Non-Fiction Book Writing Seems Fun! Part II: Trying to Find a Fiancé

Absolute Blank

By Faith Watson (fmwrites)

Recap: A few months ago, when I finished up with Part I of this topic, Sell First, Write Later? Non-Fiction Book Writing Seems Like Fun!, I was gung-ho and ready to go, on the verge of fleshing out my straw-man idea for a non-fiction book. After preliminary research and careful consideration, I had selected a promising book idea of mine as my pet project.

My Unique Selling Proposition (USP) was compelling and concise: The Pilates Cue Guru: How to Make Magic with the Method is the only handbook for fitness instructors and Pilates teachers that specifically teaches creative ways to effectively cue all the different principles, exercises and goals of the Pilates method.

I settled on using guidelines and templates from two different reference books to create a proposal and the initial query letters. With my “presearch” now done, I was set to move on to the crafting phase: pull the query and a proposal outline together. I was lookin’ to get hitched. Who were my prospects and what would they want from me?

Background Image: JewelleryMonthly/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

The Pre-Proposal Period

Before I could query, I needed to research the market-at-large, identify possible selling statistics, and be able to provide my prospects with factual information on the audience for my title. The next step was to develop a list of potential publishers with similar titles or similar categories of books. The idea at this stage is to be able to speak knowledgably of publishers’ lists and specifically appeal to the readers of the queries. Finally, I needed to learn exactly what each of my publishing targets wanted to hear or see from me. Did they want sample chapters or just a query letter? Did I meet their stated criteria for authors?

Here what I learned as I made my way through these three steps of the pre-proposal period:

1. Selling statistics, my audience, and the market at large. A sound approach to finding out what sells is to go to a place where they are selling items similar to yours, and snoop around. There’s a reason the average grocery store carries a lot of flavored coffees and teas, but very few limburger-flavored coffees or eye-of-newt teas. The same applies to the books stocked on the shelves on a big chain book store, and what’s being sold on Since I’m a Pilates instructor, I also have an extra level of information at my fingertips among my professional references. I learned a lot by looking at my own office shelves and internet bookmarks, as well as at bookstores and online.

What I learned: Big chain stores stock one or two perennial favorites in the Pilates subsection of the Fitness and Exercise subsection of the Sports and Fitness aisle. They are written by well-known or well-respected instructors—trainers to the stars, or Pilates elders (original teachers). They are published by imprints of large publishing houses. Expanding my search to the yoga and other fitness categories, I found a similar pattern. The fitness books sold in stores and frequently bought online by consumers are “how to do” books, not “how to teach” books. This is the lay of the land at the point of sale.

Among my professional references are a few self-published books, and a few more published by specialty houses on behalf of large professional organizations. For example, certification exam study guides have been published by every reputable Pilates certifying body. A few illustrated guidebooks for Pilates anatomy, or books for teaching special populations (pre-natal Pilates, Pilates for seniors, and the like), also exist. You buy them through proprietary companies that also sell Pilates equipment and host national conventions. Joe Pilates’ original Return to Life through Contrology has been republished and is selling again, but mostly to instructors. I know Joe Pilates himself had quite a bit of trouble getting his book published; in 1998 it was updated and edited with the copyright assigned to Presentation Dynamics. Duly noted in my notebook of pre-proposal possibilities.

My takeaways: My title is not going to make it on consumer shelves. It’s a “how to teach” not a “how to do” book. It won’t be a public library staple, either. Its salability is going to be tied to either professional organizations’ interests (like the educational arms of large certifying bodies) or Pilates-related corporate interests (like how Weight Watchers and Yoga Journal added to their empires, which now include cookbooks and yoga kits respectively). This is not the greatest of realizations. What I need is the Pilates equivalent of a university press or a niche-merchandising brand.

I already had the specifics on my audience—I am part of my audience—and I remain prepared with numbers on new instructors in training, how many certified in the last x amount of years, etc. These figures are published in trade journals with some regularity. The good news is Pilates is still popular and the number of teachers and participants continues to grow.

I also found something out about my market that seems positive —there really are no other books out there quite like mine. I’d be filling a hole.

Your takeaways: If you want to craft a non-fiction book proposal, determine what books your book would be next to on store and library shelves, then see how your book fits in. Look at your favorite books in your category to find out who published them, and when. Keep notes on every publisher of several books related to or comparable to yours. This list will later help you connect positives for your queries to editors (they’ve published three books about coffee beans but never one on tea leaves; hole in the market I will fill) or negatives for your own notes (dozens of comments and reviews on the coffee-related books online but no one ever comments on the tea books). Finally, pour through your trade journals. Look for books being advertised in the back pages, read book reviews, and find out if the journal publishers also publish books.

2. Potential publishers. First I looked up the most promising potential publishers from my master list of books and their publishers from Step 1 above. I found two possibilities with actual websites and guidelines for authors. Both are smaller presses that might be interested in a Pilates title, but have none so far. I ran into several dead ends on the web as well. Dead ends, because the publishers were either too big to post submission guidelines on their websites, or they no longer seemed to exist. A few were swallowed up by big guys, and some others were just not findable on the internet.

