How I Chose My Author Brand

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

When a writer starts attending conferences because, dear Lord you think you want to be published she hears “you need a brand.” What the heck does that mean? I couldn’t figure it out for years. How could I sell myself as something, especially if I wasn’t published yet.

The experts say, what makes you unique? I’m not an expert in anything. I don’t have a fancy degree in rocket science. In fact, I hated science in school and in college took classes like Writing A Review (we went to the movies!) and Film Form and Analysis, Theater Appreciation, Public Speaking (easy A for me) and stuff like that. I don’t have a strange hobby that I partake in like sword fighting or shark diving. Being the rocket scientist shark diver author was out of the question. Now what?

The first books I published were geared for the middle grade crowd about magical places with talking animals, and three teens running for their lives. Okay, my log line became “Where Fantasy and Adventure Collide.” Until a guy at a bar in New York City pointed out that line sounded like porn. Thanks, dude.

Let me back up a little. When I decided to take my writing seriously for the first time in my life, the book I wrote was a women’s fiction novel about a woman with a secret. I couldn’t get any traction with that one so I wrote another women’s fiction about a family whose child has a serious heart condition. (I think I had read one too many Jodi Picoult books at that point.) After that I wrote a romantic suspense with dead bodies, and ghosts. My heart was in the adult market.

Instead, I published those middle grade books for reasons we’ll discuss another time. I didn’t know what my brand was. Then I wrote A Second Chance House. And my brand hit me between the eyes. (Pardon the cliche. My writer’s slip is showing.)

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At a school visit in 2015. Mrs. R is one awesome teacher. That’s book one in the middle grade series. The cover came out cool. 

The thing all my characters have in common across every one of those books is a dysfunctional family.  In the middle grade books, Gabriel our hero, has two very messed up parents. In A Second Chance House, Grace has a father she never knew. They both are searching for a family to belong to because we can’t pick our parents. As I wrote the second book in the women’s fiction series (the Heritage River series), A Bridge Home, my heroine Harley, was dumped on the doorstep of her aunt and uncle because her mother didn’t want her.

I knew what my brand was without doubt. Family. Home. Second Chances. My log line changed to Family are the people who love you when you need them. You don’t have to be born to that family. Sometimes we pick them up along the way. (Please tell me that doesn’t sound like porn!)

I’m an expert in weird families. I’d rather be a concert pianist playing at Lincoln Center, and maybe some day I will be, but for now, it’s weird families. Lucky me.

I’m still not completely comfortable branding myself. (Makes me think of cattle and a hot branding iron.) Publishers used to need to know what shelf to stick a book on, so it made sense to know where you fit in, but now the shelves are disappearing, and with the aid of technology I can add keywords to my books that are specific to that book. This way, when someone searches, women’s fiction, home, family, second chances, sexy washed up rock star drummer, my books will come up. Do I really need to tattoo myself with a hot branding iron that will leave a scar? That sounds painful, no?

How would you describe yourself if you needed a brand? Maybe you have a brand already. Tell us how you decided to label yourself?

A Second Chance House is available for pre-order in digital format. The print version will become available March 7th from all major online retailers, and here on the website.

I’m hosting a Facebook party on March 7th from 7 – 9 pm in honor of the release. There will be games and prizes.

And since music is so important to me and my hero, Blaise Savage, I’m having a book launch concert at Patrick’s Pub, Neptune, NJ, March 28th 7 pm. I’ll be signing books and doing a reading. And right along side me will be fantastic bands playing awesome music. (I won’t be singing. Don’t worry.)

 

 

 

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Why The Gas Cans

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A friend recently asked me if my publisher for my women’s fiction/contemporary romance series would be marketing for me. Common question. As much as I enjoy working with my publisher, and my editor rocks, the majority of the marketing is my responsibility. Doesn’t matter who your publisher is; one of the big five or yourself – marketing your book is your job.

And that’s no easy task. Not only am I not experienced in marketing ( I was a director of special events before I had kids) I don’t have enough hours in the day to write multiple books, and market them well. But I’m trying. Believe me.

What I am is creative. Creative people think outside the box because usually their box looks a lot different than the standard, beige, cardboard, rectangle with four flaps.

