Romance Publishers Promises to Romance Readers Part 2: Branding
Part Two of the three part series on promises in romance. Part One was the delivery of promises and Part Two is about the promise itself. Part Three is about the breaking of promises or what I like to think of as When Good Authors Go Bad.
Branding is an important concept for a business person. A brand is not the author name, logo, marketing package, or label. “A brand serves to create associations and expectations among products made by a producer.” (Wikipedia). Essentially, a brand is the promise an author or publisher makes to the reader through the books themselves. As a reader, I have associations and expectations of authors and publishers. It is the brand of an author or publisher that drives my buying decisions and the buying decisions of many other people.
Romance publishers create associations and expectations or “promises” to readers that they will publish romances first and foremost. On the back of a 1986 Jayne Ann Krentz category book, I found the following:
What the press says about Harlequin romance fiction..
“When it comes to romantic novels… Harlequin is the indisputable king.”
-New York Times
Harlequin is trying to change its brand from romance publisher to “The Ultimate Destination for Women’s Fiction” but I think that it isn’t having much success. To the general public, Harlequin is synonymous with romance books. It’s like Kleenex to tissue paper.
Avon has developed a brand or promise that isn’t necessarily positive. To many readers, Avon is synonymous with a certain type of historical romance. Bookseller Jolie calls them interchangeable. I would agree. When I read Candace Hern’s In The Thrill of the Night, I thought it was an Avon book. Ditto for Tracy Warren.
I am confused about Aphrodisia’s promise. Out of one side of their mouth they are saying that the line is erotica. On the label it says, erotic romance. The books are a definite blend of the two. Right now, Aprhodisia’s promise to me is that if I am not careful, I may be disappointed in the premise of the story. With Spice and Avon Red, I am convinced that these books are erotica versus erotic romance and haven’t bought a release since the introductory titles of those lines.
But brands and promises are not the exclusive provence of the publisher. Authors have brands too. With each book, an author sells a promise to a reader. If the reader likes that promise, she’ll be back for more. I am convinced that is the success of series. The reader is looking for a similar emotional experience each time she picks up an author A’s book. For example, Nora Roberts has established a promise for me. She will write character rich stories featuring strong heroines. I am likely to cut her slack on a book if it should start out slow because she’s lived up to that promise so many times in the past. The same goes for Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick. JAK will generally feature quirky, imperfect characters with strong familial ties. One character, usually the hero, will have featured some type of betrayal by a woman in the past but it DOES NOT affect his ability to love again. HelenKay Dimon established, with one book and three stories, that she will write sparkingly witty, modern dialogue. I love that kind of stuff and I know I’ll be in line (figuratively as I will be buying the ebook), to buy her next book Your Mouth Drives Me Crazy in July of 2007.
Edited to add: Tara Marie pointed out in the comments section how authors can create a negative brand. For me, that can happen with just one book. This can happen if I don’t like characterizations of the individuals in the book or if I don’t like the writing. Diane Whiteside is an author who is not going to work for me. I had the same problems with her writing as did Jayne. For me, that’s enough to take her off the TBB list to the DNB (do not buy) list. On the other hand, Shelly Laurentson’s voice is compelling for me. I haven’t loved all her works but I find her voice, her writing to be unique and refreshing so I’ll keep buying her even though she isn’t quite making the mark each time. How many books does it take to create a negative brand? or conversely how many books does it take to create a positive brand?
Brands are the promises that authors and publishers give to readers. If you are an author and you don’t know your brand, read a few reviews. If they all say pretty much the same thing, that’s your brand. That’s your promise to your readers and that is association and expectation readers have when they see your name. Readers, what are some brands of authors that you can think of?
In two weeks, we’ll discuss what happens when authors break promises or how many broken promises until you stop reading a particular line or author.