Monday, August 26, 2019

Branding: At Least I'm Not a Cowboy

For one thing, it's hard to come up with an abstract logo - people still ask me what the owl griffin is - and for another, there's all these rules that seem kind of like a pain in the butt. Recently I read a book about a woman who thought she had a lazy M, but it wasn't because it was on its side in the wrong direction, and someone else had the "real" thing. To think that people had to do all this research before the internet too. I guess we writers have it easier. I mean, I could always take my granddad's if I wanted to get into the cattle life, but I have my doubts any of them would listen to me. And even that wouldn't be easy because you got to figure out all of the inheritance laws and fight with some cousin who decided she wanted it more.

That being said, good amount of artists cringe when using the word brand. I don't blame them. There is this weird sort of commercial, fake connotation to it. Authors don't like being limited on the best of days, and even the request of "Come up with a genre so we don't overwhelm our shoppers with options" can lead to a New Orleans amount of sweat.

We could call branding by many names. Style, voice, name recognition, theme, tone. It's all one in the same, really. Branding is about having a (seemingly) genuine consistency that tells you who that company/author really is. It's about being familiar to your readers in a way that makes you trustworthy. It's about being recognized when you produce something completely new. It's about utilizing the reward of a good reputation.

Which you absolutely don't have to do. But, in some ways, if you really are expressing yourself, you're going to have some sort of recognition in those who liked it. For most of us, branding is already there, we just have to emphasize it.

I've been thinking a lot about my brand in the past. Talked about it quite a bit too. I struggled with certain aspects, like who my target demographic is, or the fact that my skills as a painter aren't high enough to repeat styles.

Funny enough, a part of my problem was what I would call the "Bronie Effect," and the secret lovers of so many genres who you're not exactly allowed to write for.

My Little Pony, for those of you who have never met a little girl, is an ongoing brand of toys and T.V. shows that created a highly successful cartoon in relatively recent years. The strange thing about the show was not why it was popular, but who it was popular with. Yes, little girls, but also adult males. Some of their interest grew to obsessive degrees, changing from simple fan art to actually petitioning to marry a stuffed doll. Or so the Reddit rumors grow.

What's noticeable about this, however, is that once you decide to market for a certain demographic, it tells you it is only for that demographic. Commercially, this can be problematic because networks have canceled shows like Firefly and Invader Zim partially due to the viewers being outside of their target. Women rated Firefly much higher than they expected, men lower, while Zim was a cartoon on Nickelodeon that interested adults.

What I'm more concerned about is the fact that stating your book is young adult almost banks on the idea that it's major audience will be teens, probably girls, even though in my research I've found that the audiences of stories that are similar to mine are actually 60% male ranging from 20-35. As we all know, the shame that falls around someone doing something intended for children, and men enjoying something meant for women is pretty intense.

As I write what I'm looking for, I'm, at least partially, writing for 30 year old women who just want a little more bite out of young adult novels, and NOT the misanthropic, isolated pessimism of the majority of adult fantasy. Yet, I've heard adult women be embarrassed to be seen in that section.

So what made me change my mind?

Well, I went to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference with pages from my new working manuscript, Making the Horizon, and as I spoke to an agent, he felt the story would be pretty marketable to teens. He also agreed with me that teenagers do not need dumbed down language or struggle with complex stories, a criticism that made me hesitant in the past.

As he said it, I reflected on the students I'd been working with and the fact that I tend to like young people better, that they understand me (and my word choice) far more often than anyone else. Then, when I taught mapmaking camp, the kids and I, in our freetime, played around with liquid watercolor and made a map of Sandbysk to help me develop the cultures better. As I told them about each place, they grew more and more intent on my words, and three begged me to give them the book. They became quickly invested in the characters, each having someone they routed for and wanting to know all about them.

It was time to accept who I was, and that is someone who likes the younger generation.

Does that mean that I am going to turn into Cassandra Clare or Sarah J. Maas? No. Of course not. That's what it means to be you.

