Giveaway: The Prince of Glencurragh

Sign up today on Goodreads and be eligible to win one of six free copies of The Prince of Glencurragh, my latest novel of 17th century Ireland. This book is a fast-paced adventure filled with action, romance, intrigue and terrible obstacles. Here's a piece from the hard cover book flap: Is it possible to reclaim a dream once it is lost to the mists of memory?

jack6.140x9.210.inddAengus O’Daly is what every good storyteller should be: observant, thoughtful, and inspired by love. He tells the story of his best friend Faolán Burke, both valiant and true, who tries to restore the world of his father’s dreams.

Had he lived to build it, Sir William Burke’s Castle Glencurragh would have been a wonder to all who beheld it. But when he died, all that remained of the castle were a few scattered stones and the indelible image in the mind of his ten-year-old son.

But in 1634 as the boy comes of age, the real world is not the one Sir William knew. As the English plantation system spreads across the province of Munster, Irish families will lose their homes unless they accept the Protestant faith. Farms that have been in their families for centuries now are given to English soldiers as rewards for service.

Even the great stone castles, once both the bounty and protection of the strongest clans, now have fallen against the power of the siege and cannon. Aengus says, “The day of the castle already was gone, be we refused to know it.”

With his whole being, Faolán believes all can be made right again, with perseverance, his love by his side, and with the right and perfect plan.

The Prince of Glencurragh is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. It is a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue, which won first place for historical fiction in Florida’s Royal Palm Literary Awards. Both books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Visit my website for more info, at nancyblanton.com.

The Giveaway ends September 10, 2016.

Brooklyn at last, Saoirse

Brooklyn cover imageI finally got to see the movie Brooklyn featuring two-time Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan, and it did not disappoint for a moment. Though quickly labeled a chick flick by the two gentlemen who were with me, one stayed for the duration and was glad he did. In this movie, Ronan plays young Eilis Lacey who leaves her hometown in Ireland to find opportunity in America. I can't believe Miss Ronan is only 21 years old. Her eyes are absolutely penetrating and so expressive. She had me by the throat when as Eilis she arrived by ship in New York -- after the sea-sickness scene to which I can all-to-painfully relate. But her fear and discomfort in a strange place, as if she is the only fresh human among a circling pack of jungle carnivores, really took me back.

My experience was not as difficult as being an ocean away from anyone or anything she knew, but my first weeks as a freshman at college were pretty close. I felt alone, disconnected, as if everyone spoke a different language and all knew what they were doing while I knew nothing. After a few weeks, when an old friend from high school knocked on my dorm room door, he was the only person I knew in the state. I leapt into his arms.

I loved Eilis's 1950s "costume" as they called it—those sunglasses! And her friend fixing her up for a trip to the beach with her Italian love. And especially the characterizations: the cruel and bitter old shopkeeper in Ireland; the nosy, disciplining house mother in Brooklyn; and the kind Catholic priest who reminded me just a little of my dear friend Eddie in Bandon.

And, I could not hold back the tears when the sister died. How would I feel if something should happen to my own beloved sisters? Incomprehensible.

To leave Ireland at any time must be gut-wrenching. I don’t know of any place like it: so charming, intimate and yet so wild it defies description. And yet, for some and in certain times, it must have been a relief to leave and again find hope for some kind of future.

Although Eilis returns to Ireland and suddenly it seems she can have everything she ever wanted there, she realizes it is an illusion, and she has forgotten the reasons she left in the first place. She breaks free of the bonds of the past, and chooses the new life and love. I wonder is there in everyone's life, as there was in mine, an experience like this in which you’re given an opportunity to choose: to either hold on (like it or not) to what you know, or to embrace the new adventure.

Because I made the choice, I have ended up writing about adventures—always my dream—and in a place beyond my dreams.

SharavogueCoverIf you love adventures and particularly historical adventures, checkout my novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, Sharavogue. May latest book, The Prince of Glencurragh, comes out this summer.

And please sign up for my newsletter for information about the release and upcoming events.

Thank you for reading this blog!

Joining the Historical Novel Reading Challenge

Having completed the manuscript for my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, which publishes this summer, I can take a break from my research reading to focus on the stack of historical novels that have been awaiting my attention for so long. I'm joining the Historical Novel Reading Challenge (a little late), and will be posting my reviews here over the next nine months. I invite you to take up the challenge as well, for historical novels are the best reading for those of us who like to learn while we're being entertained! Click the button below for more info on the challenge.

There are several reading levels from which to choose, and I am going with the Renaissance, 10 books, in that I'm starting late and also will begin research my next novel. Wish they had named a level after my favorite reading period, the Early Modern Age. (Yes, including the 17th century!)

I am right now reading M.L. Stedman's The Light Between the Oceans, and then will review Heyerwood, a novel by my new author friend Lauren Gilbert. Then comes The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

After that, I'll be working on my Goodreads Wish List. If you've read any of the books I'll be reviewing, I'd love to see your comments here.

Happy reading!

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue is the award-winning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, available now on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. The prequel, The Prince of Glencurragh, will be available in summer 2016.

Amelia Island Book Festival Begins

  NBwithbookAIBF22115

I’m excited about this week – it’s time for the 15th annual Amelia Island Book Festival, February 18-20, here in northeast Florida. I’m proud to be on the advisory board this year, and proud of the format changes that will help make it one of the best so far.

Bestselling author Steve Berry is the headliner and honorary chairperson, coordinated this year's focus - An Amelia Island Encounter - Action, Thrills and Mystery, with all proceeds going toward promoting literacy to the students of our Nassau County Public Schools.

The festival begins with the Kick-off Luncheon featuring a keynote thriller writer, Andrew Gross on Thursday, February 18, at the Amelia Island Plantation.

Then that evening there are Teens Scenes: free events for middle and high school students can choose from among four offerings designed especially for young people and presented by noted authors. I’m helping out with the graphic novel event, featuring authors/illustrators Michael Regina and Jonny Jimison.

On Friday, February 19, at FSCJ-Nassau Campus in Yulee, Steve Berry and his wife Elizabeth Berry will lead a workshop, Lessons from a Bestseller Writer.

But my favorite is the festival's main event, the “Author Expo/Readers Extravaganza,” a day for all ages featuring more than 100 noted authors of all genres. With FREE admission and free parking, the Expo runs from 10 AM to 6 PM Saturday, February 20, at the Fernandina Beach Middle School Campus.

I’ll have a booth there, and will also be part of a three-author panel on historical fiction. My author friends will also be there: Barbara Bond, Parker Francis, Lauren Gilbert, John Gillgren, Louise Jacques, Andrea Patten, L.M. Reynolds, Raffaella Marie Rizzo, Jim Weinsier, and so many more!

Complete info about the authors attending (so many!!!) and details for each event, directions and to purchase ticket or make a donation, visit www.ameliaislandbookfestival.org, or call 904.624.1665

Hope to see you there!

Could Groundhog's Day be Irish?

What, me worry? So many things in life actually do trace back to Irish, or rather Celtic heritage, but what about Groundhog's Day? I took it upon myself to discover the truth, because I knew you wouldn't have time.

I found a few articles that very loosely related Groundhog's Day to early Celtic feast days in Ireland. First of all, there was Imbolc, signaling the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It was also known as lambing season, when sheep began to lactate for birthing lambs. A lamb is a far cry from a groundhog, you might say, and you'd be right, but stay with me.

After Imbolc there was St. Brigid's Day, honoring the Catholic saint named for a Celtic fertility goddess. This event was celebrated on February 1. By at least one account, ashes in the fireplace were raked smooth at night and then checked in the morning to see if the saint had visited. Still no groundhog, but there's something about making an appearance that may have informed the modern event.

