Curtis is a lawyer in Houston and Sam is running his own company in Beijing. Two successful smart young men. Because we all live in different places, our conversations are usually carried out electronically. Both my sons are wise and I value their input, which is why, when Sam tells me I need to work on my branding, I’m flummoxed. My what? I type this message to him:
Isn’t branding a trendy term for PR? I guess my idea for branding is that I want people to associate my name with quality enjoyable writing.
Curtis chimes in, advising that I need to be more specific. There are many writers who produce quality enjoyable fiction. I should be aiming for something that makes me stand out. He gives examples: Subaru is the durable outdoorsy brand; Wholefoods is organic; Starbucks means good coffee everywhere, anytime. It’s cause for introspection. What makes my fiction unique? How do I build a reputation when I can’t define what I do or what I stand for?
Then Sam tells me that I need to target a specific group with my blog.
What does that even mean? I write. My upcoming novel’s about a recovering cocaine addict who takes up urban exploration as a hobby. Also, it’s funny. Should I target cocaine-addicted urbexers with a keen sense of humor? Also, how does one go about targeting?
He answers without directly answering. What I need to do, I’m told, is stop producing blah posts about my day-to-day activities and my road trips, and share my views about something controversial, something with substance, like politics or education. “Or hey,” he tells me, “you’re a writer, so blog about creativity.” As if there aren’t already too many writers writing about writing.
At this point Curtis informs me that the TV show, The Gilmore Girls, is doing a reboot on Netflix, and I simply lose focus on irrelevant fluff like branding and targeting. A day or two later, after my excitement winds down to a manageable level, I get back to it. Controversial, Sam said. Substantial. Politics, education, and writing. Where’s the possibility for my beloved fiction in any of that? I’m no scholar or statistician. Like most people, I have opinions, though, sadly, no new ideas. But hey, writing when I have nothing to say is what I do. I can come up with a few paragraphs.
Politics: Though I’m pressed from all sides by conservative influences, I tend to think independently, giving allegiance to neither party. I respect the office of president and never, in the last seven years, have I spoken disparagingly about President Obama, who is sincere in his intentions and efforts. As a Christian, I believe my demeanor in this world should be the opposite of divisive, an instrument of unity; and the haters, accusers, and nay-sayers need to think about that. On the other hand, I simply don’t want to look at Hillary Clinton for another four years. She’s been on my TV screen for way too long. And Bernie Sanders has some good ideas, but he’s too old and his foreign policy’s weak. Please, please, Democrats, bring someone else to the table. Having said that, what’s going on with the Republicans? A disrespectful narcissistic misogynist who’s too proud and stubborn to compromise—yeah, that’s who I want building relationships with foreign nations.
Education: Maintaining a vibrant and successful education system is the most relevant and vital pursuit of an advanced society. Here in the US parents undermine teachers; teachers criticize parents while expecting their support; and the students’ loyalties are muddled. I’ve known lazy teachers and brilliant parents. I’ve known inspiring teachers and self-absorbed parents. In the beginning there was a teacher in a schoolhouse. Later came big buildings, maintenance, insurance, credit unions, and pensions. Then school systems went into the business of feeding children and providing extended day care; in effect, parenting. The horrifying truth is that out of a lovely dream, a massive sucking beast emerged. What’s the solution? I haven’t one, but the approach must be one of constant advancement. Make changes. When old changes stop working, make new changes. Never quit moving forward. Only through relentless feeding will the beast evolve.
Writing: I wrote yesterday morning from five a.m. to seven a.m. I wrote this morning from five a.m. to seven a.m. I will write tomorrow from five a.m to seven a.m. Writers write.
So. Branding—did pounding out this blog clarify what I want people’s first thought to be when they see my name on a book jacket? Absolutely not.
Targeting—there’s nothing in this posting that would appeal to any particular group, unless that group is composed of women, aged fifty-something, with their adult sons’ voices in their heads.