What is Your Author Brand?

Tolkien

Megajealous of this super cool logo…

I love check lists. I use them about every day of my life to get through all my little to-do’s. Most mornings, I wake up, get the boy to school, and start building my list for the day. But I also have a longer-term list hanging like an accusation above my desk. The stuff I’ll get around to eventually list. The chores I know I ought to do but they aren’t super important right now list. Also known as the Later List.

Every now and then I’ll suffer a bout of productivity and mark one off. (Clean out dusty heap under the bed. Move water bottles to high shelf and move baking dishes down.) But some have been on there for years. (Build better compost bin. Donate yarn you haven’t touched since the birth of your first child.) The Later List has become like one of those old classmates from high school that you see in Walmart but you don’t want to talk to, so you hide in a rack of little girls’ t-shirts until they pass by. I sit at my desk and am very careful not to make eye contact with the Later List, but I can still feel it staring down at me.

Working out an author brand is one of those things lurking somewhere on the Later List. After all, I haven’t published much and nobody knows who the heck I am- why bother? So maybe I’ll trim back the roses and fix the hen house window first. But, hey, it’s winter, so I can’t. Short on excuses and flush with the excitement of a new year, it was at least worth reading about.

It turns out that agents and editors care more and more about an author’s brand (and platform and all that jazz) even before they’re published. And authors that are already well positioned in terms of branding and audience are more empowered- both in traditional and indie publishing- than those who are not. (Joanna Penn mentioned this phenomenon, as well as many other 2016 publishing trends, in her interview with Jane Friedman, which can be found here.) So if they care- agents, editors, publishers, etc- maybe I should too. (Plus, I told the internet I would, so accountability.) After all, it’s one of those mysterious buzz words floating around the industry (like ‘high concept’ and ‘metadata and SEO’- uhhh…?), so it’s gotta be important.

But branding is well outside my write-in-my-PJs comfort zone and it took considerable research to even figure out what it really is. (Previously, branding always made me think of cattle having a very very bad day.) And here, my lucky readers, are the cliff notes of what I found. (Since I’m so fond of you all, I’ll even post a detailed worksheet packet on Wednesday. If enough interest crops up, I also plan to host an informal online workshop- more details with Wednesday’s bonus update.)

For simplicity’s sake, I broke branding down into three categories, with a loose fourth category to lasso them all together. Give each of these categories a week or a day or a month, however much time you need to really nail them down.

THE BOOK (This and the next category can swap in order. Pick one and go.)  You’ve probably already worked out a title, a book blurb or a pitch, a logline, but you’ll need to dig just a little deeper. Consider your target audience, your book’s themes, your keywords, the look and feel of your book.  All these aspects go into the branding of your book, and should at least roughly match the expectations and conventions of your readers and genre. (The appearance and physical structure of your book is especially important for the DIY crowd- traditionally published authors usually have little say in the cover design or paper weight, for example, but an indie author is often solely responsible for cover design, interior formatting, materials selections, etc. If you plan to publish the book yourself, you have a lot more to consider, but that’s another post.)

THE AUTHOR You! A lot of this stuff is going to be relatively easy because you likely already know it. What name will you be writing under? What genre/theme/etc crops up across most or all your writing? What have you already published? But some of it will take a little more brainstorming. What is your author logline? (What? That’s a thing?) Your branding keywords? (Huh?) Your headshot, your business card, your bio, your logo? (Oy.) For me, this part is (and is yet to be) the most painful.  But once it’s over, you’ll have not only an author brand, but the decent beginnings of a press packet. Not too shabby! (More info on press kits here.)

THE WEBSITE Do you really need a website? The answer is (groan) yes. This is something I fought for years, but once I got into the groove of it, it’s really not bad. In fact, I got to the point where I was kind of proud of my dorky little wordpress blog, even going so far as to show it to an agent I found myself chatting with. She nodded politely and then kindly, cheerfully, told me everything I was doing wrong. (This was one of the events that convinced me I need to figure this stuff out.) My blog had good information and I updated it regularly, but there’s nothing on the home page that a person would glance at and immediately think, ‘This is a fantasy author,’ which is really the takeaway that I should be cultivating. So when working on your website, make sure that its design incorporates your author and book keywords (from the previous sections) as much as possible, in posts, articles, loglines, images- any way you can work it in.

