Thoughts on Branding, Rejection, and Perseverance

5 Jun

I was at Keycon a few weekends ago hocking books. I should have updated earlier, but alas I was behind in my edits and it seemed within an hour of firing them off, my stomach took a turn for the worse. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most violent puking episode that followed, but it does make one appreciate how relatively pain-free one goes about through life. Add working OT, a wayward cat, life’s finally slowed down.

A topic we didn’t panel but a few writers mentioned, was about a series versus a standalone. I’ve blogged on the topic before, but the general consensus I get from writers is, if they knew how much work was involved, they would do a smaller project.

I try not to tell people what to write, but I think I like the idea of thinking about the body of work as a whole. Most of us have more than one idea, and I think it’s a great idea to experiment and study all forms of creative writing: Shorts, poetry, non-fiction; playing in first and third person and generally improving the overall quality of the prose.

“Branding” is something my publisher talks about a lot, and the idea behind it is to present to the reader the sort of books you as an author write. Typically, my published works have been described as “epic fantasy” but I consider myself a science-fiction and fantasy writer. In general, I’d say my “brand” is science fiction and fantasy adventure stories. I think the genre is a nice wide open sandbox, and it’s important to relay the idea behind the book relatively quickly to potential readers.

If you want to write a series or a trilogy or whatever, that’s wonderful and I encourage you to do so. The main issue with working on a sprawling series is making the first few sales. I have plenty of rejections, and in general I’m thinking that if I can’t sell book 1, I’ll have a heck of a time moving book 2 or 3. Some series you can enter in at various books (Narnia) and sometimes I’m in the same world, but following a different cast or the cast in a different time period (Michelle Sagara-West’s Sunsword Series has three different series set within the same world and time period, for instance). No problem doing all that world building and revisiting the world.

The problem is with putting your hope on a series, is that book 1 might keep getting rejected for reasons beyond the writing. The market might be oversaturated with that topic. You picked an unpopular style. The publisher doesn’t know how to market it.

None of this isn’t to say you shouldn’t write it. I think if you are serious and want to write a sprawling epic, go for it. But write something else, too.

Having another completed manuscript also buys you time to finish book 2 in your series. Pretend your intended book 1 gets picked up – and you are only 30% into book 2. If you have a different book, say a standalone – publication and editing take time, but you can fire off other titles to your publisher while you’re finishing the beloved sequel.

The “con” if you will, is that assuming the series gets picked up, you worked really hard to get someone to notice your book, and now that you have contracts and a deadline, life tends to throw curve balls. You thought you had plenty of time, and suddenly you don’t. I wouldn’t want to leave my audience in suspense. Wanting more is fine – not knowing the fate of the hero, it feels like the product is unfinished and can feel unsatisfied. Knowing that the next part is coming out soon – but hey, the author has another title to enjoy while you wait – it builds the momentum and that way, allows the author time to make the sequel stand on its own and not feel rushed.

In my opinion, the pro outweighs the con to writing different books outside of the series. You’re forced to use different styles and research, and you can play with a different cast. In general, writing more improves your writing overall, and helps you improve as an artist. A scene or technique might come to you when you’re writing in a different style or voice, and who knows – you might enjoy the project de jour as much as or more than the epic masterpiece in your mind’s eye.

Disagree? Comment below!

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