Let’s get back to lessons learned from the Writing Excuses Cruise. Let’s talk about branding.
I mentioned it in my recent VLOG post. As I stated before, a lot of writers hear the word and have an emotional reaction. We would all rather be writing and creating stories rather than think about our public persona. However, given what I’ve seen from meeting so many writers online and offline, I am starting to see the value, especially after Dongwan Song gave us a presentation on the subject. For this post, I’m going to go through the notes I took during that course and lace them together intermittently with my own thoughts.
Let me preface this with some context. This particular course took place on Saturday September 29th at 7AM PDT, or 9AM boat time. We’d been at sea for a week. I scribbled at the top of my notes before we began, “I am a little sad the trip is almost over, and a little glad because I’m exhausted.”
Also, this was part 3 (more like 4) of Dongwan Song’s presentations during the cruise. The opening slide that morning said “Branding and Managing Online Presence.”
You are a brand
- Brand is not a bad word
- It is inescapable
- You need to control it
- Branding is not artificial. It is presenting a curated part of you
- Focus on what feels natural and consistent and easy to maintain
- Fully constructed brands are hard for a single writer to maintain
All of this is fairly straight forward. An author’s brand is like public armor. It’s something the writer can hide behind, and if it’s something consistent and iconic, it becomes something that an author can take off to become invisible. Examples given were George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfus. George is always seen in his hat, and Patrick always wears a long scraggly beard. If George wants to go to a restaurant in peace, he can take off his hat and blend in. If Patrick shaves off his beard, no one will recognize him. Their brand is effective enough that people can (and do) cosplay them.
Brand isn’t a bad word. It’s just a part of the life that an author accepts as part of this career, just like they accept that they’ll spend lots of time writing and editing and pitching their stories. When it comes to branding, the author is pitching themselves, which can be vital when trying to get an agent for representation.
If you as a writer don’t get in front of your online persona and control it, choices will be made for you. Your personal life will become your brand, for better or for worse. That might work for some people. A lot of us are introverts though, or we are generally private people. By controlling how you are viewed as an author, you can direct the narrative of how people are talking about you, similar to how you control the narrative in your stories.
Your public image is a persona, and it’s based on the perception of who you are. It helps to keep it simple and true. Daniel Handler created the persona of Lemony Snicket, and that worked for him for a while. When he wanted to do something else, he wound up having to reinvent his public image. When you do that, you lose some of your audience along the way.
How to be online
- It is important to branding
- It is easiest and cheapest way to start [illegible]
- Do what feels natural. Don't obsess over it. Find a way to fit it into your workflow
- Be positive - overall tone should be positive
I have another note at the bottom of this section which is “online can help, but it is not a requirement.”
There’s not much I can say about this section, as it is pretty straight forward. I will note that it might seem like I’m obsessing at the moment over branding simply because I’ve mentioned it in a couple of blog posts and a 5 minute video. I’m not really harping on it, though. This is one of the topics during the cruise that surprised me simply because I hadn’t been thinking about it. Because of that, I want to get my thoughts on the subject onto my blog. I figure that if I wasn’t thinking about it, maybe some of the other writers in my community have also been neglecting that part of their career.
The “be positive” idea has been something that’s been told to me before regarding online presence. I think I do an okay job of keeping my blog positive. When I’m feeling particular maudlin, I avoid putting too much online. From time to time, I think it’s okay to express rage or sadness, especially when that seems to be the general mood of the community around you. But for the most part, people don’t want to be bummed out. It’s better to lift up than to burden.
The next few sections are breakdowns of different social media platforms.
- Primary use: networking
- Twitter is where the industry lives online
- It's a Barcon that never endsNot a good place to constantly blast your book, but you should make people aware of what you're doing. 10AM Tuesday morning (regardless of timezone) is apparently a magical time to post things to Twitter
I really liked what he had to say about Twitter because it matches my own experience with that platform. I’ve engaged with tons of people in the writing industry since I’ve started spending more time there. I’ve also blocked or muted people that seemed to use the platform only to advertise their books.
- Where you sell ads
- Maybe talk to family?Groups are a thing, but usually Facebook isn't awesome
I think this note is verbatim what the slide said. I also think it fits with my experience. I haven’t enjoyed Facebook lately. There’s a few people I still enjoy talking with on that platform, but I’m not really having fun there anymore. I think Facebook did a little bit too much evil, and I haven’t ever really forgiven them.
