Tag Archives: history

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?

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Running with Ideas (Much safer than running with scissors)

You know what the great thing about writing is?

If you are in the middle of researching something, and the theory may be really out there or the evidence is slim at best — and you can use it anyway. Because this is fiction, and taking based-in-reality-but-not-quite theories to build a world is fun.

Well sure, stick to as much historical fact as you can, and following the evidence really will get you better and interesting places. Authenticity is good.

But you can still run with the idea.

Or, perhaps more accurately, you can expand on the idea and take it new and crazy places. The world-building will certainly need some elaboration. And the characters — well, depending on whether you’re researching person or place, characters are going to need some creativity too.

Why am I talking about this?

I discovered a Novella-length contest for Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Through this, I decided I wanted to make something decidedly more Sci-Fi than Fantasy (because I generally lean towards Fantasy). I toyed with a few ideas I had, how I could expand them, and I fixated on a strange, vivid dream I’d had a few weeks ago.

It was about a horse and girl, set in a post-apocalyptic society besieged by strange creatures. Only, I didn’t want to put it in the future – this story felt like it took place far, far in the past. Now, I’ve always tinkered with the idea that the Earth had a reset button, and whenever we pesky humans get out of line, she says ‘ef it’ and kills us all in a dramatic flourish. Society restarts. We get another chance to try again. (Obviously, we’re epically failing).

So, I started running with a technologically advanced society set thousands of years ago with the theme of Gaia’s Revenge.

(Incidentally, this is also the story that I’m using to practice making a “Tropes Outline.” That is coming along pretty interestingly, by the way. Hopefully I’ll have it done within this week and I’ll post my conclusions about it.)

Then I remembered Ooparts.

Ooparts, or Out of Place Artifacts, are objects of historical, archaeological, or paleontological interest that are found in unusual or seemingly impossible context. For example, Airplanes in Ancient Egypt and South America. A battery found dating back to Sumerian times. Things like that.

Plethora or lack of evidence aside, it’s fascinating, and fun to consider.

So guess what’s in my story.

Cue the evil grin.

 

What idea have you run with recently? What are your thoughts on the balance between using fact and playing with fiction?

 


How to Stumble About World Building

I’ve always been a little envious of writers who are first and foremost “world builders.” They’ve got their history, culture, geography and general lay of the land allllll figured out while diving into their characters and plot.

I’m such a character writer. I’ll get a picture in my head of two characters talking, or dancing, or fighting – or maybe the image of a girl with ears of a fox ready to spring on top of her doe-eyed sibling. And from there, everything expands as a super-sonic rate. Now the two siblings are actually seven, they are creatures from the wild that turned human to fulfill the role of the “fertility daughters” and marry the princes of the realm, and maybe my fox-eared girl wants a little more from her life.

Now I have an underworld, a banished prince-king, and a plot to seize back the power of Nature to make his kingdom flourish. And, of course, the love interest between two unlikely characters.

The point of this is that I often find myself backtracking. My characters take off with their stories, and I’m making up culture, language, and geography as I’m going along. This causes a bit more to be desired when it comes down to the foundation that these characters are living in.

My first novel was set it in modern day America – which makes things infinitely easier as I didn’t have to create much of the world. But the manuscript I just finished (an alternate-history where the environment has collapsed and the civil rights movements haven’t occurred yet) has been a bit of a lesson for me. True to form, I didn’t build any of the world before I jumped head-long into the characters and their stories. Then I had to do some major backtracking and some particularly awkward word-gymnastics in order to fit what I had written into the world that was arising around them. At one point I wasn’t even sure what country my characters were set in – but I was creating weak references to places and geography anyway.

Once I submitted to the reality that I needed to rewrite and actually build a world, it was actually rather fun to fit little nuggets here and there about how different their society was from ours. I’m no Tolkien, and the thrust of my writing is still character-centered, so their world gets relayed through “commonplace” observations that are not so common to us.

