Monday, 29 April 2013

Do authors really need a brand?

I came across a blog post called Discover Your Author’s Brand by Philip Martin. In it, he says that “for an author … [brand] is what people expect when they hear your name attached to a book (or story).” We instantly conjure an image of the author when we hear a (famous) author’s name, not necessarily of their work. And that, according to him, is an author’s brand. He encourages all authors to build their own unique brand.

So should we?

Brand, as a word, instantly sets my teeth on edge. Who wants to be a brand? A household name, perhaps, but brand is for vodka, as the person who originally shared the post pointed out. However, what Martin really wants us to do is to identify ourselves as unique authors. That can only be helpful.

Ask yourself, what makes you special? Among a million authors, how do you stand out? Perhaps you define yourself with your genre. But how many authors there are in your genre? Too many still to make you stand out.

And stand out you must, if you want to sell your books. Ideally – as was pointed out to me – the quality of your work should do it for you. And there are authors for whom things happen that way. Their quality writing wins them awards, readers and publicity. They are given chances to make sure that readers remember them when their next book comes out. The big name authors have built their ‘brands’ like this, gradually, over the years.

What Martin suggests is that authors try to make themselves stand out before they’re famous, while they build their author platform, as a tool for fame. He identifies seven steps for doing that. They’re taken from the advertising world but he has helpfully adapted them to suit authors. The brand's purpose is to make sure that the author, you, stands out among equals.

Assuming you read Martin’s article and decide to build a brand of yourself as an author following his advice, what then? You have to sell the brand, of course. The article doesn’t really tell how you’re supposed to do that. You can write a wonderful creation story, one of the ways of building your brand Martin suggests, but if no one buys it, it’s useless.

The advice Martin offers may have been taken from the advertising world, but how many brands you actually identify by their creation story? I most often remember the design, typography and maybe a slogan – things that aren’t very useful for making a brand of a person.

So should we abandon the idea of a brand?

Not so fast. At the end of his post, Martin sums up by saying that “you can use them to help identify, refine, and present yourself as a writer more clearly to the rest of us.” The idea is that if you know who you are as an author, you can tell it to the rest of us. Very useful.

And where would you do that? Social media comes to mind as the most obvious.

Every profile page you set gives you a limited space where to tell something about yourself. Twitter, for example, allows 140 characters with which to do that. If you know who you are as an author, you can really make those characters count. The same with Google+, where the space offered for a catchy tagline is even shorter. 

And do we make the most of the space given? Write a catchy tagline that instantly profiles us as a 'such and such' author?

No, we don’t. A quick sample of authors I follow on Twitter, established and self-published, shows two kinds of profiles: those that are funny and witty, and those that tell a lot of unnecessary information. Mostly the latter comes from mixing the private and public person. Women, especially, like to identify themselves through their many roles: mother, wife, entrepreneur and writer. Some add hobbies to the list too. There’s nothing wrong with identifying yourself through those things, but they don’t really tell your readers anything about what kind of an author you are. Branding yourself could help you to formulate a consice tagline. You would know what you really need to tell about yourself and what to take away. For example, if you write children’s books, adding the mother part would be essential.

In my brief sample, there were a couple of taglines that might come close to branding. I found the “author of Horror and other stuff”, the “author of funny novels”, and the “itinerant writer of weird fiction.” There were a few who told they were best-selling or award-winning authors. Some were more poetic: “Unveiling unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, & historical secrets.” It's imaginative, but perhaps difficult to relate to, let alone sell.

I checked up a couple of big names too. Joe Abercrombie tells us he’s a “Raconteur, Bon Viveur, Witch King of Nihilism deep in a jaded literary sewer.” And Neil Gaiman can perfectly well tell in his profile that he “will eventually grow up and get a real job. Until then, will keep making things up and writing them down.” We know who he is.

So what does this all boil down to? I think branding may be too much for authors. But knowing your 'brand' yourself is essential. So first, make sure you know who you are and then take a look at all your online profiles. Do they mix private with public? Do they tell more about what kind of a person you are than what kind of an author? And if you want to mix those two, think how you can do it so that it sets you apart from all the others. You have 140 characters, make them count.

