Time to be honest, I kind of hate the internet age.
Don’t get me wrong, the internet has given us many wonderful things, and quite frankly I couldn’t be an Indie Author if the internet hadn’t opened all these opportunities. I live in Australia, but my current editor and printing services are in America. I’ve never met any of the people who have printed my book, or my current editor; and that hasn’t been a barrier. That’s one of the beautiful things about the internet age. Of course, I’d love to meet these people, and build better business relationships with them, but the fact that I can’t hasn’t been a barrier. If I was doing this thirty years ago I don’t think I could have done this.
But, the internet has also made life harder.
Nowadays everyone is pushing so hard for “authenticity” on social media that it is really hard to actually be authentic. Sometimes it feels that what the people pushing for authenticity want isn’t authenticity. It feels like what they want is a clear, defined image of who you are, what you stand for, and what you want. If you do something that they feel is not true to their image of you you are “inauthentic”. I realise it’s not that simple, and I do believe in being as authentic as I possibly can be. But, I have so many contradictory sides that I feel that I should only present the ones that “match”.
Have you seen this meme?
It totally sums me up, and yet I have trouble taking on the advice. Why? Because I love gothic culture, and skulls, and the dark witchy aesthetic. I want to be the weird lady at festivals dressed as a witch with a pet dragon. The lady who teaches kids writing classes and who gives out bags of “dragon treasure” to the kids, because she knows they’ll love it. But I also love pinks and purples, florals and a girly romance aesthetic. Social media gurus talk a lot about branding. They talk about how everything you post on the internet, wear, use in your public appearances etc. should essentially match. There’s very good reasons for this. By using signature colours and imagery for example, people can easily identify your brand as something they like (or fits in with other things they like). It seems more professional, for everything to be on point. But it’s really hard to be someone like me, someone whose interests and style can vary to such staggering degrees, and fit this into a “brand”. It seems really inauthentic to me to only portray one side of myself in my dealings with people in real life and on social media. It’s also really hard to choose branding themes and imagery when I’ve grown and changed so much by this point in my life that I can’t believe in ten years I might not be another person altogether.
I write Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance primarily and the on point marketing means I should fit in with other books in my genre. My books should look more like this:
Don’t you just love my screenshotting skills? These types of covers are typical in the Indie Author publishing scene. My current covers have more similarities with traditionally published covers than they do with other Indie Authors. Partly this is because traditional covers were the type of cover I was trying to emulate when I created them. I wanted to come across as professionally as I could. I still feel that the original stigma that surrounded Indie Publishing exists. It doesn’t exist to the extent that it did ten years ago, but I wanted to put the best book, with the best cover, that I could create out there, and prove that just because it was Indie Published didn’t mean that I wasn’t “good enough” to get traditionally published. So I tried to make it look like a traditionally published book. I wasn’t trying to “trick” the reader, I was trying to be professional. I also chose to emulate this kind of cover art partly because of my own skill set. I’m only just beginning to learn graphic design now and I just don’t have the technical skills behind me to produce a cover like the ones above. I also don’t have the funds to buy cover art from an artist more skilled than I.
But, technical skills aside, the covers I want to make look more like this:
(And FYI, I only noticed the face on the cover of The Rules of Magic when I was editing the picture above. I never noticed it looking at the book itself.)
Part of the reason I like covers like this is aesthetic, and partly because they are easier. I’m not only an Indie Author, I’m also a photographer, and models can be highly unreliable, especially when you aren’t hiring professionals but getting well intentioned friends and family to be your living doll. I want to be successful and professional, and I realise that means fitting in with existing authors and the body of works they have created, but sometimes I just don’t know how to. And, sometimes I just don’t know how to be “on brand”. I’ve never done marketing or PR courses. I’m figuring this out as I go, learning from books, the internet, and podcasts mostly.
These feelings recently came to a head when I was designing a tri-fold brochure to hand out at the upcoming Denmark Festival of Voice. The feelings I had during that process led me to write this post. I was stressed with work, both my own as an author and my day job, and stressed about some other things as well. Things came to a head while I was making the brochure and I felt very much like I was drowning.
I originally made the brochure in Microsoft Publisher and then I had printing issues. So I decided then was as good a time as any to give Canva a try. Quite a few of the authors I know on social media have advocated using Canva for their marketing needs, as well as cover art, and so I’d been interested to try using it. It took a little getting used to at the beginning, but fairly soon I had a professional feminine looking brochure. It wasn’t quite what I wanted. I had trawled through Canva’s free images and found plenty of images that would be appropriate for a romance writer (they have a lot of wedding themed stuff), but I couldn’t find much in the way of fantasy/magical type imagery. The brochure that I ended up with, the one that I finally felt professional, didn’t really feel to me to be particularly Urban Fantasy-y, although if would work well if I were a contemporary romance writer.
This was the result.
It’s beautiful, really. I just don’t feel like it would speak to my audience. I think it would work well for an author like Meg Cabot, or maybe even Kennedy Layne readers. I have to say I got pretty frustrated. Mostly, because of the reasons I outlined earlier: branding and authenticity. It felt beautiful but was this the kind of branding that would work with my target audience? It authentically captured my romantic heart, which could work for PNR, but it didn’t really fit with my gothier side. I used to claim myself a proud goth. Now I feel I’m more gothish. I don’t think that I really fit into any specific label. I like what I like, I wear what I like. My gothy tendancies are starting to surface again so maybe in the future I’ll once again call myself a goth? Maybe my likes will change again and I’ll be drawn to something else?
I decided to give the brochure another go. Because, it really didn’t feel right. I changed my search terms, and actually found some witchy images and some fantasy type images. Unfortunately a lot of the images I liked the most were premium images and I would have had to pay extra. As money is an issue I resolved to stick to the free images I could choose from and came up with this:
I like this much better. I created these to have at my children’s writing workshops. I wanted to include information about my books for adults, as well as my upcoming children’s series, and information about the workshops parents, teachers and social groups can hire me to teach. As these are going to be around children I wanted to keep the imagery to fit in with the gothier parts of my nature, and my urban fantasy writing, and I wanted to steer clear of PNR imagery. Most PNR covers have couples in various degrees of intimacy and I just didn’t feel it was appropriate for the brochures at children’s writing workshops. I feel like the final result, the brochure above, is more authentic to me. It’s pictures can easily suggest fairy tale type stories which feature heavily in both my writing and my teaching, but they can also seem a little gothy. So I ended the brochure drama on a high note.
But I still have to wonder, why can’t we just be ourselves without second guessing everything. I understand branding/marketing has to be clear, for the reasons I wrote about earlier, but social marketing gurus make me feel that if my branding isn’t 100% on point and consistent across everything I’m doing, then I’m going to come across as unprofessional and ultimately, have limited success as an Indie Author (I would consider success to be able to make writing my day job and not have to worry about money). It’s really hard to be consistent when I’m learning as I go. My Indie Publishing journey has been a hands on, learn as you go, evolution that has spanned not just my writing career but has seeped into every aspect of my life. I’m doing the only thing I can do: trying to do my best and get better at it. I’m trying to ignore my anxiety (because with an anxiety disorder, if I didn’t ignore it where possible I would literally not do anything) and hope for the best but it’s incredibly hard.