Building the Perfect Brand

I recently attended a branding seminar for authors and wanted to share best practices with the WordServe Community. Here are 4 Sizzling Secrets to Branding You and Your Book from speaker Liz Goodgold, Branding Expert for www.RedFireBranding.com:

1. WIIFM: What’s in if for me?

Your audience wants to know what they are going to get out of buying and reading your book. Sell a benefit or a result – think in terms of a call to action. Will your reader learn a skill, come away with increased knowledge, or be entertained? Knowing your endgame is a huge part of selling the benefits and the results.

2. Consistency is Key

Brands have to be consistent. In-N-Out Burgers always taste the same, and they have since the forties. That is consistency at its finest.  Your audience is looking for that kind of consistency. Once you have established your brand it’s important to stay with it. Think in terms of household names like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or the ‘Dummies’ do-it-yourself guides or perhaps the Mars and Venus books. For writers who tackle random subjects without a real sense of continuum, Liz recommended that the books should still appear consistent with regards to style, size, type, and font. Branding by color is a popular way to go.

3. Book Title – Easy Recall

A well-branded book title is catchy and simple to recall; it also carries over easily from one book to the next. In hindsight, my book, Gumbeaux, was probably not the perfect title as it can be considered difficult to pronounce. However, I have the opportunity, based upon Liz’s learnings, to title my next book: “Rancheaux” or something with a similar suffix. The suffix could work as well for me as “itos” does for Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, etc.

4.You Are the Brand

You are not building a book, but an empire. Don’t create a website that is only useful to promote a single book unless you are positive you’ll never write another one. It should be fluid enough to support your blog, sales channels, books to come, a potential series, etc. Check out the websites of your favorite authors and notice how they position themselves not just as writers, but as brands. Use jargon that resonates with your writing platform. You are the brand – not your book – so think big.

How are you building your brand?

I Once Was Blind

Dr in Lab Coat

“Your eyesight may not return.”

In a haze of blurred white, all I could make out was a fuzzy outline of the optometrist’s lab coat as he held the door knob.”I’ll be back shortly; I need to confer with my colleague.”

The door closed, and I was alone. I didn’t mean to whine, but when you’re a writer facing permanent blindness, a few whiny words slip out.

Saline tears raced over my cheeks, and met at the center of my chin. They waterfalled into my lap. I raised my face toward the ceiling. “Why is this happening? How can I write without my eyesight?”

Sterile silence answered my questions.

When the doctor returned, he placed a piece of paper in my hand. “Get this prescription filled. Put one drop in each eye every two hours, even throughout the night, and come back to see my colleague tomorrow.”

“But tomorrow’s Sunday. You aren’t open.”

“He’s coming in for you.” His gentle hand assisted me out of the chair and led me toward the door by the elbow. It would be a very long, miserable night.

By the next morning, thousands of invisible pins pricked my body. My head ached, and walking outside turned sunbeams into fiery branding irons that seared my corneas. My husband drove me to the eye doctor.

When I shuffled into the office, the physician’s voice did not reassure me. “Let me take a look.” He clucked as he prodded, not bothering to hide his concern. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t even know where to refer you. This is serious.”

Fresh tears careened rivers off my face. I could hear him rifling through papers.

“According to these reports, your eyes are worse than yesterday. I want you on complete bed rest when you get home. Come see me Tuesday. I’ll try to figure out what to do by then.”

I went home, crawled in bed, and cried out to God. A voice whispered in my mind, “What verse do you claim?”

“Though You slay me, yet will I trust You.”

“Then trust Me.”

“But how can I write if I can’t see.”

“Trust Me.”

In that moment, I decided to obey, and my whole perspective changed. I knew that if God wanted me to write or do anything else, He’d make a way. Others had authored in spite of blindness. Helen Keller, Jennifer Rothschild, and Jim Stovall came to mind.

Several days later, I met with Dr. Malhotra, a cornea specialist, who quickly identified the problem. He diagnosed me with Cogan’s Dystrophy, or Map-Dot-Fingerprint Dystrophy.

It took almost five weeks for the torn skins over my corneas to heal. My sight slowly returned. It was September, 2009.

