I don’t want to have a “brand.” The Internet is full of articles and pointers and guides to building one’s “author brand.” Use social media to build your author brand! Build your author platform before publishing! Ack! I. Don’t. Want. A. Brand. I want the door always to be open for me to write what I want. I just finished a re-write of a short story with which I’m rather pleased. My writing group seems to like it as well. It is in all ways different from my novel. For one thing, it’s short. It takes place in 2010, not the 1550s. It takes place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not medieval India. The main character is a desperate teenage girl. (Ok, one could argue there’s a desperate teenage girl in my novel, as well, but to draw any link would be a mighty stretch.) And you know what? I really liked writing my historical novel, and I really liked writing this short story, which, if my plan goes my way, will be one of a series of linked stories. But all the information out there directed at new authors is implying that one cannot be successful if one is versatile like this, because publishers want an author with a brand, so that if their first book is a success, they can assure readers that the next one will be very much like it so you should put it on your wish list right away.
I’ve never been able to limit myself to one subject. This is why my “career” includes positions in urban planning, economic development, communications, public health, project management, freelance writing, non-profit administration, teaching, and I’m sure I’m missing a couple. I find all these things of interest, and although I periodically whine to my husband that I’m not an expert at any one thing, I am truly happy with each toe in a different pot. (To mix metaphors a bit.) One of my writing group members is struggling even more than I am with this: she wrote a very good novel which could be categorized as “chick lit” because that’s just what came out of her at a certain point in her life, but now she is involved in (and thoroughly enjoying) writing a much more literary work. Thing is, she did build a platform around her first book, which her agent is trying to sell, and people like it, and now she’s wondering if this “brand” is going to stick to her like an annoying piece of Scotch tape one can’t shake off.
So, are we doomed as writers? Are there any contemporary writers out there who have successfully maintained their versatility? Barbara Kingsolver comes to mind. I mentioned her to my writing group, but the other members argued that she got her break before the publishing industry started harping on “author brand.” They have a point. (Side note: I just Googled “versatile author.” The first two hits were obituaries for writers. Maybe I don’t want to be versatile after all. The third was a bio of Christina Schwartz, author of Drowning Ruth, All is Vanity and So Long at the Fair. I’m glad I happed upon this—I did not know of her before.) So who else is out there writing and publishing in different genres, in different voices, on different topics?