Top Menu

Archive | October, 2015

Author Branding Spotlight: Are you thinking like a fan?

Welcome to our second Author Branding Spotlight. These posts highlight authors who are doing something right. These are authors we’ve discovered and enjoy, not always the obvious ones on Google’s or Amazon’s list of “most successful”. In fact, today’s author hasn’t even published his first book — yet. Did you know you could begin your branding and developing your “author platform” before you’d even published anything? Yes — and you should! Of course, this is just one way to do things. We hope you are inspired to come up with your own approach as we spotlight your fellow travelers on the writing road. And without further ado…

Author Branding Spotlight: Zachary Totah

In our previous posts, we’ve talked about how being yourself can be a powerful part of your brand as an author. Remember, people want relationships with other people. That’s what social media is all about. And when it comes to reading fiction, they want a positive emotional experience. See the connection? When they enjoy you and interacting with you online, it is their first hint that they might enjoy your writing.

Sure. Sounds nice in theory, but what does that look like?

Let your fandom flag fly

gondor-flag01I met Zachary Totah at a conference for writers of speculative fiction. Nice guy. But it wasn’t until I started reading his blog posts that I felt connected with him. It all started with hobbits. It was September 21 and the specfic world was looking forward to celebrating “Hobbit Day” on September 22 (the mutual birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, of The Lord of the Rings fame). I’d seen a couple of cute memes about it and was quietly enthused about the day.

But I had no plans to really do anything about it. Until Zachary posted a list of ways that one could celebrate Hobbit Day. Here’s a sampling:

  • Eat the seven daily hobbit meals
  • Walk around barefoot all day
  • Listen to the soundtracks or watch one of the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings movies
  • Set aside some time for reading your favorite book passages
  • Play Middle-earth trivia with some friends

How fun is that? The suggestions were easy, appropriate to the holiday, and totally fun. And just like that, Zac was on my list of people to watch for great ideas. Turns out he has plenty where that came from.

A taste of Totah-ly awesome fun

There’s the post, If the Spec-Fic Genres Got Together for Dinner, in which Space Opera asks Dystopia, “We know you’re still a teenager and have a right to suffer from dramatic emotional tidal waves, but could you wait until after dinner?”

When challenged regarding his shirtless appearance, Super Hero tells Steampunk, “I have to make the public ‘oohh’ and ‘aahhh’ over the biceps and abs. My bosses say it increases revenue. I like to think of it as visual proof of my capability to save people.”

Fantasy disagrees. “The most unlikely person can be a hero. Muscle isn’t what triumphs in the end. It’s the will to go on in the face of defeat, the strength to fight when you have nothing left.”

Around and around it goes, which is to be expected when family gathers round the table. Just like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Zachary Totah

Zachary Totah

But what if the apocalypse finally hits? Are you ready? Zac gives us A Geek’s Checklist for Surviving the Apocalypse. Here’s a partial glimpse (you gotta see the rest for more laughs, though):

  • Medicine and first aid supplies, including Lucy’s healing cordial.
  • Captain America’s shield. Good for protection in case your Iron Man suit fails.
  • Human Torch, member of the Fantastic Four, because starting fires is key to staying warm, cooking food, boiling unclean water, scaring off man-eating beasts.
  • If above option isn’t possible, a dragon will suffice but is decidedly more of a logistical headache.
  • Extra clothes and sturdy footwear. In case your Iron Man suit fails.

Okay, okay. The apocalypse is a bit of a stretch. We all know that’s not gonna happen. Not until 2017, at least. But here’s the inevitable: you get stuck outside your fandom and need to survive in unfamiliar territory. Like a Narnia nerd trapped in a room full of Trekkies, you need to be prepared. You need How to Speak Geek — Sci-fi Version (and if you’re a scifi geek trapped with Middle Earthers, you need the Fantasy Version). Do you begin to see this guy’s genius?

Yeah, but…

Yeah, but what? His website looks a bit home-grown? There aren’t enough pictures for your taste? He hasn’t even published anything yet?

Irrelevant.

What Zachary has going for him transcends all that. Websites can be redesigned. Books are eventually edited and published. Writing improves with practice.

But here’s something that is working right now and that I hope he never loses: Zachary gets it. What’s more, he has it. He has the joy of the true fan. And other true fans will recognize it, and flock to him. Gandalf saw in Bilbo Baggins what wasn’t obvious on the surface, and I hope you can catch a glimpse of what I see in Zachary Totah: the seeds of author branding greatness.