Then we have Candlemas, which was February 2. Now this involved fire and purification, with candle processions and special foods celebrating the birth of spring. I'm sure it was quite a good time, but with all that purification going on, to my mind more likely inspired the annual spring cleaning.

But then I came across a short paragraph by one writer, saying Groundhog Day traces straight back to the Romans. They used a European hedgehog, though. I'm not sure whether the hedgehog was more astute in weather prediction than, say, Punxsutawney Phil.

Personally, I like the legend of Cailleach, a mythical old woman who gathered firewood for the rest of winter. If she wanted winter to last longer she'd make a sunny day so she could collect more wood. If she was tired she'd sleep in, and let the day be dark. I think she deserved a far better public image to follow her, though. Couldn't she have been a sleek horse? Or maybe a black cat? But no, a groundhog. Really?

I'd like to tell you groundhogs are cute and cuddly, and therefore deserving of the attention they receive, even if they aren't Irish and they aren't much help with the weather. But I found more evidence online that in fact most groundhogs are aggressive and mean, and it takes a lot of hard work to tame them.

But I think maybe such a demeanor is appropriate, so that Groundhog Day can remain grumpy and mysterious. It's how we all feel, waiting for the winter to end.

 

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropPlease follow this blog if you are interested in updates.

Last year my new book on personal branding — Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps — was published in paperback and ebook. My new historical novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, is due out in summer 2016.

And please check out my award-winning Sharavogue, a novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, for a fast-paced adventure you won’t soon forget.

SharavogueCoverMy website at nancyblanton.com provides more detail on books and upcoming events. Please visit!

A bitter bit of irony

My dear friend in southwest Ireland, Eddie MacEoin, sent me a picture of the town in Tipperary, Ireland that has the same name as my first novel: Sharavogue. I had hoped to visit there last summer but ran out of time. In Ireland there is never enough time.  

SharavogueSign_crop

I didn't name the book after the town, but had stumbled across the name during my research. Its meaning--bitter place or bitter land--captured my imagination, because my book features an Irish girl indentured on a sugar plantation on the island of Montserrat. What a sweet bit of irony to name the plantation Sharavogue?

 

Well, writers are often the recipients of stinging reviews, whether warranted or not, and one of my reviewers took me to task claiming I had that meaning wrong. One of us is definitely wrong, but I have two good sources that agree, so, I'm just saying (snark...), and I find it a beautiful and mysterious-sounding name reminiscent of Scheherazade.

The quote below is from a biography, The Red Earl, the Extraordinary Life of the Earl of Huntingdon, by Selina Hastings.

"Sharavogue--the name means 'bitter land'--is situated halfway along the road between Roscrea and Parsonstown (now Birr)...The tiny hamlet of Sharavogue lies on the edge of the Bog of Allen, surrounded by pleasant, well-farmed country, gently undulating and characterised by meadows and small copses, by bushy hedgerows and fast-running streams."

After such a description, I looked for something following to explain why the town was so named, but there was no answer. Maybe, as Eddie's picture suggests, it becomes a rather wet and dismal place in fall and winter.

The Sharavogue in my story depicts a time in history when the Irish were even more popular as slave labor than the Africans. As reported by IrishCentral recently, from a blog in Scientific American, the Irish clan system was largely abolished after the Battle of Kinsale at the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The English seized Ulster and sent some 30,000 prisoners of war to be sold as slaves in the colonies of America and the West Indies.

"In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies. By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters."

The Irish slaves were actually cheaper and often received harsher punishments at the hands of planters, according to the article.

The 17th century is rich with stories that had profound effects on the course of history, and yet is is overlooked by many readers and writers. Watch for my new blog series on the 17th century, coming soon!

SharavogueCoverWhy not embark on an adventure in Irish history? Sharavogue makes an excellent gift for yourself or someone you know who loves historical ficion. Find it at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, iBooks and other independent booksellers.

And for any author, artist, consultant or business person looking to stand out among potential customers, consider my latest, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps: Harness the Secrets of Kings and Queens for a Personal Brand that Rules. This is a handbook for personal branding that combines my experience in corporate communications and historical fiction, and will help you define yourself effectively in a competitive market. Available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble, iBooks, Scribd, and Kobo. Visit my website at nancyblanton.comBrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_crop

 

 

Research: spiritual and sneaky

Bestselling author James Patterson says, with the vast availability of content on the Internet today there are "no excuses" for not doing research when writing a novel. And I say, why would you bother writing without it? I cannot see the thrill of writing pure fantasy that comes only from my own head, without any anchor or reference to real life. For me, writing is a learning experience, and the thrill of finding something through research also is my inspiration. In historical fiction it is critical, and is the best part of the writing process. I become a detective in finding minute bits of information hardly anyone cares about, and then a weaver, binding it into the story to create a rich fabric. The process is nothing less than magical, and the bonus is that the reader also learns something new but hardly even notices it.

Redwing_BlackbirdDoing the research and then sharing it also can (and should) be a spiritual experience.

Years ago I had the honor to hear Father Noel Burtenshaw speak on spirituality at an event on St. Simons Island, Georgia. He'd been fascinated by seeing the redwing blackbirds in the marsh grass on his way across the bridge, this little black bird with a beautiful bit of red on its wings. Being a man of religion, he immediately thanked God for the wonder of such a creature. Then he turned to his wife.

"Did you see the redwing blackbird?" he said, thereby sharing the experience with her.

And then for the audience, he made the sign of the cross by lifting his hand to the sky (thanking God) and then extending it to his side (sharing with his wife in the car beside him).

Discovering something new, appreciating things in the world, and then sharing them with others is a spiritual act.

This week I was thrilled to stumble across something new in my research. It was the "1641 Depositions" from Trinity College Library in Dublin. I was so excited! There are 8,000 depositions from landowners and rebels all over Ireland giving testimony about the causes and events starting the Irish rebellion against Protestant English in the year 1641. I was grateful for it, because it informs my work in new ways. Immediately I shared this with my husband. He returned a blank look, and somewhat sad eyes, as if to say, "you poor crazy person."

But I know the spiritual joy I will feel as writer, weaving these tidbits into my prose, adding authenticity to my story, and then sharing them by slipping them stealthily into sentences for the readers. It is fun to be both spiritual and sneaky.

Heh heh heh.

SharavogueCoverEmbark on your own sneaky Irish adventure by reading Sharavogue, winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction. Available from online booksellers:

amazon.com

barnesandnoble.com

iTunes for ipad

 

Chaos in Ham House

Last night my sister Daphne and I watched the movie, A Little Chaos, with Kate Winslet as Sabine, a 17th century landscape architect, and Alan Rickman as King Louis XIV. It was rather a lovely fiction about a the building of an outdoor ballroom at Versailles Palace (apparently the ballroom was real, but the screenplay was TMU: totally made up.) In addition to enjoying just about anything set in the 17th century, we were thrilled to see familiar floors, archways, hallways and yes, the magnificent stairway we had seen when we visited Ham House last fall. This house and garden are part of the National Trust located just about 10 miles from London at Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey.

IMG_1184Ham House is a beautiful place, and I could not get enough of it, literally. Before visiting London I had corresponded with Lucy Worsley, a brilliant person who had recommended Ham as an excellent experience of a 17th century manor house. I had looked it up and thought I had all the details right, my two sisters and I took the train, but when we arrived at Richmond we got caught in a rain shower and ducked into a pub for a while. I thought we still had plenty of time because the place wouldn't close until 5 pm, and we arrived before 3.