Sure, the decision to promote my books as young adult means some changes - two of the twelve characters have become teenagers, and the swearing was watered down - but I connect with them because I didn't write down to them. I didn't have simplistic language or spell it out for them. They responded to what I had already done.

Which lets me have my cake and eat it too.

I will still showcase the more serious side of things along with the beauty, I will still fight to challenge my readers just enough, and I will still talk about human issues that aren't limited to coming of age. Yet, I will acknowledge the fact that I like the youth of the fantasy community.

You will see some changes around my sites. The branding goes far beyond the demographic. I am looking to gain consistency and a style that people will recognize even out of context. Some of the drawings will not be as beautiful as the ones there now, but I am hoping, with time, I can come up with something that really tells people who I am and what I care about without too many words.

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Monday, August 19, 2019

Where Expressing Yourself and Flipping Your Lid Diverge

"Just be yourself," they told me.

My concerns were growing by the minute. I couldn't get one laugh during a three hour social interaction. I didn't try. Nothing even occurred to me. My impulses were buried deep in the ground, farther than the shallow grave my grandfather was plopped in. It wasn't that I felt fear or restricted; I felt nothing. No inspiration, no compulsions, no personality. I wasn't me. Depression made me not me.

"Okay," I said, hands on my knees. I looked around. "Nothing's happening."

Because the truth is that many of us don't wear masks, rather hormones, experiences, and circumstance shape who we are. Those things constantly change, even moment to moment. I claim over and over that if you get me in a room filled with people, I'm going to be paying attention to them. Their needs. How am I coming across? Whose feelings am I hurting? Are they okay? Is there something I can do? What would be interesting to them? What's the guy in the corner going to do? Oh, please God don't come over here. What is he doing with his hand? Oh, a handshake. Right. That's a thing normal people do.

You can rightfully chalk it up to social anxiety, but that's somewhat my point. Your personality changes because of fear - or any mood you're experiencing at that time. Even if you have a pretty healthy relationship with the external world, the stimuli you witness is going to change your reaction. It doesn't matter if that reaction is an excited share of energy or fear induced chills. You get into a room by yourself and you may, like me, change your thoughts from the people around you to, "How do I paint things to be shinier? Do I need a gloss? Or do I just need to paint better." Or you might say, "Remember that time in fifth grade I made Julie Burgess cry?"

People's thoughts change based on their location, even if there's not a considerable difference in population. Pay any attention and it just seems obvious it would. Colors, ambiance, food, lack of food, entertainment, noise, etc. we all seek out new environments because of how they change our inner life.

To say that we hide who we are assumes that we know who we are, we are always able to act in a consistent manner regardless of fatigue or mood, and, finally, that we know how to express ourselves.

I'm not much for emoting. It drives people nuts, to be sure, and drives me nuts in multiple ways. Not only do I find living my own life in my introverted, socially anxious way can come off as rejection to those who I don't know, but communication becomes extremely difficult. As an adult, I've learned to feign facial expressions and tones because my default reads as angry. Yes, great skills to grow, but it requires me to think through most of my reactions. How can they be the real me?

"Nothing's happening," is not just a reference to how my instinctive thoughts lost their sense of humor in my darkest hour, but that if I were to behave how I wanted to, I wouldn't be communicating anything at all. Words are hard. Body language is hard. Tone is hard. If I were being me, I wouldn't have forced myself to go out in public. Best case scenario, I'd be home with my imaginary friends, talking to myself in the guise of writing. More likely, I'd be succumbing to the void that is mental illness and not forcing myself to get out of bed at all. Instead of my impulses telling me to say or do a thing, they're telling me DON'T DO ANYTHING EVER.

