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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The public persona dilemma of author branding

Finding time to create and maintain a "brand" is a tedious task. I did it when I started my bookstore, and it was hard then. I had to determine my niche, create a logo and style that matched what products I offered, and draft a marketing plan that outlined my goals. But as a writer, I'm not branding a store that sells books, I'm branding myself and the writing I create. Yet I still have to define what my niche is, what my style is, and what my marketing goals are. Yuck. (This is a long one!)

I read up on how to create an "author brand" and a "writer's platform" and my eyeballs about popped out. It was overwhelming to think I am now a product, and my name is my brand. It nearly gave me a panic attack. This is because I am not, ever been, or most likely will not be an attention seeker. I knew this going into a writing career, and I knew that the goal WAS to get name recognition. But, like most first-time authors I'm sure, there's that tiny ray of hope that "if you write it they will come" and you, the writer, will not have to do much in the way of self-marketing. Unfortunately not all of us can be J.D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. Sigh.

So, flipping through my January edition of Writer's Digest, I came across an article "Branding Like a Master," which talked about how writing legends self-branded. It was a great piece and very relevant to my situation. It also forced me to take a REALLY hard look at who I am and who I want the public to see. I grabbed my handy-dandy notebook (come on, you know this...who has little kids??) and started jotting down ideas for my own path to legendary. Ppffth!

  1. Know what your individual writing style says about you, and lean into that.  My whut? I have no idea what my writing style is. I'm certainly not a "lean, hard, athletic" writer like Hemingway was once described. So then what am I? I would like to think that I am witty and engaging, as hopefully evidenced by this blog post. But my style is supposed to be consistent, so can I consistently - and successfully - show the public that I can be witty and engaging?
  2. From Trailend.org
  3. Throw great gatherings.  Now, I love parties. If I had the time and Martha Stewart creativity, I would have a party once a week. But this would be just family and friends. What this article talks about are the soirees that literary greats like Gertrude Stein threw. If I could invite famous people that would show up, I think I could relax on this whole author branding thing. So where do I start? Apparently, I need to attend more writers' conferences and host online chats with talented colleagues. Hmm, let's see..."Um, hello Mr. Koontz and Miss Atwood, you don't know me but I follow you on Twitter. Would you like to join my Google Hangout?" Yeah. But I do know talented writers. They are just like me, still unknown with a lot to share. We SHOULD all get together in a public setting, at the very least for moral support!
  4. Live your work.  The subject matter of legendary authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald often mirrored their lives. I would prefer to not be memorialized as the author of loosely moraled characters who lived a loosely moral life, as Fitzgerald was, but then what does my life say about my writing? My novel Circles is about the consequences of choice (and in tandem, who gets to decide what those consequences are). So, is my life all about the choices I make? That sounds a bit underwhelming, since every day is basically a series of choices: what to have for breakfast, what task on your to-do list gets done first, what brand of shampoo are you going to buy, should you also buy a bag of M&M's while you're at it. Instead, maybe my public image could be about being responsible for decisions made? (If I buy that bag of M&M's I will 1 - have to share it with my husband, 2 - have to share it with my son, or 3 - eat them all myself, most likely in one sitting, and feel very sick.)
  5. Copyright Twitter
  6. Be witty. Wait, didn't I just go over this in number 1? According to the article, I need to say things other people are going to want to repeat, like the often quoted Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde. I should be sending out witticisms in less than 140 characters, and retweeting and name dropping to the Twitterverse with hopes of finding my own following who will then want to retweet and name-drop me. Well, I tell you what, I am not ashamed to say I retweeted and favorited big names and hashtagged my way into twitter feeds. When the day finally came and I got retweeted, I really did jump for joy (scared my cat) because finally - out of the bazillion tweets that hit the internet that day, someone thought mine was worthy.
  7. Corner the Market.  Jane Austen cornered her market by writing about what she knew best: the struggles of being an upper-middle class woman. I need to become the public's go-to source for what I know best. Which is...oh dear. Well what do I know? I know writing, but I am no expert compared to the multitude of bloggers, instructors and authors I look to for guidance. I am an avid reader, but there are too many good books I want to read and share. Not to mention reading takes a chunk away from writing. I pride myself on being a supportive and involved parent, but I have my moments. So who is going to look to me for advice? I do know that my passion is getting people engaged with reading and writing. It is such an important part of communication that sometimes gets lost in our 140-character-limit world. I see kids sitting together and texting each other, rather than having a vocal conversation. I read forum posts by adults that sound like a middle-schooler wrote them, with exactly the same attitude. We are losing the ability to talk to each other. Not just to disseminate information, but to just...talk. Would people see me as someone who can bring back conversation through written works?
There was a number 6, but this was where J.D. Salinger was involved and definitely did not pertain to me. But the bulk of the article gave me quite a bit to chew on, don't you think? No, really, what DO you think about my author brand?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Random thoughts on writing a prequel

