brand your book or yourself

Q: I have a book out and one forthcoming. How do I establish a brand? Should I brand my book or myself personally? Do I link the two books through titles? —Lee

Andrea: Generally speaking you want to establish your brand for you as the author, not only for your book(s). But before you tell your agent or and publisher that, let me explain what I mean.

Your books are tools to build your brand–they are also a integral part of your brand. They are huge, but they are not everything. They are sub-brands of your overall personal brand. Think of it like Johnson & Johnson. We all know that name, but we also know their sub-brands: Neutrogena, Aveeno, and Lubriderm, to name a few.

To bring this analogy closer to home when thinking about whether to brand your book or yourself personally, think about some of your favorite authors. Sure, they are known for the books they’ve written, but they are also known for who they are/their writing style/stories/approach/voice, etc.

The successful authors have established a “name brand” for themselves that transcends their books and retains their readers’ loyalty, even if their subsequent books may be different than their first.

There are a variety of ways to begin establishing your author brand, here are just a few ideas to get your creativity flowing:

  • writing and publishing the books (duh! 😉 
  • a professional-looking website
  • local and online events (and readings)
  • engage in activities with your potential readers: create a profile (or updatee it) on your two favorite (or least hated) social networks
  • write shorter form pieces and pitch/submit for publication online
  • write blog posts
  • do public speaking engagements
  • look for like-minded allies and consider cross-promoting
  • treat your email list like your friends, make sure you stick to a consistent emailing schedule that works with your life and provide valuable information and resources
  • get out there in your community and get to know other writers, readers, etc. you never know what can happen once you put yourself out there more consistently

A few things to consider though, before you jump into any of the above ideas:

  • Take some time to figure out what you want to be known for–what your personal brand is all about. This will help you stay on track and “on brand” when selecting events to participate in, promotional activities to engage in, and content to create and/or share.
  • Your online presence should be YOU. While people might love a book, they friend or follow actual humans. So your profile pic should be you, but your banner or cover images (on social) can be all about your book.

Also, regarding that last part of the question. No, you don’t need to link your two books through their titles, unless there is some other reason to do so, for instance if they are in a series or something like that. Branding-wise, your name is link enough though.


Do you have a burning question about branding your writing or creativity? The business or psychological side to pursuing your dream of supporting yourself with your creative work? Please email it to me. It just might get selected to be featured on this blog.


 

write different genres how to build audience

Q: I, like several of the other writers here, write multiple genres and on multiple topics. Consciousness, mindfulness, dance and somatics in nonfiction largely; also poetry (several books) and fiction. I’ve a Facebook presence, tweet, blog. How do I build audience further? Seems my brand is broad.  —Cheryl

Andrea: This is a question that so many writers have. To be honest some of us not only write on many subjects and in several genres but are also into other things like design, or other creative ventures. This is one of the beauties of being human, we’re not just one thing.

1. Identify the central theme, or through-line. I find that when we seem to have a varied brand like this it’s helpful to pull out the central themes–just like you would a story.

It sounds like your readers are interested in living conscious lives. At first glance, that seems to be your overarching theme–or core brand.

Your varied writings are extensions of this core brand. They are both the content and the different approaches to your central brand of conscious living.

2. What makes your approach different?

The next step is to think about how you approach it uniquely. What makes you different than others doing similar things? Maybe it’s your approach or your knowledge of dance and mindfulness? Your background?

 

Cheryl: Yes and yes. You’ve zeroed in on it. I call my blog InBod. All my work looks at the way we embody ourselves and make ourselves more conscious.

Andrea: See, you’re on the right track!

3. So your next step might be to identify like-minded brands who have bigger audiences than yours and explore ways to collaborate so you can start building a larger following with the right kind of people.

Either that, or you can also learn from the way they do things in order to get ideas on how to build your audience.

 

Cheryl: I’m stumbling on grasping “like-minded brands.” Do you have examples?

 

Andrea: Okay, sure, so I would start with making a list of the kinds of things do you read, watch, and engage with on the subject. That’s where I would go, mindful living magazines, other bloggers, local events, mindfulness organizations. Start taking a more mindful look at how they engage with their audience but also, if possible, the steps they took to get where they are today. You may be surprised what you find. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when you can learn from similar brands who’ve gone before you.

This is the first post of a new series on my blog. If you’d like to be notified when the next one goes up, sign up for my weekly e-mail list below.


Image: Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Those words “sales” and “marketing” have often felt icky to me. Marketing definitely has a stigma caused by the incessant, bludgeoning advertising and empty promises that assail our modern lives.

And sales? For me it’s often had a sleazy, even traumatic feel; but hey, my ex husband was a salesman, so what can I say?

Among other reasons, that’s why I’ve gravitated to branding, because it’s more about relationships, being authentic, and having clarity. But the thing is, there’s always going to be a time when you have to “sell” or “market” yourself your your work.

I think for a lot of us creative types, there’s a disconnect between the heart and soul we put into our work and being able to package it up in such a way that it sells. But in whatever form it is, we must sell if we want to help people understand why they need our product/book/service/writing/art.

selling without feeling sleazy

Mindset Shift

So if we want to get better at selling our stuff, we’re going to need to make some changes. And like most epic changes, it’s more about mindset than a to do list to check off.

There’s no magic cure, no “just do these 5 things” formula to make you a rich artist. Dangit! With the mountains of information online, there are so many ideas and methods and formulas and systems, how do you know which ones are right for you?

After over fifteen years of making my living creatively—except (full-disclosure) a few years when shit hit the fan and I had to take other jobs—I’m still learning new methods. And I think that’s a good thing.

What I know (and have learned the hard way) is that it takes more than just actions to get results. It’s the quality of those actions, paired with a mindset shift that makes all the difference.