Conclusion

How can you influence and attract readers? Ponder what Zac has done and what I liked about it. Now think about what you could do and how it might thrill your potential fans.

  • Be a fellow fan with great ideas. Ideas that bring joy and enthusiasm to life. Don’t do it like Zachary does it. Do it your way. With your passions and fandoms.
  • Go where the readers are and be someone fun to talk to. Wherever you see a natural opportunity to add value to a conversation by linking to your great ideas, do so.
  • Keep at it until you find what works. Then keep doing that as long as it works. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Then you, too, can be Totah-ly Awesome ™.

More about Zachary Totah

Check out his books, The Skyriders Series, and his favorite music (Zac, you should totally make a YouTube or SoundCloud playlist with this stuff!). Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

P.S. Some of us are just not like Zachary. At all.

“Be a fellow fan? Who has time for that?” This may not come naturally to you. It’s possible that life and work and a busy schedule has sucked all the fan-like joy out of you. Maybe in your eyes, Zac’s posts are a total waste of time. Maybe it’s just not your style. If that’s the case, you still have options:

  • Resign yourself to your fate and work around the fact that you aren’t a fan of anything and cannot relate to those who are. Find something you can do that works to please and attract readers, even if it is in some other role than as a fan.
  • Decide that you’re going to nurture this dormant, crippled part of you until it blossoms into something attractive to others.
  • Make friends with people like Zachary and market collaboratively with them.

Whatever you do: “Never give up! Never surrender!”
— Commander Peter Quincy Taggert of the NSEA Protector
never-give-up-never-surrender

3

Reaching Readers: What attracts the unicorn?

Legend-unicorn-scene

The unicorn from the 1985 movie “Legend”

Last week we compared readers to the great white stag — that elusive beast that you cannot help desiring, but which is ever out of reach. A similar legend is that of the unicorn. According to myth, unicorns are attracted to young virgin girls. The unicorn will approach the girl and lay its head upon her lap.

What does this have to do with reaching your readers? What’s an author supposed to do — hire a virgin girl to manage his social media accounts?

Hmmm… that just might work… ahem. Sorry, rabbit trail. Actually, what you need to do is think about what your reader NEEDS. Just as a unicorn needs to feel safe from harm and from corrupted human intentions, a reader wants certain things.

What does a reader want? What do they really, really want?

To find a good book to read? No! You’d think that. But you’d be wrong. Look deeper. Why do readers search for that “good book”? What IS a “good book”, when it’s all said (read) and done?

What a reader really, really wants is a satisfying emotional experience.

(Did you know? When reading this on our website, you can highlight any text in our articles and instantly tweet them or share the quote to Facebook. Try it with the sentence above!)

Jeff Gerke cracks the code on this in his writing how-to book The Irresistible Novel. Others have said it before, but I love hearing it from Jeff because of his backstory. He’s an editor. He used to be all about the rules of writing (according to his own testimony in the book — I haven’t been on the receiving end of his red pen myself). But over time he has discovered that there’s more to pleasing readers than following the rules.

How to attract the unicorn

If readers are looking for an emotional experience, then how can we use this desire to attract their attention? If a reader hasn’t read your book yet, how do you tell her that she might enjoy it? As any romance writer could tell you, it starts with the first meeting. The first eye contact. The first touch. When we’re talking social media and your online presence, it starts with a tweet, a Facebook post, a graphic meme, or a blog post.

It might start when they attend the Facebook release party of an author they already love and meet you there, co-hosting the party. Or maybe you’re just a fellow fan of an author you both enjoy. They post a comment about how the characters of this series make them laugh. You reply with a funny story about how you LOL’d one time in the middle of the first book and startled your cat awake. A shared moment of enjoyment, celebrating something they already associate with pleasure.

Your online presence needs to be full of opportunities for potential readers to enjoy being around you. You want them to associate your name with an emotional experience: laughter, wisdom, fascination, wonder… even appreciation of a sarcastic wit, admiration for a clever turn of phrase or keen insight. Think about your list of the three words people most often use to describe you. You can capitalize on those things to engage readers and provide them a moment of pleasure.

