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Archive | September, 2015

Author Branding Lesson 1: Know Thyself

Do you know who you are?

Last week we took Luke Skywalker as an example of the power of discovering who you are. But how did he start out? At the beginning of the original Star Wars saga, he is a young man on the cusp of manhood. An orphan raised by his aunt and uncle as a farmer on a barren wasteland of a planet. He dreams of being more, of leaving the dunes of the backwater and making a difference in the galaxy by joining the Rebel Alliance. It’s a big dream. It’s a noble dream.

But he’s clueless, isn’t he?

He doesn’t know that he is especially strong in the Force that empowers the Jedi to do miraculous feats. He doesn’t know that his father is the right-hand enforcer of the evil Emperor. He doesn’t know that the princess in distress is his twin sister. He doesn’t know that the random scoundrel he hires to escape Tatooine will become a loyal friend and save his life — and indeed, save the galaxy from the Death Star by protecting Luke long enough to destroy it. How would he feel if he knew that his wise, old mentor had critically maimed and left his father to die in the fires of a lava river on Mustafar?

Luke Skywalker confronting the truth

You are a writer. You are in love with story, and especially the one you are working on right now. You have poured — or are ready to pour — your life blood into this noble cause and hope to change the world. Or at least to transport your readers to a new world while they read, leaving them with new memories and perhaps a fresh perspective on their lives.

As you navigate your publishing journey, you’ll make discoveries along the way. That princess you kissed? Yeah, she’s your sister. That villain who chopped off your hand? Your father. As new facts come to light, learn to leverage them.

Maybe your post about your favorite Doctor Who coffee mug gets more shares than anything else. Use that. Maybe you surprise yourself with your eloquent passion as you comment on a meme about PTSD. It’s something you’ve experienced and worked through, and you realize you have a lot to share on that topic. No wonder your protagonists wrestle with it.

 

Self-analysis is critical to branding

If you’ve never been one to journal your thoughts and feelings, that’s okay. This isn’t that kind of analysis. This is business. This is (gasp!) marketing. We’re going to start with looking at our past, but it doesn’t stop there. The past is only one influence on our future. The choices we make now are far more powerful than anything that has come before. In the coming weeks we’ll face the mirror and make some honest, compassionate decisions about what we see.

Action Item

  1. Page one: Think back and jot down the major turning points in your creative life.
    • The moment you decided you wanted to write. The contest you won that spurred you on. Joining that critique group that improved your craft. Attending that conference where you met your agent. The encouraging comment from a mentor. Etc.
  2. Page two: List the stories you’ve finished (or if the list is too long, list the ones that seem significant or memorable to you).
  3. Third page. Make a list of the books, TV shows or movies that have stood the test of time for you. The ones that you’ll never forget, the ones that you still enjoy, the ones you recommend.

Over the next few weeks, come back to these pages and ponder them. What trends do you see? What themes seem to rise to the top? What attracts you, what inspires you, what do you emulate in your work? Do you like what you see, or would you adjust your course?

BONUS: Get a folder or binder and label it #SpecFicCollective. Put the pages in it. Keep it handy.

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Author Identity: The hero must discover who he is

Remember Luke Skywalker in the very first Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope? He was a clueless farm boy stumbling into one of the greatest power struggles in the galaxy.

Luke Skywalker on Tatooine

Now think about Luke as he appeared in The Return of the Jedi. He was confident, he had a plan, and you could see peace and determination shining through his every word and deed.

He knew who he was. He had embraced his identity as a Jedi with power of the Force and as the son of Darth Vader, right-hand of the evil Emperor. He had decided to save his friends and continue the fight against the Empire. When hardships hit, he did not waver. When things looked impossible, he did not give up. Ultimately, his unwavering faith saved his father and defeated the Emperor.

Luke and Vader after the Emperor is defeated

When you know who you are, you are unstoppable.

Take a look around the entertainment world. It is not the most talented, most unique or wealthiest that are the most popular.

