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Branding

Branding

I’ve talked before about the importance of book marketing and author branding to build a platform, but it’s also about getting out there, from behind the computer screen, and connecting with people. For authors deep into the process of writing, at whatever stage, it’s easy to get lost in your own world. I know for me, once I sit down and start working, which I do five days a week from 9am to 5pm, hours fly by. I don’t even realize it’s happened, I’m so into what I’m doing. Before I know it, the day is gone and I’ve barely moved from my office. That’s why I know firsthand that finding balance and remembering to live life by connecting with the people you care about and the things you love, are so vital to a writer’s sanity, to say nothing of their relationships.          

This on-line stuff is great, and I love it, but I’m discovering something else. When I get out there and do the book signings at a local library or book store, I’m able to connect much more directly with readers and people who are interested in what I do. Although I was initially nervous to be “in the spotlight”, so to speak, I’ve discovered something else about myself. I love it. I didn’t think I would, but I love answering the questions and hearing other people’s points of view. It doesn’t matter to me whether they’ve read my book or not, although it’s nice when they have. The fact is, these people who attend a book reading/signing have an innate curiosity about books, writing and publishing, and I happen to have gone through some of the initial steps. I’m no expert. I never claim to be. But I have learned a few things since I started this journey, and if I can share some of those experiences, or answer questions people have, then that’s great. 

I also know that people remember what they’ve personally experienced. If they’ve attended a book reading, they’ll remember me, even if they don’t read my genre. They might tell someone else they know who does. Even people who stop for a moment at a bookstore signing, or glance my way and read my “Meet The Author” sign on the desk, might remember my name later, even if they don’t remember where they saw it. My goal is that, if they hear or see my name, or the name of my book again, it just might trigger that “I’ve heard that before,” response. That’s what marketing is all about. It’s about connecting with your target audience and getting them to remember you. If you do it right, and often enough, you’ll begin building a brand that people will associate with you and your work. That’s important. 

The Key

The Key

The key is to carefully choose the message you want people to take away about you, as an author, and your work. It has to permeate everything you do that relates to your work. Your social networking posts, your blog, your website, everything you send out there has to subliminally send the right message about who you are and what you write. Too often I read Facebook or Twitter posts that are negative, ridiculous, politically or religiously incorrect, or even worse, share crude remarks that should have no business being on a public forum. I know it’s your right, but is it really the message you want to send to people who’ve never met you? Right, wrong, or indifferent, people make judgements about you all the time, and how you present yourself in public forums is critical. That’s why I’m so careful not to post anything too personal, or negative. These sites are windows into my “brand”, who I am, and what I believe in. If you’re in business, and make no mistake, writing is a business, you’ll want to carefully consider what goes out to the world at large. It’s not just your friends, but your friend’s friends who can read and share what you’ve put out there. 

To me, branding also means looking the part when appearing in public. I always make a point of dressing in a professional, stylish manner. This doesn’t mean a suit and high heels, it means looking as if I’ve taken the time to care how I look. Each time I step out the door to attend a public function, I try to look professional as possible. No jeans, tee-shirts, shorts, sloppy clothes. I call it traditional feminine. A nice blouse, jacket and pants or skirt, with comfortable, stylish shoes does it for me. My hair and make-up are done, and so are my nails. That’s the image I want to portray. Professional. I also smile, chat, and generally keep things light and easy. That’s my style. I don’t try to force something that feels fake. I’m creating a brand people can identify with, but one that feels true to me. It’s how they’ll see me over time, and I’m hoping they’ll relate to me because it’s genuinely how I feel about myself. This business of writing is fun, it’s engaging, and it’s my heart’s desire, but it’s also a business that I take it seriously. My personal appearance and manner of connecting with people hopefully states this, without me having to shout it. Each writer must find a personal style that tells people who they are, before even opening their mouth. But be aware that all the right words won’t help if you’re personal appearance screams sloppy, unprofessional and/or unkempt, if you want to be taken seriously.