For instance, when I first started submitting my writing for publication I submitted exclusively to literary magazines and contests. My rationale was that if I wanted to build my career the fastest way, it would be through accolades.

Over time, and spending money on submission fees, only to get rejections (mostly), I realized that accolades weren’t as important to me as writing that reached people and discussed the kinds of issues I cared about. I wanted to change the world (still do, and I don’t care if anyone things that’s silly).

That’s why I love writing in the first place! Duh!

One kind comment or email from a reader who felt moved by what I wrote was worth more to me than an award. So I shifted gears and began pitching to more widely read publications, ones that got back to me more quickly, actually paid, and didn’t cost a dime to submit to. I also stopped submitting quite as much and poured more energy into the actual writing itself.

Of course, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t seek awards, literary journal publication, or apply for residencies, retreats, fellowships and the like. You totally should if that’s what you want! I applaud and respect that so much. And I’m not saying I never would again.

But regardless of where you decide to pitch your work or display it in the world, it’s of the utmost importance to get your mindset in a productive space. Otherwise you’re working against yourself. 

There’s a saying from the Bible I’m going to drop right here, it’s one that still resonates for me:

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36

To me this means you can drive and muscle your way to success; you can do all of the things to get the awards or the money, but unless that “success” is the kind you really want, what’s the point?

And this is, I think, where most creatives and artists get hung up when it comes to sales and marketing. They feel like “promoting” their work is a greasy business of losing their souls.

I assure you, it doesn’t have to be. It is simply another psychological tool to communicate. Yes, this tool has been abused like a Mofo, but you can still take the higher ground while selling and marketing.

You can both keep your soul and be successful. 😉 Pinky promise.

Being Realistic

As someone who fights depression, I can tell you that some of my business and creative failures have been the fallout of me just plain not being able to get my head in the right space in those moments. It’s taken a while for me to be able to admit that, by the way. If you struggle with a mental illness, or a disability, or a physical illness, or whatever may plague you, be kind to yourself.

And by “be kind to yourself” I mean both in the sense that you should cut yourself some slack because it is legitimately harder for you to just operate at “normal” but also that it’s important to do the things that will help you too. Like the things that help you exist in a healthy headspace.

For instance: get sleep, ask for help, take breaks, set more realistic goals, get more in tune with what’s truly important to you, kick negative people out of your life, etc.

You know, treat yourself like you would someone you love.

Why

Why am I blathering about all of this? I swear, I’m bringing it back around. What I’m going to say next though, isn’t always fun to hear. And it’s definitely easier to say than to do…

You must believe in your work, even if no one else might. 

Crazy, right? But this is the mindset key to being able to sell your work, or market it effectively. If you doubt your value, or the value of your work, it is harder to get others see it.

Now of course, when you’re in the thick of self-doubt, or impostor syndrome, or jealousy, or whatever, it’s going to be fucking hard to keep the faith.

I’m going to go ahead and drop another bit of wisdom on ya, one that comes from a loving woman whose definition of success was not financial but oh so applicable:

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

—Mother Theresa

If I’m struggling with wondering how I’m going to reach my goals, the quickest way back to believing in my work again—even if it’s being rejected, or barely read, or seen—is to go back to the WHY of it.

Am I being faithful to the work I want to do? Even if that just means today? Or this week?

If not, if I’m getting lost in the outward manifestations of success, I’m losing touch with my mission and vision on this planet.

And guess what? Then I’m losing ground everywhere.

My version of success looks very different than Mother Theresa’s, because I want to make a difference and make money too. My eyes are on both.

And that’s okay! It’s okay to want both. Contrary to my formerly limiting beliefs, you can be a good person and rich too. In fact, the world could use more of those GoodRichKids.

Check-In

The next time you’re feeling queasy about pitching your work or selling your thing, I want you to check-in with yourself:

Am I doing the work I believe in?

Why is this important? Isn’t that worth something?

How can I demonstrate that importance to others?

Take some time today to think about why you do what you do. What’s the impetus? What drives you? What makes your work worthwhile?

Entertain ideas that might seem silly or braggadocious. Write them down, read them up, swirl them around in your brainpan and try out how it feels to believe these things about yourself and your work. Click To Tweet

Of course I’ll have more branding, marketing, and sales tools for you down the line, but this is the foundation, friend.

This is how you become unstoppable. Even when the dark times come. Even when you’re on top of the world.

Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear.

​There are two stickers in my office that I received at last year’s Craft + Commerce conference which say, “Create Every Day” and “Teach Everything You Know.” I find these two mottos so important to how we writers and creatives establish ourselves and how we go about being the champions of our own work.

Teach Everything You Know.

Teaching is a great way to help others. But I find that teaching is also good for your own creativity and confidence. Not only do you help others with the knowledge you’ve gained, but in teaching you come to realize that you likely know a lot more than you thought you did.

But there’s something especially vulnerable about the “everything you know” part of the above declaration.

teach-everything-sticker

It can seem scary. Because if you teach everything you know, will there be any use for you in the market? Shouldn’t you keep some stuff for yourself? As protection against becoming a commodity?

 

And herein lies the sleeping monster. The inadequacy monster. The voice inside that says, don’t tell them what you know, they’ll steal it. They’ll do better than you. They’ll steal everything you’ve built. But this line of thinking stems from the sub-level belief that you’re just not good enough, or you’re just inadequate.

I know that voice intimately, though I’ve learned how to better tell it to shut the hell up. Not always of course, I’m human. And I have my triggers. But the point is, there’s hope for muting that voice.
I've found that when your worth is based on the amalgam of who you are and not just what you do, that's something no one can take away from you. Click To Tweet
Now, I’m not saying you should tell everything to everyone. Obviously, if you have an idea you want to protect that’s fine.

