I’ve been debating releasing a collection of erotic poetry I’ve been adding to for the past…nine years? And as I’ve been thinking about it I wondered..do you guys buy poetry? I do on occasion, but more and more I have begun to wonder if poetry only sells if you are lucky enough to end up in the New York Times. Plenty of other writers have had success as poets, and poetry publishers.
Nikki Grimes,whose published 50 books over the course of 30 years, had a pretty honest perspective about selling poetry that I find very realistic:
To be fair, if you are a poet, it is highly unlikely that you will become wealthy working in this genre, no matter how well you hone your craft. That much is true. But chances are, you already know that. I would wager that most writers, keen on this particular genre, aren’t looking to make a killing in the marketplace. They simply have a penchant for the lyrical line, and a passion for metaphor. Like me, they pen poetry because they, quite frankly, can’t help themselves. Poetry is in them. It’s part of their DNA. Poets don’t value their work in terms of fiscal weight, and that’s where we differ from agents and editors.
No one alive should ever expect to break bank via publishing. It’s just not how it goes, but you can be comfortable. Besides poetry is about the feeling, the intent, and inspiring others to feel and see in new exciting ways. But here is the catcher. I am a poet who likes to have food and ,ya know, live.
As I’ve researched poetry publishing it is becoming clear that it’s a gamble, no one knows either way how it could go, but ya know what? Don’t act like you’ll make money. Act like you’ll do what you love. That’s…hard to do sometimes.
Still the world would be lesser for a lack of poetry than an overabundance. Poetry, like music, can do things in a line that thousand page novels fail to do in 400 pages not because those 400 pages are ineffective, but because the minimalist nature of a poem can do things in ways novels simply can’t do. In that way poetry offers an exceptional learning opportunity for writers of all kinds…which I will detail in my next post. For now let me say that poetry is incredibly important for writers to read and comprehend. You don’t have to like all poetry, but reading a diversity of poetry can sharpen your skills at conveying feeling, producing imagery, and understanding line structure.
I am proud to say I write great dialogue because I read and wrote poetry starting from 10 years old. Actually maybe even younger I remember reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at some point with my mother’s help. How did poetry help me write dialogue? A good insult should be as sharp as a good poem and just as heavy with the punctuation. A proclamation of love that, I believe, has the most effect can be as simple as one line when you craft to context well. Poetry has done a lot of me as a writer, as a human being, and I know I’m not alone.
So why do we let it go so under appreciated? Why do people hesitate to spend $5 on a book of poetry that could effect them as deeply as 400 pages? Times are tough for many people. Yet even still there is so much we could do if we embraced poets more.
No one should ever expect to get rich off of writing. If you read those “I made a Bajillion $$$ Writing Ebooks” articles and believed them I’m sorry. There’s a reason a ton of those articles reference Stephen King or J.K Rowling, and not hundreds and hundreds of other writers. There’s a million of us. Yes, some are better than others, but this field must be about passion. Whether you write to market or no you must display some kind of passion because $$$$ doesn’t just fall into your lap; because you may write 30 good books before ever making $500; because so many authors haven’t been “discovered” until after their deaths. Writing is a cold hard mistress, and I’d say poetry holds a steel tipped whip.
But we can make it softer.
If we consume each other. If we’re willing to take that risk and buy a random book of poetry, if we’re willing to say our emotional and mental labors are worth something.
We have to create and contribute to the market as both buyers and writers. We have to recommend books and poets to build excitement and appreciation for poetry.
How do you react when you don’t finish a project when you plan? When your doing something that is entirely self-driven schedules help hold you accountable, but sometimes for one reason or another you just don’t meet them. Then you wake up one day and realize “Oh…I was supposed to be done by today.” It’s not a fun feeling, and for me it provokes some anxiety.
So I’m finishing Come at Night, which is the first book of The Marquess series that I was supposed to finish months ago. Why has it taken so long? The story was thicker, better, and more interesting than I initially planned. It went from an erotic short story to a sprawling tale of politics, gender, and redemption. And ,as much as I love the dirty business, I love those things just as much when they’re explored in an interesting way. Still that development wasn’t planned. I wanted to have the book done by Christmas, but at this point I’m only going to be able to deliver the “preview” short story. That’s fine, and that short story will be more than worth its small cost. However it is disappointing to be where I am now.
