing a blog tour, doing the actual multi-city tour. Hopefully getting international sales and movie rights. And I’d like to invite you to join me for all of that.

I’m hoping this blog will be of interest to writers and non-writers alike. Kids and adults. Everyone who loves fantasy. And people who are interested in the process of launching a national series. Of course I will keep on doing the frog blog once a week, but I am going to try to update my J Scott Savage blog three or more times a week. I’d also like to invite any of you who would like to cross link to go to my new blog and click on the trade links button. I am happy to trade links with anyone who is interested.

If you’d like to drop by, I am at You may notice that I am still tinkering with things. Changing the logo, adding more sidebar stuff etc. But I’d love to have you drop by. And if YA fantasy isn’t your thing, not a worry. Someone’s got to keep Rob and the straight and narrow and Julie’s going to be pretty dang busy with that new project of her own. So I’ll be here until they kick me out.


At 2/05/2008 6:22 AM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

Farworld is coming out in August? Excellent! We will be in Salt Lake City in August and guess what? My teenage son can read English well enough to get through Fablehaven, so I'll definitely be buying Farworld for him and hopefully we can come see you at a book signing or other Big Event.

At 2/05/2008 10:25 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Jeff, this is SO exciting! Congratulations, and I can't wait to read Farworld.

Love the new blog. My one issue is that in the logo at the top, your name didn't stand out very sharply against the background image. Maybe it's just my computer monitor, but I'd like to see "J. Scott Savage" more clearly.

At 2/05/2008 12:41 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Melanie, plan on it if you are here. I am planning on a huge release party when it finally comes out. When will you be there? tell your son, he will be my first international fan.


It's not just your monitor. My daughter/graphic designer/photographer is fixig it for me, but I was too anxious to start my blog to wait. Thanks for the congrats.

At 2/05/2008 1:38 PM, Blogger Nancy said...

Jeff- this is so incredibly cool! A million jealous congrats! :-)

I wish you all the best with Farworld and will watch things happen for you with genuine happiness.

Nicely done!
Nancy Allen

At 2/05/2008 1:45 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Thanks, Nancy. BTW, what are you working on these days? My dad keeps asking me if there are any new books by the "Civil War" author.

At 2/05/2008 8:36 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

Wonderful news. Looking forward to reading the book.

At 2/06/2008 4:09 AM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

Jeff, we'll be there for the first three weeks in August.

Cool blog site, by the way, and the illustrations by Brandon Dorman are magnificent. You have a character named Tankum? My mind read the name as "Teancum." :D

At 2/11/2008 8:31 PM, Blogger Danyelle F. said...

Jeff -

I love your nom de plume - J. Scott Savage. It just sounds so, je ne sais quois - artistique?

Love it! And can't wait to add Farworld to our Savage collection!


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