Author Branding

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This blog post is geared toward writers/authors, but please feel free to read if branding & design talk floats your boat 😉

In all seriousness, I have a lot to say, and I *think* (hope) that it’s fairly useful for writers trying to find their way around the overwhelming task of creating a brand. What is a brand, and why is this all so important? I’m by NO means an expert, but I’ve learned a lot in the last six months.

Simply put, a brand is what your audience (readers) can expect from you. It’s not just your books, or stories, it’s what’s in them, it’s what makes you, YOU. Steven King’s author brand is easy to recognize. You know you’ll get scary, right? What about Jennifer Weiner? Her brand has feminist appeal, plenty of snark, and some heart. Name any well-known author and you can probably see where this is going. Think of musicians, artists, etc. We know what to expect because we recognize their brand.

(Graphic from Pinterest)

There’s a lot of great information online from smarter people than I on the subject. There are people who work on branding for a living. But what I can tell you as someone who has focused on her branding (and refocused after I got it wrong) is that there’s several important steps to consider, and you can’t rush it.

Okay, so brand = what your audience expects from you as a product (your books/writing), right? Think about that further with just one more example.

Nike brand = athletic apparel, sports, work-out, healthy living, kicking ass. Their logo, the infamous swoosh, is beyond simple. Yet you see it, you recognize immediately who it is from.

This isn’t just about smooshing all your branding into one simple symbol, however. It’s about how we use each element of our brand design to create a package that is intriguing, consistent, and genuinely us. Or you, or whatever.

Let me back up for just a minute. I promise to be quick. My first book was published, and my publisher chose a cover (which I liked very much):

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After that I then self-published a few short stories. My covers looked like this all together:

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You can see if you look at them all together that nothing really went. Yes, they all had my name. And perhaps a certain whimsy (for some) but that was really it.

Then, a few months ago I decided I better make a logo and business cards finally. I had been learning bits here and there about branding, and I knew I needed to get something set. I was dreading it because as much as I do enjoy creative design, art, etc., it was SO overwhelming narrowing down what I wanted. I went with something that I thought fit my “brand” of work- writing that is emotionally-charged, lyrical, simple-whimsical, and overall feminine in style.

Now that might still be confusing, but you know when you pick up one of my books you’re probably not going to get sparse, stark language, much violence, horror, or fast-action scenes. You will probably get slightly poetic descriptions, hopeful endings (in general), character-driven stories that often use flowers, nature, beauty, and a hint of magic (for most). Now, my branding is probably harder than some other authors because I write cross-genre. I have to create consistent branding between my poetry, my fantasy (both YA and adult), and my Women’s Fiction (one novel, and a short story collection). I totally lean toward fantasy writing, because it’s where my passion lies, but I can’t say ALL my stories contain elements of magic, so I have to do my best. It’s even more of a challenge when you consider my audience. I might have fans of my Women’s Fiction who HATE poetry. Every time I post a poem on social media, I risk them unliking my page (and therefore losing valuable marketing and visibility), for one example.

Anywho, it’s harder to create consistent branding in that case, but not impossible.

I read a fantastically helpful article about branding covers, and I want you all to go read it right now. Go ahead. Please.

Okay, now that you have, is it making more sense? After reading that I looked at all my covers, and was like ruh-roh. It looked like books/stories from four different authors! Truth be told, I’m still working on updating covers. But, after tweaking font, images, and other details, so far…

Can you see where the covers I am set with (so far) are all looking more cohesive? And do you catch the hint of whimsy, magic, femininity, lyricism in them? It’s okay that the colors vary because the most important thing here to me is the style & feel. 

I wasn’t done yet, however (still am not) because I still had my logo to contend with. As beautiful as it was, really, and as much time as I spent on it—I literally placed those floral elements piece by freaking piece—it wasn’t quite ME. I could go off on a whole tangent here about knowing yourself, and even at 34 I’m still figuring out my style and who I am, but I’ll just say not to rush it. Really decide when you’re looking at something if you just find it beautiful OR if it really represents you. It could be clothes, or home décor, or design, or anything else. Is it something you admire or something that truly speaks to you?

I went from this

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to a much cleaner, simpler this

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I’m so much happier with it. It feels like a breath of fresh air. My logo and branding is starting to really reflect who I am. I’m using this to make all kinds of decisions in my life and home, even. My wardrobe is a mostly-neutral set of black, gray, white, cream, with a hint of blush or lavender. It’s what I’m comfortable in. My home is eclectic but I’m finding much more peace in more minimalistic décor. I like things to be pretty, but not fussy. Feminine but not fluffy. Simple but not stark. Check out

My Author Brand Aesthetic Board

And my Instagram feed is reflecting this all, too:

And it’s definitely not accidental. I’ve worked really hard to be consistent, and the result is something that makes me happy every time I see it. It’s me, it’s my brand, it’s my work, my hopes, all rolled together.