Wattpad cover art
As a way to get readers interested in my first novel, I decided to write a prequel to Circles to provide a "sneak peek" for those who haven't read it yet.

So I began this creative adventure to write a short story that introduced how Solus, a main character of Circles, came to be a demon. My goal was to write a chapter a week for the next five weeks and have it available through Wattpad for readers to read and comment. Once the short story was complete, I would rework the piece and publish it in its entirety and put it up for free.

Sounds easy, right? Well just like writing 50k words in the month of November is a major feat, so is coming up with a well-written chapter in one week. My fist chapter was a nightmare. On Sunday, I first had to come up with a basic story line to follow. Then I had to figure out how to start it. By Thursday, I had enough of the chapter to get help from fellow writers in my critique group. On Saturday afternoon the first chapter was up.

But once I re-read my live chapter, I had nagging thoughts that something wasn't right. So I skimmed through my original novel and, yep, two very glaring continuity errors right there. At first I was disappointed and upset about the errors, but my goal was to generate interest, not create a new novel. And my intent was to clean it up anyway when I'm finished and formally publish it. All the mistakes I made and will make will have a chance to be fixed later. No worries.

But I was worried. All evening Saturday and all day Sunday, I obsessed over these errors. So much so that I didn't start the next chapter until Monday afternoon. I was unhappy with my published work, all because a work in progress didn't fit perfectly within the timeline of that world. I felt terrible, and entertained the thought that I should stop writing.

What this exercise in writing has done is help me realize I do not like writing prequels. It makes me second-guess my original work and think "I should have changed this" or I should have done this with that scene." I nit-picked my novel for two years before finally saying "enough." Every novel ever written could have been "perfected" in any number of ways. There has to be a moment where a writer finally says, "It's done," takes what was learned and moves on. I needed to move on.

Writing is like life. Life happens, and when things happen that you don't like, you adjust and move on. What happened in the past is "published," what happens next is the "work in progress."  But, like prequels, life can linger on the past, making it difficult to write the future. It is okay to reminisce about the past, romanticize or politicize or dramatize it as much as you like. As long as you remember the past doesn't change, and only your present and future matter.

I say that I will never write another prequel, but maybe I will. Right now, my focus in on my future. I will finish this short story and move on to another. And I will nit-pick this new one to death before I finally say, "enough" and move on. In the meantime, please look for the second chapter to come out on Wattpad this coming Saturday!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A little sneak peek at what to expect on Saturday

I have been working tirelessly all week to bring you a stunning short story that ties in to the novel, Circles. Many of you have asked for more, so here is a bit of a prequel to give readers more of our favorite demon, Solus.

This short story will be available via Smashwords and Amazon for free. Why free? Because this is just a sampling of the world of Circles, not a new novel (That may come at a later date). If you have never read the novel, I hope this will entice you to want to read more. If you have read it, then I hope this will placate your desire for more!

Here's just a little sneak peek:

Solus felt his bones forming, then reforming, as if his body were trying out a form then, rejecting it, mashed up what it had done so it could start over.

Why? Despair filled his soul. What did I do to deserve this torment?

