Thursday, August 12, 2010

Re-Branding as an Author

 Sylvia Dickey Smith is a brave woman. While still in high school, she married and became a pastor’s wife, eventually traveling with her husband to various small towns, including 6 years in the Caribbean Island of Trinidad. All this while raising 4 kids. As if she wasn’t busy enough, at the age of 41, she started college and completed a BA in Sociology and a Masters in Educational Psychology. You could say that, like her characters, she came into herself.

Now, she writes about women coming into themselves. She understands them, their motivations, their thoughts, their desires. But Sylvia, who also spent two years studying spiritual warrior training under a shaman in New Mexico, doesn’t get stuck in one genre. She’s branched out from mystery to women’s historical fiction. And today, she’s going to tell us about making that move in genres and how she’s re-branding herself.

Please welcome author Sylvia Dickey Smith.

Switching Genres

Since my first three books were part of a mystery series, why did I switch genre and write a historical novel? Wouldn’t that confuse my readers? When a Sidra fan heard the new book wasn’t a Sidra, she said, “But I miss Sidra. I love that woman!”

Sidra, as you may know, is the protagonist in my mystery series, and a strong woman with spunk and a resolve to find her own way in the world. I love Sidra too. I’m sure It comes as no surprise to anyone that there’s a lot of me in Sidra. Her lessons reflect many of mine. After thirty years as a subservient, obedient wife, I did a 180 at midlife and started on my own course. (I suppose a little bird watching overheard would discount obedient/subservient for the last five of those thirty! Changing directions often comes slower than we realize when we’re in the midst of the turn.)

But after I finished writing the third Sidra book, Dead Wreckoning, and started on the fourth, this voice that whispers over my shoulder advised that if I kept going straight into another Sidra book the story would be more of the same. That I needed to take a break from her, let her go off on her own a little while, and for me to do the same and expand my own repertoire—to challenge myself to write something totally different.

 I pulled out an old, really bad attempt at a NaNoWri project I’d written a couple of years ago. I reached the 50,000 word count goal, but the last 25,000 words were garbage.

The working title of the draft, A War Of Her Own, came even before the story did. It is very loosely based around the lives of my mother and father, and their family during those years. The story takes place, again in my hometown, but this time set during WWII. Once again, my protagonist, Bea Meade, is a subservient woman of her times, who discovers of what she is made and learns to stand in her own power. I took a chance that readers would fall in love with Bea Meade, too.

So, it wasn’t that I intended to write a historical novel. I just had a story stirring in my gut that wouldn’t be quiet until I gave it voice.

This process has led me to rebrand myself more into a women’s fiction writer—which, in the long run, crosses genres anyway. And this new ‘branding’ fits my passion. I love writing of women who find their voice, who learn to speak for themselves, to give a firm NO when no is what they wish to say. I believe women must learn to give that firm no before they can claim the triumphant YES!

Who knows what will come next? Will I write more mystery? More Sidra Smart? Sure I will—but not until Sidra is ready for me to—possibly book after next. Right now I’m writing The Swamp Whisperer—a tale about Boo Murphy, an old woman in Dead Wreckoning, who demanded her own story. Viva la old women!

Thank you, Sylvia.

You can find out more about Sylvia’s books on her website, including A War of Her Own, Sylvia’s latest book. Another thing you should know about Sylvia is that she’s been recognized for her willingness to support other writers and to mentor them. She is the 2010 recipient of the SAGE Award, given out by the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation.

Remember, if you sign up in August to subscribe or follow her on her blog, your name will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of A War Of Her Own.

Are you thinking about writing in different genres? Or maybe you think it’s time to re-brand yourself. Feel free to use the comments section to ask Sylvia questions about both these topics and her books.

31 comments:

  1. If I switch genres, I won't go far - from science fiction to fantasy.

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  2. Whenever I think about rebranding, I can't help but think about the pop singer, Madonna. She could have stayed a pre-teen sensation--and fizzled out. But each time she rebranded, she reached a new audience and gave herself more longevity in the market. Sounds like good business sense to me. Thanks for hosting Sylvia, Helen, and thanks for the post, Sylvia!