Yet, as I reflect the importance of realizing how and why you miss a schedule is important because you can prepare better next time….or realize what affected your inability to meet the schedule at that time. So what happened to me? I got tired of writing smut. I’m brand new, but I was spending an average of eight hours a day on several different stories…most of which aren’t finished. Most of which people promised to beta read and edit and…never got back to me on consistently, which lead to me saying “I’ll give them a week…I’ll give them another” because I know I need feedback like any other writer. So I sort of burned myself out…however it was sort of a blessing because then I focused on my other stories. Stories you won’t hear much about, but I will tell you they’re great. One romance is going to be about 200 pages and I’m on page 50, which is actually amazing because I started the story on the first and have been running around for weeks trying to finish paintings and presents for the holidays. Still…it hasn’t made me feel great.
Not completing a task you set out for yourself can be disheartening, especially because you are entirely responsible for it. Whether you just temporarily burn out like me, or whether you’re pushing yourself constantly to finish there is a struggle to reconcile why you couldn’t finish. It’s depressing, but for those of us building a platform and small business it is worrying. You begin to question if you can do it. You begin to make ideas for change but them worry you can’t do what you need to in order to be successful. Some people balk at me when I describe this and say “It’s your own fault. Have a tougher skin,” as though that makes the feelings about the situation go away. It doesn’t. It may be my fault…and what does that matter? We can be upset at ourselves and the situation and still have “tough skin”. When you’re responsible for your business, your books, your blogs, your livelihood, and your dreams it is frickin scary! That’s the bottom line, and when things don’t go as planned it is even scarier
But to conquer that feeling you just have to accept it.
That is something I’m really struggling with because I’m very scared. I’ve been strong armed into spending money over the holidays to maintain certain relationships I need in my life and I have been forced to buy a new phone by relatives(long story). My finances are more than a little tight, which adds stress and anxiety to my life in general. Now writing isn’t just about the money though if you’d like to buy my books please help a sista out. Writing is what I love to do and it is what I can almost always do at any time of the day. My dream career would be to be a team leader/research in a non-profit organization and also have a career writing on the side. I’ve been writing since I was a child and this career is amazing, but it is never stable and always changing with technology and interest. Every day is a gamble. Heck, blogging is a gamble because people make new blogs every day, and even those that aren’t active for more than a week can bury yours to the bottom of the search pile regardless of SEO keywords.
However, to get to where you want to be you have to take that gamble and accept that sometimes you won’t meet a deadline. Sometimes you will discover that what you’re doing needs more time and care than you can give and you have to put it aside. All you can do is accept that sometimes you won’t meet the deadline and that your anxiety about that is ok and normal. More importantly, you can begin to figure out what to do next time. That won’t fix the now. It won’t let you go back in time and finish the project. But it will let you feel like you’re taking a step forward towards completing the goal. That can be the difference between falling into a funk over the situation and finding a new way to push you to completion next time.
What does it take to kiss a girl?
Must you be filled with desire?
Must you be ruled by primal compulsion?
Perhaps you must feel brave and full of things,
No one could ever give word to.
What does it take to kiss a girl with,
And fire lips,
And fuller hips,
And a laugh like vinegar,
But that never makes you wilt.
What is it like to kiss a girl?
Is it soft like feather down,
Or warm and spiced like warmed cinnamon,
Or mulled wine?
Is it spicy like raw chilis against your lips,
Or tantalizing like chocolate covered chilis
Repeating the nature of artisan delights,
That excite…that burn…
That leave you quivering and aching and…
I do not know.
I wish I did, but I do not know.
But if I did know I’d imagine it’d be
Warming until it explodes…
At once sweet like sugar…
And creamy like the finest custard,
I imagine it’d be a lot like this poem.
I imagine it’d be a new kind of perfect.
“If the last round left me with only pleasure to think about…this round would leave me with only him on my mind. Mike promised to push me when we started this, but he could be full of more surprises than I ever knew.”