He thought he was screaming, but heard no sound come from his throat. Rather, there was a vibrating sensation that started low and began to gain momentum. When his ears finally stopped burning, he realized the vibration was an unearthly howl. Unable to handle the pain any longer, he dropped to the ground, feeling the weight of his new form.

“You have been reborn,” Andras’s voice cut through Solus’s pain. 

So there you have it, a small taste of what I hope will be an intriguing tale of Solus's past. Follow me on Facebook (Mamamanga) or Twitter (mango_moon) to get updates on my current and future projects.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A New Year's resolution

Happy belated New Year everyone!

After a relaxing vacation, I’m finally catching up to the “real world” and getting back on track. Bills are paid, projects are prioritized (deadlines…not so much), and the house is back in order. Although there are still remnants of our suitcase explosions in the closet.  Since we weren't home for the holidays, Christmas kept coming for my son as family visited us for the New Year. There is an entirely different explosion (of Legos) in his closet. I am now ready to take on 2014 with gusto. And a “To-Do” notepad. This is because my husband presented me with a challenge.

A few days ago, my husband and I had a chat. We talked about our goals for the new year and what we would do to reach them. Obviously, my goal was to sell more books. And just as obviously (being an engineer), my hubby asked for metrics. Trying very hard not to roll my eyes (“metrics” has never been a strong part of my vocabulary) I vaguely jumped into various marketing strategies, hoping benchmarks and milestones would somehow find their way in. But, after many years together, I knew how futile my efforts at subterfuge were. And soon enough, he started in on his lecture on sensibility.

First, a note on his “lectures,” which are conversations we have when my life starts to get off-topic. They’re not really lectures at all, I just call them that because I get miffed that my brain cannot seem to function in such an organized way and so I have to hear it from someone else. He knows it irks me, and assumes (most times rightly) that it will go in one ear and out another. Yes I’m terrible that way. It should be a goal to listen more because I have never managed to attain the New Year’s resolution that I be more organized. Anyway, this particular lecture nearly had me in tears. This lecture touched my heart so deeply. This lecture epitomized why he’s my husband. (I can hear you…"What? What?! What did he say?!")

Okay, enough cliffhanger here. The content of our discussion was quite bland and very board-room planning. He basically discussed a need to schedule my week in a consistent manner so that I set aside time to take care of the house, and have a designated time for my part-time job. Now, here’s the kicker.

I don’t have a “real job” that pays me an hourly wage or salary. I have been looking for part-time employment, but with a school-aged child, it is difficult to find a decent job that is willing to schedule your hours around a school calendar. I recently gave up my physical bookstore, so I lost the income from that venture. I still have my online shop, but let’s face it – you know you’re going to get a better price on Amazon for just about anything, so that’s where you’ll most likely shop. Thus the search for part-time work.

But that wasn’t the work my husband was suggesting I make time for. He was referring to my writing, and all the work that went along with it. This is the part that brought me to tears. Let me tell you first of all that he wasn’t thrilled with my small-business adventure in bookselling, but he supported it (and drilled me with metrics the whole five years). I had assumed, when I began my adventure as an author two years ago, that of course he would support me but he wasn’t any more thrilled about this adventure than the first one. In the course of our conversation, his “lecture,” it suddenly became clear that he truly wanted to see me succeed.

He gave me a list of metrics – goals – to shoot for: more “product” in the form of more stories and possibly a sequel to my first novel, a specific time frame every day where all I do is sit and write (no Facebook, no email, no other squirrel to distract me), a better balance between “stay-at-home-mom” and “home-business-mom.”  These were all goals I had for myself, but I never really bothered to flesh them out into something tangible. My hubby told me to write down a schedule, make a to-do list, and create a project timeline to manage every project I do. And this time, I will listen. This time, I will have metrics that I can show with pride to my family.


My idea of organization and planning almost never match my outcome, and I have never been able to properly use a project management program. But while my metrics may not look like something understandable for an engineer, you have to start somewhere, right? It’s the same with writing. All the ideas in your head won’t go anywhere until you get them out, one word at a time.