Maybe I’m wrong, but the “everything you know” part is more about sharing the breakthroughs you have, or the methods. Or even choosing who you want to teach that “everything” to.

Think of authors or artists you admire. Even if Mary Karr taught me everything she knows, I would not become her. Even if I knew all of her philosophies and methods, the work I’d produce would either be a bad copy of her work, or something uniquely my own built using methods she shared. You can bet if Mary Karr wanted to teach me, I’d be there, ready and willing, but always with the knowledge that I still have to do the work and that I still have my own voice in the world.

Now of course there are those who are just copycats, who steal and duplicate. And it stings when they do it to you because it is a wretched thing to do. But they will never BE you. They will never have your dare I say god-given talents, perspective, and creativity.

They operate from a place of lack (lack of resources, lack of confidence, lack of ethics). And when someone steals from you, it’s normal that the inadequacy monster screams in your ear to get back at them, or do the same. But you don’t have to. Because there’s more to you than that.

Imagine what would happen if we creatives spent a bit less time worrying about losing our worth and channeled that power into deepening the value of our work and who we are. Click To Tweet

We would be more successful. We’d create work that is uniquely ours, untouchable by other hands.​

This is the heart of my philosophy when it comes to branding, selling, or marketing yourself: the more deeply rooted you are in the healthy soil of your own craft and self-worth, the easier it will be for others to see it and be attracted to it. And that’s where the create everyday comes in.

what to do when you feel inadequate

Create Everyday

create-every-day

I also have a t-shirt from the conference. 😉

While we may not always have time to write or get creative EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It’s still an important habit to strive for–even if that creativity doesn’t exactly have to do with your designated projects.

I think it’s especially important to indulge in creative play every day, whether that’s dancing, or writing free-form stream of consciousness stuff you’ll never publish, or painting ceramics, or planting in your backyard. These types of unfocused creativity can be mindful practices. And mindful practices open up space for us to make breakthroughs in creative work.

Some would even say that it’s in that regular practice of our creative work that our muse, genius, or best ideas come.

And that’s when another voice shows up, your own untouched soul voice, the one that is unphased by life’s barbs, the one that says, great job, this is good, this is important, you were put on this earth to do this. The more this voice is active, the better and more ‘you’ you become.

It’s a powerful thing to fulfill your purpose(s).
There's a feeling like no other that comes from sloughing off the dark death of inadequacy and lack and moving about in the light, flexible warmth of doing the work you're meant to do. Click To Tweet
I hope you’ll spend some time thinking about that. Maybe even sit down in a quiet place and make a list of the things that you like about yourself and your work, and then another list of what you want to get better at and possibly a third, of ideas of how you could make creative play a bigger part of your life.

In the end, we have a short time on this planet and I don’t know about you, but I want to make the fricken’ best of it.

 

Have you ever wondered if your personal brand will really fit you years from now, or even days? That was one of my fears when I first started crafting my personal branding to where it is now. I was afraid to commit to something because I felt like I couldn’t be tied-up in a pretty bow like that. I had too many interests, too many things I wanted to do.

“You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

—Neil Gaiman

There’s a lot of pressure when you’re building your personal brand. You ask yourself questions like, “is this who I really am?” Or “How can I pretend to be who I want to be perceived as?” Or “Will people like me as this brand?”  These are some of the most common fears that come up for my clients and students too.

It can sometimes kind of feel like you’re a college freshman being asked to pick the career that you want for the rest of your life.

But the thing is…these fears aren’t based in reality, or at least they don’t have to be.

Change is guaranteed.

Just like the world around us, we humans are ever-evolving. And thank goodness because good gawd, I cannot imagine if I was still attracted to the kind of guys I liked in high school. Or imagine I still spent the majority of my income on Fun Dip, Blue Razz Berry pops, and collectible plush bunnies like I did in elementary school, or wore the same overall-shorts and shoulder pads I did in junior high. Okay, maybe my junior high fashion is back, but that’s beside the point.

Your core doesn’t change…


We’re are meant to adapt, mature, and change, but there are also things about us that stay pretty constant. And that’s good too. For instance, while my spending habits may have changed, my innate desire to help people has always been there.

Except when it does?

You can even have phases where you seem to change and then come back to who you are. While I had always been a sensitive caring kid, I went through an awful (now embarrassing) phase of gossiping about classmates during my middle-school years. When I eventually realized it was more about my own insecurity than other people, I was able to return to my original factory setting of being empathetic and compassionate.

The point is, if we’re living with our heads screwed-on most of the way, we’re trying to be the best we can be.  And that drive and evolution to be our best selves is something we can hold onto, something we can build our personal brands on.

Our strengths, values, and core is something that won’t drastically change even if we decide we’d rather be a social worker than a salesman. Okay, maybe there’s some ethical changes necessary for that one, but you get the idea.

Powerfully stepping forward

When we consciously work to be the best humans we can be, we find more powerful ways to step into our purpose and interests. We may even discover along the way that we prefer writing memoirs to novels, or painting in oil, rather than acrylic, or working a low-stress job to fund our artistic interests, rather than working freelance. And that’s okay, it doesn’t mean your personal brand has to be thrown out the window.

In the past, I think these kind of changes might have signaled a sea change in how we think we should have presented our “brand” or “persona.”

The opposite is actually true. Even the corporate bigwigs know that people prefer to connect with other people, not inanimate corporate brands.

As Entrepreneur.com notes:

“When brand messages are shared by employees on social media, they get 561 percent more reach than the same messages shared by the brand’s social media channels.”

