Writers are always told to boost our presence online, to engage fans on social media and stake a claim on our respective genres, but these boosting bombardments eat into our writing regiments. Our manuscripts sit on the back burner while we argue with Reddit moderators. Our word counts diminish with every tweet we finish.
Writers only have so much creative energy. If we are always trying to lure readers to our blogs our energy drains fast. Our labor of love starts to feel laborious.
We’d rather use that stamina we spend on social media telling stories. So we ration our online interactions. We compose compelling questions so we can smuggle our spam onto public forums. We target influencers to reach new readers. We hijack hashtags.
The problem with rationing our involvement is that we tend to come across as inauthentic, intrusive, and inorganic.
“You say you’re struggling with depression, that it feels like no one will listen, and the walls are closing in? Sounds similar to a character I’ve written. I prescribe a double dose of my fiction. One copy for yourself and another for a friend.”
Not every writer on social media is stealth marketing to the unsteady, but thinking algorithmically does do something to your personality. Once the phrase “cultivate relationships” enters your vocabulary you lose some of your emotional intimacy. Your ability to empathize is diminished when you start seeing people as clicks. Continue reading Are You A Social Media Sociopath?→
Whenever I post a short story, a video, or even a blog entry I feel a like a director at a red carpet premier. Not a celebrated director like Christopher Nolan or J.J. Abrams. More like a bottom tear auteur like Tommy Wiseau or Ed Wood, the kind of director who’s footing the bill for every exuberant extravagance out of his own pocket.
I couldn’t imagine feeling like a studio darling with a promotional juggernaut behind me. I always feel like the sad dad with a dream of being the next Steven Segal and enough free time to write, direct, and star in my own vanity project.
In this opening night allegory I spend almost all I have getting my movie made. I’m hoping to entice distributors, but I failed to ration for a long run. Instead I sunk my entire promotional budget into one weekend.
Now the only poster I could afford has the light on my forehead glaring in the opposite direction as the sun in the background. The only billboard I could afford was a fire-damaged frame leaning sideways atop the theater. The only news outlets I could get to cover the event are videographers working for college credit.
If you’ve ever researched making a name for yourself online then you’ve probably been told to build a brand, to simplify your complex personhood into a nuanced little niche that’s easy to digest. If you found yourself having trouble attracting an audience you’ve been told you need to be more authentic, share more of yourself, and get more real.
A lot of writers take this to mean they should chronicle their failures while attempting to make it as an author. Master Yoda does say, “The greatest teacher failure is.” Why not leverage yours to endear yourself to your readers?
But what happens when you volunteer too much information? What happens when your blog becomes your therapy cushion? What happens when you tell everyone your career is fraught with long bouts of depression, nights spent quivering on the floor of your apartment, running the bathroom fan so none of your neighbors can tell that you’re sobbing?
The following are my resolutions for my writing going into 2017.
Finish What I start
I need to take my stories all the way from conception to the query letter. I’m good at writing first drafts then moving on to the next bright shinny thing. Part of the problem is I’ve gotten addicted to the instant gratification of publishing short fiction online.
My novels and novellas have suffered for that. I need to remind myself that everything I post here is in service to the novel I’m cheating on.
And speaking of query letters. I need to…
Sell What I Write
I’ve sold some of my short stories, but I drop most of them into the gaping maw of Beelzeblog, the master of metrics, the prince of platforms, the ruler of reach. He demands a sacrifice a week. At night, I hear him growling from my laptop.
I can never satiate Beelzeblog’s hunger for fresh content, but maybe I shouldn’t. It’s hard to sell something once you’ve given it away. I need to hold more material back.
When I started DrewChialAuthor.com my goal was to promote my horror fiction. Somewhere along the way I found writing advice pulled in more eyes than scary stories, so I adjusted the focus of the site and I saw a lot of new faces in my Twitter feed. Many of these profiles were in line with my midwestern liberal beliefs and many were hashtag-conservative. I thought it was neat that a shared passion for writing extended over ideological borders.
I figured if I stayed on topic I could make myself accessible to everyone. It didn’t matter whether readers were from a red state or a blue state, whether they were centrists or out on the fringe, all were welcome. My brand was Switzerland.
