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When You Feel Like A Salmon

Keep swimming.

That’s how I feel these days, like I’m swimming against the current. How do I expand my reach, boost my discoverability factor? There’s a sea of books on the market, a torrent of good stories to choose from. It’s overwhelming. For me as a reader, finding that next great book to enjoy can be a challenge. Do I want romance or mystery? Espionage or intrigue? Do I want an established author or do I want to try someone new?

An indangered Chum Salmon, Oncorhynchus keta, (aka. Dog Salmon) attempts to jump a small dam on the Deschutes River in Tumwater Washington. The concrete in the foreground is the opening to a fish ladder.

As an author, it’s proves a different challenge. How do I reach readers looking for stories like mine? Book fairs, expos, online, social media–potential readers are everywhere, but I can’t be. How do we connect? Word of mouth, freebie giveaways or glittery ad banners?

Maybe I should join Kimberly in her yoga endeavor. Might calm my energy, streamline my thought process. Would probably improve my sleep, too! But seriously, as I find myself counseling my high school daughter on her education going forward, I find myself drawing on the tried and true words of wisdom. “Love what you do.” You’ll be doing a lot of it. “Don’t give up.” The time will pass anyway.

“Stay true to your dreams, and your dreams will stay true to you.” Persistence pays. Perseverance makes you stronger. **breathe** Life is a journey to be enjoyed, right?

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Introducing… me!

Hello-my-name-isCharles Dickens. Stephen King. Dr. Seuss. All three of the Bronte sisters. What do all these writers have in common? At some point during their careers, they wrote under a pen name.

And now, I’ll be joining them. Because as I move into the next step of my writing journey, I will be morphing into Kimberly S. Belle, Author.

Taking on a pen name is not a decision I made lightly. I’m a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of gal, so at first, the idea of writing under a name that wasn’t “mine” felt phony. How would I introduce myself at writing conferences? What would my friends and family think? But when I sat down to think through the pros and cons, the answer became obvious. Here are my biggest reasons:

  1. Spelling and pronunciation. As a writer, I want to make it as easy as possible for readers to remember me, and to find and buy my books. I’ve lived with Kimberle Swaak long enough to know both are uncommon, and even worse, could be a barrier to readers finding me on Google and Amazon.
  2. Market and genre. Writing is a business, and my name should reflect my brand. I write women’s fiction with heart and humor, but the subjects tend to be serious. Kimberle feels light and fluffy, Kimberly not so much. And though Swaak is certainly unique, it’s too much of a distraction. Ditto for my maiden name, Maleski. Neither of them scream women’s fiction. When it comes to readers, I’d rather conversations center on the types of stories I write, not the complexities of my name.
  3. Staying “me.” I wanted to choose a name that felt natural, and that meant something to me personally. Changing Kimberle to Kimberly was a no-brainer. The initial S is a not-so-subtle reference to Swaak. And Belle is one of my daughter’s nicknames–and bonus! I get the E from Kimberle back. Et voila, Kimberly S. Belle. C’est moi.

It may take me a bit to change everything over on my website and social media, and I’m still figuring out how, exactly, I’ll merge my two identities. Will I develop a split personality? Will I accidentally introduce myself as Kimberly Belle at parties? Will I ever learn to type Kimberly with a Y? These are all questions I’ve yet to answer.

But I can tell you this: you won’t have to look very hard to find Kimberle Swaak pulling the levers behind Kimberly S. Belle’s curtain. I have no desire for my writing to remain anonymous, and I have nothing to hide. And when my books hit the shelves, Kimberle Swaak will be holding them up and screaming, “I WROTE THIS, Y’ALL!”

What’s Your Tribe?

feetIn his 2009 TED talk, Seth Godin discusses how leadership in the Internet age is about building tribes. Always has been, in fact, but the Internet makes it easier to find like-minded individuals and bring them together.

Writers don’t always think of themselves as leaders, but they are. To be successful, they have to build followers—a fan base. If you’ve got followers, then you’re a leader.

Writers are great at connecting with other writers online. We enjoy sharing our travails and triumphs with others who’ve been through similar experiences. But other writers are our colleagues, not our customers. Our readership base is not drawn from others in the same profession but from people who connect with our stories.

So how do we find these people?

It isn’t easy. People don’t put in their LinkedIn profile, “I like to read stories about quirky heroines who give up the urban life for the slower pace of a small town.”  And even if they did, that story situation is just a framework. It doesn’t communicate the themes and values of the novel.

Godin says that to build a tribe online, find a disconnected group that has a yearning, and lead them. Connect them to one another.

That got me asking, what yearning do my stories fulfill? In many ways, authors are the worst people to answer that question about their books. We’re often too busy planting the flowers and pulling the weeds to see the whole garden. Friends and critique partners can often recognize the common themes of our stories more easily than we do.

As Dianne pointed out in her post on branding, authors have lots of stories to tell, often diverse in genre and subject matter. But the heart of those novels is the same, because it’s the author’s heart. It’s the author’s yearning.

So what do you yearn for? Who is your tribe? How can you connect with them, and how can you lead them?

These aren’t questions just for authors, but for everyone who wants to make a difference in the world, as Godin points out in the video. Those who want to transform the SPCA to a no-kill shelter. Those who want to give shoes to people who have none. You start a movement by connecting to people who have the same values, the same yearning. Then they become evangelists and help you spread the word. You can’t do it on your own.

What’s your passion? How do you want your work to change the world? If you build your brand on these things, it will carry over into all you do.

Branding

Branding is becoming an elusive concept for me. Originally, I thought I had it nailed. Romantic women’s fiction…women’s issues…women mature and develop in their own sweet time —

I got it! Cross-market with my garden blog using the tag line: “A woman will bloom in time; her own sweet time!”

Great. Marketing my novels with gardening items and themes, I was traveling down the right road–until I hit a road block. What happens when you decide to write something other than romantic women’s fiction? Say you want to write mystery/suspense? Sure, you have women and romance, but the themes and plots of the novels aren’t particularly issue-oriented. woman pulling hair out_XSmallRuh-roh.

Now what? Am I confusing readers? Should I have changed my name with each new genre? What happens when I want to dabble in YA? A new genre, a new name? Should I curtail my imagination and go with one genre and end the confusion?

That’s a tough one. I can’t turn off my imagination. I can’t curb my passion. Writing wouldn’t be any fun if I couldn’t write what strikes my fancy. But I’m at a loss for direction. I’m considering a new website, but have no idea where to begin. Any suggestions? Ideas?

Going crazy in a swirl of marketing mania… 

 

How Do You Connect?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on reaching out to my readers.  But outside Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, blogs and book signings, I’m wondering where to go next.  Where do authors and readers connect?  Online?  At book club meetings? 

Where do readers want to connect?  How do they want to connect?  Do they want bookmarks, recipe cards, swag of all sorts?  Do they want signed books, personal meetings, interesting tidbits of information gained via newsletters?  Maybe connecting isn’t as key as enjoying a good book.  Authors write, readers read.

But readers are my lifeblood as an author.  I write for myself, but I write for my readers, too, and I want to know what they want, what they care about…  I don’t want to waste their time.  So I’m asking, as writers, has there been an exceptionally wonderful way you’ve connected with your readers?

And readers, how about you?  What would you love to see from your favorite authors?  Inquiring minds want to know!  At least this inquiring mind, anyway.

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