And our arrival was heroic, because my sister Gayle had worn her high-heeled boots that day. She swore they were comfortable to walk in, but we had about 1.5 miles to walk from Richmond, on a dirt path. It was a gorgeous day along the river, but poor Gayle could hardly enjoy it. And when we arrived for our tickets, the agent told us in fact we were late, because the shop would be open until 5 pm, but sorry, the house was closing at 3 pm.

She took pity on us (must have seen three very distressed faces) and said we could just take a quick run through if we would hurry. We did! The floors, the walls, the green closet, the fabulous library, the IMG_1186 gallery, the kitchen and so on. And then the chapel. And the magnificent carved staircase.

Thank goodness when they escorted us from the house I bought the books from their store, because when I saw certain scenes in the movie, particularly the house where landscaper Monsieur André Le Nôtre lived with his very naughty wife, I knew we had been there. The same floors, the same corridors, the arches, the front entry and gate. And the unmistakable balustrade carved with trophies of arms, with carved baskets of flowers on the newels.

Why did they use a house outside of London when the movie is set outside of Paris? My guess is because it was probably less expensive, and also because the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale lavishly decorated the house to show their high position in rich 17th century society.

IMG_1190I may be whining a bit here, as I wished to linger a while in the halls at Ham House, and absorb the feel of it, maybe see if a ghost or two might tap me on the shoulder. But alas, we had to leave. My poor sister could barely walk back to Richmond, but the Clark's Shoe Store did benefit because she could not go another step in those boots and bought a lovely pair of patent leather flats. I wonder, if we had been shopping the in the 17th century, would they have been satin slippers instead?

The movie was interesting, mildly entertaining, but lovely for the cast (who does not love Alan Rickman?), the costumes and, of course, the wonderful settings. My only criticism would be that poor Kate's wardrobe was drab by Louis XIV standards, and her hair was just as messy when she was going to court as when she was working in the garden. Disappointing. But it was truly a thrill to see on the screen the wonderful place we visited, and remember setting foot on those stairs.

SharavogueCoverHam House also serves as the model for a location in my upcoming prequel to Sharavogue, working title Glencurragh. Read Sharavogue and follow this blog for information on new books coming soon. Sharavogue is available on amazon.com, barnes&noble, iTunes for iPad, or Google books.

Brown bread and other weighty matters

BrownBreadI returned recently from a week’s visit to Ireland to research my new book, working title Glencurragh, set in County Cork. While there, I was fortunate to stay with friends in the Bandon area. We had several wonderful meals together and each featured the traditional brown bread of Ireland. On parting, my friends gave me a book, The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook, knowing how much I like pub grub and in particular the bread.

Note: While both versions are made with baking soda, Irish Soda Bread is white, while Irish Brown Bread is made with whole wheat flour and is brown.

The photo above is my first attempt at it from the book’s recipe, using white and whole wheat flour, oatmeal, baking soda & salt, buttermilk and a bit of molasses (in place of treacle which wasn’t available where I shop). Though slightly burned on top it is still chewy and delicious, especially slathered generously with Kerrygold Irish Butter. Do I need to write anything else here?

Well, you may be pleased to know Americans are not the only ones who enjoy eating first, and then worrying about their weight after. In the kitchen of my friends Teresa and Eddie, there was talk about who weighed how many stones. I had not realized that, with the metric system firmly in place, people still talked about weight in the ancient way, in terms of stones. Apparently it is common practice in Ireland, the UK and parts of Europe.

Some weighty friends from Cloghane

A standard measure is according to a standard market item, wool (everyone has an Irish wool sweater, right?), and a stone’s measure of wool equals 14 pounds. So that would mean I weigh, oh, well, you know, several stones anyway.

But it seems there is more than one stone to consider. For example, if I am measuring sugar or spices in England, a stone equals 8 pounds. If I measure glass, a stone equals 5 pounds. But in Belfast, a stone’s weight of flax equaled 16.75 pounds. And if I was in County Clare, my stone of potatoes might weigh 16 pounds in summer and 18 pounds in winter. Don’t ask me why, I’m just an American and I haven’t a clue. (Clues from Irish and UK readers welcomed.)

Thomas Jefferson once proposed that the United States adopt a decimal system for both currency and units of measurement. He got the nod on the first idea as we know, but not so much on the second. Although the idea of "getting stoned" did pick up some currency.

And in case you were wondering (you weren't but…), a sack is a unit of wool weighing 28 stone, which thankfully weighs a whole lot more than me. Much more valuable details can be found here.

Stay tuned! As the jet lag fog continues to lift there’ll be more stories from my visit to the Emerald Isle.

SharavogueCoverIn the meantime, embark on your own Irish adventure by reading Sharavogue, winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction. Available from online booksellers:

amazon.com

barnesandnoble.com

iTunes for ipad

 

Author branding: Put a tag on it

Give yourself a royal branding:The author branding worksheet, part 3

In this week’s post we will focus on the three the remaining elements of my author/personal branding worksheet, including:

TAGLINE MARKS COLOR PALETTE

(If you’ve missed the earlier posts, click on part 1 & part 2.)

These three elements are much easier to develop once you have completed the earlier sections that give a full understanding of your audience, your brand, its basis and driver, your vision and mission. Your positioning statement helps clarify exactly what your audience needs to know.

Chocolate HeartThese elements also call into play one of the basic rules of communication, and particularly electronic communication – the three second rule. You’ve heard of this rule in regard to candy dropped on the floor (is it still safe to eat?) and most likely in basketball (a lane violation), but it also applies to websites, advertising and any visual communication – like book covers. The rule is, you have three seconds to capture a person’s attention. Either it is visually compelling enough to get readers to stay, or they bounce off to something else: Click to another site, pick up another book, turn the page, goodbye.

Many things are constantly competing for a person’s attention these days. If you can’t grab them fast you’ve lost them. That’s why good headlines and strong graphic design are critical to your brand.

TAGLINE

Everyone does not need a tagline. Primarily they are intended for advertising, but businesses do use them as a hook on websites and signage and in numerous other ways. The main thing with a tagline is to use it consistently and do not waver. Wherever you used it make sure the words, capitalization and punctuation are exactly the same. Make sure it is clearly readable. And make sure it is unique and appropriate (which means you’ll need to do some searches to make sure your brilliant idea has not already been used and trademarked by someone else.)

Many people think writing a tagline is easy, and there certainly have been some classic tags that resulted from a sudden bolt of brilliance. But most of the time a good tagline requires creative thought about all the brand elements, focused brainstorming, and trial and error.

A great tag line is memorable, enlightens people about your business, and differentiates your company and product from competitors. Generally, a good tag line is a short, catchy phrase with an interesting and positive message delivered in 3-6 words.

-- simplewebsiteservice.com

Taglines are used in three ways: To highlight your brand driver or unique selling proposition, to introduce and showcase your brand, or to capture your positioning against your competitors.

There are five styles of taglines:

  • Strong claim
  • Showcase benefits
  • Showcase company
  • Question audience
  • Reveal customer emotions

For an author or personal brand, you are showcasing yourself and your values, so the third option may be the best choice, but I would not rule any of them out. Brainstorming should not be constrained.

Start by looking at the websites of other authors or professionals you admire. What is your first impression? Do they use a tagline? How is it used? What words do they use to describe themselves? Think about those words, borrow the ones you like, and list others you can think of that describe what you do.

Next, think about your audience and try to answer this question: Why should they be interested in you and what you do? Answer in as many ways as you can. Consider your particular strengths, your style or approach. And think about what makes you different from others who do what you do.