Next, I went back to the bookstore and pulled the most recent Writer’s Market off the shelf and spent time cross-referencing the potential publishers I had left on my list. Yes, I did that at the bookstore. I bought an overpriced latte so I didn’t feel too guilty about it. I must say, the market for writers has changed since I last looked in “The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published” ten years ago. I learned a lot flipping through it.

What I learned: 2011 Writer’s Market features a chart of seven publishers that are masters of the domains of dozens of others they have merged into their own universes. It’s just a list of names really, so you don’t get specifics in Writer’s Market about submitting to, say, Random House or any of its 70+ imprints. I learned a few trainers-to-the-stars had books published by bigger houses. How did they do that? I’ll guess: an agent. That, and/or a reputation with a recognizable celebrity or sports name as a testimonial. I looked up several of the smaller publishers I had searched for on the internet, and found most of them not to be present in Writer’s Market, either.

My takeaways: I was left with the couple of maybes I found online and in Writer’s Market, and a protruding pout. Back to the drawing board to figure how I can get hooked up with my “Pilates equivalent of a university press or a niche-merchandising brand.”

Your takeaways: You can pout, but you have to keep trying till you’ve exhausted your avenues. (The latte does help.) A few months ago, I thought that non-fiction book writing seemed like “fun!” but I’m here to tell you it feels a lot more like “work!” at this stage. Keep your trusted notebook of possibilities at hand. There’s more to do.

2.5. More Potential Publishers. Since I only found three promising potential publishers, instead of the eight that was my goal, I decided to travel a little farther down the professional trade road. I began with a couple of magazines and online publications I myself read and refer to. PilatesStyle magazine has a readership that overlaps my book’s market—niche consumer along with a lot of instructors, as it is the only Pilates-specific magazine out there. I found some articles on the path to teaching, and featuring other teachers. Nothing much new as far as book publishing goes, though. Next I went to IDEA, the world’s largest association of fitness professionals, of which I am a member. Their collection of articles on mind-body fitness pursuits is hard to beat. I search through the giant Inner IDEA website for anything related to my book proposal, and guess what comes up? An article: “The Art of Cuing” by Rael Ishowitz. He’s pretty famous in the modern Pilates world.

What I learned: It’s a lovely article. No, it doesn’t do what I say my book is going to do, exactly. Phew. Instead, it’s a more general article on why cuing is important and it discusses how one can improve one’s instruction with attention to the art of cuing. So yeah, there’s some overlap for sure. But not a lot of specifics. (This is all me talking to myself after reading the article.) My book has specifics. As my USP says, it’s a handbook. For people to refer to when trying to develop better cues for exercises, or to get ideas on new ways to help people visualize exercises—

—Uh-ohhh. A revelation. I think I know why there’s a hole and it hasn’t been filled with a book. It’s not the market, and it’s not the audience, and it’s not even the subject—it’s the function of the book. The function of the book (I repeat to myself, nodding for emphasis) in relation to the subject and the audience. How will this book be used, and when? I can answer that question myself (I am my audience, after all) in two words. It won’t. Instructors will take an illustrated guide to pre-natal exercises off their shelf and use them to plan such classes ahead of time. They will take down their anatomy book to look up a muscle group that is giving someone trouble. They will read their study guides before testing or retesting and they will read Joe Pilates’ book to understand the historical context of the method.

They won’t pull out a little book that lists several effective and creative ways to talk about the shoulders while teaching The Rollup. They can’t refer to this book during class and they won’t think of consulting something like that in between classes when they’re researching anatomy or prenatal exercises. It’s a reference book that can’t be referenced when you need it. They won’t be going about their business thinking “If only I could think of something different than ‘string of pearls’ when cuing the spine.” They won’t.

My takeaways: I’m okay, I’m okay. Even though I’ve come this far only to realize I cannot propose my book because I, as my own audience, know that I won’t read my book of lists of ways to cue the body in Pilates classes. I will however go to a workshop or seminar and have an engaging expert speak to me on the topic for an hour or so… and I will read an article or a series of articles on this topic to spark some ideas and give me a few new cues to try out. I will even save the article or series of articles and use it to help inspire other teachers who I might be training… but (wah!) I won’t read my own book. Time to outline my workshop idea. Time to research magazines and online sources that will publish my article (IDEA and PilatesStyle come to mind!).

Your takeaways: When developing your non-fiction book idea, aside from considering your expertise as the author, the market for your topic, your audience’s needs, trends in publishing for your genre, the potential for selling this book, and your USP, also consider the function of your book. How and when will this book be used in the format you’re suggesting? An encyclopedia of tea leaves is one thing, but The Tourist’s Pictorial Guide to Selecting Teas at any Market in Asia better be a slim little thing—like maybe a brochure that an Asian tea company gives away.

