A Pet Psychic, A Gentleman, and an Exorcist Walk Into A Bar

Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website.  

A Pet Psychic, A Gentleman, and an Exorcist Walk Into A Bar

It sounds like a joke, but it’s not. These are the characters who inhabit my head, along with a crime reporter, a mother and two daughters with a knack for stumbling into nefarious situations; and a few more who haven’t made it to print.

One of the difficulties with so many different characters is finding a common thread that runs through the various books that can be used to solidify an author brand. What is an author brand?

When you hear Joanna Fluke, you think mysteries and baking. And vise versa.

Is there a common thread among my characters? Well, Evan Miller is troubled, while Deanna Winder IS trouble. Frankie Chandler, Pet Psychic, considers the supernatural an intrusion in her life, while Father Gerald McAllister, exorcist, relies on it. And most of them would be left off the guest list of a dinner thrown by Edward Harlow, author of the Aunt Civility etiquette books.

An author, when coming up with a brand, also needs to consider his or her target market. I’ve never mastered that one. Most mystery readers are women, so I should try to determine who would like my books by age group and other demographics. Let see an example of how well that works.

I took a screenwriting class in Chicago. I wrote a scene that took place in a small town post office, and  a confused, elderly lady at the front of the line was driving the impatient protagonist mad. The person who laughed the loudest was a young, black man. I would have picked the suburban-looking white women as my target audience, but her slight smile seemed reluctant. So much for stereotyping your audience.

Another trick to finding your brand is to brainstorm words that come to mind when describing your books or characters. Unintentionally funny due to the circumstances and  people they are surrounded by. In other words, you and me. That doesn’t narrow it down very much.

Could this be the next
Agatha Christie?

You can always compare your books to others out there, but that’s too intimidating. When I put fingers to keyboard, I always hope to be the next Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, but the results fall far short. As for comparisons to current authors, each one seems so unique to me that I wouldn’t dream of holding my novel up next to theirs. I would feel like the gal on late-night television offering knock-offs for those who don’t care for the real thing.

JA Konrath has said that if you want to sell books, write more books. That I can do. I’ve slowly built up 4 novels, a traditionally published novella, and 4 short stories. Oh, yeah. And a children’s book.  If my timetable holds out, I’ll have Civility Rules, my Harlow Brothers mystery, and the third pet psychic mystery out before the end of the year, and the Father McAllister mystery out at the beginning of 2016.

So what should I do about my brand? I’d solicit feedback from other people on what words they thought best represented my books and characters, but if anyone used the word sassy to describe Frankie Chandler or Roxanne Wilder, I’d throw myself out the window. (It doesn’t matter that I live in a one-story. It’s the intent that counts.)

9 thoughts on “A Pet Psychic, A Gentleman, and an Exorcist Walk Into A Bar”

  1. Jackie, what an informative post on several fronts. Brand and target audience I've definitely struggled with, and alas, don't have a clue. Awhile back, a friend did point out the obvious Route 66 and Mojave Desert connections, but I sure didn't see it myself. And I'm taking to heart, “JA Konrath has said that if you want to sell books, write more books.”

    I am of course looking forward to the latest Harlow Brothers, but Father McAllister sounds so tantalizing–looking forward. I'm going back and rereading your post, more than one good thought…


  2. If I had to describe Frankie Chandler I would have to say “reluctant sleuth.” She might also be an amateur, but she never starts out to get herself involved in a murder. It just sort of falls in her lap. That aspect alone keeps her more interesting to women readers, but she uses her head to solve the case unlike the “sassy sleuth” who not only trips over the body but usually trips over the killer when she is alone in the basement. It might be fun, but I prefer your “reluctant sleuth.”

    And you are so right that writers should think about their branding. Who is their audience? Would the book sell more to knitting ladies, retired women, readers who like a laugh, or readers who like a clever plot and intelligent sleuth… reluctant or not?

    Good post, Jack.


  3. Very entertaining, Jackie, and so informative. I've always said a blog is a showcase for our writing style, and I can tell I'm going to enjoy your books. Thanks for sharing!
    Marja McGraw


  4. I agree with Marja–your blog post carries some of what I consider your trademark wry humor, which is one thing that makes your books so fun to read. I have tried to master this branding thing myself, but it continues to elude me. Let me know if you unearth the secret.


  5. Great post on an important topic, but the JA Konrath quote really stuck with me. As a reader I'm always looking for authors who have several books published. If I like what I read I want to read more. This is especially true of series. Thanks for the good advice.


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