Your personal brand still has value, even if you left your job, or changed careers, or retired. Sure it may need some work, but if you’ve used your own personal strengths as the foundation, it’s much easier to rebuild.

personal branding from your core

 

Loyalty to People

“As society changes, as politics change, as people change, certain songs still seem to resonate.” —Beck

Think of some of your favorite personal brands, if these people shifted their focus it’s likely you wouldn’t write them off. For instance, Oprah had a talk show for years, which she shifted from to start new ventures like O magazine and the O network. Sure there was talk of audience loss, maybe growing pains, but look at her now. She’s still a big (a huuuge) name. She’s dug more deeply into spirituality with Super Soul Sundays; she’s invested in other shows and stories she feels aligned with.

And she’s still successful.

Did she lose some fans along the way? Probably. Did she gain even more who are aligned with her personal brand values? You betcha.

Not everyone will like you.

Here’s the other thing, if or when you make some changes in your career, or life, or brand, some people won’t like it. They’ll leave, block you, or fall out of touch. That’s just fine. You don’t need to be everything to everyone. In fact, you can’t. Not really.

Embrace who you really are at your core, embrace what you truly believe in, and build your brand on WHO you are, not just what you do. You are much more than your title, your art, your craft, or your job. You’re an exquisitely faceted PERSON whose personal brand works to help attract the kind of people you want in your life.

Strength in Personal Branding

That’s why I focus on strengths-based and personal values-based personal branding. I believe your character, how you treat people, are still the most important and memorable things about you.

When you can build a personal brand grounded in who you authentically are, the fear of how things may change down the road, melts away.

build your audience for your creative work

You’ve created something amazing—an important book, a stirring song, a cool website, an amazing new service—and now it’s time to build your audience. These days there are more ways to get in front of more eyeballs than ever before. The sky is the limit!

Except of course, that maybe you’ve tried some things and you’re not getting the results you expected.

If I’m honest, there’s always this part of me that wishes against all reality that one of my creations will go viral. I mean, we all do right?

Okay, maybe I’m the only one, but even if you just want to get enough attention to build your business, or change someone’s perspective, or share encouragement, it’s usually going to take some effort. And time.

While there’s no magic approach, I’d like to share three ways that you can get out there and reach your ideal customers, readers, or patrons, more effectively.

Create a Quiz

This is something I’ve been having some fun obsessing over lately: creating online quizzes. We all know how irresistible and addictive online quizzes can be, but did you know they can be a great tool for building your email list? It’s true. And it’s not just Buzzfeed that’s in the game. Smaller brands and larger (like Home Depot and Eventbrite) use quizzes to not only get new subscribers, but better serve them as well. Let me explain.

I confess I haven’t created a ton of quizzes yet, but so far I’m really impressed with not only the options you can provide folks (including an option to NOT have to sign up for your email list). I personally like that you can tailor resource recommendations based on a quiz-taker’s results or answers.  And after all, if someone is nice enough to try out your quiz you want to provide as much value to them as possible. So for instance, you could recommend certain blog posts, downloads, or even products based on what their results were.

The company I use to create quizzes (and totally recommend) is called Interact. Full disclosure, I’m a partner member and an affiliate, but I am because I believe in the fricken product! Not only does their quiz-creation software have a ton of amazing features but they are truly committed to continuing to improve their software and service. They want to be the best quiz creation software out there. And I think they’re doing a helluva job. Check them out.

Here are a few quick ideas of ways you could use a quiz, as an author:

  • Nonfiction: Pick a juicy question based on the subject matter of your book. For instance, “How efficient are you with time?” (for a book like Time Management from the Inside Out), or “Are you a master negotiator?” (for a book like Getting to Yes)
  • Mystery Novel: “How many of these mystery novels can you name?”
  • Novel: “What Kind of Warrior Are You?” or “Which Character are You?”
  • Cookbook: “Which of these ingredients provide the most nutrients?” or “How many of these Food Network stars can you name?”
  • Biography: “How well do you know Jackie Kennedy?”

Of course, it does get a little more challenging with memoir and some other genres, but you just might come up with a great idea based on the subject matter, niche, or genre of your book.

Here are a couple examples of writers who use quizzes: Stephanie Bwabwa and Angela J. Ford.

And here’s an example of one of my new quizzes: 

build your audience with quizzes

Do an Informative Webinar with a Fellow Creative

Toward the end of last year I created a fun and information-packed webinar series with some amazing writers, editors, and entrepreneurs, called The Business of Writing series. It was a great way to build up our mutual email lists, share knowledge, help people, and get to know each other better.

Build your audience

Screenshot of one of the webinars in the series

When you partner up with a colleague to do a webinar (or online workshop) you are both able to cross-promote and build your audiences while also providing high-quality content to your audiences.

I use and recommend Webinarjam, though it can be expensive up front if you’re just starting out. There are many webinar software platforms out there so take a look around before deciding. I know some of my colleagues also like Crowdcast and GoTo Webinar, which bill monthly.

Whatever you choose, keep the presentation, graphics, and process as simple as possible. My biggest mistake when putting together the aforementioned webinar series was spending WAAAAY too much time making beautiful graphics and slides. I mean, I know people liked them, but it ate up too much of my time. Though next time, I’ve now got some pretty great graphics that I may be able to repurpose. So there’s that.

That’s the thing, whatever you try, try it a few times because chances are it won’t be EPIC the first few times. But you’ll learn how to improve things as you go along.

Also note that you can provide free webinars, free webinars where you sell something at the end (no shame in that), or even paid webinar workshops. Every creative or writer is different, so consider what works with your creative work.