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  3. Hi Alex, and there is big controversy over why those two are uttered in the same breath--so maybe they are further apart than one might think. I heard a writer berate (or so it seemed) a speaker who was presenting on "Fantasy-Sci Fi" declaring those were two totally different genres and should never be linked--that sci-fi was science! Fantasy was fantasy. So--in the bigger scheme of things, perhaps it would be more of a rebranding than you might think--at least in one man's eyes! Good luck! Come on in--the water's fine. (Yeah, I know--cliche!
    Sylvia Dickey Smith

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  4. I see nothing wrong with rebranding or crossing genres. We write the story that needs to be told. I love the fact that you write about strong women!

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  5. Madonna! How I admire the courage of that woman! You are right, Elizabeth--she "sets the stage" doesn't she. And of course there is Janet Evanovich--for authors. Hey! I should be so lucky as her with my rebranding! Maturity can slow us down, or develop a person into a crone (a wise old woman) -- or a wise old man! I say viva la age--and the wisdom that comes with experience--especially when we pay attention to the lessons available to us.
    Sylvia Dickey Smith

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  6. Helen, thanks for hosting Sylvia. This was a most enjoyable post.

    Sylvia, I love the fact that you changed your writing direction rather than just write another Sidra book because it would be the same. You've given readers a new protagonist and also given Sidra a chance to grow. Bea sounds like an intriguing character.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  7. Thanks, Laura,

    Isn't it refreshing that today many men admire, rather than feel inferior to strong women! Strength doesn't have to equate with power over--but shared power. It creates an environment of growth toward our full potential--for both of us!

    That's my soap box! :-)
    Sylvia Dickey Smith

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  8. Mason, (by the way, really looking forward to being a guest on your blog! thanks for the pat on the back. Atta a girls go a long way!

    Now, thinking about it--to do so seems to reflect the "realness" of our characters. How they reveal themselves to us when THEY are ready, instead of vice versa. (reminds me of my children when they were 2-3 years old!)
    Sylvia Dickey Smith

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  9. Aha. It appears that I have some reading to catch up on! Thank you Sylvia, and Helen.

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  10. I've enjoyed both yesterday's post and today's. Sylvia sounds like my kind of author, someone who feels the need to write the story she feels passion about rather than the story she feels the market demands. It was a brave move to switch genres when your audience clearly expected more of the same, and I commend you for it.

    I am curious if you considered making the switch using a pen name, and what the deciding factors were in sticking with your real name. I also commend you for that. It may help some of your fans discover a whole new world of reading they never knew they'd like.
    ~jon

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  11. Liza, Thanks much! Look forward to seeing if you like what you read!

    And J.M. (Strother, by the way, was the maiden name of my late (ex) mother in law. One of the most fabulous women I've ever met. Strong in her own right and generation! So I love the name! Her first name was Annabelle! Loved her deeply!)

    And yes, I did entertain the thought of writing A War Of Her Own under a pen name, but thought--hey, It's taken lots of hard, painful work to be authentically who I am, why would i want to hide that behind another persona.

    Perhaps it is because of my personal journey through a long spiritual wilderness and into finding my voice that leads me to want to stay true to those lessons learned. Plus, if I advocate for women finding their voice--I must do so with intent, integrity, and impeccability. That's my commitment to myself and to others who read my work.

    I hope this doesn't sound Pollyannaish, for I don't mean it that way at all. It's just that my years of spiritual wilderness wandering taught me the sacredness of the journey, but of course only after I 'crossed desert'. I surely don't want to repeat it for lack of lesson-learning.

    While in graduate school, taking a group therapy class, (I was still 'the preacher's wife" at this time) one of my fellow students graded me as inauthentic.
    That really hit me in the face, for I thought I was one of the most authentic people around. Boy, did she do me a favor. For her comment sent me deeper into myself--and that journey showed me I hadn't a clue who I was, or what I stood for, or what I didn't stand for, and even more, what I absolutely wouldn't stand for. I entered wilderness.

    So yes, I kept my name--for that is me. Authentic, and always learning more about who I am, what I stand for, and what I won't stand for.


    Sylvia Dickey Smith

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  12. Thank you all for all the great comments and questions - and thank you Sylvia for dropping in so often.

    Sylvia has done such a good job of re-branding herself, without abandoning her other series, that I'm really glad she's here today to talk about it.

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  13. Helen, you are most welcome, and thank you for the opportunity to share a little of my process.

    I think your fantastic followers will learn they can ask me most anything and I will answer. (ALMOST anything! LOL

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  14. Sylvia, you're to be admired for your commitment to sincerety and honesty and your spunk (I love spunk!) to follow your own path. I can't wait to see what walls you'll scale next in your writing. But, please, no vampires.

