Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wordsmithing

According to Margaret Wolfson's article on branding in the current issue of Poets & Writers, brand name styles can be grouped (broadly) by one of the following categories, all of which I've used myself:

Metaphoric/Allusive (Darkyn ~ a metaphor for vampire)

Coined/Divergent Spelling (Kyndred ~ divergent spelling of the word kindred to link it to Darkyn)

Descriptive (Paperback Writer ~ a blog written by a novelist)

Eponymous/Origin (Lynn Viehl ~ a brand pseudonym)

Creative Compounds (StarDoc ~ a coined compound of star + doctor)

Phrases (Tales from the Lost Ledger ~ my only phrase brand, I think, comprised of the novella's subtitle, which is also a subversive element in the story)

Alphanumeric/Acronym (PBW, a coined acronym of Paperback Writer, aka shorthand for me, which is easier to remember and spell than any of my bylines.)

There are plenty of approaches to brand naming, including hiring a professional to do it for you. As writers we are forever forging words into stories, however, and I think the best brands are those we create ourselves and that have meaning for us (and some of the most successful brands started out as a personal mark by the brand's creator.)

Why are writers so suited to successful brand-making? We are wordsmiths who already forge immense things every day using only words. Writers dream in words, and use them to construct new people, places and even entire universes. We are exactly like the classic variety of smith, too, except that the page is our anvil, words are our metals, imagination our furnace and writing skills the tools we use to hammer out, hone and perfect our stories.

Smithing words into brands is also one of the most important exercises you can do as a writer, not only to group and define your work under a recognizable symbol, but to make your mark on the Publishing world as well. Stop and think about the word brand for a moment. One definition of it is as a permanent mark to record and display ownership. When you mark something with your brand, it should say to the world "This is mine."

Writer brands range from individual character names (Harry Potter ~ J.K. Rowling), setting names (Mitford ~ Jan Karon), novel titles (Twilight ~ Stephenie Meyer) to group names such as name-linked novel titles (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, etc. ~ Janet Evanovich) or series brands (StarDoc ~ Yours Truly). The writer's own name can become a brand as well (Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe) but unless they inspire a great many people during their lifetime (like Dr. Maya Angelou) that's usually a posthumous brand.

For me coining the words and using divergent spellings for my own brands has worked best, and inspiration can come from anywhere. StarDoc was born during a shower, when I was thinking about a newspaper article about a marine biologist. They ran a photo of the guy standing beside his Jeep, which sported the vanity license plate. I kept thinking how perfectly apt and utterly cool that plate was (SEA DOC), and then made the leap to my own brand (and don't ask me how, to this day I don't know what really prompted it) by mentally swapping out SEA with STAR. So there's one technique that might help you come up with your own brand; invent an imaginary vanity license plate for the work you want to mark.

Wordle, my favorite online word toy, can be extremely helpful with brandsmithing, too. On the create page, feed Wordle lists of keywords, synonyms and other descriptors, and let it form a word cloud for you like this one, which is compromised of a few title ideas plus synonym lists for the words fire, light and burn (and here's something I've recently discovered about editing your Wordle creations: if you want to remove any word from the cloud, right click on it and a little remove-word window will pop up; left click on the window and Wordle will regenerate the cloud again in the same format and layout minus the word you don't want.)

One more thought -- wordsmithing a brand takes time and often a lot of thought and work, so don't expect to come up with a brilliant concept overnight. Be diligent, keep tinkering at it but also remain open to any source of inspiration, and you'll have the best chance of creating the brand that leaves your mark on the industry.

1 comment:

  1. Great tips on branding! Totally agree with your last thoughts about it taking time and consideration. I do list, after list, after list... just trying to figure out what works, and what doesn't. And I still screw it up. :)

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