Posts Tagged how to build an author platform

Branding and the Brain—What We Post On-Line Matters

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 12.18.24 PM

We’ve been talking about social media and building a platform the past couple of posts. I know this is a topic that makes most of us break out in hives, especially when you don’t yet have a book for sale. Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt. It’s sort of like credit. You can’t get any credit because you don’t yet have any credit but you don’t yet have any credit because no one will give you credit because you don’t have credit.

My head hurts.

Thus, today is for all levels of authors. Yes, even Jane Newbie who hasn’t yet finished the first book. We are going to talk about the bare essence of branding.

In my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World I go into a lot more detail about the science behind branding, but today we are going to talk about why our everyday on-line behaviors collect into a larger pool we call “author brand.”

The thing is, humans have always had a “brand.” Brand in its simplest form is what adjectives we attach to another person. Before the digital age and social media this idea of “branding” simply extended into our social realms in places like school or church or clubs. Why? Humans dig labels. It’s how we make our larger world manageable. Thus, people might be tethered to words like “band geek” “jock” “prep” “gossip” “jerk” “soccer mom” etc.

As we grew older our personal brand included our occupation and this was a good way to do business. I was a member of Rotary for seven years. I was friends with “Ken the Stock Broker,” “Mike the Plastic Surgeon,” “Tom the Orthopedic Surgeon” “Debbie the Realtor” “Kim the Physical Therapist” and on and on and on.

Not one of these people needed to drop a flyer in my lap when we met for lunch. I knew who they were and what they did and I relied on their “brand” when I needed their service(s). It was far preferable for me to go to Dan the Dentist (who I knew and liked from Rotary) than it was to go on-line and hope I scored a dentist I liked.

But why did I “like” these people? Did I really need to get a full resume of their experience to at least give them (their services) a try? Not really. “Gene the Money Manager” was a nice family man and I enjoyed his company and that was good enough. He made the “sale” without ever “selling.” It was probably less about what he did and more what he didn’t do, but this is where we start getting into some neuroscience.

The Neurological Shortcut

Our brains are remarkable organs that have the ability to adapt to our environment. Before the invention of the written word, our memory centers were far larger because we had to pass down information orally. In fact, if you took an MRI of an tribesman from some South American tribe, his brain would look and act very different from yours or mine.

Then, with the advent of the written word, our memory centers shrank but we gained even larger areas for abstract thinking. This is around the time we start seeing major explosions in science and engineering.

Now we are in the Digital Age, and we’re bombarded with stimuli. Internet, television, radio, smart phones, pop-ups, etc. etc. We’ve lost our stellar memory centers and our ability to focus for long periods of time and have gained an unprecedented ability to multitask. We process massive amounts of information faster than ever before.

Think about it. We see ads on Facebook all the time. Or do we? Our brains have literally learned to un-see. We cannot manage all the input. So, if we (authors) are eventually going to advertise our books, how do we make our content visible?

Since our brain is much like a computer processor, it must come up with ways to effectively manage all this input in order to maintain efficiency. To do this, it relies on what are called somatic markers.

Somatic markers are neurological shortcuts and are one of the most primitive functions of the brain because they are uniquely tied to survival and procreation. It’s the same shortcut that tells us the stove is hot. We don’t need to sit and ponder the stove. We likely learned when we were very small not to touch.

To give you an idea of how somatic markers work, let’s do a little exercise. Is there a perfume or cologne you can smell and it instantly transports you back in time? Maybe to that first love or even *cringes* that first heartbreak? A song that makes you cry? Perhaps there is a food you once ate that made you sick and even though there is no logical reason you shouldn’t eat it now, the mere thought of eating it makes you queasy.

These are somatic markers. When it comes to branding, somatic markers are king.

The Pepsi Challenge

If you are around my age or older you can remember The Pepsi Challenge. For years, Pepsi had been trying to gain an edge over Coca Cola who had dominated the soda industry for generations. So, they came up with the idea of setting up a table in stores and shopping malls and encouraging people to take a blind taste test.

The results were astonishing.

In a blind taste test, people preferred the taste of Pepsi. Coke was rattled by this and they did the same test and it turned out, people preferred the taste of Pepsi…and this led to brilliant ideas like “New Coke” which was one of the most epic failures in history.

Why did New Coke fail?

Coke had reformulated to make the drink sweeter. In blind taste tests, New Coke was a clear winner. So then why did it tank so badly?

