Category Archives: Advice for Writers

Branding Myself Journey (er, the Incomplete Journey)

Like any author in this day and age, “marketing” is a huge part of our job, traditionally published and indie alike. Marketing is this huge vast subject that scares the crap out of most authors, but includes things like: interaction on social media (with fans and other writers — and keeping consistent with whatever platforms you choose), ads on different sites, getting your book into the hands of reviewers, etc, and… branding.

I want to talk about what I’ve learned about branding. I’m definitely not an expert, but I’ve read a lot and am starting to feel like I’ve got my head halfway wrapped around the concept. Mostly, I wanted to share what I know while processing what I know.

Branding, simply, is what face you show to your audience. It’s what they associate with you when they think of you. In marketing in general, you want to cultivate a certain image of yourself and what you write so that you can more easily attract people that are going to align with what you have to offer (and hopefully want to buy your book!).

If you can attract people who are interested in the same thing as you, who have similar passions or motivations, they’re more likely to become loyal fans. This is opposed to, say, tweeting annoying ‘buy my books!’ links, or just talking into the void. That is vastly less successful, and honestly, will probably turn people off. Thought, technically, I suppose it is ‘marketing’ in the broadest sense of the word.

You can read a lot of advice about marketing in general, not book related, which can be pretty helpful. But for specific book-related marketing advice, I take a lot of it from BadRedHeadMedia. Her slogan is “Helping you help your damn self since 2011”, which I can’t help but like. She’s funny, concise, and her stuff really makes sense to me. A big shout-out to her.

(If you need somewhere to start with her, since we’re talking about branding, her Branding 101 article is really great, as is her The Reasons Branding Confuses You and How To Fix That Right Now.)

I’m going to snag another one of her phrases right here, too —

“You brand the author. Not the book.”

The point is, with branding, is that you’re developing attracting readers for YOU, THE AUTHOR, not a one-time book sale. Yes, books bring readers, obviously. But they’ll connect even more if they feel a connect to you, the author.

Sometimes I wince at that, because I wonder about the risks. Readers loving one book and not liking the next, or being put off accidentally by something I say, or, or, or. Most advice I read says being genuine and authentic is key to people connecting and liking you as an author, but there’s a lot of vulnerability in that too. Which is scary.

But I digress. I want to talk about what branding actually LOOKS like, which is what I struggled with when I first started consuming vast amounts of marketing advice.

So branding is what people think of when they think of you.

For me, I separate branding out into three parts into my head which helps me wrap my mind around it.

There are the esthetics

  • Colors
  • Symbols

There is your personality (sarcastic? funny? sweet? tough?)

  • Being authentic
  • Being genuine

There are the issues

  • What are you passionate about? The environment? Dogs? Happy endings?
  • These issues should be important to you, which could possibly connect you to a reader who also shares that interest and will then want to read your book.

Now, that’s just what helps me. I’m not a professional marketer, and those categories are far from clear cut from one another. They blend a lot. But it helps my head to see it that way.

As for my esthetics, I’m all about dark colors. I love blues and greens and purples. I generally have some sort of plant-related or dragon-related thing somewhere. I like sprawling landscapes and epic scenes. I also like grittiness, though — a hint of darkness and danger. I want to do an overhaul on all my sites to really portray this better. I also want to create a symbol that really encompasses me — to put in all sorts of places, including business cards and the like. I’m getting there.

My personality, well. I love sarcasm. But, I’m pretty much a bleeding-heart sap to my core, so there’s that. I’m more timid than I like, and it comes through when I make stances on issues, because I tend to over-think and just make myself go in circles. I like adding aspects of thought to conversation rather than arguing. I know, devil’s advocate personalities are the worst. I try to restrain myself.

Furthermore, I want to be intelligent but accessible. I want to teach, not preach. I want to break boxes and step out into new ways of thinking and perceiving the world… and bring everything else along with the ride. (Succeeding at this is a whole new story.)

As for issues… well, let’s get a little more in-depth with that.

Advice I’ve read from professional marketers state that you should choose 5-6 major issues to include in your branding, and 4-5 minor subjects.

Major subjects are more directly related to what your books are about, the image you really want people to identify with you. These are things that are most important to you that show up in your books.

For example.

Environmental issues have been a big part of my life forever, and when looking at my writing, it shows up. A lot. Whether it’s actual solarpunk I’m writing, or there’s historical significance for the world, or the main character is worried about an environmental issue.

I’m also a huge fan writing alternate history. I like messing with time and events and making something new. My INITIUM series, my first series being published, is alternate history. And historical truth in real life (winners writing the historical narrative) has also been an issue near and dear to my heart since… forever.

