Tag Archives: branding

Am I Any Good at This?

It’s a Sunday night, and I’m going through my e-mail, checking out some of the offers for free courses that would turn into paid premium courses that I can’t afford if I go deep enough down the rabbit hole (I think this is how cults work, but I digress), and one 2:16 video I just finished watching is about branding and determining your brand, and watching it has given me introspective questions I figured I’d ask publicly.

The speaker is a pleasant middle-aged dude who says that he “built and sold two businesses” and wrote a book about branding to help entrepreneurs and authors launch their brands, and at a recent speaking engagement he had sold out of these books and managed to double his post-conference sales without having listed them on his site or on Amazon.

My first thought is that it must be nice to have so many people want to read something that he wrote. But my other thought is that most authors with audience support have to build that audience through products that they want. Branding is part of establishing an identity, but that identity only works if the attached products are products people want to invest time and money into, and that puts a big question mark on the kind of time it takes to produce these things.

The hard reality about branding is that it limits experimentation. Creativity can still come into play under certain conditions, but with limitations. Experimentation, however, is much more difficult. Imagine, to the dismay of thriller fans, Lee Child writing Jack Reacher: The Musical. Not sure that would please most of his fans. He might do an awesome job with it, good enough to attract anyone who likes a good musical (I myself don’t understand them, but that’s me). But the people who enjoyed Jack Reacher: The Musical may not enjoy The Midnight Line (the most recent Jack Reacher novel) quite as much. Even though Lee Child is a millionaire author with a millionaire brand, his ability to stretch that brand is still pretty limited, it seems.

So, one of the advantages of being an unknown is that I still have time to craft my brand and figure out who my core readers are. The disadvantage is that once I find that core, I’m probably stuck writing for them, and only them, unless I want to come up with a pen name and write all of my other stuff under that name even though I kinda like my regular name. I like seeing it on book covers, at any rate.

Then I think about writers who are successful with every book they write, like Carl Hiaasen, who has his weird Florida thrillers like Lucky You and Nature Girl, and his kids’ books like Hoot and Chomp, and I realize that they can still write in multiple genres and not lose an audience (with Hiaasen, we are talking adult thrillers vs. middle grade environmental stories), and that branding is a general idea and not a concrete rule. And then I remember that all of Hiaasen’s stories take place in Florida (pretty sure that’s true), and I’m back to thinking, oh….

Branding doesn’t scare me, though, because I see myself as a quirky writer who writes in the thriller and/or coming of age genres, and I have a few series books in the making or in mind that keep to these genres and styles closely, so finding my audience doesn’t have to be a challenge.

The problem I face, in reality, is that I just don’t know if I’m actually any good at this. People say I am, but those same people haven’t bought any of my e-books. They read snippets, or they’ll read printed manuscripts I happen to have with me when I see them, and they’ll say, “Hey, this is good.” But will they spend their money to support me? Very few have. And, that’s what makes me ask the question.

I’m at a point in my life where I have to start evaluating my resources for generating traffic, interest, and sales for my stories. That means figuring out where to cast my net of investments. I don’t really want to buy any more books or courses on the topic of success (or related fields), as those are just educational resources and not practical applications. I want to start spending it on the tools that will actually allow me to convert these casual travelers into readers and fans. That means getting an official website, and an official emailing list, and an official delivery system for bonuses to subscribers, all of which go beyond the scope and freeality (made-up word alert) of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm and its free WordPress host. Without a professional presence, I can’t expect to have readers take me seriously.

Investing in my future is scary because I don’t know if mine is the kind of work that people would want to pay money for or come back for seconds. I think it is, but I haven’t heard from any readers who agree. Doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, of course. One of the problems with having no official point of contact is that I can’t really know how people perceive the stories I write. I have no way of knowing how they feel about it, or if it’s even something they’d want to read. Investing in these tools of contact and advertisement is vital now.

There is a service that opened this week called Author Cats that would actually be helpful for my brand, if I had the $497 to spend on it between now and December 5th. If I wait until after, then I have to spend that each year. If I get it before then, I only have to spend that once. But, I still have to tie it into a website I own (which could cost me up to $25 a month), and link it to an outside mailing list I port in from elsewhere (which can also cost me a monthly fee if I go with anyone other than the unwieldy MailChimp). Is it worth it? Well, it doesn’t matter because my author career has so far prevented me from affording the tools that will help me make it better.

Brings me back to the question: Am I any good? Specifically, am I good enough to support these costs?

