Sounds simple, right? If only. It was only when I’d signed with a major publisher that I knew what I wanted my ‘brand’ to be. Not because ‘hey, I’ve got something people can frigging buy now!’ but because I finally had the confidence to just be myself. As any author will tell you, that first big contract is worth far more than money.
In the early days, after selling my first few short stories, I simply billed myself as a ‘speculative fiction’ writer. I wrote science fiction, fantasy, and horror, so why not? Plus, since I was an unknown, with zero presence on social media, I feared I might sound pompous trying to brand myself. So I stuck with that for a while.
After a couple of years, I focused more on darker stories, particularly in the fantasy vein. My science fiction at that point felt weak and cliché, regurgitating ideas that better authors had already explored. So I billed myself a writer of ‘dark fantasy’. Around that time, I also became a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), so I figured, hey, this might be my calling. So I launched my website with all sorts of dark imagery. Ooh, scary. But not in the way I intended. It felt lame. Like I was pretending.
This showed in my work as well. I wrote little actual horror, and most of my dark fantasy was more on the fantasy side. Still, I tried. Halloween is my favorite holiday, after all, and some of my favorite novels are Victorian Gothic fiction. I cut my literary teeth on Stoker, Poe, and Shelley. Yet this brand wasn’t satisfying. It wasn’t me.
During this time, I wrote three science fiction novels, but very few science fiction short stories. Maybe I thought I needed a larger canvas for those works; who knows. More and more, my interest in actual science experienced a resurgence, and for the first time in years, I had hope for the future. All of the things I loved that Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, and Sheila Finch wrote kept coming back to me. My personal life was changing. I got married. Started raising a child. I recalled my earlier years, when science fiction was my favorite thing to read.
I still wasn’t sure of who I was as an author.
Everything fell into place when Penguin sent me a contract for one of those science fiction novels. Above the understandable euphoria, I sensed something else. My first published book would be a work of science fiction! Not horror or dark fantasy. Not the historical fiction I wanted to write years ago. Instead, I was giving a space opera adventure to the world. And thus, I was giving of myself. My true self.
I didn’t find my author brand. It found me.
That doesn’t mean I’m limiting myself to science fiction. I still have other written works, and other works planned. But science fiction will be my flagship, the banner I carry into the literary world, the badge I’ll proudly wear among my peers. Through science fiction, I can trumpet my ideas that call for reason, for understanding one another, and for hope. So, perhaps my author brand has a positive core, not the brooding, angst-ridden one I thought it was.