Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Defying branding conventions

I attach “Eight Days To Amish” business cards to “Palm Features” letterhead promoting my book “Use All The Crayons!”

The letters are all signed in crayon, “Chris Rodell.”

Even amateur marketing enthusiasts understand this means I have a confusing branding problem.

“You should really think about consolidating all your interests into one brand,” a friend said this weekend.

I should, but I won’t.

I have too much vested in letterhead sprawl.

Besides, I figure I have a better chance of winning if I have four horses rather than just one in the race.

I’m increasingly hearing from people -- book buyers, those who attend my talks -- who confront me with the same question, which is boiled down to: “How come you’re not famous?”

Some of them think I should be a regular on “Ellen,” guest voicing on “The Simpsons” and shacking up with B-list actresses striving for literary cred by being linked to any author.

I ask myself a version of this question only with more humble implications: “How come I’m not solvent?”

Fame is too obscure a realm to contemplate when you’re staring down a exorbitant  monthly Comcast bill.

What’s cool for me is I’m getting near weekly evidence that good things are about to happen to me and the book. I did two book signings last week, one at the Mt. Lebanon Library, the other before a writer’s group at the Ligonier Library.

And -- hello Altoona! -- I’m doing a book signing at the local Barnes & Noble on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. I know not a soul in Altoona. If you do, please ask them stop by for a howdy.

These signings are giving me a real boost in my self-confidence. It may surprise people that I’m flagging in this realm, but I’ve endured 20 years of professional rejection so dismal anticipation is a natural reflex. Plus, I’ve been married for nearly as long and that’s a condition that’s bound to temper runaway ego.

But I’m becoming a very lively public speaker, and that is an essential component in promoting and selling books these days.

I spoke with scant notes at my old home library in Lebo. Nasty weather kept the crowd down to just 10 friendlies. Did I pout about the turnout?

No, I was grateful to the 10. And we had a great time. I spoke for 45 minutes and several attendees said they wished I’d have gone much longer. And, get this, I sold 16 books. Most people bought two or three copies. Not a bad night’s work.

The uplifting reaction gave me confidence to fly blind in Ligonier where I was invited to conduct a humor writing workshop for about 25 attendees. I spoke for 90 minutes without notes.

It went fantastic. Speaking extemporaneously is a skill I’ve always admired and now it’s one that seems within my grasp.

How many books did I sell?

Just six.

Why’s that good? Almost everyone there already had a copy.

Afterwards, many approached with suggestions to ensure my book will be a hit. They said I need to hammer social media, consolidate my brands, articulate a vision, etc.

If I knew a guy like me, I’d advise him to just keep doing what he’s doing, that it’ll all work out fine as long as I keep getting e-mails like this one from Sally H.:

“Two weeks ago, my college freshman daughter and I stood in Barnes & Noble in Robinson Town Center in Pittsburgh and skimmed through your book.  She giggled and giggled over some of the numbers.  I bought it when she wasn't looking and, when I was about to wrap it up for her birthday, I started to read it, and fell in love with it.

“The timing couldn't be more perfect. I am an 8th grade English teacher in a Pittsburgh-area public school and came home Friday quite discouraged over the state of public education.  But your book made me laugh and I think I can face the little cherubs tomorrow because of it.  

“Thank you for writing it. I plan on buying 3 more for my other daughters and husband. They'll love it also, I’m sure. Thanks for the smiles!”

More letters like that and my biggest problem won’t involve branding issues.

More like humility.

Good thing I’m married.

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