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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.

Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part II

“Branding”

Basics are important. When I was advanced to a pre-algerbra class in 7th-grade, I missed crucial math basics that were taught that year in regular class. It wasn’t until I was 30-years-old that I would learn those missed basics. Suddenly math wasn’t so difficult. That’s why I’m breaking down the components of the platform so you can understand the basics and decide how to use each as a building block.

Blocks as Steps

Blocks as Steps by Charli Mills 2015

The purpose of this series is to teach other writers the marketing basics that form what a writer’s platform is and how to use it.

For twelve years, I was marketing communications manager for a natural foods cooperative in Minnesota. I built a national reputation as a brand manager: I built the co-op’s brand through communicating stories, wrote a brand case study for a marketing workbook, presented workshops on the topic and was the subject of numerous magazine articles. When I left, I freelanced over 30 articles on branding.

My personal brand evolved from my specialty; I was the Brand Buckaroo. It stuck in the minds of those I worked with, taught and networked among. I had fun with the buckaroo image, even though I was strict with our store’s branding. I created a western-themed “Branding 101” continuing education course for our workplace. Thus, staff nicknamed me, “The Sheriff.”

When I turned over the store brand to my predecessor, I kept my buckaroo image. After all, I truly was born into a buckaroo culture which shaped my natural inclination for story-telling, and I was headed west to write. I had to shape a new idea for my platform because I was identified with business and freelancing when I wanted to be identified with literary writing. Buckaroo writer and Carrot Ranch became my branding foundation.

My strongest writer’s platform component is branding. This is also an example of how your platform does not have to be like mine. I love branding, I understand it at a deep level and I use it strategically. It’s fine for you to have a simple brand that others experience. But you need to think about what it is.

As a writer, you are the brand; how others experience you and your writing is branding.

A brand creates physical, emotional and intellectual triggers in the mind of the reader. A writer’s brand is unique, identifiable and visual.

Elements of a Brand

Elements of a Brand by Charli Mills 2015

Your name, photos and even the symbols, fonts and colors that you use in your social media, marketing collateral and public relations all add up to your brand. Writers are like cupcakes: the outcome between cake, frosting and decoration is endless. Build your brand like a cupcake and be consistent thereafter.

Consistency matters.

You don’t change who you are once a month, so don’t change your brand after you’ve established it. Keep your brand as close to who you authentically are, what you write and what you publish. Be your own cupcake and maintain your personal recipe.

This doesn’t mean you can’t re-brand. Sometimes it takes a year or two to get a feel for who we are as a writer. Sometimes we begin with free templates or generic colors and fonts to set up our initial presence. As you evolve, so will your brand. Therefore, let your brand grow into something more definitive.

Take a vanilla-chai cupcake, for example. In the beginning, you put out a flavor that rocks the cupcake world. But your cupcake looks, well, overly vanilla. You spice up the look, give the decoration a flair and you’ve re-branded. But it is still the cupcake others have come to recognize and want. You are still the same writer.

What if you no longer want to be a vanilla-chai cupcake? Maybe you started out writing romances because that was the easiest way for you to earn money as a writer. Now you want to write epic political thrillers, definitely a jalapeno-dark-chocolate kind of cupcake. You are a different writer. Develop a new brand (that’s why some writers have multiple pen names, thus multiple brands). Keep in mind that managing multiple brands consistently is complicated.

Branding goes beyond the visual cues and becomes an experience.

Branding occurs the moment a reader takes a bite of your cupcake. You are not in complete control of your branding. No matter what you do, you can’t make every person like your cupcake. Maybe someone likes the idea of vanilla-chai and someone else thinks it looks too bland. Both may or may not like the taste. It’s perception. And you can’t waste your time trying to change the perception of another. Focus on those who connect to your brand.

