Thursday, January 29, 2015

Establishing Your Author Brand

I spent a few years in corporate branding in my last role, so I know how important it is to a company’s success. But did you know that it’s also very important to your success as an author? I’m hoping that you are currently nodding your head—I know I’m not the first to bring up this subject. It’s not a new or novel idea. However, it’s a subject that’s important enough to keep talking about and sharing tips.

In case the concept of branding has somehow escaped your notice, I’ll start with the basic definition. In its most simplest of terms, a brand lets consumers know what to expect from a certain product or service, and how that product or service is different than its competitors.

While I’m relatively new to the author world, I’m not new to the concept of branding. I think this is an element that many new authors either forget about, or avoid because they are intimidated by the process. Therefore, I thought I’d share my thoughts with you on branding, hoping that it will help you with your own branding efforts.

There is so much that goes into branding that I’ve decided to talk about this topic over my next few posts (which here on Across the Board is about once a month). I’m not yet sure how many posts this series will encompass, but it will be more than one.

The critical first step in making your brand effective is to understand what your brand is. Here are four important questions you should ask yourself as you start the branding process.

What kind of books do I want to write?
While branding is critical, it can’t exist without a product. Your first step is to figure out what kind of author you want to be. The brand for a fiction author might be very different than that of a non-fiction author.

For example if you want to publish non-fiction cook books with healthy recipes, then you should want your brand to represent a healthy lifestyle. Your brand might need to inspire motivation. However, if you want to publish fiction novels about werewolves, then you’d want a brand that evokes fantasy and the supernatural. You would want to have a brand that tells readers you will transform them into another world.

If you are an author who plans to write in more than one genre, then you will also need to determine how different they are from each other. If they are on opposite ends of the spectrum—such as romance and children’s books—then you will need two separate brands. However if they are similar—such as women’s fiction and romantic suspense—then you can probably get by with the same brand.

I knew I wanted to write books that are real-to-life fiction. My books may or may not have a traditional HEA (happily ever after) ending, but they will always have endings that inspire hope. I want to write books that my readers can connect to emotionally, on many different levels.

Who is my target audience?
Once you know what kind of author you are going to be, then you need to think about your target audience. It’s not that your brand should change based on your audience, but it’s likely that your message will.

For example, maybe part of your brand message is that your books should be sold with a box of tissues—i.e. your novels will create a strong emotional reaction for your readers. This might be a successful hook for female readers, however if a large part of your target readership is male then you might not draw them in. Your brand might need to be communicated in a way that tells readers your books create real life connections rather than emotional connections. It’s a subtle difference, but it could be important.

Another example is for those of you wishing to write middle grade or children’s books. While your target audience is the child, it’s the adult in that child’s life that has all the purchasing power. If you fail to understand how your brand relates to the adults as well, they may not be willing to buy the books.

I know that my target audience is women—approximately somewhere in the age range of 35-55. This doesn’t mean that men or 25 year old women can’t read and enjoy my books (several have, in fact, read and loved my books), but I understand where the majority of my reading audience falls.

How are the other authors in my genre branded?
Again, part of your author brand should let the reader know how your books are different than your competitor’s. For example, you might be at a disadvantage if you’re an overweight person about to publish a book about living a healthy lifestyle, and all the other authors in this genre are athletically fit. It doesn’t mean that you can’t publish and sell that healthy lifestyle book, but you’ll need to seriously think about what sets you apart from those other authors. You’ll need to find that unique hook that will have the readers trusting in you and your book.

When I was launching my first novel, I visited several websites and social media sites of other authors in my genre. I looked for areas where we were similar, and also areas where we differed. One of the main differences is that my books will not always follow ‘the norms’ of book writing, or a standard blueprint for a women's fiction novel. For example in my third novel, Shattered Angel, I start at chapter 24 and count down. Basically, I’m going to push boundaries and think outside the box.