Some of you may not be published authors yet, or you haven’t started really figuring out your brand. You may not have book covers to design, or Instagram feeds to curate. You may think this is too much work, and that I have no clue what I’m talking about. Eek. But the sooner you can get comfortable with your brand I promise the easier it will be. Who are YOU? What kind of work do you want to create? What do you want just the sight of your logo to say to future readers?

Simple ways to start:

  1. Think of 3 keywords that describe your writing. If you have trouble with this ask beta readers, friends, critique partners, etc. I polled people on my author Facebook page awhile back. There were several keywords that were repeated. This helped me focus in on what my readers see. But you also have to keep in mind what you want. Perhaps you only write cozy mysteries but you want to venture into erotic romance. You’ll need to design around the future of your work.
  2. Look at other branding boards. Seriously, just hop on Pinterest, search “brand design” and see how well people pull all the elements together. Save the ones that speak to you. Are you drawn toward funky, colorful branding? Soft, floral? Bold, simple? You’ll start to see a pattern of what draws you in.
  3. Pick a color palette you love. Not just colors you love, but a palette that works well together, and is soothing to you. That doesn’t mean bold colors are out, by any means! But pick colors that feel good to you deep down. If you wouldn’t wear them, or decorate your home in them, then you probably don’t’ really love them. Choose no more than six colors. Mine? Charcoal gray, soft white, muted sage, lavender-gray, blush pink, black.
  4. Look at logo designs. Again, save some that inspire you. What kind of fonts do you like? What don’t you like? What shapes are you drawn to? What elements?
  5. Check out your favorite authors books. Do their covers have anything in common? What is it about them that you like?
  6. Save images, photos, greeting cards, scraps of fabric, or anything else to a mood board for inspiration. If your brand is truly reflective of you as a writer, then the mood board doesn’t just exist as a way to design your brand, but as an inspiration for your work! If you like, do this digitally on Pinterest.
  7. Seek professional help, if you have the means. I did not, so I made my own.
  8. If you make your own logo, cards, etc. there are several great resources. I purchased images from Creative Market, got free ones from Pixaby, and then used Canva to create my logo for no cost. I paid for some of my book images, but others were free stock photos. I used Zazzle to make cards.
  9. Try to expand your branding design to beyond just business cards, logos, or book covers. Don’t neglect your website, your social media headers, your author headshot, bookmarks, and even giveaway packaging. Even the way you wrap books to ship them to lucky readers who win your books should reflect your design. I haven’t yet, but I plan to purchase birch-paper wrapping paper, and lavender-gray ribbon to wrap mine in. See how that just fits right in? 🙂 
  10. Finally, take your time. It can be easy to rush into it, because yes it’s kind of fun. But I spent HOURS working on my busy floral logo, printing 200 business cards, and making headers, only to find it wasn’t ME. So first, get to know who you are, take time with yourself, and your desires.

That was really long, but I hope informative! Please comment below and let me know where you are at with branding. I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks!

Amanda 

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Character Illustration: Aya 

I recieved the sweetest character illustration of Aya Haven from Witch Lessons by nataliaillustrations on Instagram. It is absolutely perfect. I can’t explain how cool it is as a writer to see my character come to life! 

To read my Instagram post, click here

Have a great week! 

Fan Art!

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Hi guys! So I’m geekily excited to share my first fan art from a friend (and reader) Jamie McLachlan.  I randomly drew one of her characters last week after a looong drawing hiatus, and she was so sweet to draw one of my characters in return! She recently helped edit With Lessons (still out with literary agents woohoo!) and this is how she imagined Thalia, the love interest of one of my protagonists Aya. Isn’t it good? I love the eyes– so intense– just like Thalia!

Don’t forget, too, if you follow me on Instagram and want to create any of your own fan art for me, use the hashtag #amandalinsmeiergiveaway to enter to win a sgned copy of one of my books. There’s more details in my giveaway post. Ends in a few days so get on that 🙂 I’ll be back later with a book review, and more this week.

Have a great Sunday.

 

 

Background Noise & Writing

I think writers fall into two camps when it comes to background noise. Those who are adamantly for it. And those who are just as adamantly against it. I fall into the former category. I’m also the type of person who prefers falling asleep with a fan, or the sound of rain, or white noise (connection? I think perhaps). When things are too quiet, I tend to overthink, or my mind wanders places it really doesn’t need to go (thank you, Anxiety).

