Writers are entertainers. We immerse readers in a magical world, letting them escape with our words as a guide. If a reader enjoys your ride, chances are they’ll seek you out again. And again.

This week I read a lot about branding yourself as a writer, thanks to writing friend Jill Corcoran. The subject isn’t foreign to me, having worked in marketing for a decade. But just what is branding for writers? Developing a consistent style in your stories, offering readers a place that’s as comfortable to return to as their favorite chair. It’s not about writing books so similar that no one finds value in buying more than one. It’s about finding your niche in the publishing world and working within it.

Let’s compare this idea to chain restaurants in the US. Why are they popular? Diners know the menu, they know exactly what to expect. Olive Garden promises that the chicken parmigiana in Spokane will taste the same as the one in Cleveland. They don’t just sell unlimited salad and breadsticks, they serve predictability and comfort. Repeat diners know they’ll enjoy their meal.

People often buy the same laundry detergent, the same rice and the same cheese year after year. How many of you use the same brands your mother bought? Consumers will buy an item simply because they know it and they don’t know the competitors.

Brands also have unique qualities that make them more attractive than similar products. I prefer Barilla Plus pasta because it has added protein without a significant change in flavor. While it’s just pasta, it’s very different from the other noodles on the grocery shelves.

As a new writer in an increasingly difficult book market, developing a brand may give you an edge over the competition. When I think of Grace Lin, I think of whimsical illustrations with colorful patterns like origami paper. John Scieszka? Fairytale spoofs. Roald Dahl writes humorous, fantastical tales. Think about some of your favorite authors and what kind of feelings their name brings to mind. You want to elicit that same kind of recognition when readers think of you.

On the flip side, author K.L. Going admitted that her interest in multiple genres makes it difficult for readers to get a handle on her. At the Rutgers One-on-One Mentoring conference last October she said, “You never know what you’re going to get with a K.L. Going book.” She suggested not doing this as a new author, although she also encouraged us to write what we love.

But what if we love crossing genres? What if writing a supernatural YA mystery comes as naturally as a quiet non-fiction picture book? Perhaps you can be predictable in your unpredictability? Isn’t that a brand as well? Sure it is. But is it one you want as someone who’s trying to break into a tough, competitive business? Agents and editors tout “high concept” in novels, so why not come up with a “high concept” for yourself?

I realize that branding yourself as a writer is a complex task, especially for someone new who is still experimenting with style, genre, voice and subject matter. Stories are more complex than shampoo. You can’t guarantee thicker, fuller hair and a fresh lavender scent with each turn of the page. So what do you guarantee your readers?

Ask your critique partners what your brand might be. What perceptions do they have about your stories? What qualities in your writing are consistent? What do they look forward to when you hand them a new tale? Where does your work really shine?

You might have a very good idea about what your brand is. But remember that branding is all about someone else’s perception, not yours. You can have an image or a message you wish to relate to your readers, but are you sending it? Start asking around. Get to know your own brand so readers can get to know you.

What are you thoughts on branding for writers?