For me, I thought about my work in historical fiction, my focus on Irish history because of my own passion for it, and my decision to write it in terms of an adventure, with less detail than most historical fiction authors use, and with a faster pace. And, I decided to write my tagline as a call to action. The result?

Embark on an adventure in Irish history

It may not be the world’s best tagline, but it is appropriate for me and it does tend to snag people in when they read it at my book festival booths. Especially if they are Irish or traveling to Ireland.

Do some brainstorming by yourself or with someone else who knows you well. When you have a few options you like, test them on some friends or readers via email, Facebook or in person. See which option resonates the most, and then make it work for you everywhere: Your website, business cards, postcards, posters, one-sheet and wherever else it makes sense for you.

MARKS

A mark is that single graphic that stands for you, and would represent you when you cannot actually be present. For an author, in most cases your mark would be your name, and you might choose a particular type face to use consistently. You might be tempted to choose some of the more graphic typefaces that suggest your genre, like Edwardian Script for historical fiction, or Thriller for thrillers or mysteries. Resist temptation! You will be far better served choosing something that is clean and professional looking. If you decide to write in different genres you will have something that is effective across the board.

If you work with a graphic designer for your book covers (highly recommended), your designer can help you find a typeface that could work well on your covers and be repeated in all of your promotional materials. Once you’ve selected a typeface, stick with it even if you are bored and tempted to try something new. Your signature typeface becomes a core part of your visual brand.

If you will be self publishing, you may need an identity – a logo – that can be used for your book imprint. Again, the designer who does your covers can help ensure everything for your brand works together and can be used consistently. If you design your own there are a few things to remember.

  • Always keep your audience in mind. It is easy to get caught up in something you think looks cool, but you may be too close to the process. The graphic you like may not resonate or even make sense to your audience. As with the tagline, be open to feedback.
  • A logo should be simple, clean and strong enough to hold up equally as well whether you use it on the side of a city bus or the back of a ladybug. Don’t get too detailed with fine lines and shades that might not hold up. It’s a good idea to design first in black on white. Once that works you can think about colors. Print it in various sizes to see how well it reproduces. You may be sending it out to print media, and they are typically in a deadline rush in which your mark is not their priority. They can make a mess of even the best logos. A strong and simple mark will help you ensure consistency and protect your brand.
  • You will need multiple file types (such as jpg, eps, tiff) and multiple sizes to send to the various places you’ll use this logo, so understand what they are and how each is used.

COLORS

Queen_Eliz_The_Ditchley_portraitSignature colors are a great way to express your brand. Brand colors should be chosen for specific reasons. Queen Elizabeth, for example, chose colors of white and gold to represent her purity, and red and black to express her wealth (red and black dyes were very expensive in her time). Courtiers who wanted to identify with her went to great expense to wear the same colors.

In my last job, my organization operated an airport, a seaport, public marinas and public parks. So, the brand colors selected were light blue (air), green (land) and dark blue (sea) and were displayed in three wave-shaped bars indicating forward movement.

For myself I chose two shades of green, to reflect both the color most often associated with Irish, and the prominent color on the cover of my first novel. I added a third color of ocean blue for variety and balance. I wear the greens at every book festival, signing or speaking event, not as a uniform but via a scarf or a nice silk blouse so the message is not shouted but still effective. And, I use the colors prominently in my book displays.

colorselectionWhat colors should you choose? Here again I strongly advise working with a graphic designer who has experience with various media and how colors behave in each. Print colors do not look the same as screen colors, but designers can find the best options to give you greatest consistency across all media.

Think about the values you want to represent, and then take a look at a color chart to get some ideas.

http://www.pantone-colours.com

Color alone cannot be counted on to influence your readers’ behavior, because people tend to react to colors based on their own experiences, but it can play a role when it reflects the core values of your brand.

It’s the feeling, mood, and image that your brand creates that play a role in persuasion. Be sure to recognize that colors only come into play when they can be used to match a brand’s desired personality (i.e., the use of white to communicate Apple’s love of clean, simple design).

http://www.helpscout.net/blog/psychology-of-color/

I hope this series has helped you fill out your branding worksheet, or at least get a good start on it. I know it takes a bit of soul searching, but knowing your own brand sets you on a solid path for marketing yourself in a consistent and professional way.

Let me know how it works for you. I’m happy to answer questions and respond to your comments. Happy branding!

SharavogueCoverSharavogue is an award-winning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies. It is both historical fiction and fast-paced adventure. You can purchase Sharavogue at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and most online booksellers. Visit my website at www.sharavogue.com for more information.

Follow this blog for research updates and announcements. I’ll be posting a new series soon about my on-the-ground research in Ireland for my upcoming book, a prequel to Sharavogue.

 

Author branding: What really drives you?

Give yourself a royal branding: The worksheet, part 2 Romanian_crown_7-11Picking up where we left off with last week’s post, I was walking you through the essential steps of my author/personal branding worksheet. (See the Royal Branding series here.) We started out by defining your primary audience and selecting the core values that define you and your brand. Now we take on the next four elements of the worksheet, including:

CORE BRAND DRIVER VISION MISSION POSITIONING

BRAND DRIVER

What is that, exactly? Basically, it is what gets you out of bed in the morning and what gets you through the day. It's that kernel of passion about what you do, stated in a concise and easy-to-remember way so that you and your associates or employees (if you have them) can buy into it and live it. I found the following quote from the book Brand Simple that explains it well:

You need a “brand driver” for external and internal use; the short phrase that captures the essence of your idea. For example, take GE: “imagination at work.” This is important so employees know how to make decisions that align with the brand. FedEx is great example…what’s their promise to customers and to themselves? On-time delivery by 10:30 am. If you ever watched Castaway, remember the way that brand promise unified everything for everyone in the early scenes? And that last scene where he delivered the package: that’s delivering on the brand promise.

So you can see, it is not a tagline, although it may sound like one and look like one, and your tagline may be derived from it. And you may think, “Hey, what I do is difficult and complex, and can’t all be captured in a simple phrase.” That’s probably true, and reducing all that complexity to its essence is no easy task. But think of it as a rallying point, a war cry. It may also be your unique selling proposition. What is the one thing about your work that, if you didn’t do it, the world could not become a better place?

To come up with my own brand driver, I worked down to my basic personal belief that we are all part of a continuum of the spirit, that what is accomplished or not accomplished in one generation affects other generations both before and after. Maybe my telling of a specific story satisfies an unfulfilled need from long ago, and has the power to change a perspective even just a little bit. What we do, what we accomplish, and how we use our gifts is of great importance. I am an author of historical fiction. Therefore my brand driver is: Illuminate the past to inspire the present.

You can state your brand driver any number of ways, but I like it stated as a challenge, kind of like Nike’s “Just Do It.”

VISION

Now, doesn’t it make you happy to have your brand driver in place? It is like discovering your purpose in life. The next step is thinking through your brand driver to the best possible conclusion. What would the world look like if you are wildly successful? For me, maybe the world would be a literate place where we would learn from and not repeat the mistakes of the past, so that things like greed-driven wars and preventable famines would not take place, etc.

Let your imagination go on this one. Try to capture your perfect world in a sentence or two. But it is your vision, so if it takes a paragraph or a page, let the words flow. This is really about why your new-found purpose in life matters, and it does.

MISSION

You have defined your universe. Now let’s bring it down to boots on the ground. Your mission statement is about what you do every day in service of your brand driver towards achieving your new world vision. You are an author? Well then you write, of course. But think in terms of a business statement. A business exists to make money, and to make money you must have a product or service to deliver. Do you have long-term goals and projected outcomes? Your mission statement is partly definitive, partly aspirational. And don’t worry about getting it perfect. Just write something you are comfortable with based on what you have worked on so far. Your mission statement can change. Many businesses tweak their mission statement regularly to reflect current business conditions.

