Saturday, June 23, 2007

More Synchronicity

A few weeks ago I wrote here about writers needing a platform. Last week I attended a SITE-SoCal meeting at the Four Seasons Resort Aviara and heard a talk from branding specialist and author Sandra Sellani. Sandra gave an hour packed punch from her brand new book, What's your BQ.

BQ: Branding Quotient. Anyone with any marketing experience knows that branding is the lifeblood of selling a product. Think Kleenex, Band-Aid, Clorox, Evian. Branding is creating a proprietary, visual, emotional, rational, and cultural image of your product. Buyers don't perceive the above five elements of branding when they reach for a bottle of Evian water, yet the subconcious effect has grabbed them.

Sandra said anyone who sells commodities must have a strategy to survive in this cluttered marketplace. My mind engaged to her talk on two levels: 1) as a business person with a company of my own, and 2) as an author competing for dwindling publishing slots in a market glutted with submissions.

When we hear commodity, most people think of a tangible product, like widgets, flankels, and jigs. Sandra pointed to the crowd and said, "You are a commodity." It's true. We may sell a product or service, but in terms of personal branding, we are the product. Successful salespeople understand they are not only promoting their product or service, they are selling themselves.

Authors hear about platform in all of the publishing circles. I wrote about platform here. As Sandra spoke about branding, it clicked. Branding in the marketing world is the same as platform in the publishing world. Authors are a commodity; not just their books, stories, or articles. Authors who understand this early in their career: Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Tom Clancy, JK Rowling, become name brands, household words, the icon to which all their competition seeks to compare.

So we know that we are commodities. What then is our strategy for success? Here are a few of the notes I took away from Sandra's talk, peppered with my own insights:
  • Create competitive differentiation. Prove why you are different.
  • Go for the gut. Target the emotions and go for the gut reactions. Emotions connect.
  • Be a Vulcan. Statistics impress. Look for logical points for those who identify with a purely rational approach.
  • Gossip, heresay, and reputation. What do people say about you when you're not around.
  • The eye of the beholder: You are what the consumer thinks you are.

Sandra gave us a peek at the VRIO model she covers in her book:

  • V--Valuable. Are you valuable to your clients, readers, employers?
  • R--Rare. Worker bees and hacks are a dime a dozen (so are cliches--but it works so well here). Be the diamond in a field of rhinestones.
  • I--Imitate. Identify the best in your field and do what they do better.
  • O--Organizational leverage. Make sure everyone in your company/team/agency understands your model and builds their strategy around it.
The Four Seasons Resort Aviara was the perfect setting for a talk about branding. This chain of luxury hotels and resorts has positioned itself at the top of its market. Four Seasons has city hotels all over the world, but this brand understands what travelers want in a resort away from the buzz and bang of a big city. Aviara is north of San Diego, set in a wetlands and wildlife conclave with spectacular views of the hills and lagoons. My room was spacious and overlooked the gorgeous Aviara gardens with a balcony and outdoor sitting area. I switched on the Bose wave radio, nibbled the chocolate-dipped strawberries delivered complimentary to my room, and worked in perfect serenity on my first draft revisions to THE SWORD SWALLOWER'S DAUGHTER. Chris DeVito and the staff at Aviara have a high Brand Quotient in my book.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Proud Moments in Parenting

The jolly green graduate is my son Jonathan. He turned his tassel from high school on June 14th. He's headed to college in Kansas, taking a music and merit scholarship into a pre-law major.

Grinning appropriately for this occasion are husby Dave (aka, Bassman), daughter Elisabeth (aka, Elle), the grad himself (aka, Jonny) and moi.

Jonathan made us proud with a couple of other accomplishments. He won two Bank of America Achievement Awards: English and Drama, as well as the school's Religious Studies achievement award.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Applause for These Special Athletes

Yesterday I attended a leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics Southern California and met three amazing young athletes. Heather Dannielle Gossett, Michael Evans, and Austin Frederick are members of the Special Olympics Southern California team, representing the Pomona Valley Chapter.

My husband, Bassman, and a team from Pomona Police Department, ran the Special Olympics Flame of Hope through the city of Pomona. The leg opened on the grounds of the Lanterman State Hospital and Development Center, passed through the streets of Pomona, and was handed off to a team from Montclair Police Department.

Heather, Michael, and Austin ran alongside the PPD team on-and-off through the eight-mile segment. (Pictured above is Austin, Heather, and Michael.)

Heather, a 23-year-old, 11-year veteran of the Special Olympics, opened the segment as torch-bearer. Teammate, Michael Evans, is a 22-year-old runner and shot-put athlete who has participated in the Special Olympics for 12 years. At 14 years old, Austin Frederick, was the youngest member of the Pomona torch relay team, but is a 5-year participant in the Special Olympics. Austin ran the torch in the final yards.

The Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games open Friday night at Cal State Long Beach, with game and events opening Saturday and closing on Sunday.