Somatic markers.

Years later, neuroscientists decided to see if they could demystify what happened in The Pepsi Challenge so they conducted the exact same experiment, only this time they hooked participants up to an fMRI machine so they could witness what areas of the brain lit up.

So, they held the taste test the same way it was conducted in the 70s. A blind taste test and to their astonishment, people preferred the taste of Pepsi. According to the fMRI the ventral putamen, the area of the brain that tells us something tastes yummy lit up like Christmas.

*Some have speculated that when it is only a sip, people will prefer the sweeter drink.*

The scientists then decided to try something a bit different. They did the test again, only this time they told the participants what they were drinking. This time, Coke won. Ah, but something strange happened in the brain. Not only did the ventral putamen light up, but so did the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with emotion and memory.

See, when it was based on taste alone, Pepsi won. But, when the brands were compared, Coke won. The human brain was in a wrestling match between two very different regions—taste and emotional. Coke had the advantage because of the vast reservoir of fond memories associated with the brand.

Norman Rockwell Americana, cute polar bears, I’d Like to But the World a Coke, every BBQ, summer vacation, rollerskating parties, Friday nights with pizza and on and on all were part of the Coca Cola arsenal. The fond memories (positive somatic markers) associated with the brand literally changed the taste and gave Coca Cola the winning edge.

Every Bit Adds Up

This is why every interaction on social media matters. Right now you might not have a published novel and thus you don’t have 15 hours or more of an emotional memory to link to your name (yet). But you can get on social media and do a little bit every day.

Start building your own Coca Cola experience.

Even authors who are published. Keep the brand strong in between books a little bit every day,

Every time our name floats by on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. what emotional experience are we tethering it to? There are two types of somatic markers—positive and negative.

Last time I mentioned that it was possible to have a belief system without giving everyone else indigestion. I have people on Facebook who I actually agree with politically and I have had to unfriend because I don’t feel like being hysterical all the time. If I wanted doom and gloom and panic attacks I would watch the news. I don’t like feeling hopeless and powerless. I don’t enjoy being attacked.

Imagine that.

This holds true for how we act in person. Would we want to hang out with someone who just ranted and raged and complained all the time? Who called other people names and became belligerent when anyone dared to disagree? And I am not suggesting anything that wouldn’t be prudent in a regular workplace. Social media is simply an extension of the social realm. There is no “magic” to it other than be kind and treat others the way we’d like to be treated. Somatic markers are what make us “likable” in person or “on-line.”

Somatic markers also have the power to give us an edge when it comes to sales.

We see ads all over. More than ever before in human history. But when we have a positive experience, we notice the ad. For instance, I never realized there were so many red Hondas until I bought one. Now, I don’t believe the overall sale of red Hondas changed any, but I noticed them because I had one.

If we see an ad for a book, we may or may not notice. But what about an ad for a book written by someone we know? Someone perhaps we talked to and liked? The ad practically leaps from the page. We might even buy it because we SAW her ad and OMG! I know her!

Ads alone have very little power to compel a purchase. But, couple them with a brand, and the odds greatly improve. We can use some simple understanding of how the human brain works to better guide us in what we should (or should not) post on-line.

Remember last time we talked about kitten memes. Don’t underestimate them. Think about it. If every time my name floats by on Facebook it is attached to something that makes you SMILE, that has an impact. We might not be aware of it, but our brain is attaching somatic markers to a name.

When I see X, it is a good thing.

When I see X, I want to punch things and I feel sick.

At the end of the day, this is a long way to say that brands are simply what we learned in Kindergarten. Every interaction matters and it all adds up. With some planning, discipline and intent, we can better guide what it adds up to ;) . We will talk more about simple ways to start building a brand. This can be an enjoyable experience.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a perfume you used to love, but then someone you despised wore it and you no longer could stand the smell? Have you had a bad experience with a food and to this day can’t eat it? Do you think of summer vacation whenever you smell Coppertone, too?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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What Makes You So Special? The Magic to Selling Books

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

I’ve worked both sides of the business fence—the creative and the corporate (and continue to do so). The strange things is that all industries are facing the same challenges as our world gets smaller, more integrated, and increasingly populated with competition. All types of businesses, whether we are selling tacos, signs, t-shirts, cardboard, technology or books must answer the same questions or face extinction:

Why YOU?

Why not someone else?

What do you offer ME?

What makes you so special?

