Jordan got me thinking about branding the other day, and I started playing with the idea of word association as branding.
Association is used in many psych tests to determine and explore a subject's free or conditioned responses to words, images, concepts, or other mental stimuli. Single word associations often prove to be the most memorable because, well, they're easy to remember. Here in the U.S., when we hear single word brands such as Pepsi and Oreo we all think of soft drinks and cookies because we've been conditioned to associate those words with their respective products. Even when a manufacturer diversifies, we still associate the word with the original product -- which is why a Kleenex usually means facial tissue to most people, just as a Xerox usually means a copy.
Some famous authors' surnames become single-word brands. Say King or Rowling and most readers recognize the author and can often reel off some of their titles. (Rowling is easier because all hers start with Harry Potter and the..., a series form of branding.) Speaking of titles, they can be just as much a brand as the surname, as with Sue Grafton and her alphabet-titled mystery novels, starting with A is for Alibi and currently at S is for Silence.
The trick with branding is to create a unique word or phrase that in time will immediately identify you to readers. If you don't want to wait around for your surname to earn that kind of attention, you generally need to create and reinforce your brand through your career.
StarDoc and PBW are definitely the most successful one-worder brands I've created, with Darkyn coming up fast. All of these brand something I do: SF, the weblog, the dark fantasy. I never found a brand for the GH and JH romance novels, probably because I've had to switch gears three times in romance, and I'm looking at a fourth shift, but I also think a single-word romance brand is harder to nail. There are more romance writers than there are writers in any other genre, I believe, based on the number of titles released each year. That does work against us, as even famous romance author surnames generally aren't known outside the genre unless they go mainstream (say Stephen King and Mary Balogh to romance readers and they know immediately who you're talking about; say the same names to a horror reader and she/he will ask, "Mary who?")
Still, I think one-word branding can be done for any writer. I'm going to pick on Jordan for a minute to demo this: when I think of Jordan Summers, the first words that come to mind are serene, mystical, balanced, searching, curious, calm, oracle, meadow, journey and temple.
I can explain some of them; I often visit Jordan's weblog when I'm annoyed or ticked off because reading her posts always calms me down. How I got meadow and temple is probably influenced by some of the free associations I've made with her personality and work. Add devoted in there, too. Jordan is not all about the writing at her weblog, but it's woven into everything there even when she's not talking about it. She's always looking to improve (something that resonates with me at the foundation level) and she doesn't mind laughing at herself when she messes up. Add in the endless curiosity about the process and the business you don't get much more pure writer than that. (Have no idea where oracle came from, but that's Jordan, too.)
All of those words mean very different things to other people, however, so they don't work as a brand for Jordan. But by rearranging them, making up lists of synonyms, recombining them and so forth I might create a single word to capture Jordan (which I will not be presumptuous and do as I've likely embarrassed the poor woman enough by now.) The same thing can be done for any writer, and any writer's work. You've just got to play with the words.
Practice: if you could describe yourself or your work with one word, what would it be?