And what about my profiles? On Twitter, it’s “independently publishing paranormal and contemporary romances written as Susanna Shore and Hannah Kane.” Not terribly catchy. On G+ it’s “author of contemporary and paranormal romances.” So, obviously, I need to work with those. I may take Martin’s advice. It can only help me if I’m more aware of myself and the author I am.

What about you?

Monday, 22 April 2013

Experimenting with prices

Last weekend, I put Warrior’s Heart on sale. I had contemplated the move for a while, just to see how it goes. The book turned one month at the end of last week, which seemed like a good time to try it. I didn’t want to make the book free, because I have some issues with free books. Mostly, I believe that people who download them don’t really read them – I know I haven’t read all the free books I have, and I don’t actually download them very often. In turn, when they don’t read the books they won’t review them either. So I set the price at $0.99, the lowest Amazon allows, with the hopes that people who spend even that small amount will actually read the book, and hopefully review it as well.

The experiment wasn’t a resounding success. The book moved a bit more than it otherwise would have, but not by much. One reason for it was that I started my sale slightly too late. New books are listed separately for the first month of their publication on Amazon, but it’s probably four full weeks instead of thirty days. Warrior’s Heart had left that list already when the sale began so it didn’t get the extra visibility. Also, I didn’t advertise all that much; I mentioned the sale a couple of times a day on Twitter and once on Google+. I think that I should have listed the sale on one or all of the websites that specialise in advertising books. Link to one was shared in Writer’s Discussion Group on Google+ today – too late for me.

Despite the lack of excitement that my sale was met with, I’ve decided to continue with the experiment. This time, I've priced At Her Boss’s Command at $0.99/£0.77. I may try the site above to advertise the sale; otherwise I’ll just mention it here. In addition, I’ve lowered the prices of the rest of my books too; they’re now all $1.99, for the time being.

This experiment is about low prices. I’ve read arguments for the opposite too; that readers would appreciate books with a higher price tag better. After I’m done with this experiment, I may give that one a go too.

Have you tried different prices for your books? How did it work?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Loud here, loud there

I've learned two things this week. One, that if your flu is bad enough, it's perfectly possible to sleep even though a demolition crew is breaking a concrete floor in the basement below you, and two, that libraries aren't the safe havens of silence they were in my childhood. These two lessons aren't unrelated.

I've had a very unproductive week. Mostly it's because of the aforementioned flu. I've simply been uninterested in anything that might strain my brain in any way. Or maybe because I've been busy extracting the said brain through my nose. Feels like it anyway. And partially it's because of the work being done in the basement of my building. They're renewing the sewage pipes, which means they need to access them first, through a thick layer of concrete. So they're chiselling the floor open; an infernally loud work. Think of a road crew with their huge jackhammers, but indoors.
Not my local library.
Since I've been unable to leave home for most of the week, I've had to endure the noise. Earplugs have been a must. The workmen have begun around seven in the morning, which is very cruel for someone in need of sleep. Luckily, the flu has made me so tired that, with the help of the earplugs, I've been able to sleep soundly. Later in the day, though, even the earplugs haven't been able to block the noise well enough for it not to irritate me, making me unable to work. Making me unable to read too, actually.

Therefore, when I was finally well enough to leave home, I fled to the central library of my town. It's a huge, modern place with many reading corners and study desks all over the building. Turned out, most of them were taken by the time I got there; apparently you have to arrive the first thing in the morning to secure a good place. And it turned out too, that people occupying them didn't really care to give others peace and quiet. There were phones ringing, people having conversations and large groups of teenagers being generally loud. No sign of the rigid adherence to silence I remember from my childhood that made libraries such soothing places. Looking around, I noticed quite a few people wearing earplugs there too. So, I decided that if I had to wear the damn things anyway, I might as well do so at home. Besides, I turned out to be one of the loudest coughers in the library; just because other people vere noisy, didn't mean I felt comfortable doing it.

All of this is to say that the paperback version of Which way to love? isn't ready yet. The kind of detailing the work required was beyond me. The good news is, however, that having been practically idle the whole week, my mind got enough rest to start planning a new book. Now I can't wait to get the paperback done so that I can start writing again. It's going to be another Two-Natured London novel, so my apologies to those who were waiting for the follow up for At Her Boss's Command; that won't happen until the later this year.