INTEGRATION This is where you make sure the previous categories all match, reusing the same images, colors, themes, keywords, phrases, etc, as much as possible. Hopefully, you don’t have spend any extra time on this section because you’ve been working forward one category at a time, in a conscious and concerted effort, and it probably didn’t take much to simply make sure everything worked together nicely as you moved along. But if your branding happened in piecemeal fashion over the years as you hacked blindly forward through the literary jungles *coughs*… you might have a bit of work ahead of you.

The end of all this, the point of it all, is to make yourself easily and instantly recognizable. With a little elbow grease and some spit shine, you can look totally pro, and that makes you memorable. So whether you’re shopping yourself around to agents or editors, or directly to the customers themselves, put in the effort to look as polished and professional as possible- people will pay attention!

Remember to check back Wednesday for the worksheet packet accompanying this post, as well as information on our probable workshop. Or you can sign up to follow the blog and get it right in your inbox the minute it posts!  Happy writing!

Short Story: Trigger

I just broke 70k on the NaNoWriMo novel and it’s winding down fast. I should finish it in the next few days for my fastest NaNo victory ever! Whoo!

In keeping with November tradition, I give you a thoughtless post. Enjoy a short story, the first piece of writing I ever got paid for.

Trigger

“Anything to trigger,” she whispered to herself, crouching deeper in the shadows as the guard drew nearer. “Anything.” She waited until he paced his predictable steps right in front of her, not even realizing she was there, and then sprang out, tackling him at the knees.

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Time for Things We Love

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Berries and Prolificness, wherein we discussed how every unimpressive little bit adds up to create an impressive whole. Sort of to follow up on that, I asked some of my writing pals on Twitter:

TwitQuestion

We all agree that you can’t write a book in a day (at least not a long one, or a good one), but I loved their answers. (And by the way, any of these folks would be worth your time to follow, if Twitter is yo thang.)

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Twit8

Some of those things aren’t really all that applicable to me (for example, my phone is a phone- not a camera, not the internet, and not a writing platform), but I delved into them all a little deeper over the last couple weeks, as well as in my own brain meats, and came up with three main principles for making time for writing. Of course, you could extend these principles to making time for anything that you love.

Reduce your commitments- If you honestly, seriously, really, truly have no time for writing, you need to cut back on your commitments. Not having time to jot out even fifteen minutes of world building or to spend ten minutes writing a scene means your schedule is too full to be healthy. If writing is on your short list of things you want to do with your life, you need to cut back on other things. All the writers I talked to mentioned prioritizing writing above other things that mattered less to them (sleep, social life, etc.) As a personal example, I like to watch movies or TV shows, but writing is more important to me than that. As a result, I watch one movie a week maximum, and no television. I don’t play video games at all, except occasionally with my husband, but I count that more as hubby time than personal entertainment. (Side note: hubby time is one of three things that always trumps writing.) My free time, rare bird that it is, is most usually spent in writing.

Keep goals simple- If I tell myself I want to publish a novel, that can be pretty daunting. Even if I just want to write a novel, it’s still daunting. It’s much more attainable to break long term goals down into smaller goals. Write 1000 words a day. Write one hour a day. Write a chapter a week. Write each lunch break. Whatever works best for you. My write buddy and I have a pact to do something every day to further our writing careers, whether that be working on a blog post, world building, or actually working on our novels. It’s simple and easy to achieve, and so we’re set up for success instead of for failure.

Be serious about it- I’m terrible at my closet hobbies. I don’t tell anyone about them, I only practice them when others won’t notice, and, as a result, they take back burner to everything else, even stupid things. I’m serious about my writing, though. Everyone who’s close to me knows that I write daily and that I get mighty irritated when my writing time gets disrupted. Plus, people ask me about how my writing is going, about where I’m at in my rocky road to publication, and the added accountability of knowing that anyone could ask at any time encourages me to have something on hand to tell folks. If I expect others to take my writing seriously, I’m more likely to take it seriously myself. If I conduct myself as a professional, pretty soon I might actually be a professional.

