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Platform: Branding by the Back Door

By Anne Goodwin

If there’s a demographic for the brand averse, I’m it. As a Brit of the baby-boomer generation, I’ve grown up in a culture that wrinkles its nose at any hint of self-promotion. I’ve felt personally affronted by the privatisation of public services, where passengers become customers and I daren’t even comment on the weather to the person delivering the latest batch of books to my door because, if they don’t complete their around in record time, the contract will go to another company. I’ve been professionally offended by the repeated rebranding of the NHS, leaching funds from patient care into headed paper and signage. Now retired, I’m still affected, as a volunteer for the national park, which has swapped its logo of a millstone with a circular hole in the middle to one with a square, and I’m expected to tramp the moors as a walking advertisement for the outdoor clothing company that’s our current sponsor. And yet.

And yet I’m a writer with small-press published books to promote. I understand an author needs a brand. But because I’m ambivalent, I approach it haphazardly, swinging between living with fingers-in-the-ears indifference to frantic clamouring to board the latest bandwagon – sometimes latest in the sense of newest, sometimes in a sense, it’s already left town – the blogosphere’s been hectoring me about.

And yet, as Charli has so kindly pointed out, I do have a brand. It might not shine and shout as strongly as some brands, I might struggle and blush to articulate it succinctly, but it does exist. And I’ve created it, both consciously and unconsciously, through being me, with all my clumsiness and contradictions. Committed branders should look elsewhere but, for the confused and reluctant, here are a few things I’ve learned.

You can develop your brand at your own pace. I set up my website almost ten years ago and didn’t begin blogging until it was starting to go out of fashion. In my back-to-front way, I joined Twitter a few months later, quaking in my bedroom slippers. Yet I’ve got somewhere.

Something is better than nothing, and you can’t do it all. Yay, you don’t have to be perfect! How many times a day do you have to remind yourself of that? Working meticulously through some version of ten-steps-to-branding might be the most efficient, but if that’s not you, don’t worry. But don’t let it stop you from doing the teeny-tiny bit you can do. Every little bit helps.

You don’t need a personality transplant, and you don’t need to sell your soul. Charli’s expertise in marketing for a non-profit organisation has helped me to see that a brand needn’t espouse the nastier tenets of late capitalism to thrive. Cooperation, compassion, and integrity can be part of a brand; Carrot Ranch providing the perfect object lesson in how these values translate into practice. You can choose how much of your everyday persona goes into your author brand, but you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. While confidence and eloquence are attractive, brashness can be off-putting, and even shrinking violets can sell their books.

Don’t sweat over how others do it. Shall I compare me to a better brander? Alas, there are myriad opportunities for seeing how we fall short. But, when everyone’s circumstances are different, isn’t this like comparing apples and oranges? Notice others’ success in order to celebrate with them, or learn from them, but turn away if it makes your own achievements seem shabby or small. Just because I’m better at giving this advice than following it doesn’t make it any less valid.

Are you a reluctant brander? What strategies have worked for you?

Rough Writer Anne Goodwin’s author brand encompasses grey hair and perhaps the only English accent Americans don’t find cute. Her writing explores identity, marginalisation, mental health, psychology, and attachment. She also has a pronounced intolerance for dodgy fictional therapists.

Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who seeks to resolve a relationship crisis by keeping a woman captive in a cellar, was published in May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of over 80 published short stories. Her short story anthology, Becoming Someone, will be published in November 2018. Catch up on her website: annethology http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/ or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

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Platform is a guest blog to discuss ideas or share tips for building and marketing a writer’s platform.

SPAM Public Service Announcement

We’ve had a blast at the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo, and great guffaws from Little and Laugh thanks to the Real Geoff Le Pard and all who entered his contest. And we’ve had fun with Spammer in Residence, Nanjo Castille. He seems to be having fun, too.

We like humor in the literary arts. We like to share laughs among friends. But let’s have a serious talk about spam for a moment.

According to Askimet, spam is “the underbelly of the web.” By October 30, 2017, Askimet caught its 400 billionth spam comment. If you pay for your Word Press website, you receive this filter. Who knows, maybe the Real Nanjo Castille was number 400,000,000,000.

What is this underbelly, exactly? My own definition is that it’s poor marketing. Spam manipulates the sales technique “the more you ask, the more you sell.” I still shudder at those cold-call nights after I left magazine publishing and sold insurance as an agent. I hated it. I hated picking up the phone, interrupting people’s lives with a sales pitch.

Spam is the same idea based on mass numbers producing more sales, or click-thrus. You see, advertisers pay money to get their ads seen. Nanjo is not really selling purses, or perfume, or dongles, or forklifts.  A spammer wants to lure you to a bogus website. Click. You just became a number. Those numbers add up and shady marketers charge advertisers by those clicks.

Spam can be a nuisance. It can spread disinformation (think of those fake news chain emails telling you to forward to five more people or your guardian angel loses her wings). It can lead to phishing. Spam can include malicious downloads. You can learn more and how to play it safe on the web at Tech Journey.

Authors and bloggers inadvertently become spammers, too. This goes back to the poor marketing practices of cold-calling and interrupting strangers with a sales pitch. It doesn’t work. It’s disingenuous. It robs your time and energy and the recipient’s time and energy (that’s why spam sucks — it’s a thief of time).

However, Nanjo reminds us that even spammers are human (not bots). Writers selling books are human, too. Spammers do what they do, cold-callers do what they do, and book sellers do what they do, all to earn a living. Let’s be frank about that. It can be incredibly difficult these days to earn a living in sales. It’s even more difficult to earn a living as a writer.

Yet, in order to sell, you still have to ask. And it’s hard. Think about this for a moment — what if spamming is easy because we dehumanize ourselves to turn into robot mode buy-my-book-buy-my-book, and it’s not us making the ask, its bot-self making the ask. I know when I made those cold calls, the only way I got through those nights was by turning off internally.