Supplements for Map-Dot-Fingerprint Dystrophy

Supplements for Clearer Vision

Flash forward, three years. Though my vision challenges me from time to time, I’m able to see, and I write nearly every day. To maintain my sight, I take fish oil and vitamin supplements, use lubricant drops daily, and put salt ointment in my eyes at night to keep the skins taut and smooth. I’ll do this the rest of my life, and hope for few corneal flares.

Meds for Map-Dot-Fingerprint Dystrophy

Lubricant & Salt Ointment

Cogan’s Dystrophy makes it appear as if a fingerprint has been left on each eye, hence the more common name. I choose to believe God branded me with His own fingerprints to fulfill His special purpose in my life.

I once was blind, but now I see. And whether I’m to do it with my eyes or not, I will answer His call to write.

What obstacles have you overcome to fulfill your call to write?

God's Fingerprint

God’s Fingerprint

 

Learning to Become a Writer Can Be a Very Rocky Road!

Do we modern civilized westerners really know what it is to travel along a rocky road?

I have just finished reading a book called The Friar of Carcassonne. It is a terrible tale of religious persecution and the horrors of the Catholic Church Inquisition in 13th century Languedoc, a region of southern France, and the famed land of the Cathars.

One very common feature of medieval life was that if you wanted to get from Rome to Paris or Paris to Carcassonne, your choices of transport were few. Horse and cart, riding a horse or donkey, or going by Shanks’s pony–in other words, foot-slogging weariness for hundreds of miles. And the highways and byways were either hard, rocky, dusty roads in summer or icy, frozen lanes and quagmires in winter. Both descriptions could be understood to be a rocky road.

Can I seriously liken my journey in becoming a writer to a rocky road experience? Honestly, I don’t think I can. Sitting in a comfortable study, shelves full of reference books to consult with and now in these, our marvelous times, having a window onto everything through the screen of my PC. A good wife to provide cups of coffee and hand-made sandwiches at my request, a safe environment outside should I want a breather, and even a tender mattress to lie upon should I get overworked and need a nap.

What can I say on this subject?

My second thought took me back to a summer morning twenty-five years ago. Slipping out of the English Lakes holiday cottage at five a.m., I was bound for Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. I had planned the trip many months before, pored over the ordnance survey maps to find the best way up to the summit while avoiding any obvious hazards and dangers en-route. I had planned it well. Made a list of all the equipment I needed, and not just needed for the climb, but also in case of emergency, accident, or injury. I wrote a route map and planned to give a copy to a responsible person who knew where I was going and what time I was expected to return and who also would know what to do in the unlikely event I didn’t come back at the appointed time.

The night before my intrepid adventure, I checked my equipment against the list. I made doubly sure that everything was in good order especially my handy fell walkers compass. Triple checked that I had enough food and drink. Had I packed a whistle to raise the alarm and a camera to record the good bits and a pair of binoculars to see what was up ahead?

It was a great day out. All was well. I got to the summit late morning, and there was no one else about. Most importantly, I got back safely and on time, so thankfully the mountain rescue folks weren’t needed.

For sake of argument, disregard the comfortable study and the peripheral luxuries that often accompany the writer’s life. Consider the following circumstances in comparison. If a writer starts out his or her journey in a lackadaisical fashion, then only failure can be the result. If I had started out on the climb up Scafell Pike without proper planning or management or the right equipment then perhaps I might not have returned. I might have encountered many pitfalls on the way for which I had made no contingency plans and thus suffered the consequences.

To avoid the rocky road, the apprentice writer must plan ahead carefully.

A daily timetable is a very good idea. Work out which part of the day is the most creative and productive for you. Don’t fall for the ‘you must get up at dawn to be a serious writer’ jab. If you are a nocturnal creature, write at night. But remember most bad novels were written just after a good lunch.

If you must, put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door, so you can concentrate while you are being productive.

Make sure your ‘climbing’ materials are all in good working condition and you have all of the necessities.

Here’s a last tip. A trio of guys, Dibell, Scott Card, & Turco, wrote a book called How to Write a Million and it has helped me a lot over my years as a writer. Check it out!

How have you overcome ‘rocky road’ experiences as a writer? In life?