This is what every author struggles with, even those who have been doing it for a long time, and even those who have managed to attract a few fans. Every new work is a reset button waiting to happen. The poor opening of Justice League proves that even tried and true brands aren’t guaranteed success, at least not right away. Of course, critics say that the movie is made for fans and fans think it’s “pretty good.” I don’t know. I haven’t seen it myself, and I’m a fan of superhero movies. Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad, while both enjoyably bad movies, have made me not care much about this franchise, at least not enough to spend $15 on the theater ticket and $22 on the Blu-ray in a few months. I’d rather just get the Blu-ray.

The question, then, I guess becomes, “What do readers want?”

I hope my answer to that question is both true and proves profitable soon. I have stories in the works that I want to share, and stories past that I’m updating for 2017-2018, and I want to start adding price tags to each of them in the next month or two.

But more on that later.

For this point in time, I’m still doing what I can to tell a good story, and then follow that up with another good story. That’s the best I can do for today.

That said, I finished NaNoWriMo at nearly 34,000 words, and I’m working on a Christmas story that I started last year (and had intended to finish, but couldn’t due to reasons I’ve since forgotten), and hope to release it in time for Christmas this year. I’ll talk more about both my NaNoWriMo and Christmas stories soon. I think they’ll be good.

P.S. I will be creating my mailing list soon, with or without an official website, so if you would like to receive a more focused letter about writing topics, book topics, reviews, and offers, including freebies and exclusive freebies, please send me a private message at zippywings[at]hotmail[dotcom] with the subject line “Put me on your mailing list, please,” or something similar, and I’ll add you to the list. I want to send the first newsletter out around the third week in January. The free stuff will have to come later, as I still need to create a delivery system and a plan. Again, more on that later.

Cover Image: Pixabay


Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 2): The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

“The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear”

When we write, we should do so because we enjoy it, not because we have to please other people. That’s what we often tell ourselves before posting something we’ve written for the world to see. But when the content goes live and the comments start rolling in, or don’t, as is more often the case, we begin to feel self-conscious about the quality of our work and vulnerable to the reality that we can’t take it back now that it’s in the open. Even if the world as a whole doesn’t see it, chances are a few people will, and now that we know, we begin to sense these people have discovered that we’re fraudulent writers, worse at our craft than we may lead on to be, and these people, readers who could’ve become our fans had we been even a little better at our craft, will think we have no business writing about anything and will tell all of their friends to avoid us as if we had voted for the presidential candidate they hate.

The first question we may ask then is, is it worth it to put ourselves out there? If we share our work, then we make our level of talent, or lack thereof, obvious to everyone. That’s scary. We may rationalize our decision to go public by justifying the existence of published authors. Those writers had to take a chance on themselves once upon a time, so maybe we should take a chance on ourselves, too. But then we start to think that those authors have nothing to fear. They’re brilliant at what they do, and people know that, so naturally they can put their stuff out there with confidence and not think twice about it.

Except, that’s probably not the case. More likely, those authors are terrified of every new thing they release, as all new things are widely untested until they reach the public, but they know how to hide behind a just-do-it attitude, because they’ve been doing it for so long that they’ve figured out how to silence the nagging voices in their heads that tell them they’re liars and frauds and that they should be selling life insurance to old people instead of participating in this growing organism called storytelling that’s way over their heads and far too sophisticated for the likes of their piddling minds.

But it’s also important to realize that these same scared authors who are brilliant and well-celebrated were scared in the beginning, too, back in a time when they probably had every right to be scared. The main difference between them (the successful ones) and the rest of us (the successful-in-waiting) is time, experience, an attitude to learn, a willingness to fail, and perhaps the thing that brings all of that together, guts.

When I first started writing, I didn’t want anyone other than my dad to read my story. As he laughed at it (it was supposed to make him laugh), I started thinking I could share it with friends and make them laugh, too. It was a story written with pencil on line paper, so without access to a copier, there was only one draft, and sharing it, though desirable to an extent, was difficult. I’d still tell them about it, and some even volunteered to read it, but one copy meant, essentially, that no one would actually read it if they didn’t already live in my house. I didn’t want to risk someone damaging or losing my only copy. That’s what I’d often tell myself.

But when I had access to a computer, I started dabbling with other, smaller works of similar humor, and because I could save them on floppy disc, I could essentially take them anywhere and print them wherever a printer was available. So, sharing my work with others became easier, and generally, thanks to positive reception from the one or two I’d share it with, more common. In high school, I started writing (and printing) a series of one-page parodies called The Completely Fake Documentaries by Manjoman Bobbinski, and among my small circle of fans within my larger circle of friends, it was a hit for the most part. Some episodes were gut busters. Some were embarrassing. But they all had a consistency to them that even today I tend to lack in my writing. The branding was solid and I knew my audience as a result. The readers I shared it with knew, essentially, what each fake documentary would be about, yet they’d still gather around in a circle and listen to me read the newest one aloud. It was fun, and I kept doing it for four years (across 180 episodes). It was not only my first taste of branding and marketing, but also my first taste of building a loyal audience (or at least one that could humor me).

