I've been thinking a lot lately about the subject of 'branding.' Branding is the idea that in your professional life as a writer, you present yourself in a certain way so that people will know what to expect from you and from your work. In the last several months I've translated this into a couple of Sunday School lessons, you know, people judging you on how you act...living your faith, that sort of thing.
You don't have to know me long to know that I'm a devout, conservative Christian. That's how I chose to live my real life. However, as a writer, I like to explore other people's lives. I would write inspirational, and my mother would love it if I did, but that's not who I am as a writer. As a writer I'm an observer, I see characters in my head and I write what I see. My characters are not me, and believe me, I don't always approve of what they do, but I'm not the judge and jury when it comes to the story. I'm the storyteller.
Yet, in branding myself, I do have lines I won't cross. There are certain words I simply won't use because I don't like to hear those words, and I certainly don't like to read them. So, while the language in what I write may be a bit saltier than what I use around my Sunday School kids, there's still a part of me that uses restraint. If you read a story I've written, you are simply not going to read those words.
There are actions my characters, no matter how horrible a villain, will never take. While alcohol is sometimes a centerpiece in a scene, my characters will not use illicit drugs. And when it comes to sex, there are just some areas I chose not to explore. Not because it's right or wrong, but because that's not what I'm about.
I've built a tiny little website...more of a seedling site than anything else. I'll add to it as my career moves on, but if you go there the vibe you get from the site is the sort of comfortable homey setting I try to put my readers into. (Want to see the site? The link is right there by your right hand!)
As you move forward in your life, maybe you move to a new town, or change your name, and this is the moment you get to put yourself out there as you want people to see you. It doesn't have to be because you're a writer...this holds true for anything in life. If you're friendly, tidy, and always ready with as smile, that's your brand, that's the way you present yourself when others look at you. So that when you show up to a PTA meeting looking hung over, you might get a pass and someone might ask if you're feeling well. But if you're showing the world the messier side of yourself, don't expect them to think of you as a good choice for the Cleanliness counsel.
If you are writing...think about what you're writing and who you want to read your stories. If you're trying to write YA...maybe leave the grandma cardigans at home and try something fresh with the hair. If you're writing inspirational, it's best to leave the thrash metal T's at home.
This is not to say don't be yourself. But don't write an inspirational romance, then show up to a book signing wearing a "Satan Rules" shirt. I'm just sayin'...
I know a few writers who are trying to get published in one area, but in the meantime are selling stories in a completely different genre. Of course they're not going to use their real names...you can't write and sell erotica and then expect people to eat your cookies at the church picnic.
I hope to explore all the avenues writing opens to me. My regular old every day romances, well, that's my real name. If I were ever to write inspirational, I'd use a different form of my real name, just so my relatives can find the books, but any other readers aren't confused about why there's actual sex in "Dream in Color." (By the way...do you have your copy yet?)
Right now I'm working on a new project, one that's been near and dear to me since I was nine or ten. I'm rediscovering my powers of observation and humor. You can find most of that on my new blog (Again, right there on your right...) and, through the magic of the Internet, I hope to put together a collection of creative non fiction and unleash it on the world electronically. Of course, I haven't decided if I'll use my real name or not, but I probably will, since there's nothing in my sense of humor that isn't in line with my values as a person.
So as you write, or as you do anything, think about how you want to be seen and how you are seen.
Just being aware might make this a happier world to live in!
Now...go forth and WRITE!