“In the world of lust and the taboo there is fear, but there is also unyielding passion. Eve may be an accountant by day, but Carver has opened her eyes to that world of bondage, submission, and connection that shows she’s far more than the chubby girl her co-workers know. The world doesn’t know their deep dark secrets, and they’re beginning to push how far they can go before someone figures it out even if it means risking everything for a public thrill.”
How do you brand yourself? Over and over anyone who is pursing something creative or business orientated is told to build a brand without a singular person really getting into the nitty gritty of how you figure that out. We can certainly identify branding, but building it is a hard complicated thing. Worse plenty of people make brands and then come to hate them later. One media critic I know wishes he hadn’t put every single thing under his original brand because now his articles and videos are nestled under that identifiable identity. So there’s a lot of pressure from a lot of different angles to approach branding well and in a way that benefits you long term.
Yet we get told to just make a brand. Seems kinda stupid, doesn’t it.
Much like people telling self-published authors to “just blog” your way to marketing, there is a lack of deeper advice or exploration into what a brand is. It is just one in a long list of what you need to get your butt in gear to do. As I explained in in this post the question is always where and how to start. All of my life I’ve had difficulty taking information and synthesizing it into an actual plan. As I’ve researched the nature of branding I find myself really beginning to understand that hard work only takes you so far. What makes or breaks you is planning and luck. For some people that comes naturally, but even though I now try to over plan, so that I have every single thing in place, ideas can fall by the wayside. Being a self-motivated person is hard and being your own employee is even harder. This whole branding thing is difficult and hard to plan when no one is offering solid or consistent advice. When you’re a kid the chances of someone telling you to start your own business or telling you that writing is essentially being an independent small business owner are slim to none. People don’t teach you how to market. You’re just focused on becoming a better writer or trying to just pass math class to even think about those things. But now comes the pressure. Now you know you don’t have to always work for someone else. So what the hell do you do?
Well, before you do anything you need to build a brand. What is a brand? It is a combination of traits that immediately allow people to say “Oh that is [your] work”. It is a logo, a combination of colors, fonts, visual imagery, slogans, design pieces, the presentation of the product you make, and the product you make itself. A brand is who you are and how you want to be known. Where Wal-Mart rolls back prices I “give intellectually stimulating and steamy erotica”. Ask yourself who you want to be, and then ask if you may need a pen name if you want to be too much. You build a brand by making yourself and your product something people can recognize and associate with you.
As a writer I want to be recognizable, but even more than that I know how frickin hard it can be to find what appeals to you. As I’ve been researching and researching ebook self-publishing I’ve discovered how fucking repetitive advice can be, but I’ve also realized that repetitiveness extends to branding.
Mimicry Ain’t Flattery Honey or Anything at All.
In facebook groups I find other authors parroting great advice in the worst ways. In the last several days I’ve looked at seven different self-publishing groups and found dozens of authors of all levels stressing the importance of a book cover. That is great advice! Where can you go wrong? It is the first thing people see. It is supposed to sell a person on what may be inside and if it fails you’ll likely flop. They’re not easy to do. Some cover artists charge upwards of $200 dollars for a cover, which is more than most people like me can ever afford to spend. I’m in my early twenties, working retail part time, doing research work to bolster my resume, and every few weeks I do low cost consulting. I may do a lot, but it doesn’t show in my bank account.
A book cover? That runs too high, but I will pay $60 for an independent artist to do a commission. Plenty of people are in the same boat, and convince themselves they can get by with whatever. I know I tried to do the same thing until I started really researching book covers. I did a little test where I pulled 70 book covers in the genres for each book I was about to release. Then I asked “Which 10 would I buy?”. Most were shit. I’ll be honest. most indie author covers were shit, and when I turned to these groups I saw it without question. I asked what I liked and hated with each cover in my genre and among indie covers it always came down to the author’s branding. What do I mean? If you look at a new product what is it you ask yourself? Does it look like or sound like something I can trust? Does the author logo, the cover, the blurb, all contribute to a feeling of confidence in the consumer. When you make your blog does the layout inspire confidence? Do the images evoke feelings of copy pasting or a well structured choice of images(stock or no) that enriches or ads structure to the page? All of those questions are things we ask without even realizing because we don’t waste our time or money or anything.
