It’s a new year. Time for best of , my favorite [name an author, artist, singer/song], memorials to those lost. You know the drill.
You’re probably also familiar with the term “author branding” as it’s always on that…
LIST OF TEN THINGS YOU MUST DO TO SUCCEED
IN A SATURATED MARKETPLACE.
Branding. Hmm, exactly what is that, you might well ask.
After eight years in the trenches—nearly four of them as a publisher, most of them as an editor, and a significant portion of my life as a writer [first technical, then fiction as a later-on-in-life avocation]—you’d think I’d have the Cliff Notes version of an answer down pat. And you’d be wrong, along with me.
Brace yerselves, maties, fer here’s the skinny on where I went astray…
#1. Establish your brand even before you’ve written your first book.
Well, okay, I can see doing that if you plan on writing a series of how-to non-fiction tomes: text books, self-help, memoir, travelogues, knitting guides and crocheting pattern books. You set up your website, you talk about crocheting, give some hints, post pics of your projects, compare wool weight, hook sizes, tension… Blah-ti-blah.
You ADD VALUE!
Oh gawd, I hate that corporate-speak term! I HATE corporatizing creativity.
But… but… in a nutshell, that’s what you do. You have a thing, you fish for an audience for that thing, you show them something new about the thing and promise MORE, BIGGER, BETTER, FREE THINGS. You have a newsletter so you can ADD MORE VALUE! [On the plus side, it’s digital—and unless your recipient is one of those who has to print out every tome you send through the ether, mindlessly killing trees and clogging landfills—it’s either annoying as hell or they love hearing about the NEXT NEW STITCH.]
Alright, already, I’ll ease up with the all-caps…
Anyway, you’re a non-fic writer, so all that makes sense, right? It’s a tried and true way to get noticed in your area of expertise, aka bona fides. Build a following of like-minded aficionados. Become a cultural icon in the land of crafting. The world can be your oyster!
It happens, it really does. So, yeah… good tip.
But what about the fiction writer, the one who writes conflicted characters, high action and derring-do, thrilling mysteries, intense scenes of affection involving a diverse gender landscape and linoleum-melting acts of passion? Genre-bending stuff. Edgy. Transgressive, even.
Let me mention first off—back in the day, before ebooks and indie publishing became a thing, the only time you got to interact with a writer was at a convention (ComicCon, Dragon Con, RWA, RT, etc), a book signing, a reading at the local library, a chance run-in with Uncle Stevie (King) at his favorite deli in Maine (been there, skulked about, never saw him). Or you happened to stumble over one at the grocery store. But this whole cult of personality phenom has exploded in the last few years to the point where readers not only EXPECT writers to be available 24/7, but DEMAND it!
Plus, the pundits—in answer to How Do I Become A Famous Bestselling Author Making Megabucks—came up with more lists than you can shake a stick at, all directing you down the path of love, huge sales, movie rights and action figures. And it all starts with…
#1. Establish your brand even before you’ve written your first book.
History Lesson from the Real Me:
I haven’t always been Nya Rawlyns. I started this gig as Diane-the-Small-Publisher. I had 15+ authors, hand-selected. I edited, promoted, had a graphics artist on hand for book covers. A few won awards (I entered them in national contests), quite a few gained a nice readership. But I went broke trying to do it all, with trying to keep up with the changing landscape and Amazon’s incursion into the market. So I helped everyone self-publish or find alternative venues and backed off just to edit. I was okay with that.
But then, one day on Authonomy (UK writer site), a couple fellow authors challenged me to write a book. About dragons. Dragons with a parasite problem.
Well, alrighty then. I asked myself: what do I know about dragons (other than from fantasy and SF tomes). Pretty much fuck all. But what I did know was horses! And riding. And lordy, I could write a book about parasites and deworming regimens, and what happens when horses are never wormed or cared for properly. I had background in horse rescue and I can tell you stories that would make your heart bleed.
So, you see, I had bona fides, years of experience in training, competing and caring for equines. So I sat down and wrote an MG/YA story called Dragon Academy with a teen boy as the main character and a couple of dragons to train. In New Jersey. What surprised the heck out of me was how much adults took to it.