When Good Writers Go Bad

Recently I listened to a thought provoking sermon about how to tell when good leaders have gone bad. The lesson was universally applicable because we all have leadership opportunities at some point in our lives. Whether it is leading a major corporation, mentoring a student or babysitting, we are providing guidance. As writers, we have an incredible opportunity to lead others. Here is my spin on that lesson, exploring several traits that indicate a writer may have gone to the Dark Side:

A Big Ego

Being an author means creating a platform, and selling yourself and your product. At some point, you may begin to believe your own press. The praise feels great and after a while, you get used to it. Then, when it does not come readily, we wonder why. Although some of the most acclaimed writers of all time had healthy egos (Steinbeck, anyone?), focusing on how the writing might benefit others is much more inspiring to readers. Someone asked me this week, “Do you write to feel powerful and  make the characters do whatever you want?” I told her my writing stems from a desire to entertain. She looked baffled and said she would probably become addicted to the control over the story and other readers. It’s easy to see how authors could get wrapped up in the ‘power’ aspect of writing, if they were so inclined–but that’s not what inspires people.

Isolation

Alone time is a necessity for many writers who can’t focus with others anywhere in their vicinity. However, the more time we spend alone, the more we rely on our own judgement. The feedback from trusted advisors is invaluable, but if one is operating in a silo, that may not seem necessary. Excessive isolation can be dangerous, it keeps writers from being in touch with their audience, as well as with other writers with whom they might partner. Actor Jonah Hill has commented on how much easier it is to write with other comedians. Woody Allen has expressed that people are willing to help a writer in the creative process, as long as the author has put in the time to get a project close to being fully baked. Although there is nothing wrong with self-reliance, no person is an island. If you have it available to you, why not seek wise counsel?

Us/Them Mentality

When fellow authors enjoy success, we can either be happy for them or turn pea green with envy. We may console ourselves with the sentiments that so-and-so is only popular because they write scandalous material, or because they are friends with ‘the guy behind the guy’ at Google. Writing is a tough business to break into, and it’s understandable to feel jealous of our successful colleagues–but why not leverage them instead, and even adopt their principles for success? Author communities (i.e. WordServe Water Cooler) are committed to the prosperity of all. In this and similar organizations, writers help each other with social media support, comments on postings and general assistance in spreading the word around. It’s a huge relief when others help take up our causes. Disinterest in helping others only results in hurting oneself.

If you see yourself in any of these traits, don’t despair.  We’ve all been there at one point or another to some extent. The idea is to identify our symptoms and course correct to ensure we are keeping ourselves honest. As writers, we need to lead our followers somewhere worthwhile.

Have you ever experienced any of the above? How do you think the writing journey might change an author over time?

Writing Giants

Surf the web and you will see that the subject of writing is well-charted territory. No matter what your goal, a how-to manual is there to support it. Need to write grant proposals, company newsletters, technical manuals, instructional design or academic materials? Industry experts abound to provide a sea of knowledge about any aspect of writing imaginable. For advice on how to create fiction, it seems logical to consult some of the successful authors and writing giants among us.

As I began researching books on writing by authors, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft kept appearing on the horizon. I extrapolated all that I could from that book and have started recommending it to other writers. Some of his tips include writing the first draft of a manuscript with door closed, consulting an ‘ideal reader’ that represents the audience, writing consistently each day (1,000 words or more), and writing about what the writer really knows, because that is what makes a writer unique. I’ve been applying King’s techniques into my writing regimen whenever possible. With over fifty worldwide bestsellers in his wake, clearly he knows what he’s doing.

Another writing giant willing to share his techniques is Ray Bradbury, who still cuts quite a swath. The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine and his other stories will forever swim in the waters of literature.  Bradbury’s book for aspiring writers Zen in the Art of Writing is full of sage advice. He suggests that people write about what they love or what they hate because that conviction and passion is crucial to the story. He advises authors to run after life with fervent gusto, to pursue their interests, and write about the things that make them happy.

Starting out, even surfing small literary waves can feel like riding giants. I’m getting more comfortable with what lies beneath (although it’s harder than it looks).  King and Bradbury cared enough to show the rest of us that it’s possible to conquer the sea, and when you do, an ocean of opportunity awaits. Besides, what one person can do, another can do.

Are you ready to paddle out?