Pre-kid-crazy-life, I used to write in coffee shops, because I loved the hustle and bustle, the clamor of coffee machines, spoons, and chit-chat from strangers. Nowadays, I write from home and I usually have music playing quietly in the background as I write. Sometimes I have a movie playing, which connects somehow to the story I’m writing. When I work on fantasy, I like to have something like Harry Potter on, for example. I don’t necessarily watch it other than to drift my eyes up every now and again if I’m stuck. It’s just there for comfort. To set the mood.

Back to music, though. When I was writing Ditch Flowers I made a playlist that would help get me into the mindset I needed to be in, and would help me to keep my mind on task. If I would get distracted from the story, there was the music going on to help pull me back in. My brain was going, “Oh, right. I hear music. This song. It is here to set the scene. Of the novel I’m trying to write. Back to it!”

When I wrote Ditch Flowers, I had a thoughtful, emotional soundtrack of songs, including “Grey Street” by Dave Matthews Band, and “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles. My current favorite playlist is for when I write fantasy and fabulism. It’s got F.K.A. Twigs, Solange, tons of Florence + the Machine (also on my Ditch Flowers list), Alessia Cara, Ryn Weaver, and more. My Witch Lessons playlist contains 50% groovy songs, as part of the story takes place in 1971, and the other half sexy, moody, witchy music. Rod Stewart? Check. The Doors? Check. Gladys Knight & The Pips? Check. There’s also Mazzy Star, Annie Lennox, Sia, Odessa, Grace, The Weeknd, and Amy Winehouse on the list. Hey, I never said my music taste wasn’t eclectic.

If you’re a writer who enjoys background noise, consider making a soundtrack to set the mood to your story. Sometimes if you’re stuck, and/or not even writing, just playing it while you’re doing other activities can help to spark some inspiration. A fun bonus? You could burn copies onto CDs and give them out as prizes for your book launch or other giveaways! (Am I stuck in the 90’s a bit, or is this still a sweet idea?)

Weigh in- are you pro-noise or no-noise when you write?

 

 

When You Need a Break

Sometimes, you just need a break.

I’m actually not even there right now. My writing is flowing, my Ideas are going off like tiny firecrackers in my brain. The words are being written, and regularly. Thank goodness! No block for me.

However.

However, I have been there. Sometimes you are sick, or exhausted (mentally or physically). Sometimes you’re emotionally spent. Sometimes, you just need to step back from your work and recharge your batteries. Sometimes you need to stop for a day, a week, or even a month.

It’s okay.

The world is not going to fall off its axis if you stop writing, or painting, or dancing, (so on and so forth) for a brief amount of time.

Do not feel guilty. A break is not the same as quitting. A break is brief, temporary. (Is anyone else yelling ‘We were on a BREAK!’ in their head right now???)

If you need to take a short hiatus, there are still things you can do to remain creative. Taking a break, we’ll just say from writing from here on out in the post, does not mean you have to stop thinking about writing as well as physically getting the words on paper.

No.

You can still create, you can even have FUN! While taking care of you, and removing yourself a little from your writing, great things can still occur, and those great things can lead to amazing stories once you’re ready to get back to work.

If you just can’t write at this very moment, then why not try something else that will further your story, such as:

-Character sketches: I don’t mean literal sketches with a pencil or whatever, although that’s cool too, but making lists or brainstorming ideas about your characters. They don’t have to be related to the plot, or issues you’re having with the writing, or anything else. Simply asking yourself interesting questions about your characters can keep your brain busy and your creativity there with you. What’s your protagonist’s favorite dessert? Weird quirk? Hygiene habits? What about your antagonist? What are they afraid of? What’s their favorite song? Who do they love?

-Inspiration Board: Being a visual person, I love to SEE ideas all laid out, whether that’s on Pinterest or on a vision board, generally with a theme or connecting feeling. You can make boards with appealing images online, or you can go old school, grab a pair of scissors and some magazines, and start cutting. Find images that speak to you. They can relate to your writing, and you could make an entire board just on a potential novel or story. Or, you can simply make a board that speaks to you as a person, as a writer. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It only has to make you feel.

-Music: I love music. I make soundtracks for my stories, at least the long ones. I have a fabulism/fantasy soundtrack. Writing with music keeps my brain buzzing with ideas, or at least, that’s what I’ve told myself all these years. If you want to take a step back from writing (again, just temporarily), then you can still create—make a playlist for your stories! Or make a list of songs for your individual characters. Explore new musicians. Go to concerts. Dance. Sing. It is all good.

