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How I used my book titles to create a strong author brand

The RetroReview

Dark series collage

I write two separate series of detective, mystery novels. When I set out to pen the second series, featuring my new main character; Scottish policewoman DCI Dani Bevan, I wanted all the titles of the books to share a common feature.
This decision wasn’t pre-planned. When I make a choice about my next title it is usually quite early on in the planning process. The title helps me to formulate and develop the storyline. I need to have it in my head as I write. With the Dani Bevan books, I knew that the first instalment was going to be called ‘Against A Dark Sky’ because I wanted to create the image of a mountain set against a dark, stormy background in the reader’s imagination. The plot revolves around a suspicious death which takes place on Ben Lomond, when the weather turns bad without warning during a hiking expedition.

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How the blurb is no longer enough


As my children get older and develop their own tastes and interests, it is fascinating to see how the younger generation like to access their entertainment. It is useful to me as a publisher and author to take note of these changes in viewing and reading habits.

What I have garnered is that consumers are no longer satisfied with a brief written description of a book, app or product to base their purchase upon. My son will expect to view a short video before he downloads an app, even if it’s free. The same now goes for books too.

Not only do we need to provide an extract from the novel, so readers can tell if the writing style is acceptable to them, it is also useful to produce a book trailer, which integrates a description of the themes and plot of the novel along with some kind of visual and audio stimulus. I have done this with all twelve of my books. With modern technology it is a fun and fairly straightforward process. But it is necessary for modern media platforms.

We are becoming more choosy about how we spend our money. So readers need as much information as possible to make a decision. The blurb is still crucially important but on its own it may no longer be quite enough.

New year, new genre…


This time last year I had just published the first book in a new series. It was Against A Dark Sky, the first instalment of the Dani Bevan detective Series. There are now five more books and the series has been very successful. But the decision to switch characters, series or genre is not an easy one to make for an author. When we write a book it requires an enormous commitment of time and mental energy.

There is always a concern that you will be neglecting your regular characters and faithful readers by starting on something different. But there is something about the start of a new year that inspires us to embark on fresh ventures. The dawning of 2016 has proved to be no different. I completed the book I was writing for my ten year old daughter this week. It was the first time I’d undertaken a writing project in the children’s fiction genre. But my main aim was to produce a book for Shona, whilst she still wanted me too.

The writing experience was a challenge but it was a bonus to be able to use a more lighthearted tone and be freer with using colourful, expansive descriptions. This is a technique which is more acceptable now in YA than in adult fiction. Other than these aspects, I found the process surprisingly similar to writing one of my adult crime books. Mint Choc Chip is also a mystery story, like my adult novels, so the plotting was a familiar affair. I also endeavoured to weave in some historical references which are a feature of my Imogen and Hugh Croft Mysteries Series.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if I will return to the children’s fiction genre. I have the new DCI Bevan novel plotted and am looking forward to continuing with that. But I’m very glad I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone. Hopefully, my daughter will appreciate it. The process has challenged my writing in a new way. It helps to keep an author’s approach fresh to try something they’ve not done before. As long as it doesn’t distract us from the day job of course!


How important is an author’s name for the reader?


This was a question that came up at the lunch table on Christmas Day of all times. I write mystery thrillers for adults. There are twelve books in two series altogether. For both of the series I use the same author name. I believe it’s important to do so, particularly when writers these days spend such a large amount of their time creating a positive ‘author brand’.

What raised the issue over Christmas lunch was that I am currently writing a story for my daughter, which may develop into a novel for the pre teens. My 10 year old is an avid reader and I’m constantly sourcing books and magazines for her. It suddenly struck me that I could write one for her myself, whilst she is so receptive to reading and actually wants me to do it.

So the story began its life. The genre is a departure for me, although a couple of my Imogen and Hugh Croft Mysteries would be catagorised as ‘cosy’ and could certainly be read by teenagers. I ripped through all the Agatha Christie books when I was 11 after all!

But then the question arose of what pen name I would use if I were to publish the children’s book. I’d certainly be reluctant to use the name I already do as the departure from the thriller genre would be too confusing, I think. We decided instead that I would probably use my maiden name. As a married woman, it is occasionally quite useful to possess two identities!

But the debate made us consider how important an author’s name is to their popularity as a writer. Obviously, the big name authors will build a loyal following and their name appearing on the cover will literally sell the book.

In addition to this, we all knew of certain people in our lives who would be reluctant to read a book written by a woman and vice versa. Look at the nineteenth century female writers who were forced to use a male pseudonym in order to be published; like the Brontes or Elizabeth Gaskell.

I initially chose to use my married name so that the people I already knew would easily be able to track down my work. The decision was no more complicated than that! But I know that these days a great deal of research goes into deciding what type of author name sells the best in different book categories. I suspect the decisions made by consumers are largely subconscious.

The majority of my favourite crime writers are female, but I couldn’t really tell you why. I also absolutely loved the books of the late Iain Banks so there is no prejudice involved!

I will be fascinated to discover how my children’s book fares with my new nom de plume. There will be no intention to deceive, simply to distinguish the piece from my adult work. But the experiment will be extremely interesting nonetheless.

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