Let Them Try Before They Buy

I’m not necessarily saying you should give people your book or paintings or classes for free. In fact, a lot of times it can actually undermine your value.  I’m a big believer in valuing creative work! But, sometimes you can still give them something to offer a taste of what you provide.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • A free worksheet from your online course
  • A free mini coaching session or consultation
  • A free trial size of your product
  • A free weekly quality tips email
  • A free chapter of your book
  • A free reading guide with your book
  • A free bookmark

You get the idea. Give what you can to give them an impression of the value and art that you’re offering, but be sure to follow that up with an offer for them to actually buy your service, product, course, or book. In other words, on your free worksheet you could have a link back to your course with a call-to-action; maybe your free coaching session includes a coupon for 10% off their first twelve weeks; or your trial product has a coupon attached; or the chapter of your book provides a link at the end to buy the whole book; or maybe people have to sign up for your email list in order to get the reading guide for your book; or maybe someone has to leave a Goodreads review (positive or not) to get a free bookmark. These are just spitballs to get your creative ideas flowing.

I hope these three suggestions to promote your oh-so-wonderful creative work have given you some ideas on what you might try next. I realize that you might have questions about some of these ways to build your audience, because honestly each of these could be an entire post unto themselves. If you do, please feel free to leave a question in the comments below, or even email me. I’m happy to help as best I can.

Most of all, I hope your work gets the audience it so richly deserves. Keep on plugging, my friends.

I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking a lot about this week, namely: perceptions of reality. You know, something light and airy. 😉

Seriously though, as writers and creative-types we are often so intimately oriented with our own work that we have trouble articulating why someone else should care about it. Okay, maybe you’ve never felt this way. But I know I have.

Maybe you’ve feel like the inherent virtue of your art should be obviousI mean you love it! Everyone should! Or maybe you can’t even imagine how someone could appreciate our work. You like it, but you can’t help but see the flaws. Or maybe you think that you’re the only one who would like this kind of thing.

Or maybe—and this kind of thinking is even more insidious—you think that it can’t be both True Art and commercially viable.

In any of these scenarios, there’s a problem of perception. Whether we think highly of our work, find it always lacking, or wrestle with making True Art while trying to pay the bills—we’re focused on our own reality. We’re looking down at our own work in our own little bubble-world, trying to find a solution there, meanwhile the real solution doesn’t live there. It’s out there in the world, where we aren’t looking.

Introspection is important; and I would argue that it’s essential to understanding why your work is valuable. But sometimes we need to burst our own bubbles and try to step into another’s perception bubble so we can gain insight.

One of the biggest challenges I see writers and creatives face is how to get people to buy-in to what they are creating.

Where the Answer Isn’t

Much of the time, I think we’re looking for a formula or tip or trick to connect with a larger audience. Like if only our Instagram was better, or we did live videos on Facebook, or whatever, that would be the missing key to stardom.

I don’t think the answer lies in formulas. That’s not to say that you can’t learn how to be a better Instagramer, or utilize effective tools to get out there in front of the right people. It just means maybe we’d gain a whole lot more insight by understanding how our ideal market thinks and sees the world.

How Different We Can Be

My ex-husband was a philosopher and when we were still together a loooong time ago, he studied philosophy at Berkeley. Over many a family dinner, and the subsequent wiping off of our toddlers faces and sweeping up of floors after they ate like adorable human tornadoes, we often discussed existential conundrums and the very nature of reality itself.

To him—and let’s face it, if you take philosophy studies to their logical end points—there is no such thing as an objective reality. This eventually led him to a more nihilistic and hedonistic life-in-practice.

My ex was and likely remains—I’m sure he’d admit—a man of extremes. But I will say this, he lived what he believed, for better or worse (mostly worse—​you’ll understand when my memoir is finished, haha). This was one of the things that initially most attracted me to him, but ultimately one of the things that tore us apart. Without sounding like a complete ex-basher, it seemed to me that he felt his perception of reality (and the lack there of) was Truth, even though that according to him also did not exist.

And of course, I thought that my perception of reality was the more correct one. As a young stay-at-home mom of two toddlers, my reality of stuffed animals, runny noses, dirty diapers, park play-dates, and laundry looked very different than his reality of graduate school classes, commutes listening to audio books, and late night study sessions.

I had no use for reality as a philosophical construct, I was living it in the scrubbing of the bathtub, in the soft cuddles with my babies’s sweet little bodies, in the changing of diapers that smelled like garbage burritos, and in the giant, beautiful eyes of my children that looked at me each day with pure love and expectation to give them the very best of myself. I was living in the world of the visceral, corporeal, and sometimes even somatic.

As much as I don’t  want to drag my ex into anything, I tell you this snippet from my life because I want to acknowledge how different two perspectives can be—even in a relationship between two people who live in the same home.

And when two very disparate perspectives are not bridged, relationships can be torn apart, art doesn’t get appreciated,  and megalomaniacs can get elected to office. 

Okay, okay I’ll get back on track…but you get what I mean.

~

Balancing Perspectives and Who You Want to Be Around

The older I get the more I realize I don’t want to waste my time with people who are at odds with my core values. Maybe that’s an asshole thing to say, but it’s what I feel. And yet, I also see this deeply divided America (and world) and try to figure out ways to reach out and heal our communities, and understand each other better,  without compromising my own values.

When it comes to our art, our work, our business, I think there’s definitely virtue and even a call in trying to connect with new audiences, but I think it’s often more helpful to start with the people you really want to work with, or help.

In other words, I believe our time is better spent working to connect with the kinds of people we want to work with or be around, rather than trying to appeal to everyone.

How to Get People to Care About Your Art

As an artist, if you/we want to get people to care about your art, you must do the hard work of stepping outside of your own perspective bubble and consider what it’s like to live in another body, another life. I think this kind of experimentation isn’t just useful for helping us connect more effectively with our ideal customers and readers, but for our own edification as human beings, as well. It’s not always an easy thing to do, however.