Therefore, good marketing is uncomfortable. It’s only human to feel vulnerable when pitching your idea, book or product to another. As much as you might prefer a technique that allows you to turn off, don’t. You need to engage. You need to understand that rejection isn’t personal, it’s simply that you didn’t reach your right target. Adjust. Aim better. Stay human.

Two attributes of good marketing are work ethic and authenticity. Work ethic means you take the time to build a platform and authenticity means you take the time to match up your product to those who want it.

It’s a simple answer but complex to set up and execute. It takes thought, strategy, pushing through resistance, maintaining confidence when you have doubt, building relationships, understanding channels of distribution, defining and finding your target audience, innovating, gathering feedback, promoting, and understanding what platform and marketing are.

Not so simple, after all. Thus spamming is easier if you can numb yourself to doing it. Instead, let’s be vulnerable, let’s learn and grow and build. As writers. As marketers. Let’s respect each other’s path, our time, and our shared humanity. Let’s laugh. Not at anyone, but in that grand mystical way when humor breaks down barriers and lightens our burdens and illuminates our human foibles.

And above all, let’s reach out to one another through the empowerment of creating literary art.

New Barns Raised at the Ranch

Carrot Ranch is growing. If you look around you might see some gaps and unsightly piles of lumber. Growing can be inelegant. Mud-work, I call it. It always begins by digging in the mud. Soon, I’ll wash off the foundations, nail some clean boards and you’ll see barns taking shape. By the time the barns open you might raise your eyebrows in surprise or kick up your heels in delight.

Think of me as the buckaroo with a hammer in one hand, a writing quill in the other and eternally distracted by migrating birds, ancient bedrock and stories waiting to be caught. I recently commented to another writer that one day my tombstone will read, “…but I haven’t told all the stories, yet.” This made me think I could stash pencils and paper at my grave, inciting visitors to write 99 words. If I were to leave a legacy, that would satisfy me greatly. It’s not the words published, but the hunt for them, and stories never cease.

99 words at a time allows me to write beyond the range of my novels I’ve cultivated for the long trail ride. Yet 99 words also becomes a tool to refine those longer stories, to explore their characters and scenes, to process research. When this Ranch hung its shingle to challenge writers to wrangle 99 words, no more, no less it was to spark creativity and cultivate connections. Out of that beginning grew a literary community.

If you think of writers who enjoy word play or word craft, then literary art is our common ground. Flash fiction became the sandbox for playing with literary art in a constrained and yet open way: 99 words, but according to where a prompt leads each writer. Anytime someone says they didn’t think they stayed with the prompt, I clap! That means someone felt more driven to pursue a creative idea than sticking to a “rule.” Carrot Ranch is a safe place to practice, bend or even break literary rules. It’s exploration. It’s creativity. It’s community.

Coming from rural places and the cooperative industry, I believe in the difference a small and engaged group of people can make. The barns raised at Carrot Ranch are to expand the reach of this literary community, and to build upon the 99 word challenges with new innovations to push creativity and word craft. The barns are also places to house the abundance of writing from those who wrangle words here. What you will notice are changes to pages, new events, a book launch and a Rodeo.

The Ranch schedule remains the same with enhancements:

  • Mondays: Admin day with #MondayBlogs participation on Twitter
  • Tuesdays: Ranch Business/Guest Authors (essay and advanced flash fiction topics follow for 2018)
  • Wednesdays: Weekly Challenge Compilation posts
  • Thursdays: New Flash Fiction Challenge posts

Guest authors can sign up for the 2018 schedule January – September. There are 38 open slots. Essays will continue to include Raw Literature (about the creative process and early creations in writing) and Platform (about marketing tactics for authors or bloggers). A new essay opportunity is to write a Peer Book Review on a fellow Rough Writer (or Friend who joins us in writing at the Ranch).

In 2018, Carrot Ranch will challenge flash fiction writers to push their craft with Advanced Flash Fiction. If you are interested, you can sign up for the 6th Sense Challenge, History Challenge, or Ultimate Flash Fiction Challenge. Each will be explained on an upcoming new page this month (Submissions). If you are interested in being a guest author at Carrot Ranch in 2018, email me at: wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Carrot Ranch will use the remaining 2017 Tuesdays for Ranch Business. We have an exciting season kicking off, which will become yearly:

  • October: Flash Fiction Rodeo (8 contests, 8 first-place prizes, 0 fees) Tuesdays & Thursdays
  • November: First 4 Winners Featured, Anthology Vol. 1 launches, #NaNoWriMo
  • December: Final 4 Winners Featured, Anthology Vol. 1 Book Parties & Blog Tour, #NaNoProMo

If you want to participate in blog sharing, #MondayBlogs is how Carrot Ranch shares other blog posts on Twitter. Each writer who participates in the weekly challenges with blog links have those links embedded in their flash fiction’s title. I share the compilation with your blog links across a broad platform of active Facebook Groups and at the Carrot Ranch Facebook Page.

Weekly Challenges will continue. If you ever get a burning idea for a prompt, leave it in the comments with your story. I might use it to prompt my own blog post that week, too. Facebook decided to change its format, which has hampered how I save stories for the compilation. It’s caused a hiccup during a busy time, but it’s just hiccup. I’m setting up the compilation differently. It won’t appear different, but my process will change.

IMPORTANT: The Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo in October will replace the weekly flash fiction challenges for that month. The last one will be September 28. Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges resume November 2.

I’m excited for the Flash Fiction Rodeo! This is the big show, the one we built the show barn for and it is led by 8 of our own Rough Writers. My first rodeo was at Bolado Park Arena when I was three. After I married, I hung up my riding boots and followed the ink trail.

