If we learned anything from How to Train Your Dragon, it’s this: to tame a dragon, you need to understand him. Hiccup’s experience with Toothless in the ravine showed him that there were things dragons were attracted to, things they were repelled by, etc. They had simple needs, just like him, and they had personalities.
Your branding, your marketing, is often more about understanding and embracing what you have to work with than trying to fight it or change it.
That difficulty you have choosing a genre? Embrace it. That habit you have of killing off your lead’s love interests? Use it. That funny quirk where you can’t stand a messy desk when you write? The chaos of your life because you juggle a full-time job and five children? Yes, all that can work in your favor — if you know how to use it.
It’s all in how you look at it
Remember the lists you made last week? The one with the stories you’ve written and your favorite movies and books? Pull it out and look it over. What patterns do you see?
- Are all your stories in one genre? Stephen King is known as a horror writer, no question.
- Do many of your stories deal with similar themes? Star Trek told stories for decades about social issues and civil rights.
- Do your lead characters have similar profiles? Joss Whedon is known for his strong female leads and his habit of pitting them against monsters.
Note: Even if you’re starting out and haven’t finished a single story, you can begin to get a feel for who you are as a writer if you look at the story ideas that you’ve had. Are there patterns there?
Let’s look at the list you made of the movies and books you have loved the most over the years. There are nuggets of gold there, too.
- Do any of your favorite movies, TV shows or books have a fan community online? Star Wars, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, The Princess Bride, My Little Pony, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Fringe, Arrow, Dragonriders of Pern, The Dresden Files, the list could go on and on — from big franchises to one-hit-wonders, there are online communities for many, many fandoms.
- Are there any similarities between the types of stories you write and the types you consume for your own enjoyment? Look beyond genre. It might be that you like old hard-boiled detective novels, and you didn’t realize that this influenced the way you wrote the cowboy who rides the unicorn in your fantasy quest.
You need data first
Before you can analyze things, you need data. You may have a good sense of your own writing and what your stories are about, but many times it is the outside eye that sees the patterns in your work that you do not. Also, whatever your intentions as you write, your readers will bring their own interpretation to your work, and their insights are valuable.
It’s time to start another list: What have others said about your writing?
- If you are published, what do the reviews say?
- If you are in school, what do your teachers say?
- Ask your critique partners, writers group, editors, beta readers.
It may be scary, but you need to know. And you need to know more than just “Is it a good story?” or “Is it ready for publication?” or even “Did you like it?” You need understanding and insight. You need the confidence and tools that will put you on the back of this marketing dragon and enable you to ride it into the sky.
In the assignment below, I’ve provided a few questions you can ask people who have read your work that may elicit the sorts of answers you need. Be brave. Reach out and touch that marketing dragon’s nose.
You won’t regret it. It’s the first step towards an exhilarating ride.
Contact 3-5 people who have read your work and ask them what they see in it. (If you haven’t shown your work to that many people, then get going! That comes first.) Trying using some of the following questions to get the sorts of responses you need:
- Does my work remind you of any other stories or authors you know?
- Who do you think would enjoy my stories? (Young adults? Fans of Star Wars? Intellectuals?)
- What are the strengths of my writing? (Descriptive passages? Dialogue? Interesting characters? Fast-paced plots that keep you reading?)
- How do you feel while you’re reading my stories?
- How do you feel after the story is over? What sticks in your mind?