Friday, December 16, 2005


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?


  1. Spacejock. I used it for the main character and title of my novels, and also for the name of my software business. I came up with it in the days before the internet, so I was happy to discover it was unique.
    A google search on the term brings up 34,600 results, with 34,598 of them relating to my software or my books.
    I reckon it's a pretty good brand, since Space evokes SF and Jock describes a person who barges into situations without employing the little grey cells first. Not so sure it's the best name for a software business, but I had this spare domain name hanging around so that was that.

  2. Bearded. That about sums it up.

  3. Anonymous7:27 AM


    I'm not eloquent or poignant, not clever or funny or thoughtful. I just rip it open and show it to you. Make of it what you will.

  4. Anonymous8:25 AM

    For my science fiction, it would be MindWalker, easily. *-* For my fantasy...I don't know. Maybe twisted, considering what I do to the stories. Not sure that's a very positive association, though.

  5. My editor said my work was edgy, so I chose the pen name Sharp. But if anyone asked me about my work, I'd probably say 'gritty'.

  6. Umm... that's a difficult one. I'm going to have to think about it. You raise an excellent point, though.

    Right now, the word would probably be 'developing'.

  7. My full branding statement right now is The Key to a Great Romance. Distilling myself down to a single word is difficult. If you ask me to do a brand for another author, I could, but it's nearly impossible for me to settle on one word for my own work. Offbeat maybe?

  8. One word? I can't describe myself with one word. I've always kind of liked the little tag new cashiers wear at one of the grocery stores: "I'm new and still learning."

    For my work the one word is Family.

  9. Okay, were you out to make me cry? You've just made my day. You can 'pick' on me anytime. *g* My curiousity is working overtime to figure out what that one word you came up with to describe would be.(wg)

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  11. Crafty.

    That one word truly describes every aspect of me. Different meanings, sometimes, but still the same word.

  12. One word...


    I like hyphens!!! LOL

  13. unfortunately the one word that comes floating up to the surface of my mental 8 ball is "goofy"

  14. rebellious... *lol* I'm terrible at following rules.

  15. Anonymous2:04 PM

    Simon Haynes wrote: Spacejock.

    That's a brand and a half, Simon. Plus it rhymes with mine, so I never forget it. :)

    Stuart MacBride wrote: Bearded.

    The beard is definitely an effective trademark. Although I wouldn't write off the surname; MacBride is memorable, strong and has a solid BSL ring to it (no, Stuart didn't bribe me to write that.)

    Tam wrote: Raw.

    Raw is a good brand-word for your work, but I'd probably keep messing with it to come up with something more individual. Tambo is an excellent and unique identity brand, too, but you know that. :)

    Andi wrote: MindWalker and twisted.

    MindWalker is very descriptive and thought-provoking; also a good work brand. Twisted is a good foundation word; I'd build or play with that.

    Trace wrote: edgy, Sharp and gritty.

    Editors can be a great help with developing a brand. I also like your online handle "Trace"; that has a mysterious, rather edgy sound to it.

    Dean wrote: developing.

    I think we all start out with that one. ;) I like your surname; off the top of my head I don't know any other writer with it and it's simple and memorable.

    Mary Stella wrote: Distilling myself down to a single word is difficult.

    I'd look at the symbol of a key or playing on "key" for catch phrases for all your books. Also, your full name is so simple and pretty I'd have to seize advantage of that (i.e. "a Mary Stella romance.")

    Darlene Ryan wrote: Family.

    Family is a powerful word, and resonates with everyone on some level, so I'd work off that; maybe tie it in with your surname or invent a catch-phrase incorporating it.

    Jordan wrote: Okay, were you out to make me cry?

    Not at all (though it would be great revenge for the several times I've teared up over at your blog.)

    My curiousity is working overtime to figure out what that one word you came up with to describe would be.

    Summershouse was the primary combo I came up with, but I think it might be a bit too long (a summerhouse is an open-sided structure in a park or outdoor location that provides a rest spot; totally suitable in my opinion.) I'm still playing with variations on oracle, too, because that ties together the mystery, vision and storytelling. Don't cry!

    Heather Lynne wrote: Crafty.

    Oh, I really like that. You could build a great brand off that one word.

    Vivi Anna wrote: KICK-ASS or BAD-ASS

    Two of my favorite words. :) One caution: major publishers generally won't pick up a brand that has even a mild obscene word in it.

    Kate wrote: goofy.

    Hey, Disney made Goofy work. ;) I'd go with your surname or a variation on it, Kate. Rothwell is elegant and interesting.

    Douglas Hoffman wrote: Shameless.

    Utterly, WryDoc. Lol.

    Silma wrote: rebellious.

    Amen, sister. I also like your surname, too -- you could do a lot with Pagan. :)

  16. PBW, That's interesting. I was thinking about 'oracle' last night. (It's appropriate in more ways than one.;) I couldn't come up with anything, but I like it a lot. When I played with taglines earlier in the year I created a goofy one, Endless Summers. I figure it gives a good feeling if nothing else.

    The branding tape I've been listening to every night says it's important that a brand 'sound' good. (ie Oreo, M-n-M's, etc.) They also said be careful not to use generic words. Apparently, people don't remember many generic sounding brands. So much to think about.


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