WHO ARE YOU and why do I (the consumer) care?

A Lesson from SEARS

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Keith Nerdin...

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Keith Nerdin…

For generations, Sears was a corporate juggernaut. Sears promised quality products at an affordable price. Then, Kmart came on the scene. So, Sears decided to get a bit fancier and more like a higher end department stores like Macy’s in reaction to increasing competition.

Yet, herein grew the confusion. Those who viewed Sears as a place for discount goods simply shopped at Kmart. Those who viewed Sears as a department store just went to Macy’s.

Sears had inadvertently muddled it’s brand. The company lacked focus, and, without focus, they lost domination over their market and have yet to reclaim it.


They couldn’t answer the above questions.

Why Sears and NOT Kmart or Macy’s? What did Sears offer the others didn’t? Why their products/stores? What makes me (the consumer) care?

There are only three core successful strategies whenever selling books (or even tacos or video games for that matter). Yes, THREE. Hey, I dig simple. Though, I will offer a caveat: There is overlap between corporate business and publishing (writing/selling books), but they’re hardly the same creatures. Yet, the smart writer understands that making a living doing what we love involves good business sense. Why not harness the great ideas both worlds can share?


Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike V...

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike V…

Okay, some of you might think I am cheating a bit here and putting two in the same category. Yet, I will say that there are many successful authors (indie and self-published) who aren’t writing The Great American Novel, but they turn out a lot of books people enjoy reading. Brain candy.

Sometimes people just want a burger, and they consume Big Macs with a lot more regularity than foie gras. These (burger) authors will never win a Pulitzer, but they frequently do very well because they tell good stories and a lot of them. Thusoffering e-books for $1.99 or $2.99 or $3.99 (for the trilogy) is a sound business strategy. Because when one has fifteen, twenty or more titles to sell (I.e. John Locke)? Those numbers add up exponentially.

If we spend more time on quality, then cost is less of a factor (though don’t get crazy). No one would respect a fine-dining establishment run from a food coach selling escargot for .99 in a paper boat. In fact, we might call the Health Department O_o.

Truth is, quality can command a higher price (because it takes longer to produce) .

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Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Herbie’s Vintage 72

My book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is the culmination of two years and over 20,000 pages of reading/research (some of it highly tedious). There’s a ton of information about neuroscience, marketing, advertising, the history of communication and how technology’s very literally changed the structure of the human brain (why ads have lost so much power). I teach how to form a viable, sustainable brand that connects to readers, and the book also include a simple step-by-step plan for branding and blogging that has proven to work time and time again and has helped sell (now) millions of books.

And I’m funny :D.

This is why I won’t be selling this book for $1.99 (aside from, perhaps, a short promotion for the e-book). Why? No one would respect the information I offer.

That and I read Gutenberg Galaxy Brilliant man but…. O_o.


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Image via Demotivationals.

Product (books) can contribute to this factor, but differentiation is why I’ve been pushing for writers to have a meaningful and effective social media platform for YEARS. In a world deluged in books? Why you? Why me, for that matter? Social media helps us stand out in a sea of choices. We (readers) gravitate to who/what we know and like.

Brick-and mortar businesses have the benefit of a storefront and location. Maybe Joe’s isn’t the best place for a burger, but it’s next to my work and cheap and I can eat in the 30 minutes I’m allotted for lunch. 

But even with the most premium real estate, if a business can’t differentiate and offer quality at a good price, it can still tank.

When I was in NYC in 2012, there was a juice bar across from the Hyatt. PREMIUM real estate, but they didn’t open until after 9:00 a.m. and closed at 4:00 p.m. They had the best (and likely most expensive) location, but they offered nothing different or special that would make regular commuters streaming the streets to and from work deviate from Starbucks. They were missing the people most likely to buy their product—those going to work and home from work.

Not surprisingly, they were out of business when I returned in 2013. Yes, I was bummed.

They had a great product, but, like Sears, they failed to answer the critical questions. WHY YOU? WHY are YOU so special? What do you offer that will make me deviate from a Kmart Jamba Juice?

As authors, we face the same problems. The modern consumer wants to know, Why should I READ instead of playing XBox or watching Duck Dynasty? Isn’t reading WORK? Why your book, when there are a quarter of a million others?