Action Item

  • Think like a fan. Analyze your own reactions to the social media efforts of the authors, movies, and TV shows that you like.
  • Find the watering holes. People who will enjoy your books are already out there, enjoying other authors. Who are those authors? They are likely the authors of books you like.
  • Leave a comment below with three guesses about which authors your readers may like. Try to think beyond the biggest names (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Veronica Roth, etc) and find some of the newer authors who aren’t as “big” yet. Find authors who have a fanbase online but who also might be within reach for a blog interview, a shared Facebook release party, or some other collaborative marketing effort.

 

0

Author Twitter Tactics: Catch and hook eyeballs

Hook eyeballs? Ewww. That sounds like a horror movie, doesn’t it? Well, we are a #specfic crowd, which includes horror. So why not?

I’ll tell you why not! ‘Cause I’m not a horror fan, and googling “horror fishhooks eyeballs” led me to a picture of a guy named Frank full of hooks and chains in the 1987 movie Hellraiser. No, thank you. When it comes to horror, I stick with either sci-fi horror (a la the Alien franchise, District 9, or Monsters) or dark/urban fantasy (a la the Underworld series, I Am Legend, or Dracula Untold).

In fact, I need to wash my eyeballs right now. I need a vision of beauty.

The elf queen Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings

Ahhh, that’s refreshing.

Now, where were we? Ah, yes — catching the reader’s eye

In SproutSocial.com’s article on Twitter engagement stats, they say tweets with images average a 35% increase in retweets. And I know why. When I’m scanning through my Twitter feed (actually, I use TweetDeck to manage my Twitter interaction), it’s the pictures that catch my eye almost every time. Take a look at this screenshot:

twitter-author-graphics-screenshot01

Where does your eye go? To the pictures. And which pictures in this shot actually communicate something to you? Yep. The ones in the right column. I’ve noticed these tweets have a similar look. In fact, I’m pretty sure that either the same person is generating all of them or a group of authors are following the same template.

This simple template is winning Twitter

twitter-author-graphics-samples

When you see a number of these graphics in one place (like those on the right), you can see the pattern.

  • Size: 525 x 250 pixels
  • A solid background color (a muted, dark tone)
  • An author headshot (remember, people want to connect with other people!) and name/handle
  • A quote or teaser/hook
  • Font large enough to read when the image is shrunk into a Twitter feed (for the teaser text)
  • A call to action (“Read the blog post”)
  • Many of them specify their genre (“Mystery author” or “Science fiction author”)

Be strategic

Honestly, not everyone needs to do this. And even if you do it, not every tweet needs to have a graphic like this.

This is a good strategy when you are ready to build your fanbase. Use it when you have something of interest to offer to potential readers. Some posts will lend themselves to this sort of fanfare. Others, not so much. Over time, you will figure it out.

Tip: If you already have an archive of blog posts (and if you have traffic stats you can examine), then find the posts that get the most hits or which have the most comments and create graphics like this for those posts. They have already proven themselves to be of interest, and this sort of promotion is likely to bring in more traffic.

Bonus tip: If you are making an effort to bring more traffic to your website, MAKE SURE YOU ARE PROMPTING VISITORS TO SIGN UP FOR YOUR EMAIL LIST. Oh, sorry. Caps lock got stuck there. But seriously, you need to capture those potential readers if you can. My favorite (free!) WordPress plugin for gathering email addresses: SumoMe. Fantastic plugin. Install now!

You can do this. Yes you can.

Feeling graphics-challenged? You don’t have to own Photoshop or learn any fancy graphics software. There are websites out there to help you do this sort of simple graphic directly through your browser. Check out PicMonkey and Canva for starters.

If necessary, hire a high school or college student on the cheap to put something like this together for you. Ask a relative or a friend whom you know has graphics-savvy.

Future posts may include step-by-step tutorials on creating graphics like these. Or I might do a quick video tutorial. Would any of you be interested in something like that? If so, leave a comment below!

 

2

Reaching Readers: Is it the hunt for the white stag?

the-hobbit-white-stag

Bilbo and the dwarves briefly encountered a white stag. They are deep in the dark of Mirkwood when they hear the horns of a hunt and the stag runs by, knocking Bombur into the stream that must not be touched. It’s a little different in the movie, but I’m always up for a movie clip. At heart, I’m a fan who likes to re-live moments of beauty, victory, tenderness, awe.

White stags (or white harts) are in myth and legend around the world. There are different flavors to the legends, but always there is awe and desire, the fleeting opportunity and the chase. And today we’re talking about the Arthurian flavor — where the white stag was always something to be desired yet always out of reach.