I attend many conferences for writers and readers. Often the conference offers a “goody room.” The goody room is a place for authors to display promotional items to get buzz out for their books. I’ve seen everything from pens to candy penises. I don’t know if any of this stuff sells books. Especially the pens, bookmarks, and chocolate. (I love bookmarks. Don’t get me wrong.) Personally, I won’t read your book just because you gave me a nail file for free. I have a nail file.

At the RWA conference in Orlando this past July I wandered the goody room and saw pretty much what I’ve seen before. I even passed over the candy penises attached to a card for an erotic romance. Yeah, I get it, book with explicit sex and a penis made of chocolate. Boring. Next.

Later I thought – if that chocolate penis had been attached to a card for a contemporary romance whose cover had a vase of flowers, a cute dog, and colored in pastels then I might pick up the book and say, “what’s this all about?”

I knew I had to do that for my book A Second Chance House. It’s a women’s fiction/contemporary romance coming out in early 2018. The cover shows a wrap around porch and a porch swing. What could I create to make someone say, “what’s that all about?”

I needed a light-hearted scene from the book. I needed a promo item that wouldn’t cost a fortune and would get people’s attention. My heroine runs out of gas. She’s mortified because the hero comes to save her, which is exactly what she didn’t want. I had to find gas cans. Nothing else would do.

I brought those bright red cans attached to a card with my cover on the front and the excerpt on the back. I heard, cute, clever, I love it, who came up with that for you? (I tried not to be offended. I don’t think she meant it maliciously.) All my cans went. I was very excited.

Will my gas cans sell my books? I don’t know. I can only hope that someone said, this author is creative and when her book comes out I want to read more.

For the second book in the series, A Bridge Home,  I’m thinking a men’s razor. Or maybe a kit for stitches. That chocolate penis might work too. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Editing Tip Tuesday

25 buttonRecently I heard an author describe his book to a potential reader. And then I watched the reader’s face glaze over. It happened more than once. No one bought a book. What went wrong?

I’ll tell you. He never told the reader what his book was about, but he went on and on for several minutes. This may not be a traditional editing tip, like how many words you need for a thriller novel, (around 90,000 – 110,000) but once your book is published you have to sell it. No matter which publishing road you take. The author is always selling. And even before you sell it, you might be pitching to an editor or agent. You have to be able to tell others what your book is about.

In 25 words! Okay, I’ll give you one or two more, but it needs to be in one sentence. Have you heard of the elevator pitch? That’s what this is. Thirty seconds to tell someone what your book is about. Not five minutes like my author friend from earlier.

Here’s mine from my first book, Welcome To Kata-Tartaroo: A thirteen year-old boy was catapulted to the scariest place imaginable and has twenty-four hours to collect three mystical objects to save him and his two new friends.

That was twenty-eight words. Now, if I have a chance to explain more to my reader I can, but if I can’t, you get an idea what that book is about. It’s middle grade (thirteen year-olds), probably a fantasy (mystical objects and catapulted to the scariest place imaginable), has thriller like elements (twenty-four hours ticking time bomb), friendship (two new friends) I’ve told you a lot without making your eyes glaze over.

Ask yourself what the core of your book is about. Write it down. Or do you already have back cover copy? Does that truly reflect the essence of your story? Cut that down. But if you’re doing this for the first time write down your core message. Don’t worry about the word count yet. Then you’re going to put your editor hat on and you’re going to cut that message down. Keep the 25 word count in mind. Aim for that. Bounce it off your critique partners. Or other writer friends. You’ll know when you’re ready.

Any questions? I love to hear from you. Drop a line. Twenty-five words or less. 😉

I’m a Self-Publishing Snob

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Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons 

I’ve wanted to be a published author my whole life. It wasn’t just writing I wanted to do. I wanted my name on a hardcover book, copies in all the big book stores, and tons of readers. By the time I was really ready to publish a book, the publishing industry changed. The odds of seeing my name on a hardcover book dropped to nil and my books in a book store? Well, what book stores?

But that was okay, I could adjust the dream. I wanted an agent and a traditional publishing deal. I wanted someone on the other side of the gate to validate me as a writer. And I came pretty darn close. An editor of a small publishing house loved Welcome to Kata-Tartaroo. She said she’d never seen anything like it before. Finally, I found success. Not. She fell off the face of the earth for a year. She ignored my emails wondering when we’d get started with our process then one year later she wanted to know if my book was still available. Really? I wanted to say. Where have you been all this time? 