And there are a lot of writers out there paying for fancy marketing and ad campaigns thinking it’s the Golden Ticket. I’m certain that juice store thought the same when it rented premium space in Manhattan. But this is no longer enough. We have to be unique, special, offer value, connect to the consumer and be able to answer the critical questions…



Business used to be BIG. Big was BETTER. Big business, big papers, big publishing, but big is dead and the remaining few are barely able to sustain their bulk.

Small business makes up most of the commerce. The future is niche. Nintendo is a fabulous example. They didn’t try to take on XBox or PlayStation. They came out with the Wii. Nintendo spotted a huge audience being left out of the gaming experience—those who wanted to play and have fun, but weren’t hardcore gamers.

Unlike XBox, they didn’t seek to be an all-in-one technology device where one could play games on-line with ten buddies in five countries, watch YouTube, browse the web and check in on Facebook. Nintendo focused on simplicity, on the inexperienced gamer (who likely never would play First-Person-Shooter Games).

Grandma could bowl and Grandpa could swing a tennis racket. Toddlers could dance and Nana could dance with them. Whether bowling, wielding a virtual sword, or working out? Wii was SIMPLE….which meant Nintendo didn’t have to compete with the bigger gaming consoles. They could also beat the bigger boys on price and make a profit far sooner by filling an overlooked need with a far less expensive product.

Focus is one of my pet peeves about having multiple pen names, but that’s another blog :D. It’s also why we don’t need to be everywhere all the time on social media. It dilutes the power of focus.

For writers? Look around. Who is a forgotten or overlooked audience? Where can you find a niche audience just waiting for you to see them? To connect with them? I teach how to do this in my book, btw ;).

Beyond social media, what genre boundaries can you break as an artist? Sure, write urban fantasy, but there’s a ton of competition. Why not an urban fantasy with a thirty-something, forty-something or even Baby Boomer heroine? Hey, just because we get older doesn’t mean we’re dead and don’t want to believe we still got it :D.

FORTY's so bright, I gotta wear shaaaaadddes..... Yes, I am forty.

FORTY’s so bright, I gotta wear shaaaaadddes….. Yes, I am forty.

Trust me when I say I am not interested in a book with a twenty-something protagonist. I want older women to ROCK, and maybe writers can help our society stop looking at getting older like it’s a disease.

For the love of CHOCOLATE, they’re smile lines not psoriasis! What’s with all the CREAMS? I am NOT contagious and you will ALL be here eventually, so why can’t “being older” be HOT?

What are your thoughts? As readers, do you get tired of the same tropes? What is a favorite book or movie and what made it special? Why was it different than all the other choices? Why did it stand out? Do you struggle with focus? Shouldn’t being older be hot? It was for Sean Connery, why not us gals? Oh, and big thighs. Stop stuffing us in Spanx and just let a gal with a booty and curves/cushion be HOT…ok, that just went a weird direction *hangs head*

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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The Rise of Individuality—What This Means for Publishing & Authors

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Larry Lamsa

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Larry Lamsa

We’re now into the Digital Age, and the ramifications of a connected world are still being revealed daily. But, there’s one trend I’d be hard-pressed to argue with. The 20th Century was all about homogeneity. Madison Avenue flourished by telling us which clothing brands made us cool, which car made us special, what foods were “healthy.”

Information was controlled by gatekeepers and commodities restricted by retailers, thus homogeneity was the goal. Homogeneity was simpler and required less paperwork and thinking.

Generations bought Wonderbread because it was “fortified with vitamins” and “good for your kids.” In 1986? Hope you liked stirrup pants. There was a cultural need to “fit in” and be like everyone else, especially those who were the “cool kids.”

“Pillars of Same” Go Crashing Down

With the advent of the Internet and widespread use of social media, homogeneity is crumbling. Individualism is now revered more than ever in human history. And, no matter how weird, off-beat, or All-American we want to be? There is a subculture to embrace our style. Mega-trends have lost their power.

Today, changing lifestyles, the Internet, the balkanization of communication, and the global economy are coming together to create a new sense of individualism that is powerfully transforming our society. ~Microtrends, Penn/Zalesne

What this means is that, as consumers are faced with more and more choices, they’re segregating themselves into smaller and smaller subgroups. Love tattoos? Duck Dynasty? Duck Dynasty tattoos?

Can’t get enough of Jackson Galaxy and cat whispering? Are you Stay-at-Home-Mom who kicks butt on a Roller Derby Team each Saturday? It’s all out there, and most of us are a unique mixture that can’t easily be categorized.

