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.