Afterward: I still want to write a non-fiction book—a book that sells. I’ve got a new idea, the best one yet (I think), and I’m applying everything I’ve learned so far to develop it through to the official proposal period. So, there just might be a Part III on this topic, if all goes well and I find that “special someone” (a publisher willing to commit).

Final Poll Results

Define the Function of Your Non-Fiction Book (or Article)

A Pen In Each Hand

By fmwrites

With fiction, we think of determining the theme, the crisis, the resolution, but the function isn’t really necessary to define. The function of fiction is to entertain and enlighten. With non-fiction, a book needs a factual reason to exist. Try defining function for your non-fiction book idea by answering these questions:

  1. How will my book be used?
  2. Where will it be used?
  3. When, and in what context will it be used?
  4. What problem does my book solve or solution does my book enable?

If you’re stumped by this exercise, well then, you might have an reference article on your hands, instead of a book. That’s okay; we need reference articles too, to teach us and inspire us.

Sell First, Write Later? Non-Fiction Book Writing Seems Like Fun!

Absolute Blank

By Faith Watson (fmwrites)

Boy, was I jealous of Julie Powell when I saw the movie Julie & Julia. Writer on the side, loves to cook and eat, in the right place at the right time for her first little blog to become a popular blog, then become a book offer, then a bestseller, then a movie deal. Starring the greatest actress of our time.

I’ll take one of those, please. Yes, the one-hit wonder. That’s fine with me. Non-fiction you say? Mmmm. Even better, maybe. There doesn’t seem to be much of a market for my poetry after all, and I do have a couple of great ideas for non-fiction already brewing. One is handbook for Pilates instruction and the other is a self-help guidebook to personal health and wellness.

I also have this article brewing, the first of at least two to go along with the process of me aiming to become a published author of a non-fiction book. Make that a non-fiction book that sells.

Yes, I absolutely want to write a book in order to sell it; that’s my first established goal. I know making money off my book might be a premature idea. It sure was with all my past creative writing projects. I haven’t seen a cent from those pursuits, but I’m done questioning the desire to make money as a writer now. It seems like non-fiction is calling me to this task so I am going for it.

So, how does one go about writing a non-fiction book that sells?

Background Image: Matt|drift-words/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Step 1: Research to learn that answer.

Let me tell you what I did, and where I’m at. First, I thought about non-fiction book markets that I’m familiar with and feel I could sell in. Just gut feelings here. I want it to be somewhat easy to write my book. That’s right, I just said I want to make money and I want it to be somewhat easy. I am a businesswoman who works long hours at a physically and mentally demanding job as a fitness studio owner. I’m also writing on the side as a service journalist for an online content provider, delivering simple articles on health and fitness topics for extra money—my fledgling studio hasn’t put me in the black yet. I don’t want my book project to be the death of me. I want it to pay off. I want to be good at writing it, so I can maximize the return on my time investment. These are my demands.

Turns out, being good at writing non-fiction is one of the first conditions of writing a non-fiction book that sells. Lucky me! Intuitively, I’m on the right track. Research tells me I need to have loads of experience, or a special unique perspective, or clear expertise, to write this book and sell it. I believe I do.

My second step was to learn about what makes for a successful journey to non-fiction book publication from the three non-fiction books I bought on the subject. But first,

Step 1.5: Decide to go for it.

In between thinking about what I might write and buying my reference books, I stumbled upon this nugget of information that sent my vision into warp speed: In non-fiction, you don’t write the book first. You write a proposal, and that sells the book. It’s no joke—you sell the book before you write it!

Basically, I’ll have to create a marketing plan in order to sell my book. Woo hoo! It so happens I have a marketing background. I developed brand strategies for large clients and the communications that would support them. So my heart went aflutter. Perfect.

Step 2: Secure reference books to guide the process.

I looked at reviews and picked three highly-rated guides to help me understand winning ways to approach the non-fiction book market. After that it was full speed ahead, consulting the three books, comparing advice and taking notes. Here are the titles:

Wow! Non-fiction seems like fun!

There are a few different approaches and actual proposal outlines offered among these books. In Camenson’s book, she recommends crafting a stellar query letter and sending it simultaneously to several editors or agents at once. The query offers up the full proposal to those interested. Before all that, of course, comes the research that will show up in your proposal, and be used to beef up your query: competitive and similar titles, what makes your book unique in the market, who the target audience is, and more. This is the approach I already imagined.

In Lyon’s book, the same is recommended but with a few more caveats. There’s a lot to be said for the writer who can devote a lot of time to the business of being a writer. For example, going to conferences each year, to hopefully meet editors or agents, knowing other established writers, or being able to talk with someone who can give you a referral to an agent or editor. But for me, this book is pretty much my fourth job. Industry networking isn’t happening. I’m on my own, a little minnow in the Unsolicited Sea.

The idea of finding an agent always sets me back, I must admit. It seems just as hard to get an audience with an agent as with an editor. To me, it looks like an extra set of locked doors to break through. There’s other good stuff in Lyon’s book, but maybe this mindset isn’t the right match for me.

In Whalin’s book, a really strong case is made for finding an agent. I pout. But, at least he provides some direct resources for doing so, even if it is only a listing or association to scour for possibilities. Again, it’s like a double door—do I want to bother with a whole extra layer of researching agents and their clients so I can select which ones to query? No, but maybe I have to. I thought this process seemed more fun than all that.

Finally, I go back and find a better answer in Lyon’s book. She recommends trying to snag an agent only if your market is medium to large. Many non-fiction markets are small, and if your book is a specialty book best suited for a small publisher, an agent isn’t the way to go. This offers me clearer direction.

At the moment, I haven’t yet decided which of my two ideas for non-fiction books I’m talking about here. Both are a great start to being able to craft a solid proposal, but the Pilates instructors’ handbook is suited for a smaller specialty publisher while the self-help wellness guidebook would have more of a mass market appeal. I have to decide which one to work with.

Step 3: Decide on the approach.

For me, this means first picking the book idea I will work with, since I have more than one. They lend themselves to different approaches so I really can’t move forward until I commit to a path. Here’s what I’m choosing from:

  • A) The Pilates Cue Guru: How to Make Magic with the Method is the only handbook for fitness instructors and Pilates teachers that specifically teaches creative ways to effectively cue all the different principles, exercises and goals of the Pilates method. Cuing is vital to the success and enjoyment of mind-body exercise and Pilates in particular, which features core principles of concentration, precision, flow, and more.
  • B) Project Pick One Thing: Rediscovering, Caring For and Honoring Every Bit of Your Beautiful Self is an engaging, accessible health-and-wellness guidebook in an easy-to-reference format that encourages positive lifestyle changes among busy adults interested in self-improvement. It is the first book to offer a customizable approach to taking care of various aspects of body, mind and life in an informal encyclopedic style that is informative but never dry; credible, but not clinical.

I have chosen, for my first attempt to take place this year, to go with A.

I’m just a little deflated by my choice because I’m pretty sure B is the real money-maker of the two, and I’m not going to get on Oprah with choice A. Plus, Project Pick One Thing is the most developed of my ideas, as I have been blogging in that very format for months now, and could clearly demonstrate its direction and my writing style with samples from my posts. However, my blog doesn’t have that many readers at this point, and while I love it and believe in it, I feel that it’s a harder sell.

Remember, I not only want to write a non-fiction book that sells; first, I have to sell the proposal. I have strong credentials and experience as a Pilates instructor and my cuing is bar none (if I do say so myself), which is why I came up with the book idea in the first place. Every other instructor or advanced student I meet confirms my gift in this area. It will be easy to define the size of my potential market and I can personally back up book promotion with published articles, my award-winning Pilates studio, and testimonials.

After perusing my guidebooks and considering the approaches they recommend, I’ve decided to go straight for smaller or specialty publishers. I’ll use Camenson’s and Lyon’s approach to query first, simultaneously (in small batches), and get requests for my proposal. I’ll use a sample query from Lyon’s book (Page 211, Sidebar 14-1) as my template. It works well with my topic, although it is aimed at getting agent representation, so I’ll need to change that aim to getting a request for proposal from an editor.

I want to find eight potential publishers to query, two or three at a time. I’ll query my leading contender within the first batch I send out, with the goal of landing it, or learning from the ‘no.’

The format I’ll use for my proposal will be the one from Whalin’s book (Page 154, Figure 1). Its marketing-esque slant, including the call for a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), which I have already started to do in my overviews of A and B above, feel like the right fit for me.

Step 4: Find Publishers, Query the Editors.

Check back in October for a progress update!

Final Poll Results

Write a Unique Selling Proposition for Your Non-Fiction Book Idea

A Pen In Each Hand

By fmwrites

Begin with a “10-Second Elevator Speech.” This is the term I use for how you would give a brief summary covering your book’s main content in an interest-grabbing way that sets your book apart from all others. As if you had an elevator ride to do so. (Not easy!)

Then, write bullet points on what the reader (consumer) will get, specifically, from reading your book (the reader’s take-aways, or the solution to the reader’s problem).

Finally, write a couple bullet points on how that will be done (what features of the book will provide those reader benefits). This USP will serve as a wonderfully concise platform for building your or query letter, or book proposal, or marketing plan, or business plan, or grant application… as you can tell, a USP is a powerful tool!

Love is a Many Clichéd Thing: How to Write an Original Love Poem

Absolute Blank

By Faith Watson (fmwrites)

Cupid’s arrows will surely hit the target if you write your next love poem sincerely, without worry or pretense. But sometimes something extraspecial is called for. You want to write the big one, a love poem that will be read at the altar or found in a keepsake box decades from now. When it comes to writing a unique poem for your beloved, try drawing inspiration from a wide range of poetry—modern and classic, as well as poems written in different languages and from other cultures. Here are some approaches to help you melt a heart.

Background Image: H/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Not all Roses are Red.

Not all lips are like cherries, either. Good to remember if you want to write a love poem focusing on the physical features of your subject. It’s been done so often it’s not easy to do without sounding rather copycat. However, there are plenty of classic and modern examples to help you expand on your imagery as you focus on the specific beauty of your loved one.

When Pablo Neruda provided descriptive imagery of his wife Matilde, he often related her personal qualities to nature, to culture, to the very land and times they shared. He was in awe as he described not just her features, but also her movements and habits.

From Neruda’s “Sonnet XXX”:

You have the thick hair from a larch of the archipelago,
skin made by centuries of time,

From Neruda’s “Sonnet XXXVI”:

I love to watch your miniature empire
sparkle: your weapons of wax and wine and oil,
garlic, and the soil that opens for your hands

If you’d like to evoke passion, you can dive right in and write the sexy parts—with or without reserve. Want to talk about body parts? Head straight to your favorites and take delight in them, as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu has done here in “Between Your Sheets”:

Imagination shows me all your charms,
The plenteous silken hair, and waxen arms,
The well turned neck, and snowy rising breast
And all the beauties that supinely rest
between your sheets.

Or, follow Shakespeare’s lead in “Sonnet 141.” Here he goes the opposite way, declaring it’s not how she looks that makes him love her; she has flaws but he loves her anyway:

In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;

L is for the way you Look at Love.

Elementary school teachers can use this device as a prompt for their students, but not the adult love poet. Avoid acronyms. M-A-R-R-Y-M-E works for sky writing but doesn’t read as a poetic attempt for expressing your deepest desires. However, writing out the lines that would follow your Capital Letters isn’t a bad exercise to get you started. You might find the seeds to grow a more sophisticated kind of poem. Consider how the famous lyrics to Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” read when written as a poem with a few tweaks to tone them down:

The way you look at me,
you are the only one
I see. Extraordinary—
even more.

Words of love,
all that I can give.
We are two in love.
Take my one heart.
It was made for you.

How Do You Love Them?

Go ahead, count the ways. But for your poem, limit it to one powerful theme. It’s easier to be original if you keep it real. Choose a topic you can personally relate to your love. Nature? Home? Family? Here is a great example of using a simple, personal theme (in this case, an everyday habit of a couple) to craft a love poem:

Time and again, however well we know the landscape of love,
and the little church-yard with lamenting names,
and the frightfully silent ravine wherein all the others
end: time and again we go out two together,
under the old trees, lie down again and again
between the flowers, face to face with the sky.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Time and Again”

Love is Enough.

Sometimes, you don’t need to write to your love, you can craft a poem inspired by the great love you know. Try simply writing about love. How it feels to be you, in love. What has gone right in your world since finding love. How love has helped you find your heart, your path, your satisfaction in life.

William Morris wrote:

Love is enough: though the world be a-waning.

e.e. cummings wrote:

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

Rumi, the Sufi poet, doesn’t hold back in this excerpt from “Looking for Your Face”:

From the beginning of my life
I have been looking for your face
but today I have seen it.

Today I have seen
the charm, the beauty,
the unfathomable grace
of the face
that I was looking for.

Today I have found you
and those that laughed
and scorned me yesterday
are sorry that they were not looking
as I did.

I am bewildered by the magnificence
of your beauty
and wish to see you with a hundred eyes.

Is anything more splendored than the truth about love? About all the dreams that come true for a soul that has found the love of a lifetime? Above all, be yourself as you set out to write your love poem. Let your beloved know it’s from you, with all your heart.

Further Reading:

Final Poll Results

Love Poem

A Pen In Each Hand

By fmwrites

Make a list of your favorite aspects of your relationship with your beloved. It might include references to the time you spend together, your shared sense of humor, how loyal you are to each other, etc. Then write one simple line of poetry around each of those aspects. For example:

Saturday mornings we join in juice and java
We make jokes in our jammies
Saturdays don’t exist without you

Then, arrange all your lines with extra love on a page, and use your personal perspective to create a unique love poem from them.

What Brand of Writer Are You? Part II: Building a Strong, Successful Brand

Absolute Blank

By Faith Watson (fmwrites)

Part One of this article (August 2008) introduced the concept of branding yourself and your writing. The benefits of building a brand from your writing were discussed in the same terms as consumer brand marketing. We defined a brand as occupying a position representing the solid aspects of the relationship it offers to prospects (potential readers and editors) by demonstrating consistent characteristics, and standing for something of value to its users (readers and publishers).

Whether it’s business marketing or creative writing terms, a brand is both a strategy and a result. It includes the attributes its creator has decided to promote and the benefits of capitalizing on them. From the customer perspective, a brand stands for something, so it is selected with a certain favorable bias.

In the August installment, writers were asked to inventory their writing brand and arrive at a clear statement of their brand essence to develop a general platform. This platform is used to both guide and measure the work of a writer who is interested in owning a propriety brand for their work. Here in Part II, we are going to use two sample brand platforms to explain how writers can build and strengthen their writing brands over time.

In other words, let’s learn how we can make the branding idea work for you.

Background Image: Marina Noordegraaf/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Expand on Your Essence

Sure, branding sounds like all boring business, but there is also some fun to be had along the way if you are a creative person looking to grow your potential with writing. Looking at two sample writing brand platforms from Part I, we can use them to demonstrate how the basics of brand-building apply to writing for pleasure and profit:

Gabby: I craft travel stories that always end with a connection to the universal qualities of the human condition. My audience enjoys up close and personal tales of little known and exotic places, and the everyday stories of the people who inhabit them.

Luke: Sickeningly realistic slasher novels with a hard drinkin’, no holds barred, in your face attitude. Favorite short stories for reading while waiting for new dagger tattoo.

The first brand building tactic you should use is surveillance. It’s important for you to know what’s out there in all the places you’d like to be a force. You should regularly survey the markets and the competition for your writing.

In Gabby’s case, she should keep an eye on travel magazines worldwide, including in-flight and cruise cabin publications. Direct source publications such as city cultural organizations or chambers of commerce shouldn’t be overlooked. Who is writing all the articles on small towns in the US costal states these days? Is photography a key element?

For Luke, it’s important that he look for new openings in his already well-defined market. If he has direct access to readers with similar interests, he can take advantage of that and survey them directly. What are they reading? Can he lurk on their favorite online forums?

The second tactic falls in line right after the first. Writers should take stock of their ammunition. Repair it, polish it, load it and distribute it accordingly. If you have come this far and actually have a notion of the type of brand you’re pushing, then surely you have some writing and knowledge to collect and use, right? Put it in play!

Luke may have three notebooks filled with scary, gory stories, just like the ones he likes to read. Now is the time for him to type them up, get some feedback and hit those target markets which he identified during surveillance. If he’s farther along than that, say, with a pile of rejection slips, it’s time for him to retool and rearm. How can he hone his work according to his aspirations for his brand, as well as his competition?

Gabby may have sold several stories over the last few years, but feel her pay scale is lacking as well as her prestige. Perfect opportunity for a branding approach! How can she inflate her perceived value? Is it the locations she is writing about, or the interests of the readers she is targeting? Fine dining and elite travel markets can be cracked, but perhaps not by a simple story following an island coconut. Unless the coconut was enjoyed by a popular celebrity chef, or compared to a coconut costing five times as much on another island more favored by rich tourists. In the world of brands, perception is everything.

More experienced writers will also want to consider if it’s time to expand their brands.

Sometimes print markets dry up, but in today’s webscape, there are always new doors opening as well. Many of them rely on the niche. Gabby can create an all-coconut blog or pitch a book of her reviews and photos of famous sunsets around the world. Luke can self-publish and invest in enough copies for every tattoo parlor in a 100-mile radius, for starters. (And, he might even be able to write off his expenses for that distribution road trip!) Niches work vertically. But writers can also expand horizontally.

For instance, topical trends pop up all the time. Writers can grow their brands in new directions by maintaining a simple awareness to widening interests in their general field of specialty.

When Bridges of Madison County became a novel, and then later film, phenomenon (I’m not commenting on quality here, just popularity) a few smart writers expanded their brands horizontally to ride on the county’s and bridges’ new fame. Non-fiction books featuring covered bridges popped up on bookstands and so did stories resembling the tale’s aloof roving photographer and the immigrant country housewife. Gabby might have run into a similar tale or two during her travels, and if she were trying to expand her brand, might have sold them under the umbrella of her travel expertise as well as her platform’s promise to speak of the human condition in little known places.

Another horizontal expansion for a growing writer’s brand can be found in audience. Look at the warm circle of people around Luke’s original audience. A little bit of research might prove that there’s a similar mindset ready to read angry tales of horror and mayhem among users of other kinds of brands. What about motorcycle riders, cigarette smokers, extreme sports enthusiasts or heavy metal musicians? If Luke tries to market his work horizontally, he might find an incredibly receptive audience in other arenas, or better still, a publisher from another genre who wants to expand into fiction like Luke’s.

Keep Your Promises

All things considered, the most important thing any brand of writer can do is keep their promises. An audience or market is like your faithful guard dog at home. When you arrive, you want it to recognize that hand on the doorknob as yours. The best writing will begin with what is in your heart, include real understanding of the topic or characters by the author, and end with something unique and enjoyed by its audience. A brand of writing will help guide you along your path toward achieving all that and more.

I once went to a very looong seminar on branding. I expected to be bored out of my mind but was instead impressed and moved by the possibilities of this mindset and approach. I remember one theory above all that stuck with me regarding our brands, what good they do, and how we relate them:

The quality of your life depends on the quality of your relationships.

The quality of your relationships depends on the quality of your communication.

The quality of your communication (noun) depends on the quality of your communication (verb).

To communicate with truth, style, understanding and conviction is the key to… everything.

In short, writing and trying to sell what you’ve written is just like developing a product and trying to sell that product. Your approach should be to say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you said you were going to do.

It’s really quite simple… but it’s definitely not easy. Still, it’s worth it! The most successful writers in the world (and not all names you recognize, either) have arrived at their success by defining and maximizing the essence and attributes of their brands. Not always deliberately, but you can have that extra advantage now that you know what brand of writer you are.

Final Poll Results

Brand Attributes

A Pen In Each Hand

By fmwrites

Select one of the main attributes of your writing brand. Could be “horror featuring werewolves” or “Caribbean cooking expert” or “woodworking how-to articles.” It’s your pick. Now make a list of how you might expand on that attribute, to add depth or breadth to your brand of writing.

Some examples to get you thinking:

  • Werewolves: Werewolves of the Islands; A Werewolf’s Cookbook; X-rated Werewolf Play.
  • Caribbean cooking expert: Trip through the Caribbean Market; Cooking Expert Volunteers in Mission to Feed the Poor; Goats Can Be Yummy
  • Woodworking how-to articles: The Best Tools for Large Projects; Music to Work Wood By; Puppets Puppets Puppets: The Possibilities Are Endless

What Brand of Writer Are You? Part I: Branding Yourself (It might hurt a little, but it’s for your own good.)

Absolute Blank

By Faith Watson (fmwrites)

McDonald’s®, Pepsi®, Marlboro®, Lexus®, Nike®, Oprah, Britney Spears, Mark Twain, Tom Wolfe, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. All of these are brand names. Strong brand names, in fact. However, a marketing specialist will be quick to point out that a brand is much more than just a name. After years as a business branding strategist, I can convey all I know about being a giant in one’s field with this simple concept: a strong brand is a promise kept. As a writer, I can go one better: a successful writer is a strong brand.

Yes, Mark Twain is a brand, and you can be one, too. Knowing what promises you’re making, to whom, and keeping them, is the way to define and build your own writing success. With a bit of introspection, honesty and accountability, writers can benefit from the same strategies used to build leading brands in the marketplace. Twain might have done it by chance; you can start branding yourself right now. Let’s start with the basics:

Background Image: Marina Noordegraaf/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

What is a brand?

A brand occupies a position in the mind. Ideally, the brand owns a singular space that serves as “mental shorthand” for a much larger set of attributes and associations within a broader class or category.

Far more than its name, logo, or product features, a brand represents all aspects of the relationship it offers to prospects. A strong brand offers a strong relationship by keeping its promises and consistently demonstrating its character.

In sum, a brand stands for something; and a great brand stands for something great, making it uniquely valued within its users’ experiences over time.

Test out any of the brand names in the first paragraph against the definition above. Americans, at least, will have an equally clear, automatic impression of Marlboro, as they will of Oprah. The Marlboro man represents ruggedness. Oprah is the supreme example of offering a strong relationship to her prospects and consistently demonstrating her brand character.

But what about Britney? Well, cringe as we might, brands stand for something, which makes Britney is a very strong brand, but not necessarily a positive one. Brands both profit and suffer from the consequences of the image they build in people’s minds. Still—Britney sells tabloids like no other, and many a rich paparazzi has her image to thank. Her brand is money in the bank.

Now try comparing your writing, and yourself as a writer, against the same brand criteria. Wouldn’t it be incredible to own a singular space in your market? Sure, that’s a dream, but all dream brands have to start somewhere. For writers Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the starting point was literally a collaborative fantasy that has branched off to become an extended brand family. They originally wrote “Dragonlance” together, a series of dragon books. Since then, they’ve succeeded as individual writers, and have also been brought back together on a number of products, including role-playing games. If you say these names to a fantasy fan, they know dragons are afoot.

Weis and Hickman are well branded. They provide a great example of how a path to success can arise from positive associations with specific product features. They enjoy an instant bias in their market, and show us the tangible value of a strong brand attribute. They have a platform for their work that began with a creation that was true to their identities. Now, all their prospects know what to expect from them. They’ve offered a relationship with readers, and delivered on their promises. All this keeps their names at the head of their pack, and their image sterling with their fans. So, now we see how your brand as a writer is far more than your name or your features. It is your ability to deliver on the promise of a rewarding relationship with readers… and editors! In this way, it is the future of your writing career. Better still, when you arrive at and stick to a well-defined brand, you’ll have more focus and a clear, enjoyable path for your projects and submissions.

Defining Your Brand

Brand Identity: Branding yourself begins with identifying yourself. Kind of like cattle. Who are you and where does your writing belong? Take inventory. “Know thyself” remains among the greatest advice of all time, so apropos for writers building brands.

What drives your identity as a writer? Some of parts of your identity are internally driven, meaning they come from you. They are either facts about you and your writing, or claims and representations that you make. Nike used the slogan “Just Do It” to provide an instant message about its brand of athletic shoes. Lexus is an expensive luxury car. If you’re Pepsi, you are a sweet brown cola. You are also an affordable beverage found worldwide, associated with youth and pop culture.

