Brand means many things to many people–your book covers showing the same colors and fonts, your chosen sub-genre of romance: romantic suspense, inspirational, LGBT, paranormal, etc. and the all-important Voice.
But what about the “magic” that happens when a reader picks up your book and “connects” with you through it? When this happens, you’ve gained a loyal reader–one who will yearn for your next book, re-read the ones she already owns while waiting and recommending your books to friends, librarians, and booksellers. As readers, we have all experienced this ourselves, right?
BUT WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN? And HOW? Very good questions, but how to answer them.
Then I recalled an article I’d read on Blue Moon Communications website. I wish it was still available for you to read but the company website has disappeared.
However, the point of the article by Theresa Meyers, President, Blue Moon Communications that stuck in my head was this point which used Nora Roberts as the example author:
STEP ONE (emotional Velcro) is achieved because they love her (Nora Roberts’) stories and are moved by them. This in turn leads readers to believe that they have formed a relationship of some type with that author and understand him or her. Because of this emotional attachment, they are willing to purchase a book written by this author simply because her name is on it.
That’s what I wanted to discover–what element(s) triggered this “emotional Velcro.” But how does one survey or test to find this unseen connection? And wouldn’t it be different for each author? No doubt it would be. Not every story is for every reader-we know that. It’s because we as authors bring all our life experiences into our books and our readers do the same as they read. So was discovering this “link” impossible? Should I just give up?
Then I also recalled an RWA workshop where Jayne Ann Krentz (who also writes in three sub-genres like moi’-) said that (1) an author should discover her core story and tell it over and over because (2) that core story is what links a reader to an author’s books (or words to that effect.) I spent a lot of time thinking over these two points.
By this time I’d written over thirty published romances. (Now 51.) I had identified my brand: “Strong Women, Brave Stories” which encompassed three elements:
- A strong crusading heroine
- a multi-cultural cast of characters
- authentic historical detail
These elements were elicited from my historicals, but I also write contemporary romance and romantic suspense—(Writing in more than one sub-genre is a no-no in branding. Nobody told me till it was too late! But I did find that I did include these in my other two sub-genres just not as pronounced.) But the real question: did these three elements spark my “emotional Velcro?” Were they the connection?
Finally, I came up with an approach, an experiment to test this. What in our novels elicits emotions–what element? The setting? Maybe. The plot? Somewhat. But finally, I hit on the characters. Readers identify with the viewpoint characters and “feel” their emotions and emotional Velcro was what I was seeking.
So where to go from here?
For a long time, I had used Tami Cowden’s Twelve Hero and Heroine Archetypes in planning my books. That seemed a good place to analyze my characters. So I looked over my 30+ novels and began studying what kind of archetypes I had chosen for each. I made a list of which hero and heroine archetypes I used and counted how many of each I used. Here’s what I discovered:
Historicals: My heroines were predominantly “Crusaders” and “Bosses.” My heroes were predominantly “layered Lost Soul/Warriors” or just “Lost Souls.”
Contemporaries: Heroines: Spunky Kids or Librarians Heroes: Best Friends or layered Lost Soul/Chiefs.
So what did that tell me? First of all, it told me that my historicals and contemporaries have different tones. Some of my readers read all my books. Others read one sub-genre or the other. I think my chosen archetypes are the key to this. The tone is different in the different subgenres. I push my historical characters much farther into jeopardy–many times physical as well as emotional life and death. But in both sub-genres my brand “Strong Women, Brave Stories” captures the essence of my brand–whether she is a Spunky Kid helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house or a crusading 1825 heroine working for abolition of slavery.
So I’d gotten verification that my tagline reflected my brand. As for my core story or emotional Velcro: My readers connected with women who pushed the boundaries of their times or the local prejudices to help others and also were a catalyst for change in the life of the wounded man whom they loved. That captures my core story.
Would it work for other authors? I meet monthly with a small group of Wisconsin RWA authors and I asked if they’d like to participate in this exercise. They agreed and this is what they learned:
Helen C. Johannes writes award-winning fantasy romance for The Wild Rose Press. “After doing this exercise, I found that my heroines are bold women who, for various reasons, leave behind everything they know and embark on a search for a real, forever home. They find brave but ‘wounded’ heroes with whom they can make a new kind of family, usually by reaching across boundaries created by prejudice or fear. This insight helped me create my tagline: “Brave men, bold women—hearts in search of home.”
