Friday, June 03, 2005

How I Got Here, Part 64

Zowie, it’s Friday!

Many great comments from y’all yesterday. Thank you for taking the time to respond to the marketing issue. And great to see some folks commenting for the first time.

Becky mentioned my newsletter. Thank you for the plug, which I now shamelessly further. Sneak Pique goes out via e-mail six times a year. It has news of my doings, but most of it is dedicated to telling readers inside scoops of Christian novelists, and featuring novels released in the past two months. I was really impressed by the list of new releases this time. In a day or two, the latest issue of Sneak Pique will be posted on my Web site. Go check out these new novels. And good grief, while you’re there, sign up for the newsletter, will ya?

We left off our NES two days ago with the marketing meeting between me and the Zondervan folks about to begin. I was tearing my brains out about that time (early January), trying to finish Web of Lies by the end of the month. I was having major trouble with the ending. What I’d planned to have happen wouldn’t work because character motivation didn’t support it, so’s I kinda had to do some serious rethinking. Which I did, and I did end up finishing the book, as y’all know, but it danged near killed me.

Anyway, back to the marketing meeting. Just to remind you, the attendees were moi, my husband, my editor, the marketing person at Z, and an outside marketing consultant Z had hired on my behalf. Five of us.

The meeting started about 1 p.m., as I remember. Maybe a little later. It would end up going through dinner (we ordered in), until about 9.

We talked about who I am as an author. What my novels offer. We looked at the hard numbers of sales. We talked about other authors, and how I am different from them. What my niche is in the market. We talked about trying to market me over the two very different genres of suspense and women’s fiction (technically called the contemporary genre). My killing side and my softer side, so to speak. The kind of suspense I’d ended up writing made the chasm between these two personas even greater, because I write intense suspense—the more scary stuff. Not too much of that kind of writing in the Christian world.

It didn’t take long for it to dawn on me just what a split personality I’d created.

Now we faced an even bigger hurdle. I was gaining readers with my Hidden Faces series, but those readers would have to be put aside while I returned to women’s fiction. By the time I returned to these blood-thirsty readers, a couple of years would have passed. Would they still be there?

Looking back, I can’t believe how easily I caved. Chalk it up to the prayers. Chalk it up to really wanting to follow where God lead. ’Cause I didn’t wanna go there. About two hours into the meeting, I was talking the talk I’d vowed never to utter—that the smart thing to do was brand myself completely to one genre.

And at the moment, the foremost genre was the one of murder and mayhem.

Suddenly, just like that—I became a suspense writer. Only.

Whoa. How did this happen? God, You're leading me on this, right?

The meeting had to continue. Everyone’s time was valuable, and we still had much to discuss. I had no time to mourn at that moment, while I watched half of my authorhood slip away.

Instead we had to focus. Okay, so I write suspense. What kind of suspense? After much discussion we decided the subgenre was “Crime Thrillers.” Frankly this didn’t thrill me (haha), but whatever. It wasn’t the marketing term we’d be using anyway. It was more of a term the Zondervan salesmen would use to describe my work while touting me to secular stores.

We talked about my promise. What should a reader expect when picking up a Brandilyn Collins novel? This was a fascinating discussion. It’s a real trick, taking everything an author is known for and narrowing it down to one creative phrase. We talked a long time about this issue. Finally we agreed that my books contain a strong Christian message, that they are scary and dark, but that they point people to God’s grace and power. And they all have twists. Many readers/reviewers had talked about my novels in terms of a rollercoaster ride. So there were the main aspects: rollercoaster, darkness/evil, God’s power. We played with the words, tweaked and tightened, and came up with: “A rollercoaster ride through darkness to victory.”

There ye be. One brand promise.

So we had the subgenre and the brand promise. And I’d had a tagline from way back, which readers had come to recognize: “Don’t forget to b r e a t h e . . .” I didn’t want to get rid of that, especially since I was in the middle of trademarking the thing. But we needed one more item: a brand descriptor. This would be sorta like a logo, but sorta not. Sorta like the brand promise, only even shorter. A snappy word or two to describe my style of novel.

We would not come up with this in the meeting. The discussion would continue via email in the next number of days. I kept playing with the word “nightlight,” because readers often talked about needing a nightlight after reading one of my suspenses. The don’t-read-it-in-the-dark-alone kind of idea. But there was that rollercoaster thing . . .