Please post your comments and congrats to Heather, Michael, and Austin. I'll make sure they see your good wishes.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Booking It In New York City

Writers often have parallel lives. Occasionally, a bridge connects those two lives, allowing a synchronistic exchange between worlds. My business life is among highly successful people in the travel and hospitality industry. To the greatest degree, my writing life is solitary. My online writer’s group, Backspace, provides a virtual water cooler where I exchange ideas, swap material for critique, and decompress from the stress of my business life. A bridge formed last week when I was able to attend the Incentive Brand Show at the Sheraton New York Towers on Day 1. Days 2 and 3 were spent at the Backspace conference at a legendary mid-town hotel that shall not be named, and Day 4 concluded in a whirlwind blow through Book Expo America (BEA), the annual mardi-gras of the American publishing industry.

Click here to see my NYC photo album.

The Backspace Conference

I’ve attended several writer’s conferences, but Backspace is by far the best. It’s expensive. Registration for two days of workshops and pitches, and a seated dinner, hit $405. Add accommodations in NYC, taxi fares, meals, and if you’re not within driving or train commute, airfare. This two-day conference could easily cross the $1500 mark. Is it worth it?

Depends on how serious you are about getting published. You won’t get better face time at any other conference I know of. Published authors freely mix with the unpublished, forging relationships that can be crucial in this extremely competitive industry. You’ll find top agents and editors hanging around to hear the sessions. Authors with critically acclaimed books appear on the panels side by side with debut novelists. Discussions in the panels range from technique to marketing, from writing successful query letters, to spit polishing a final edit. There are topics for the branded author and the breakout author.

Keynote speaker, Michael Cader, founder of PublishersMarketplace, woke up the crowd with a sobering look at the publishing industry. He gave startling statistics on book sales and gave enough number crunching elements to make a less-dedicated writer despair. Agent Kristin Nelson, who attended Cader’s session, blogged about it here. If someone can take one idea away from an event like Backspace and succeed with it in life, then the event was worth it. Cader’s insistence that an author must embrace pop culture and technology with blogging, YouTube, animated book trailers, and broadcast face time both inspired and annoyed attendees. He said that in order to succeed, authors must market themselves as if they were self-published, because publishers no longer roll out the marketing dough for anyone expect top list authors. It all comes down to branding. Create yourself as a brand to build a solid reader base.

BEA – Book Expo America

BEA is Disneyland for book lovers. Puff the Magic Dragon was there in the person of Peter Yarrow signing his lovely new children’s book of the same name. I wanted a signed copy and went around to the line, which I thought was only about 30 people deep. The man I stepped behind politely informed me that where I stepped in was only the aisle break to a line that stretched about 300 people down the center aisle of the main floor. Never mind. I snapped a picture of Peter signing. Peter charmed his guests when he paused to speak to each person as if they were the only one in line.

Next, my author pals Jenny Gardiner (SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEVER, Dorchester, Winter 2008), Kim Stagliano and I met with John Robison, author of the memoir LOOK ME IN THE EYE (Crown, September 2007). John is a remarkable man whose life story would make a novelist wonder where to begin. Born with Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism often linked to savant-like genius and anti-social behavior, John grew up misunderstood, abused, bullied, and outcast. His memoir covers his life from childhood, thorough his years designing smoking guitars and special effects for KISS, to engineering electronic games like Simon for Milton Bradley, and finally to his own entrepreneurial success as a service technician and restorer of Land Rovers, Rolls Royces, and other luxury automobiles. John’s memoir stands on its own merit, but I can’t hide the fact that John is also the brother of Augusten Burroughs, author of RUNNING WITH SCISSORS.

In a carnival atmosphere like Backspace and BEA, I find people seldom listen to others. There are crowds of people, background noise, crazy distractions, and personal agendas. John, however, drew me aside, where we sat and talked about his book, his plans, and how I recognized Asberger in someone dear to me. Then he asked me about my book, THE SWORD SWALLOWER’S DAUGHTER. He listened. He showed interest in my book. Then he said, “I’d like to introduce you to the marketing director of St. Martin's; they publish my brother’s books.”

So away we went, little me and big John—he must be in the neighborhood of six-foot, four-inches—winding through the crowd, first to Picador, where he got us copies of his brother’s new book, POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS, and then introduced me to the publisher of Picador. Then on to St. Martin’s. The marketing director was not there at the time, but the sales executive gave me the name of the editor and told me to have my agent send the manuscript to her when it was ready for submission. John is an author with an amazing story, but moreso he’s an amazing gentleman with a heart of gold.

Cover to cover from NY to CA, I read John’s book. LOOK ME IN THE EYE is startling. The more you see into the character of an Aspergian person, the more you may recognize it in people you have known through life. Remember that awkward kid with the wacky glasses? The one who trudged across campus like a robot, a slide rule in his pocket, muttering the periodic table of elements during lunch? I learned in John’s book that Asperger Syndrome was not classified until 1984. The kid I knew in high school was probably Aspergian. I wish I would have been nicer to him.

Summer hasn't yet begun and yet my reading list is full. I picked up several books to give aways throughout the summer. Watch in the coming weeks for contests and you could win.