Writing and branding – a practical lesson in extreme interests

I’ve got a bit of a brand problem. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in all sorts of things. I began my academic career with music, physics and cosmology, interests I’ve kept up without relent. I have degree qualifications in anthropology and still pursue my life-long interest in human evolutionary paths.

My post-grad university study was in history – and I was later elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society at University College, London, on the scholarship of my historical publications. I’ve also been formally trained in (fiction) writing. I’ve written – and had published – science-fiction stories, with more to come. Outside that I have an interest in photography – which I use to illustrate my blog and elements of my books.

The issue, as you might guess, is that I’m interested in the art of discovery. That’s been reflected in my material – I’ve written books on everything from engineering to social history to physics to travel guides and matters military, all published through the traditional system.

Aha – my slide rule! Now I can stop the Plorg Monsters from taking Earth’s water!

All of it represents the merchandisable output of my thoughts, and if that’s mercurial – well, that’s because I’m curious about everything. But that doesn’t ‘do’ these days where, it seems, it’s necessary to have a ‘brand’ that points in a single direction.

For me, as I say, it’s a bit of a brand problem.

I’m not the only author – or artist – to end up with this issue. There are many examples, but one I’ll mention was Frank Zappa (1941-1993), an American composer who wrote everything from doowop to big-band jazz to musicals to modern orchestral. A lot of his lyrical content was contemporary satire in which he nailed both US politics and ‘groupie’ culture – in ways that still ring true today. Along the way he released an album of synthesised baroque music. Zappa also had a repute within the business for being one of the best audio engineers and producers around. Towards the end of his life his orchestral compositions were being acclaimed at the highest levels in Europe’s classical music culture.

So what was Zappa’s brand as far as the public were concerned? He was usually portrayed as a potty-mouth from the ‘LA freak scene’ who allegedly ate shit on stage as part of a ‘gross-out’ contest with Alice Cooper or Captain Beefheart, depending on which version you believe. Ouch. Zappa pointed out in his autobiography that he’d never done that – the closest he came to eating shit was in a Holiday Inn buffet in Fayetteville. His fans knew better too, but for practical purposes, the ‘wild man’ of rock was the ‘organic’ popular brand that evolved out of his satire and avant garde stage shows among those who had only passing knowledge of him. In short, people find brand in perceived immediacy.

I’ve found that too – I get labelled with whatever my last book was about. Yet to me, my stuff is all an expression of my true brand, which is ‘I’m a writer who’s curious about everything’. From a popular perspective, that’s second-order stuff.

All of which is OK in a way – I mean, people who know me won’t get it wrong. But it isn’t obvious to those who don’t, and that’s both a marketing and a media challenge.

Here I am in Brugges, selecting a Belgian beer. Another interest – beer, I mean.

I had thought of using a pseudonym – in fact, was advised to after fielding so many unprovoked eruptions of public malice from intellectuals here in New Zealand over my military and social historical work – apparently for no better reason than I was writing in a field where my abusers were employed at universities. Or sometimes I raised an idea that infringed upon the frameworks they used to validate their personal self-worth with their academic peers. But why should I step away from the name I was given at birth, just because a handful of noisy strangers reveal themselves to be self-entitled and profoundly gutless assholes?

So here’s the deal. I figured out an approach – captured in my main website, which I’ve rebuilt to suit. Check it out – click the link or the picture. Any thoughts? Is there anything that might be done better? There’s still a development phase to go that’ll add multimedia and some other stuff. But I’d like feedback first.

And don’t forget to click to buy.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

7 thoughts on “Writing and branding – a practical lesson in extreme interests

    1. Thanks! The issue for me isn’t so much writing outside a specific genre as writing in rather too many of them. Still hits those risks you pointed out, of course. I was inspired as a kid by Asimov, who was a ‘science fiction’ writer but actually penned stuff on just about any subject you care to name (including a book of rude limericks) – I guess his inspiration stuck…

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  1. Your website looks good — very professional. My first impression was it emphasizes your historical writing. I had to poke around a bit for the fiction. The forthcoming book looks interesting.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts! Yes, at the moment the history is in focus – I have a book being currently sold nationally here in NZ and it’s important to focus on that. The fiction is to follow, and it may be a little while – I have a couple of short stories in the “Gods in Twilight” cycle due to be published later this year, one in a US magazine and the other in an Australian sci-fi compilation. That’ll set things rolling. I have more stories and at least one novel in mind set in the “GIT” universe (and yes, I know the UK English slang term…and yes, that universe is full of them). The problem I have is finding the time to get everything done! 🙂

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