In the 2014 annual report, the CEO of General Electric stated the company mission this way:

GE’S MISSION IS TO INVENT THE NEXT INDUSTRIAL ERA, TO BUILD, MOVE, POWER AND CURE THE WORLD.

GE imagines things others don’t, builds things others can’t and delivers outcomes that make the world work better. GE brings together the physical and digital worlds in ways no other company can. In its labs and factories and on the ground with customers, GE is inventing the next industrial era to move, power, build and cure the world.

See how that might inspire customers? Easy, right? Now write yours exactly like that only different. (JUST KIDDING!) Your aspirations may not be quite that lofty, but your mission statement should include a reference to your vision and how what you do will help achieve it. Note GE’s reference to labs, factories and customer contact.

Still need inspiration? Here’s a blog post that lists 50 mission statements for non-profits, and a few more from another site that show longer statements and a variety of business types.

Keep in mind your mission statement is something you might post on your website to tell your customers in a general way who you are and what you do, so think about it from the reader perspective and go for clarity over cleverness.

POSITIONING

Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)To develop your positioning statement, I refer you back to my Royal Branding series, part 4 on Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s life was at stake so it is understandable that she would need strong positioning in the minds of her subjects, but why do you need a positioning statement? If you are an author, just go to a bookstore like Barnes and Noble and look around. If you are like me you will quickly be overwhelmed with the vast number of books out there and wonder why you even bother writing at all. Then get out of there fast and remember your brand driver and your mission. You are one of a kind. No one else has the same story and no one else can tell it the way you do. But where do you fit in the marketplace, and how will you explain it quickly to the literary agent or the customer standing next to you in the elevator?

To create a good positioning statement you should (1) define your target audience, (2) include the category or genre in which you operate, (3) articulate the benefit or unique qualities being offered and (4) give customers a reason to believe you will deliver on your promise.

You’ve already done most of the footwork on this one. What we are doing now is packaging it in a way that brings in your marketing strategy and how you want your audience/customers to perceive your brand in relation to all the others.

There is no sense in me reinventing the wheel here: This blog post from Cornell University gives you all you need to write a good positioning statement, including guidelines, a simplified template, examples, and even a free “statement generator.”

As you work through these steps I encourage you to

  • Take your time
  • Be creative
  • Allow for flexibility so you can live comfortably within your own brand constraints
  • HAVE SOME FUN

Whew! That is a lot to think about already. Since this post is now getting a bit long, I will come back next week to finish this series with Taglines, Marks and Colors.

And after all that brain work, maybe it’s time for some escape reading? Sharavogue is an award-SharavogueCoverwinning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies. It is both historical fiction and fast-paced adventure. You can purchase Sharavogue at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and most online booksellers. Visit my website at www.sharavogue.com for more information.

And please follow this blog for research updates and announcements. I'll be posting a new series soon about my on-the-ground research in Ireland for my upcoming book, a prequel to Sharavogue.

Author branding: Lessons learned from royalty

As a follow-up to my series on author branding (A Royal Undertaking), this post focuses on applying the lessons learned from the first personal branders – kings and queens throughout history. Henry_face_youngThese were the people who first learned and demonstrated the power of a strong and consistent personal brand. Kings and queens needed their people to obey them, to respect them, and of course to pay taxes without storming the castle. Their personal brands could be communicated to all the places they could not go physically, to generate the acceptance they required to lead.

So what can authors, and truly anyone who needs a personal brand, really use from the royalty discussed in my series? First and foremost, remember that we are all the kings and queens of our own brand. BE A TYRANT. I remember hearing a story about Paul McCartney’s road crew complaining that he was difficult to work for because of his controlling and demanding management style. McCartney’s response? Hey, it’s my name on the marquee at every show, not yours.

From the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut we learned the basics to establish your personal brand:

  • Definition. Values are the basis of your brand and guide what you will and won’t do in your business and in your life. Values are what you want people to know about you, and get to the core of who you are. Hatshepsut’s primary values were leadership and legacy. Remember, in personal branding, you are promoting yourself, not your book. Readers want to engage with authors who are real people.
  • Opportunity. You can’t be all things to all people. Find a niche that will allow you to shine, and has subject areas that speak to you and can keep you interested. Branding is a long-term relationship. As pharaoh, Hatshepsut had the opportunity to build things, so she focused on art and architecture to create her legacy.
  • Focus. Hatshepsut focused specifically on a few main things that addressed her values. Don’t participate in every book event or every charity, choose one or two that fit your brand values and dig in. Many authors support literacy, for example, because what would we be without readers? And don’t run yourself ragged trying to be on every social media platform. Choose the ones that really serve you and fit who you are.
  • Endurance. A strong consistent brand can endure. Note that Hatshepsut’s has been around for nearly 3,500 years. Make sure your brand is authentic and something you can always support and protect.

Henry VIII: The key to King Henry’s personal brand is his persona. The powerful, charming, larger-than-life, man’s man image he created was something the citizens of his time already wanted, expected and respected in their king. He didn’t create something he wasn’t, but he did project and highlight those features that would please his audience. The virile king in shining armor beating his opponents in a jousting tournament, for example.

Authors, like royalty, can create a persona in the minds of their audiences and the general public, to thereby be remembered. What aspects of your personality define you? What interesting facts about your personal or professional background make you stand out, and are those aspects important to readers of your genre?

Elizabeth_I_Rainbow_PortraitQueen Elizabeth I took the next step by positioning herself in the minds of her audience. This was important because of the turmoil of her times, to distinguish herself from her sister – Bloody Mary – who ruled before her, and from her mother Anne Boleyn who had been executed for treason. Elizabeth distanced herself from these negative images by claiming her descendancy from the Trojans, King Arthur and Henry VIII, her divine right to rule, emphasizing her values of peace, religious unity, international trade and naval dominance, and her purpose to maintain the well-being, security and prosperity of her people.

  • Your positioning statement should establish you firmly in the minds of your audience.
  • Once developed, positioning can guide your marketing strategy and tactics to serve you for the long-term.
  • The colors, imagery and messaging you use should support your positioning and persona, be thoughtful and consistent, and repeated again and again.
  • Your persona must support your positioning statement and vice versa.

Louis XIV was the first royal I know of who, having defined values over fashion to drive his brand, insisted on written guidelines to maintain the brand’s consistency and therefore its power. A good written strategy helps ensure the brand is made visible and relevant to its target audiences.

DelarocheNapoleonLessons learned from Napoleon are more cautionary. To support a personal brand you must align your actions with your persona, and lean toward transparency rather than duplicity. When what you exhibit or say differs from what you actually do, you break down the trust that is essential to any brand. In today’s world of social media, we are all just an Instagram away from a trashed brand if we do not live our values. Napoleon also teaches us to listen to trusted advisors. Just as every writer needs an editor, every person needs to be open to other perspectives.

And from our American presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, we learn the value of harnessing the technology of the day to communicate most effectively with our audiences. Most definitely, today that is social media, but there are so many channels of communication available, so what is the most direct route from you to your audience, and how can you use it best? (Remember, content is king!)

Next week my post will walk you through the steps in a personal branding worksheet I first presented at the Amelia Island Book Festival in February. Sure, you could spend a year or two creating a personal brand. Or, with this worksheet and some soul searching, have your basic brand framed out in a matter of days.