Over the past year, I've been doing a lot to overcome this chronic weight of apathy, and I'm thrilled to say that it seems to be succeeding. Not necessarily at first - never does, does it? - yet now I'm in the best shape I've been since I was 23 (Almost seven years ago.) One thing I must do, especially when I am in the throes of it, is to try and control my emotions. I'm afraid, I admit, of the disfunctional side of me who comes out every so often. I believe that if I am not on the top of my game at all times, everything goes to hell. A prime example is how easily the results of self-advertising disappear. Gone for a few months, geez, a few unreliable posting, and you lose many of your constants. As someone with a chronic illness, it is terrifying how easy it is to lose momentum and reputation because you are too exhausted to even watch T.V.

Yet, what happens? A friend pulls me aside to give me some "kindly advice" on how he doesn't like me anymore. All because I'm feeling more vocal. All because I'm looking to actually connect with and entertain people rather than just existing alongside them. Obviously, what he didn't like was how I wasn't as submissive to his ideas (as I didn't care about anything), which was disturbing to me.

I got into more drama over these last few months than I ever had before. In each case, I expressed my concerns and solutions as much as I could until something sent me over the edge. And the two times I've blown up in 2019, no one could understand why such a nice, level-headed girl could get so angry... there must be something going on with me.

Which there is, but there always is. And it begs the question, why am I always the one who has to control my emotions?

The answer is (and here's the rub), I don't. Truth is, the ones who don't control their emotions, the ones who have blown up at those around them over and over again until someone lashes back do face the ramifications. They lose jobs left and right, their names being shot down for opportunities they didn't even know they'd been suggested for. They alienate their friends, they have a bad reputation, get fired or chased out, and they create their own ceiling in both social and professional circles. It's actually hard to remember that the low expectations others have for these provokers is actually undesirable. Thinking something must be going on with me in order to break me... Pretty fair to me, actually, even if I don't feel like they're on my side.

My reactions are understandable, damn it!

I struggle with this self-expression on many levels. Not trusting others to find my tastes interesting, not trusting myself to be interesting on my own accord, not knowing what other people prioritize, not knowing how something comes off? Plus, the added bonus we all have to face is that negativity sells. That obnoxious blowhards are interesting. That mean-spirited jokes are ballsy. That a strong opinion is going to contradict someone else's, and that fights are an excellent form of entertainment. Ask any inciting incident.

But, I've gotten better. What I've learned from this experience, I think can tie into everyone else's inability to feel heard: You can't always flip your lid and expect people to respond well, but you can't keep your mouth shut because they won't. Yes, you're going to have to control your emotions. Even the hot-tempered rant that sells needs a cool-minded edit. But you write because you want to bond with others, and you will never do that if you don't indulge who you truly are. It may not come naturally, so take advantage when it does.