Now, this post isn’t nearly exhaustive, and I know you’ve all got some tricks and tips that I’ve missed, so please share them in the comments below! One of the biggest struggles many of us deal with is finding the time for writing, so let us know how you make it happen.

Welcome to… THE GUILD

Welp, I feel like I’ve crossed some kind of line this last week. I’m one step further along in my transformation from little Miss Jilly Bean to J.N. Marcotte. Not only have I joined a real live writer’s group, I’ve also now signed up for my first writer’s conference. And I’m stoked.

I have a critique partner, who is absolutely amazing, but I’ve never been in a writer’s group before. Unless we count a creative writing class I took in high school. (But let’s be honest here: my teacher was awesome, but the other students were just ridiculous. Seriously, who signs up for a class called Creative Writing when they neither are creative nor like writing? Answer: half that class. The teacher did what he could to not waste my time, and I absolutely love him to this day, but the whole thing was a bit of a joke.) I haven’t really done anything in this new group, The Alaska Writers Guild, besides sign up and pay my dues, but I look forward to participating in competitions and maybe even critique groups. (Just wish they didn’t meet on Sundays…)

But this all just reminds me of the fact that I don’t really know what to do with other writers. I mean, I’ve gotten a lot better. It used to be that, when I wanted to write, I would literally lock myself in a room with a computer or a notebook and only emerge when I was too tired or hungry to continue. (Not even joking. I hate when my husband reads over my shoulder, so I would lock him out.) Over time, I’ve gotten to where I can write if someone else is in the room (as long as they’re not beside or behind me). And I’ll share writing with others before it’s picture perfect. Twitter has really opened up my world because I can interact with others while I’m writing and it’s okay. Actually, it’s great. I work a lot better when I’ve got someone else wondering exactly how many words I wrote in the last half hour. (Saying I typed 913 words in a half hour is much more impressive than having to admit I wrote 27 in the last forty-five minutes. Those are both actual stats.) So I’ve gotten a lot more interactive in my work. A writing group can’t be TOO different from that… can it?

I’ve even less experience with writer’s conferences. I’ve never been to one in any way, shape, or form. I can’t quite say that I’ve never been to anything like one, because I’m not even really sure what they’re like. Maybe I have been, who knows? (Do you know? Please tell me if you do. I’ll blow adoring kisses in your general direction.) I just know that they’re things writers go to. I understand it’s mostly for networking purposes, but also to learn things in workshops. It’s all very esoteric. I’ve been told if I want to know the secrets, I must attend. So… I’m attending. In September. And I’m thrilled.

One of the little perks is that some writing guru is going to read through my query and the first fourteen pages of my manuscript, and then tell me everything that’s wrong with them. Well, maybe not everything, we only have twenty minutes, but I think this will be good for me. I’m taking deep breaths and telling myself it’s going to be great.

So, I’ll probably be turning these things in for the critique in the next day or two, but I’ve posted the current form of the query letter and would be delighted to have any feedback on it you may have. Please let me know if you hate it, love it, wish you could have back the one minute it took to read it, etc. (It probably looks pretty familiar to any of you nosing around the City of the Dead page. Sorry to bore you.)

In other news, it is the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo II, so… priorities and all. If you’ll excuse me, I gots a novel to rock out. Peace.

Writing Like A Professional

So, last week’s promised exciting-announcement-or-rant promise obviously didn’t happen. For reasons I can’t yet explain, I’m not ready to make an exciting announcement, leading me to my Plan B, which was to rant. But then I decided that I can’t really rant yet either, for many of the same reasons, as well as a few others. I suppose those few others largely come down to a question of professionalism. I’ve decided that ranting just isn’t professional, especially not in this case.

I am putting a decent amount of effort into transforming myself from a goof-about ne’er-do-well isn’t-this-fun writer to a real-live professional actual writer. I spent many many years as the former. I would like to become the latter.