I was an advocate for storytellers: whether they were the next Marquis de Sade writing orgiastic odysseys to offend the oligarchy or the next Tom Clancy writing patriotic page turners for puritans, I didn’t care.
I was a good little brand builder. I gave advice on structure, beating writer’s block, and building an online platform. I was safe for work. I didn’t use profanity (outside of fiction) and I didn’t take politically polarizing positions. This felt suffocating when I had a strong opinion on major news events. Continue reading The Death of Neutrality in Trump’s America→
When you hear the word “branding” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
I see a portfolio pounding professional power-walking around a boardroom table. Over their shoulder is a screen with a venn diagram. It features an infographic, a polar chart, and a pie chart overlapping each other. The speaker jabbers in jargon, traces hieroglyphic stats with a laser pen, and high fives their colleges right across the cheeks.
“It is mission-critical for our business to leverage strategic bleeding edge synergizing techniques to push the envelope outside the box if we hope to achieve vertical growth.”
At least that’s what I imagine when I hear the word branding. As a fiction writer, I figured branding was a word marketers used to inflate the importance of advertising, but it turns out it’s relevant to what I’m doing.
Put simply, branding is the thing that lets customers know what to expect from businesses, products, and even entertainment.
Put even simpler: branding = expectations
Just like in the corporate world, fiction brands let audiences know what to expect, and just like in the corporate world, a handful of brands have a monopoly.
This is why iconic characters enjoy so many reinventions, fiction franchises outlive their originators, and big name authors can pass work to ghost writers. People don’t want to waste hard earned money on bad entertainment. Brands appear to eliminate that risk.
If you want a steamy romance about an untamable Harley driver with borderline disorder just look for the lathered abs on the cover. If you like psychological thrillers about scandalous women, find a book with the word “girl” in the title. If you want a mystery about women who went missing while running, find a book with a foggy forest on the front. Continue reading How Branding Can Help and Hinder Your Writing→
In 1997 the band Nine Inch Nails filmed a music video for their hit single The Perfect Drug. In the video the lead singer, Trent Reznor, looks like he’s stepped out of an Edward Goyer drawing. His skin is so pale it’s blue. His jet-black hair hangs down to his long black coat. He roves a hedge maze, wielding a scepter. He sits beside a phonograph with a vulture perched atop a skull. He lip syncs, lying down on a bear skin rug. Continue reading I’m Not Me: On the Reality Behind Internet Personalities→
As a blogger you’re warned not to be a Jack of All Trades. You’re told that writing about a diverse set of interests will confuse your audience. Social media gurus say, “Keep it simple stupid. Find a pigeonhole that suits you, find a basket to put all your eggs in. Repetition is the mother of a solid brand.”
I say, too much consistency can be a bad thing. If this is something you’re already feeling, dare I ask:
Is Your Blog Haunted by Your Brand?
Bloggers, when you venture into uncharted waters, does a siren call steer you back to shore? When you go outside the lines, do you feel a push from an invisible hand? When you sit down to write, are you haunted by your brand?
The ghost of entries past tells you to stay on message, not to upstage your previous pages, but to maintain a constant image. Framing your sightline in its claws, it gives you tunnel vision. It’s on a mission to build recognition. It eats at your inspiration. It cuts down on confusion.
While you want the world to know you’re a complex person, your band is the red-eyed shadow that stands in your place. Perception is its passion. Consistency is its conviction. Recollection is its religion.
It hammers your multi-facets into the same round hole. It chops the branches off your skill tree, leaving you with just a pole. It values your parts greater than your whole.
Lost is the tug of war for control of your keyboard. Possessing your fingers, your brand has automated your writing. It toils on an spell to charm your target audience, a formula to fulfill their desires, to keep them coming back for more.
Consistent to a fault, your brand does the same thing over and over, expecting better results. It chants its slogan until it loses all meaning. It paraphrases past works, playing off their success, diluting your statements with each iteration. It’s a one trick pony galloping down a one track mind, a broken record playing the same one note joke. It took a big a idea and rationed it out into several little ones. They’re getting smaller all the time.