But. At the end of the day, my world building skills are still lacking.

To interject, which will make sense in a second, I recently went on a trip to Washington, DC. I’d been there before over the summer on an internship, and returned there a week ago to attend a conference. I stayed a few extra days, partly because the ticket was cheaper if I stayed longer, and partly because I love DC. The energy of the place thrills me. The architecture and history delights me. And between the nudging of my step-father and my own thoughts, the meld of a blog post and writing exercise has arisen.

World building takes history. It takes geography. It takes people, culture, and events. And what better place to learn this than reality? With this in mind, the rest of this blog post will be dedicated to the history of architecture in Washington, DC as an exercise in learning how to world build.

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Washington, DC is a planned city – a lot of people put a lot of thought into the appearance and symbolism behind the capital of the United States. Pierre L’Enfant originally designed the plans (albeit modified by Andrew Ellicott when he took over later) to follow in the footsteps of great cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Karlsruhe, and Milan. Virginia and Maryland both donated land to form the city, areas that included the pre-existing settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria.L'Enfant_plan_of_DC

DC is designed in broad avenues and streets radiating out in rectangles that allowed open spaces and landscapes. This also helped with issues such as expansion. L’Enfant also designed a “grand avenue” lined with gardens that has become the present day National Mall.

Capitol Building, DCThe Capitol Building holds the honored position of the center of the city (which is aligned to the tallest place in DC), symbolic of it’s position as the seat of American power. The White House is deliberately built down the road, the Supreme court across the street from the Capitol. The city is sectioned up into four designated quadrants, the streets set up in a grid pattern with east-west streets named after letters, north-south streets dedicated after numbers (generally the number of blocks from the capitol), with diagonal streets named after states.

With all of the streets so orchestrated, certain streets have gained particular significance for their locations. Pennsylvania Ave is known for connecting the Capitol to the White House. K street is known for housing the buildings of many, many lobbyist groups. M street is known for it’s plethora of shops, bars, and restaurants.

10530701_10204136958965575_9015096434859182974_nIn addition, here is actually a limit on how tall buildings can be built, so the skyline of DC is low and sprawling (I love it – it’s a city without feeling claustrophobic).

And the differences in architecture of buildings that are even right next to each other fascinate me. According to almighty Google, DC is inspired by a large variety of styles: neoclassical, Georgian, gothic, modern, Queen Anne, Châteauesque, Richardsonian, Romanesque, Beaux-Arts, a variety of Victorian styles, and, of course, modern.

10449920_10203701575361257_5539523921921809619_nGeorgetown is probably my favorite area of DC. It’s beautiful with the red brick streets, the shops, the missmash of buildings, the river. And I love how the neighborhood/community feel combines with the high, passionate energy that seems to impersonate DC in general.10376863_10203701575041249_3693404840649443636_n

 

 

 

But probably the most known architecture of DC would be the monuments and memorials. In the interest of saving anyone’s brain who’s actually going to read through this, I’m going to limit the memorials of people down to the (probably) most famous three.

The Washington25 Monument, dedicated to George Washington (I’m going to assume I don’t need to explain who he was), was dedicated in 1885, fully completed in 1888, and is the world’s tallest stone structure and obelisk. As an interesting historical tidbit, halfway through construction it ran into funding problems (as well as the minor issue of the American Civil War), so the monument is actually two toned, the restart of construction indicated by the second shade of stone starting about 27% of the way up the structure. If you squint at this picture, you can see it.

33The architect of the Lincoln Memorial is Henry Bacon, and it was dedicated in 1922 (I’m going to assume I don’t need to 34explain who Lincoln was, either). The whole building is built in a Greek Doric Temple style, modeled after the parthenon, because Bacon felt that a man who fought so hard for democracy should be honored by a structure found in the birthplace of democracy. In addition to the sculpture of him set in the middle, the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address are inscribed on two flanking chambers on either side of the sculpture.