This might be your first rodeo, but let me tell you it’s going to be a fun and wild ride! Our fearless leaders have events you’ll not expect. This is not your ordinary flash fiction contest. If you’ve never entered a contest before, here are three compelling reasons why you should enter one:

  1. You have 8 contests to choose from (enter one, two or all)!
  2. There are no entry fees (it’s free, and you might win a $25 prize)!
  3. It’s Carrot Ranch & the Rough Writers (you know we don’t bite)!

Next Tuesday we will introduce the Leaders and their Contests. Each Tuesday and Thursday in October (Oct. 5-31) a new contest will debut at Midnight (EST). Each one will have its own set of rules, deadline and platform — some will be at Carrot Ranch, at least one will be on Twitter, and another will use Submittable. Winners will be revealed at Carrot Ranch each Tuesday Nov. 7-Dec. 26. An All-Around Winner from among the eight will be revealed Jan. 2.

In January, we’ll begin development of Vol. 2. The anthology features the writing of The Congress of Rough Writers. On Oct. 3 Carrot Ranch will have a kick-off party for the Rodeo and announce the new inductees to the Rough Writers. If you’ve been writing here and thinking about answering the open call, email your interest to me at: wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

The saw dust will clear and the barns will soon be up! Save the date to celebrate:

 

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Platform: Authenticity Builds Credibility

Essay by Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch and has developed the idea that a writer’s platform is built on branding, credibility, community and target audience.

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Either way, I made a mistake. Either I’ve insulted an individual I do not know, or I could have risked exposing my community to something inauthentic. It’s never easy to be in an a position of public skepticism, but I went with my intuition because I noticed clues of authenticity, or rather, a lack of them.

When it comes to building a writer’s platform, authenticity is key.

As an author, you are your own brand. Some writers choose a pen name and develop a persona around it. This is fine, as long as you remain authentic to that persona. Others use their genre or the topics they like to write to build a brand. Take for instance, my buckaroo brand. At its core is a culture I was born to but left to pursue a career in writing, not riding. I can have fun with my roots and they are authentic. Yet, I also know writers who never sat in a saddle, but pen brilliant historic westerns and wear Stetsons. They could build a buckaroo brand, too. It has to mean something to you, so it can become meaningful to others.

Credibility has many touch points in your writing. The most credible touch point is easily observed by readers — can you write? You won’t make a credible writer if your sentences have nothing to convey. Craft is something every writer has to work on, even the masters. Yet, if you have nothing to say and write in circles, you might be committing a fraud, such as the student in school who didn’t read the book but is trying to give convoluted answers to mask the fact. Topic credibility is important too, and we’ve had discussions before about how authentic our characters should be in their settings or professions or circumstances.

Community trust is paramount to any platform that builds community. Community might be other writers you interact with or they might be part of a platform, such as those who gather at Carrot Ranch. Just like your work community or neighborhood, it’s important to take time to get to know one another and create a space space that honors diversity, exploration and growth. Different communities could be build around shared interests, activities or goals. Whatever the driver, the community trust is also governed by authenticity.

A writer’s target audience is different from the community (although some readers may decide to interact at the community level). Readers want to know their authors are real people (or personas) and observing community interaction, knowing the author’s brand and credibility are all important factors. The writer also needs to understand who is most likely to read, and create a platform that attracts or seeks a target audience. For example, if an author builds a brand around cute kittens but wants to publish political thrillers, chances are the platform won’t support the product. That’s why readers need to be considered even if they are not yet part of the mix.

I thought about the authenticity of these platform components as I prepared to post a submitted article. Someone responded to my ranch email, offering to write an article like the brilliant Writing is Water essay by Kerry E. B. Black. It was a curiosity when the actual article arrived and was not about Raw Literature but was an interesting piece on the importance of niche. I skimmed it quickly to see it was better suited as a platform guest post. I didn’t give it a deep read, something I should have done before saying. “Yep!”

I couldn’t say what, but the whole thing seemed off kilter.

As I prepared to set up the piece, and link to the author’s bio, I went over to his website to discover it wasn’t a blog but a writing business. It was a professional looking site with high quality graphics and a call center. Whoa. Wait. A call center? I began to read through it carefully. It was fairly well written, marketing to students and professionals to write essays and articles, and the first sentence I tripped over was the one proclaiming the writers were native English speakers except it was constructed in a way that was clearly not written by a native English writer. Don’t proclaim to be one thing and expose yourself as the opposite.

If you are an expert, great! But as The Hub says, if not, don’t dress up in a suit and tie and get on YouTube and make a donkey of yourself. If you are not a writer don’t be selling writing services. And if you are a student or a professional, don’t be paying a service to write your school essays or reports you are paid to write. Inauthentic! And it doesn’t sit well with me that I almost posted an article to my community by someone who abuses authenticity to profit. I could be wrong, but when I did a deeper read, the article was about a great topic but actually said nothing compelling and had several questionable errors from a writing service expert.

So! Here I am, guesting today on my own blog instead of posing the article intended. My apologies if I’ve offended the submitter who will remain anonymous (and I doubt the person is known to anyone here). And not to scare off any future guest posters, but hey — submit something authentic! That means, be you, write in your own voice and select a topic that is meaningful to share. We post wide ranges of writing and topics, so unless you are scamming the system, submit away!

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Platform is a series that discusses the balance between craft and creation. It’s a writer’s sum total of visibility comprised of branding, community, credibility and target audience. An author markets product (books, blog, podcasts, workshops) from a platform. This series offers tips from experienced authors, publishers and marketers specific to all writers interested in building a platform and selling books and related products. If you have an article to share with the community of writers at Carrot Ranch, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Platform: Branding Yourself as a Writer

Article by Ruchira Khanna, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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Branding!

It’s everywhere.

Rolex, Nestle, Audi, Coach, Tommy Filger, Hanes, Revlon, Prada, Bentley, GE, Kenmore, Maytag, Toyota, Mercedes, and the list goes on…

In fact, companies decide on a product, a brand logo and then go on about manufacturing their product. Such is the importance of a name and logo.

