Because I was a public relations minor in college, I always figured PR would be the least of my worries when I finally sold a manuscript. As a result, I didn’t think much about marketing while I wrote my earliest manuscripts. I did sign on to various email lists and frequent writing/publishing websites, but I did so more to learn craft than to start the recognition ball rolling. Soon, I was reading emails and posts about getting a jump start on branding, so I scrambled over to Twitter and dipped a toe in. God, those waters were choppy. I had no idea what I was doing over there. And more than once I wondered if I was simply wasting my time. Shouldn’t I be writing?

Years later, I have a little hindsight, certainly not enough to make me an expert on the subject, but enough to share. As far as publicity goes, here’s what did and didn’t work for me at various stages of the game:

Before the manuscript was even finished…

• I worried too much about doing everything everyone else said they were doing. Twitter, tumblr, instagram, Pinterest. (How I avoided Facebook, I’ll never know. Lol.) I thought it was all so critical to building an audience, and yet I had no idea who my audience was. I hadn’t written enough, submitted enough and received enough feedback to know.
• I didn’t give enough thought to real vs. penname. I wasted a lot of time and squandered some publicity by switching names mid-stream. Looking back, I wish I’d spent less time being social online in an effort to build a brand I eventually changed TWICE.
• I wasted money on domain names and hours on brainstorming ideas for gimmicky branding that no longer fit by the time I actually sold a book.

Bottom line: At this stage in the game, writing is more than enough. Seeking to better your writing in the form of workshops and critique partners is the next step. You’ll get to know people this way, too. And knowing people is a big part of publicity.

During the submission stage…

• I really engaged in social media, hoping to find the key to who was publishing what and how I could get picked out of the slush. But instead of finding that, I ended up worried too much about doing everything everyone else said they were doing—AGAIN. (***This is a big pitfall of social middle.) She submitted here. I wanted to submit here. This one submitted there. I wanted to submit there. Read about an editorial call—Count me in! Contest announced—How do I enter? It was ludicrous. I got so damn confused I was taking 80K-word manuscripts and cutting 20K words just so I could respond to one of these impulses. Not only wasn’t I building a brand, I didn’t recognize my manuscripts anymore.
• On the other hand, engaging in social media meant I had other writers to commiserate with while I was waiting to hear back on submissions. These other writers have been a huge boost to my ego when it was flailing, and they’ve stepped up over and over again to help me promote my successes.
• I built a website, because, heck, why not? I was WAITING, and I hate waiting. Building a website seemed more productive than checking my inbox a million times. Of course, writing would have been most productive, so this one could go either way—positive or negative. I’ve had several incarnations of my website since I started on the publication path. That tells me I started with the websites too soon. And you know what? I yanked a site down when I settled on a penname, and I went without a website for many months. So what was the point of it all in the first place?
• I started this blog, another commitment that took me away from writing, BUT it also gave me a place to gather my thoughts and connect with likeminded people.

Bottom line: There were some positive marketing steps taken during this stage, ones I surely don’t regret, but once again, the best thing I did while I waited to hear back on works out on submission was write more manuscripts and work with my critique partner to polish them.

After I sold a manuscript…

• I built my current site.
• I joined another group blogging effort.
• I opened up to my friends and family in greater detail about my writing, including them in my publicity efforts. (I’ll talk more on that in a later post.)
• I ordered author cards (business cards with my name, genre, and website listed) and stickers to affix to the back of the cards. (The stickers have the book name, release date and location availability.)
• When my other group blog asked for authors to donate prizes for various promotional efforts, I ordered personalized items, like pens and post its, and I assembled “swag packs” to giveaway.
• I joined Facebook. (Gah! I’m soooo clueless over there.)
• I paid more attention to my Twitter account (that is, until I needed to finish the second book in the series I sold) and Goodreads.
• I accepted invitations to guest blog.
• I created a contest to run during my release month.
• And I’m sure there’s more and there will be more…

Bottom line: Nothing can really prepare you for the branding blitz that happens when you sell a manuscript. You can think about it. You can observe what others do. But until you’re ready to implement the plan, it’s all just speculation…speculation that takes you away from writing.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you’re early in the publishing game, don’t stress over what you should or shouldn’t be doing as far as publicity goes. You SHOULD be writing. 🙂

Save My Soul will be my first published book, but it was my FOURTH completed manuscript. Change My Mind, the second book in this series, will be my second published book (unless something crazy happens!), and it’s my EIGHTH completed manuscript. No rhyme or reason, huh? Just another reminder that writing is the name of the game, and nothing—not even building your brand—should take you away from that.

