Thursday, January 15, 2009

Guest Author: Joan Upton Hall

Author Joan Upton Hall is stopping by Straight From Hel today to talk about how she brands herself so readers will remember her and her books. Before I give the blog over to her, though, let me tell you a bit about Joan.

Here are the titles of two of her nonfiction books: Ghostly Tales from America's Jails and Just Visiting Old Texas Jails. Plus, she's contributed to Haunted Encounters. With all that ghostly and haunted work, you might think that makes Joan a scary person. Nah. And neither does the fact that she writes a futuristic suspense series featuring a reincarnated King Arthur. What makes her scary is that she's one of those diabolical freelance editors! Plus, she used to be an English teacher!

I know Joan will be open to questions about her work as an editor, author, writing instructor and speaker. She'll especially be ready to answer any questions about creating your "trademark" as an author, which is what she's blogging about today.

Welcome, Joan Upton Hall.

Use Columns and Articles to Spread Your Trademark

Making your name the proverbial household word to potential readers is no small feat, but it’s vitally important. Picture this scenario: In a bookstore, Ima Customer has narrowed her choices to three or four books. All factors are equal except that only one of the authors’ names has a familiar ring to her, even though she can’t recall whether that familiarity is positive or negative. Which one will she pick? Most likely, the “known” name. Let’s say it’s yours, and she enjoys the book. That means your name, as the author, will insert itself into her memory bank, and she’ll buy your next book too.

For that reason, it behooves us writers to think of our names as trademarks, worth remembering. In my case, the name, “Joan Hall,” like “Jane Doe,” is about as memorable as melted ice cream. Therefore, it behooves me to insert my maiden name, “ Upton,” as a hook to hang a reader’s attention on. My point is that your trademark will work better if it’s easy to remember.

Once selected, it helps to get that trademark before the public as often as possible—preferably in a positive way. Let’s face it, if you’re new, you need to search for ways to keep your name in the reader’s mind. Expecting readers to wait for your next book stretches the recognition factor considerably. In the meantime, what can you do to keep your name familiar?

One name-recognition strategy is to write columns and articles. Helen Ginger does it with this blog/newsletter, and almost everybody knows Helen. I do it by self-syndicating a monthly column, called “Demystifying Writers’ Demons,” to numerous writer newsletters. It’s free to editors for the asking (contact ), and it provides a helpful service to a large number of writers and readers. I have begun doing likewise with another column called “Ask the Book Doctor.” For each issue, I footnote pertinent biographical facts that give me credibility and give a link to my book page.

To gain recognition as a nonfiction writer and attract attention to my nonfiction books, I do a monthly travel column called “Tank of Gas and a Whim” for the Williamson County Sun. To reach a wider audience, I have also written magazine articles, blatantly pushing those nonfiction books in publications as diverse as Texas Highways and American Jails. Have you acquired some specialized knowledge while writing your book that you could use to write an article for a magazine?

While gathering research for your book, fiction or non, you are likely to discover special interest groups. Do any of them have newsletters or magazines to which you could contribute? Possibly there is a service or entertainment column you might write for your local paper or a special interest newsletter or magazine. (Don’t forget e-publications.) Such a column could keep your name before the public.

Another thing about special interest groups is that members are usually hungry for books on their particular subject. Having written a series about a modern day King Arthur, I have discovered the pleasure of conversing online with a group who read widely on the subject, both popular and scholarly. Not only do I learn a great deal, but they tune in on what I write and have chosen Book One of my series for one of their monthly selections. It will definitely be one of the simpler books they read, but think of the publicity this brings to my book.

Fiction books may present a whole different set of challenges. Mystery writer, David Ciambrone, has carried his character’s interest in quilting to a loyal following of like-minded groups. Similarly, many writers center a column or blog around food of their novel’s settings. Might you collect recipes relevant to your setting from reader fans?

An experience of my own, however, might save you some trouble. Having read Book One of my urban fantasy series Excalibur Regained, one book club, who always include dinner with their gatherings, suggested that by Book Two, I provide one recipe for the favorite food of each of my major characters. You can imagine how short that turned out to be. It was more time-consuming than I expected, but at least, I now have these mini-cookbooks to give to anyone who buys the two books that are now out for the series.

To promote my novels, I manage to work in references as examples in workshops, presentations, and the e-newsletter I edit called “PageTurners.” Unfortunately, I’m still looking for a column idea (sigh). Any suggestions?

Thank you Joan!

Be sure you check out Joan's website where she offers pictures, sample columns, sample novel chapters, discussion guides, and more (even a tee-shirt). Today, in the Comments Section here on Straight From Hel, you can suggest column ideas and ask questions. You can also tell us what you do to keep your name "out there." Joan and I will both be around all day.


  1. Great article and wonderful advice. thanks Joan, and thank you also Helen for sharing.

    And this - "about as memorable as melted ice cream."

    LOLWROG - great line.

  2. A recipe book would be very short if I made one. I usually use the microwave to cook.

    I'll keep with the blogs for name recognition, perhaps some newspaper articles.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. I liked that line, too, Marvin.

    Morgan, I'm with you. I don't cook like I used to, although I'm prepping for 12 dinner guests this coming Monday. Trying out recipes.

    Both of you, Marvin and Morgan, are getting your name out there through Twitter. I see you tweeting and usually pop over to your sites when you leave a link.

  4. Enjoyed the article. I started using my maiden name because there were at least two other Jane Suttons who write - one writes children's books and one is a journalist. I never thought about it making my name more interesting, but you are right, Joan, it does. Thanks for the advice.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  5. It does make your name more memorable, Jane. Plus, it's a "famous" surname, so that makes it even more noticeable.

  6. Thanks for the great post and advice! Some good places for name recognition are groups with common interests, Twitter, social communities, and in addition to these, I post new poems regularly and have several published in various magazines and ezines.

  7. Excellent post, full of great ideas. I'm fortunate in that my first name is very unusual (although other Condas exist out there) so everything I do has an impact.

    I adored, as someone who loves to cook, the idea of mini-cookbooks.

  8. Marvin,thanks for the kind words. And glad you liked my simile about just how memorable "Joan Hall" alone is.

  9. Morgan, I know what you mean about going the easy way on cooking. And, yes, a mini-cookbook is all I can handle.

  10. Absolutely, Jane. The maiden name of "Kennedy" is really worth hanging a memory on!

  11. Thanks for responding, Sylvia.

  12. Conarnold, thanks for the additional ideas about Twitter, etc.
    About common interests, I'm in a group called Renditions of Camelot that reads and discusses a different book about King Arthur every month. Very cool and eclectic choices. They've even selected my Arturo el Rey for the selection one month this summer.
    Thanks for the ideas.

  13. Conda -- yes, you do have an unusual first name. It's something I'll definitely remember.

    If you'd like to see my mini-cookbook, email me with your mailing address, and I'll send you one.

  14. Thanks for sharing this great information. I know I need all the help I can get, so I'm marking this and going to get busy on these tips right away, or maybe in the morning as it's almost bed time. (Yawn)
    follow me on twitter:

  15. Joan,

    Thanks for the great promotion tips.

  16. Joan, Good stuff here! I stick my middle initial in because there are at least three Joe O'Connell's in my family tree.


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