SharavogueCoverEmbark on an adventure in Irish history with the novel Sharavogue, winner of the 2014 Royal Palm Literary Award. Now available from online booksellers. Author Nancy Blanton will be exhibiting at the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, SC, May 16-17, 2015. You may also connect with her on Facebook.

Stories of Death by Construction

Have you ever heard a story of construction workers who died on the job being buried as part of the structure they were building? One of the first stories I heard was of men entombed within the Brooklyn Bridge. Apparently this is a myth, because a decaying body embedded in a concrete structure would then make that structure unstable. However, author David McCullough estimates 27 people were killed in various accidents or safety issues during the bridge construction. Image of a walled town from the Cork City Library

I became curious about these myths after I happened across one story recently while researching the upcoming prequel to my historical novel Sharavogue. Call it serendipity, it was one of those magical, unexpected discoveries that make researching history fun, while providing genuine detail to spice up a novel. Centuries ago during construction of the enclosing walls for the town of Bandon, County Cork, Ireland, a young man was killed when a fellow mason working on a scaffold above him accidentally dropped his pickaxe. In the 1800s, the site was being excavated to build a summerhouse. When the workers found a large flagstone that gave a hollow sound when struck, they thought (hoped) they might have discovered an ancient stash of gold coins. Instead they found the skeleton of the poor mason, the pickaxe still under his skull, and his hammer and trowel by his side. In his pocket was a silver coin from the reign of Edward VI.

Little remains of this wall today, but stories live on, right?

Such as the Hoover Dam, where somewhere between 96 and 112 workers were killed between 1931-36. The myth has it that it was too costly to halt construction when a man was killed and so the concrete pour continued. But if this was true, the structure would not have been able to withstand the pressure of all that water over the years.

With the body of water that would become Lake Mead already beginning to swell behind the dam, the final block of concrete was poured and topped off at 726 feet above the canyon floor in 1935. On September 30, a crowd of 20,000 people watched President Franklin Roosevelt commemorate the magnificent structure’s completion. Approximately 5 million barrels of cement and 45 million pounds of reinforcement steel had gone into what was then the tallest dam in the world, its 6.6 million tons of concrete enough to pave a road from San Francisco to New York City. Altogether, some 21,000 workers contributed to its construction.

One story where site burials are not a myth is that of the Fort Peck dam site in Montana. Eight workers were caught in a slide there in 1938, but only two bodies were recovered.

My curiosity produced many stories of human sacrifice during constructions projects, as well as immurement. One from Germany concerned a mother who sold her son to be interred in the foundations of a castle, and then--feeling rather guilty--she threw herself off a cliff.

And a fascinating yet horrifying story is that of the Mole in Algiers, a massive breakwater started in the 16th century by the pirate-king Barbarossa. This structure was intended to provide defense against the Spanish, but the work was constant and relentless, requiring more than 30,000 Christian slaves for labor, and costing the lives of 4,000 slaves, or about five lives per foot of structure.

These days, thanks to safety requirements, construction deaths are fewer, workers are paid, and as far as I know are well cared for in case of accidents or deaths. In the US, private industry construction deaths per year are in the hundreds, not thousands. The leading causes of construction deaths are falls, being struck by an object, electrocution, or being caught between things.

I'll be visiting Bandon later this year for a little on-the-ground research, and will say a prayer for that poor mason who died there. Until then, keep it safe out there, and follow this blog for stories about my travels in Ireland starting in June, and for notices of when the new book will be out.

SharavogueCoverAnd in the meantime, embark on an adventure in Irish history! Sharavogue is the award-winning story of a peasant girl who vows to destroy Oliver Cromwell during his march of destruction across Ireland in the 17th century, and her struggle for survival on a West Indies sugar plantation.

 

Author branding: Honest Abe to Camelot

Part 7 in a series on personal branding American presidents are not royalty, coming to power via election rather than bloodline, but they still enjoy many of the protocols of European royalty covered so far in this series, and have used personal branding as a primary weapon in their get-elected arsenal. Several of our 43 presidents have had outstanding personas, but two are particularly remarkable to me: Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Their brands are so strong that you almost automatically think "Honest Abe" and "Camelot."

Lincoln1861

Every school kid knows the story of the impoverished Abraham Lincoln, growing up in a log cabin and reading books by candlelight. As Alan Brew writes,

"Lincoln’s life exemplifies what has been variously labeled 'the American dream,' or 'the right to rise' from rags to riches. In Lincoln’s case it is quite literally a rise from a log cabin to the White House. His story is the embodiment of Lincoln brand: gritty determination, honesty, family values, unswerving belief in America and the basic rights of his fellow men. His life offers a powerful testimony to dream. It is what ordinary Americans want to believe about social mobility and the opportunity to get ahead."

In fact, he was a highly intelligent lawyer and was one of the first presidents who was actively branded and marketed to the voting public by his political campaign. Sociology professor and author Jackie Hogan said in an interview, "There were all kinds of theatrics: pulling up a fence rail and parading around saying this fence rail was split by Abraham Lincoln. They created an image of him as an average Joe, and in many ways, he was not an average Joe. But he was very happy to ride that reputation into the White House.”

What Lincoln had that other presidents, and royals, lacked, was access to new technology, and he used it to advantage to receive and distribute information. This new technology was the telegraph. It had been used primarily by the banking and financial industry, but Lincoln was the first president to use it for wartime communication.

"Like social media the telegraph is an electronic form of communication. The telegraph increased the speed at which information and communication could be received it changed the world, it changed war, and it changed daily life."

--Scott Scanlon

Lincoln certainly had his detractors. It would be impossible not to, leading a nation in the time of a civil war, but he rose to power through his intellectual leadership, and in many cases was able to diffuse contentious situations through his powerful oratory. He was able to define, in elegant and often poetic layman's terms, the sides and meanings of an issue. Today we might call that "content marketing."

And though some thought his physical appearance awkward, he did try to look the part. "At his second inauguration, Abraham Lincoln wore a coat specially crafted for him by Brooks Brothers. Hand-stitched into the coat's lining was a design featuring an eagle and the inscription, 'One Country, One Destiny.' He was wearing the coat and a Brooks Brothers suit when he was assassinated."

Kennedy

While Lincoln came to power when the nation was divided, John F. Kennedy came into office on a wave of prosperity, the post-war boom. And where Lincoln had use of the telegraph, Kennedy had television:

"Once a commodity that few Americans with money possessed in the late 1940's, it was now in the homes of all Americans by the era of the 1960's. It was this medium that would blast across the screen the youthful, handsome, rich, John F. Kennedy with his young beautiful wife Jackie and their two vivacious children." xroads.virginia.edu

In the 1950s and 60s, when families were watching Ozzie and Harriet, and Father Knows Best on TV, the Kennedy family exemplified that perfect, happy image, and Kennedy played into it, allowing his family and particularly his children to be photographed "under his desk, in their playrooms, in the Rose Garden, in their schoolhouses, throwing parties, Caroline riding her pony, or John-John running toward the helicopters and planes which so often captivated him."

Kennedy also used his charisma and knack for rallying people around an aspirational cause that they already wanted, such as being first on the moon, or creating the Peace Corps. There was an unwritten rule that his dark side (the extramarital affairs, connections to organized crime, plot to assassinate Fidel Castro) were not to be revealed, and they were not until investigative reporters of the 1970s got into it the files. Kennedy was the last president to enjoy that kind of relationship with the press.

Lessons learned

So what are the takeaways from these two presidents that can be applied to author branding?