Do I already have a brand in place?
Once a brand is established, it’s hard to change it. Asking yourself this question will help you determine if you need to use your real name or a pen name. For example if you’re a minister’s wife who’s planning to write erotic romance, then your personal and author brand will likely be in conflict with each other, and you might want to use a pen name.

I spent 17 years in the corporate industry at a global Fortune 500 company before writing my first novel. I have an established brand that works well with my genre and my audience. I wanted to be able to leverage this to my advantage.

When I went through this process, I added up all my answers to these questions and the end result is that I’ve branded myself as a Literary Engineer. My undergraduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering, and I like that this title represents all aspects of who I am. Literary Engineer represents the idea that I don’t want to just write books—I want to engineer reading experiences. I want my readers to feel as if they’ve been on an emotional journey with my characters. It’s also a unique title, representing my desire to think outside the box and try new things in my novels. You never know exactly what you will get with each new book I publish.

In my next post I’ll start talking about how you use your brand throughout the writing process—from your book cover to your blog posts.

So what about you—have you thought about your author brand?

~ Carrie

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Magic of the Audiobook

Anyone who knows me knows I have an addiction to books and would likely opt to set aside any and all adult duties to lounge around with a book and a mug of coffee. However, that's not entirely practical. Well, it could be practical. But in my experience, when I finally pull my nose out of my book for a refill of java, I'd see the destruction of the dual tornadoes who are my children, the mountain of laundry, and the messages wondering where weld cap orders are. Fortunately, there's a happy medium I have found: audiobooks.

I was first introduced to audiobooks through the Baron (aka my husband), who took up listening on his way to and from work and otherwise didn't have much time for books between work, school, and family. I was skeptical at first, thinking an audiobook wouldn't hold my attention or that it just wouldn't be the same as reading a physical book. However, I found that it was a wonderful way to immerse myself in another world while doing something I had to get done- like driving, crocheting, or yard work. Audiobooks also had the added benefit of not having to look up at a screen every time something exciting was happening, which, interestingly enough, increased my work pace. I also found that I was more willing to spend time doing some of these adult duties because I associated them with being able to listen to a book.

Since discovering the magic of audiobooks, I've spread the love to my children. We started listening to Harry Potter in the car while driving (the narrator really is fantastic!). It was shocking to see how much they paid attention and followed along with the story, considering they were almost four and almost six at the time. We even had some days where I had to bring the discs inside to continue listening while they played because they were that caught up in the story.

Some of the books I have loved listening to on audiobook are:

All were great books with wonderful narration!

In talking about audiobooks to other people, though, it was brought to my attention that not everyone appreciates them the same way I do. For example, there are people who believe listening to an audiobook doesn't count as having read the book (and, as you may remember in my post from last month, my 2014 reading challenge only counted audiobooks as half a book). I, obviously, disagree. Comprehension is still a major part of it. In fact, audiobooks could really be helpful for those who aren't as fluid with reading or have a hard time getting into a story. Also, there are people--like me--who cannot dedicate as much time as they'd like to sitting still and reading.

So what are options with audiobooks? Well, there are plenty of resources. For one, there's Audible, which is an Amazon entity (did you know you can Whispersync some audiobooks for only a few dollars if you've bought the Kindle edition already?). Audiobooks can then be listened to on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Libraries are also packed with audiobooks on CDs. They even have Playaways, which look like an MP3 player-type device and all you have to do is plug in headphones and go.

I'm getting ready to start The Hobbit while sewing, so I'll leave you with these questions. Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you count them as having read the book? Any recommendations for must-listen-to books?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

