A bit of a branding issue

It’s an interesting year for me. Like last year, I’m busy working with publishers to reissue more of the highlights from my back list.

Writing fuel!
Writing fuel!

I’m also looking to sell some future titles with other publishers. And I have a few projects on the go.

The thing is, they’re all on wildly different things. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s I was still on my history jag, following where that path led into military history, then social history.

That’s since evolved. I don’t rule out more history – you never say never. But I’ve been actively looking at returning to the writing I was originally trained to do – fiction. And at returning to the field I originally trained in, science. Among my other qualifications I have an undergrad degree in anthropology, which is a ‘soft science’; and I did physics throughout, including winning a regional science prize, as a teenager, for a display I put together on Einsteinian space-time and black holes (I am NOT Sheldon, OK?).

Pursuing that line I’ve already written a book on the science of New Zealand earthquakes, published with Penguin Random House (it was peer-reviewed, in part, by New Zealand’s chief seismologist). A sci-fi novella I penned is out now in the first Endless Worlds compilation. And there’s more coming.

All of it is a consequence of me following my nose into areas that I find interesting or challenging – the thing being that once I’ve mastered something it usually loses appeal and start wondering about the next challenge. I have no interest in the ‘status-by-association’ focus that leads other people down ever-narrower aspects of a single field. But that also leaves me with a bit of a branding issue, particularly if – in fairness to myself and publishers – I go all-out to keep promoting the back list.

Certainly here in New Zealand, you see – and I guess worldwide, really – people inevitably get labelled with whatever they are known for, as if they are incapable of anything else. People who do branch out get treated as if they won’t be expert at the new field; or as if it’s an admission of being an all-round amateur. Very few are accepted as multi-field experts. (A friend once described me as a polymath, though I don’t think of myself as such – everything I do is related to the one thing: me being nosey about interesting stuff).

I’m playing with various ideas about how to deal with it – but I thought I’d also check with my blogging friends. Any ideas or thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


9 thoughts on “A bit of a branding issue

  1. How to deal with “it” depends on where you’re going, I should think. My perception of your academic qualifications and heretofore success indicates that any direction you chose to pursue in history and science would be a realistic goal requiring a mere tweaking of your image. Fiction is a little different, though science fiction coupled with your science knowledge provides you a certain level of distinction going in. Again, it depends on your direction. I’m assuming your fiction ambitions are in-line with the short story you published.

    1. I am leery about too much more history because of the vicious hostility strangers in the local academic crowd have to my attempting to earn income on merit and enterprise in their territory (I keep paying their salaries, of course, through my taxes…) I have several fiction projects in mind – including one that involves some fantasy world maps that I drew a few years back (heh heh heh…) The short story was an experiment. I deliberately reversed the current trend that focuses on people with ‘super powers’ trying to become ordinary – and instead wrote a story about a very ordinary individual who had to find a way of doing something extraordinary in a world constrained by real physics. Have had some interesting reader comment. One person (who’s a huge fan of hard sci-fi) though it a gripping and exciting tale, but another thought it was boring – people these days seem to look for superheroes and vicarious escapism. Personal taste, I guess.

      1. Having followed your blog for some time I’m not surprised by your reluctance to continue pursuing your historical writing. You have my sympathy in that regard.

        It takes quite little to spark my interest, but when you mention fantasy maps I’m intrigued! Hard sci-fi is a genre I’ll stick my toe in, but I’m not a devoted follower, though I acknowledge Asimov’s genius. Your short story was by far the best of those in the collection.

        I’ve seen my share of superhero movies (they’re wearing thin…very thin), but when it comes to sci-fi my tastes always ran more to Asimov, Simmons (Hyperion!), and Bradbury. I become critical when I read fantasy and like mysteries for pure entertainment. If someone is gifted then that gift better be a great burden that requires profound sacrifice to wield. How many people die while Clark Kent is busy typing articles or Ironman is tipping martinis? Does anyone think about that?

  2. Only someone who IS Sheldon would know we were all thinking you are Sheldon.

    You need to go down the same route as a musician ie Sting, Bono, Lady Gaga, and stop using your real name. Or do a slight variation of your real name for different genres a la Iain Banks/Iain M Banks. There’s 26 letters of the alphabet so that should be enough to keep you going.

    1. I was actually advised to write under a pseudonym because of the way the New Zealand history academic crowd have responded to my work in their personal territories – anything I do is met with an apoplectic eruption of frothing hostility as one or another of them makes yet another attempt to damage my good name and repute. Not one of them has had the integrity to actually approach me in person, of course, which kind of sums up the ethical calibre of the people who have floated to the top of that field here. The creativity of what they allege about my character, motives, competence and so forth is astonishing. And I have good evidence of the damage they’ve done to my ability to be published, hence income, along the way. However, I rather like my name (common though it is…) and don’t see why I should hide behind another one, purely because of the circus performances of people who, so far, have presented themselves as gutless and morally void bullies.

        1. I was at a book launch a few months ago that two of the more egregious of these people attended. Neither had the courtesy to even acknowledge me. It is flattering to be the target of such obvious insecurity on their part but the behaviour isn’t what I expect from any adult.

  3. Unfortunately, we do get pigeon-holed if we take the time and energy to become an expert in one area. Usinf a pen name has worked for others. A question on that is, “If we change our Names, will our writing voice change as well?” 🙂

    1. I think the reason for using a pseudonym will likely require it – different genre and so on. That said, I believe JK Rowling was ‘outed’ over her Galbraith pseudonym in part because somebody did a linguistic analysis on the style. Even changing voice won’t hide many of the things that characterise a writer’s output.

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