Fun bloggy news: I’m starting a new guest blog series today called “Five Photographs.” I asked a bunch of writers to submit five pictures (all taken by them; no stock photos ūüôā ) and complete a brief interview. You all know how I love themed guest blog series AND how I love eclectic blog posts and photographs, so this idea sounded perfect. Carla Richards is kicking it off with five beautiful, cute, and/or creative photos. She discusses author branding in her interview. There’s also a Goodreads giveaway link for an anthology Carla contributed to. Details below. Enjoy! Welcome, Carla!

Something that represents something unique about you:

Carla Richards Unique

This¬†is one of my paintings. Although, it was done intentionally in the style of Jackson Pollock, it also represents something about me. I once had an acquaintance psychoanalyze me based on this painting when he and his wife were over for supper. He was an engineer not a psychiatrist, but he had learned to do this¬†in some kind of class. The analysis wasn’t terribly accurate, but it was still a lot like those horrible dreams of going to school naked.

Something that represents where you live:

Carla Richards Saskatchewan

This photo pretty much covers winters here in Saskatchewan. It’s beautiful and it’s cold. It’s hard to remember that it’s¬†beautiful when winter is trying to take over for the other seasons, the streets are covered in mucky snow and ice,¬†and¬†there are days when the windchill can freeze your face in under a minute.

Your pet or plant or thing you care for besides your human family/friends:

Carla Richards Pickles

This is Pickles. She loves to knead on the bed and purr. She’s incredibly loyal, but some people think she might be¬†imaginary¬†like Snuffaleupagus (had to look up how to spell that!) because she is very shy.

Something (not someone) that really frustrates you:

Carla Richards Cords

Cords! Never-ending cords! I do like trying to photograph everyday objects in interesting ways, but cords are just ugly.

 Something that brings you joy (besides writing):

Carla Richards Quilts

This is a quilt my late grandmother made for me many years ago. It was soft, just the right size, just the right weight, and made with grandma-love. As you can partly see from the photo, sadly, it is falling apart. I had to take it off the bed and put it away, but I did take pictures first. Still hoping it can be fixed.

Interview with Carla

What’s the elevator pitch for your latest published novel?

My latest published work is a short story called “Summon the Sun” in¬†Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods, an anthology exploring faith through science fiction and fantasy.¬†Right now you can enter to win a copy on Goodreads!

The pitch for my story: An irresponsible novice witch summons the Egyptian Sun God to help warm up winter. But how much can a deity accomplish with a present following of one part-time Starbucks barista?

 What are you working on next?

I have a short story coming out in a benefit anthology for Friends of Homeless Animals, and my Work in Progress is a funny urban fantasy set in NYC with a fashion design assistant and some slightly ridiculous demons.

What are you currently reading?

I am usually reading several things at once. Right now:¬†Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist¬†by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan,¬†The Fortune Hunter¬†by Daisy Goodwin, and¬†Animals Make Us Human¬†by Temple Grandin.

What are you currently watching (TV shows)?

I’m catching up on the last season of¬†Game of Thrones, and eagerly awaiting more¬†Outlander. Jamie (sigh).

[Jill: Believe it or not, I haven’t watched Outlander episode 9 yet! We were out of town for Easter and now my kids are on spring break. Maybe tonight. And – yes! – can’t wait for GoT S5!]

Favorite fantasy creature, villain, or weapon not from your own work?

My favorite villains are the ones that are sort of grey rather than black and white, or the ones that are on a redemption path. You are never quite sure if they are going to do something evil or something heroic, but your heart is in your throat every time they have to make a choice. Jaime Lannister is one of my favorite villains like this.

Biggest challenge facing writers today?

Author branding may not be the biggest challenge facing writers today, but it’s been on my mind, so it’s the one I’ll talk about. The part of it that concerns me is the expectation that, for marketing purposes, all of an author’s work will fit neatly into one genre category like widgets produced in a factory. We are not factories. The truth is that this kind of restriction can really derail creativity, decreasing the quality of the work or stopping the creative process dead in its tracks. It’s true. It’s a¬†business. But, it’s a¬†creative¬†business. And that means we have to protect our inner artists too.

The other aspect of this for authors is the use of a new pen name for every subgenre they write in, and the time¬†then¬†spent maintaining websites and social media for three or four “different” people. Time not spent writing.

[Jill: I’m always torn about author branding. I was a marketing major in college so I can appreciate why products/companies should have strong brands. But as an author I often rebel (ahem, this blog. ‘nough said.) My most admired actors/actresses are people with excellent range, because I think they’re the ones with the most talent. So I think it’s interesting that writers aren’t judged by the same standard. Our medium is the written word and theirs is performance, but still… Should that matter? Just because you can hold a book in your hand, doesn’t mean it’s a widget. It’s a story.]

How can we meet that challenge?

One of the cool things I’ve noticed lately is using author taglines that are less genre-specific.¬†Lots of authors use taglines–the quick little blurb that can set our work apart and make it memorable. But¬†some¬†of the ones I’ve seen in the past are really genre specific, letting the reader know that the author writes historical western romances or post-apocalyptic sci-fi for young adults. That’s fine if it’s the only thing an author ever wants to write. Lately though I’ve been noticing taglines that aren’t so genre specific.¬†Taglines that promise the reader an experience, like: “She’ll keep you up all night” (Jackie Collins) or¬†“All. The. Feels.” (Gayle Forman). These taglines can go with an author for the life of their career.

We can also use our website(s) to communicate. Neil Gaiman writes speculative fiction for adults AND he writes picture books (see¬†Blueberry Girl–it’s lovely), all under his own name.¬†Gaiman has two websites, one for adults and a separate one for kids. (He also has an agent who’s very successful at representing multi-genre authors.)¬†When Courtney Milan released her first Contemporary Romance, she wrote to fans of her Regency romance on her website, telling them a bit about why she felt she needed to do something different.¬†There’s a wonderful authenticity and¬†connection¬†to readers in writing under one name, and being open about the process of writing.

Another thing we can do is keep our novels within one genre and still play and experiment with short fiction, like author Mary Robinette Kowal.

Lastly, I think we should respect that readers are intelligent, and can look at the front cover, read the back cover copy, and say, “this is a bit different from her last book, but it sounds cool too.”¬†Yep, not all of the readers of an author’s medieval fantasy trilogy are going to want to go with her on a space expedition, but¬†I guess in the end, I feel like what we lose in branding when writing multiple genres will be gained back in creating more engaging stories that we, and our readers, are passionate about.

Does anyone have any other suggestions? I’d love to hear them.

Thank you, Jill, for having me. This was a really fun blog idea.

Carla Richards
Carla Richards

More about Carla

Carla Richards has had fiction produced for CBC Radio; and published in Ocean Stories, Spring, and Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods. She still has a baby tooth, and believes it is keeping her young.

Thank you, Carla, for guest blogging today! I loved your pictures and enjoyed reading your interview!