As a manufacturer, a brand is a window for him to peep outside and get noticed by consumers as he advertises his product on his website or a social media outlet, such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Branding just doesn’t happen; it has to be thought about and well planned since ultimately that’s how the consumers will picture you.

Some useful advantages for having a brand are:

  • It helps give you a platform for ease, reliability and a recognition of what you stand for once you vouch for it, with ardor and passion.
  • Branding can put you in the limelight by setting you apart from the crowd that has that same product. You are given a stage where you can continue to exhibit your passion to thousands or millions of like-minded people who agree with the formation of your goods created.
  • Your brand once showcased well, can bring like-minded people together who would love to use your product, thus broadening your consumership.
  • Depending on your brand and the inspiration it can draw to your buyers. It can help motivate them and assist them to reach out high goals in their lives via the incentive of your A-rated product.
  • If your brand has been able to create a good and loyal consumership, chances are they will recommend your work to others while you just continue to be in the production line.
  • A strong brand will give a vision to the users on what to expect while easing the stress of the brand owner as he/she has been able to reproduce it with each production.
  • If you stick to your brand. If you are loyal to your brand, chances are your consumers will also be loyal to you!
  • This is your brand and your promise that you keep production after production. Thus, keeping your promise to your customers.
  • Creating a brand not only helps create loyal consumers, but also helps the producer to stay focused on his/her goal of creating best product to sustain the reputation of the brand name.
  • Once your feet are soaked in your brand, it will help you connect with your consumers on all levels as they have gotten used to using your name.

Aha! The importance of branding.

It helps differentiate the goods and services from other sellers while clearly delivering the message while confirming your credibility thus, creating user loyalty over time as your solid brand is motivating buyers to purchase the product.

This same fundamental applies to a serious writer who wants to succeed: branding himself to get recognition and be able to eventually sell books.

A writer has to analyze his write-ups and the subjects he is passionate to write about. He has to ponder over the kind of stories he likes to tell, narrate or serve to his readers. Eventually, that will help him attract the kind of readers that love to read such topics.

Typically genre comes first, and branding follows that. The brand has to exist within the genre the writer pens his words.

Some examples could be: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a writer of a fictional genre, but it revolves around detective/mystery. He gave birth to Sherlock Holmes in his write ups that are still looked upon. Could brand this author as a “The detective writer.”

Nora Roberts published her first book in 1981, and since then she has not turned back. Thanks to her 594K followers she has been nicknamed by The New Yorker as, ” America’s favorite novelist.”

Although she would be branded under, “The romance writer.”

As a writer/author decides upon the theme of his book before penning it down. Have a certain topic in mind prior to penciling it down. Frame your characters and plot if planning to write fiction or a subject relevant to the theme if working on non-fiction. Climb the ladder gradually of plotting and scheming as you cling onto the topic of the book. Towards the end when you have published that work, you will be representing that particular brand.

For instance: “The ——– writer.”

The dash could fill in romantic, mysterious, inspirational, dramatic, comic, lover of life, etc.

After branding yourself; making your own website and showcase your brand by publicizing over the media.

“The adventurous writer” will be easily remembered and when searched upon, like-minded readers will be able to connect the dots via the author/writer’s website, and that would result in clicks on your book links, and voila! you have readers craving for that brand by following it with as much passion as you the writer continues to pen down words fervently.

Once a name has been established thanks to the various social media outlets, with a respectable number of readership; the chances are that along with the readers, a literary agent, and a reputed publishing house could also get drawn to your charismatic brand name.

Aha! The journey that unfolds when a writer decides upon a particular brand name! No doubt there is sweat, dedication, passion and lots of marketing involved from the writer/author.

But, in the end, it is all worth it!

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Ruchira Khanna is just another soul trying to make a difference in this lifetime by juggling between her passion and responsibilities. A Biochemist turned Writer who draws inspiration from various sources and tries to pen them down to create awareness within her and the society. She’s the author of Choices, Voyagers into the Unknown, and a children’s book, The Mystery of the Missing Iguana. Ruchira has published her latest fiction-drama novel titled, Breathing Two Worlds available on amazon world-wide.

Author Website

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

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Platform is a series that discusses the balance between craft and creation. It’s a writer’s sum total of visibility comprised of branding, community, credibility and target audience. An author markets product (books, blog, podcasts, workshops) from a platform. This series offers tips from experienced authors, publishers and marketers specific to all writers interested in building a platform and selling books and related products. If you have an article to share with the community of writers at Carrot Ranch, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

New Territory

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Carrot Ranch is entering new territory. And it’s a beautiful view!

First of all, prompts shift to Thursday (Friday for those opposite the earth clock from Mars, Utah). The November 17 prompt will be an extended one to stretch across the Thanksgiving holiday in the states. Mostly, because my daughter surprised me with getting time off from work and flying to Las Vegas from Montana. This is a woman who rarely takes time off unless it’s to raft a crazy river, go bow hunting or sailing Flathead Lake. I’m beyond thrilled!

As I informed all the ranchers who gather here, November is my NaNoRanCho planning and reflecting period. The shift to a Thursday flash fiction challenge is part of that. The deadline will continue to be the following Tuesday, which gives me a day for compiling. You might not realize it, but I give thought to the order. Sometimes I don’t see patterns and I follow a general “as submitted” order. Most times, though, interesting patterns emerge that I feel make a stronger statement in a certain order. Or sometimes I break up seriousness with unexpected humor (or the other way around). I immensely enjoy the finished collective product and want to have that extra time to shape it. The compilation will post on Wednesdays.