There’s a difference between being dependably good and giving your readers a sense of déjà vu. If they have to look at the date your article was published to know if it’s new, you have a problem. Having a recognizable brand can be great for drawing people in, but if it comes at the expense of interesting writing, it’s time to consider an exorcism.
Repossessing your Inspiration
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
So is mediocrity. After all, there are bad habits too.
If an article is a burden to write, it’s going to read like one. If your brand is giving you writer’s block, give it some wiggle room. Expand it to encompass other things on your mind. Just because you’re an authority on one subject, doesn’t mean you should deny yourself the thrill of discovery.
Bloggers specializing in writing advice should share excerpts from their fiction. What better way to establish your authority, than to show the proof in your pudding? This opens the door to other ways you can bring your audience behind the scenes. Introduce them to types of writing they’re not used to seeing. What better way to teach us how to write a treatment, than to show us the pitch for what you’re working on? What better way to inspire others, than by revealing the bag of tricks you draw from?
Your topic need not be so specific that it’s dogmatic. You should have the freedom to dip your foot in the waters bordering it. If you’re an author who likes video games, why not write a piece that deconstructs the plot devices they use? Why not challenge game developers to improve characterization (especially of women)?
Who says artists should be limited to one medium?
If you’re a writer with a background in photography, give us something cool to see. Good text is served by good imagery. Frame your words with good design. If you can’t come up with a context for your pictures, call them “writing prompts” to inspire your readers. Be a Jack of all mediums, a master of creation.
Once you’ve established your brand, let it branch out into other directions. If you’re afraid an entry will cause confusion, add an explanation that ties it in.
Explore other Genres
Hot on the heels of adapting The Chronicles of Narnia for the big screen, screenwriter Stephen Mcfeely gave a talk for my class. He mentioned how he and his writing partner were offered every fantasy script under the suns (plural), and why they rejected every single one. They didn’t want to be known as the children’s fantasy guys. So they passed on a dozen projects until Captain America: The First Avenger landed in their laps. They wanted their brand to be about more than one thing (granted they went on to work on Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but you get where I was going).
My screenwriting professor said agents prefer writers with at least three screenplays under their belts: one that’s personal, one that’s funny, and one with broad appeal. The theory is everyone has a journal entry in screenplay format kicking around in them, agents need to know that you can write something more. They have to be able to sell your versatility, which is hard if you’re married to just one category.
Writers shouldn’t feel like they’re bound to one shelf in the book store. They need to explore. Their cover models need to be able to swap their trench coats for armor, their helmets for veils, their flowing gowns for mud slicked rags. Put them through the entire wardrobe.
Be a Jack of all genres, a master of fiction. Take two tones and make a warped combination. If your fear of the dark is less than inspiring, why not let your sense of romance in? If your detectives are just going through the motions, why not contaminate their crimes scene with buckets of ectoplasm? If your world is overrun with vampires, isn’t it about time they get a visit from aliens? (If this concept is already a novel someone please point me in its direction)
Stretch Your Brand to Fit other Interests
If you’re an author blogging to raise awareness of your fiction, you have a lot more freedom than you might think. Your brand might whisper, “Stick to posts regarding writing,” but you’d be surprised how many of your interests can be made to fit that description. Your brand need not shut you out of these topics, you just need to invite it in.
Pursue a range of passions and write them off as research. Every first hand account is something to draw from.
Authors can talk about how their Yoga routine directly impacts their writing. There are connections between exercise and higher brain activity, this isn’t such a stretch (so to speak). Teach your brand to be flexible. Be a Jack of all interests, a master of fun.
Be Your Target Audience
Bloggers are told to have a target audience in mind. This is a good idea when you’re promoting your work, not when you’re composing it. The last thing you need when you’re staring at the blank page is performance anxiety. Writing with an awareness of your audience is like trying to pee at a trough urinal, looking to the ceiling waiting for something to flow. Sure, it can be done, but it’s not going to be your best work.
Write what you want to read first. Be your target audience. If you have eclectic tastes don’t let them go to waste. Sometimes this means mixing mediums, sometimes it means crossing genres, and sometimes it means bringing other interests into the conversation. Variety is the spice of life, consistency is the oatmeal of the internet. Be a taste maker, broaden your audience’s palate.