Who is Ayelet Waldman? A) acclaimed novelist Michael Chabon’s wife B) a Mommy-Track mystery author or C) a bad mother. Apparently she’s all three.
I met Ayelet at a book reading a few years back. She’s a fantastic speaker who engages the audience with her intellect, humor and unflinching presence. And though I hadn’t herd of her before that reading, I bought the novel she was then peddling: Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. Lo and behold, she’s also a wonderful writer: intelligent, funny and unflinchingly real (there goes art imitating life again). And yet, what put Ayelet on the literary map was none of these characteristics, or rather their alarming confluence in an essay she wrote for a collection called: Because I Said So. In her short essay, Ayelet confesses that her love for her husband comes before that for her children. Readers were appalled.
I have no doubt that Ayelet is a wonderful wife, and mother. She’s also obviously a business woman who has an eye for a sellable brand. After the Times picked up Ayelet’s essay, Oprah called and fed Ayelet to her audience of perfect-mommy-obsessed wolves. Ayelet has been smart enough to turn this attention into her new book: Bad Mother. This repetition of such a distinct theme has the making of a brand.
If there’s any industry that understands the concept of branding more than the business world, it’s media. Hollywood has its Stars; fine art, its mistress-painting hedonists and ear-cutting depressives, and in literature, we have our share of branded personalities as well.
- David Sedaris is the neurotic Southern misfit who pokes fun at the world around him, especially his family.
- Stephen Hawking is the layman’s astrologer whose personal triumph over ALS often takes precedent over the theories he espouses.
- Danielle Steel is the dramatic eccentric whose notorious real-life romances are only superseded by those of her characters (and those of her ex-husband, Tom Perkins—co-founder of Kleiner-Perkins—who piggy-backed on her brand to publish Sex and the Single Zillionaire).
Does the media make the brand, or the brand influence the media? Whichever the case, these brands sell. Fortunately, in the literary world, branding has always taken a back seat to good writing. But in the rapidly eroding publishing industry, this may be changing. Note the uptick of literary agents seeking biographies of notable personages (you know—stars, politicians, murderers). There is more and more pressure for brandable authors.
I don’t have time to build a brand (hell, I barely have time to write. I certainly don’t have time to edit, as my blog posts attest). Nor, if I did, do I know what brand I would be. And yet, if a brandable opportunity were presented to me, would a follow Ayelet’s cue? Would I morph myself into a more sellable image. I guess it depends on what that image was.
As for Ayelet, it will indeed be interesting to see how far she takes her Bad Mommy brand. Just how bad a mother will she need to become?
Below is a full list of Entrepreneurial Reluctances/e-Publishing lessons from my Top 10s blog post.
1. The Catalyst(s)
2. Good $ vs. Bad $
3. Risk Reduction
4. The Network Effect
5. Been There, Done That: The Serial Entrepreneur
6. The New New Thing
7. Emergence & Maslow
8. The Analogy of the Watch (moving parts)
9. A Clean Cap Table
10. Perseverance or Blinders