For instance, yesterday I began my day with green juice and 50 minutes of yoga. I ended the day watching my husband reload ammunition while we watched Duck Dynasty and I prepped the grill. We also debated briefly over which superhero we were.

Actual Conversation in Our House:

Me: I’m so happy I had a boy.
Hubby: Why?
Me: Because the world needs more good guys. In fact, you’d be a really dull superhero. You’re Superman. All paladin. No baggage.
Hubby: I am SO not Superman. I call Green Lantern.
Me: Green Lantern didn’t have baggage either. Not like Batman. You don’t have enough drama to be Batman.
Hubby: As long as I’m not Aquaman.
Me: I’m Poison Ivy. Or Harley. You good guys are suckers for chicks with drama.

And what all of this means is that 20 years ago, we knew which table to sit at–Jocks, Preps, Nerds, Geeks, Good Kids, Band Kids, Kid Who Smells Like Old Carpet. The lines were clearer, namely because we had only a handful of networks and limited retail outlets to define our identity.

Now? We have the reins of individual freedom and we like it.

What Does This Mean for Publishing?

Big publishing has a number of limitations. First, their size. Second, massive overhead. Third? 20th Century thinking. They have to find the mega-trend to stay in business, but what does this mean in a marketplace that is rapidly shifting to micro-trends?

NY is less able to spot the micro-trends, because in a world of algorithms, numbers and spreadsheets, one relies on the past to predict the future. Business is always looking backward in order to move forward. It’s like trying to drive our car using the rearview mirror as the main guide. Says a lot about where we’ve been, but gives limited information as to what’s ahead.

Indies Have Revealed the Micro-Trend

We’ve talked about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, yet I will point out that I’ve met agents who turned down the manuscript. It was through E.L. James’ massive volume of independent sales that the micro-trend surfaced and then NY could turn this success into a mega-trend. A genre which received little to no attention has grown exponentially.

This was one of the reasons I recommended NY create e-book divisions as early as 2009 (REAL e-book divisions, not vanity-press retreads). Find a good book, give it a chance and see if the trend emerged. If not? The product cost less to produce and the writer could earn a higher royalty.

Even if the book didn’t sell bazillions of copies, writers didn’t have to sell that many books to make a healthy living and be freed up to write more books. Now instead of NY banking the farm on finding the ONE mega-trend, they could reap the rewards of countless micro-trends.

Which is exactly what Amazon has been doing.

Amazon doesn’t need one author to sell two million copies (not that they are opposed to it), but they can easily have 20 or even a 100 authors sell two million copies. The money spends the same.

This is Why Social Media is Vital for Authors

Social media is vital for keeping our fingers on the pulse of the public (code for “readers”). We can use blogging to define our brand then use content to attract those who share our “subculture” tastes (which I teach how to do in my new book).

It’s the main reason it’s death to be the All-Writing-All-The-Time-Channel. That’s a one-dimensional subculture that is overfished and quickly grows stagnant.

Also, any writer worth his/her salt is interested in a lot of things. The more we feed our subculture, the healthier it becomes, and the more loyal. We are all seeking our peeps, our tribe, our “friends” in a world that has become explosively larger.

Small is the New Big (Thank, you, Seth Godin)

Modern humans are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of choices, and, as a response, we stick to what we know. Sure, in 1999 we LOVED the megastore because it was new and shiny. Almost fifteen years later? We’re tired of needing to hail a taxi at the Mega Wal-Mart because we forgot the ketchup on aisle 3 and are now in the school supplies on aisle 93.

We’ll pay a bit more to shop at the corner market who appreciates our love for Organic Raw Kombucha, GF hot dog buns, and foie gras. We can buy Wonderbread at a supermarket or go to the small boutique grocer that sells sprouted grains for those of us in the crowd of Wonder-Why-We-EVER-Ate-Wonderbread.

Everyone wins.

But to spot and nourish the micro-trend, we must be present. Micro-trends can earn us a healthy living. A single writer doesn’t need to sell as many books to keep the lights on as NYC does. Also micro-trends have the potential to grow up to be mega-trends. Spreadsheets can’t tell us as much as people can. And, trust me, people have a lot to say. Numbers can’t tell us as much about the future as relationships can.

What are your thoughts? Do you love a world where you can define your own style? Create your own genres? Mix in your varied interests? Have you met people on social media with similar hobbies that you’d never have met in person?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).


Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

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