On Rebranding a Known Property

I met Jeff VanderMeer over Greek food, during his tour for the release of Booklife. He personalized the two books I bought with sketches. We all went to a bar and I had a great conversation with his dad before driving the three hours back home, at midnight. I chalked it up to the ‘that was fun’ category and went back to writing.

At the time, I had no idea I would end up doing freelance publicity for him, or good-naturedly threatening him with pandas. All I knew was that he knew what the hell he was talking about and had some really interesting stories about cockroaches. When I started actually working as a publicist though, he was one of my first clients, through Raw Dog Screaming Press. I was working on Monstrous Creatures, one of his non-fiction collections.

My first real brush with the Booklife experience came last year at FogCon, about 2 years after I met Jeff. We wanted to put together a mini-workshop for Booklife for con attendees. We terrified the coffee shop where the workshop was held, cramming 15+ people around one table and commencing very strange discussions. Listening to them discuss how to take the maddening, sanity-destroying world of writing and manage it, even enjoy it, was like three years of on-the-ground experience wrapped up into one neat package. We talked about some things to do with the Booklife brand, but due to busy lives, they fell through at the time.

In January, Morgan emailed me saying, “Jeff has offered us the Booklife website and brand. They’ve got the Weird website stuff going on, and Booklife needs someone else to keep it growing.”

We worked things out with Jeff, and started brainstorming how to do the old incarnation justice, but also how to take it to the next step in its evolution.

How did we do that?

  1. We created a long-running plan. We didn’t just immediately open up and start posting whatever. We debated what we wanted to offer as a group. Long email chains formed on everything from what content we’d post the first week to the choice of website colors. (We finally settled on the colors when Lily, our resident synesthete, said everything tasted good.)
  2. The website was redesigned. We took many elements from the original site and married them to Galen Dara’s unique art style. Jacob and Marlyse rebuilt it to make it clean and easy, and, most importantly, fresh.
  3. Steve and I collaborated on a press release that would go out to select members of the community. This gives us the opportunity to express the changes, as well as inform that we’re open for business again.
  4. I actually came up with a catchy slogan! “Booklife gave you the platform. Booklife Now is your expansion kit.” It’s short, memorable, and perfectly expresses our plans.
  5. We planned content. Knowing where we’re going is half the battle in ensuring that we remain focused and unique.
  6. We defined staff roles, and made sure we had a variety of people.

Now, of course, there are hundreds of little details I’m not mentioning. But in six steps, we took an existing product and made it our own, without losing the history and uniqueness of the existing product.

You see, it’s great to take on an existing brand, especially one as well-known and loved as Booklife. It already has fans, and we’ll be able to tap into an existing market. But at the same time, we won’t be able to carbon-copy what Jeff and his group did. Besides that, we need to be able to show it as a new thing. It’s like rebooting a comic book character: try not to piss off all of the fans, but still offer a fresh new face.