Top Historical Fiction Authors Talk about Branding

As James Patterson said in a quote I used several days ago: “Brands are nothing more than trust.”

I asked each of the top historical fiction authors I interviewed what brand they are trying to create for themselves and I thought it might be interesting to look at their responses collectively.

Do not think of myself as having a brand – Sharon Kay Penman and Hilary Mantel

Personal brand – Helen Hollick, CW Gortner and Deanna Raybourn

Series brand – Helen Hollick

Well-researched historical fiction from a less travelled point of view – Susan Higginbotham

Writer of famous women whose names have been obscured by history – Michelle Moran

Historical accuracy married to vivid story-telling that puts the reader there in the moment – Elizabeth Chadwick

Biographicals – Margaret George (something that evolved rather than a planned brand)

Bringing to life misunderstood or maligned characters or eras – CW Gortner refers to this as a possible future brand

Other than Chadwick, none of the authors mentioned great stories as part of their brand, however, since they are all recognized as great storytellers, I’m going to assume that they each would have added that to their brand statement.

Returning to the notion of trust, when we pick up a Margaret George book we know we’re in for a great fictionalized biography of people like Mary Magdalene or Helen of Troy; Susan Higginbotham will bring us lesser know figures from history like Kate Woodville, sister to Elizabeth or Bess de Montacute who marries Hugh le Despenser;  Michelle Moran gives us stories of Cleopatra’s Daughter and Nefertiti; and, Helen Hollick delivers another exciting story about her pirate, Jesemiah Acorne or another instalment in one of her series about King Arthur or King Harold. We trust them. After all, they’re our favourite authors.

So let’s switch to another favourite author, JK Rowling and her just released adult book, The Casual Vacancy. The Huffington Post offers a round-up of reviews with eight relatively negative and only two positive. Reading them, one has the impression that if Rowling was not already famous, she might not have made it past the agent stage.

And what’s my point? JK Rowling has a brand, a wonderful brand that has served her and her readers well for many years. She has abandoned that brand and broken trust with her readers. The jury is out on whether she will be able to establish a new brand.

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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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4 Responses

  1. Tell me somthing. How come male writers don’t engage in this nonsence of chasing brands? How come they just sit at their desks and write and write without worrying if their brand is losing cachet? Did Leon Uris hire a publicist to create a “brand” image? Was Michener concerned that his groupies would leave him if a better “brand” came along? Did George MacDonald Fraser even know what a brand is? And even if he did, would he have cared? Is a novel, the product of years and years of sweat and toil, really not all that different than a Coach bag?

    1. This sounds like a rant. Are you ranting Miss Rachel?? I could offer one response which is that in those good ole days, publishers worried about brands. If you added Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, Carol Shields, an early-career Margaret Atwood and others you could make the same comment – they didn’t worry about brands, they just wrote. I don’t think it’s a male versus female matter, but a matter of today versus yesterday. The earlier post I did on James Patterson certainly indicates that he worries a lot about brand – of course, he comes from advertising! Clearly I need to interview more male historical fiction authors – CW Gortner is the only male author so far. I’ll try to find a few more.

      1. In the immortal words of Governor Chris Christie, if you think that was confrontational, you should see me when I’m really pissed:

        All kidding aside, I think a lot of your readers would love to hear from more male writers, to hear their honest, refreshing opinions on the state of historical fiction today.
        Kudos to you for always posting though-provoking topics that promote interesting discussions!

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