When the deadline day arrives for the previous flash fiction challenge, Carrot Ranch is going to use Tuesdays to be a regular profile or guest post. This space is to reflect upon the importance of literature from one writer’s perspective. A profile is a post in which I interview a writer and write the post. A guest post is one a writer writes. The theme is like a prompt: what value does literature have within the constraint of a story you want to tell (or I want to tell if I interview you). With this post-election reality, I see more than ever how important literature is to crafting empathy for other; telling the story from multiple or opposing perspectives; developing critical thinking; experiencing literary creativity; starting a dialog. I’m sure you can add to that list, and all interested in submitting or interviewing can take flexibility to include your own writing projects or books.

Coming in 2017, Mondays are for marketing tips. I’m partnering with another social media group to post brief tips to encourage the group’s writers to submit their work or build their platform. Some of you might know I have a specific idea of what a writer’s platform is: branding, community, credibility, target audience. This is based om my experience in marketing and what I’ve learned about the writing industry. I do not believe there is one way to build a platform. However, I do believe writers need to make informed decisions. My goal is to create an hub of information at Carrot Ranch to empower writers to feel confident in their marketing and platform building tactics. I will work with industry experts to post articles and I’ll introduce each post to explain which of the four components the guest is addressing. This is appropriate space for any blog tours for new books, if the author talks about his or her own platform or marketing strategies.

December will continue development of Carrot Ranch as a non-profit and our first anthology. The current Rough Writers are those who have prior material that we are including in the anthology along with exciting new works from several of our writers. Anthologies will continue to build upon the flash fiction we develop here, but they are more developed and reflective than a simple collection of what we write each week. We can grow this in many ways because it is a group effort. Sarah Brentyn has done an amazing job of developing this first one. As a non-profit, Carrot Ranch will also seek anyone committed to serve as a board director. More on that later, but be thinking about it if you are interested in being a part of a grass-roots organization that supports literary writers through flash fiction and marketing support.

Currently, I’m developing questions for my consultant who is helping me create a survey that shows what kind of platform builder an individual writer is. You can help me by asking me questions you have in regards to one of the four categories: branding, community, credibility or target audience (ask in the comments). This survey will be free for all writers and the intent is to generate a graph that shows each person his or her strengths or gaps in platform building. An e-book companion (for purchase) will then break down each component and show how a writer can either maximize strengths or bridge gaps. You’ll never be confused by a marketing post or book again once you learn to identify which component it relates to. Instead of reading books that seem at odds or discourage you as a writer, you can decide if it’s the right message or strategy for you.

So that’s my NaNoRanCho report thus far. I hope you are interested in taking part in the guest post (or interview) opportunities. I will also have a schedule for times (like this next week) where I would welcome a challenge host. You’ll get to create the prompt, write the challenge post, read and engage with participants, and compile the responses. If you are excited to be a part of the Carrot Ranch community as a rancher, email me at wordsforpeople@gmail.com. Rough Writers are selected from regular participants for each anthology and we are still at book one. Hang with us and you might be a Rough Writer in the future. You are always a rancher her at the ranch when you read, write or dialog and that’s why we say, Rough Writers & Friends. Thank you for being here!

PHOTO NOTE: This is the backside of West Temple at Zion National Park. On the other side of that sandstone feature, which is almost 8,000 feet in elevation, is Zion Canyon. It is surreal to have access to the backside of a place that attracts over 10,000 people a day in the height of season. It’s a sketchy road that climbs three layers of mesas. This flat reveals an ancient history. Stay tuned for the next flash fiction challenge.

#LinkYourLife Roundup Challenge

linkyourlifeWelcome to the first community #LinkYourLife Roundup Challenge. The roundup is a cooperative collection of links from the “LinkYourLife community online. The challenge is open for any member of this community to host. If you would like to know more about the #LinkYourLife movement to connect and share through several online connections, see Shawna Ayoub Ainslie’s post on how “We Are Better Together.

Connecting with other writers online in meaningful ways offers personal satisfaction and broadens your writing platform’s community reach.

The idea is that as writers we can encourage one another in our journey and form more lasting social media connections. This aligns with our purpose at Carrot Ranch. Here we are a dynamic literary community online for those practicing craft, reading stories and discussing process. We host our own flash fiction challenge each week based on a prompt and constrained by 99 words, no more, no less.

My hope is that our local writing community at Carrot Ranch will discover the #LinkYourLife movement, and that the LYL community will join us in adding to the diverse lens of literary fiction. Both places are safe environments to share one’s writing, voice and stories. Furthermore, Carrot Ranch believes in the power of literature to reach beyond what we know and experience, thus broadening our impact and influence on readers who can gain empathy and perspective through engaging fiction.

The following are blog posts, essays and articles shared by writers from the #LinkYourLife community.

Austin Hodges (@Austin_Hodgens) reflects on his favorite film to reminds us that no man is a failure who has friends. Such a man can also get help with getting the right new jacket (be sure to say how fine it looks). Austin writes:

“How can that finale not tug on your heartstrings?  For a Hopeless Romantic like me, Modern Philosophers, It’s A Wonderful Life is a perfect movie.” Read more at Friends Can Make It a Wonderful Life.

Thomas Ives (@BestowingFire) shares an earlier post on the influences of harsh issues in the news that can trigger depression and anxiety. He offers positive counterpoints and writes:

“I will not let the chaos of the world stop me from bringing light into someone else’s darkness. So here are four things that can be done to create positive change.” Read more at 4Ways to Create Positive Change.

Olisha Charles (@divine_things) offers a glimpse into a romantic encounter, delicious with details. She writes:

“A raindrop splattered across my face and interrupted my thoughts as I realized in my hurry I forgot to grab my Leopard print umbrella as I ran out the door. Nevertheless that night was going to be a good night.” Read more at His Diamond in the Rough.

