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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!

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Author Branding Lesson 2: Tame the Dragon

how-to-train-your-dragon-arena-training500w

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.

how-to-train-your-dragon-hiccup-riding-toothless

Action Item

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?
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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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