If you’re interested in thinking and learning more about this idea of working to understand other’s perceptions of reality I encourage you to check out these two episodes of NPR’s Invisibilia podcast. As ever, your perception of reality will expand simply by listening, but there are also some valuable ideas on how to step out of your own narrow rut of thinking in order to see what others might see. The more we understand how others think, the easier it will be to communicate the value of our art/work.

If you really believe in the power and/or value of your work, I encourage you to find ways to help others see what you do. But paradoxically of course, being able to do that requires standing in their shoes, and attempting to shed your own perceptions enough to view at least some of how they perceive the world.

And here’s the thing, it’s never like you’ve arrived and now understand everything about how others perceive the world. But the more we make an attempt to understand what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin, the more we become better humans.

We become more compassionate, understanding beings who create better, more insightful, powerful ‘doings.’


If you’re having trouble connecting your work with the right customers or fans, I’m here to help. Of course, there are plenty of free resources here on my blog and site (and weekly email list), but if you feel like you could use some one-on-one time to work through this challenge, I offer both à la carte one-on-one consultations, and longer-term one-on-one coaching where I can help you discover new ways to break through the confusion and start reaching your amazing audience, right where they are.


 

Finding Your Voice in Writing


Sounding Like “You”

“This is good Mom, but it doesn’t sound like you,” my son told me one afternoon, after reading an essay draft I had just shared with him.

“Yeah.” My daughter nodded from her spot on the couch.

I gulped down the wedge of insecurity moving up from my throat, so could actually stomach what my teenagers were telling me. At the time, I was about half way through my program at UCLA Writers’ Program, but I hadn’t been able to place what was “off” with my essay.

I knew they were right. And it stung, I had worked for days on that essay. Finding my voice had felt like trying to hold tight to one of those watersnake squishy toys from the nineties.

Find your voice--as hard as holding on to a watersnake

Writing for your reader is important for many reasons—to connect, in keep attention, to avoid rambling on about something only you are interested in. But I believe it’s equally important to balance that with being connected with who you are at your core.

Understanding what lights you up—or puts a fire in your belly—can crack open the slippery shell, giving you access to that gooey center that is YOUR VOICE—the thing that will set your work apart.

Finding My Voice in Fiction

A few months after my kids read my essay a short story came to me, like a gift from the universe. It was something I’d been wanting to write for a while. I was so fascinated by the subject matter: the California frontier in the mid 1800’s. Though I had very little experience dabbling in fiction, I finally took a stab at it.

I pounded out this story in pure joy and felt pretty good about it, even in its drafty (I can use that version of draft, right?) state.

Again, I eagerly shared it with my kids.

“Mom, this is you! And this is so awesome, I wish there was more.”

I was floored and elated all at once. Somehow I’d found my voice in fiction. How could this be?
All along I’d been writing creative nonfiction about my own damn life and yet it wasn’t coming through as “me.”

Turns out I needed to change it up.

It took me a while longer to translate that “self” into nonfiction. And honestly, writing for YOU, on my blog, online, and weekly emails, has helped me grab onto my voice in a more authentic way. There’s something about writing to teach that helps you get past yourself so you can find your voice. If that makes any sense. 😉

How You Might Find Your Voice

If you struggle sometimes with feeling like something is a little off in your work—but you’re not sure what—explore new options. Try to write about something you’re fascinated with, or dabble in a new genre (or your own invented genre). Maybe even write about something that really gets your goat.

Start writing about something you’re very knowledgeable in, with the intent of being yourself while helping others.

Ultimately, we live in a world of billions of perspectives (almost 8 Billion people, as a matter of fact) and sometimes exploring other experiences can help us figure out where the margins of our own thinking are.

Chances are the subject matter you write about, the themes, the tips, the methods—they are likely not absolutely NEW.

What sets what you’re doing apart is your voice. Your unique way of looking at the world, the way in which you combine ideas, words, and perspective is important. Because guess what? No one else has your exact perspective and voice. But it’s up to you to find it, embrace it, and share it.

Explore new ways to find your voice. Then go change some minds with your art. There’s no doubt in my mind that you can.

Computer photo cred: rawpixel.com on Unsplash

how to give your book or creative work its best shot at succeeding

Your book, service, art, or product–should you choose to share it with the world–deserves its best shot at success. Don’t forget that.

One of the most common questions I get is, “Do I need to have a brand or online presence before I have a book?” Or if you’re not a writer, just substitute in your “products” or “services,” for “book.”

Let’s look at this chicken vs. egg conundrum via the indomitable perspective of story:

Imagine you’re about to attend a cocktail party at a colleague’s house. You don’t know anyone there, but your colleague says you’ll dig these people. You’ve been working on the final touches of your first novel all day. It’s finally finished and even the cover looks great. Then you realize it’s quarter to six and you should have left like ten minutes ago. So you throw on a t-shirt and some running shorts, swipe a brush through your hair real quick and slap on some blush.

When you arrive at the party you realize you’re woefully under-dressed. Everyone is in cocktail party attire–little black dresses and button down shirts.

Crap that’s right it’s a cocktail party, you think, well here goes nothing. You walk in and say hello to your colleague Jane, who tries to mask her shock at what you’re wearing with a meager smile.

“You do know this is a cocktail party right?” she whispers in your ear as she gives you a quick hug.

“Of course, I just didn’t have time; I was finishing my book.”

“Oh well…uh, that’s great!”

“See!” You hold it up in front of your chest like it’s a medal.

“Oh you brought it with you?!” She laughs awkwardly and congratulates you on your accomplishment. Feeling a boost–after all you just finished your entire frickin’ book–you walk over to a friendly looking gay couple and introduce yourself.