I went about promoting the old-fashioned way: word-of-mouth, handing out books at events, giving readings. What I didn’t have then was a website or any experience in creating or maintaining one. And, to be honest, I really didn’t see the point. No one was screaming in my ear: BRAND YERSELF AS A DRAGON EXPERT, WOMAN! so I didn’t.
I mean, on Face Book and in real life, if you knew me, you also knew I have horses, you probably met me regularly at CTRs and endurance rides. I was managing events, selling tack, training horses. It was all face-to-face. Unfortunately, the book was just a curiosity, a pat on the head, that’s nice dear, loved it, really cute, do you know if my rider’s come into vet check 4 at Old Dominion yet.
But then I got an offer on two romances from Red Sage—naughty, steamy, smutty contemporary romances—and suddenly Diane-the-author-of-smut was not gonna fly in my equine world. So Nya was born.
Factoid: Nya = not YA and Rawlyns because why the hell not.
At that point I discovered Weebly and created a couple websites: Diane blogged on life in the country, recipes, ride stories and other heartwarming tales. She reviewed a few books, flogged her collection of short stories and Dragon Academy. Meantime, Nya got a more extensive treatment as her catalog of MM series of western romances, contemporary gay literary fiction and suspense thrillers grew.
I was following the advice, making up a viable playbook, and finding success among readers who appreciate a more literary approach to storytelling.
The thing is… Nya never completely separated from Diane. Not really. We both have that equine identity, we both love cooking, gardening, bird watching/feeding, we both are outspoken on social issues, we both have enough expertise to write articles on publishing and writing that are generally well-received.
But Nya needs to step out of the shadow of Diane, because… well, she’s slipping away. From once robust sales (especially at ARe, now defunct) the old girl has had to resort to Kindle Unlimited to try and recapture her audience—and that is very much like starting from scratch.
Just the other day, a couple of those name-15-authors-you-think-people-should-know (one in general and one in the MM genre) were going around Face Book, and I was tickled pink to be mentioned in both. But it was as Diane.
Diane has one book and a collection of shorties. Nya has 30+ Betcha you didn’t know that, right?
Poor Nya has slipped into the realm of invisibility, so when folks talk authors, Nya’s name rarely comes up. Not even among her friends! *sob*
Bottom line, I managed to brand myself just fine… as Diane. *headdesk* And the sad thing is, I don’t have a clue how to dig myself out of that particular hole.
And, aside from all of that <points upwards>, I still wonder why in the name of all that’s holy do fiction authors need to BRAND themselves? Fine, I do horses. But, geez louise, I don’t do JUST horses. I’m more than that, and dammit I don’t like being forced into a cubbyhole where all I’m expected to deliver is wisdom on all things equine or country-centric stuff because it’s mah thang.
I love my Crow Creek series, I adore my Snowy Range mysteries. There’s horses and rodeos and cowboys! Ole! But I also write gritty urban tales and dark, twisted explorations of the human psyche. There are MF romcoms and sports romances! I even wrote a gay shifter series that breaks with the trope and takes the reader on an epic adventure with a character who finds it impossible to meet expectations.
You know him… Coy’s a lot like us authors facing unrealistic demands on our creative energies and our creative visions.
I haven’t written anything new since April last year. That’s not a drought, it’s a disaster for me. Authors live and die on being able to feed readers new stories on a regular, much amped-up schedule. It’s in the ToS for publishing, no joke – look it up, there in the fine print.
I asked myself, then Firstborn (who’s made to suffer through all my crises of conscience and career), if it was worth continuing. She recommended I not beat myself up, or guilt myself into producing same old-same old just to satisfy the market. She said, if you like producing audiobooks, why not concentrate on that?
She’s a smart one, isn’t she?
So that’s what I’ve been doing lo these many months, though now that the funds have run dry (I’m paying upfront for proven and truly amazing voice talents), it’s time to refocus on one of the six WiPs sitting there patiently waiting for me to get my act in gear.
By-the-by, I have 7 audiobooks out, 3 more in the queue, thanks for asking [HERE].
But that niggly question remains: why bother?
There’s a reason I ask that question—above and beyond the author brand dilemma. It’s called reader expectations, tropes and genre bondage—and I’ll explain in another post.
For now, hay there, this is Nya wishing y’all…
Peace in these troubling times.