Then, there’s the fact that I write fantasy. I love fantasy and magic and tend to be daydreaming wherever I’m at. So, another theme that I like to fit into my branding is pointing out the moments of magic in real life. I’d love to be known for seeing magic in the drudgery. (This theme doesn’t come up as often as it should — I need to work on it.)

Right off the bat, those are three issues that I can post about that reveal who I am as a person and what I write about as an author.

Also, my editor suggested a while ago that my heroine, Fairian, is quite the strong female figure. She’s kind of a reluctant hero, not really wanting to change the world around her, but doing so for various reasons. So: women power. That’s another issue that can fit into my branding narrative, as my characters are generally pretty strong and feisty. It’s also a pretty popular one, which helps. I’m working on really making this more of a part of my branding, since it’s a pretty complicated subject and I’m not sure exactly what this looks like, to post about.

Another issue that’s been slowly showing up in my branding is mental health. I suffer from depression, so it’s natural to me, but I’ve never really been one to share it or talk about it. But, I’m realizing more and more, that a lot of people struggle with this issue, especially writers. My characters also tend to struggle with some sort of mental/existential issue in their paths, so it fits there, too.

Then, probably the most obvious theme that fits into branding me-as-a-writer, is #writinglife itself. That one doesn’t need much explanation: whether it’s ironic jokes or complaining about word counts or posting snippets or joining Twitter chats, that one fits in pretty naturally.

Do you see where I’m going with this? I’ve got 6 major themes to use for branding, right there.

  • Environmental issues
  • Real History, #OnThisDay History, etc
  • Magic in real life
  • Strong women
  • Mental Health
  • Writer’s Life

All of these themes fit into what’s in my books, in one way or another. But they’re also related to me, and give an idea of who I am.

(This also works into the esthetics and personality stuff I was talking about before. Esthetics: there’s a lot of plant and dragon related stuff. Personality: bleeding heart save the environment, sarcastic to the core because I fight depression and that means I can fight you. But it also means I’m almost always in existential crisis and people suck.)

Then there are the minor subjects. These are, from what I understand, things you post about less often but are more about rounding out who you are as a person. They don’t necessarily show up in your writing.

For me, these include:

  • Goats — I have 13 of them, and who doesn’t want to see baby goats?
  • Funny plants/animals — I always find the strangest creatures, and this fits into the environmental theme.
  • Working in retail/odd fruit and things — I work retail at a produce market and have some pretty funny stories, and the fruit and vegetables thing also works into the environmental theme.
  • Geeky/nerdy things — I play Dungeons and Dragons quite a bit, among other things.

*deep breath*

That was a lot of information. But is it starting to make sense?

In the reality of my own branding, I want a stronger presence of magic-in-reality and strong women, and I’ve been wondering how to take all of them to the next level. Because while I post things in these themes, I’m not sure they engage or inspire the way I want them to.

The last piece of important information I want to convey here (at least for this post) is about engagement. Posts with high engagement contain one of these elements:

  • Challenge — does it challenge the person reading it?
  • Curiosity — does it satisfy or inflame a curiosity?
  • Fantasy — does it lead the person on a journey, a fantasy, a place they want to go?

In other words, when you’re posting this or that having to do with one of your themes, you tailor it with one of the three ideas above so that it really hits home for whoever is reading it. You want to inspire someone, somehow — and if you can do that, your post is going to get more engagement, but more importantly, people are going to remember you.

I haven’t quite figured out how to do this yet. I’m going to write another post at some point that goes more in depth on how I take my themes and turn them into actual content… but to be honest I don’t think I’ve figured out the reality of what all of this looks like.

I post a lot of environmental news on FaceBook and generally do a few #OnThisDay posts a few times a week, and my Instagram is full of amazing fantasy artists (and goats), and Twitter is all sorts of tweets about writing life and retail nonsense and different chats. But I want to inspire more, engage people more. I want more of my personality to bleed through, while at the same time, my introvert-self is like Oh HELL no.

But I think if I can find my groove, my way of being awesome and vulnerable to the world, I’ll really like it. I love Instagram for this reason — I love showing off art from amazing artists, and being inspired about writing something in turn. Branding should be fun, and while work, you shouldn’t hate it.

At least, that’s what I think.

 

Alrighty, I think this post has gone on long enough! Kudos for reading this whole thing — and I hope it was helpful. Like I said, I’ll be writing another post that goes more in depth on how I’m turning this information into content. Mostly because I like writing all of this out… and I hope you get some inspiration from it too.

 

Thanks for sticking through with me through my two month absence. ❤ I’ll be writing another Behind the Scenes in Publishing post here soon! I’m going to talk about contract writing versus writing from the heart…

Questions? Comments? Additions? Concerns? What did you think? What works for you in branding yourself?


The #PubLaw Twitter Talks

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Twitter is a marvelous thing, and holds many opportunities for us writers. Whether it’s connection with fellow writers, support, or reaching a broader audience, it’s a great resource for writers of all walks of life.

I particularly like the ‘talks’ that are held to spread knowledge and general writer love all throughout the online writing community. One of my recent favorites happens to be the #PubLaw twitter talks. #PubLaw was started by Susan Spann, a mystery writer and publishing attorney — which means she specializes in that scary, scary contract thing. She tweets about everything from short-form contracts to information about small publishers to the law surrounding pseudonyms.

She says she started the #PubLaw hashtag to fill the void in Twitter’s writing community. Information about contracts and publishing law can be a little thin, and are questions best answered by an attorney — a role she fits well, or obvious reasons. And now she generously spends time hosting talks to educate the Twitter-writer sphere about publishing and contracts, one subject at a time.

She also writes about publishing law more in-depth on her blog, which has a wealth of additional information.

I’m sure you’ve heard about scams and writers getting hurt because they didn’t completely understand their contract. We all think this won’t happen to us, but educating yourself can go a long way to keeping you safe (second to getting an agent or lawyer, of course).

All of which means you should check out Susan Spann and #PubLaw. Don’t be the next cautionary tale.

What resources do you use to help navigate publishing? And what are your stories of dealing with publishing contracts? 


Why You Can Write Two Books at Once… If One Is In A Series

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I began this post with the inclination that you shouldn’t write two books at once. Yet, the more I’ve researched the topic, the more I found that writing two books at once can actually be very beneficial.

I understood the cons of writing two books at once as this: if you’re working on two things at once, they’re bound to start looking like each other. It can create parallels in plot, and similarities in style and writing. Beyond this, each book teaches you something new for your craft; when you write two at once, it deprives one book of the lessons learned from writing the other.

But recently I’ve come across a few articles that argue that writing two – or more! – books at once can actually help your writing. Barry Lyga’s Rules of Writing Multiple Books at Once was especially neat. This is a gentleman who seems to write multiple books at once on a regular basis, and here are some gems of wisdom he offers to us all:

  1. When working on two books at once, the projects need to be vastly different from one another. Not only will this help the projects not resemble each other, but it also helps with burnout — if you’re not feeling up to writing one project one day, switch to the other!
  2. The projects should also be at different stages in the writing process. This is because of the same reason as right above — if you’re really struggling with one project, you can work on another that’s in another stage in the plot. This helps get you out of your head with one project and let you relax, all the while still being productive with another project.

He has other advice as well, more to do with writing in general (head over to his article if you’re interested!). But I thought the two points above were very interesting.

I had another thought strike me a few months ago, about this subject. I’ve been considering starting up writing another novel, in addition to writing the third in my current series. Except I was concerned that this would make the stories too similar to each other.

Then it hit me. That even if that does happen, it actually really works. Because in a series, the character’s are supposed to grow; if writing another novel shifts how the character (tone, etc) sounds — that’s what’s supposed to happen overall! It can be attributed to the natural progression of a series.

I mean, sure. Don’t let your stories sound exactly the same, in a series or not. But writing a series seems to naturally lend itself to writing other books.


Staying True To Your Story: A #FicFest Update

When revising your manuscript with an editor, how do you handle all of the changes when it can feel like the story isn’t yours anymore?

Well, first you have to look at that sentence and realize it’s misleading. If you’re making a change (based on advice, your own realizations, or aliens controlling your brain), it’s still YOU making the change. It’ll be your words, your expression, your ideas on how to implement it.

A while ago I read that you can’t copyright ideas in fiction. The only thing that is truly ‘yours’ is how you use your words. Which, if you think about it, really makes sense. Because if only one person had the copyright on dark mysterious vampires I’m pretty sure the paranormal romance market wouldn’t exist.

Kidding! Kidding. Seriously, there’s a lot of other neat stuff in the genre, but you see what I mean.

But I’ve found myself thinking about how ideas are formed and implemented during this wonderful/stressful/crazy revision part of FicFest. Ideas are just a mixture of the things I’m working out in my own life and what I ‘feed’ myself based on what I’ve read, but they become so close to our hearts. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to ‘own’ that part — not to mention the fact that the publishing process is going to rip my manuscript apart, anyway.