Elley

There’s a lot of talk by professional writers (and agents and editors) about brand. Creating your brand and using that brand to sell your books, whether to agents, editors, or readers. Some people are uncomfortable with that idea, and while I’m not uncomfortable with the idea, I was struggling with applying the concept to myself and my writing.

Then, I read this post on recognizing your core story by Donna Alward. This is one of those blog posts that not only resonated with me, but has stuck with me weeks later. A post I’m sure I’ll go back to again and again.

Donna talks about your core story being part of the characters and themes you gravitate toward in your writing.

Let’s use an example that many romance readers will be familiar with. If you’ve read some Nora Roberts, you can pick up on a few common threads. Even though she’s written a gazillion books, when you pick up a Nora Roberts novel you usually know you’re going to get a strong, independent heroine. Even in Nora’s earlier category books, you’ll rarely find a woman constantly being rescued by the hero. If you read any of Nora’s series books, and even some of her stand alone titles (Birthright and The Villa came immediately to mind), the theme of family sticking together is huge.

Obviously at this point in the game Nora doesn’t even need a brand. She IS her brand, but you can still pick out pieces of what her core story is, even a zillion titles and many years since her first.

I got to thinking about core story when applied to my own writing. What types of characters do I like to write about? For me it’s usually an unpolished, bristly heroine and a laid back, affable hero. Where do I like to set my stories? Small towns. What are some typical themes? Redemption, finding yourself, finding a family or place to belong.

In November and December, I was working on a WIP that just wasn’t gelling. I wrote and rewrote the beginning chapters, but just couldn’t get into the story. I had a fleeting thought after reading Donna’s post that part of the problem was it didn’t fit into my core story. I kind of set that thought away. How could setting have that much affect on story? I decided that I just needed to write and started a new WIP, a WIP that fit into my “core story.”

You know one of the comments my CP made on the very first chapter of the new WIP? “I wonder if that was what went wrong with your last WIP—the big city. It’s not that you can’t write that location, rather your voice isn’t as loud and clear in that setting.” Which knocked me right back to those fleeting thoughts I’d had earlier but pushed away. I think it’s more than setting. It was also characters and even theme. None of that fit my core story, and so it wasn’t working. This new story fit, and so it DID work.

Sometimes writing is about finding your niche. I think you’ll find even in people who write across genres, that they still have some of the same core story in each of those books. It’s not about limiting yourself, it’s just about finding where your voice best shines– in stories that mean something to you, in characters you love, in ideas you believe in and want to share. When broken down that way, figuring out your “core story” or your “brand” isn’t quite as business-oriented or marketing-focused. For me, this was key. Even if you’re pre-published, thinking about your core story can be helpful, and I think a little less daunting than determining your “brand.”

Nicole

Over the weekend, I experienced a breech in security. My oldest son’s friend decided to follow me on Twitter. This is a first for me. Of course, I blocked the kid. I told my son that I follow adults and we talk about adult things, but it got me thinking about the whole social networking thing and who is following me and what they are seeing.

As of this writing, I’m just shy of 160 followers. That’s nothing compared to some “tweeple.” And I wonder once a person reaches 500 or 1000 followers, how does she know who’s following her? Does it matter? Is there something we can do to protect ourselves?

Of course, some writers don’t worry about this because their kids are babies or they’ve gone through great pains to hide their identities. But kids get older and unpublished writers become published. They build websites. They post headshots. They give online interviews. They answer readers’ questions for a blog. And all of this leaves a permanent online trail that could lead straight to their true identity…and an inappropriate, underage follower on Twitter or Facebook—or a silent “stalker” on a blog or webpage.

How do you deal with that? Do you temper what you say?

My husband says, “Change nothing.” He says that it’s not about what I write but instead about the fact that kids do not belong in an adult “work world.” And I agree, because even though I worked for the world’s most kid-friendly company (Disney) and held a social media presence, I would have blocked known children who followed me.

Kids don’t belong in an adult work world. But that doesn’t mean they won’t find a way in…

How would you feel about a friend of your teenager following your online activities? Do you think the only answer is protected (locked) social media accounts? But how does that look to readers, editors and agents—in other words, the appropriate audience you’re trying to build? And what about blogs and websites that can’t be protected? Should you censor what you say? Or is it just an oh-well-who-cares topic? Share your thoughts!