Tag Archives: creativity

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?


Creativity Cycles

Apparently mid-summer is the time of year where writing blog posts is more of a chore than usual. I think every year now, during the summer, I’ve written consistently less posts than during the winter.

shutterstock_102937733.jpg

Anybody else noticing this trend? I don’t have children, so I can’t blame it on that. I was more busy during the summer this year than I was last year, so maybe there’s something there. I don’t enjoy the sun all that much, so it’s not like I’m outside instead of writing posts.

It’s like I lose interest during that time of year.

Once Fall hits and Winter starts to make it’s grand entrance, it’s easier to blog. Or, it seems more natural to, to be accurate.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Seasonal Anxiety Disorder (mostly because I’m pretty sure I have it but don’t want to admit to it) and am wondering if it’s connected. Starting in June, when the light begins to leave, my blogging tapers off. In the depth of winter, particularly January (when the light is starting to return), I seem to get a rush of creative energy.

I used to assume I was just a night owl and was most productive when there was a lot of dark. Which, may still be true, though I’m finding my absolute best time to work is late morning/early afternoon.

Anyway, I noticed this trend in myself. Do you have an annual cycle that you go through? What’s your favorite time of day to write, or light situation that suits you best?


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? 


Where Do You Write?

A writer’s writing space is an interesting thing. There are cafes to write in, office spaces to set up and make – and endless articles about the importance of setting up a perfect space for some serious writing time.

When I was younger, I could pretty much write wherever my computer was placed. Noises, traffic, people – it didn’t matter. Half the time I was writing in the car or in the middle of screaming children.

Now that I’m getting older, I’m finding I’m a little more distracted by these things. There’s a parallel here to be drawn to sleeping. (Kids can sleep anywhere, right?)

A few months ago I realized that my usual writing places are starting to feel stagnant and uncomfortable. Maybe because it’s the same place over and over, or the fung shui is wrong – something.

So I’ve started checking out the cafes in my area to find a place I can go for dedicated writing time. So far, I’ve checked out two.

 

Hilltop_Cafe

Cafe #1

The first place has GREAT coffee. The ordering area is super cute and friendly, and there’s an art gallery attached to it. The sitting area has really high ceilings that make it feel colder – but the walls are alive with growing plants, so THAT’S super cool. There’s also an outside area. My only real complaint is that the chairs are uncomfortable.

 

Cafe

Cafe #2

The second place is smaller, but cozy and cute (and people are more friendly). There are amazing COUCHES, along with tables and chairs. The coffee, however, leaves much to be desired. I’ll need to try more to know for sure, but I was disappointed so far.

I’m going to need to try the second place a few more times to have a verdict for sure. So far the atmosphere of the first one is more creative and open, but the second one is definitely more comfortable.

What about you? Would you go for more comfort, or a better creative atmosphere? And more importantly, what are your favorite writing spaces?


Why an English Degree hurts Writing

One of the first bit of advice about writing I ever received was to never take writing classes. This was from a veteran author with decent success in the Science Fiction market, so take it as you will. But she had a point then, and she has a point now, based off of my albeit limited experience.

I think there are two stories revolving around this. A writing degree, and by extension an English Literature degree, could greatly benefit someone: teach them what excellent writing looks like, what the rules are, the tricks of the trade. There’s a lot of books out there by people who would really benefit from a few classes (*cough* E.L. James *cough*).

But then, there are the people who get hurt by writing classes: because of the rigidity and grading structure, individual style and voice can get beat out of them. ‘This is the right way to write this idea/interpret novel, your way is wrong’ sort of issues. Because a grade is necessary to pass the class, there is no choice between following the rules or sticking to your style. Your grade depends on it.

A lot like how forcing kids to read can cause them to hate reading, I know a few people who have been unable to write (or sometimes even read) after they finished their degree. The critical, editing voice has been built up to such a degree that their creativity and flow has been stifled; it’s no longer fun, fulfilling, or engaging as it once was. Reading has become a chore, filled with the right and wrong ways to interpret a novel. All of this, of course, can be gotten over. And I am sure there is benefit from these classes. But it makes you wonder if it’s really worth it.

Writers are people who write; a degree makes a writer not. If you’re already going to write, going to work to improve yourself and your craft, why spend a lot of money on a degree to have someone else tell you the “right” way of writing when your way of writing will be different anyway? Or, for an English degree, pay someone to tell you what you’re reading? (Especially with all the online help that’s available nowadays, too)

Of course, you need a degree in said thing if you’re going to teach it. I see that. And maybe your ideal job requires said degree (publishing, maybe? Or maybe a job that doesn’t have anything to do with writing but the position you want). But even then, I feel that this can work against people. For instance, my step father has a degree in fine art. What does he do? Runs a multi-million dollar business as its President and co-owner. Why? Because he thinks outside of the box. His art degree is more valuable than the business degree because it’s creative, and learning the rules of business only gets you the rules, not the ability to adapt and thrive.

