I've had a few comments about how much humor might play into my author brand, but that's almost as big a minefield as the "clean" label. There will probably be some dose of humor, whimsy, or quirkiness in everything I write because I can't help myself. It may be a totally serious book with a slightly oddball premise (again, I can't help myself) or with characters who have a sense of humor. But that might not really be considered "humor." If you label something as funny and people don't laugh, then they consider the book a failure. Every time Harlequin tried to launch a romantic comedy line of books, it tanked, mostly because there are a lot of different kinds of humor, and so many of those books weren't funny at all to some people. If you don't say that something is funny and a reader laughs once, they might consider it a good book. If you say it's funny and the reader laughs once, it can lead to a much more negative reaction. So I think the "humor" aspect might fall under the "fun, feel-good" label. There will probably be something in my books to make you smile, but not everything is going to be comedy. That can be conveyed through lighter colors, the typeface, and in the way I present myself. There's usually at least some dry humor in my blog posts. I'm generally funny on convention panels. My tweets and Facebook posts present some humor.
I was reading an article on business planning for authors yesterday that suggested finding an author whose career you'd like to have and looking at what you'd need to do to have that career. I won't name the person I came up with, but in general it's someone who's pretty well respected in the genre but not necessarily famous outside the genre. Her books tend to make at least category bestseller lists and she gets award nominations. That's about where I'd like to be. I don't want to be real-world famous, but it would be nice to be famous within the genre -- to have lines at my autographings at conventions and the room packed for my panels. But because of being at the same publisher at the time this author was being launched, I know how she got to where she is, and a lot of it comes down to publisher support. She had a well-written book with a high-concept premise, and I think she already had a lot of online visibility from other activities, and the publisher had a strong launch strategy for her series. They did a lot of marketing at events like ComicCon and supported the books at the bookseller level. It's hard to build a business plan around "and then the publisher will promote the books."
So what it comes back around to is a well-written book with a high-concept hook that publishers will get excited about enough to push it. Coming from where I am, I'd probably have to boost what I'm doing now to use that as my pre-established visibility so that my existing sales don't count against me. I really want to avoid having to take a pen name to start over. I don't deal well with alter egos. I think I have a big enough following that my existing readership should be an asset rather than a liability, but when you're dealing with bookstore buyers, there's a risk that they'd look at the raw numbers and refuse to buy in a new book in greater quantities than have sold with previous books.
I should probably look more at authors who eventually broke through after a long slog rather than at those who had a big hit right out of the gate. That might give me more lessons to work with.