I’m finding that the professionals I’m working with; librarians, book store owners/managers, etc., also appreciate this. It gives them an idea of who I am and how I’ll present myself to their patrons. They work hard at cultivating clients and building their own brands. If they’re going to allow me to come in and showcase my work, they want to be assured I can do so in a manner that resonates with their own style. It’s as important to them as it is to me. 

Cozy reading

Cozy reading

The other great thing about getting out from behind the desk is the fun I get to have in meeting new people. Just the other day I was in talking to the owner of a small bookstore, The Village Bookshop in Bayfield, Ontario. This is a small, cozy bookshop the likes of times gone by. It’s a wonderful shop, and the owner has obviously worked extremely hard to build her clientele, and her own brand. She generously supports local authors via consignment sales of work she feels will appeal to her patrons, and where she feels there’s a fit, book readings/signings. How did I meet her? I attended a book reading/signing at the Exeter  Public Library in the nearby town of Exeter, Ont. That librarian suggested that I absolutely must contact this woman and introduce myself. The librarian said she knew, based on my reading and our meeting, that I would be a good candidate for this very selective book store. So, I called her. I introduced myself and told her where I’d gotten her name. She was very pleased to hear that word was continuing to spread about her business, and invited me to come chat with her. That chat lasted over an hour, as we discussed everything from her store, her clientele, and what she looked for in an author and their work. It was such a pleasure meeting this woman, who not only has a huge love of the literary world and respect for writers, but has built a strong, reputable business. I also found that her own style and personality resonated with me, so I’m thrilled to be associated with this type of business. You can bet I’ll be supporting her and the other authors she invites to her readings via sharing the news any way I can. You see, she and her shop become part of my brand. They mimic the message I want to send, and I believe in supporting those who support me. Same with the libraries who host me, and the larger book stores, like Coles Books, (Indigo/Chapters/Coles) who do the same. 

I don’t have all the answers when it comes to this monster called marketing and branding. I’m still learning and experimenting. I only know I’m having fun discovering what works for me, and meeting new people along the way. Who knows, some of them may find their way into a book or two of mine in the future (names changed of course).

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Writer at Work

Writer at Work

As writers, we tend to work in solitude and silence. We sit in front of our computers for hours on end and attempt to put forth our words, worlds, and thoughts to the screen, in preparation for sending it out into the world at large. We love this. We thrive in this type of environment. We hate to be disturbed when in the middle of composing, or as I tell my family, working.                                                                                                               

When I’m writing, sometimes it’s hard to tear myself away and join my family. Finding balance is something I struggle with each and every day. I know it’s important, but so often I find myself itching to get back in front of the computer and do all the myriad things that need doing to continue in this crazy business. Not only do I write, but I also have to edit, market and promote the hell out of myself and my work. Having an agent or publisher doesn’t negate that necessary element. I understand this. If I want to be a commercial success, and I do, I need to reach readers and connect in various ways to do that. The internet is an incredible tool. I can sit at my computer and reach out past my own space and connect with people all over the world. I can shout out about my book, I can blog, I can Facebook, I can Tweet, chat on Goodreads, I can share industry information, or a whole host of topics I am interested in.

I can sit in my sloppy clothes, give my hair a lick with the brush, wash my face, and be ready for the day. No muss, no fuss. Truth is, this all very comfortable. I don’t have to face the world at all. But wait, maybe I do. You see, I learned a thing or two from my real estate and mortgage sales days. I remember hearing over and over again when I started in real estate that one of the key points in sales is that you have to show up and be prepared to work. You have to look professional and put yourself in front of people who might be interested in your services. Sitting behind a computer will only get you so far in sales. For the rest of it, you better be prepared to get face to face with people and talk.