The book wasn’t available. After much deliberation and some advice from a successful friend in the industry, Jen Talty, (Check her out. You’ll love her books) I decided to self-publish.

I hate that term. Self-Publish. I didn’t do it by myself. I hired a professional editor. Someone who worked in the traditional business for fifteen years before going off on her own. I hired a cover designer and my covers rock. They look better than many traditionally published books. I hired a formatter to set my books up for print and the E version. I never paid anyone to publish my books. A way for me to put my books out in the market had become available without the aid of an agent or an editor of a publishing house and I took advantage of it. It shouldn’t matter how I published, but it does and not just to me.

I spend a lot of time educating myself on the craft and business of writing. I follow Bob Mayer religiously (someone else you should check out. His books are great and he’s the expert in the industry on publishing. If you’re a writer reading this and you don’t follow Bob, start.) Bob says if you’re a new writer you should traditionally publish first then switch to self-publishing to become a hybrid author. (The term Bob coined.) I didn’t follow that advice, maybe I should have.

As a self-published author (instead of self-published how about avant-garde publisher?) there are things in the industry not available to me. Writing organizations won’t allow me to call myself an author because I’m not with a publisher on their list. I can’t get reviews from the elite review organizations unless I pay for them. And today I found out an event I attended last year isn’t open to me this year because they went and changed the parameters to traditionally published only. Which really made me mad.

I know why they do it. Anyone can self-publish. (Let’s say that’s different than what I did. Remember, our new term, avant-garde publisher.) Anyone can write a book, slap their pen down and upload it to a publishing site and voila! Millions of people can now see your book. Many and I mean many of these writers don’t take the time to learn their craft. They wrote their first book and think it’s so fabulous it must be a best-seller. (I did too, but that isn’t the book I published. I learned why it shouldn’t be published.) Now, don’t get me wrong, some people do publish their first book ever written, but if it isn’t at the insistence of an editor, I might hesitate.

Maybe these self-pubbed authors even hired an editor like I did, but they really don’t know the craft well enough and they still publish too soon. I’ve met a lot of these people. I meet a lot of writers many of them self-published. I check out their work just to see if I’m wrong and I’m usually not. They make all the amateur mistakes new writers make and then they go ahead and publish anyway. Because they can. And that makes it bad for writers like me.

What makes me an expert on how to write? Twelve years of attending workshops, conferences, and seminars. Writing six books. Learning from my critique partners. Teaching creative writing to others. So, I recognize right away when an author decides we needed to know all the backstory on the first ten pages before the story even begins because the author thinks the reader won’t understand what’s happening. Amateur mistake. And good Lord, it’s made a lot.

Quite honestly, I don’t want to be in that group with those writers. I don’t want to be alongside the writers who don’t know how to write, (like the author who wanted to write a romance novel about a married couple who were in love. And showed me the description for the back cover copy. What??? I wanted to say. Have you even read a romance???) but put a book out there because they could. So, yes, I’m a self-publishing snob.

I hate when people ask me who my publisher is because I don’t want to tell them. My writer friends tell me not to worry. Everyone is self-publishing now. Yes, authors who were with a traditional house are switching over because you have total control of your books, your brand, the price you charge and the design on your covers. You also make more money on each book. The same goes for me so that’s the up side and a strong one at that. Plus, traditional and self-pubbed have to do the same amount of marketing themselves, unless you’re Stephen King, so why traditionally publish at all?

To swim with the big kids. Just once.

Maybe if my sales were sky-rocketing I wouldn’t care about my self avant-garde published persona. Who needs your stupid event, I could say. Sales have nothing to do with where the book is published. That’s all on me and way harder than I ever thought it would be to find readers.

Why do I need this traditional validation? I have readers who like my books. Book clubs making their woods into Kata-Tartaroo. Students doing book reports on my book. Another who drew me a picture of one of my characters. I know I’m a good writer, but it’s like being the only one not invited to the cool kids party. It hurts. It’s not the dream. And I’m left standing in the corner with the kids picking their noses. (Don’t yell at me. Not all first time self-pubbed authors are the kids picking their noses, but I promise you, there are more than you think and some of you don’t know who you are. Here’s a tissue.)