“Hello, I’m Lucy, a friend of Jane’s. And this is my newly finished book!” Again you hold it out, this time like Vanna White. “It’s sci-fi. Would you like to buy a copy? It’s really great.”

The two men shoot quick looks of shock at each other, but as polite humans they feign mild interest and say pleasantries, but really they’re thinking Who the hell is this, and who does that? I don’t even like sci-fi novels. Also, where’s the shrimp scampi?

You sense their waning interest and move on to someone else who will surely want to buy your new book.

Of course, you wouldn’t actually do this in real life. But when you go out into the world with a book but no real brand, you’re basically doing the same thing. You’re essentially going into a world where no one knows you, what you stand for, if you have any talent, or if your work will be any good, and begin barraging people with requests to read or buy your book. 

Most people are not going to succeed using this method. Or at the very least, they’re entering the room at an extreme disadvantage. I mean, would you like this? Surely you’ve even experienced the receiving end of this kind of tactic. I know I have.

Consciously branding yourself before you have something to SELL is more like spending some time to make sure you’re appropriately dressed for the party (maybe you even have a conversation starting accessory), you’re showered and clean, your hair got did, maybe even your nails too. And you leave your book at home, but you bring your well-designed business card. You have more natural conversations with the other guests, finding out what they’re interested in, how you might help each other in your careers. You might even talk about the book you’re writing when they ask you what you do, but you don’t try to sell it to them (yet). You make sure you stay connected, if they want to be. And you do something nice for them, or give them some useful information, or the phone number of that reliable, honest mechanic you know. You act like a decent human being, not a book-hawking automaton in running shorts.

I’ve said it many times, but let me reiterate: branding doesn’t mean creating some bullshit persona, it’s clarifying the strengths, gifts and vision you have for your career and life while also identifying WHO you’ll help and HOW you’ll do it (whether that’s a book, massage service, or paintings, or whatever), so you can live within the bounds of your best self and attract the people who will help you or who need you (and your work).

Taking the time to craft a brand and introduce it to the world before you have your work all dialed-in requires self-knowledge and forethought.

If you swoop in out of nowhere and have no backstory you’re not going to be a sympathetic character. It’s going to be a lot harder for people to give a shit about who you are and what you’re selling.

Of course there are always exceptions, but let’s get real, better to plan for the hardest, most-likely path and be pleasantly surprised if it works out to be easier, than the other way around, right?

These days agents and publishers are looking for two things. As my friend Monica Odom, literary agent extraordinaire said during our recent online workshop: 

“Before you pitch or query an agent, know your work and know your brand.”

Of course, you must have a really good story and execution–don’t think I’m suggesting otherwise–these are crucial to your work, unless pf course you’re already an overnight viral internet sensation. So if all you have bandwidth for is writing your book, then do that for now. But know that the time will come where you will need to set aside time to work on your brand as well. Ideally, before your book launches.

All writing being equal, the author who has a brand to support sales of their book(s) will win the bigger deal and get more support from their agent, publisher, and readers.

Over and over, through my work with various authors, agents, and editors, I’ve found that publishers are looking for not just an irresistible idea but a partner to help sell it to the world.

I know how daunting and discouraging this can seem. Even with a background in branding and marketing, I sometimes still get overwhelmed by the thought of promoting myself. Not because it’s awful, but simply because I know the creative writing side of my brain operates much differently than the marketing side. It takes work to switch gears, no doubt.

And life gets busy. Like real busy.

But I’ll tell you a secret: Once you establish the foundations of your brand and parse out a general strategy that works with who you are, it gets more exciting and less overwhelming.

Branding is kind of like writing a book–if you think about the end product too much you’ll get buried under the enormity of it all. But if you break it down to the most important concepts, the themes, the characters, the settings, and commit to a schedule–even if you can only spare a couple hours a week–you’ll begin to see the power of the results you can achieve.

Baby steps, my friends. Either that or hire help if you can.

In your brand story you are the protagonist, the hero of your career, so you must show people why they should care about the stories you’re building.

woman reading a book

Photo by Jacalyn Beales on Unsplash

If you still doubt me, here are just some of the ways a consciously-created brand can help your writing (or creative) career:

  • Actually getting the book deal because you have an edge over less prepared authors
  • Getting a bigger-better ($$$) book deal because you’ve helped the publisher see the potential in your brand and work
  • Sell more books to your already building audience
  • More promotional opportunities will popup because more people are aware of you and how awesome your work is
  • More people will genuinely want to help promote your book(s) by reviewing it, telling friends, helping you with connections
  • Better connections with colleagues who can help you with publicity, bylines and the readership you need because they understand the value you bring

Where to Start

When it comes to branding, most people instinctively start with their visuals, logo, or website, or even social media, but that’s like creating a book cover without writing the book. This is the wrong approach.

It all starts with you and the story you want for your career–your ultimate vision. Ignore the temptation to jump on the pretty stuff and do the internal work first. Remember, the story is the most important thing, so you need to know what the hell you want the story of your brand to look like before you can tell it properly.

What Creating a Brand looks like, using an adapted Hero’s Journey model:

Before you read this, remember it’s the overview so don’t get overwhelmed, each step should be broken down into bite-sized pieces. This is not possible in one blog post, this is something I do in my online branding course and one-on-one with clients.