To this end, I’ve made quite a few changes in my daily life, some more consistently than others. Now, I know I don’t yet get paid for any of the writing I’ve produced, but I still feel like I’ve taken steps toward becoming a person I can call professional, if only in practice. I can’t yet claim to be a professional writer, but I feel I can claim to have at least some habits that are professional. (Too much hedging?) On to my short list of pro attributes!

Writing Daily Barring illness, emergency, acts of God, etc., I write every day. I try to write for at least two hours every day and, on manuscript days, can usually pound out two or three thousand solid words. Sometimes I work on outlining, sometimes I fiddle with characters or situations or background or magic systems, but mostly I write stories. Sometimes they’re full length novels, sometimes novellas, sometimes short stories. Heck, sometimes they’re blog posts. (Hi, everyone.) My time is limited and I try to spend it as efficiently as I can. I don’t write when I’m inspired. I write whenever possible.

Maintaining An Internet Presence Well, I’m here. Granted, it isn’t a strong internet presence, but it’s what I can muster at the moment. I regularly update my blog, trying to fill it with writing tidbits that others will find useful or entertaining. (Feel free to tell me in the comments if I’m failing.) My biggest step in this arena this year was getting on Twitter. I’d been fighting it for years before I finally took the plunge. It’s actually been a lot nicer than I thought it would be and has made my cabin in the woods just a little bit more bearable when it’s fifty degrees below zero outside and I’m trapped inside with four preschoolers.

Building Up A Writerly Cohort This one has strong ties to the above one. As solitary an affair as writing is for me, editing is not. At least not any longer. I used to spend months (let’s be honest-years) editing the same stories over and over again, tweaking endlessly. Now I have buds who slap my wrists for me when I start to fester. This and daily writing are probably tied for the single most positive change I have made in my writing habits over the last decade-and-then-some. Some of these people I have to look in the face when I tell them why I utterly failed at writing that last scene. Some of them merely send me cosmic hate rays that eventually find their way around the globe and give me skin cancer. Either way, it’s been phenomenally good for me to be held accountable by people I trust.

Keeping Fingers On Industry Pulse This one may be known in other circles as “surfing the internet”, and comes with a warning label. Yes, it is important to know who’s looking for what, what’s selling, what’s sold out, what I can expect from a contract, and so forth. But this can also be a massive time sink. Who hasn’t fallen into a wikihole, only to realize you’ve been suddenly transported several hours into the future? Who hasn’t stumbled into YouTube link trap, only to emerge three days later, malnourished, suffering from a headache, and possibly missing a kidney? I spend some time every day reading articles about improving my craft, notices for agents whose submissions are closing soon, calls for writing competitions, openings for short story publications, etc. ad infinitum. But never more than an hour a day. Again, my time is at a premium. As important as this information all is, none of it means a thing if I don’t have a product to present.

At the end of the day, I’m not terribly bothered by the fact that I don’t get paid for my writing. (YET!) We all know that for every JK Rowling and Terry Brooks and James Patterson and Janet Evanovich, there are thousands of the rest of us, still struggling to make it into a tough industry. I honestly believe that I am a good enough writer to be a professional, but I need to remind myself sometimes why I’m cut out for it. You may note that I’ve said nothing about skill or style- merely about daily actions that are professional qualities. We’ve all heard about writing that was actually really good, but were produced by a difficult-to-work-with jerk who will never have a full writing career. And we’ve certainly all read low-quality writing that somehow became a New York Times Best Seller. Therefore it seems to me that becoming a professional is at least as much a matter of behaving yourself in a professional and consistent manner as it is about talent. So now I guess I just have to nudge the stars into alignment. I’ll let you know when I’ve figured that one out.

Anyway, as promised, here’s the next chapter of Driving at Twilight, and buckle up, kids, ’cause this one’s a long one…

Chapter Five

I couldn’t imagine a good outcome to trying to explain to my mother that I was now dating my driving instructor who was also in grad school, let alone a vampire. So I decided to skip swimming and just explain myself later. She worried too much about me already. I stared out the window, waiting. Winter was solidly in possession of the land now, a thick blanket of snow covering the brown earth that wouldn’t leave for another several months. But the tilting of the earth granted Edmond new freedom as the sun coursed the sky lower and lower each day. I’d never have seen in him the summer, but now…

Read More…