Sunday, January 21, 2007

Self-Limitation vs. Marketing Ploy

When you identify yourself as a writer, do you categorize yourself? Do you say, "I'm a horror writer" or "I'm a mystery writer" or "I'm a science fiction writer"? Or do you just say, "I'm a writer"?

There's a difference...and it can either cause you to limit your opportunities or it can be an effective marketing ploy.

If you write in a single genre, and you do it either because that's all you want to write or all you're capable of writing, then clearly identifying yourself as a particular kind of writer makes sense. If Sally Editor or Joe Client needs a "horror writer" for a project, they know to contact Bill The Horror Writer.

But if Bill The Horror Writer has the ability and the desire to write many other things, then being so clearly identified with a single genre can prevent him from picking up assignments he might enjoy.

At the same time, if Bill The Horror Writer tells himself that all he wants to write is horror--in effect limiting himself to a single genre--he might not ever discover that he is capable of writing in other genres and may, in fact, be more successful outside of his chosen genre.

(I've related this story many times before, but I began as a science fiction writer and had modest success. Then a men's magazine editor liked one of my science fiction stories but couldn't buy it because the magazine's publisher wouldn't publish SF. The editor asked if I had anything else. I wrote a mystery. Sold it to him. I wrote another mystery. Sold it to him. I wrote a third mystery. Sold it to another editor. After years of watching my SF stories bounce around the markets before finding homes, I sold the first three mysteries I wrote. That opened my eyes to possibilities I'd never previously considered and I attempted, and found success, writing in other genres.)

Of course, one can self-identify without self-limiting. Both my Web site and my blog identify me as CrimeFictionWriter. I have probably been most successful writing crime fiction, but I was identified by others as a mystery writer before I pinned the label on myself. So I've run with it.

So I am "Crime Fiction Writer."

But I am also so much more.

Shouldn't you be?


Steven said...

Can I identify myself as a "Damn Good" writer? Not realy a genre, though...

Michael Bracken said...

Only if you served an appropriate apprenticeship as a "Pretty Good" Writer, moving up to "Darn Good" Writer at the appropriate time, and now, perhaps, if you've learned the secret handshake, you can identify yourself as a "Damn Good" Writer.

You do know the handshake, don't you...?