Fluid, Funny & Functional (Not As Catchy)
So there's a school of thought that writers, or anyone selling a product, must put some thought into 'branding.' When it comes to writers, our product is ourselves so 'they' advise us to figure out what we offer that makes us stand out from the crowd.
A quick surf of the 'net for some tips reminds me I'm to consider my target audience, look at what similar professionals in my field are offering and identify what I offer that others don't. Hmm. I offer titles that can't be purchased anywhere because they haven't sold to a publisher. Unpublished and Unnoticed? Not great, but it does have those lovely horseshoe U's for luck.
Okay, let's see what other writers are doing. I know it's a good idea to give your potential reader an idea what type of story you offer. Another surf of author websites quickly ties up all the adjectives I wanted: Sexy, smart, sassy, steamy, quirky, hot, funny, flirtatious, facetious and fashionista. Oh, and NYT Best Seller.
I'm going to be a bit of smart-alec here, but 'smart' cracks me up. Talk about targeting your audience. Some years ago, a very smart writer said to a crowded room, "I write smart books for smart women." Every woman sat up and thought, "I'm a smart woman. I better buy her book." Smart.
I do worry a little about targeting a specific audience. See, this is me. I'm all over the place with this blog--which you actually can't see yet because I'm pre-writing a lot of these posts so I don't fall on my face the minute I launch it. I blog about parenting and embracing the digital world and wine and feminist issues and why we need GMO labeling on our food. I already know that this blog will not necessarily appeal to romance readers or that many readers of this blog will never pick up a single romance novel, let alone mine.
However. I learned a very long time ago that I can't just be a romance writer. There were too many disappointments with rejection letters for me to wrap up my identity in that label. Romance writing is just one piece of the pizza that is my well-rounded life. I would hope my potential readers are also well-rounded individuals with whom I could connect on many levels, not just through a book.
Still, the purpose of this blog is to encourage readers to jump into a Harelquin Presents. Those readers are my target and those books are very different from a chatty little blog. What do my manuscripts have in common with what I say here?
Umm… I'd like to phone a friend.
This is where fluid, funny and functional is explained. I know you were wondering. See, this whole branding issue has been turning in my mind for years. At some workshop or other, I was told to listen to what people say about me and my writing to figure out who and what I am and what I offer. About a year ago, a writer friend with whom I correspond but have never met said, "I imagine in real life you're much like you sound when you write. Fluid, funny and functional."
Nothing says romance like functional fluid.
But, I can do funny. I kept that snippet knowing that one day I would write this blog and pull that out. See, even that's funny: that I kept it and admit it. I love making people laugh, but my sense of humor runs to self-deprecation and expressing the truth. Funny doesn't completely work as my brand because it encompasses slapstick and has a goal of laughter. I prefer to make people think a bit, too. Shed some light. Provoke a response beyond laughter. Plus, when people think of a Harlequin Romance, they don't think Funny.
So funny doesn't work, but I can get away with Witty. Less pressure than funny, still clever without trying to be smart, and relies on the truth. This all works for me. I believe anyone picking up a Harlequin Presents who finds wit between the pages, along with everything else they usually look for, would be a little like me when I'm vacuuming and find the foil-wrapped egg no one saw last Easter: delighted.
What about Wise? This actually came about in a column I wrote for the local paper. Off the cuff, I wrote something about wanting to be witty and wise, but that I'm a work in progress. As soon as I wrote it, I knew it was true. I don't need to know everything, but I want a grasp on what's important. Making mistakes is the path to get there and, clever me, I'm still making plenty.
I wasn't sold on Wise and floated it past a family member. She said, "It makes you sound old, Mom." As soon as I had to explain and defend it, I was worried, but then I bought the book Emotional Structure, by Peter Dunne.
Note here that I had just received yet another rejection letter suggesting I work on the emotional arc of my story. In crazed frustration, I hit Google, then Amazon, then Paypal. Three days later, Mr. Dunne showed up in my mailbox to tell me this:
"Wisdom is the application of knowledge with love. …we learn to be wise by learning to express what we learn…lovingly. Not romantically lovingly, but…in the sense of emotional generosity." (p.15)
Plus he says that if you're wise, he pretty much guarantees you'll be a fine writer.
Am I wise? No, but I'm trying to get there. Will you find wisdom in this blog? Will readers find any in my stories? I can only offer up what I've learned from my own mistakes in a spirit of generosity and yes, humility. My characters will definitely learn lessons in humility. Take away what you will from that.
And if you think Witty and Wise is a hideous mistake, I'm open to suggestions, but please stay away from anything that sounds like reproductive mucus.