Today, I welcome the amazing YA horror writer Catherine Scully. She’s represented by Carrie Howland of the Donadio & Olson agency. I invited Cat to speak about marketing, with her background in graphic design, film, and writing, I feel like she’s got some wisdom that needs to be shared to New Writers Everyone.
Thanks Lizzy for having me on your blog! I’m really excited for the opportunity to get to talk about marketing as a writer and essential things that you might need to know about building your author platform.
Besides being a writer, I work a day job as a Brand Manager. For those of you that might not know what a Brand Manager is or does, essentially I manage the company image and visual identity both internationally and domestically (along with any design interns our marketing staff takes on). If a print ad, web ad, video, or booth design escapes in the world, it’s not only my job to know about, but to make sure it consistent with our company’s image.
How does this relate to you as an author? Because there are many guides to “marketing yourself” or “branding yourself” as an author, most of which are written by people with no marketing background or concept for what a brand even is. Not that there aren’t excellent articles out there, but you have to be careful. I would be wary of anyone claiming to know “the secret to marketing” with zero experience in marketing or branding.
1) All This “Branding” Yourself Talk – I hear this tossed around a lot in writing blogs and on Twitter. We’re told to “brand” ourselves as writers. We’re asked, “What is your brand?” and I find this question to be completely irrelevant to any writer anywhere. Why? Because YOU and YOUR TALENT are NOT a brand. A brand is a visual identity associated with a corporation, usually from a “brand package” or guide. When materials are generated, be it brochures or business cards, they must maintain a certain company image. Otherwise, you would have no idea as the consumer where the product you are buying comes from or what they stand for.
A publishing house has a brand, a logo, an identity – the authors housed within are not “brands.” This doesn’t exclude self-publishing either. If you self-publish a book, you as the author are still not a brand. It would be like saying the sodas that a soda company makes are their brand, when in fact, the sodas are their product. The logo, colors, and identity associated with that company stands are the brand. You and your words are not the McDonald’s golden arch, the red Coca-Cola swoosh symbol, or the golden letters hovering above a Waffle House. You are, in a way, the soda leaving the factory. Be the soda. Leave the factory mentality. You go out into the world and change people with your stories. Stop focusing on this “branding” platform and realize it doesn’t exist. Focus on your words and writing the best story you can.
2) Your Online Prescence, or What is an Image Anyway? – That said, you can still market yourself and your work. You can still have an “image” that works well and you can identify with for your blog, your twitter, your writing. If someone came to my blog, as a horror writer, and found pink tutus and candy canes, well… they wouldn’t be far off in wondering what exactly I was writing and if I was having a life crisis instead of an actual direction.
So, think of it this way. Say you like to write fantasy. When someone comes to your blog, they might want to see something whimsical and mysterious or including dragons. This is because people have a subtle expectation about what they want to see when they come to find out more about who you are and what you are about. If you look like you are all over the place with your words versus your online presence, you might come across as a train wreck rather than a versatile author. Again, this is NOT the same as branding. Remember, you are the soda.
So, if you’re lost, how do you decide what image you should maintain? The best answer is to know yourself and what you are about. If you like to share your great sense of humor with people, by all means, share it! That can be an image in itself. It sticks with people. Especially if you like to write humor of any kind. But let’s say you’re like me and your personality doesn’t match what you write – I’m an extremely happy, upbeat, outgoing writer with a horror obsession. It’s a lot like watching a care bear with a bloody battle axe go to work. That said, it works for me. When you visit my blog, you’ll find dark pages with dead-looking girls, but articles and a Twitter feed with a smily and sunshine personality with very little, if anything, dark or dreary to say. So, don’t equate your “image” to your work necessarily. Being yourself is the best foot forward you can present. But it doesn’t hurt to have cookies either.
3) So How do I Build an Author Platform? – The best way to make a platform is to get involved. For many writers, who would prefer the comforts of the warm and familiar writing cave, this is an extremely daunting task. BUT, one of the BEST things I’ve ever heard at a writing conference was a very introverted writer tell his audience: “Stop that right now! You may write books, but if you don’t meet people, your work will never leave your desk drawer. You have to meet people and be comfortable doing so if you want your work to go anywhere.” It was a brilliant point. If we don’t get out and get involved, no one will know who you are or the talents you might bring to the table in the publishing world. If you write Young Adult, don’t just join SCBWI or other organizations, volunteer! Find a local chapter and see what you can do to help out. Form your own writers group on MeetUp if one doesn’t exist already and see who joins. Do anything to get to know other writers, editors, and agents. DON’T just get to know other writers. Don’t play it safe because you’re worried if you’ll say something stupid. Get to know agents and editors too, even outside of your genre. Get to know everyone. You never know what road your publishing life will take and or who you will form a surprising friendship with.
4) How Do I Get More Twitter/Blog Followers? – One of the truest marketing things about Twitter and building your follower count is this: don’t constantly tweet that you wrote a book and where to buy it. All it does it clog other people’s feeds and make them skim over what you have to say. At least once a day, I’ve seen someone complain about authors who do this.
The better road? Be yourself. Tweet and talk to people. Form relationships. Not only will you make a better following, but you’ll get to know new people that are probably better aligned with what you are about. And those relationships are better than any number of followers. Because when the chips are down and you need someone to share your joy with or your sorrow on your path to getting published, you’ll have a following that not only cares about your work, but you as well. And that, my friends, makes for more readers. Because they will not only care about your book, but you as well. I can’t tell you how many times I bought a book because I went “hey! I know them online. They’re super funny or nice or weird. Why don’t I give their book a try?” even if it isn’t my thing or genre. You funny, witty internet people end up convincing me to buy books over anything I might happen upon on the shelves. It works both ways.
So, build those relationships! One at a time.
5) Why am I not Making the Sales That They Did? – It’s easy with the internet to compare the effectiveness of your work and following to others. It’s not only easy to know about, it’s everywhere. No matter what social media you use, there are always people with more followers or more sales.
First rule of tackling this is: Stop comparing yourself. All of art is a business. A competitive business. Our job as artists is to make the best art we can and focusing on that. We’ll produce better work and be happier as a result – which makes happier readers. Time spent dwelling on how others are doing drains you of creativity. It’s also depressing. The hard truth is really that there is always someone better. Does it stop people from getting published? Hell no. We can all think of one book at least where we think “if THAT can get published, damnit, why can’t I?” Let that be a drive, but not a hinderance. If you spend your days worrying and tweeting why isn’t an agent picking me or why aren’t people following me on Twitter, realize that these are all affecting your image – whether you realize it or not. People are watching. Even if they may not be immediately following you. Agents, for one, are EXTREMELY good at the internet. Don’t expect them NOT to stalk you too.
That’s all I have for now! I hope my tips were helpful and, like I said, being the happy little horror writer I am, feel free to drop by and talk to me with any marketing questions you might have – even if it’s something like “What colors should my blog be?” or “Should I have a logo as a writer?” Definitely come find me. I’d love to talk with you.
A fan of monsters that you kill versus ones that you date, Catherine Scully is a Writer and Illustrator of all things dark and whimsical. She has worked for clients like AT&T, Cartoon Network, Turner Sports, NBC, ABD, Comedy Central, Marvel/Paramount, and many others. Currently, she is the Young Adult Editor for the Horror Writers Association Association and is the designer behind Double Skull Productions, which specializes in book trailer and cover design. She’s represented by Carrie Howland of the Donadio & Olson agency. Visit her at http://cscullywriter.wordpress.com/
Thank you Catherine for your fantastic post! Make sure to visit her blog above and follow her on Twitter @CatMScully