A book reading

A book reading

Yep, I heard and internalized that. That’s why I’m having to step outside my comfort zone a bit and do book readings and signings in libraries and a couple of the local Coles Bookstores (Indigo/Chapters/Coles) in London and Sarnia, Ontario, who’ve taken my books in on consignment. I’m not a public speaker by any stretch of the imagination, but I like people and I can relate to them on just about any level, so I dress up, curl my hair, put on my makeup and get out there. I’m nervous, but I remind myself the attendees are just people. They are just like me, and they are there because they like books and are interested in writing, and the process of writing. There are no questions they can ask me that I can’t answer. I’ve been walking the walk, reading and learning about this business of writing and publishing, and I have something to share, I think.

Getting out from behind the computer also reminds me that others really are interested in what I’m doing, or what any writer does. It also allows me to interact with people who share one of my deepest passions; books. Once I get past my nerves, I can relax and have fun with it. I even go out on a limb so far as to speak in the accents of my characters when reading passages from the book. That shocks people, and my family are sometimes almost embarrassed that I’d extend myself that much. I’ve tried reading the passages without the accents, but they are so clear in my head, that I just can’t do it. It sounds flat and unnatural to me, so I put my shyness and fear aside, and do what feels right. I have fun with it, and hope the listeners will react positively. So far, so good. They’re surprised, but they seem to enjoy it. One librarian recently said it really helped her imagine and “hear” the characters. Good. That’s what I want.

During the Q&A portion of the reading and at the end of the signing, I get the chance to chat to people who have read the book, or who have more questions about writing. I am able to connect with them on a very personal level not possible from a computer. I love it.

 The other thing about stepping away from the computer is it really does allow the writer to meet new people and share the news about his/her work in a widening ripple of ways. For instance, I had to drop off some books to the Coles Bookstore in Masonville Mall in London (Ontario), a fairly large mall I’m well acquainted with. First, I had to get another copy of the flyer the bookstore wanted to post about my upcoming book signing. The printing company I use, Advanced Imagewerx, is located in that mall, so I stopped in and ordered the extra copy. I’d never met the man who was serving me before, but after handing me my flyer, he started asking me about my book, where it was available, and began talking about printing, books, how I got started, etc. I spent about five or ten minutes chatting with him, and in the end he said he hoped to stop by my book signing at the end of the month and say hello. He was interested. He wrote down the name of my book, and said he thought his wife might enjoy it. By taking the time to talk to this man, I might have won over a new reader. It was also really enjoyable for us both.

Connecting with Readers

Connecting with Readers

The point is, I’ve always been a connector. I enjoy talking to people, finding out about what they like, and listening to the answers. I also know the person to person thing has always been one of my strong points. People seem to relate back to me. Maybe it’s because they can sense that I really do care, or because I just have one of those faces. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I have to remind myself that I have to take the time to step away from the computer screen and meet people where they are, because that’s how I believe I’ll reach them. That’s not to say I don’t have to do the on-line stuff. Of course I do. It’s all about balance. Having more hours in a day might help too though.

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Cheers!

Cheers!

So, now that I’ve written and had my first book published, drank the congratulatory champagne and danced the victory dance, I’m left to wonder, now what?

Of course I have the WIP to continue, which is work enough, but what about getting the word out there about my book. I mean, much as I’m thrilled with the response from family and friends (and I definitely am), there’s the whole wide world I need to reach out to now. Separate and apart from the writing is the marketing and promotion, a beast unto itself.

Before the release of my book, I did invest quite a bit of time investigating websites, becoming proactive in social networking via FaceBook, but what about Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest? What about requesting honest reviews of readers and asking them to post them on sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and so on? What about face-to-face appearances, readings and book signings?

Whoa, this is starting to look like a TON of work, and it is. I read a while back that book marketing and promotion can take up considerable time for an author, because he/she needs to reach out to readers to let them know their book is available for sale. Not only that, but as an author, you want the feedback. ‘Am I on the right track?’ ‘Do people like and respond to my story and characters?’ ‘Do they like me?’