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  15. This is such an inspiring story. Thanks to both of you, Helen and Sylvia. I am in the process of switching genres, from memoir to fiction and am finding it quite daunting. But,one step at a time, it's beginning to come together. The journey is a huge part of my own spiritual path.
    karen

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  16. You can't peg Sylvia, Earl. You just never know what she might do next.

    Karen, I'm looking forward to learning more about this switch you're making.

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  17. I'm pretty happy with what I'm writing now, but it's interesting to read Sylvia's thoughts on rebranding. Thanks Helen and Sylvia.

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  18. Earl, as Helen said, there's just no telling what will show up in my next book! But before I do a vampire, I'll give you a forewarning--IF I decide to!

    Karen, best wishes on your transition. And I celebrate your spiritual path with you. If you need to process anything with someone, I'm just a quick email away! (That goes for others, as well.)

    Talli, isn't it fun to write where we're happy! Keep going. Should you ever branch out to another, only do that when you're happy about doing so--not because someone tells you to!

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  19. I think it’s great you’ve learned to listen to the voice that whispers over your shoulder. I believe when authors start writing what they think they should write instead of what they want to, the magic somehow disappears.

    Your books sound wonderful and I plan to add them all to my want-to-read list.

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  20. I agree, Jane. Although, I've seen at least one author follow the desire of her agent on what to write and her series seems to be doing well. However, I sense a certain lack of fun or pleasure emanating from her. Or so it seems to me.

    Me? I'm at the stage where, if I can't write my passion, why write at all? I could always sit and eat chocolate bonbons and watch reality TV for a life. LOL

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  21. Enjoyed the post very much, and I am so glad you listed to that little voice, Sylvia. I can't wait to read the book.

    I'm curious as to how you are re-branding yourself, Sylvia. I have never stuck to one genre, which is probably why I have never been able to brand myself. I write nonfiction, mystery, romance, scripts, plays, and just finished a humorous memoir. How on earth do you brand all that?

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  22. *Syl, laughing*

    Great question, Maryann. Sounds like you might have already done so: "Jane of All Genres."

    I'm wondering, however, if there is a common thread through them all. I rather suspect humor might be the thread. Humor is SOOOO valuable. That's one thing I so admire about hubby, Bill. He has helped me regain my love of humor. Keeps down a lot of arguments! Even in mystery and romance, humor plays such an important part of our lives, and helps even tough times be bearable. I see humor in your smile, and love it!

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  23. Sylvia, I love that you're making this leap and rebranding yourself in the process. I'm trying to do the same thing, and again, I blame those other stories that demanded to be told. Writing is quite an adventure.

    Patricia

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  24. it takes courage to switch genres so I wish you all the very best for your book :)

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  25. Patricia, good luck on your rebranding. I will enjoy watching and learning from your journey.

    Lynda, thanks. Sometimes, it doesn't seem like courage at all, rather that insistent voice over your shoulder! Thanks for the best wishes!!

    Sylvia Dickey Smith

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  26. Even with the switch, Sylvia will go back to the mystery series, I do believe. And she may do other things as well. I have a feeling that in anything she writes, there will be strong women.

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  27. I got in on this late but will share a little. Many years ago I read a book that was both Sci-fi and fantasy rolled into one with a lot of humor, I wish I could remember the title, it was excellent.

    I write fantasy and as some of you may know there are a lot of off shoots, from High Fantasy, to Urban, Epic, Dark and so on. My protagonist in both my series is a strong female with a mind of her own. I write that, because my own life has been a struggle and so it resonates with me. Since one of my series is an epic third person tale and the other is a short first person tale, I think that it is similar to changing genre's. I'm happy with both.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  28. Nancy, that can be a big move - going from third person to first (or vice versa).

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  29. It is wonderful when a writer can hear the insistent voice over the shoulder, so I congratulate you on paying attention to it.

    Yes, write the stories that you need to write. What they will all have in common (aside from strong women) is that they will be the very best book you can write, no matter the genre.

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  30. I think it's good to write what ever we like. You get fresh ideas, new angles and so on. And you never know, some readers may like cross genre too. Congratulations!

    Really Angelic

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  31. I've always been on the mindset that I'll write what I want, regardless of genre. As a result, I have WIPs in multiple genres: sword and sorcery fantasy, literary, chick lit and young adult urban fantasy.

    A very interesting post. Thank you both.

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