- Primary use: Branding
- Fan engagement
- Visual medium - post covers, get good at using a camera
- Stories / IGTV are keyBroadcast platform
I don’t really have any experience with Instagram. I clicked a link from Facebook a year or two ago and somehow wound up with an account. Since then, there’s been about 20 or 30 people that have added me on Instagram, but I’ve never posted anything. I took a photography class in high school so I know a little bit about picture composition. I’m not afraid to use my camera. I just don’t have a use for Instagram yet. I don’t have any covers to share, and as my hair has gotten thinner and grayer, I haven’t felt completely awesome posting pictures of myself.
A few friends from #WriteFightGIFClub use Instagram quite a bit, and the way they use it intrigues me. Maybe I’ll give it a shot at some point. I’ll definitely consider it more when I’m starting to get traction putting my books out.
- Primary use: Sales funnel
- How you "own your customer"
- Solicit for: pre-order, buy, solicit ratings
- Every newsletter [sent] is an opportunity for someone to unsubscribe
- Powerful, because it goes directly in the inboxHave a personal website. Put your picture up, if you're comfortable with it. Your website should have a link for signing up to [the] newsletter.
Obviously, I already have a personal website. You’re probably looking at it right now.
There’s no reason for me to have a newsletter yet. I’ve created, hosted, and managed them in the past for various organizations. They can be really great when they’re done well. I’ve seen (and unsubscribed from) plenty that were done poorly. I think Mary Robinette Kowal’s is one of the best I’ve seen because it arrives about once a month and it has actual, useful information in it. While Mary Robinette’s newsletter has a little bit of “buy my book,” it isn’t just that.
That reminds me. I need to update my bio page on this blog, as it has fallen out of date. Maybe I’ll include a picture of me and Melissa when I update it. Maybe.
Patreon / Drip
- Primary use: Revenue
- Works best when you already have a large audience
- Fan engagement at higher levels
- Develops and reinforces your core baseWait until you have some visibility.
I know about Patreon, and there’s several people I keep intending to subscribe to. For example, my best friend Michael Gallowglas has a Patreon. One of the perks to subscribing to Michael is that he writes stories specifically for his patrons. You might want to check it out.
Dongwan Song said he doesn’t care for Patreon’s business model. I’ve heard other artists voice similar complaints. I don’t know that much about Drip yet, other than it’s the next thing to compete with Patreon. Is it still invite only? I’m not going to set myself up on either platform at this point because I don’t have a large audience or visibility.
- Primary Use: Visibility / Promotion
- [This category covers] Essays, reviews, [guest blogs] - Personal narrative can be good for increasing visibility
- Works on a parallel promotion cycle to your fiction
- Also, you can often get paid for it
There’s not much I have to say on this subject. I was invited to write a post on someone else’s blog once, and it was a lot of fun! I’ve never had anyone ask to be featured on my blog. You’re all missing out. I have literally tens of viewers.
- Branding your physical presence
- Cons vs. ComicCons vs. Conferences
- Bookstore / school visitsLook a certain way. Be cosplay-able. It's like a uniform, which can flag that you are working or not. [These are all the notes/examples I gave before about George Martin and Pat Rothfus]
- Cons are primarily for networking
- -- Meet people and make friends
- -- You don't have to drink at Barcon
- ComicCons are for selling books
- Conferences are for presenting to other business professionals
This all seems very straight forward. I’ve always treated conventions as work-time, so I’ve always gone dressed like I’m going to work. That means I wear slacks and button up shirts more often than not while I’m at conventions, rarely wearing jeans or t-shirts. I think that I’ve instinctively been doing my “meatspace branding” the whole time. It might be something I can refine later, but again, it feels pretentious to be thinking about this too much while my writing career is at such an early stage.
In general, I want to be considered a professional that’s easy to work with. I’m already dressing the part. There’s not much else I can do in this area, yet.
I also really appreciated the distinction that Dongwan Song made between the different types of events I’ve attended. It lines up perfectly with my experiences.
Networking is important. It's just about making friends. Don't treat it like you're trying to extract stuff. That just makes you a mosquito, and people will know. Don't start with "I'm a fan." That doesn't put you in a good place to be a peer.
I don’t think Dongwan Song said anything about mosquitoes, but that’s the idea that came to mind as I took notes.
As I said before, I really enjoyed the cruise and I learned quite a bit from the classes. These are notes I took from just one of the sessions. From just one of Dongwan Song’s sessions, in fact. Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, Piper J. Drake, Amal El-Mohtar, Maurice Broadddus, and others also taught classes. Tomorrow I’ll be sharing notes from K. Tempest Bradford‘s classes on Writing the Other.
I’m already looking forward to the cruise next year!