Your branding is based on how others experience your:

  1. Image of who you are as a writer
  2. Quality and style of your writing
  3. Level of professional manners
  4. Emotional, intellectual or physical connection with your readers

Branding is how others experience the visual cues of who you are as a writer. The quality and style of your writing adds to that image. How you treat others on your blog, their blog, Amazon reviews, at book signings, in the media or in correspondence to publishers is a measure of your professionalism. Think of this as manners or customer service. All this leads to connectivity with others, or not.

If your branding isn’t connecting with others, go back to the most basic element of who you are as a writer.

Be authentically who you are: that writer who likes ballet, lyrical sentences and collects Victorian dolls. Or that writer who wiggles at the sound of a race car revving an engine, collects all things Coke-a-Cola and writes terse dystopian YA. Don’t be pictures of your iguana or sprinkle your website with cartoon butterflies if you write modern spy novels, unless you can tie it to who you are as a writer in a way that others would understand.

Think about your own attributes, interests and strengths. Think about personal relationships.

  1. What do you connect with about yourself?
  2. Why do you write?
  3. Who do you connect with as a kindred spirit?
  4. How do others perceive you?
  5. Ask a friend or family member to be a mirror of you at your best.
Who You Are

Informing Your Brand by Charli Mills 2015

Think about longevity. Will your branding work in the future? My buckaroo brand has been with me throughout my career. It evolved from marketer to writer, and is something I can imagine in the future. I can visualize myself at 92, wearing my buckaroo hat and turquoise boots to a book signing. That I arrived by walker or horse doesn’t matter. That my book is a western, eco-thriller or chick-lit doesn’t matter, either. The buckaroo is me, not my books. My branding is built around my ability to tell stories and make emotional connections: Wrangling words for people, roping stories for novels.

Let’s examine some existing brands so you can get a feel for branding and how it works for a writer’s platform.

Norah Roberts. Her official website is clean, professional and has a romantic flair without being over-the-top. Her picture is fun and you can almost imagine her as one of her jet-setting characters. Even her husband fits the brand of a handsome spouse to the world’s top romance writer. The colors are modern and not gender specific (no obvious pinks or frills). Go to her blog and you might be surprised to find it plain and simple. She’s approachable, enjoys fun times among girlfriends, uses party-left-overs to make a vat of chicken soup and has the same complaints as others on the east coast about the long winter. Her branding is engaging and despite her opulent life, she connects with her readers by being her authentic self. Note: go to her J.D. Robb page and see how different the branding is there.

Clive Cussler. Actually, his website is under a re-brand, which is good because the design looks dated. It is heavily focused on his many books, but note that a photo of him dominates over the bookselling. Clive Cussler is the brand. He makes a surprising statement: “I have never considered myself as much a writer as an entertainer.” His branding is that he is the grandmaster of adventure. He’s lived a life worthy of fictionalized tales in adventurous novels. He is not as approachable as Norah Roberts, but he welcomes readers to his website and feels present. He does not blog. All his books are housed on this one platform.

Wine Wankers. This is blog is one of the best blogging success stories from branding to community to credibility to audience. Conrad (one of the wankers team) was among the first to follow my blog. I thought he was a nutcase. His picture made me think that this was some creepy dude that I would not want to follow anywhere, but I do look at other bloggers’ sites when they follow me. I laughed when I got to the site and read, “Smile 🙂 You’re at the best wine blog ever!” Why does this creepy picture work? First of all, it actually represents the three-man team with a knack for branding humor. The other part of their branding is an authentic enjoyment of wine beyond the pretense of the industry. It’s a wine blog for the common person who happens to love wine. They are Australian, thus they focus on their region. From their branding and community they built up credibility and the site is among the most influential on the internet. And you bet that equates to a large audience.

Here’s a chart of branding specifics that you can use to define who you are as a writer to others:

Branding Chart

Branding Chart by Charli Mills 2015

Tell me about your branding in the comments. Do you feel it is an important component of your platform? Why or why not?

Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part 1

“The 4 Building Blocks of a Writer’s Platform”

You will find a surplus of media discussing the writer’s platform. It’s a writer’s visibility and what a writer uses to sell books. It stands in the balance between craft and creation.

