Friday, January 28, 2011

Going Against the Grain

I've always had a reputation of taking stands against the norm. Sometimes it's quite painful to do so. A few times I didn't even realize I was doing it until someone called me names. Call it being me, but I don't always enjoy following the pack.

Fact is, many people love those who are daring, contentious, and to the point. The public knows where they stand, as do customers and potential clients.

And sometimes it makes for a great brand.

Angela Hoy from Writers Weekly has carried the torch for writers for years. Challenging publications that don't pay or publishers who pen crazy contracts rocks her world and attracts thousands of faithful readers.

Justine Musk at Tribal Writer (great blog, BTW), relates this concept to Kate Moss. She's never been the stereotypical model from her height to her teeth to the cocaine habit she's hopefully kicked. She became a brand in the modeling world that went against the norm. Justine calls it a "hostile brand." I see Howard Stern as a "hostile brand."

Stephen King went against the grain in his books. As prolific and talented as he was, the publishing dignitaries often scoffed at his writing. But when the National Book Foundation decided to award him their 2009 medal for distinguished contribution to American letters, literary bodyguards scoffed. The New York Times cited one example of disgust in a quote from Harold Bloom, the Yale professor, critic and self-appointed custodian of the literary canon.  ''He is a man who writes what used to be called penny dreadfuls. That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy.''

Once upon a time King was a weirdo. Today he's idolized. He's still Stephen King. He hasn't changed. Neither has his brand. He stuck with it long enough to make a go of it. A great go of it, if you ask me.

As Justine explains in her blog post, sometimes your best brand is one that doesn't go with the norm. She suggests we cultivate our differences, our distinct voice, and rebel against something. But you still have to remain true to yourself. This isn't a situation where you decide you'll take a stand when you haven't before. The brand has to be the real you, because the public hates plastic. Most of all, be comfortable with controversy, because it gets old fast if you can't take it.

I fought my writer's group by putting kids in my mystery novel. The protagonist has a six and eleven-year old, yet hassles with bribery, murder, divorce, kidnapping and fraud. Several people in my beta reading group worried that a female protagonist wouldn't be able to deal with these issues with kids. Gasp, what if she had to go out of town on a case? As if using her womb made her incapable of crime solving. I stuck with the kids. They are assets. They add dimension to this marvelous protagonist who has to grow into herself and realize how strong and great she is, motherhood and all.

So while everybody is seeking their brand, stop and ponder if you have a natural anti-brand, hostile brand, or go-against-the-flow brand. It'll definitely stand out quicker and louder than the norm. The question is also can you handle it? If you can, you might find yourself in the midst of owning a platform, and fans who want to know when your next book is coming out.


Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Good post, Hope. I thought it was interesting how your crit group was worried about your protagonist having kids. Ayelet Waldman has/had a series of books - Mommy-track Mysteries - where the protagonist is a lawyer turned full time mother who ends up involved in mysteries.

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

I like the brands that really amount to the writer simply being who s/he is--consistently.

widdershins said...

Seems the common thread here is consistency and longevity. If you're going to go out there with your authentic self (whatever that happens to be) the be prepared to stay there for the long haul.

Karen Lange said...

You are a rebel. I knew I liked you!

Hope Clark said...

LOL - everyone admires a rebel. Makes for a great brand. But I have to admit I melt a little bit when someone takes a shot at me.

Donna Earnhardt said...

Being the blacksheep makes for an interesting life. :)

And you are right...plastic people are not authentic. I don't like to talk to them and I don't like to read their work. I like real. EVEN if I don't agree with what they write, at least I know they are being transparent.

Good post. You're making me think. There's a story in here somewhere. :)

Laura M. Campbell said...

I really enjoyed Ayelet Waldman's Mommy-track mystery series. Her husband is novelist Michael Chabon. To have two writers in the same household must be interesting. But I digress.

My boyfriend and I were talking about this last night over grilled steak tacos. Yummm. I tend to lean more towards caution, rather than embrace my dissenter genes, which shows in my writing. I can't hear my voice. Hopefully soon, I will be able to wave my freak flag without fear. Thanks for the post!