by Bobbie Christmas
Q: At a recent writers’ conference, the word “branding” kept being thrown around. Am I behind the times? What does branding mean, when it comes to writing books?
A: First let me define the word “brand.” I liked the following shortened definition from WhatIs.com, the best: “A brand is a product, service, or concept that is publicly distinguished from other products, services, or concepts so that it can be easily communicated and marketed. Branding is the process of creating and disseminating the brand name.”
How does branding apply to writers? Branding helps writers gain followers and readers. Branding helps writers draw attention to themselves as well as their books. Branding may also show how a book fits into a specific niche. Branding is a subject so broad, however, that entire books have been written on it. I can tell you only about the things I’ve done to brand myself and add some of the ideas I’ve seen other writers use.
My editing company is Zebra Communications, so I customized my white car with zebra stripes and drove that car for twenty-four years, until it could go no farther. People could spot me, wherever I went. Although the car is gone, I still have a photo of it on my Zebra Communications Facebook page. Anyway, I studied more about branding oneself and learned that one way is to create a moniker, something people will remember. Think of some of the monikers you automatically recall. The first that comes to my mind is Dear Abby. Most people quickly recall the name of Abigail VanBuren, the advice-column writer, but few knew her real name was Pauline Phillips. A current well-known moniker (or writer’s brand) is The Queen of Clean. Who can remember the columnist’s actual name, Linda Cobb? Who cares? If I look up Queen of Clean, I can quickly find her on the Internet.
I did not feel the need to use a different name; after all, Bobbie Christmas is fairly memorable in itself. What I do, however, is tag the words “book doctor” with my name, whenever possible. I became Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas or Bobbie Christmas, book doctor.
Another suggestion I took to heart is that you can brand yourself physically to make people remember you. At a book event I attended, for example, two authors of an anthology of stories set in the South wore old-fashioned dresses with hoop skirts. People who came to see their outfits up close often walked away with one or more copies of the book. Another author wore a tiara, because her romance novel involved a beauty queen. One of the most popular booths had a live dog sitting in a basket on the table. The dog allegedly wrote the book, and trust me, that woman’s booth stayed busy for the entire event. Who doesn’t want to pet an adorable, well-behaved dog?
How do I brand myself personally? Because I am a book doctor, a person who heals ailing manuscripts, and I write books that advise writers on how to heal their own manuscripts, I wear a white lab coat whenever I speak at conferences or have publicity photos taken. My lab coat has the words “Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas” embroidered over the front pocket. I sometimes even wear a stethoscope, just for kicks. Without a doubt people can spot me at gatherings for writers, and they remember me as the book doctor in the lab coat. I’ve established my personal brand.
Q: When using the name of something as a verb, must it be capitalized? For example, “I keep telling you to Google him” and “Miranda can Google all day.”
A: Google is a brand name, and companies want their brand names to be capitalized and prefer that they not to be used as verbs. Does company preference stop us from misusing brand names? Not at all. We Xerox our articles and FedEx them to others all the time, just as we Google our names to see how often we appear on the Internet. That type of usage is fine in informal speech and maybe even in dialogue in a story, but when you are writing an article or a book, you’d do better to conform to the proper use of brand names. In that case, you would have to say that “Miranda can use Google all day.”
Q: I’m writing a book in which I use the names of board games (like Monopoly and Pictionary) and video games (like Rock Band and Guitar Hero). Do I need to use the TM or R symbol next to the names of those games within the pages of this book?
A: Can you imagine how unwieldy our writing would become if we had to use the trademark and copyright symbols every time we mentioned a registered product name? Although advertisers want everyone to acknowledge their trademarks, and therefore the ads and packaging use trademark symbols, we follow Chicago Style when writing books, and The Chicago Manual of Style recognizes registered names by capitalizing them only.
Ideally, advertisers also want us to use the generic description after the brand name, but that, too, can become cumbersome. For example, they wish we would say Kleenex brand facial tissues, Band-Aid brand bandages, and Jell-O brand gelatin, but you won’t be hauled off to court if you leave off the generic description. Capitalizing Monopoly or Guitar Hero is enough to acknowledge that they are trademarked names.
Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Bobbie Christmas, book editor, owner of Zebra Communications, and award-winning author of Write In Style: How to Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, will answer your questions quickly. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.