Style is one of the most important parts of any writer’s work – it labels their writing, makes it distinctive, makes it identifiable. Styling is as important as content or subject matter.
It is, in fact, part of any author’s brand. And that’s perhaps the first and most crucial role of styling. And these days, as the publishing paradigm changes, that’s getting more important. With distinctive styling, an author can lift their work above the white noise of the masses clamouring to be heard. Hopefully.
If it’s done right it can be a powerful tool. Anybody remember Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music? Back in the seventies he stood out from the rest. At a time when every rock star was descending into a homogenous blunge of flares, platform shoes and sequins, Ferry oozed style. He stood out, and a large part of the secret was that he didn’t just do something obviously different – he did it with class.
Ferry’s pseudo-military look of the mid-1970s harked back to the age of deco and stood against the usual themes of the day. Absolutely classy. Absolutely stylish. And absolutely influential. When the BBC introduced Brian Croucher as ‘Travis II’ in Blake’s Seven, made circa 1978, their designers apparently based his ‘look’ on Ferry’s distinctive brand.
Distinctive styling with class is absolutely true for writers, too. No, I don’t mean clothes. (I’m slobbing around in un-ironed cargo trousers and T-shirt as I write this).
Styling doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘good’, though it helps. One or two authors get away with just being distinctive. You’ve probably guessed I’m thinking of Dan Brown, whose style is pretty unique to him – and unquestionably integral to his brand. The only problem is that this particular brand is popularly defined by gaffes. Reviewers queue up as each book is released to find the ‘Brownisms’. His styling is chokingly inept, mind-numbingly incompetent; rule-breaking that is so profoundly badly done and apparently random that I am left wondering whether he is actually aware of the principles.
Sure, it hasn’t stopped his stuff selling. That’s for other reasons. But his relentless Grammar 101 gaffes have not only opened him up for ridicule – they have become one of the defining characteristics of his writing brand. And maybe that’s part of the schtik. But I doubt it.
Probably it’s better to be known for great styling. I can think of a few authors right now who stand out – Hemingway, one of my favourites of all time, is among them.
Styling, in short, is integral to author branding – but it has to be done right to work properly. Like Bryan Ferry’s stage costumes.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013