In Which I'm Proud of my 'Little' Reading Buddy

Last weekend I attended my youngest brother's welcome home party from boot camp. How strange that my little brother is now a U.S. Marine! I am so INCREDIBLY PROUD OF HIM!! Not only did he make it through something that is grueling-- mentally and physically-- but he's now serving our country in an extraordinary way.
To see him doing something so honorable with his life makes me super happy. And a bit sad, knowing he'll soon be off to who knows where. But in the midst of all this change, I hope that he can still find a way to read, as I used to load him up w/boxes at a time when he'd come to visit. My older brother reads too, but our tastes are different. Josh likes MG & YA so first thing when he'd come down, we'd head to the bookcases to select his next haul. It was so enjoyable to peruse the shelves, hunting down my favorite reads to share, or cautioning him against 'meh' or so-so ones.
My husband is not a reader and so far all my almost-three-year-old likes to do is push the books as far back on the shelves as they'll go (he loves picture books of course, but Mama's books aren't those). So having someone to browse and talk books with was fun. But now Josh will be out creating his own adventures and experiencing amazing things, and I just have to repeat myself again here and say how super proud I am of him. Hoo-rah!!! (or however that'd be spelled...)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Annual Strategy Session with my Agent

Every January, right after the new year, my agent plans her Annual Strategy Session calls.

(Side note: I'm fairly certain she doesn't use a phone like this with which to call her clients, although that would be pretty cool. In fact, I used to collect real, old fashioned phones as a kid, and I had one just like this! My favorite game was to pretend that I was Mrs. Martin getting a frantic phone call from the local sheriff saying that Lassie rescued Timmy from a well.)


The Strategy Call is an awesome way of making sure agent and client are on the same page, so to speak.

Basically, the way it works is, Carrie schedules a week of available time slots and emails them to her clients, and we choose which one we want, and that's the time she'll call us for a half hour to discuss everything from life to work to everything in between.

Here's what we discussed during our call two weeks ago:

1. Random fun, catch-ups about life, of course.
2. A plan of action for my on sub book, AT FIRST BLUSH, and our determination to get it seen by the editor who will fall in love with it.
3. My new book. I gave her a time frame of spring I'd like to get it to her, and she answered some questions for me regarding how much romance needs to be "shown" for the market I'm writing in, which is young upmarket women's commercial fiction (basically, good old fashioned chick lit along the lines of the Shopaholic series.)
4. Getting together to meet! Believe it or not, she's been my agent unoffically for 2 yrs, offically for 1.5 years, and we haven't met! I'm rarely in the city but it's only a forty five minute trip for me, so I'm looking forward to setting a date to have lunch.

I know I say it a lot, but I really am lucky to have her in my corner. She's a wonderful, hard-working agent and an all-around fantastic person, and she makes navigating this crazy biz not only easier, but fun!

The call is invigorating and gets me amped up for the new year, new projects and hopefully some sales, and it clearly maps out our goals.

Do you get more excited to start new projects once the new year hits?? Or do you love it all year round?

xoxo Beth

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Dad, Will Write

 A Post By Jonathan

I'd like to apologize ahead of time for the randomness of this post. My newborn son is ten days old today, so I'm claiming new parent brain. It's been an amazing experience so far, seeing me looking back at me, but let's just say I haven't gotten a lot of writing done. It's taken nearly 100% of my energy to make sure I don't drop him or swaddle his little arms and legs into a pretzel. Still waiting for the owners manual to arrive in the mail, but nothing yet. Anybody got the number for UPS?

Despite all this new dad craziness, I have actually managed to think about my writing over the last ten days (and nights... oh, the nights). The thoughts have ranged from "will I ever have the time to write again?" to "man, I should be really be writing... I need to make more money!" But, as new as all this is, I can't help thinking that bringing a child into this world is a little like bringing a book into this world (just don't tell my wife I said that!). Both of them start off as a twinkle in your eye, then they go through numerous drafts, and then suddenly they're ready for their debut. Both require a ton of time and dedication, and constant thoughts about their health and well being. Every time I wake up, I can't help but check to see if the kid's still breathing. I can remember feeling like that about my MS a time or two. Come to think of it, I haven't checked it in a couple of days...

The writing time will come back, this I know. But right now, I'm just trying to enjoy some uninterrupted time with my new little muse. I don't think I'll be getting in my 1,000 words a day anytime soon, but if there's a better reason not to, I haven't found one. Anyway, here's to all you real and book parents out there! Remember to feed your babies, change their diapers, and maybe someday they'll thank you for it.

