Saturday, October 22, 2016

Personal branding.

So.....after a conference weekend, I always focus really hard on personal branding for a while, and then I lose interest. I don't mean to. I just do. It can't be helped. It's the same thing with shiny-plot syndrome. I'm pecking away on my laptop, writing a future bestseller, and then WHAMMO.

I've got an idea for a new story....and I lose focus.

The same thing happens with personal branding. I decide (again) what my "brand" will be, and I charge full speed ahead. Only to lose interest a few months down the road. When I got my first publishing contract, I really played up the housewife thing. Added a vintage feel, had fun with the whole "drinking on the job" housewife/mother scenario (which is odd, because I don't drink, but whatever...random detail.)

Then for a while I got really carried away with the whole whimsical, cutesy thing. Lots of sparkles and pink and "aren't I the cutest" sorts of author photos. I'm not sure what happened to that look, except that I am really not terribly girly--though I wouldn't categorize myself as a tomboy, either. I'm just this in-between sort of girl. So that brand didn't last long....

Most recently, I've been playing up the romance thing. For a spell, I was really focused on my YA and NA books, so I was presenting myself with a very young brand, which I eventually outgrew, because I am, in fact, forty years old. I've got four children, I've experienced loss and pain and sadness and, well, life, and presenting myself like a carefree twenty-something just wasn't happening anymore.

And then some other things happened. For instance, I lost my daughter. And then 100 pounds. And then my hair. And then I moved to Asia.

This last weekend, at ECWC, I saw an author (who is extremely young and talented, has a successful career writing historical romance, and could pretty much wipe up the floor with me, even though she's skinnier than me, but I digress...) with a shaved head. Now, I'm not sure why it's shaved. It's entirely possible that she, like me, woke up one day and discovered that her hair was falling out in clumps. Or, it's possible that she has been going through Lupus or Cancer treatments, and lost her hair because of that. But, beings it's Seattle, and well, Seattle people are very "cool" and "anti-establishment," my guess was that she'd shaved her head as more of an "I'm over the societal beauty demands on women" and "this is so much easier to care for than hair" statement. But I could be wrong. I have no way of knowing, because I was too chicken to ask her. (Because of the aforementioned awesomeness that is her career.)

Getting back to my original point, I know that presenting myself in an author headshot is key to presenting my "brand." The previously discussed authors "brand" is that of strong, independent heroines, which she epitomizes with her bald head and cool exterior.

Recently, my brand has become once again focused more on my romance novels. Hence the roses, and then newly revised Brooke Moss tagline: Romantic fiction...with a side of chick-lit, & some laughs to go. Funny, witty, but direct and clearly stating what I write, which is, romantic fiction. I like it. But...with that new tagline and website look (ooooh, so romantic!) I need a new author headshot. I've been using a picture that one of my kids took a few months ago, mostly because when I changed it to black and white, it made my wig look good. But I know that I need to get nicer, more updated pictures on the site. I just.....I just.....

I'm not sure how to express my brand through a picture, when my hair changes so often.

I've been told many times that having a certain consistency in my "look" will be good for branding. Kristan Higgins' author photo changes from time to time, but overall, her look remains the same. Big smile, crinkly eyes, cute brown hair. The same for Jane Porter. Full lips, very pretty, Long sandy brownish hair with bangs. They both change their photos on occasion, but in general, they're recognizable and their audience can tell that it's them.

Enter: one author with alopecia.

So....unless I take an author photo with no wig on (I have a shaved head with a small handful of round, bald spots, very patchy eyebrows, and almost no upper lashes left) or I take a new author photo every month and a half when my wig changes. And yes, my wigs change often.

I was recently told by a non-friend that she wished I would pick a "look" and then stick with it, because her children get confused by my ever changing hair. My response to her wasn't especially polite, but my overall take away from that brief conversation was that (again) I need to be considerate of how my changing wigs make other people feel. And now, because I am finally writing again, and will be releasing book 4 in the This & That Series soon...I need to consider whether or not my readers will be able to recognize me, or better yet, recognize my brand, when my outward appearance changes so often.


You see, my baldness isn't a political statement, or a middle finger up to the world of unattainable standards. My lack of hair was brought on by bad genes. If I could have long, beautiful hair, I would. If I could look as pretty and predictable for my readers as some of the authors I admire, I would. But since I can't, I won't. I refuse to buy wigs that all look the same, just for the benefit of other people, because they don't have to exist in my skin. And since I have to exist in this skin, then so help me, I am going to have as much fun with it as humanly possible. And for me, that means changing my look. Often, and sometimes without notice. My kids may go to school at 8 with mom as a brunette, only to come home to her with short platinum curls. I used to make apologies for it. Now I don't. This is my consolation prize from the universe.

It gave me alopecia. So I get to be a different woman whenever I please. I consider the universe and me even.

So anyway...I'm grappling. I know I need a new author photo, and I'll likely have one taken soon. But honestly, I'll look completely different by the time someone stumbles onto my website a second time. That's just the way it goes with me. I can be Svetlana, the Russian spy one moment, and Daisy, the cute, blond farmers daughter the next. My books remain the same. There is continuity there. But with my continuity. And for that I'm sorry! (not really.)

Because if it were any other woman losing her hair, she'd probably do the same thing. You never really know how you'd respond to a situation until you're put in it for yourself. Much like parenthood, careers, marriage...the "experts" usually have no clue what they're talking about, and then they get the thing they've been bragging about (a kid, a spouse, etc) and they freak out like the rest of us. It's called poetic justice.

I call wigs my silver linings, people. That's what they are. They're God's way of saying "Hey, sorry I made your hair crappy. My bad. Here, take these. You can look any way you want to." Maybe I should just take a picture of myself with no hair and a cup of cocoa. God knows that's what I look like 90% of the time. Maybe that will become my new brand. The bald lady who drinks entirely too much cocoa and loves to write stories that make people giggle.

The truth is...I'm not sure why my look has to remain consistent, so long as my books remain so? Just because I go from blonde to red to brunette, doesn't mean that my plots go from fantasy to steampunk to erotica. My plots and characters all remain the same. Relatable, contemporary, funny, sexy. My continuity is in my work, and my prayer is that each of my awesome, gorgeous readers will come to know me for that rather than my crazy head and it's ever changing hair. I had a friend who works in photography and graphic art offer to make me some Brooke Moss paper dolls that can have changeable hairstyles. And my knee jerk reaction was to take offense. "How dare she suggest something so embarrassing! This is legitimately happening to me? Why would she mock me like that?"

And then I thought about it. Paper dolls might be fun. In fact, as an author of romantic comedy, they'd probably be super cute and...wait for it..."on brand." And honestly, she was being sweet. There isn't much that people can say to me that will make it all better, and she tried. That's something to take note of. Maybe my new author photo should be of a bald paper doll with different hairstyles scattered all around. Now that would be fun.

Plus, I really like paper dolls.