Since the publication of my first book, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, I’ve learned that I am more than just an author. I am a brand. And I’m okay with that. My late father was a “Mad Man,” and I grew up in a household where a good ad campaign wasn’t just admired, it was revered.
But how to create my brand, a look that would allow readers to identify me with my series? I’d lost some weight and finally fit into jeans, so that seemed a good choice for bottoms. For my tops, I purchased a selection of tee shirts sporting Cajun and Louisiana images. Sounds like a great idea, right? Wrong. Here’s the evidence. In the first picture, I look like I should be chugging a Longneck at a football party. (Go, Green Wave!)
I was on an illustrious panel at San Diego’s Mysterious Galaxy. But do I look like it in the photo below? No, I look like I wandered in after dropping my dogs off at the groomers, and then wedged myself into a photo op with some elegant, appropriately-attired authors (who would be Nancy Cole Silverman, Daryl Wood Gerber, and Diane Vallere).
Clearly, I needed a new approach for 2015’s Bouchercon, the mothership of mystery conferences. I replaced the jeans with a varied collection of black pants. My friend and fellow author, Lisa Q. Mathews, suggested I go with Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold and green. I loved that idea, and even made some necklaces to really sell my “brand.”
But I began to wonder, had I tipped too far in the other direction? In the manuscript for my second book in the series, Body on the Bayou, one character describes an overdressed woman as looking like a Mardi Gras float. Had I crossed that line myself? There was only one way to know for sure: check with fashion guru Diane Vallere.
Diane is a woman with so much taste that simply posting a picture of what she’s packing for a conference inspires envy. I tracked her down on Day One of Bouchercon, ran my outfit by her, and got a double thumbs-up. Even better, when I saw her the next morning, she blurted out, “I was thinking about you and how much better this look and these colors work than the tee shirts.” OMG! The fact that Diane Vallere, one of the hardest-working writers I’ve ever met, used a second of her valuable time to think about me sealed the deal. Just to be safe, though, I put her on alert to let me know if I ever cross the line into parade float.
As I departed Bouchercon, I joked to a friend that I might as well leave my branded clothes in the suitcase until it was time for the Left Coast Crime Conference. “You’re going to wear the same outfits?” she asked, aghast. I muttered yes, and didn’t add that I was also planning to wear them to Malice Domestic. The conversation disturbed me. Even if I dodged looking like a float, would I risk being labeled a weirdo if I wore the same outfits to every conference?
Then I came up with a brilliant solution to the problem: a little something I like to call shopping. I now have a legitimate and very businesslike reason to expand my wardrobe. I need to rotate the stock and to do that, I need stock to rotate. Hmmm… a wide array of purple, green and gold tops, possibly tax-deductible and definitely vetted by Diane Vallere? Color me branded.