-Movies: Sometimes all you want to do is curl up on the couch in your LuLaRoe buttery-soft leggings and binge-watch your favorite movies and TV shows. Junk food optional. (But is it really?). Go for it. It might seem like it’s almost mindless to watch movies or television, as though you shut off your brain in order to suspend disbelief, and to escape reality, but even if you are, and even if you’ve seen said movies hundreds of times (like me with my favs) it is still stimulating to watch actors, dressed up, acting out fake realities. You can still cultivate new ideas this way. And you can do it while vegging in an ice-cream stupor.

-Exercise: Yeah. I’m not one of those people who love to work out. I generally dread it. Afterwards, though, I feel pretty damn good. When you crank up some music and start running, or walking, or settle into your favorite yoga pose a part of you shuts off, and you have to really focus on what you’re doing. It’s quiet. It’s calm, even if you have pop music blaring in the background. With that kind of clarity can come creative bursts. Just try walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes and see if your mind begins to wander. And, FYI, if you didn’t already know, mind-wandering is a really good thing.

-Nature: This ties in a little to the point above. Sometimes when you are on a break from writing, the best thing to do is reconnect with the outdoors. If you like to garden, get your hands in the dirt. If you like to hike, lace up your boots. I’m not an “active” outdoors person, in that I’d rather sit and sip a cold drink in a hammock in the warm breeze than dig up shrubs. To me, nature is relaxing, beautiful, calming. When I get outside, and really look around I usually always come up with some interesting thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts lead to stories.

-Reading: I think the best thing you can do when taking time away from your writing is to read. Simple.

Besides those things mentioned above, if you have a little time to fill up your regular writing hours, it never hurts to do things with loved ones, to work on your other hobbies, to make good food, to sleep. Fill up your extra hours any way you like. Just don’t forget to get back to the page. It probably already misses you.

Thanks for reading!

 

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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One day at work I was walking past a cart of new BCD (Books on CD) and saw Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’d read Eat, Pray, Love probably around the time it came out and became a huge Bestseller, and I also read The Signature of All Things. Since I’d enjoyed both of those books (Eat, Pray, Love more so than the other) and I loved the description of Big Magic, I picked it up right away, and listened to it every day during my commute until it was through. Being only 4 discs long, and taking just 5 hours of time, it was a fast listen!

Big Magic was eye-opening, brilliant at times, and very timely for me. As many of you know I’ve been having a wonderful creative surge the last couple of months, and I really feel in love with the art of writing. In Big Magic, Gilbert talks about living a creative life. She talks about how to be playful, joyful, how to not take yourself or your art so seriously, about how to put yourself and your words (or other art forms) out into the world, how to take risks, how to love what you do. One of my favorite things she said was that the universe hides jewels inside each of us. It is our job to unearth those jewels.

Another thing that stuck out was the idea that we should be putting our books, stories, and our work out there. That it does nobody any good to have it lying around hidden forever. A perpetual fear I have is of leaving this world behind with a computer full of things that nobody will ever read. I’m working harder to get things submitted traditionally, and published indie, in part because of this. We, as writers, or creators, can get so stuck on perfection, or fear, that we miss opportunities, and we deprive others of our joy. It doesn’t mean you have to send out subpar stuff, but let’s face it—the work will NEVER be published if you’re waiting for perfection. There will always be something to fix, or something you wish you’d done differently. Get proofreaders, find beta readers, edit, revise, and then for goodness sake, get out of your own way and let it be born. Are there things in my stories that even now make me cringe? Yes. But, a slightly imperfect novel is better than no novel at all, in Gilbert’s opinion, and now mine as well. You can, and should, always try to improve yourself, and your work. However, do not mistake improvement for perfection.

The most fascinating part of Big Magic, besides listening to Gilbert talk about her own process and evolution of success, was the idea that IDEAS just want to be made manifest. That they are actually things with energy, with will, and that if you choose not to make a project, it will move on to someone else. The part where she talks about how her Amazon jungle novel fell out of her head into her friend’s actually gave me chills. So neat. Ideas are looking for partners to collaborate with. They will find creators. Sometimes you will want the Idea that comes, and other times, it may not be the best fit. Gilbert suggests being polite, gracious, and even thanking your Ideas aloud, whether you accept their proposition or not. I love this idea. In fact, I’ve started doing it in my own life. “Thank you, for coming to me. Please, stick around for a while until I get this story figured out. I really appreciate it.”

If you’re looking for a quick read or listen, give Big Magic a try. Gilbert has a pleasant voice if you’re going with audiobook, and I think there would be something in there for everyone, writers or otherwise. This book got me thinking, it made me feel, and more than once, it made me say YES! 5 stars for this book. Check it out here.