Okay, gotta run. I think Jonathan Junior may need some more daddy time. Or is that the other way around?

Monday, January 12, 2015

On the Art of Writing

I often lament—mostly to myself because I would not subject my friends and colleagues to my lamentations—the sad fate of having become an artist as well as a writer. True, this seems like the best marriage of talents. I get to write and draw! I do not need to seek out a collaborator to bring my fictional worlds to life, I can do it all on my own (though, I still enjoy working with a collaborator now and then, but that’s a blog post for another day)! They are perfectly complementary skillsets. One supports the other. But I do find that they can sometimes conflict just as well as they work together.

For one thing, it takes so bloody long to get anything done. Writers, you know what a challenge developing a story can be. The first conception, the research and world-building, the character development and plotting, and then the execution of the thing! The eloquent marriage of exposition and dialogue in a well-paced, harmonic arrangement. It can take a long time to get a story just right.

Yes, well, let’s add art to that. Novels, of course, don’t always require art, but consider visual stories like children’s books or comics (I do both). Art and words do not simply support each other, they need each other. To remove one would be to change how the audience interprets the story, to change the medium altogether. Writing can take a while, but in my experience, art takes much, much longer.

I sometimes find it difficult to find the right balance between the two. I love doing both and wouldn’t ever give up either, but now and then I think of how much more I could accomplish if I just focused on one. Think of it: if I were to commit myself entirely to art, then I could use the time I take for writing to further develop my craft and draw more, faster. The same with writing—who knows how many more worlds I could have created by now. Doing both means you must split up your time between the two, and not always equally. It’s very rare that I manage to do both in one day. More often, I will spend long blocks of time—days, weeks even—focused on one or the other. I’ll work on the art for a while, then switch gears, put art on the back burner, and focus on writing.

Why do I work this way? In the recent blog post The Immersion Factor: Comics + Novels, comic writer and novelist Marjorie Liu talks about a similar gear switch in writing comics versus novels. I think it’s the same thing for me in terms of writing versus art: these are activities that occupy slightly different parts of my brain. I need to keep them separate because I think about them differently. In fact, when I’m in the middle of writing a novel, I refuse to draw any part of it. For some creators this is an excellent exercise—but for me, I fear locking down the visual look of my story will stifle my prose. Why work to describe a setting or a character in just the right way when I have a drawing of them? So while the story is in progress, I focus solely on the words.

It’s nearly the same with my visual stories. I will write the script first without worrying about art—for the most part. This is never a completely clean divide because with comics and picture books, the words and art are intricately linked. At times, I cannot plot and write notes without also sketching. And once I have a script completed, I print it out so I can draw thumbnails all over it. As I’m drawing and figuring out the staging and acting, I might make changes to dialogue. It’s a more fluid process. One cannot work without the other.

And can I draw without writing at all? Certainly, and I do all the time. But weirdly enough, I have trouble coming up with stories for those pieces, and they end up existing solely as works of art.

How about you guys? Do you find yourself struggling to balance two skills, and if so, how do you deal with it? 


Thursday, January 8, 2015


Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
HAWM, young disciples!  I am very, very pleased to introduce the first original, recurring segment here on ATB: Back Jacket Hack-Job!  For each entry in this series one of our contributors will put on the hat of a total industry hack attempting to write the back cover of a book.  Writing terribly is almost as hard as writing brilliantly, so this should be a fun challenge.  There are three basic formats:

A)  A real book.

Example:  "HARRY POTTER lives in a rundown house on Privet Lane with his adoptive family the Dursleys.  The house is probably a colonial, I'm not really sure.  Around 1500 sq feet.  Of course this is all in England so I guess it would be whatever the equivalent of that is in meters.  500 sq meters, I guess."

B)  Your own book.

Example:  "GRUNGE, GODS, AND GRAVEYARDS is a book.  My book.  I wrote it.  You like NA?  Too bad.  This is YA, bitches!  You can't tell right now but I'm making the devil sign with my fist."