Shareen Mansfield (@ShareenM) publisher and creator of Open Thought Vortex (OTV) magazine, has been exploring identity in October, hosting many guest writers. She shares an essay by one of her writers, Stacia Fleegal (@ShapeShifter43):

“Hi, I’m Stacia, and I tell self-deprecating jokes when I’m profoundly uncomfortable because someone has matter-of-factly pointed out that what I thought I knew about myself, I might not really know at all, and I’m possibly in the throes of a full-fledged, trauma-induced identity crisis.” Read more at Know Thyself. Ok, But How?

Habibi Habibi (@Amina_Berg) explores the silence and solitude to connect with the self. She shares the wisdom gained with experience in getting to know herself better. She writes:

“Sadly, when you hit rock bottom at some point in life, you are faced with one enemy, yourself, in which you are forced to ‘bond’ with in order to heal, grow and persevere. “ Read more at A Misunderstood Introvert.

Meghan Sara (@MeghanSaraK) also writes at OTV. As Halloween approaches, she reflects that in the US, the presidential elections are the scariest thing happening. She doesn’t hold back on Trump and writes:

“For today’s recap, I just want to walk you through Trump’s seven big mistakes at the final Presidential debate, in escalating order of holy-shit-you-just-messed-up-ness:…” Read more at Final Debate POTUS 2016 Rocky Horror or American Horror Story :Trump.

The Rough Writers & Friends (@Charli_Mills) publish a weekly compilation based on the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. What stands out each week is the diversity of perspectives on a single topic. Here the writers tackle a  shifting medium:

“Just as there are different beaches, you will find different stories. The following are based upon the October 12, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a walk across the sand.” Read more at a Walk Across the Sand.

Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Why

While working on the next post in this series, a client shared with me their logic model for a re-brand. Because they are a large organization, re-branding is a huge undertaking. It’s more of a refresh to update their look and clarify their internal and external brand experience. I manage a couple of their media projects so I get to see the evolution of their process.

Any time we build or revise what we have built, it takes clarity.

One area where a writer can be clear, is why you write. It’s a part of your branding and can lead to community engagement, credibility and be the reason your audience reads what you have to express.

My client shared a TEDtalk video that is one of the best explanations as to why “why” matters. Think of this as a sidebar to what we are discussing in this writer’s platform series. Take five minutes to better understand the power of why:

So how can you have an inspired writer’s platform? Begin with why you write. Not what you write or how, but why. Is that a part of your blog? Your bio? Is it part of what you share in your community? People are going to connect with why.

I’m intrigued by the application of this idea to a writer’s platform. I look at my own bio and read what and how. Why do I write? That is a question we all need to answer with clarity. What do you think?

Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part IV

“Community”

Eight years old and sitting in Mrs. Coyan’s living room, she served me sugar cookies and tea in real china cups with dainty pink flowers. On the hillside below her house I found broken purple glass, square nails and chips of china. It was a trail I used to get to the creek that flowed through the town where I had recently moved. I never missed an opportunity to pick up old broken bits.

Mrs. Coyan who was my age times ten, with her tightly curled white perm and silver-rimmed glasses, smiled at me when I compared the cup to my collected treasure. She confided that the hillside was once a household dump. Imagine that! Who would throw away china? I held on tighter to my cup lest it became a casualty to refuse.

A lonely child in a mountain mining town found community among the old-timers. Each was housebound so I did the walking and visiting. Visits meant cookies, tea, sometimes beer, and always stories. I learned that if you wanted to better yourself in life you got an education. Mrs. Coyan told me that. To get an education, you had to read or so Mr. Parker said and he told me which books to check out from the library.

Eloise paid me a quarter to deliver her beer. She’d pop the top on her Coors, adjust the patch over her one missing eye and tell me how she used to ride her horse over the rugged Sierra Mountains to inspect the telegraph lines between towns that no longer existed.

From my first memorable community, I gained stories, a craving for adventure and a life-long love of learning and history. And a taste for tea in china cups.

In this series, Decoding the Writer’s Platform, we are examining four components of the platform itself. Later we will discuss how to apply the platform to gain greater visibility. Part II and Part III cover the basic foundation for branding. This is who you are as a writer. The next step is to build a solid community.

Blocks as Steps

Blocks as Steps

Your social media followers are not your audience.

This is what a keynote speaker said at a writers conference I attended in LA. It’s the comment that got me puzzling over just what is a writer’s platform and what’s the difference between community, followers and audience? If social media followers are not my audience, then why am I working so hard to get them?

Before attending the conference, my manuscript received a rejection from a publisher because I needed to “shore up my social media presence.” To me, this meant I didn’t have enough audience and the publisher had concerns regarding my contribution to selling copies of my book.

However, after hearing the keynote, I was no longer certain. At this same time, several of my writing peers were also pondering their commitment to social media. While many enjoy the social aspects, they questioned its effectiveness for their platform.

Using my marketing background and insight gained from the conference, I turned the phrases in my mind like a Rubik’s Cube. If we are building a writer’s platform what is the basic goal? Visibility. That’s when it finally occurred to me that there were two crucial steps between who we are as writers and who will read our books.

Between branding and audience is community and credibility.

Furthermore, I could clearly see how traditional publishing relies more on credibility and independent publishing relies more on community. Everyone is reaching for the prize — audience. Yet, we don’t take time to clearly define our audience. We confuse it with followers and friendly networks. Coming from a retail marketing background I know the importance of defining a target audience.

Coming from the cooperative industry, I also know the importance of building community around an authentic brand. So the keynote was right — your followers are not your audience. They are either your credibility (the more followers, the more likely you have influence) or your community (followers that you network among).

It’s important that you are authentic in your writer’s brand and clear about who you are and why you write because you will engage in many important communities as you build visibility. Successful engagement can lead to credibility and expand your audience.

We have countless clusters of community over a lifetime.

Community Clusters

My childhood community of old-timers was relevant to shaping the person I’d become and the writer I would later be. We have these influences surrounding us including, our family of origin, grammar schooling, work experience, college, career, partnerships, extended family, friends, associates, social media. We could brainstorm extensive lists based on our specific interests alone.