Mostly, articles on the topic agree, but each article offers different examples of building blocks. It can seem overwhelming. You might look at all the gathered lists and think, “I have to do all that?”

First, understand two points of differentiation:

  1. You build a writer’s platform.
  2. You use your platform to sell books.

Often articles about platforms mesh these two points, combining building with application. Yet, if you were to build a boat, you wouldn’t include steps in your blueprint that described how to sail it. Sailing the boat is different.

What can get confusing with platform building is that we continue to build after we’ve set sail. Think of these two aspects (building and application) as separate systems that work together in harmony with our writing craft.

Working in Harmony by Charli Mills 2015

As you can see in the graphic, a platform is a two-cog accompaniment to the big gear of writing. This series will examine what a writer’s platform is and define it’s components clearly before getting to the system of application.

A writer’s platform is characterized by four building blocks:

4 Building Blocks by Charli Mills 2015

4 Building Blocks by Charli Mills 2015

All those ways to build platform listed in most articles can be placed in one of these four categories. It might bring relief to know that you have four blocks with which to build. It also might encourage you to know that different writers can focus successfully on different block configurations or thickness.

Writers don’t need to conform to one platform fits all.

A tactic is a means to an end. In marketing, a tactic is the action to accomplish a goal. When you read articles that list ways to build platform, you can categorize the tactics before deciding if it is one for you. Use the ones that fit your goals.

Not all writers write for the same reasons or expect the same outcomes.

For example, the following is from a Writer’s Digest blog article about building a writer’s platform:

  1. A website and/or blog with a large readership
  2. An e-newsletter and/or mailing list with a large number of subscribers/recipients
  3. Article/column writing (or correspondent involvement) for the media—preferably for larger outlets and outlets within the writer’s specialty
  4. Guest contributions to successful websites, blogs, and periodical
  5. A track record of strong past book sales
  6. Individuals of influence that you know—personal contacts (organizational, media, celebrity, relatives) who can help you market at no cost to yourself, whether through blurbs, promotion, or other means
  7. Public speaking appearances—the bigger, the better
  8. An impressive social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, and the like)
  9. Membership in organizations that support the successes of their own
  10. Recurring media appearances and interviews—in print, on the radio, on TV, or online

All ten tactics are valid and from an expert, Chuck Sambuchino, who wrote an entire book on the topic. However, I don’t know about you, but when I read this I feel doomed to fail already. Public speaking appearances? A track record? Impressive?

Let me break down the list for you and then you’ll understand why it’s intimidating. Numbers 1 and 2 are audience. Numbers 3-10 are credibility. No one starts out an expert, yet this list reflects that level of expertise.

If you are an aspiring, new or emerging author it can be discouraging to believe this is what you have to do to build a platform. You start with what materials you have and you build up.

You don’t get to the master level without a platform.

This is why it’s important to understand that all those articles list tactics that you can categorize. Some articles confuse audience with community or brand with credibility. It’s important to recognize the difference and be able to pick and choose tactics according to your purpose.

From a marketing perspective, a successful writer’s platform is like a staircase building up from the bottom:

Blocks as Steps

Blocks as Steps by Charli Mills 2015

First you establish your brand because the platform is about who you are as a writer. This is your platform, not your cat’s. You build community, credibility and eventually that ever-so-important audience. This would be a strategy for building your platform.

In truth, our efforts probably look more like a game of Tetris:

Mixed Blocks by Charli Mills 2015

Mixed Blocks by Charli Mills 2015

And, we might focus more on building with one block category over the other. That’s fine as long as you understand that different tactics achieve different results. Once you get building, you’ll also notice that certain tactics overlap others.

Be sure to give thought to each building block in your platform.

Over the next four weeks, I will focus on each category. I am also looking for volunteers to use as case studies. The benefit to you is that I will help you understand your own platform building efforts. If you are interested, please shoot me an email at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.