Those groups on FB and elsewhere were 110% correct that covers matter.
But the next advice people were giving came down to this little “gem“:
Make your cover, the face of your brand, look like everything else. Don’t copy, but make it look similar, and by similar I mean as close to humanly possible to 40 other books in that genre.
That trick is as old as time and in a world where a thousand people are launching a venture every day that may be some of the most misguided advice I’ve ever heard. Maybe I’ll change my mind once I have a few books online, but the fact is you can pull basic design elements that you believe work…but how many paranormal romance stories with shirtless men, pendants, and tramp stamps do we fucking need?
More importantly what good is paying that $200 for cover or even the $60 for an illustration to edit into a cover if it ends up looking indistinguishable from the crowd. If nothing is is making your book stand out how can anyone notice it? Stock imagery makes creating ebook covers, art for presentations, website pages, etc. incredibly easy. There is nothing wrong with using stock, pulling common elements, or using another piece for reference. Certain elements wouldn’t be used if they didn’t catch a viewer or reader’s interest.
However, by not adding anything unique you dismantle your branding. The picture of Winter and Twilight evoke similar imagery, but even those two differ in font size, placement, and use of color enough to simply say “We’re both aimed at this audience”. But so many covers go farther like the paranormal romances above. With nothing new you make yourself look like every other person out there. To those who may not be into anime they all look the same, but to fans? Those who care about quality know the signifiers of copy pasted poop.. Even if you make a quality product, a fascinating story of humanity in animated form…if it looks like generic anime(and it is unintentional) it will be lost among the masses. I’ve scrolled past a thousand manga, anime, comic books, regular books, VHS, DVDs, video games, novels, short stories, and other things because nothing about it stood out.
But don’t think I’m just talking about covers because this applies to every step of producing a product!
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about book covers, animation styles, burgers, printing services, or vapes….If. Your. Brand. Is. Generic. No one will buy it, and if they do it won’t be in the sales you need unless your product really gets attention. Even if you give it away, you will severely cut yourself off at the foot. You can’t just be a cheap knock off of Nicholas Sparks or Stephen King. You can be influenced by them, you can do a take on a concept from them (loosely), you can be compared to them, etc. etc. But don’t sacrifice originality or uniqueness in the hopes that someone will go “I’ll just read this one”. If you blend in with the crowd you may end up with a group of adamant fans, but more likely then not you’ll still be standing against the wall with your 4 fans instead of in the center of the room drawing more people to your wit and intellect. There’s nothing wrong with being against that wall, but if you don’t want to be there, if you want to sell your product, if you want to grow then you have to attract people with more than copy paste ideas and branding.
Even if your brand is “I do the same thing as Michael Bay…except better”. You’ve made your brand the “better” brand and more “confident brand”. You may do something similar but you aren’t just trying to deceive people like a knock off Transformers movie in Blockbuster. If you do that, r accidentally come across as doing that then no one will trust your name.
Research, Critique, and for the Love of God get Yourself Together!
Now does this mean you have to go way out there? No. When you’re creating your design, style of presentation, and what not you have to find a balance that makes you comfortable between originality and making it so your audience knows what they’re getting. Very few vampire books should have a cover font of Comic Sans, but it could be done. Your food truck probably doesn’t need to be puke green. You have to understand your market. Not just to sell or get views or what have you. If you keep pushing your videos, blogs, or images without understanding what keywords people search for or terminology used by those in your audience you can easily miss people who would love your work.
More than anything else you have to understand your market in order to understand what you’re making, what defines your product, and then you can really make an excellent brand. It sounds crazy. We all know what we market and we build the brand to that. Well, you are part of the market. If you think people are coming to you for thoughtful advice, when they are coming to you in part because of your tone you could make a mistake by listening to a viewer that critiques you. If you’re writing articles on yoga and clean living when a million others are too what makes you unique? Does your culture, your religion, your background, your style, your energy, and your sense of humor pull people towards you? It seems like a question people hate to ask but it matters. I follow a plus size black yoga guru because in her I see my body potential. She gets my struggles and since I know I will never be small (and never want to be) seeing her gives me knowledge, comfort, and feedback that I don’t get with other yoga bloggers. Does that mean I don’t read or watch anything by anyone else? Not at all, but she has centered herself and her brand around what she knows…her body, her life, and her struggle. That allowed me to connect with her. What allows your clients and audience to connect with you?
