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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

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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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