WHAT IS AUTHOR BRANDING?
And why do I have to learn about it? Like it or not, readers buy books based on their own interests and they buy authors based on the type of book an author creates. Most readers are usually not at all interested in publishers.
Publishers don't have brands. Authors do. And in the social media age everyone has a brand for their online image. It's just the way of the world now and yeah it kinda sucks but it's also how writers are able to more directly connect with their audiences. As a born introvert, the internet is the perfect distance for me to do so.
Don't get me wrong, I also love meeting people in person. But can only really handle a limited amount of that interaction before my batteries get drained. That's where the delightful internet comes in.
WHAT'S MY BRAND?
I fully blame the Next Level workshop I attended a few weeks ago through the Oregon SCBWI chapter specifically about author branding for putting this kernel in my head. This one in particular was led by Oanh Jordan of Tiny Triumph Co.
I've attended workshops about author social media presence and author marketing but never specifically about "building an author brand." It's tough, as human beings, to step outside of ourselves and think "how am I a micro corporation and what is my brand?" We're not products, dammit. We're people! But also...an author is kind of a product. That sounds worse than it really is.
And honestly, how does that sort of thought process feel authentic? The authenticity arrives when you start to ask yourself some simple questions. The first big one: what are your core values? How can you use those core values to guide your online presence and create content that will appeal to your audience?
I had to really ask myself who my audience is and what I'm hoping to communicate to them. Not gonna lie, my current beta readers and my ideal reader ARE NOT teens. And that conflicts with the fact that the primary YA audience are, in fact, teens. At the SCBWI Great Critique, I was made VERY AWARE that teens will be reading my material (hopefully, at some point) and it's definitely given me something to chew on.
I didn't create Metal Heart with a target audience in mind - just a really strong desire to dump a story out of my head onto the page. Most of my stories start out that way. I think that's pretty common for writers. But when you're revising it and getting it ready for the world, thinking about a target audience and what the story is saying to the world shouldn't be a shameful or embarrassing thing.
It's the same with building a brand. The ultimate goal of a published author is to find and connect with an audience. Branding is literally the same thing, but on a regular basis. It's figuring out who you are, what you want to say, who you want to say it to, and then saying those things.
QUESTIONS TO BUILD A BRAND
As part of my Intro to Publishing course we read A People's Guide to Publishing by Joe Biel, founder and publisher of Portland, Oregon based Microcosm Publishing. It's a pretty engaging text so far, and I stumbled upon a personally useful passage pretty early on in the reading.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to start a publishing company. But as a self-publisher, I'm basically doing all the damn things a publisher would normally do, just by myself. And so this series of questions posed in the introduction, coupled with the recent author branding questions really hit home for me.
I hope they will be useful for you too.
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
Every author seeking to be published, like it or not, is a small business. It's not enough to just do the creative thing. You gotta do the hustle thing too. You gotta have a website and social media presence and be actively involved in the writing community and engage your readers and your peers. You gotta think like a small business owner and you gotta think like a publisher AND you gotta write too.
I'm not saying it's easy. Not at all. But I'm saying, some aspects of it will eventually get easier if you put a little thought into it.
Of course, my brainstorm has led me to a natural conclusion: I need more teen beta readers. Any volunteers? ;)
This past weekend I attended my second EVER structured critique with the Oregon Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It was an especially intense round because the YA Author leading the critique, Suzy Vitello, is also now an Ooligan Press author. We recently acquired her speculative fiction novel set in Portland, Oregon and I had the pleasure of participating in the developmental edit of the manuscript.
THE DEVELOPMENTAL EDIT
I specifically focused on the structure of Suzy's manuscript and built out a table that tracked the entire timeline of the book, breaking down each chapter into setting, characters, and actions. And you better bet I added some color details. I didn't go quite as bold with the colors, in the way that I would with my own material, because I wanted the focus to be on the written content of the table.
I knew as soon as I registered for the Winter Great Critique and saw Suzy's name among the participants that this was an experience that would be incredibly valuable. I'd edited her work and she'd recently received the note, so it seemed especially fitting that she would in turn provide critical feedback on the first five pages of Astrid Calls Down the Asteroid.
THE GREAT CRITIQUE
I fully did not expect Suzy to bring a copy of the timeline table to our critique group. Of course I showed up late so our re-introduction (we first met at the Willamette Writers conference in August 2019) didn't take place until the mid-point break of the workshop. At our circled table, she had a stack of papers and when I mentioned that I'd participated in the developmental edit, she showed the table to me.
It was such an awe-inspiring moment to witness the writing cycle to come full circle. My editing experience has helped me as a writer, which helped Suzy as an author, which has benefited Ooligan Press, and now she has helped me improve my own writing by providing critical feedback about the opening pages of my newest manuscript.
Another special bonus is that one of the authors at our table was, in fact, a YOUNG ADULT and her feedback around the authenticity of our teens voices, experiences, thought processes, and behaviors was so incredibly valuable. It made me realize that in my beta reading I've been largely missing one critical element to help guide my revision process: the insight of a teenager.
Teen readers are especially welcome, but having a teen author who understands the sensitivity of the critique environment was especially important.
Suzy reached out to me post-class and has passed along the timeline table method to the Author Accelerator program to share more widely with the writing community.
If you're interested in seeing an example of the timeline table (with information changed to protect Suzy's original work) then please feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm also ready to start scheduling out freelance developmental and content editing services for post-graduation so if you're interested, please get in touch: email@example.com.
I'm pleased to announce I will be co-leading an Editing Seminar at the 2020 Write to Publish conference hosted by Ooligan Press and the Book Publishing program at Portland State University. My current position is Managing Editor at Ooligan Press and even though I only started my book editing journey in 2018 and have edited precisely 14 books total thus far, I've been editing my own personal manuscripts and been in marketing and communications and editing roles pretty much my entire life.
I'm very excited to share both my professional knowledge and my personal experience around the craft of editing, and hopefully inspire and inform writers to choose whatever style of editing is most appropriate for their manuscripts.
And it's not just me filling the void. Des Hewson, the current Acquisitions Editor at Ooligan Press, and a former professional copyeditor will be co-leading this panel. Very hyped for them to share their experience when it comes to real world editing.
The Write to Publish conference will take place on January 11, 2020 from 9am-5:30pm at the PSU Smith Student Union building and will feature a wide variety of panels specifically geared towards writers who are interested in being published through traditional means, as well as offering self-publishing tips and tools.
The editing seminar will focus on teaching the basics of editing, will briefly review the editorial process at Ooligan Press, and will likely feature an editing exercise plus a brief Q&A session. The seminar will take place from 3:45-4:45.
Conference registration is open now. We hope to see you there!
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.