A lot of authors feel that’s what readers are: something to be desired, yet always out of reach.

(Did you know? When reading this on our website, you can highlight any text in our articles and instantly tweet them or share the quote to Facebook. Try it with the sentence above!)

Where are all the readers?

They feel like rare and elusive beasts, don’t they? Your book sits there, waiting to be purchased and read. Or it sits there, waiting for reviews. Is the forest empty? Did someone else already kill the stag, leaving you with nothing, forever?

Come on, surely you’re smiling now, realizing how silly that is. Even though it feels that way.

The readers are out there!

Your readers are out there. And it’s time you start finding them. To begin, consider this: What if finding new fans really is more like pursuing the white stag than you thought? What if you have to venture into the forest, search them out, and follow them until you catch them?

Because if we’re honest, we were hoping that reaching readers would be more like that scene from Finding Nemo where the big net scoops up thousands of fish at a time. Throw out the net. Scoop up the readers. BAM. Make a living as a writer.

Well, yes. There are strategies and tactics that are more net-like. But if you are just starting out, and nobody knows you, and you don’t have a lot of money to throw into advertising, then one of the ways to get the ball rolling is to find readers one by one.

Action Item

  • Start thinking like a fan. Reverse engineer this whole thing. What draws you to a book? A TV show? What judgments do you make about how you spend your entertainment time?
  • Be strategic. Start thinking of readers to target who have influence over groups of other readers in your target market (teachers and principals influence students; reviewers and celebrity authors influence their subscribers, etc).
  • Start a list of people you want to introduce to your work. Don’t do anything with it yet. Just follow them through the forest, observing them, for now. Yes, you are fan stalking.
  • Leave a comment below with three guesses about who your readers are. You can include demographics (“My readers are women between 20-50 yrs old”), ideology (“My readers care about humanity and value scientific progress”), similar stories (“My readers watch Gotham and Supernatural and read George R.R. Martin”), or shared fandoms (“My readers are fans of Star Wars and Firefly”), or whatever else you may imagine about your readers!

Afterthoughts…

Interested in hearing more about the legends of the white stag? Check out Wikipedia’s entries on the white stag and the white hart, Mythical Beasts: The White Stag by zteve t evans, and Mythic Creatures: The White Stag by Sarah Sawyer (gotta love these fellow writers and their research!).

 

4

Which YA #specfic author is dominating Twitter? It’s not who you think…

Welcome to our first Author Branding Spotlight. These posts will highlight authors who are doing something right. These are the authors we’ve discovered and enjoy, not always the obvious ones at the top of Google’s list of “most successful”. Nobody is perfect, and numbers are not the only indicator of “success”. Dear author, do not compare yourself with these lovely people. They are your comrades. Not your idols, to be put on pedestals. Not your enemies, at whom to throw darts. They are colleagues. Fellow travelers on the writing road. And without further ado…

abs-maggie-stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater published her first novel, Lament, in 2008 (per Wikipedia). She’s what I call new blood: authors who were first published after 2005. Twitter launched in 2006, just to offer some context.

I first encountered Maggie when someone recommended her YA werewolf novel Shiver. It was good. So good. In fact, Shiver spent more than 40 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. But we’re not here to celebrate Maggie’s traditional publishing creds. We’re here because…

Her tweets make us smile

When asked why certain pages in one of her books were misnumbered (“The pages skip from 186 to 219 and then 230 to 219. Can you explain this?”), Maggie replied:

And then there’s the time her car died at night and she was waiting for a tow truck…

Or when she revealed that she actually had a fireproof racing suit (note the flip-flops on her feet).

And she proceeded to race with it!

That special moment when you fall in love (with an author, I mean!)

But the tweet that made me fall head over heels for her was when she shared this YouTube video, answering the question that had been on my mind since I first “met” her (yeah, haven’t actually met her, folks, it’s the illusion of closeness that social media provides):

Personality, folks. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

And yes, I mean even your personality. Admittedly, some of us need professional help to discover what elements of our mundane lives might have this kind of potential (that’s why folks like Lisa England exist). But think about this for a moment: Maggie doesn’t just have ONE thing that stands out. She’s a mishmash of fascinating things.

She plays musical instruments (including bagpipes!) and writes songs to go with her books. She’s an artist. She has a thing for cars, or at least this one car. And fans LOVE IT ALL. If you click through her tweets, you’ll see people engaging with her all the time.