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Monday, August 5, 2019

What Eight-Year-Olds Have Taught Me about Not Working

"Go away, I'm writing!" we shout as we fall deeper into the rabbit hole that is someone's political post.
For the readers who have been paying attention to me for the last few years now - hell, computer users who can take a glance at the dates of my posting - have recognized the impact of chronic illness (both mental and physical.) Those in my life, even those who have experienced similar things, (even myself for that matter) can't always understand what sickness does to a person.
I suppose the hardest part of the last few years was not feeling funny. As in, I didn't amuse myself Jokes didn't come to mind, even the ones that I was deadly serious about causing people to laugh at me. I felt drained of who I was, chronically tired, burned out, uninspired, a disbeliever of love, and a generally empty person. I often described to my compatriots that I knew I was missing something; I just had no idea what.
For many people, 2019 seems to be a year of Great Change. Many of my friends are getting into good relationships or taking the next step of marriage. Many are finding jobs in the field they've always wanted. Many (way too many) are moving. Going to grad school, just doing something big for themselves.
Personally, I got fired. It was the best thing to happen to me. I swear to God I was never going to punch him. And I suspect my manager wanted me to defend myself when she gave me the call and say so. But the reason I blew up at that lazy asshole was BECAUSE my blood pressure hiked over a job supposed to be temporary, and I was glad when it was over.
I couldn't quit and leave my coworkers in the lurch. I liked the money coming in. I liked being useful. And the job was never boring. But since January 2018 and that fateful 22-hour shift, I kept questioning why I was spending energy on a business that wasn't personal to me? So much of my life went to serving overpriced microwave dinners to private jets - and I don't even like food. I tried to quit, to cut down on my hours, to switch my position there, but ultimately, the place wasn't set up for me to have a life outside of it.
As of today, I've committed to the goal that caused me to move back from New York in 2017. As much as I tried to keep up with everything - including this blog - I just wasn't capable in that headspace. But now I have time to write, to create merchandise, to advertise, and to think about my career actively. I got into a supportive relationship to help me brainstorm and advise on the business side of things, and I'm teaching way more art.
That being said, my eight-year-old students are the worst little mirrors you could find. All of a sudden, I'm more engrossed and committed to the buggers, and I've begun to learn a great deal about being an artist.
See, kids are simpler and more upfront when it comes to their moods. They have a harder time describing what's going on with them, but that's sort of the point. Being much worse at understanding themselves and how they're perceived, they're also much worse at obscuring things. Older people are more likely to shut down when you start to poke at their walls. When you call a kid out on their "artistic license" as being "just lazy," children tend to find your honesty funny. They notice they're not in trouble and tend to be surprised that you understood them so well. Adults, well, they are more in tune with what happens if they get caught in bullshitting you, so they're less likely to admit that the slew of typos aren't actually their "voice," but them not wanting to clean it up.
Most importantly, I've found myself being more and more hypocritical these days. I'm very attentive to the old wounds and aim to give kids good experiences when I sense anxiety. While ordering them to introduce themselves, make eye contact, shake hands, and show off their work, I'm hiding from my boss when she's looking for someone to talk to the other teachers about our end performance. I tease one girl about not finishing her work or trying new mediums because she's afraid of ruining it. In fact, the vast majority of kids I must demand they color their drawings for that very same reason. Yet, at the same time, I only recently bought faux silver leaf, a medium I've been wanting to use for several years now, because I was afraid of screwing it up.
And it was because of my conversations with these kids that I started to understand why I'm not working. The true reason, outside of the burnout and exhaustion: My fear of doing something poorly made me do nothing at all. I've been wanting to make magnets and stickers, cards and bookmarks, baby quilts and publish books, yet I didn't want to spend money and mess it up. I didn't want to draw something that wasn't going to work or get my product to realize how terrible it looked.
Look, to make an omelet, you're going to have to burn your mother's pans. Just clean it up, chalk it up to life, and move on. And maybe don't tell anyone about it.
I'll say it before, and I'll probably say it again: 2019 will be the year I return to my hopeful youth. I've already started making progress, and I am returning to be a reliable poster. As much as I would love to have a teacher sit me down, tell me to suck it up, and then show me how to do the project I've been interested in for years, I don't have the money to pay for that. I'm going to have to do it myself.
So! What you can expect from me, loyal readers, is the following:

  • My newsletter will come out on the first of the month. It includes an extra comic about writing as well as information about giveaways and new shop items.
  • This blog will post regularly every Monday. (I've even gotten a few back-ups written.)
  • I make no promises that Stories of the Wyrd will post every month, but that's the aim of the game.
  • My brand spanking new Patreon page will be posting new projects and concept art, among anything else I can think of.
  • My Facebook announces new information, including when I've put up any online material, such as the comics or original stories.
  • My Etsy shop is slowly growing to include more merchandise. Keep checking it out as I'm adding new stuff almost every week!
  • Instagram is also a great way to see new concept art, projects, and new projects reveals!

I've done it before, and I can do it again.
I'm fairly excited guys, I have to admit. The style is coming in, I've been developing a marketing strategy, and working on books left to write. Follow along with me, and if you have anything holding you back, I can teach you like an eight-year-old and slap you around verbally a bit. Just contact me through any of my social media or email.

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