Successful entertainers know who they are and what they are about. They have found effective ways to communicate their identity to the world. This is often called branding and authors need it, too. People are drawn to others who have a sense of purpose or a strong sense of identity. It speaks to our shared inner need for meaning in life. When we see someone who is committed to a passion or a cause, we admire it and often we yearn to be part of it.

But how do we get there?

Brand Identity is a process

Sometimes, you know from the very start what it is you want to be. When I was in my late teens, I wanted to become “the Stephen King of light and goodness”. His stories were amazing, but so dark. I wanted to be prolific and popular with stories that focused more on the light than the darkness. My goals have shifted somewhat over the years, but that’s a good example of choosing an identity up front. If you choose a memorable identity and gear every story and every aspect of your online presence towards that end, a strong brand can be established very quickly.

Other times, you begin knowing only that you want to write. Stories bubble out of you. Maybe they’re all similar, maybe they aren’t. You write what you feel like writing. Over time, an author’s style and voice and story tendencies come through. A brand can occur organically and over time.

Authors have built their careers both ways in the past, but in today’s saturated market you need a strong brand now. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. It can change over time. You may need to experiment a bit to make it memorable and engaging.

Your brand identity is the magnet that attracts others to you and your work. But it also has great benefits for you. It provides a compass for direction and a way to assess priorities and measure success. We’ll talk more about these benefits in future posts.

Action Item

Make a list of 6 well-known authors. Next to each name, write down what you think their brand identity is. “Suspense author” or “writer of creepy, complex plots with large casts of characters” or “the queen of forensic murder mysteries”.

Now go to their websites or scan through Amazon.com’s descriptions and endorsements of their books. What identity do you find reflected there? How are they described by others?

Share one or two of your findings in a comment below.

 

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A peek at your future

In Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker sees a vision of his friends in trouble. He asks his mentor Yoda what will happen to them.

Yoda replies: “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

I have good news for you today — I have seen your future! Yep, let me assure you that if you’re subscribed to this blog and you keep reading it, we’re going to:

  • Clarify your identity as a writer. If you don’t know who you are as a writer, you cannot effectively communicate it to people so they can become your fans.
  • Define where you are in the author process. If you don’t know where you are, you’ll be tempted to waste time working on things that aren’t important instead of doing what you need to do next.
  • Review the basics of current branding concepts and what’s working in today’s saturated Internet market. Branding can begin long before you have anything published and is important at every stage of your publishing quest.
  • Clarify who you are writing for. Knowing your audience will inform your writing, your branding, and much of your marketing efforts.
  • Discover where your readers are and find ways to delight them frequently. You need to be there so they can discover you and your writing!
  • Search out like-minded colleagues who share a similar audience and who are in different stages of the process than you are. There is synergy in collaborative marketing, and you will benefit from partnering with those further along and grow from mentoring those who are still aspiring to get where you are.
  • Identify and connect with the influencers of your readership. These people can get your work in front of many more people than you can.

For each of the items above, we’ll examine in detail at least one essential approach that is working for creative entrepreneurs, so you can try it yourself. It’s overwhelming to try to do everything, so we’ll leverage the Pareto principle and focus exclusively on the 20% that will bring 80% of your results.

Feel better now? Now that you know the future, I hope you breathe a sigh of relief. Our future together is bright!

Inigo Montoya

“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

Inigo Montoya is a master of summary. “Buttercup is marry Humperdinck in little less than half an hour. So all we have to do is get in, break up the wedding, steal the princess, make our escape… after I kill Count Rugen.”

Yeah, that’s all. No biggie, right?

Let me sum up: You need to know who you are and where you’re at so you know what to be focused on. Then you need to identify your ideal audience, find them, and become a memorable and enjoyable part of their lives. Write your stories, find creative ways to share them with new readers, and make lifelong fans with the help of your fellow speculative fiction authors.

