Typically, I interview heads of companies who use their personal brands to lead their organizations and their people. My interview with William Kent Krueger (he prefers Kent) was different than other interviews I've done. I quickly learned that authors don't necessarily see themselves as personal brands. But as I talked to Kent, he warmed up to the idea as I pointed out how I saw parallels between what he stood for, how he conducted his life, how he wrote his books, and how he interacted with his audience. Whether he knew it or not, he was providing a brand experience with his writing, his beliefs, and his actions. We had a great conversation and I got to learn, in detail, the brand that is William Kent Krueger.
Bookstores are filled with mystery novels appealing to readers with distinct tastes. Kent distinguishes himself from the pack through his deep connection to his adopted home of Minnesota, his commitment to family, and his passion for the craft. Thrillers will often focus on a main protagonist, but rarely a whole family. Kent's highly acclaimed 15-installment mystery series centers on Cork O'Connor, but truly follows the entire O'Connor clan. Kent's family-focus and strong commitment to justice are at the heart of his crime series.
Some authors use violence as a way to capture the reader's attention. Kent distinguishes himself by his subtlety. Much of the genre focuses heavily on the violent aspect of crime. Kent allows for it, but is more interested in the tremendous emotional aftermath of the violent acts. This allows him to approach the genre from a different angle while appealing to a wider audience.
Kent exudes passion. He fell in love with Ernest Hemingway at age 19 and wrote every day for 25 years before his first Cork O’Connor book was published. He's passionate about his home, the Great North Woods of Minnesota, a magical, but dangerously wild expanse of woodland where many of the thrillers are set. His deep appreciation of the Anishinaabe indigenous tribes, specifically the Ojibwe people shows as the series is steeped in Native American lore and mythology. He wants to teach others and inspire them to love the culture as he does. Simply put, Kent doesn't write for the fame or the paycheck, but for what he believes in and loves.
When I asked him what brand would best describe him, Kent paused for a while before answering "Wilson." It's a brand he associates with the fun of sports he enjoyed growing up. I also noted that it’s a strong, long-lasting company, which bears some similarities to his 15 (soon to be 16) installment series. To me, the William Kent Krueger brand is about authenticity, appreciation for his family, and his skill and love of the craft.