It’s easy to become enthralled and hyper-focused on your manuscript. And when you have an idea of what revising is going to look like in your head, and then it’s totally different, it can really put you off balance. Especially when you look at it all at once, like I said in my previous post.

However, the past few weeks I’ve taken my own advice, and carefully looked at each suggestion individually, and only one at a time, and made changes as I saw fit.

Honestly, I ended up implementing almost all of her suggestions. Because when looking at them individually and not letting my ego interfere, they made sense. And oftentimes I found that, bizarrely, when I made one change, it made her next suggestion divinely ‘fit.’

For example: It was suggested that I move a scene to earlier in the story. It was a simple move, not one that sent me down ‘ohmygodifImovethiswhatwillhappen’ street. In the scene, the magical version of the CIA approaches my MC with a job offer. Originally, I had it later in the story, alongside a bunch of other scenes to create a sense of ‘oh crap all these people know about the connection to xyz event she’s stuck now.’ Moving that scene made sense, not only because it made more sense for the CIA-like character (they approach her more covertly), but because it spiced up another section.

But because of it’s new placement, a new theme just magically fell into place: Blackmail.

All of sudden, from neither my mentor’s suggestion nor my own pre-planning, there was this new tension. The ‘job offer’ took on a life of it’s own and started changing the rest of my story, shifting character motivations, creating issues that were both good and bad. It changed a trust dynamic with two individuals completely.

At first I kinda freaked. ‘What? No! That’s not how I want my story to go! Crap! I’m going to have to take out the blackmail part and –‘ and, and, and.

Incidentally, as I was talking about above, this change magically fit into another suggestion by my mentor: I needed more tension in the second half. There wasn’t a direct obstacle to my character’s goals.

Originally, that’s kind of what I wanted. Look my character is finally succeeding with this thing she’s been obstinately fighting for for half the book — WHAM, climax, look at this creepy bad guy you knew was coming but hoped wouldn’t, MWAHAHAHAH!

Weeeeell. Yes. But.

I stuck to my plan at the beginning of this thing, that I was going to try on everything my mentor said, and I could always change it back if it really wasn’t right. I continued on with this new ‘blackmail’ element and wrote it out for the rest of the book.

Oh look at all the new delicious tension that my MC has to deal with!

Probably manifesting my own opinion on the matter, my MC frantically ignores the whole thing. LALALLALA it doesn’t exist hahaha I’m so kidding myself. Then, in a moment of vulnerability, she screws up.

Cue ‘all is lost moment’ — (which my mentor also said needed to be a bit more punchy, so, HELLO, two things fixed with just one scene change, wtf?). MC thinks she’s lost what she’s been fighting for this whole thing. Evil bad dude comes out of nowhere to ruin the day (okay, week). I added in a bit threatening what she values most in the world — independence — and voila!

Much heavier all is lost moment.

Am I freaking out that my story has changed A LOT and is this still my story oh my god I had to change so much around I suck as a writer?

Abso-freaking-lutely!

I found myself struggling with my writing identity: I must suck at this, to have so much change.

Now reread what I just wrote up above with the scene change. What did I say? Oh yeah, the whole thing that followed was all my work. My mentor didn’t specifically suggest blackmailing my MC. She gave suggestions that, considering marketability and the structure that keeps readers interested, could improve my manuscript.

My original scene move (which I completely agreed needed to happen and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself) didn’t leave me nervously not knowing the balance between keeping true to oneself and taking good advice.

Everything that followed, followed naturally. I wrote it. Did it fit into a whole bunch of her other suggestions that I felt nervous about implementing? Magically, yes.

Was it because my mentor said so, or because it just ‘fit’? Does this mean that there’s just a divine formula for book structure that happens naturally? Was I influenced by my mentors suggestions when I was rewriting?

Does it matter? The real question is: Is this still my story?

You bet your cute butt!

So my advice to you is this: Own those revisions! No matter the source. They are yours. And if they don’t feel like it, make them your own.

Do you have any crazy revising stories to share? What writer-y lesson have you stumbled across lately? 


Rambling Advice on Editing: #FicFest Update

I have zero desire to write this blog post, but I’m doing it anyway. I skipped/missed last week’s post, somewhere between laziness, picking up my (almost) mother-in-law for her month long stay, and furiously editing my manuscript for FicFest. So as I write this week’s, and I figure as long as I keep rambling, something will come out.

That’s what they say about writing habits every day, right? Just start writing anything, and the flow will come.

But anyway. Let’s talk about FicFest updates.