  • Happy Ending/Vision:  Start at the end. It’s important to understand what your end game comes first when you’re planning. Decide what you really want for your life and career. Even if you are having trouble visualizing what your career would look like after your first book, focus what you want that book launch and the aftermath to look like. It’s okay to not to have all the answers, but it is essential to at least strive for an understanding of what you truly want–even if that’s not super specific at this point.
  • The Hero and her Conflict: This is where you get to know the character, what you’re good at (your strengths) and areas where you’re not so strong (things you don’t have the knowledge in or struggle with), your values, and what makes you unique. It’s important for you to understand who you are–so you can base your brand on that and not a fleeting thing like a product or book.
  • The Mentor: Learn how to create your brand consciously. You will need help. You find some info online for free (there are even some here on my site), sign up for my weekly email, or read books, etc. Or if you’re ready to get the bite-sized guidance start-to-finish, sign up for my online course.
  • The Quest: Start brainstorming ideas based on what you’ve learned about yourself, your work, and your ideal readers, for marketing strategies, design, social media, events, etc.
  • The Challenges & Temptations: There will be setbacks, or challenges, the most common of which is your own motivation to get things done. Familiarize yourself with these and always look for tools to overcome. Don’t let these biatches keep you from the career and life you want.
  • Taking Action, Building Toward the Climax & Denouement: Figure out how much time you can carve out for building your brand and slap deadlines on those tasks. Work consistent brand-building into your life and you’ll see the results begin to build over time.

To get you started on the brainstorming aspect of creating a broad overview of your own strategy using the above mentioned formula, which is essentially the first step, download my free worksheet to help you visualize this process and get started on building your brand.

One of the most common questions I get from writers and creatives is, “how can branding help me?” There are so many ways, but for brevity’s sake let’s just look at these few. But first, remember that great personal branding is all about knowing yourself so you can go kick ass at whatever it is you love!


If you’re unsure of exactly what the hell a brand is, you’re not alone. Read this post first to get the quick definition (& how it’s different than platform, or marketing).

If you DO know what a brand really is, read on.


Clarity = Powa! (aka Power)

Branding makes your life easier. Imagine you have a clear vision of where you want to go, what makes you strong, what values you hold dear, and clarity as to just who you are.

Suddenly making decisions like whether to take that job, or make that video, or write that book become easier. I’m not saying it’s magic, but it does give you more powa to make decisions.

Unlike what you may have thought before, your brand doesn’t pigeon-hole you, it frees you to be your most authentic self while pursuing the goals you truly care about.

Email Newsletters, ads, sales funnels, etc. are pointless without mindset.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with the sheer quantity and pace of marketing? Really, who has time to do all of the things that everyone says you should do to promote yourself? We have to pick and choose what we’ll try and how we’ll market ourselves–but those are just actions, to do list items. If we want to succeed we have to change our mindset.

I’ve been working in branding and marketing for many years, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how key mindset is.

When you’re down in the trenches promoting yourself or your work it doesn’t always feel refreshing or inspiring. It’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing it in the first place. That’s where branding shines. If you’ve created a cohesive brand and branding strategy, it’s easier to go back and remind yourself of your WHY (why you’re doing all this anyway).

But there’s one more thing.

Brand strategy also takes you in depth into who your ideal market is and once you have a more intuitive and structured insight to who the people are who love your work (what they desire, and where they are) all of your efforts become more effective as well.

Marketing without first taking the time to figure out your brand strategy is like throwing darts into a lake, hoping to catch a fish.

Achievement isn’t as satisfying if you don’t know who you really are and what you really want.

We’ve all seen it before, people at the pinnacle of their careers who end up having a mental breakdown, or worse. And instinctively we know that many times this is do to overwhelm at a life that was reeling from fame and fortune. I’m no celebrity or billionaire, but I’m willing to bet self knowledge and mental healthcare could have prevented these tragic reactions to “success.”

When you are no longer in a low-key existential crisis all the time, you suddenly have the strength and clarity to do the things you never imagined you could.

Like creating the kind of art you feel born to create, for instance. Good brand development helps empowers you to do this.

You have a brand, whether you want one or not.

Think about the ridiculously successful writers and creatives you know of–they all have a personal brand, or what some might call a personal philosophy.

You understand quickly who they are and what they’re all about. You then use that knowledge to decide whether or not they are for you. Your audience deserves the same.

Regardless of whether you’re consciously creating a brand strategy, or just doing your random thang, people are watching. They are deciding whether or not you and your work fit into their lives. If you want to be successful you must make it easy to understand just what you’re all about.

What drives you? What do you want to do in this life of yours? How do you want to be perceived?

Chances are, you will not achieve the kind of success you want, unless you get super clear about who you truly are and what you offer the world.

The Secret Sauce is you.

When I set out to become a legit writer I was very confused about how to brand myself. After all I wrote in different genres and my day job was in marketing, design, and branding for business. For months I struggled with just what I wanted to do.

Then one day I attended a local TedX talk on personal branding. The speaker said something that  shifted everything for me. Paraphrased it was this:

When it comes to personal branding, what you do for a living doesn’t matter as much as who you are.

Let that sink in for a moment.

How you move about the world, your values, your desires, your professionalism, the way you do things is most important. Whether you change careers or genres it doesn’t matter if you’ve build a solid brand based on WHO you are.

This is what helps personal brands like Elizabeth Gilbert or Shonda Rhimes skip from genre or format without losing their fan base. People want to engage with other people. Sure they may be initially attracted to your writing or art, or songs, or whatever you’re making, but they will STAY because WHO you are comes through and resonates with them.

Invest in self-knowledge

This is why I do what I do. See, I believe we have the opportunity to make the world a better place and we all have our parts to play. Writers and creatives are needed more than ever. And yet writers and creatives tend to doubt themselves more than most. Our culture has placed more value on money than beauty, but I know we can have both. I refuse to follow the starving artist philosophy.

It’s the arts that makes us human, settles us, informs us, ignites us, and helps us remember that there is more to life than mere survival.

I’m on a mission to help creative people step into their authentic selves, even if that self is a work-in-progress–spoiler: we are all works-in-progress–and gain the clarity they need to live the life and do the work they feel pulled to do.