With so many spheres of influence, no wonder we get overwhelmed. Community requires relationship building, and different communities require more or less levels of engagement. We also have the power to influence the spheres that influence us.

So which communities matter?

Each person might answer differently, but our personal, spiritual and professional communities most likely take priority. How our writing fits into our lives makes a difference too. For example, when I was raising three children and working full-time, fiction writing was a sporadic luxury. Now I write full-time and stay mindful of my spouse. We each find our balance within our primary communities.

The communities that matter to your writer’s platform are ones that:

  1. help you learn the industry,
  2. keep you growing in your craft,
  3. form the beginnings of your readership and fan-base,
  4. become trusted peers who can help you achieve your goals.

Your writing community is made up of many sub communities (think of those clusters). For every community yours touches, you extend your reach. It’s a hierarchy that begins to look like a robust family tree.

Hierarchy

You want to build your community thoughtfully. Explore other writers within your genre and from other genres. Look for value. Whether you write romance, humor or educational materials, you want to connect with others who value your writing and whose writing you value. Look for peers and mentors. Offer assistance to someone who asks. Be polite. If another blogger follows your blog, at least look at theirs. Follow if it appeals to you, engage if you feel a connection and move on if you don’t.

The best core community to build is one of kindred spirits.

We each might define kindred spirits differently, and I define mine as writers who are enthusiastic about the craft of creative writing; who uphold the pillars of literature through shared reading, writing and discussion; who want to publish the best they can; and who inspire and encourage others.

Why? Because my goal is to publish novels, but my vision is to connect with writers and readers in a meaningful way. I believe in the power of imagination to create literature that moves hearts, minds and feet.

You might define kindred spirits as cat-loving romance writers who are shy. Or bold steampunk writers who want to shake up the institutional genres. Or occasional writers with casual ambitions. What matters is that you seek a core community that best fits your brand. Not only will it bring you personal enjoyment, but it makes professional sense, too.

After I left my job and moved back out west, I also left a trusted writer’s critique group. I couldn’t find one in my small community. My first year in Idaho, I drove two hours through a snowstorm to attend the closest NaNoWriMo launch party only to discover writers that had different goals and ideas about writing. I thought about attending Boise State’s MFA program but I didn’t want the debt. I found friendly content writers online, but only a few wrote creatively.

Not only did I yearn for a community of kindred spirits, I needed a core community to build literary credibility. My career had veered far from my creative writing undergrad degree. I also wanted to practice craft with other writers the way musicians get together and jam for fun.

So I created my own sandbox community, and transformed my business writing website into an imaginary literary ranch. Yes, Carrot Ranch was an intentional community. However, I had no idea who would show up. I believe that my brand — who I am as a writer — attracted those kindred writers who connected with the idea of weekly jam sessions, are talented creative writers who challenge themselves in craft and benefit from the discussion-oriented community.

From that, the Congress of Rough Writers was born, creating a core literary community of writers from around the globe.

RoughWriters_Map2_Jan12

From my core community, I have gained much value. Experience, knowledge and open discussions. I’ve engaged with other communities that have led to important connections, such as #1000Speak and a better understanding of both the traditional and indie publishing paths.

Community matters. It’s the fuel you need to drive your craft into creation.

Even big traditional publishers are overhauling their websites to improve reader engagement because they recognize the importance of community to audience. We all have communities. Feed the ones that influence you in important ways, just as those old-timers once shaped my young life. And be influential in a way that benefits others.

And consider this: it’s easier to grow exponentially within a community than it is on your own.

Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part III

“Value of Voice to Branding”

“That’s Charli Mills, the country western singer,” my friend announced to the young man behind the desk at the Iroquois Hotel. We were in NYC to present at a marketing communications conference. I don’t sing.

Yet the young man looked at my name, began to nod as if he recognized it and said, “I have your CD.” As we walked away my friend smiled broadly and said, “You have the best name for a country western singer ever, Charli Mills.”

And she would know. Not because she’s in the music industry but because my friend is one of the top brand marketers in the nation — a published author on the subject and a successful launcher of store and product brands. She understands the importance of details, consistency and, of course, perception.

Our joke is based on the perception of my name. When we first met 15 years ago, she later confessed to me that she went home to her husband and insisted that with a name like Charli Mills, I had to be a country western singer!

While I don’t sing, I do know the power of voice.

In Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part II, we discussed branding and how my own brand evolved around my name into a persona of a buckaroo writer. My story is simple — I went from riding horses to writing stories. It’s a catchy way to introduce my bio that might otherwise read like every other writer’s bio (education, career, publication). It also gives me a playful tagline: “Wrangling words for people, roping stories for novels,” and creates a fun way to build a literary community on a “ranch.”

However, my brand also has a voice. It’s playful, welcoming, encouraging and positive. The heart of my writer’s voice is a reflection of my personal journey to write into my truth. I seek to observe, understand, explore and imagine. How I arrange my words, punctuation and vocabulary selection is the expression of my voice. My voice infuses the stories I choose to tell.

What Informs Your Voice

What Informs Your Voice by Charli Mills 2015

 

A writer’s voice is unique. Think of it as the ingredients and mix of your cupcake — it’s what develops your unique flavor. Voice is also part of your craft. If you make sloppy cupcakes (careless misspellings, lack of punctuation style, heedless of story structure) your branding will reflect how readers perceive you. Yet if you are too rigid and always follow the exact recipe for common cupcakes (essays, posts, stories) you will not create anything distinct.

As a writer, voice is more important than having a cool logo or a fun image.

Therefore, you need to know your craft, yet cultivate your own voice. If you understand that you abandon specific rules of commas you have choices: learn the rules, hire an editor or accept that it’s part of your style. Only you can decide which is best, but know that it impacts your readers.