For the next week (when I wasn’t writing), I played with words. When I finally came up with the phrase, I knew it. Absolutely. This was it, and ain’t nobody gonna take it from me. I emailed the rest of the marketing team. My brand descriptor?

“Seatbelt Suspense.”

Yo, baby, that’s so way cool. Snappy. Has that rollercoaster thing goin’. Plus alliteration. I loved it.

Drat. Probably gonna have to go through another trademark.

For the rest of the meeting, we discussed a five-year-plan complete with goals for marketing and projected sales numbers. Yikes. I was really gonna have to work for a living.

We broke up the meeting feeling great about the whole thing. Marketing consultant guy, who’d taken copious notes on his laptop, would be sending us all a final report. Everything was fine and dandy. I knew, and the rest knew, we’d made the right decision about focusing on suspense only.

Reality hit when I went to bed.

I couldn’t write my Dearing Family series. The series for which I’d been gathering funny little scenes for months. The series my extended family had helped me plot at our last family reunion. The series they were waiting for.

I couldn’t write another story like Color the Sidewalk for Me. A heart-tugging, deeply characterized, emotional story. That wasn’t my persona anymore.

I had to kill people for the rest of my life.

Okay, don’t panic.

I could still save myself. In the morning I would email the rest of the team. As they flew back home, my post would hurtle through cyberspace, be waiting for them when they arrived. An e-mail that said Nix all decisions. I want my split personality back.

Yeah, they spent a lot of money coming out to California and all. But surely they wouldn’t hate me for this.

Too much.

Read Part 65


Stuart said...

Thanks for sharing Brandylin.

Interesting to see how God orchestrates our lives and how even when the music doesn't seem to make sense if we will follow his lead it can lead to great things, even if it means leaving some good things behind.

But I'm sure you'll find some use for the Dearing family in the future. :)

I'd like to hear more about the trademarking process sometime in the far distant future after the NES has been put on pause.

Kelly Klepfer said...

If you kill somebody could you still write the Dearing story?
How about a family reunion gone bad? (Think Agatha Christie )Maybe Paige could be a Dearing and in the next book she could find herself in hot water again and she could run into Annie or Chelsea. There is a window or a back door in there somewhere.

C.J. Darlington said...

Or you could secretly write the Dearing story in your spare time ... :-)

Domino said...

Put your seatbelts on, Dearings! If you're going to see the light of day, looks like it might have to be on a dark and stormy night.

Bret said...

Another great week of blogs. Thank you Brandylin.

Lynette Sowell said...

Isn't it funny how we 'dream' of the big contracts etc. and having the big wigs wine (or sparkling cider) and dine us? We sure don't know the inside scoop sometimes, do we? I know you had to drop the Dearing family at one point--I just didn't realize how that made you feel.

I know I'm a pup in this business, but it's something I've been thinking about lately--I probably won't always get to write what "I" want--not all the time. Well, I could, but if it's not what a Marketing Dept wants to sell, my proposal would stack up with the other unsold ones. Thanks for sharing! :)

D. Gudger said...

Can you do a "nom de plume" for the Dearing family? I do like the idea of family reunion gone bad, but then suspense is what I love to read, and hope to muster up the courage to write.

I never imagained there was so much pressure in the publishing world to "brand" yourself - to put yourself in a box (or so it seems) . . .

Becky said...

Well, I not only "recomment" that you sign up to receive Brandilyn's newsletter, I also recommend it ! : )

But don't forget about writing reviews for Amazon, either. It's word of mouth as much as anything that gets people talking about a writer.

"Seatbelt Suspense" is a brilliant tag, Brandilyn. Original. Descriptive. Poetic.

So my thoughts about the direction of your career--it seems to me you are doing more than standard fare commercial suspense (though I admit to being unfamiliar with this particular genre). At least in Dead of Night your protag had depth, and your prose was evocative. Can you do more of this and still do the suspense, or will that stretch your readers' patience?

Anonymous said...

So our dear Ruth has reared a murderer! Oh my! Congratulations on the brand. It's superb. Your giving spirit and talent have blessed my life. Can't wait for Web.