So as writers, what are we really writing about? Life. Experience. Love. Survival. Maybe dragons and unicorns. These things are learned through living, not a classroom.

Yes, yes, getting all those things on paper in a decent way generally has to be learned. Some have the natural talent for it, some do not. But as I reiterated above, there are SO many resources out there available for people to learn good writing skills and develop oneself as a writer. It’s there for the taking. Even all those books you read in English classes, too. Right there.

This, of course, takes a lot of personal time and effort to do without a structured course. If you’re anything like me, it’s harder to make that effort when there isn’t an instructor hanging over you wielding the grade stick. Well, maybe it’s time to suck it up. We can all improve. And even if you do want/need classes, you’re going to have to continue to improve yourself anyway. And sometimes you have to unlearn the things professors have taught you to really be able to write as you should.

So. Instead of spending all that money on an English or Writing degree, maybe you should book a flight to South America and immerse yourself in the culture so you have real experience of the place when it comes time to write that book about the teenagers in Brazil who get possessed by soul aliens that haven’t been seen since Aztec times and –

Wait. Hold on, that’s me with that story idea. Whoops. Nevermind.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you don’t need a degree in Writing or English to be a writer. All you have to do is write. And gain experience. And live life. And be happy (or depressed, whatever floats your boat).

Now, don’t write about soul aliens in Brazil, go write your own story.

P.S. If you’re one of those people who thrive on English/Writing classes, you’re probably awesome and know more about writing than I ever will. Just remember once you’ve gotten out and don’t have to worry about grades anymore, you can be your own writer, too.


New Year Resolutions and Other Blah

Resolutions: write at least three times a week and blog at least once a week. Ta-da! There you go. Okay, sure, this post is a few days late… about four. But it’s my once a week, right?

My writing groove seems to have returned after several weeks of blah here and there. Not that that’s a surprise; I had a surplus of time, and lately I’ve been limited on time with work. As soon as responsibilities start demanding my attention – ding! Hello voices in my head, wanting me to write the words.

An author friend of mine told me a long time ago that when friends of hers go on vacation to write, they really don’t get much done after the first few days. The creativity dries up. Nothing seems to happen. Somehow, stress is an inspiration that pressure cooks writing creativity into existence. Not that that works for everyone, and that’s not to say that the daily grind of in and out work isn’t an excellent killer of the creative. Because it really can be. I guess my point is that writing comes from somewhere. When everything is stagnation, whether that is sitting at home doing nothing or having your soul slowly sucked from you by work, there’s is little to spark creativity (not to mention the lack of time).

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here.

The subject of how writers get themselves to write seems to be coming up a lot lately. Probably because of New Years Resolutions. Some people have it a lot easier, and some have a harder time getting themselves to actually sit down and write. I read a post the other day about one such writer who saw other writers feverishly immersed in the world of stories and felt she was wrong somehow because she did not feel this way. She deeply enjoyed writing, and identified as a writer through and through, but did not feel the same feverish compulsion. She goes on to explain the relief she felt after a conference where a famous author spoke about her own struggles with writing, and how sometimes it was months between sitting down to hammer out projects.

I can’t quite empathize because I’m one of those who seems to live and breathe it. Sure, I’ll go through my dry spells or focus on other things for a while, but the daydreaming and feverish working of plot lines in my head is an almost constant companion. Sometimes it even feels like it’s own entity, rising up to drag me by the hair in whatever direction it sees fit.

I’m always fascinated by all the different ways that writers write.

There’s a theory out there that writers channel muses. That we tap into something beyond ourselves, call it God or creativity or what have you. It’s not science. No one person does this the same. I’d say that some Muses are little hellions that scream constantly, and some are quieter and need a little more coaxing before they’ll come out to play. Then add in ‘our’ problems – work, kids, family, whatever mental problems we’ve managed to inherit or develop – and it all has to power to bring that novel we’re working on to a grinding halt. There’s this fine line between not forcing something that can’t be forced and coaxing out our creativity/Muse/talent in our own singular ways that have to be adapted for our own singular neuroses. Sure, a lot of us are similar enough that we can find help in the writing community around us. But writing is ultimately an individual act, and our Muses are all probably different too. Only you really know what these are for you.

You’re the one who has to figure out where the line is between forcing creativity too much and letting life pass you by. And you’re the only one who can change stagnation, make life happen, and channel your creativity.

So, I suppose the point of this post is, go out and shake things up! (I was going to say ‘go out and conquer,’ but you probably don’t want to destroy or subjugate your Muse – you’re going to need it later when you’re stuck.) Fortunately, you’re not alone. We’re all struggling with finding the same balance – and we’re all rooting for you.

Welcome to 2015. Let’s make it great.