My Word Is My Bond - Amanda Palmer and Her "Art of Asking" TED Talk

by Ron Vitale

There's a lot of talk about branding being important for writers. But what does this exactly mean? With the publishing world all in a tizzy these days, indie authors struggling to be noticed, and free books flooding the market, what's a new author to do? The answer is easier than you think: Write well. But the execution around that and promotion of your writing is extremely difficult.

Brand = Who Are You?

I've been struggling with this question for many years now. If you were to look me up online, you would see that I'm not only a young adult novelist who also likes Magic: The Gathering and ran a podcast for more than five years, but I'm also the father of two who is a long distance runner and works at a major east coast University as their Director of Electronic Communications. That's a mouthful. Over the years, I've struggled along the way, trying to learn how much to share of my private life and how much to share with the public.

When I look at my life, I think back to what my counselor told me when I was in my early 20s:

"What you do will change over time, but who you are will remain constant."

And, for me, branding is simply that: Who I am. For a long time, I've been hiding behind a virtual shell of myself, hoping that my books would simply speak for me and that their themes would find an audience, but I now know that in order to find more readers there is more to it than that.

The struggle is that it's hard enough to make time to write well when you work full time and are raising a family, but then there's my fear of reaching out and connecting with people online. If I could boil down to a succinct paragraph who I am, I would say:

I fight for the underdog and believe in working hard for what's good in the world. I advocate for women, being forever blessed that women (my mother and grandmother) taught me to be the man I am. I listen and want to connect with people on an intimate level about what it means to be alive and to find one's true self. I allowed my father's abandoning me when I was young to hold me back for a long, long time from being someone who is not afraid to shine. I write about the struggles of young women, learning to find their way (yet make mistakes), but pick themselves up and find that being complete is not in someone else, but in loving themselves. I am true, passionate, honest and forthright--sometimes to a fault. I am me.

My one line summation is:

I write for those who have felt lost, abandoned and unloved to share with my readers that there is always hope.

That is my brand.

I believe it's essential to find out who we are and to be true to that online and off. I'm not playing a part. I'm living and sharing that with the world and my readers. This balance is not easy, but I believe in my art. I do not get up so early in the morning to write so that my books can live in obscurity, or worse, in a drawer where no one would ever see. I have chosen to break out of my cocoon and fly. Yes, that will mean that I will fail sometimes and my work will be called horrible names by some, but that's okay.

Finding Your Niche

Once you find your brand, you need to interact with people--everywhere. In all the circles I travel, I have a chance to meet new people and to help them, listen and make new connections. In my recent past, I often hid and was more of an introvert, but slowly (very, very slowly) I have come out of my shell. What I've learned is that, I have the ability to talk and connect with an audience. The challenge is finding the right group to connect with and share with them.

I've stumbled across a small readership for my books, but I need to keep working on finding more people to talk with and connect. Social media is the key. Twitter is simply one of the most amazing tools I have stumbled across. If you're not on Twitter and really using it, then why not?

To find that niche, simply search for hashtags that similarly minded people are using and join the conversation. Again, it's that easy, but hard to execute because of the time commitment. Some writers believe that you can just write books and they'll magically be found by the all-mighty mystical algorithm oiling Amazon's engine and you'll hit the jackpot. I've heard from enough writers like me who aren't having that success. Other writers believe that there needs to be a balance between writing and engaging people on social media. I fall into that camp. Without engaging people online, I would not have met some of my biggest fans or learned how to successfully convert my novels into eBook formats (thank you Guido Henkel).

Coming out of my shell and meeting people and really being me has not been easy, but it's opened many doors for me.

>Learn How to Ask

I listen to podcasts, read blogs, books and anything I can get my hand on, but it's the magical serendipity of discovery that I stumble upon on social media that I love so much. Recently, I saw a post by Ksenia Anske on Facebook that moved me: She had posted a TED talk link to Amanda Palmer talking about "The Art of Asking."

I watched the short talk and could really identify with it. I'm a writer and cringe each time I have to sell myself to the world. I always thought that I would write a book and it would just sell. But that doesn't happen. It's a lot of hard work to get your name out there and be discovered. And how do you ask for people to support you?

Tweet: "Looking for a good book? Try my latest release 'a, b, c'."

Does that work? No, it doesn't.

Palmer's TED talk gets to the heart of my problem: I'm ashamed to ask for money for my book. I'm afraid that if you read my Cinderella's Secret Diaries series that you might not like it and want your money back. I've been afraid to stand out and say: "I am a writer." Instead I've been hiding behind my day job and I "write on the side."

I think that many of us feel this shame about asking for money for our works and that it's related to our fears that people just won't like our books. We send ineffective tweets, press releases and blog posts out into the ether and then wash our hands and say: "Phew, I did the marketing thing and now I'm done." But we're not really selling ourselves the way we should. The connection part is missing. And that's what Palmer hits a homerun on. It's about making a connection with our audience (no matter how small) and being true to who we are. That will not sell books because we're begging, but we're finding people who truly like our work.

Finding Success

Writing + Being Ourselves + Connecting with Like-Minded People = Success.

Amanda Palmer's TED talk might be an extreme example of opening up and putting ourselves out there, but it's a symbol of sorts: Granted, I doubt any of us would have the courage to strip down and be naked in front of our fans and ask them to graffiti on us, but isn't that what we're doing when we write? I know that's what I do. I bare the darkest and innermost parts of my soul to the reader and they get to see how screwed up and scary I sometimes see the world, but then rise up and struggle to be better.

As a writer, I would ask you:

  • Why do you write?
  • What are the themes that you write about?
  • Who are the people like you?

If you can answer these three questions truthfully, write and then work your ass off, then you'll find success. Will that be enough to pay the bills? It all depends. Making lots of money writing fiction isn't so easy. If you expect to get rich, maybe writing isn't for you, but some will make enough money to pay a mortgage. Your mileage will vary, but one thing is true: You'll know your brand and will have done your best to create amazing works of art. You'll never know until you try.