 

 

Ideas Do Return

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I want to confess something:

In the last week, I began to fear I was done. I thought my well of ideas was all dried up. I thought I would never have another new idea.

Now, these were just glimpses of fear, just hints of anxiety. But still, they were there in the darkest corners of my mind. More than once, I had to shove these thoughts aside.

And it was ridiculous. It has only been a week since I wrote a new story (a story I really love, I might add). Only a week! Actually, it was less than a week. However, for some reason in the span of a few days, my mind went quiet. This could have been because I was hard at work in a different way—editing my witch novel—in fact, I’ll bet anything that the ideas coming toward me just slowed, to make room, to make time for me to work on the big editing project I’m in the midst of, so as not to overwhelm me.

You see, I’m trying something new. To backtrack just a bit, I’ll explain that I started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic on audiobook last week, and I think it is brilliant so far. You might know Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love, or The Signature of All Things, but Big Magic is all about the process of creativity, and living a creative, fulfilled life. And it is fabulous, and makes so much sense. One thing she talks about is that we should try to think of ideas as actual forces, as beings, almost like people. When they come to us, we should thank them (if we are so inclined to accept their proposition) and so that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been thinking of my ideas as separate beings, with energy, with thought. Sound kooky? I don’t care. It’s been liberating. I am welcoming the ideas to me, and thanking for being in my life. It’s similar to thanking God, or the Universe, or whatever, for your blessings. Being grateful, and having gratitude is a huge factor for having a positive experience in this life. Simply the act of writing down a few postives each day makes you happier, so they say.

If ya’ll recall I had an epiphany recently, about the kind of stories I want to create, and the kind of writer I really am, and since that epiphany, I was almost overwhelmed with new ideas, writing several new short stories in a very small amount of time. Instead of thinking of it as a muse nowadays, I think of it as an Idea. Capital. A force that won’t leave me alone. Except, you know, when it leaves me alone.

And the last few days, that is what happened. The Ideas around me quieted, to allow me to focus on my revision. Thank goodness they did, because I really did get so much accomplished (in fact, I’ll be ready to query Witch Lessons soon!). But, it did leave me worried, and I admit even to myself that I briefly thought the Ideas would not return. What if I ran out of Ideas? What if I never had another Idea come to me again?

I should not have worried, and you shouldn’t either. When they come to you, thank your Ideas, as Elizabeth Gilbert suggests. When they leave, let them go willingly. They will be back. They will, if you work hard, and welcome them.

This morning, fresh from a good night’s sleep, and a successful night of editing, I was flooded with so many new Ideas I needed to grab a pen and paper so I wouldn’t forget what was coming to me—what was coming through me. I jotted the Ideas down as swiftly as I could, and then afterwards counted. Six. Six new Ideas. And these aren’t just six new titles, or six new images. These are six new stories that came to me almost fully formed. Of course, I’ll still have to work for them. Of course, I’ll still have to bust my butt for some of it. But the bones are there, the plot, the structure, the characters.

I am not lucky, in that this is not something that can’t happen to everyone. It is. I fully believe that. To create what wants to be created is not something that you have to reach for, at least not all the time. Sometimes, yes, the Ideas are stubborn, or you don’t pay them enough mind, and as Big Magic says, they get sick of waiting around for you, and move on to someone else. However, a lot of the time (and I mean, A LOT), they are there, and you just need to listen. Be grateful when they arrive, be grateful that they’ve come to visit. Know that it is fleeting, and someday, they’ll be gone. But there will always be new Ideas who come to you, if you have dedicated yourself to creative living. Gilbert is right (and I can’t wait to finish her book so I can hear more)—this is magic. Creating is the best magic there is.

Now, I’m off to re-read the new short story I just wrote. It is 1,500 rough words, of a story that wanted to be born so badly it stopped me in my steps this morning, forced me to find a pen and paper, and passed everything it wanted to be to me in just the title: Goldfish Wish. I was simply the conduit for this story, just as I was the conduit for The Peony and the Sun, and Witch Lessons, and Sonja Uncaged, and Briar Rose, and The Maiden and the Maple Tree, and so on, and so forth. I don’t say that to be braggy, and most of you haven’t even heard me mention the majority of those, but they are there, they are written, they are going to be shared with you sooner, rather than later. And they all started the same way: an Idea.

Thank you, Ideas, for visiting me. You’re welcome anytime, but if you hold off while I’m editing, that’s okay, too. I know you’ll come back a different time. And I look forward to it.

And thank you readers. I hope you create something today. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be important. It just has to make you feel.

Good night.

-Amanda