I received my edit letter almost a week ago… wow, has it been only a week? Yikes. It feels like it’s been longer. Anyway, I got the edit letter, and it’s been a little bit like having free access to crack ever since. It’s impossible to pull away. I’m definitely editing on the sly at work. I’ll find myself reading over her edits and making changes for hours and don’t even remember how I got there. It helps that she’s so freaking smart and spot on about everything.

I’ve run into my first problem, however: knowing the difference between a good change that improves my craft and story, and knowing when a change will alter the ‘heart’ of my story too much. I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of comments by a mentor, an editor, a beta reader — whatever you’re happening to read over in that moment.

I don’t really know the answer to this yet, but I have gotten some great tips from writer friends and family.

My first piece of advice, coming directly from me, is this:

Read through all the advice and suggestions. Then, take a step back. Take each edit one at a time, and only that one at a time. Take the one suggestion and work only on that until it’s done (and maybe give yourself a time limit if you’re a super-perfectionist). Don’t try to do everything at once as you’re moving through your manuscript.

 

I started with finishing the line edits, and have just moved onto the overall suggestions; right now I’m working on making my setting more vivid (and ONLY on the setting). Once that’s done, I’m moving onto making a particular character from the past have a little more influence on the future, to not be quite so shrouded. Then I’ll be working on this one character quirk that needs to be further explained.

Do you see what I mean? Focusing on one aspect makes it a lot easier to digest and implement. I’m finding I’m not nearly so overwhelmed, and I can see each comment more clearly as what it is: advice, and intelligent suggestion.

Another piece of advice that really rung true for me was this:

Take each suggestion at face value (again: only one at a time) and look at it through the lens of what story YOU are trying to tell (you’ve probably heard this advice a hundred times, but for some reason this really hit me as helpful).

Be open to all suggestions and improvements. Consider everything carefully, after a few days to digest the comments you’ve received. Come at your story after a deep breath and a step back. Determine what kind of story comes across to the reader, and if it’s the story YOU want to tell. Some suggestions may change the story to feel like something else, or the characters to be like other people. It could be good. It could be great. Or it may change something too much.

Don’t cut off your nose in spite of your face, but keep true to the story you are trying to tell.

 

Does anyone else struggle with finding this balance? What’s your method to work it out? How about my FicFest friends, how are you all doing?


Rethinking Debut Novels

Over the end of last week and this weekend I participated in Pitch to Publication, another semi-twitter competition involving editors, query letters, and the first five pages of my manuscript. Nothing overtly exciting happened to me, though I did get a little feedback (and will be getting more soon here).

But the most helpful part so far seems to be the conversations that occurred with other writers, and the editors.

I won’t go into all the details, but one conversation stuck out to me. It involved what exactly would be your ‘debut’ novel.

For example:

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And it went from there. It’s not exactly a new concept — most of us should write one or two books before thinking about publishing anyway. The book I’m trying to publish isn’t my first.

But I wanted to talk about it for a minute, because it’s interesting to me — and because of a lot of disappointment I saw on the Pitch to Publication feed (including mine).

Just because it seems hopeless to publish your book, because you’re told the plot is too cliche or the characters unlikeable or the themes too obvious (or boring), doesn’t mean the book will NEVER be published. Hell, it probably just needs a massive rewrite and a good editor. But if that’s not the case and you’ve been trying to publish for 5 years and it seems like a completely hopeless endeavor and you should just give up —

Relax. You’re a writer: this isn’t going to be the only thing you write. Something else may meant to be as your debut novel — and this manuscript you have right now, wonderful news: it can be published later, after you achieve success. Moving on to another project, one that is (annoyingly) more market-conscious and aimed to sell, does not mean you are abandoning your heart and soul.

I feel weird saying it. For me, and probably for you, writing is about the heart, and thinking of it in regards to ‘markets’ and ‘sell-ableness’ makes me cringe inside. Well, there’s a certain amount of get over it that needs to happen. Being an author is a career. You’re selling things. You need to be aware of the market and the whole capitalism thing.

This doesn’t mean that you should force yourself into writing something you don’t want to write. Or that you need to turn yourself into a only-business minded person (ew).

It just means pay attention. And try to be conscious of it as you write. Be weird. Be different than the trend. Think of a new way to do things. Push boundaries. Read and read and read and read things you don’t normally read. Be creative in your creativity.

Okay. Minor preachy-lesson over with.

Thank god I have a lot of story ideas. I just need to make them unique if my current one doesn’t work out… because now I’m uncertain it’s different enough.

What do you think? Did you participate in Pitch to Publication? How many ideas do YOU have running around in your head?


Accepting Representation Etiquette

Here is an interesting post on accepting representation etiquette that we all should probably be aware of: A Longer Quiz! (part one)

Thoughts?