It’s funny what we learn at a young age, but forget as we get older. Today, I feel like I’m so all over the place with my stories, blogs, messages, and whatnot that “branding” is a foreign word, no more familiar to me than the word viedtālrunis. I still work at it, even if my current experience is equivalent to Frankenstein’s monster going antiquing. But with so much to say, and with so many ways to say it, the main fear I think I have these days is not with my writing quality but with my platform. If we have so much to say that we risk alienating 90% of our potential fans with every new work we produce because they’re here for just one type of message or story, that in of itself can become a source of blockage and fear powerful enough to prevent us writing anything we care about in the first place.

Yet, we still have to figure out a way through it. If we don’t cater to the 10%, we don’t cater to anybody, including ourselves, and we’re ultimately told to write for ourselves. Right?

Experience is the key to learning, I think, just as learning is the key to experience. We will never gain either without taking the early steps of risk and experimentation, so regardless of how much fear we may have about showing our work, or even producing the work, we should still brush the fear aside because we can’t learn or experience anything if we hold onto it. It may hurt, but we can also learn from that pain.

At the end of the day, we should just write, no matter what or whom we’re writing for. We’ll be happier for getting the messages we have out of our heads and into the open. Conquering fear requires wisdom (if we should be afraid, then maybe we’re foolish to flip our noses at it), but at the end of the day, it requires caring more about the work than we do its public reception.

Next Week: “The Importance of Imperfection

Friday Update #6: The Branding Betrayal and Other Briefs

I haven’t posted to the Friday Updates in a couple of weeks, mainly because I haven’t had much to say since my last post, but also because I’ve had other commitments and time got away from me. More on that later.

In Support of Branding

I wanted to kick off this post with a slight nitpick. As some of you may know (if you know me personally), I’m a fan of movies. I enjoy a good movie as much if not more than a good book. I enjoy them for the stories, sure, but I especially enjoy them for the experience they provide. And I’m especially a fan of movie franchises, as I can continue to reenter the worlds of my favorite characters and experience something new while hanging on the edge of my seat to the exploits of people old (but not necessarily those of old people, except for maybe Clint Eastwood, and only if he does another Dirty Harry, which I guess would be hard to watch nowadays given that he’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—more on that later).

However, one of the things I depend on in my movie experiences is continuity, and that’s especially true of those that actually continue into sequels and more sequels. Franchises like James Bond can get away with actor changes because there are so many of them that eventually the actors will get too old to play the part, like Sean Connery, who’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—still, more on that later). The only thing we really must have in a James Bond movie consistently is the tracking gun barrel sequence at the start of each movie, and the opening credits sequence with the dramatic song and the nearly naked women superimposing the movie’s weapon of choice. There are story points that must be addressed, too, but those are related more to the genre than to the franchise itself. At any rate, James Bond has a specific brand we expect each film to adopt, and those are the things we expect—oh, and of course the James Bond theme song by Monty Norman. Other movie franchises like Mission: Impossible also have an expected brand, with the lit fuse marching toward an explosion and the classic theme by Lalo Schifrin (I almost mixed the two composers up—I’ve watched these franchises so many times that they sometimes run together on details like that). It’s also well-known for its anti-brand of style by changing directors and storylines so much that each movie barely resembles the one before it, and really only has Tom Cruise and the opening fuse to bind all five together. Weirdly, this works out great for that series.

If you’re paying attention, then you’ve noticed that I’ve addressed two of the top three blockbuster spy movie franchises currently running. The third franchise, the Bourne series, also has a brand, with each film taking the exact title from the book that corresponds with its entry number (The Bourne Identity is the name of the first book and movie, The Bourne Supremacy the second, and so on through The Bourne Legacy, which changes the lead character but stays firmly in the established cinematic universe), and this keeps them all in the same family.

Or, at least this is true of the first four films.

Now, I just saw the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne, on Wednesday, and even though I enjoyed it, there are a few things about it that annoyed me. And it all has to do with its branding.

Movies like this remind me why branding in a series is so important. On the outside, novels in a series establish brands by having similar covers and similar fonts from one installment to the next. Their internal content can also establish brands, with recurring themes and recurring popular characters populating them. But they also form brands by the titles they use. Novels do this. Movies do this. Even the names of television episodes (something many audiences will never even see) do this. The show Scrubs, for example, would title each episode as “My [Something].” That puts every episode into a family. My favorite show, Community, would title each episode after a fake and ridiculous course title (“Advanced Complaining,” for example, was never a Community title, but it could’ve been because each episode was titled something like that). I think branding among titles is a good idea, but keeping a continuity among titles to establish that brand is vital if the series has three or more installments and the first two are of the same style.

Before I saw Jason Bourne, I watched the Honest Trailer for the original Bourne film trilogy, and I think it does a fine job highlighting many of the trilogy’s repeat items, enough for me to recognize them when I see them in new installments. I must also say that plenty of elements within the newest movie match those of the older films (the use of the word asset, for example) quite faithfully. And I was pleased to see that the end title song, “Extreme Ways” by Moby, makes its fifth appearance in the series, over the usual hi-tech background graphic where the credits flash, with its expected differences in style from its previous incarnations. And, of course, the story is basically the same as it is in the first four movies. Even though it brings nothing new, it’s still most everything I expect from a Bourne film. Well, almost everything.

Going back to the title, there are two expectations that people like me will have whenever a new entry into the series is released: 1. The title will be The Bourne [Something]. This is how it’s lain out in the previous four films. It’s how the fifth movie should’ve been presented. It’s what we expect when we set up our DVDs and Blu-rays beside each other on the franchises shelf. 2. The title should coincide with the book that matches its installment number. In this case, the fifth book is called The Bourne Betrayal, so the movie should’ve been called The Bourne Betrayal. Even its IMDB entry mentions this inconsistency in the trivia section. What’s worse is that the movie’s plot actually supports this title.

So why change the name? I don’t know. I suspect that the studio dipped its hand where it shouldn’t have, as it often does, and decided that it would make more money or be more appealing to feature the main character’s name instead of what audiences actually expect. I mean, it worked for Jack Reacher, right?

Here’s the thing. The movie is the same regardless of what title it’s given. My complaint is about as OCD and nit-picky as OCD and nit-picky get. But I also think this inconsistency is as annoying as snot. Just give it the expected title. As long as it has the name Bourne in the title, we’ll know it belongs to that franchise. The title change has single-handedly taken a franchise I love and made it into something I love a little less. It just feels like a detached entry now. Being that it takes place 12 years after the previous three just isolates it even more.

Now, if the next Bourne movie is called Jason Bourne 6, and not The Bourne Sanction (the sixth book’s title, and the sixth title to maintain consistency), then I’ll have to stop caring what decisions the studio makes for this franchise. Seeing as how they aren’t changing the formula a lick from movie to movie, either, I’m guessing the series has had its heyday and is ready to take another long nap. I don’t know. Makes me sad, though. This really was one of my favorites for the longest time.

For those of you who write series books or make series movies, please stick to your established brands. Changing them by even the slightest angles derails the momentum you’ve created. Don’t do it. Change the stories instead. That’s what we care about being new.

Other Non-Writing Things

So, I missed last week’s post because I was distracted. We had my grandmother’s memorial the following day, and I was mentally checked out from doing anything creative or informative in the hours leading up to it. I was also exhausted from two straight days of walking several miles on the soggy beach during the hottest time of the day, so I ended up sleeping through most of it. So, sorry if you were expecting news. But I really didn’t have any.

The week before, I was supporting a friend at a cocktail party on the 29th floor of a beachfront condo about an hour from where I live. I was tired when I got home. Plus, I didn’t have any news. I did have fun though. I don’t get invited to cocktail parties like that too often.

Smashwords Sale

For those of you who might’ve been interested in buying my e-books during the Smashwords sale, the sale is over, and everything is back to full price. But, you can still find coupons for discounts and freebies in the Promotions sections in the header, so don’t worry about it. Thanks to those of you who bought something, or will buy something.

(I just noticed that most of the existing coupons are expired or soon to expire. I’ll generate a new batch at some point soon. Keep checking back.)

And that’s it for this week. I’ve spent the last few days working on my computer game, Entrepreneur: The Beginning, and I’ve been reading a lot on the Story Grid website, catching up my knowledge on how to edit, so I haven’t been writing much lately. I will soon, though. Don’t worry. I did write a poem called “My Fading Silence” a couple of nights ago, however. You can read it in my previous post. I don’t write poetry often, so it’s a rare treat.

Oh, and I’ve officially cancelled my preorders for Teenage American Dream, Sweat of the Nomad, and Zipwood Studios until further notice. I will be reinstating them at some point, but not before I get an email list together or something substantial toward their development. I also need to figure out if I want to release their original short story versions under their existing titles and their novel versions under new titles. Check back here often for new information.