Let’s pause a moment for an example of how craft choices shape voice. I just wrote, “know that it impacts your readers.” I did not write, “know that it effects your readers.” Because of word confusion, I learned to substitute. I rarely ever think of effect anymore; impact has become entrenched in my lexicon. And countless editors have accepted my word substitution. It’s part of my voice, and is based on my understanding of my own use of language.

To know your voice is to know yourself. You are your brand. See how this connects?

When it comes to your brand, branding and voice, you will read this consistent principle over and over:

Authenticity is KeyAuthenticity is key to opening the door to a rock solid writer’s platform. It’s cliche in the sense that it is a common truth. This is one cliche you need to adhere to as a writer no matter what your goals are. It’s a guiding principle to all relationships. At any given component in the writer’s platform, a lack of authenticity can make readers distrust who you are (branding), shut down (community), cast doubt upon what you write (credibility) and diminish your readership (audience).

Be who you are or build the credible persona of you as a writer.

The latter does not mean create a false identity (that’s not authentic). Just as a person creates a professional identity as a lawyer, teacher, dentist or dog groomer, so can you create a writer’s identity. This is for the writer who wants to maintain a measure of privacy. You would decide which attributes about yourself to share. You could generalize personal information — share that you live in the Pacific Northwest rather than Elmira, Idaho.

In order to connect with others (branding, community, credibility and audience), you need to reveal enough of your authentic self to be a real person. Think about your favorite author. The more you liked your favorite’s books, most likely, the more you wanted to know about this author as a person. Every book has an author’s bio for this reason.

Your level of intimacy with your readers becomes a part of your voice. Remember that because if you are distant with your personal details and all of the sudden you begin posting about your messy divorce, readers will react to the change as if you began yelling. However, some writers do yell! It’s part of  some writers’ voices. Know yours and use it consistently to portray who you are.

If you want to be in control of your brand, be in control of your voice. Branding becomes a shared experience with other people you interact with and they will come to expect an authentic experience.

Consistency of Application

Consistency of Application by Charli Mills 2015

What does “used across all media mean”? It means that you set up all your public places with the same shingle. Back to cupcakes. If you want to distinguish your cupcake from others, have a brand that others will recognize as your cupcake. Think of your public social media, your website, your author’s page (in your book or on Amazon, Goodreads or indie distribution points), your press releases, your guest-post bios, your book-signing posters, etc. as your retail space. If you are selling your cupcake, make sure you are recognized across all forms of media. This includes your voice.

A well-known writer will have a recognizable voice.

Even masters can’t replicate another writer’s voice. Robert Jordan set out to write a 12-book series called the Wheel of Time. His untimely death occurred after he published Book 11.  He was a masterful story-teller and a NY Times Best-seller many times over. He left behind notes and unfinished scenes for Book 12. His wife and editor hired another master and NY Times Best-seller, Brandon Sanderson, to complete the series. He actually turned Book 12 into a trilogy and he wrote to Robert Jordan’s readers:

“I cannot replace Robert Jordan. Nobody could write this book as well as he could have. That is a simple fact…I have not tried to imitate Mr. Jordan’s style. Instead, I’ve adapted my style to be appropriate to the Wheel of Time.”

Only a writer who knows his own voice could have accomplished what Brandon Sanderson did. He knew he could never copy Robert Jordan, but he could adapt. As a reader, Book 12 is noticeably different. However, the plot and characters continue and it’s a better alternative than to never knowing the end of a story that size!

Voice is an important consideration as you build your brand or apply your branding. Here are some useful questions to ask yourself as you examine your branding or build it:

  1. Do you have a writer’s bio?
  2. Do you consistently use your writer’s bio across all media?
  3. Where do you practice your voice?
  4. What is unique about your writing and can you describe it?
  5. How do others describe your writing voice?

While we are not yet to the application part of this series (which is marketing, or expanding your writer’s platform) it can be helpful to consider your current state of branding. It is, after all, the bedrock of your platform. Without an identity, how can you engage community, build credibility and attract audience?

Some writers are uncertain about naming a website or blog.  Should it be your name? It can be. If all you want to do is build name recognition, use your name as you want it identified. My name is Annette Marie Mills. No kidding. My nicknames include Netsie, Nan and Charli. And I have a maiden name. Holy buckets, how did I ever pick a name from that jumble? I went with what I’m most comfortable with and I’ve consistently used one name, no initials, for over 15 years.

But you are reading this at CarrotRanch.com, not CharliMills.com. Carrot Ranch was originally my business name and it evolved into a literary community. My name is a landing page on this website, and I own this digital real estate so I can apply different tactics to use that page according to my own goals.

My second active blog is Elmira Pond Spotter. It is named not for an author or a business, but as a publication. That blog has no pages; it is strictly my place to practice my voice through creative non-fiction. It is my brand of story-telling. However, my personal photo is the same one used here, as my gravatar, on my FB page, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and for my writer’ headshot. Same with my bio. Carrot Ranch doesn’t reach across all my media, but is linked to all my media, including my email signature. That’s branding in action

If you have a website through WordPress, Weebly, Wix, Blogger or others, then you have valuable real estate that you own. Social media is like renting. You rent a spot for your brand on G+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and more. You can’t control your branding there beyond consistently applying your brand.

However, you can control your own website or blog. You own that space. Use it to build your brand.

  1. Is it a place for you to communicate or share your writing? Then treat it like a publication and give it a title.
  2. Is it a place to attract clients for your freelancing on the side? Then name it like a business.
  3. Is it your author’s platform to attract an agent or readers to your book? Then give it your name.

Your website pages are where you build your branding based on your brand. You can set up a landing page for different purposes. You can establish categories for your blog posts. Or, you can set up pages to house different categories of writing. It is flexible and you own it. Shape your website around who you are as a writer and what your goals are.

Let your voice be heard. Let your voice be your branding spokesperson.