She might not have the highest numbers, but she’s dominating

Do you know another author that makes you smile whenever you see their tweets or Facebook posts? Share about them in the comments below. Maggie isn’t the only one, and so far as numbers go, I’m sure she’s not the “top”. That’s why I said in the title of this post, “It’s not who you think.” She’s top in my book, because she’s one of MY favorites. So who are yours?

Afterthoughts…

In researching this post, I came across a couple of lists of YA authors who are rocking social media: The Best Children’s and YA Authors for Teachers to Follow on Twitter, Facebook and Beyond (not just for teachers!) and 15 YA AUTHORS YOU NEED TO FOLLOW ON TWITTER. Check them out and see how they’re doing it.

Photo credit: Our new Author Branding Spotlight graphic incorporates a photo by Mark Fischer

3

Author Branding Lesson 3: Taming the Dragon Part II

As we begin taming the marketing dragon, we’ve been looking at who we are: what stories we enjoy, what stories we write, which authors we admire, what people say about how our writing affects them. Although it doesn’t always come directly into play in marketing an author and their books, there’s another piece that is more important today than ever: your personality.

Yes, I’m talking about who you are, as a person. As a Facebook friend. As someone to bump into at a conference and strike up a conversation with. As someone to follow into battle against monstrous dragons far wilder than the ones we’ve already tamed together.

Ha ha — yes, I’m talking about Hiccup again, and this time using an example from How to Train Your Dragon 2. All of his life, Hiccup felt out of place and disconnected from the others in his village, and especially from the one he most wanted to know and love him: his father. This undermined his confidence and produced doubts that plagued him throughout his young life. And then he made a startling and wondrous discovery.

Hiccup's Mom and Toothless

His mother was alive! (Oops, sorry. Spoiler, huh?) And she understood and loved dragons even more than he did! As they got to know each other, Hiccup began to see why he was who he was, where his temperament and tendencies came from. It gave him confidence and strength.

You are not alone

No matter what kind of personality you have, the Internet and social media has made it easier than ever to find “your people”. Are you the eternal optimist, a lover of romance and happy endings, always looking on the bright side of life? Perhaps you feel most comfortable in the dark, a lover of the night and creepy crawly things that hide in the shadows, always certain that the cake is a lie? Do you enjoy cat videos? (Come on, we all know there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who smile at cat videos and those who admit it.) Are you a master of sarcastic snark? A proclaimer of doom and gloom? A fount of kindness and love for all?

You don’t have to hide who you are in order to be successful. You don’t have to be like that other guy or gal. Many, many different kinds of people have found ways to connect with fans and sell their work. From the cutest fluffy bunny personality to the snarkiest in-your-face critic, there are successful creatives whose personality infuses their work — and their brand. Their authentic self (sometimes amped for effect) is part of what attracts their audience.

Find your unique combination and unlock your brand

Many times, it’s not just one thing that makes a personality brand pop and sizzle. It’s two or three contrasting and/or unique things.

Fearsome enemy -- or loving mom?

Hiccup’s mother, Valka, was not just a Viking mom. Not just a bleeding-heart dracophile. She was also a fearsome hunter and formidable foe. And, to the relief of all those rooting for a reconciliation with Stoick, she was a woman whose heart could still be wooed with the songs of her youth and the love of a man willing to forgive her failings.

The contrast of her three major roles (wife, mother, dragonrider) made her unique and fascinating, and drove the plot of the second movie. Not everyone appreciated the choices she made in her life, but that’s another good lesson for you: You’re not going to please everyone. No matter how hard you try. So don’t try — you’ll only lose the ones who resonate with you the best. As you pursue who you are and what you want to stand for, you may need to leave some people behind. Even when this is done in love, it can be painful. Be strong.

Action Item

Time to add to your lists! What are the three most common things people say about you? The three most common words they use to describe you?

What are three topics that you are passionate about? It doesn’t have to be world peace. It could be coffee, and getting the perfect grind on a perfect roast. Pick three things that you never tire of. Ideally, find something that is different, unique, or interesting. A passion for medieval castles. Fixing old cars. A love of lost languages. A fascination with pretty things, like roadkill and praying mantises. Oh, wait, that’s me. Go find your own!

And don’t forget to leave a comment and share your three words and three topics!

11