Of course, none of this will happen until the blasted work crew stops harassing me with the noise. But it might take another week before they're done. I hope I can make it through.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Same sex romance in mainstream UF

I finished reading J. R. Ward’s Lover at Last over the weekend, the latest in her Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, it follows a group of vampire warriors living in Caldwell New York. Each book is built around a romance of one brother, but since the books are told in the multiple points of view, some storylines are carried on from book to book, allowing them to mature at a slower pace. One of these longer stories has been that of Qhuinn and Blaylock, which has now been brought to a conclusion in Lover at Last.

Gay characters aren’t very common in mainstream romances about heterosexual love, not even in side roles. Urban fantasy romances aren’t an exception, although they seem to have a more relaxed attitude towards the same sex relationships or at least gay sex. In Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series sex isn’t limited to partners of opposite sex and Anita herself has had female partners. However, when it comes to her romantic interests, she maintains a heterosexual norm.

The idea of a gay romance was, therefore, intriguing when J. R. Ward first introduced it at the beginning of the series. That two vampire warriors-in-training might fall in love was a fantastical idea, especially since all the love stories in the books so far had been between huge, brutal warriors and physically very much weaker women, the contrast being played to its fullest. At first, though, it was depicted as one-sided infatuation Blay felt for Qhuinn and it didn't seem to go any further than that. The story didn’t go away, however, mostly because it was so great. But it wasn’t going anywhere fast either. Lover at Last is the eleventh book on the series and the two characters were introduced already in the second book. There were more important characters that needed to have their stories told first, but I’m sure most readers of the series would admit that Qhuinn and Blay were ready to have their story told a couple of books back already.

J. R. Ward may be a ground breaker, but she managed a good job writing a gay romance. She steered away from stereotypes, allowing the two men to be exactly the fierce warriors they are, didn't brush over the sex scenes, and wrote a believable happy ending. Still, I can’t help asking, would she have been able to pull it off if her characters had been human? Would readers of norm romances have accepted gay romance as easily, if Qhinn and Blay had been – say – human soldiers instead of vampire warriors? Since so few mainstream romances dare to introduce gay characters, I’m fairly sure the answer is no. The otherness of vampires and of paranormal elements in general make it easier for readers to accept two men loving each other. And even in the plethora of urban fantasy and paranormal romances, Ward’s book seems to be unique. None of the other UF series I follow have anything similar going on. 

So I guess a thank you for Miss Ward is in order that she didn’t shy away from Qhuinn and Blay's romance, didn't take the easy way out her own story presented and follow the norms of the romantic genre. Who knows, maybe with this opening we’ll see more gay romantic leads in mainstream romances.

You can read my review on the review page.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Creating a paperback

I have four books out and all but one of them is enrolled in KDP Select. Since I'm free to do what I want with the fourth, "Which way to love?", I've taken time out from writing to format it for other marketplaces. First, I thought to make a CreateSpace book of it. Easier said than done.

I thought to make things as simple as possible for me. So I downloaded a preformatted template from CreateSpace. It gave me a good notion what the book is supposed to look like, but in the end I didn't use it after all. There were too many designs in it that I didn't agree with and so ended up wasting a lot of time correcting those to my liking. I needed a simpler way. So I downloaded another template, this one without formatting.

I got a single page that baffled me at first. But it had all I needed: the size of the page, margins and other details I wouldn't have come to think of. So I resized my manuscript to those specifics. But that was only the beginning.

I've spent a couple of days making the book look like I want it to. The cover page took ages to design, even though I used only one font - the same I use throughout - Garamond. The chapter headings were relatively simple to format, but I spent a great deal of time adding drop caps at the beginning of every chapter. I think it gives the book a nice look. After that, there were some detailing in the text itself. The story contains e-mail conversations that I wanted to stand out from the main body of the text and I tried many different fonts for those; Verdana won.

After two days, the book looks mostly like I want it to. It only lacks the page numbers. And those proved to be troublesome. Try as I might, Word starts page numbering from the first page, the title page. I don't want that. Nor do I want page numbers on a couple of subsequent pages. I want the numbering to start with the first chapter. I'm beginning to think that can't be done. If you have suggestions, please, share.

So that's the insides of the book - almost - taken care of. Next up, the cover. I'll let you know how that goes.