Do I give up? Maybe. Write another book? Doing that now. Traditionally publish? Some days yes. Some no. Avant-garde publish? Kind of like the ring to that.

I don’t know what the future holds. I hope there’s a spot with my name on another book. I hope I find more readers out there. Or maybe it’s time to take up the violin and put the writing thing away. Who knows. Not me.

Are you a snob about anything? How do you handle it? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish

 

I often get asked, “Who’s your publisher?” And sometimes I answer, “Why does it matter?” This article offers some insight into the traditional vs. self-published world. Enjoy!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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One of the things I love about doing what I do is that I have the ability to connect so closely with you guys and speak on the topics that matter to you. Yesterday, a fellow writer shared an article from The Guardian, For me traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way. She wanted my take on what the author had to say.

All right.

For those who’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, I hope I’ve been really clear that I support all paths of publishing (vanity press doesn’t count).

All forms of publishing hold advantages and disadvantages and, as a business, we are wise to consider what form of publishing is best for our writing, our work, our goals, our personality, etc. But my goal has always been to educate writers so they are making wise decisions based off data, not just personal…

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The Town Crier

photo courtesy of morguefile.com
photo courtesy of morguefile.com

I think I’ve become a town crier. Here’s what wikipedia says a town crier is:

The town crier can also be used to make public announcements in the streets. Criers often dress elaborately, by a tradition dating to the 18th century, in a red and gold coat, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat. They carry a handbell to attract people’s attention, as they shout the words “here ye, here ye.” 

I’m not making public announcements in the streets, though I could be persuaded, but I do announce the time every morning. I bang on Noodge 1’s bathroom door and shout the time so he will get out of the shower and make it to the bus on time. I don’t understand why he spends so much time in the shower, and honestly, I don’t want to know, but I do want him to make the bus so I march up the steps, bang on the door, and cry out the time.

Part of me finds this whole escapade every morning frustrating because in addition to crying out the time for the shower I must announce the time to wake him up. (The only things missing each morning are the gold coat, white breeches and the handbell. Wait a second, I actually have a handbell! Hmm….I might be going about this all wrong.)

I don’t want to be the town crier, though I might want to wear the clothes. I want Noodge 1 to wake up by himself, take a shower without a reminder to get out and oh, I don’t know, wear his retainer without being told. “Is that too much to ask?” I ask.

But part of me, the mommy part who misses her little bald baby sometimes, takes a deep breath and says “enjoy being the crier. You look good in the hat.” You see, in two very short years, Noodge 1 will be in college and I won’t be able to walk into his room and shake him awake or bang on his bathroom door. I’ll miss him terribly and wake each morning wondering if he got off to class all right. I won’t know how he’s spending his time or if he’s getting his homework done.

Noodge 2 doesn’t need me to wake her up, gets ready on time, and has one foot out the door into adulthood already. She won’t step into her brother’s place for me.

After Noodge 1 goes, how will I spend my mornings?

Folding up the breeches, hanging up the coat, tucking away the tricorne hat.

You can bet I’ll never stop ringing that bell!

By the way, Welcome To Skull Mountain, book three in the Gabriel Hunter series, is due out the end of November. More details coming soon.

Can I Ask A Favor? There’s A Prize Involved

FOF007_Wilkes_KataTartaroo_F_LRBut first let me tell you a little story, with the upcoming release of my third book, I’m going to submit Welcome To Kata-Tartaroo (Book One) to BookBub for selection. BookBub is an on-line ebookstore that allows readers to purchase really good books for a small amount. Not every book submitted is selected, but from my research it appears those books that are selected end up with lots of downloads which means more readers than before. I’d like to be one of those authors. I’d really like to grow my readership, but here’s where I need help. I need more reviews on Amazon and GoodReads in order to be chosen. I don’t have enough now, so if you’ve already read Kata-Tartaroo, and haven’t yet written a review, would you mind writing a short review for me? One sentence will do. It doesn’t have to be 5 stars either.

And if you haven’t read Kata-Tartaroo yet, but would like to here’s the link to my Amazon Author’s Page.

Please write the review by Sept. 30th then comment back here so I know the review is up and I will put your name in a drawing for one random winner to receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card.

Thank you for your continued support of my writing and my blog!! I couldn’t do this without you. 

Stacey