As Wesley told Inigo, “That doesn’t leave much time for dilly-dallying.”

Action Item

The current plan is to release new posts every Monday and Thursday morning [edited 10/28/15 with current post schedule]. Make a mental note to read the week’s blog post (or subscribe to receive it via email) and comment on the site with how you see it applying to your efforts as a speculative fiction creator. This will begin a habit of doing and not just reading. The #SpecFicCollective will only effect change in your life if you participate!

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Publishing… the final frontier. These are the voyages…

Without a plan, there's a lot of space you can get lost in.

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

These words framed the audience’s understanding and expectations for each episode of Star Trek, the original series.

We, too, have a mission.

“The Spec Fic Collective is a global network of authors, publishers and supporters who work together cooperatively and strategically to reach new readers and make lifelong fans in the speculative fiction genres.”

There’s more here than meets the eye.

Global network: We may start as a core group that met at the Realm Makers conference or via Facebook writing groups, but we will grow beyond our current membership and geography. We will reach out to influential and established members of the speculative fiction writing landscape. This Collective is not meant to stay insular or small.

Authors, publishers and supporters: The Collective isn’t just for writers. It’s for editors, for publishers, for cover artists and illustrators, for social media and Internet marketers, for school principals and parents, for filmmakers and script writers, for producers and video game programmers, for musicians who compose soundtracks and voice actors who narrate audiobooks. In a culture more and more geared towards visuals and video, authors are wise to expand their vision — and their publishing team.

Work together cooperatively and strategically: This venture is all about collaboration. When Inigo the master swordsman and hired killer has you backed against the crumbling wall and starts pushing you over the cliff, you need to be able to smile and say, “I know something you do not know.” Only it is not, “I am not left-handed.” The secret you know is this: “I am not alone!” As part of the Collective, you will be encouraged to collect a team around you that creates mutual momentum and propels your whole group forward. The strategies we share will help you focus your efforts on what matters most and what will bring the most results.

To reach new readers and make lifelong fans: Everything in business boils down to this. You need to find ways to convert strangers into customers (readers). Then you need to keep the readers who love your work coming back for more and get them so excited about it that they can’t keep it to themselves (fans). It’s a brave new world for publishing and it’s time for some brave new ways of making fans. We’ll examine what’s working for creative entrepreneurs so you can experiment and see what works for you.

In the speculative fiction genres: We’re all here because we’re more than writers, we are unreasonably zealous fans of worlds and characters and creatures that we revel in with every word, every image, every quippy one-liner and dramatic quote that we’ll never forget. Some worlds we encountered as children, and others we created ourselves. The mundane world is not enough for us, because deep down we know we were created for something more. As a Collective, we reinforce this passion in each other and keep the flame of wild imagination alive.

That’s the mission.

That’s what the coming months of posts will be about. We’ll talk about business strategies. We’ll feature success stories. We’ll offer usable tools and tactics. We’ll have celebrity guests and celebrate the popularity of spec fic movies, even as we analyze what’s helping them smash box office records.

All of it towards the mission. And really, the mission is your success. And mine. Because collaboration makes us stronger.

For the unity of the Collective!
For our success!
For the assimilation of the galaxy!

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Website launch on Monday, September 7

THE VISION

The Spec Fic Collective is a global network of authors, publishers and supporters who work together cooperatively and strategically to reach new readers and make lifelong fans in the speculative fiction genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror / paranormal, dystopian, steampunk, and more).

THE PREMISE

There are more than enough readers out there for every author. We can reach them more effectively together than apart. Working together in small teams, loose groups, and as an overall collective, we can connect readers with the books they’ll love and connect authors to their ideal fans.

THE PHILOSOPHY

Gather together in logical groups according to your sub-genre, your type of story, your personality. Do not fight those you don’t agree with, ignore them and put your energies into working collaboratively with those you do agree with.

Connect with like minds.
Do what you do best.
Delighted fans pay you to keep doing it.
Live happily ever after.

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