Y’all, the Roanoke Writers’ Conference was so great. This was their fourth year, and I can only imagine the total global domination they’re heading for. Get in there next year so you can be all hipster and say, “Yeah, I was going there way back in 2019 before it blew up and sold out.”
I met some fantastic people, reconnected with others, and got asked some very clever questions by folks looking to up their marketing game. As promised, here’s a link to the deck and my notes for their reading pleasure. But first, a couple of the resources I mentioned.
- Canva: Brilliant site for making graphics that don’t suck.
- WordSwag: App for editing/adding text to pics on your cell.
- Ginifab: Upload a pic and snag colors from it like a champ.
Now let’s get to the goodies!
Here’s my slide deck at Slideshare.
BRANDING & MARKETING 101 FOR WRITERS
Roanoke Writers’ Conference
October 6, 2018
HOW’S YOUR HUSTLE?
On 2005’s Late Registration album, pre-bonkers Kanye included a remix of Diamonds from Sierra Leone featuring a verse by Jay-Z. Jay’s said a lot of interesting things over the years, but this is the crux for writers: You are a small business. And most businesses need both branding and marketing.
I say “most” because there are many writers who are successful without doing much in the way of digital mojo at all. And I also say “most” because it is entirely your choice how many or how few of these strategies you wish to employ.
BE SEEING YOU
A lot of creatives resent the idea of branding. And I get it. You are not a number! You’re a free man! But a brand doesn’t mean selling out, and marketing yourself doesn’t mean being creepy. Marketing in itself is value-neutral. Yeah, it can sell terrible stuff like cheap umbrellas that never go back in the little umbrella condom they came with, but it can also be used for good.
One of the most impressive pieces of marketing I’ve ever seen was from the Canadian Lung Association. A single line of text in a tasteful serif font on an off-white background that just read, “For more information on lung cancer, keep smoking.”
Let’s knock out a couple of definitions so we can get you started on that kind of marketing badassery.
To break it down to its most simple Lego-block pieces, your brand is who you are and marketing is what you do to let people know it.
Brand is a noun. You’re a person with a writing style and ideas about both storytelling and the world.
Marketing is a verb. It’s telling the world what you’re doing, where and when you’ll be doing it, and why. Why you bother writing and why they should bother reading.
The key to both is the one word writers (and all creatives) may hate more than any other.
I know. I’m sorry. But if you’re going to have a brand, it needs to be yours and yours alone. So that means doing some stuff at the beginning and then keeping on doing that stuff. It’s like squats. If you stop, your brand is gonna sag.
Big brands like IBM and Coca-Cola and small local businesses like Interobang Books or Deep Ellum Art Co. standardize across three main aspects of presentation: Voice, Visuals, and Video.
(But we’re not screwing with video today. Not enough time, and it requires more effort and expense to begin. That barrier to entry is decreasing all the time, though, and maybe by next year we’ll be able to do a whole presentation on it.)
BRAND MOJO: VOICE
Now, you’re all writers, and it would be arrogant of me to assume you need help defining your voice. I’m not going to tell you what words to use or how to establish rhythm in your sentences or where to end paragraphs. I’m just going to blaze through these points quickly.
Dates, Times, & Addresses: Standardizing this across all of your promotional writing is easy and sends a subconscious message that you have your poop grouped.
Headers in Blogs or Social Posts: Sentence case or headline case? Both are dandy. Go to town. Just pick one and stick with it so, again, you’re communicating that you’re badass.
Hashtags: If you’re sharing on social media during a conference, use their hashtag. So easy. For engagement you can also use tags like #amwriting, #amediting, #writing, etc. (Also, don’t be a #hashhole.)
BRAND MOJO: VISUALS
To generalize, this is the bit we as writers tend not to think about unless and until we’re confronted with a book cover or promo image that looks like reheated ass. And look, I am not a graphic designer. If you have there wherewithal to hire a designer to do great visuals for your Twitter banners or self-published anthology covers, go for it. If you don’t? Here’s the skinny.
Fonts: I made this deck with Google Slides, which is a free PowerPoint clone available to anyone with a Google account. Slides “ships,” for lack of a better word, with somewhere around 45 fonts. How many have y’all seen from me today? Two. And those fonts are on my blog. And those fonts are on my resume. And those fonts are on my cover letters. And…yeah. Consistency. Sans-serif for headers and headlines, serif for blocks of text. (Serifs are the sticky-outty bits that protrude off of the main trunk of a letter.)
Color: I know it will shock you all, considering how rugged I am, but I’m fond of pink. I chose this particular pink because it’s hard to ignore, it isn’t all over the place as part of anyone else’s branding, and because I pulled it from a picture I took with the single greatest piece of personal branding tech in existence — a cell phone. When I put this deck up on my blog, I’ll include some links to some of the tools I use, on this phone and off, to do things like pick colors and add text to images. If you want to write down two now, I recommend Canva and WordSwag.
Images: Speaking of images, let’s get back to that picture. I took a bunch of shots the same afternoon at the Dallas Arboretum. Roughly an hour wandering around someplace local and beautiful snapping shots of whatever I wanted. Now this image is the header image on my blog. And my Twitter account. And my LinkedIn account. See where I’m going with this? And you can do this with a picture of damn near anything.
Protip: If you use an app to take pics, like Hipstamatic or whatnot, you will be confronted with a metric buttload of filters and flashes and options. Go ahead and play with them! They’re awesome! I use all sorts of them for my personal stuff. But for the stuff that’s on brand? I use the same set every time.
So. Here you are. You’ve got all this stuff. You have a font you like, you have a color or two you dig and enjoy together, you have some kickass images of alpacas frolicking in a meadow. Where should you put it? What should you do with it?
In my opinion, as a writer, you should have two main vectors under your control: Your blog and your social channels.
Please remember: ALL of this is voluntary! If you only want to do one, or only do both sometimes, or want to say, “Hey, Steph, screw you pal,” and go live off the grid writing on strips of bark with ink you make from beetle guts, that is totally legit. I am not your mom. So don’t feel like the stuff we’re about to cover is holy writ. These are just best practices to keep in mind.
MARKETING MOJO: YOUR BLOG
I recommend WordPress for a number of reasons. You can start for free, there’s a lot of cool stuff baked in like analytics that will tell you the best times and dates to post, and if you want to upgrade to your own domain they make it really easy. There are loads of templates to make your blog look snazzy and it is easy to upload images. Plus, there are more YouTube tutorials out there about WordPress than about other blogging platforms and that right there is free education.
By far the most frequent question I get is “How often should I post to my blog/Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr/MySpace…” I’m kidding. No one asks about MySpace. But when it comes to blog posts, keep a few things in mind:
- You generally want over 350 words in a post so Google doesn’t think it’s “thin content” and decide not to index it.
- Blogs with images on them get more engagement and more shares because we are basically primates.
- Blogging weekly is the ideal. Blogging every other week is still worth it. Scalzi blogs like eight times a day but he’s bonkers.
- I assume I don’t have to warn y’all about plagiarism. Do not make me regret that assumption.
And don’t be afraid to mix it up. Varying your posts by length, topic, number of images, even time of day will help keep your blog from getting stale. I also suggest promoting your blog posts on your social channels at least twice, at different times of day and on different days. You can also remind people of older stuff as it becomes topical or interesting again.
MARKETING MOJO: SOCIAL
There are roughly as many social platforms as there are mosquitos. Some of them are just as annoying. But you do not have to be all things to all people. So don’t sweat it. Choose the platforms that work best with what audience you’re trying to reach and how much effort you’re willing to put in.
Unless you’re looking for journalistic or copywriting work, don’t bother.
Lots of brands and marketers, still humans there for now
Great for seeing trends hit the mainstream
Pretty high effort
No more than two or three tags per tweet
Cadence: 3-5 times daily
Lots of influencer marketing but also still humans
Brilliant for visuals; not so much for text, obviously
Stack all the tags you want on each post
Cadence: 3-5 times weekly
Social media zombie that will never die
If you want reach, you will have to pay or boost posts
Pretty high effort (because of said paying/boosting)
Cadence: 5-7 times weekly
Getting to the point where reach is all paid
Cadence: 4-5 times weekly
No, really, what are you doing?
This is why you have a blog
Zero effort because you’re not doing it
Cadence: 0 times never
Dude. I know. DON’T PANIC. Large friendly letters, see? Deep breath.
Buffer is a social media scheduling and analytics tool that at the free level allows you to link three accounts and bank 10 posts, which gives you a few days of set-it-and-forget-it social goodness. Upgrade to their Awesome Plan for $15/month (or $144/year saves you $36, y’all), and you can link eight profiles and bank up to 100 posts.
There are other great services out there, too, like Hootsuite and Sendible, at various price points. And if you want to get into analytics, you can take free courses all over the place. Google has classes specifically for their tools, and Hubspot offers free inbound marketing classes.
I know this has been a lot, but if you’re overwhelmed, you can always take a step back. Remember what Lil Wayne says.