What about you? Perhaps you have a very clear defining genre for your work, like Shakespearian sonnets or lesbian pirate erotica, and thus genre is an important identity driver. You might eschew punctuation, or have a famous parent, or write in a style reminiscent of Poe. In all cases, you can only build a successful brand if you know the components you’re working with

Your actual human identity begins the process of defining all the elements of your writing brand. This includes any number of facts about you. If you’re Mark Twain, the Mississippi River matters to your identity. Living in a slave state as a young man matters. Your birth name, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, matters to the point that you choose a pen name. Oprah, being black, being a female from the south, being from a poor family, being a spiritual person: it all matters. These traits didn’t have to be focal points of identity, but for a unique brand to build on a reliable promise, this type of authenticity is a good thing.

Then there’s Tom Wolfe. One stroll down the “Alphabetical by Author W” shelf shows how he CAPITALIZES on his NAME as a part of his brand identity relationship with prospective readers. We know who we’re reading when we read one of his books. Just like you know you’re eating in a McDonald’s when you’re under those golden arches.

Maybe your name on a manuscript is not going to pull in as much attention as Tom Wolfe’s does, at least not yet. But one day it could be just as recognizable, if that is what you aspire to. Your intentions for your brand, though, can only take you so far. Your identity might be a thing of beauty, but rest is in the eye of the marketplace beholder.

Brand Image: The fuel of your brand strategy will be leveraging what it is about you as a writer that makes you, you, and makes your writing stand apart from anyone else’s. In the end, perception is everything. What already exists in the mind of your readers is key.

The other half of what drives your writing identity is externally driven, meaning they are factors which exist outside of you. Your image actually resides with others who encounter you and your work. You contribute to your image via the messages you send about your self and your work, so it is crucial that you define your identity and send messages according to the image you want to create. Impressions received from an unsolicited query, and the editor’s feelings about unauthorized biographies, would both be a part of a biography writer’s image. Thus, they would also be part of that writer’s brand.

How you think about what you have to offer can be vastly different from what is received by others. This is why the submissions/rejections process can be so valuable to an aspiring writer. It serves as research on your image. Writers’ groups, online critiquing communities, writing classes and even informal family reads are also windows to your image. Any effort at branding yourself must include feedback, and you’ll do well to take notes on reoccurring criticisms, compliments and questions as part of your market and audience research. Is your writing brand what you think it is? Are you the writer you are intending to be? Only others can answer these image questions. The answers, good and bad, can all be used to your benefit.

For example, some creative writers complicate their identity (what they control) at the expense of their own image (what others experience). Perhaps they try to create an air of mystery or veiled meanings in an effort to keep their audience guessing, and presumably intrigued. But seasoned veterans know it’s hard enough just to get your work read, without adding any unnecessary questions or confusion to the mix.

You might think you are different and that’s a good thing, but not always so if you’re making the reader work hard to “get” your messages. When that happens, your image isn’t at all what you set out to convey with your identity. Furthermore, having a writing brand actually is about being able to be pinned down, in a way. From the marketability perspective, recognizable and understood are not dirty words. There should be an element of predictability in a brand. That’s why people return to it again and again. However, it needs to be predictably good. Stay away from predictable plots, dialogue and imagery!

To help you get started on branding yourself now, take this brief inventory of your own brand identity, then work on creating a concise brand statement you can tape to your computer screen and use to guide all your work.

Your Writing Brand: Take Inventory

  • The physical facts about you (i.e. gender, location, age, background)
  • The technical facts about your writing (genre, specialties, style)
  • The look and sound of your writing
  • The intended audience for your work
  • The type of people who favor your work
  • The markets for your work
  • The benefits for those who read your work
  • The formula or approaches you use for your writing
  • What/who your brand of writing reminds people of
  • In what environments or under what circumstances your readers would be found
  • The competition for your writing in your markets
  • The comparisons to your writing in your markets
  • The challenges and predicted future of your markets
  • What your brand stands for in your opinion

Your Writing Brand: Core Identity Statement

  • What is at the hub, or is the essential, unchanging part of your writing brand identity, around which all other components rotate?

Your brand essence, or core identity, doesn’t need to be fancy. You don’t need a political platform to refer to as you write; rather, you need an easy to use navigation system. Your writing brand can be as simple as the following examples:

I craft travel stories that always end with a connection to the universal qualities of the human condition. My audience enjoys up close and personal tales of little known and exotic places, and the every day stories of the people who inhabit them.

Sensitive, psychologically driven literary fiction featuring prominent female characters and their children, submitted in grammatically and cosmetically perfect form to editors at small local presses.

Sickeningly realistic slasher novels with a hard drinkin’, no holds barred, in your face attitude. Favorite short stories for reading while waiting for new dagger tattoo.

I only write rhyming, long form poetry. I do not strive for anything other than an honorable approach to the traditional poem.

Next month, we’ll address the more specific tactics for building your brand image in Part II of this article.

Final Poll Results