C)  A made-up book.

Example:  "GOLLY GUMDROPS GRUM-DUM-DIBBLE-DUM DREAMHOUSE is the tale of an anthropomorphic gumdrop named Steve Martin.  Not the famous Steve Martin, it's just a coincidence.  But!  He has a secret.  A TERRIFYING secret.  Because when a walking, talking confection has a sweet tooth, a holocaust of cannibalism will ensue, devouring (literally) the entire Grum-Dum-Dibble-Dum Dreamhouse."

Got the picture?  Oh, if you think you might be interested in writing a guest BJHJ, send your submission to me along with a headshot, bio, and social media links.

All right, let's get started.  Just because I suspect this will be the least popular format, I believe I will kick us off with a look at the worst possible back jacket copy for my own novel, BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS:

Oh.  Hey.  How's it going?  You, ah, doing all right?  Look, I know you don't want to hear from me and...what?  Yes, I know you told me not to talk to you, but...look, can I just say my piece?  Jesus Christ, two minutes of your time, that's all I'm asking!  You'd think I was asking for a freaking car loan!  Well, yes, I mean, I do need to borrow $10,000, but we'll get to that...well, I'll just, look, I'll just toss it out there.  But that's not the point!  God, you never let me finish!

Look, here's what it boils down to: everybody needs a book in their life.  I mean, there's Angry Birds and Facebook and shit for when you're on the toilet, and, really, at the end of the day, God knows all I want to do is to just fall down on the couch and watch some old Simpsons reruns, or, you know, if you're a hip kid or whatever and you've got the Netflix maybe you watch some Bojack Horseman or what was the one with the detectives?  You know, Woody Harrelson was in it.  Was that not Netflix?  Look, you're getting off track again.

The point is...yes, swear to God there's a point.  The point is sometimes you just want a book.  And they're all pretty much the same.  But, you know, BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS is one of them.  So grab it.  Or don't.  I don't give a shit.  But, look, what I really wanted to ask you about was this $10,000.  I am in really dire straits.  You don't even understand.  No, the mob is not gone.  I mean, yeah, they've had to evolve with the internet age and everything, just like everybody else, but they're still there.  And if I don't get them their money, well...

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Book was Nominated for Kindle Scout

I was elated when at 10 p.m. on December 29th, I received an e-mail stating that my novel, A HIGHLAND KNIGHT'S DESIRE had been selected for the Kindle Scout Program. Have you heard of Amazon's Kindle Scout? The program is still in the early stages of development, but is fast becoming a fantastic way to break through the barriers of self-publishing.

I learned about it when Amazon sent me an e-mail announcing the program. I thought about entering for a while before I actually decided to give it a try, and then I thought, why not? Most of my sales are on Amazon, and since I released my first self-pubbed book a year ago, they have given me an opportunity to earn a living through self-publishing that I never thought would be possible. Why not put myself out there and see if I can get nominated? The worst that could happen would be an unsuccessful campaign, and I could turn around and self-publish the book myself.

So how does the program work? Amazon Kindle Scout website quotes: "Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing."

Once you submit your book to Kindle Scout, Amazon owns the rights to it for 45 days regardless if you are nominated or not. They put up an excerpt, bio and questions for the author as well, but the author agrees not to publish the book until the 45 day period is up...unless it is selected for a publishing contract. If a contract is awarded, Amazon gains the rights to the e-book, audio book and e-foreign rights for five years. They in turn agree to promote the author's book on any and all platforms they choose. Astonishingly, the author retains the print rights. Read more about the program details here.

The Kindle Scout Program is open to the genres of Romance, Mystery & Thriller and Science Fiction/Fantasy.

