Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Images and brands and websites, oh my!

I've been working with a designer on a website this past week and struggling with a bit of an identity crisis. The designer went way above and beyond the call of duty creating about 3 times as many preliminary designs for me to consider than we'd originally agreed on... And yet, none of them seem to be quite right. I'm torn between two choices and they're very different from each other.

And I know I picked a good designer. And I know she "gets" me. But we're both having a terrible time finding some kind of graphic image or photograph (at a reasonable cost) that really represents me. It's like every commercial graphic artist over the past ten years has drawn images of women in the same style, and to me that style's not only boring and overdone but also "too cute" or "too silly" for what I write.

I guess my identity crisis stems from the fact that if I know what I want and can't find an image to represent it... Is what I want too out there?

One issue is that I don't write in a super-distinct genre. Yes, I write commercial women's fiction, which is certainly a genre, but a pretty broad and loosely defined one. And what does "commercial women's fiction" mean, anyway? To me it means books for women that hopefully will have a wide appeal, because they're fun, easy to read and have happy endings. Hmmm... Is that the definition of commercial vs literary women's fiction? Might be. But obviously romance meets that description and so does chick lit... So it has to be refined to also say "where the main plot is not a romance". And maybe "where the heroine isn't a twenty-something woman trying to find herself". But that's where the definition becomes trickier... because I think the chick lit genre is really defined by voice more than plot and frankly has also been defined by the graphic images put on the authors' books and websites...

So where I have trouble with an exact definition of what I do write... I do know what I don't write. I don't write literary fiction. I don't write thrillers. I don't write romance. I don't write chick lit. Although what I write is much closer to chick lit than it is to romance... I've heard the term up-scale chick lit bandied about and I guess I wouldn't hate it if someone used that to describe my work. But all that said, I don't want my website to look like a stereotypical chick lit writer's website. I want something different. I want my website to say, hey! Here's someone coloring outside the lines a little. Someone who might make me think as well as laugh. But I also want to appeal to a wide audience...

What's a kind of artsy writer-chick to do?

How do I create an image that represents "me", "my writing", "my brand", when I still haven't sold a book and am miles away from having an actual book cover?

Some may ask, "Why bother trying?" Or at least, "Why stress about it so much?" But I disagree. I have a suspicion that this may be the only point in my entire writing career where I have any real control over my image. Once I do sell a book, people in the publishing house's marketing and art departments, who'll probably only read little snippets of my book, will start making these decisions for me. And I know I'm probably naive about this next bit... but if I've already created a strong image or brand, my eventual publisher may use that as a base or inspiration for my book covers. (Okay, maybe that's delusional... but possible? It's certainly not possible if I haven't done it.)

One way or another, I do think it my website is important even though I don't have any books yet.

Am I putting too much pressure on myself? Sometimes I wish all I had to do was write.


Christine said...

Marueen getting a website was one of the more stressful things I've done recently. Not that working with my designer was hard, but I didn't want to screw anything up! The image you put out there is really important. You're setting yourself up as a brand, one that is easy to identify with.

Cross genre writing, or non specific genre writing is a challenge. Yes, I write erotic romance, but I write a wide variety of erotic romance. SciFi, paranormal, and contemporary. My poor web designer didn't know what to do. :)

I'm sure whatever you pick, it will look great. :)

Maia said...

I had a terrible time deciding on what my website should look like. I ended up going with pictures and colors that were decidedly NOT chick-littish.

Regarding your muses on writing style. At the last Word on the Street Festival, I attended the lecture of Lois McCormack, who wrote SIX WEEKS TO TOXIC. She said she was uncomfortable with the chick-lit label and considered her style "Chick-literary." Interesting if you've read her book.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I am in such a fued with Blogger these days!!!!!

You could just write but then I think you're right -- you'd miss the boat when this becomes uber important.

I think trying to look different will only serve you well. Different and accessible and interesting but still...I don't know friendly, of or like a friend. Friendish?

Of course after talking to about all of this I started to stress my own website which is way simple and I don't have to worry about it but it's in no way branded me -- and maybe writing for Harlequin I'm already part of a brand? Don't know. Don't care right now either -- I'd rather think about your website.

Sinead M said...

This is the hard stuff. Figuring out how to brand yourself, what image you want to put forward..

Eeesh.. I don't envy you right now, Maureen, but the web site ideas I've seen are pretty amazing, so when you finally get something you love, it's going to be spectacular..

Says the woman who has a half-assed website right now..

Maureen McGowan said...

You're lucky to have great professional photos of yourself...

Christine and Molly, I think both your sites are great. Christine, sexy and classy. Molly's fresh and friendly. Both perfect for you.

Eve Silver said...

Maureen, I definitely think you're putting too much pressure on yourself. Choose a design you like, one you're comfortable with,and run with it. The truth is, you can always change it later if you change your mind.

As your career evolves, so will your website. I just redid mine to reflect the fact that I write under two different names, and the sub-genres are totally unrelated.

My suggestion: pick one and run with it, and enjoy. You'll never be in exactly this place in your life again, so savor the fun of creating your website. No matter how many times you end up redoing it over the years, the first time will always be special.

Amy Ruttan said...

I hate my website. Of course I did it myself, hence I feel it doesn't represent me; but a web presence for a writer is a big thing. So, when I get the call I'll be calling a designer to help brand me.

Good luck, let us know about your progress.

kathie said...

I'm struggling with the same questions regarding my blog, as well. I'd love to do a graphic of a woman that is very different from the typical hip woman bearing coffee and expensive purse. Not that I don't love that look. But it's not me. Can't wait to see what you decide on.

Kimber said...

Is this discussion really about a website?

Or is it about the direction of your writing? Your niche? Your place in the writing world?

When I started one of my most successful blogs (Road To Forbes with over 3,000 unique readers a day), I asked myself "who am I writing for?" The answer to that simple question drove all my other decisions. The length of my posts (around 100 works 'cause my audience is very busy), my language (use of she and her instead of he and him as my audience is female), my lack of graphics (again, the time issue), even my colors (not masculine yet not a girly pink).

How did I figure all this out? I asked questions like what books are my readers reading? What tv shows and movies are they watching? How do advertisers sell to them? Then I "cheated" and "borrowed" their millions of dollars in research, using images, colors, etc.

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