All posts by Diane Holmes

Author Branding vs. an Army of Writers

By Diane Holmes

I’m thinking a lot about author branding these days, you know, like a hobby for my brain. Frankly, there are a whole lotta people talking about it. Writer people.

It’s like an army of writer-zombies have developed a plague-like obsession with branding and platform and promotion. Symptoms are fever, chills, cranky attitude, reanimation, and jerky dance moves.

The typical zombie.

Most writers use branding, platform, and promo interchangeably. And they believe the answer is held hostage somewhere on the Internet, in the form of websites, blogs, and Twitter. Author Branding has become the go-to-term that says everything, the buzz word of publishing 2.0. If we could only swear with it, author branding would be seriously perfect.

Wait. I think we can.

Writer A (exasperated sigh): “We’ll, you’ve simply got to Titter your Platform if you want your Author-Brand to get out in the Blogosphere and ever hope to Link-In with your Marketing on Amazon!”

Writer B (royally pissed-off): “Fine, I’ll do it, but I’ll hate every minute of it.”

Writer C: “Pfft. Author-brand that!”

Writer B: “It’s all just an Author-branding Royale with Cheese.” <–Pulp Fiction reference.

Writer C:Brand.”

Writer A: “Fine, But you can’t swear like that on FaceBook or your Amazon Rank will go down.”

Felt good didn’t it? Okay, let’s talk about the real author branding.

You already have a brand. You probably have several.

Here’s my definition of your personal brand. A brand is how you put yourself “out there” to another human. It’s all the things people know, feel, think, and experience about you. In fact, when someone defends you to another person, they are defending your BRAND.

And just as different people have different experiences of/with you in various environments, you can have more than one brand.

People who know you at work, know your work brand. People who know you through dog rescue, know your dog-rescue brand. And people who know you through a column you write for Freelance-Zone…. You get the idea.

Here’s what I want to point out: you are actively shaping your brand in each instance. You’re doing it authentically and organically, and always with an awareness of (a) who you’re around and (b) what the rules are for the culture, as well as (c) with an “eye” on who you’d like to become and (d) how you’d like to be seen by others in the future.

Basically, you always know where you are and that there are consequences to how you act.  You show up accordingly, but with the unique spin of YOU.

Yeah, I hear ya. You want to argue that some people just act like jerks, don’t care who they are in the future, and don’t care about any rules. This is true. And it becomes their brand. But these people aren’t you.

You’re here because you write and want to be seen as a writer. You want readers. And you want your readers to love you.

Great. So how do you want them to see you, think of you, experience you, and feel about you?

Simply stated, we call it author branding when we think about all this in advance and make clever decisions designed to attract the type of readers who will “get” us and our writing.

Over the next few Marketing-Zone columns (every other week), I’m going to explore exactly how we authors can come up with a brand that…

  • focuses our conversation with readers,
  • enhances our career vision,
  • becomes the rally-cry for our dreams,
  • inspires us in the present, and
  • creates a map for us to follow into the future.

Who knew? Author branding might be something that doesn’t make you cranky.

Diane Holmes Crop 1Diane is Founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch University.

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“I like a story where I can’t guess everything in the first 20 minutes.”

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes

The 20-Minute Test – Why We Need It

captain obvious Novelists are often oblivious to what makes a story work (or worse, almost work, but not quite) when it’s their own.

We only know what we’re trying to do, how hard we’re working, and the hundreds of techniques and plot/character details we’re trying to pull off in any given scene.

This blind spot is a key reason we (a) re-write ad nauseam, (b) rely on critique partners who are equally blind, and (c) are constantly waffling between trust in our skills and the sure certainty that we suck. And it’s why we don’t know if we’re not selling because our writing “isn’t good enough to get published,” or because we’re still looking for that right agent, editor, or reader. The ones who get us.

It doesn’t take long for career writers (those who treat writing as their profession–unpublished or published) to lose their ability to be readers. Oh, we read, all right. But we read like writers who read. We are aware of every technique, every word, every cog turning. It becomes a rare event to read “ravenously, emotionally, viscerally.”

And the loss of our reader’s compass at the time we need it most (determining if your character, your scene, or your entire story works) requires a clever solution. My clever solution is named Scott.

The title of this post is what my husband said to me when I asked him why he liked one debut TV show vs. another TV show. Instantly, he had an answer. (He’s fully prepared for a pop quiz at any moment. Twenty-two years of being married to a fiction writer has *so* prepared him to provide discussion points.)

The 20-Minute Test – How it Works

Stories take place inside the reader’s mind.  Vivi Andrews over at Damned Scribbling Women calls books “a living space” for the reader. Every action, every event, and every line of dialogue implies a “world” to the reader.

And herein lies the AHA technique. We may not be able to fully judge our own writing, but we can certainly re-read a scene asking the following questions.

  1. Based on this (action, event, dialog, thought, decision, outcome, etc.), what will a smart reader expect to happen next?
  2. What will the smart reader know about the story?
  3. How will the smart reader expect that to play out to the end of the book?

And here’s the test: If the reader’s expectations are pretty much correct, you have just bored your readers by providing a “living space” they’ve already visited.

For the reader, your story doesn’t work, because they’re reading a new book (your book) for a new experience.

As Alyx Dellamonica says, “I also consider a book not quite good if its story or protagonist bore me, even if the prose is beautiful.”

Alyx and Scott would get along great.

Don’t bore the readers with an obvious trajectory, because while you’re busy writing, they’re busy unfolding the story in their mind’s “living spaces” and hoping they can’t out-think you in 20 minutes.

Diane Holmes Crop 1 Diane is Founder and Chief Alchemist of Pitch University.

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Expert Marketing (aka The Tabatha’s Salon Takeover Model of Success)

This is the first in a new column, Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Bookby newest regular contributor, Diane Holmes of Pitch University. She’ll alternate this column with Fiction-Zone:  Leaps in Fiction Mastery.

tabatha taking over

How do you plan on being successful in marketing yourself or your book?   (And let’s measure success by actual sales or dollars.)   If you’re already published, tell me about your next project and how you’ll be successful marketing that.

Come up with an answer.  Got it?  Okay, good. I bet most of you thought of a solution that involved…

(1) doing “something” like a website or blog, or maybe having a Facebook page or doing other things you’ve seen done,

(2) asking another writer in your writer’s group/community for advice, or

(3) going to a writer’s workshop or seminar to listen to a multi-published writer teach about what she or he did.

I’m often surprised by how many writers never think to involve experts in their careers, except in a very passive way (where we read or listen, while someone teaches us “something” in general and not about our specific book or platform).   And I love all my pubbed peeps, but I also know that few multi-published writers are marketing experts, who can speak to repeatable processes and best practices of the current industry.


We are so stuck in the do-it-yourself nature of freelance careers (for fiction writers, it’s writing on “spec and a prayer”), where you learn your profession while alone in a room at home, and we stay in that loner mode.

Our resources are ourselves and other writers. Heck, if we involve anyone outside ourselves, it feels like we’re learning from experts!

But let me put this into perspective by invoking  “Tabatha’s Salon Takeover,” a TV reality show were business-savvy Tabatha Coffee “takes over” failing salons and figures out what’s wrong.

And honey, it’s always the same thing. Someone, who pretty much has no business running a salon and leading people, had money and bought a salon.  And then, when business and people imploded, the solution was to (a) keep doing the same thing, (b) say they’re no good at being a manager, and (c) take out a second mortgage.

The thing they never do?   Continue reading Expert Marketing (aka The Tabatha’s Salon Takeover Model of Success)