During the 45 day period, the author notifies their friends and fans about the campaign and asks them to nominate their book. So, I dove in head first and asked people to help. I have to admit that I'm pretty active on social media. I posted a couple of Facebook notices and mentioned the program on Twitter a few times. I sent out an e-mail to my contacts and my newsletter followers, and posted it on my blog. I think I probably got the most nominations from Facebook--I did "boost" one of the posts, which helped (got me several new fans, too). Also, because I hold Facebook parties when I release a book, I have a pretty strong following there, and I have no doubt it helped.

Another point to remember: in the rules, Amazon makes the final decision as to whether they think a candidate's book will be a good fit for their program.

Once I was selected, I submitted my final manuscript, and it has now been approved by the Kindle Scout Team. I'm waiting for them to tell me when they plan to publish the book, after which I'll prepare the MS for print. I do have a phone call scheduled with a manager next week, because I had a few questions and they were kind enough to schedule a call.

Bottom line, I don't know where this will lead in the future, but having Amazon's muscle behind a new release can only help. I'm glad I bucked up and took the challenge!

You can check out my winning entry here. Or check out all the entries selected by Kindle Press here. While you're there, why not make a few nominations and help another author join the Kindle Scout program?

To learn more about my books, please visit my web site:

Other news: KNIGHT IN HIGHLAND ARMOR was released on January 1st.

Grieving from the death of his wife, Lord Colin Campbell listens to the cries of his newborn son whilst penning a missive to the king. With no marriage prospects, Colin petitions his majesty for help in finding a stepmother. Never again will he fall in love—the death of a woman brings more pain than losing a whole contingent of men on the battlefield.

Feisty, quick tongued and smart, Margaret Robinson is delighted when her father receives a messenger from the king…until she discovers what news he brings. In a sennight, she will wed the notorious Black Knight—her life is about to end.

Tension builds during the wedding and deteriorates from there…until an accident draws them together. Just when their love begins to blossom, a dire request arrives from the Pope. Colin must join the Crusades at once.

Their fragile love is forced to withstand the seductions of hell—Margaret tempted by a scoundrel laird—Colin courted by Satan himself. Aye, the war for Christendom could very well ruin their dreams forever.

Write on Friends and I'll see you next time!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New year, new deadlines

Happy 2015, y’all! It's KGG and I am typing this from my dining room. Right now, I'm sitting at a table made up of two Costco folding tables covered with Christmas-motif table cloths. One day, we'll get nice dining room furniture and then my husband will ban me from working in here. But for now, I'm sprawled out with my laptop, revision binders, highlighters, a beehive drink dispenser, and a glass vase of multi-colored ornaments. I can't wait to de-holiday my house. 

Holy, moly. Anyone feeling anxious? Like writerly anxious? Like, it’s the first day of the new year and I-have-all-these-things-to-write anxious?  

I guarantee a common thread on writer forums is something about goals and resolutions. In addition to wanting to lose a few pounds, writers resolve to get their butts in the chair to work faster, increase their daily word count, and get off the friggin’ internet (Okay, so these might be my goals).

My goals for 2015 are modest. I intend to finish my novella, a spin-off to Grunge Gods, and submit that to my publisher. I’d also like to finish the first book in a new YA paranormal mystery series. Maybe even write the second one as well. We’ll see how that goes. Even as I write this blog post, I’m being constantly interrupted by two adorable little boys. (Good thing my kids are cute but Mama has to work.) I know I can achieve these goals, but lately, I’ve been feeling like there just isn’t enough days in a year to do everything I want to do.

This year is also going to be the year I forge ahead with self-publishing. I’m very excited, albeit nervous, about these plans. For the last year, I had been considering various projects, tossing ideas in the air, wondering which one was attractive enough to land me a traditional publishing contract. Then I met the awesome indie authors on KBoards and after reading up on self-publishing, I decided I wanted to try this route. Because I want to write what I want to write. It's not going to be easy, but I'm determined to try. 

Also on my 2015 list -- maybe getting a proper writing space where no one will bug me. That space might just be the library.

Okay, that's enough about me. What about you? What are you plans for 2015? What are you writing and/or publishing this year?

Happy New Year!

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