So How Do I Put This All Together?
When I began this venture I wrote down several ideas for blog titles, facebook urls, and most importantly decided what I was going to write and why. I needed a basis of who I wanted to be seen as, what I know I do best, and what can I do. You need that too, and below I’ll help you figure that out.
The next step? I began reading and researching. First, I looked at the process other writers had experienced and basic advice columns like “Top 5 tips for indie ebook publishers” (Spoiler there’s like 40 of those). That gave me a knowledge base to move from.
Then I looked at other author’s pages in my genre and took notes on their platforms, layouts, what I liked, and did not. From that I wrote down what I hated and would never have despite not knowing what I wanted. Then I took pictures and screencaps of what I adored. So far I understand this…I hate romance covers. 80% are just stock art and while they’re fun they don’t fit my style. Now that being said I did pick up themes and traits that would immediately let you know if my book was romance, an erotic romance, fantasy, or drama. More than that I figured out what immediately caught my own eye even in things I hated.
In short I learned not only how individual authors branded themselves, but genre branding.
Genre branding isn’t just about books, but anything you do. If you work in marketing how do people see your signature? Do you always use pie charts of a particular color scheme? Do you begin presentations in a particular way? Do you always push a particular type of campaign? No matter what you do you have a brand. A brand is just the business equivalent of knowing people. If I’m your friend and you’re walking down the street you’d identify me by my physical “brand”: Tall, black woman, with afro, blue jeans, t-shirt and suave ass jacket walking in a particular manner with a particular energy. You’d be shocked to tap me on the shoulder and find someone else with my exact sense of style, color of hair, or way of walking staring back at you. It can and does happen, but if you really pay attention and take a look the chances of it happening are very slim. Even if that happens you still associate me with that brand. You say “Oh well that woman was like Rosie.”
That is the power of a brand. Dean Koontz is a well known and love author…but he will always be like Stephen King to many people. That’s not bad. In fact that comparison helps his business because it gives a positive measure.
Branding is about a measured uniqueness without compromising yourself. You figure out what works for others or for the type of product your making. As I said I looked at book covers in my genre. I looked at other websites. You figure out what you hate. I can’t stand the overly beautiful people and stock imagery. You figure out what you love. I love an elaborate original image filled with emotion…or a minimalist piece that leaves you intrigued. You then figure out what you want…then cut it down to its barest elements. Then you run with it.
For Example…(Suffer too Good is available on Amazon The Black Hat Society is TBA soon)
So What is the Take Away?
Part of the reason it is difficult to give branding advice is because once you get past overt traits you do have to dig into what you simply see as normal about you and what you do. A blogger, even me, can’t help you figure out your most unique or interesting traits without speaking to or knowing you. That is why I’m doing to give you the branding cheat sheet I’ve been using for the last few months.
Here are some things to consider/ask when building your brand:
Why am I doing what I’m doing?
What am I doing that others aren’t doing? (For me I feels it is telling realistic, diverse, and complex stories)
What gap do I want to fill?
What do I want to add to the world, the market, and people’s lives?
What colors do I wish to use with my brand or have associated with me? What colors are common in my product area?
What images do I want to be associated with and what fit my products?
What do I want people to think of when looking at my font? Which fonts are over used? Which fonts are over used in my product sphere?
What makes my product, my stories, so unique? Is it the world? Is it the characters?
What symbols, logo, product, or person have products/presentation/brand that I really love?
Google “worst book covers”(“Worst fonts”, “worst drawings, etc.) and look at the legitimate ones.
Google “best book cover”(“best logo”, “best colors for X”) and look at the legitimate ones.
Read blogs, websites, forums, and facebook groups that focus on your subject and products.
When you go through these questions start asking yourself why you responded how you do. For example hating a particular color or having a protagonist who hates that color could be reason enough to not make the font that color. For any and every reason you can say X or Y, but you best be able to explain it because then you better understand what you feel and how others may interpret your choices, yourself, and first and foremost your brand.
Here is an author who really has some good advice: