Thinking Out Loud – Branding: One-Oh-F–k-It

Last week, I talked about my approach to Social Media. This week I want to talk about one particular aspect of social media: Branding.

I first heard the word ‘branding’ in a marketing breakout group at a conference for children’s book writers and illustrators and I gagged. Seriously. I felt yellow mucus rise in my throat. Bitter. Vile.

On the first page of my website, it says: The only thing Lindsey doesn’t like to write is a bio about herself…Why? Because I’m not one thing and those fifty or so words pin me wriggling on a wall. (Yes, that reference is to Mr. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.)

As far as I know, the idea of branding came about through the ad world and more specifically, social media broadcasting. When I first heard about it a conference for writers, I wondered (after the bile) why would a writer ever want to brand themselves? Why would you want to be one thing? And are you a Thing? Branding ‘things’ makes sense. Coca-Cola. Cadillac. Apple. They all have a brand. I know before I swipe my credit card what each product will be. Coca-cola will always have a sweet, fizzy caramel taste. Cadillac is always a comfortable, quiet luxury ride. Apple is branded with a sleek design for all its digital toys. But an artist? A writer? A musician? Do we paint the same painting, write the same book, compose the same song over and over?  Why would you want to?

My friend Liz Scanlon is known for picture books that celebrate the outdoor world. It is a passion of hers. For a conference, she put together a postcard highlighting those books for teachers so they could include them in their natural sciences curriculum. Is that branding? I don’t think so. It is smart marketing that connects the dots for teachers and librarians. Does she only write those books? Absolutely not. I imagine if she did, she would feel limited and we wouldn’t have her gorgeous poetry. Or her heartfelt novels. We would be limited.

One more example. Bob Dylan. When he began, he was known for his folk singing. His irreverent songs accompanied only by his harmonica and guitar. When he switched to electric guitar, his audiences threw a proverbial fit. He was crossing over to the dark side. He was leaving the sacred world of Woody Guthrie. Hallelujah. He had a lot of songs inside him and he wanted to spread his wings musically. IMHO, Blood of the Tracks is one of the best albums of all time and Hurricane a chilling American anthem.

There was a time when agents and editors did not want you to explore outside your genre. If you were writing gothic young adult romances, they didn’t want you to write picture books. They warned that you wouldn’t find two audiences or that it would be too hard to market yourself. I get it. If all we wanted to do is market ourselves, then maybe writing the same book over and over makes sense. Until it doesn’t. And then what?

The world is big. The human heart is curious. Un-brandable.

Tomorrow, April 1 is the beginning of poetry month. In years past, I have explored haiku and delved into other poets’ work. This year, I will post a poem a day of my  own. Gulp.

I am not one thing:



Writing Tip #21 – The Social Media Dilemma

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only a minute long. Click Here.

How much social media should a writer do to support her career? It’s an individual question with a very individual answer. But I think it is important for every writer to answer it for themselves. Here is my answer: I do as much SM to support my presence in the wide world as a writer WITHOUT getting in the way of my first priority: writing. What is my presence? Well, it’s not all about me. I let the world know about my successes and news but I also signal boost events of the writers in my community. My social media presence is about me and my community. How much time do I spend on it? It probably comes out to about one morning a week. Three to four hours. That’s all. I know that I am not good at quick witted remarks in twitter feeds or carrying lengthy SM convos on Facebook. I know myself. Every SM guru will tell you only do what feels comfortable on SM. Absolutely. I would add: know who you are on social media and then your presence will follow.

Thinking Out Loud – A Journey Of Voice

A few years ago, it might have been more than a few, time is a bit waffle-y, I was sitting at a table with some pretty fancy writers and we were talking about teaching. One of them said the class that was the hardest to teach for her was voice. I think she used the word ineffable. I was nodding in hearty agreement. Then at one end of the table, the eldest, most published writer among us said, “Voice is you.” The speaker was Marion Dane Bauer. Does she need an introduction? Author of over one hundred books, winner of many awards, she speaks with the quiet midwestern authority. Nothing flashy. Just boom. “Voice is you.”

I remember turning to her, sort of aghast, and saying very inarticulately, “What?”

“Voice is you. You are the author of the book. The book’s voice comes from the author. Voice is what you are trying to say with this particular story.” I am paraphrasing here but what was stunning to me was that I had worked very hard, first as a playwright and then as a journalist to keep my voice out of what I wrote. The characters on stage weren’t me. The people in the articles I quoted weren’t me. I had worked very hard to remove my voice from the page and now a very sage woman was telling me that voice in novels was me and putting my voice in novels was essential to making it distinctive.

Clearly, I had some learning to do.

One of the marvels of writing and being a writer is that even though you are wielding the story on to the page, the story is teaching you. Every time. It is also why we go to workshops and listen to other writers talk about writing and learn how they actually wrote the story. One of the best teachers for voice is Patti Lee Gauch. The way she teaches it is by going to the pages of books she loves and breaking down the voice. Line by line. “This is the character’s voice. This is the author’s voice. Do you see how they are different? Do you see how they can live together in the same paragraph? Do you see how they work together to make the story deeper?” It is a wonder to watch her underline the distinction. And it is very hard to do.

Patti read a few chapters of my latest novel which was written in close third.  She told me I hadn’t committed to the character’s voice. “It isn’t going far enough. It’s getting tangled up in the author’s voice. I understood all the words she was telling me but it wasn’t until I flipped the the manuscript into first person present that I was really able to hear the main character. Really hear her. I’m letting her have the page. When I’m done, I will go back into the page and weave in the narrator voice, aka the author voice, aka the storyteller voice, aka my voice which will work in tandem with the character’s voice.

At least I think that’s the next step in my journey with voice.

Dawn-Goldbug Canyon

Writing Tip # 20 – Wear the Hat of the Young Person

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only a minute long. Click Here.

As adults writing for children, we have to be wary of writing from the adult perspective. We have to avoid preachy, teachy tones. We have to stop of ourselves from writing narratives that are full of adult lessons and knowledge. We have to find language that is kid friendly. Would your ten-year-old protagonist think: she didn’t want to be a burden to her aunt? Or does it sound more apt for her to think: she didn’t want to heap one problem on top of her aunt. In other words, keep your kid hat on. Stay true to the teen’s heart and language. Your young reader will know instantly when you donned your adult hat.

Thinking Out Loud – The Book Banning Issue

I am reading Jasmine Warga’s middle grade (for 8-12 year-olds) book THE SHAPE OF THUNDER*. It is a beautiful book. Central to the book’s plot is a friendship between two girls whose older siblings are taken by gun violence. (It’s more complex than that sentence but I don’t want to say more.) In her author’s note, Jasmine Warga says she wrote the book, in part, to understand the repercussion of guns in society and in children’s lives. Read that sentence again. She didn’t write the book to sensationalize guns or make a pro/con case for guns. She wrote the book to understand the real effects of gun violence on the living. In particular, the young survivors.

This mission of understanding is what writers of children’s literature do. We take on the big issues in our world and break them down in real livable stories. Our characters embody and reflect big issues for young people. Some people might try to make the case that if those stories aren’t there, then we wouldn’t have gun violence. Those people are stupid. Some people might say that these books plant ideas of violence in our young people. Those people are stupid. Some people might say we canonize the worst parts of our society in these books. Those people, too, are stupid. (Yes, I am using the word stupid very deliberately. I am furious and it’s my opinion.)

Writers do not write to cause damage. Let me say that sentence again. Writers do not write to cause damage. Particularly, writers of children’s literature. Writers write to understand.  I suspect that Warga would rather not have written a book about gun violence. But this violence, this reality of guns in America is where we live. We have created a world with guns and fear and misinformation. It is this world that needs books for young people which speaks directly to them about the pain and violence they are inheriting.

I understand the knee jerk reaction of parents and school boards who think banning books is the way to stop violence and all kinds of proclaimed ills in society. It isn’t. But it’s pretty easy to start with a list of one hundred books and simply remove them from the library, right? It’s pretty easy and simplistic to target books. It’s harder and more time consuming to read those books and discuss them with your child. It’s harder still to invite those authors to your school and talk about those issues. I get it. You are afraid for your children growing up in a divided, violent world. All you want is to stop being afraid. Those pesky books. If I could get rid of those pesky books that might put ideas into my child’s head, then maybe I would feel safer. That thinking is wrong-headed. I understand it but it’s wrong-headed.

Books portray relationships and families trying to understand one another and grapple with the world as it is. Jasmine Warga wrote a beautiful book in which the characters deal with how gun violence affected them. Keep it on the shelves. Do something else to address gun violence in America.

*Please note: As far as I know Warga’s book is not on any banned book list at the present moment.