51Dedicated in 1943, Jefferson Memorial is a circular, colonnaded structure in which the architect for it, John Russell Pope, used Jefferson’s own architectural style and tastes for the design. The statue of Jefferson in the middle looks out towards the White House, and is intended to represent the Age of Enlightenment and Jefferson as a philosopher and statesman. Interesting fact: the structure came under a lot of public criticism because it resulted in the removal of the Japanese flowering cherry trees from the basin. Also interesting: President Franklin Roosevelt laid the first cornerstone.

There are also three war memorials that are of interest: World War II, Vietnam, and Korean.

World War II (dedicated 2004) is interesting because it’s one of the only memorials with fountains. Why? Because fountains are a symbol of war that ended in victory. Whoops. Guess that means we don’t have a lot of fountains. That being said, WWII Memorial is gorgeous, and is probably my favorite. Stone columns represent the states and countries that participated, with a stone structure on either side representing the Pacific and Atlantic ocean (or sides of the globe that participated – world war, ya know).

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The Vietnam memorial actually has three parts: the three soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The main memorial is the Memorial Wall (completed in 1982), a curved long black wall with the names of the veterans inscribed across it. Designed by Mara Lin won the design competition (the choice coming under a lot of criticism due to her Asian heritage), and it is shaped as a V,  one edge pointing towards the Lincoln Memorial and the other to the Washington Monument. It was built to look like a wound opening in the earth – symbolizing the loss that the Vietnam war inflicted.

42The Korean War Memorial was dedicated in 1995, and holds what many call the “ghost soldiers.” Grey statues in various poses with various weapons, they plod along next to a black wall etched with depictions of all those that participated in this war. Men and woman of all races can be seen along the wall (the bone structure in faces are creepy good), along with German Shepards, helicopters, and various other items. There are a few stories of the statues scaring people still at night as they seem to move. (There you go – every good city has to have some ghost-story area of whatnot.) There is a Pool of Remembrance further beyond where the soldiers seem to be headed, along with a granite wall with the inscription, “Freedom is not Free.”

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Now. I’m going to stop throwing facts about monuments and architecture at you.

It seems to me that monuments are some of the easiest ways to portray history (this might be a duh). If nobody knew anything about America, you would have already picked up just from these that we idolize Presidents who fight for democracy, individual freedom, and intelligence, and that we engage in quite a few wars that we don’t seem to be winning very much lately. Just imagine, in a novel, your hero or heroine strolling down the street and giving a brief glance and thought to a monument (of your design, of course) – and suddenly there’s history and context to the world with barely more than a description like those above.

Of course, this is me talking, world-building connoisseur I am not.

But the point that I at least have to remind myself all the time is that all places have history, and at least some thought has to be put into it. If you’re anything like me you’re much more interested in jumping to the good bits about the mystery or the character arcs. But maybe the city/town/country of your novel holds clues to the mystery your character is trying to solve. Maybe there’s a hidden monument, a war (or idol) that someone is trying desperately to keep dark. Maybe people have forgotten. Maybe they’re so old people don’t care. Maybe there’s a hidden society somewhere.

Who knows.

But I think that I’ve tortured all your brains enough! Thank you for sticking it out with me to the end here, if you have, and hopefully I’ve given you a glimmer of an idea about monuments and architecture and how to make them fit into your story to help build a stronger foundation and history.

As a final thought: What do YOU do to world build? Any tricks? Does it just jump into your head like divine intervention? What do you plot out – or let occur naturally as the story progresses?

 

P.S.: Credit for Pierre L’Enfant’s original DC city plan designs go to: “L’Enfant plan” by Andrew Ellicott, revised from Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant; Thackara & Vallance sc., Philadelphia 1792 – Library of Congress. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:L%27Enfant_plan.jpg#mediaviewer/File:L%27Enfant_plan.jpg