Branding: Some Things I Want to Try

Lately I’ve been reading up on social media, and gathering tips on how to use it to further my brand. Specifically, I’ve been reading Social Media for Writers by Tee Morris & Pip Ballantine, and taking note of its suggestions about the many platforms available to me, the writer, and the ways I can use those platforms to reach you, the reader. I’ve also been looking up insightful blogs from writers like Dave Bricker at The World’s Greatest Book, Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer, and Kimberley Grabas at Your Writer Platform to widen my range of understanding. And, I must say, I’ve learned a lot from each of these sources.

I’ve also learned that my “brand” is kind of a mess.

When I started writing many years ago, my interest was solely in telling stories. At some point, my range of stories grew from fiction, to personal narratives, to speculative philosophy, to speculative fictional philosophies based on personal narratives, mainly because my interests in connecting with people has changed much since that day I decided I wanted to give writing a try. And in that vast space of time, I have acquired a wealth of material, and pretty much nowhere to put any of it. Ideas may have been consistent to themselves, yet inconsistent to each other, and I’d keep building on them in the hope that someday I’d “crack their code” and turn them into something readers could experience. And sometimes I was pretty sure I’d cracked those codes, even if they didn’t systematically crack each others’ codes.

But I also had three problems going along with those assumed cracked codes:

  1. I have a hard time throwing things away. So, rather than let my good, if not inconsistent ideas linger in the void, I’d just put them on display like a proud adult man who shows off pictures to complete strangers of not just his kids, but also his dog, his truck, and his annual income.
  2. Branding requires consistency, according to the books and the blogs. Inconsistency confuses people.
  3. No one will care about the works I have on display if no one’s here to read it, and they won’t come to read if they don’t why they should.

Obviously, for someone who’s a better writer than marketer, specifically for one who makes his “brand” about whatever is currently on his mind, this is a conundrum. How do I keep doing what I’m doing and still get people coming back if what I want to write about today isn’t thematically in line with what I want to write tomorrow?

Well, I’ve been giving it some thought lately, and I want to try a new system. This system would inevitably focus on practical things, fun things, and other things as much as it would focus on my writing things. But how would it lean focus on such ambiguously defined themes and still somehow force a “brand” on me?

Here’s what I’m thinking:

My main goal for this site is to express my thoughts. It’s always been about that. Sometimes it includes a review of something. Sometimes it talks about an idea I’ve had. Sometimes it hypes something I’m working on or trying to sell. It’s all about the things that concern me.

But, not everyone who comes to this site is looking for every type of post I make. So, I think I want to give a calendar system a try.

For example, Sundays are usually relaxing days for some, church days for others, so I figure that can be the day I post inspirational things. Mondays start with M, so that can be a miscellaneous kind of day. And so on. Each day can have its own theme. BUT, let’s be clear that I’m pretty busy without blogging every day, so not every theme will be met every week. I would like to try to stay weekly or biweekly on one or two themes a week.

How ever it goes down, and however frequently I post, here is a sample calendar of themes I may try for soon:

  • Inspirational Sunday – includes quotes, spiritual matters, life advice, and so on.
  • Miscellaneous Monday – mainly fun things like “Beach Photos of the Week” and other things that have no real category.
  • The Tuesday Review – where I talk about the movie I saw or the book I read.
  • Writer Wednesday – where I talk about writing, books on writing, the life of writing and so on.
  • Throwback Thursday – because why not? I’ll probably use this as my reminder of past posts day, or my link to other bloggers I like day. I don’t know. This one’s in the air.
  • Friday Hype Day – when I talk about my books.
  • Saturday Fun – when I focus on fun things.

Now, I’m one man, and I don’t have machinery in my bones, so I won’t actually be posting every day. What I want out of this is to have a plan for the days in which I offer certain types of posts. So, if you’re here for some writing tips, check in on Wednesday to see what’s new. If you want to see a cool beach picture, check in on Monday. No promises that there will be something new that particular week, but check anyway! Maybe this is the day you’ll read that post you’ve always been hoping for.

Obviously, announcements and time-sensitive posts will be in the moment, regardless of day. Just keep checking for those as you think about it.

So, that’s what’s on my mind. If you like this idea, let me know in the comments. If you want to find out what’s new, subscribe.

Oh, and if you want a review on Social Media for Writers by Tee Morris & Pip Ballantine, come back here soon. Reviews on writing books will happen on Wednesdays (when they happen). I do plan to make that a thing.

And just for kicks, this postscript will make this post clock in at a cool, sleek, awesome, amazing, rounded 1000 words.