First, it pays to know your audience and what they want. Both Lincoln and Kennedy understood their times and identified their personas with the ideals of the time. Even though they were faced with very difficult issues and circumstances, their personas helped them maintain public support through crises, and have survived the decades. One might argue that the assassinations propelled them into indelible memory, but polls still rank them among the most beloved presidents, and their personas live on. For authors of historical fiction, readers want to understand the relevance of what you write for today's world.

Second, it pays to use technology to advantage. Today's social media and a fairly unforgiving consumer audience make the kind of duality these presidents experienced difficult if not impossible. But consistent messaging and a strong brand story, strategically distributed to target audiences, can create a memorable personal brand that will stand for you when you need it most.

Third, just as you create your own persona, think about the personas of your target audience: who they are, what they want, and what they need from you -- not to create a false image to project to them, but to clarify how to reach them best, and how to create and distribute content that is meaningful to them while still aligning with your own values and brand.

Previous posts in the series:

Part 1, Intro          Part 2, Hatshepsut          Part 3, Henry VIII

Part 4, Elizabeth I          Part 5, Louis XIV       Part 6, Napoleon

SharavogueCoverEmbark on an adventure in Irish history with the novel Sharavogue, winner of the 2014 Royal Palm Literary Award. Now available from online booksellers. Author Nancy Blanton will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival, February 20-21, 2015. You may also connect with her on Facebook.

Author branding à la française: The Sun King

Part 5 in series on personal branding Louis_XIV_of_France

It should come as no surprise that when it comes to personal branding, the French take it to a higher level. The Sun King, Louis XIV, is the most outstanding in a long line of Louis who had impressive nicknames: Louis the Young, Louis the Lion, Louis the Saint. These guys had the right idea of personal brand. And then, there were a few who kind of botched it: Louis the Quarreler, and Louis the Prudent, the Cunning, the Universal Spider (this one deserves further exploration in another post!).

But The Sun King has transcended the centuries, reigning longer than any other monarch of a major European country (more than 72 years, 1643-1715). He is memorable for centralizing government, for his lavish Palace of Versailles, for his his grand poses (and shapely legs), and of course for his fashion sense.

Taking back control of his country from the Catholic cardinals, Louis XIV believed in rule by divine right. He valued fiscal and military reform, law and order, the arts, and thriving French industries that could be effectively taxed. To move forward with his goals, he had to start by eliminating the mammoth corruption and embezzlement by some of his advisors.

He gained the respect of the populace by focusing first on law an order, and relied on his new government ministers reporting directly to him to help establish and maintain his public image. King Louis understood that the display of magnificence and splendor created part of a king's power. He also knew the value of repetition. His portraits were numerous, and his images were distributed far and wide to reach as many of his subjects as possible.

According to Peter Burke, author of The Fabrication of Louis XIV, "Louis saw himself everywhere, even on the ceiling."

His personal symbol, or logo, was the sun, and anything that bore his standard -- his bed and his dinner table even if he was not present -- was to be respected as if he himself were there.

Brand guidelines

To maintain a consistency of image and message in all of this repetition, there had to be rules, and Louis understood this as well. In all its forms, his public representation had to convince the audience of his greatness. Louis identified with admired historical figures such as Clovis, the first Christian king of France, and Charlemagne. So, the artists, musicians and writers drew from such powerful images as a Roman triumph, an equestrian statue with the horse stomping some evil. In state portraits he was:

  • Larger than life, his eyes higher than the viewer

    Rigaud_Hyacinthe_-_Louis_XIV,_roi_de_France

  • Dressed in armor symbolizing valor, and/or clothing showing his high status (In the 17th century, elaborate wigs and high heels became the custom, and served to enlarge the king's impressive stature.)
  • Surrounded by powerful props such as globes, scepters, the sword of justice, thunderbolts and laurels
  • Wearing the expression and posture of dignity and grandeur

"As for the expression on the royal visage, it tends to vary between ardent courage and dignified affability. A smile is apparently considered inappropriate for the King of France," Burke wrote.

In addition to portraits, sermons, sonnets, poems, literature, plays, coins and tapestries all had to present the king in this idealized light.

Brand strategy

To help implement his brand, King Louis had Jean-Baptiste Colbert who devised and documented a strategy whereby the king would be glorified as a patron of the arts. This "communications plan" included a list of all the various media where the king could not only invest but be depicted, as well as a list of individuals, their strengths and weaknesses, who could be called upon for the work.

"The plan was put into place in the next decade," wrote Burke, "when we can observe the 'organisation of culture' in the sense of the construction of a system of official organizations which mobilized artists, writers and scholars in the service of the king."

Like the sun, King Louis rose with the work of his reign and the help of his brand advisors, but in later years experienced a "royal sunset" when expensive wars, fragmented politics and a shortage of talent contributed to the decline of his popularity. There would be two more Louis to rule France before the French Revolution of 1789, but none to reach so high a zenith.

The takeaways

What can we learn from the personal brand of the Sun King?

  • Again, that values rather than fashion must be the brand driver.
  • That guidelines are necessary to maintain the brand's consistency and thus its power.
  • And, that a good written strategy helps ensure the brand is made visible and relevant to its target audiences.

Next week, part 6 of the series will focus on Napoleon.

SharavogueCoverSharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards! You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.

Author branding: Like Good Queen Bess

Part 4 in series on personal branding Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)Sometimes called Good Queen Bess, Gloriana, or The Virgin Queen, the second daughter of Henry VIII became Queen Elizabeth I of England at the age of 25. She quickly and masterfully defined herself in the eyes of her people -- that is, she established her personal brand.

At a disadvantage from the beginning because she was female, protestant, and the daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn, she was also coming into power after the death of her half-sister Mary, aka "Bloody Mary." Elizabeth needed to establish a firm base of power that her courtiers and her people could respect and accept. In her case, facing the likelihood of Catholic assassins, a strong personal brand was truly a matter of life or death.

Values and positioning

Elizabeth had been in training for royalty for a long time. She knew what she wanted: Increased world trade, supreme naval power, religious unity, and economic prosperity. She didn't care for war, but did not shrink from it in order to protect and defend her power and her nation.

To those ends, Elizabeth not only created a powerful persona, but also "positioned" herself as a strong and just ruler, a most noble and formidable king in a gentle woman's body.

Positioning is a way to define yourself to your audience in a positive and memorable way, while differentiating yourself from your competitors or predecessors.

If I were to quickly write Queen Elizabeth's positioning statement, first I would beg forgiveness at being so bold and admit a royal positioning statement would require a lot of serious thought and development time. That said, it might go something like this:

For the people of England, France and Ireland, we (the royal we) descend under divine right from Britain's greatest monarchs, to establish peace, religious unity, international trade and naval dominance, and to maintain their well-being, security and prosperity. 

  • Elizabeth based her claim to the throne first on history, descending from the Trojans, linking to King Arthur and Henry VIII. This history and provides the background to her many symbolic portraits, and to this she added color choices, iconography, and especially consistency.
  • Elizabeth did not care to sit for portraits so eventually artists were given "approved" facial forms to paint from, adding to the consistency and agelessness of her persona.
  • She preferred white gowns to emphasize her fair skin and bright hair, and augmenting her image of purity. Her courtiers wore miniatures of her to show their devotion, and had their own portraits painted wearing Elizabeth's colors – black, white, red and gold. (At the time, red and black dyes were difficult to obtain and process, so they were restricted to the wealthy.)
  • In addition to portraits, Elizabeth's persona was communicated (and sometimes created for her) through poetry, drama, music and architecture.

Power of Portraits

Elizabeth had no advertising or social media to broadcast her message, so of course portraits were the best way to establish her persona. After the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, a famous portrait (above) shows her with the ships in the background and her feet upon a map of the world. Her hand rests on a globe below the crown, her fingers cover the Americas, indicating England's plans for expansion , and she is flanked by two columns suggesting her history. In the background  the ships are driven to dark destruction while Elizabeth enjoys the sunlight.