And so it goes. As I mentioned before, writing is a lot like life, and the similarities continue to intrigue me. In order to do well in this world, we need to be willing to risk something of ourselves. We need to be willing to invest in ourselves and trust that at least some others will respond positively to our efforts. Otherwise, why bother? Why put ourselves through the pain and anguish of exposing our deepest hopes and dreams?

storytellingIt’s because we believe we have some talent for storytelling. We believe we have something of value for others to relate to, even if only for entertainment sake. We strike out on this lonely path, and along the way, if we’re lucky, we meet others whose paths merge or intersect with ours. We realize we are not alone, and that they too share the dream. Authors come together, sometimes loosely, and sometimes very tightly knit, to support and encourage.

Ah, but when the reader reaches back and gives praise or useful comment, the writer is blessed. They are validated. They have been heard. The fact that another person has invested his/her time and hard-earned money to purchase your book resonates in a special place within the writer’s heart. It is a warm, sunny space.

 But how to reach the reader, and how to connect with other writers? In my opinion, one step at a time. I recommend researching the options and trying the ones that seem to connect with you. On-line networking has become globally massive, with the potential to connect with more people than ever before, but you have to be willing to participate, and participate with care and professionalism. Still, what works well for one writer may not suit the personality of another, but make no mistake, EVERY writer must put themselves out there and connect on some level.  Even the long-held masters of the craft can’t expect to sit in their writing caves and ignore the outside world for long. Yes, the Work In Progress (WIP) is of paramount importance, but so too is connecting with your audience. Agents and publicity people notwithstanding, readers love to hear from the author directly. They love to ask those burning questions and know that the writer is human.

Now I’m such a newbie, I had no idea how to go about things like press releases and book tours, but I did compose a press release and sent it out to many of the local newspapers. A week ago I was contacted by one of the larger ones and asked if I’d be interested in an interview. Are you kidding me? I was ecstatic! One week to the date of the interview, I purchased several copies of that newspaper and there it was – the cover art of my book, my photo, and the article. A half-page of information about me and my work shone back at me. I learned something from that exercise; ask and ye shall receive. Keep quiet, and no one knows you have something to share.

Another example of something that always works well is word of mouth. When my daughter talked to her local librarian last week, she mentioned my book. The librarian was quite interested in learning of this new (local) author and asked my daughter to have me stop in at the branch and bring along a copy of my book. I was thrilled at the opportunity. It’s no surprise that librarians love and support books, so this was an ideal fit. I had ordered fifty-five copies of my book to sell to family and friends who had asked for a signed copy. Now this librarian said she’d like to purchase and read it. It doesn’t get better than that. A complete stranger wants to read your book and possibly recommend it to others who trust her judgement.

Librarians Rock!

Librarians Rock!

After meeting that first librarian, I then gathered up the courage to contact another librarian at a separate branch and ask if she’d be interested as well. Well lo and behold, that gracious lady immediately jumped on board, asking me to bring her five copies of my book to distribute to other county branches in her area! We chatted when I brought in my books and she asked if I would consider doing a chapter reading, Q & A, and book signing in the Spring. You bet I would!

And so it begins. I’ve now begun contacting the local libraries (we have a lot of them), and have been thrilled with the response. In two days I pre-booked two book readings and sold eight books to libraries. Even though my books are primarily available on e-readers and e-devices, I was pleased to learn that libraries not only promote this venue, but assist patrons with selecting and downloading books they’re interested in. One of our small libraries actually has three e-readers available for loan, to be signed out on a two week basis and returned, exactly like a book! Now that’s being proactive.

As I continue working and networking, I find I’m meeting some amazing people, and I’m learning new things every day. The first draft WIP is almost complete, as I now have people continually asking when the sequel going to be ready. Kind of lights a fire under the butt when you have people clamouring for your next work.

For now I’ll keep working and learning as I go, growing my base and putting down roots. What I know for sure is that this writing gig is what I was meant to do. At long last, after a lifetime of trials and errors, of mountains and valleys, I’ve found something that fills a part of my soul I hadn’t even realized was there. What more could I ask?

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