Storyville: 8 Tips For Growing Your Brand
You’re an author, you write stories and novels, you’re starting to get published and people are talking about you. Now what? How do you grow your brand, how do you get your image and your writing out there? How do you get people to take you seriously? Start by taking yourself seriously, and here are some ways to do it.
I know this sounds obvious, but if you are a horror writer, the best way to grow your brand is to publish more horror stories and novels. So, you should be writing lots of dark stories, and you should be targeting the best markets in your genre. If you can’t name five or ten professional paying horror markets, then you haven’t done your research. You should be pounding on the door of Cemetery Dance, Shock Totem, Shroud and every other top market, on a regular basis. They should look up every few weeks or months and see your name. And their reaction should be, “Oh, I love her writing, man, I hope this story is just perfect, and we take it.” Find the markets, and send out the work. Look for magazines, journals, websites, anthologies, and presses. Take notes, monitor deadlines, and even write specifically for publications if they have a theme or certain aesthetic. The more “your people” see you in these places, the better you look.
GROUPS AND COMMUNITIES
Whatever you write, you should be hanging out with likeminded people. That just makes sense, right? So join groups on Facebook, look for communities and forums that support your kind of writing. Find lists on Twitter. I’m a member of several different groups, some public, and some private, on Facebook, covering all kinds of speculative fiction, literary fiction, editors and publishers, MFA students and graduates—you name it. Of course I hang out at LitReactor.com, but I also used to spend time at The Cult, The Velvet, and I’m an active member at the Cemetery Dance forums, as well as the Horror Writers Association. I follow lists of authors on Twitter, and have been placed on lists by other people. And of course, once you start socializing with these different groups, you’ll start adding them in as friends—you’ll start following them as well. When people see you as a part of something, you start to become a fixture, to become real. And that snowballs—suddenly there is an anthology, and you are asked to contribute, or maybe you have a project of your own and you’re looking for authors, and here they all are, right in your own backyard—figuratively of course, because literally, that would be creepy. Literally. It’s all connected.
PEERS AND ASSOCIATES
Who you choose to hang out with and associate with online and in person also contributes to your image and brand. I’m not saying you have to choose your friends by genre, income and Klout score. What I’m saying is that people will look at your associations, and it will contribute to your image in a number of ways. They may look at how many Facebook friends you have in common with them, and say, “Oh, Richard is friends with Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones and Jack Ketchum, we have similar interests.” If there are pictures of you at a reading by Frank Bill, and you are standing next to other crime writers, then it just elevates your credibility. What projects are you working on, co-editing, what readings are you going to, what panels are you on at AWP, all of that adds up to an image. And that’s a good thing.
I don’t want all of these suggestions to sound calculated, but they kind of are. In time they will just be a natural part of who you are as a writer, editor, teacher and patron. Don’t Tweet about the new book by Craig Wallwork because you think it’ll get you more followers, Tweet about his book because you love it, and support his writing. So obviously, another way that you can grow your brand is by promoting other voices, by association. People will start to look at your taste levels, your aesthetic, there’s no getting around it. Whenever you talk about, Tweet, share on Facebook, blurb, or otherwise promote another voice, you are putting your stamp of approval on it. If you support jerks and predators and lousy writers, that will reflect back on you. All you can really do is speak from the heart, and no two people will love all of the same authors. I defend Stephen King all the time (not that he needs me to). I’ve been talking about Will Christopher Baer for years, giving away copies of his books—the same for Stephen Graham Jones. When it comes to promotion, be aware of what you’re doing, but don’t let it change the voices you love and support. If people see that you are aware of the latest hot fantasy, crime or literary title, if they see that you have similar tastes with them, if they actually read or buy something because of your suggestions, in time, you may become an authority to them, a voice they trust. And that helps your relationship.
