Recently, I read and loved All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise by Neve Maslakovic. I was struck by the genre blending and the dark turn at the end (no spoilers, but !), and wanted to hear more about this wonderful alchemical mixture of mystery and SFFH. She agreed to lay out how it worked for her!
How I Acquired a Brand, Illustrated with Owls
by Neve Maslakovic
I don’t know why it took me so long to settle on an author brand.
Wait, no. I don’t know why it took me so long to notice I already had one.
Making the commitment felt like boxing myself in. Something to run away from, like the girl covering her eyes in this nineteenth-century book illustration:
The Bogey-Owl of author branding. Because, let’s be frank, the very phrase—author branding—is dry and dreary. Leave your creativity behind and enter the shiny revolving door of publicity, marketing, and author platform. Of positioning.
People would ask what I write, and I’d vaguely answer science fiction and that’s what my bio said, too. A friend who read my first book, Regarding Ducks and Universes, commented, “Oh, you didn’t tell me it was a mystery.” It was a mystery, as it happens, a light-hearted one set in the bridged world of two parallel universes.
The next thing I wrote was a three book series, The Incident series. These are time travel—you guessed it—mysteries.
I tweaked my bio in the other direction: “I write mystery novels with a sci-fi twist.”
It didn’t help that the largest bookstore in the world, Amazon, doesn’t have a mystery subcategory in Science-Fiction nor a science-fiction subcategory in Mysteries. My publisher placed Regarding Ducks and Universes in Humorous Science Fiction. The series ended up in Time Travel Romance, even though the romance is in third place in the books, behind the sci-fi part and the mystery part. Where, exactly, did I belong?
Then I started working on my newest novel, All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise. It’s a set in a society where personal brand is everything—and the #1 on the popularity list, Delilah the Duchess, has just suffered an untimely death. The nineteen-year-old protagonist thinks of herself as Scottie the No One as the book opens—until the blame for Delilah’s death comes her way. You would think that all this writing about brands made me think about my own, but it was something else.
It happened this way. I was setting up the Manuscript Critiques section of my website and following the advice of Jane Friedman, who’s an excellent resource for all things writing related. In the online workshop, she suggested being specific when offering editorial services as no one’s an expert in everything. Easy enough, I remember thinking—I have TWO genres where I’m comfortable and qualified to offer feedback, so those are the ones I’ll list.
And there it was. Equal footing. Shared billing. Tweaked a bit to incorporate my style of writing, which leans toward lighthearted rather than dark, I settled on: Writer of speculative whodunits.
Like this owl, I needed to look into my own navel:
Which is all to say, if you’re a writer still looking for your brand, look near, not far.
Does it help things, to know the brand? Certainly. All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise spent much time under the working title The People List, which is not a bad title as these things go, but in the end I decided it didn’t telegraph enough of the mystery central to the book—or my brand. And it helps in planning the next book. I already know it’ll sit in the corner where science fiction and mystery meet. There’s plenty to work out from there, but it’s a start.
Will I change my mind in the future and write something that will require broadening or changing my brand? It’s possible, but for now I’m good where I am.
Neve Maslakovic writes speculative whodunits. She is the author of five novels, including Regarding Ducks and Universes (“Inventive… a delight.” — Booklist). Her life journey has taken her from Belgrade, Serbia to a PhD at Stanford University’s STAR Lab to her dream job as a writer. She lives with her husband, son, and very energetic goldendoodle in the Twin Cities.
Find out more at www.nevemaslakovic.com
(All owl images are from the British Library’s 19th century collection.)