Amy Sandas writes in two sub-genres: Regency and Western Historicals.
“Through this exercise, I was able to confirm and clarify my brand and the common theme that runs through my historical romances. My heroines tend to be strong-minded and often rebel against the limitations of their time. They prefer to take charge of their own lives rather than submit to outside expectation. My heroes are typically men who live a bit outside society’s rules as well. A common theme I discovered running through my stories is that one or both of my main characters have to make the choice to be true to who they are inside rather than who they thought they had to be.
Knowing these commonalities between my characters and stories has helped me stay focused on a cohesive brand across both of my sub-genres (Regency and Western Historicals).”
Steven Mitchell writes fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal romance as S. C. Mitchell. He crafts unique and wondrous worlds where characters explore, romp, and fall in love. Whether traveling through demon-filled dimensions, deep space, or ancient mythological heavens, heroes and heroines face fantastic challenges on their pathway to enduring love.
“I begin each book with two characters and a situation, but even before that my mind is on the setting. I’m a world builder first and foremost. I think that’s what my readers have come to expect from my stories, a rich, interesting environment for my characters to live in.”
After going through my process, Steve has recently rebranded, using: “Adventure in Fantastic Worlds” encompassing the elements of an adventurous romantic tale set in a unique and richly crafted environment.
Hiding in the Sierra Mountain Range of California for 21 years with her husband, Paisley Kirkpatrick spent her time roping in cowpokes of her dreams and wandering the streets of California’s gold rush towns to find inspiration for the books in her Paradise Pines and later after moving to Tomahawk, WI, her Northwoods Series. “While reading my stories, I discovered every hero is a warrior and his heroine a spunky waif with a nurturing nature. I write from my heart and give my characters the chance to find that perfect mate.”
But what if you don’t have a number of novels to study? What if you’re just starting out? One of our newer members Lori Oestreich suggested that it might be in the books she connected with. Here’s her take.
Lyn brought up an interesting point with emotional Velcro. As I went through my favorite books, I found my heroine’s to be “The Spunky Kid” predominately along with “Crusaders.” My heroes were a mixture of “The Best Friend,” redeemed “Bad Boys” and “Lost Souls.” Also, during our discussions, Amy Sandas noticed I tend to read books that have a death theme. The death may not be an actual physical death, but the emotional death of the wound the heroine and hero overcame.
My WIP has a heroine who is “The Spunky Kid” and my hero is “The Best Friend.” People say “write what you know” and I believe this takes on new meaning for me. If certain archetypes resonate with you, the emotional journey will come through in your writing.
Lori Oestreich’s 1930’s Romance debut novel “Darling, All My Love” entwines historical events into the emotional lives of two characters based on her grandparents.
Lyn here~Here’s one more suggestion for those who don’t have a body of work to assess.
For pantsters: Choose more than one of the following beginning sentences and write till you’ve introduced two characters and have setting and mood set. (Questions by Helen C Johannes)
- She paused at the foot of the stairs.
- Should he or shouldn’t he?
- He considered the woman across the room.
- “I will not permit you to do this.”
For plotters: Clear your mind of all story ideas you have already contemplated and fill out this with fresh thought:
- Setting for a new story
- Main character 1 (often heroine in romance)-name, identifiers, inner conflict, main goal
- Main character 2-(often hero in romance)the same
- Repeat at least three times.
Now whether pantster or plotter—look at what you have produced with either exercise (or both) and look for similarities. Is there a recurring archetype, main goal or conflict, etc? If so, try to put it into a few words, like writing a poem or the title of a poem or song. This will bring clarity as you par down what you have discovered and could result in a tagline that captures your brand.
Also since I wasn’t able to survey over 200 authors which is necessary for random sampling, I realize that these are just suggestions, but they gave half a dozen authors insights into their core stories and brands and could very well help you gain insight into the heart of your brand.
Since her first Love Inspired romance debuted in 1998, Lyn Cote has written over 50 books. A RITA finalist and a Carol Award winner, Lyn writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense and historical. Her homepage blog features “Strong Women, Brave Stories.” Visit her website/blog at http://www.LynCote.com and find her on Facebook, GoodReads and Twitter.