Of course everything we’ve been talking about is across all forms of social media. As an author in the year 2013, you have to not only be a part of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, Amazon, and various forums, you need to learn how to succeed in these various places. Do your research, spend time on it, hang out, and have fun. There is no singular way to do it, so make your own path, and be yourself. If you don’t have a personal blog or website, set one up. Wordpress is a free service and site, and I recommend them highly. Try not to only talk about yourself, and writing, but other people and a variety of interests. Post up pictures and videos to break up all of the words. Link to charities and causes that mean something to you, as that’s part of who you are as well. If you see somebody doing something cool, take note, and maybe you can build on that later. We’re all in this together, right?
BLURBS AND ENDORSEMENTS
This works two ways. First, whatever blurbs and endorsements you get for your own writing, it will help to define you, to give you credibility and drive new fans to your writing. So when you ask for a blurb, make sure it’s sincere—that you like the author, you’ve read their work, and their blurb means something to you. I know it’s a nerve-wracking experience asking for blurbs, believe me, it makes me sick to my stomach. And it’s not like people haven’t passed before, I’ve had lots of authors say they can’t blurb my novel or collection, it isn’t quite their thing, they aren’t that into it, whatever. Don’t worry about it. Even if you love their writing, don’t expect them to love yours just because you want them to. And second, when giving blurbs, also be honest and sincere. If you have to pass, if you don’t love the book, then just say that, and apologize, and suggest another author. Find a way to do this in a nice way, tell them that you just aren’t a big fan of werewolf stories, or historical romances, but that you wish them the best of luck anyway. Sadly, I’ve had some friends get mad at me, even “defriend” me over my not giving a blurb, but I can’t put my approval on something I don’t think is good, or isn’t what I enjoy reading. What I learned was that he wasn’t really my friend, right? Your word is important, so stand by your convictions.
GO OUT IN PUBLIC
Yes, that’s right, my friend. Turn off the computer and go outside. You won’t melt in the rain, princess. Go to readings, attend conferences, and support your fellow authors when they have release parties, or are on panels. First of all, it’s fun. Have a drink, tell some jokes, dance to some music, learn a few things, and meet new people. These are all great things to do. People will shake your hand, give you a hug, talk about how much they loved your story, and you’ll actually get to know some of these authors, and their friends and families, for real. And I’ll tell you something—they’re a pretty cool group of people. Cement those friendships, talk to agents, ask editors questions, and talk about writing. Or the Chicago Bears. Or whatever interests you. I’ve only been to the AWP conferences, none of the genre ones, sadly, but I always have a great time. I know it sounds stupid, but when you exist in the real world—you exist in the real world. You’ll find that you create bonds with people, they will remember you, and that’s a good thing.
When you are young and having a good hair day, find a friend that can take a picture, or even pay for a professional, and go take a couple hundred shots. And use it for your dust jacket and anywhere else you can. Sure, it’s great to have candid photos of you online, or in promotional materials, but get them done right. I was lucky to have a good friend, John Geiger, take my pictures. He is a professional photographer and did it for free—just a few beers, and I put his name on the credits. But we took over 300 pictures, just to get one that was “perfect.” You’d be surprised how hard it is to get that black leather jacket scowl down just right. And speaking of that, your photo should be representative of who you are as an author. If you write horror, don’t wear pastels and hold a kitten—although, that could be creepy. If you’re a crime writer, while a Fedora and an alley shot may be obvious, it does tie into the image. Just put a little thought into it.
I know this all sounds like a huge pain in the ass, and it is. So just have fun with it. Forget everything I just told you here, and be yourself, across all of your social media, when you go out, and let your writing speak for itself. Just know that if you want to help your name, image and brand along a little bit, some of the previously mentioned items can help you get there a little faster.
I haven't posted up any stories in a long time, so today I wanted to focus on one author, Craig Wallwork. I'm going to link you up to a few of his stories. Both are stories I published a long time ago when I was a guest editor and graphic designer at Colored Chalk. The first is, "The Hole" which was in #6. The second is "Heart and Soul" which was in #9. Check out his books as well, he's one of my favorites authors out there—gritty, surreal, and with an authenticity and emotion that is rare.
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