“Elizabeth’s savvy in regard to managing and manipulating public opinion was substantial. She spent lavishly on gowns, jewels, portraits and royal progresses, whistle-stop horseback tours of her domain that let her see and be seen. Her skill with rhetoric, both visual and verbal, was undisputed, as in the legendary speech delivered to her troops on the eve of the Spanish Armada. The queen, dressed in an Athenalike white gown and silver breastplate, told her men, 'I have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but the heart and stomach of a king—and of a King of England too.’” --Hanne Blank Virgin, The Untouched History

In what is known as "the pelican portrait" she wears pearls indicating purity, the Tudor rose indicating unity, and a pendant that shows a pelican mother caring for her young. In Elizabeth's time, mother pelicans symbolized self sacrifice of mothers to care for their young, and as an icon represented Elizabeth as mother and protector of her Protestant nation and her subjects.

Queen_Eliz_The_Ditchley_portraitLike a virgin

As Elizabeth aged and determined that she would never marry, she became famous for her virginity -- even though many believed she'd had a long-term love affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. She was celebrated as The Virgin Queen in the portraits, pageants and literature of the day.

Virginity was a courtly ideal. In younger days Elizabeth's virginity had represented her purity, innocence and chastity, making her a perfect bride for some wealthy prince. As she aged and all suitors were refused, her virginity was spun into a maternal sacrifice of herself for her country and her people, lending an air of holiness to her reign.

Elizabeth_I_Rainbow_PortraitWings to fly

Elizabeth was also immortalized by the poet Edmund Spenser in his epic The Faerie Queen, where she was represented as a goddess and the embodiment of beauty and virtue. In reality, about this time her skin had been damaged by small pox, she'd lost much of her hair, and had to wear wigs and heavy makeup. Still, her gowns in some portraits are magnificent constructions of high shoulders and great wings. The Rainbow Portrait, painted when Elizabeth was in her 60s, is actually one of her sexiest, with her white floral bodice, her loose hair and elaborate headdress, a mantle draped over one shoulder, and a cloak designed with eyes and ears motif, the serpent of wisdom on her sleeve, the a rainbow with the motto "no rainbow without the sun." She reminds me of the recording artist Cher in this one: Ageless and outlandish.

In spite of many difficulties during her reign, Elizabeth remained popular with the majority of her subjects, and was praised as a heroine of the Protestant cause and the ruler of a golden age. Following her death in 1603, the date of her accession was a national holiday for 200 years.

Reason to believe

So what can be gleaned from Elizabeth's positioning in terms of personal branding?

  • Your persona must support your positioning statement.
  • Once developed, positioning can guide your marketing strategy and tactics to serve you for the long-term.
  • The choices you make to represent your brand, such as colors, imagery and messaging, should be thoughtful and consistent, repeated again and again.

To create a good positioning statement you should (1) define your target audience, (2) include the frame of reference, as in the category or genre in which you operate, (3) articulate the benefit or unique qualities being offered and (4) give customers a reason to believe you will deliver on your promise.

Next week, part 5 of the series will focus on Louis XIV.

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards! You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.

Author branding and Henry VIII: Royal persona

Part 3 in series on personal branding If England's King Henry VIII had been an author, who might he have been? Authors, like royalty, can project certain images to create a persona in the minds of their audiences and the general public, to thereby be remembered and gain policy support, or book sales as the case may be.

Henry_face_youngAs noted in Part 1 of this series, the proliferation of social media apps today make it nearly impossible to project an inauthentic persona. The moment you thought you had created a good one, someone would post an instagram of you carrying out the garbage in your underwear. But King Henry was able to create and project a persona that met his needs, and the Hemingway_facecorresponding author that comes to mind for me is Ernest Hemingway.

As young men, both Henry and Ernest were good looking with athletic physiques. Henry was known for having "an extremely fine calf to his leg," for example. Both played hard at sports, be it jousting or hunting, and both saw themselves as warriors. Both were interested in education and literature. Both married a few times. Both drank to excess. Both attained a "larger than life" persona that continued long after the men themselves had faltered due to illness and, well, bad behavior.

King Henry's Brand Persona

Henry-VIII-kingofengland_1491-1547Henry VIII valued education, religion, arts, architecture, innovation and ostentation. He used his physical size to advantage -- he was 6'2" at a time when most men were considerably shorter -- and in many cases his portraits show him taking up most of the canvas. In the background of some portraits he was surrounded by the cultural sophistication reminiscent of imperial Rome.

He excelled at sports and held jousting matches, wearing his gilded armor, satin and pearls, as a way of showing his wealth, strength and power to visiting dignitaries.

To promote his campaign for church reformation, he had pamphlets created and broadly distributed, and paid theatrical and minstrel groups to travel the land and portray Catholic priests as devils while he was the defender of the true faith. (Reminds me of the branding road show I once led for employees in various departments, but in my case the past was the devil and the new brand was the hero.)

In architecture, the exterior of buildings included hundreds of busts, the laurel-wreathed heads of emperors, imperial authorities and military heroes, suggesting these heroes were the foundation upon which King Henry's Tudor dynasty was built.

In art he was featured at the center of huge architectural structures in classical style, in at least one case receiving the water of life and the book of life directly from the angels, a clear reference to his religious persona as head of the Church of England with the divine right of kings.

Later in life, even after a jousting injury and other health conditions changed him dramatically -- and even though the noble king was responsible for about 70,000 executions -- the glorious persona that he had created still permeated. Fans of the Tudors television series may recall in the last episode just before Henry dies, he orders the portrait artist Holbein to change his latest, and accurate, depiction of declining, sickly Henry into the standing image of the strong, virile (note codpiece), magnificent king he wanted his people to see.

In part, I would say, the success of Henry's brand persona is that the powerful, charming, man's man image he created was something the citizens of his time wanted and respected in their king. It was an image that was easy to accept, and easy to follow because it met with their own values, and even in the face of horrible truths it was hard to let go.

Stay tuned for Part 4 of this series, next week: Elizabeth I

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards. You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.

 

Author branding: A royal legacy

Part 2 in series on personal branding In my last post I talked about some differences between corporate and personal branding, and how values rather than product should be the core driver for the brand. Because kings and queens were probably the first successful users of personal branding, we can learn from their practices.

HapchepsutIn ancient Egypt, if the monuments and pyramids can attest, rulers valued nothing more than a legacy. Not only to be remembered by their people, but also to help open the doors to a prosperous afterlife, something akin to the Christian belief that good folks go to Heaven and get presents at Christmastime.

Way back in history, c. 1479 b.c., Hatshepsut became the sixth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, one of few women to achieve that post, and she ruled successfully for more than 20 years. So concerned about legacy was this queen, she had an obelisk at Karnak inscribed: "Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people will say -- those who shall see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done."

When her pharaoh husband died and she was named regent to serve while her infant stepson came of age, Hatshepsut saw a unique opportunity and took full advantage of it. She had herself declared king of Egypt. But now, especially because she was a woman in a man's role, she had to take steps to secure her throne.

She had herself portrayed as a man in the media of the day -- stone carvings -- complete with false beard, Khat head cloth and shendyt kilt, and looked much the figure of a man, showing strong shoulders, small breasts. (In fact, archaeologist have discovered she was obese, had very large breasts and suffered from a skin disease, the salve for which probably contained toxic chemicals that led to her death.)

She also renamed herself "Maatkare," basically a combination of words meaning truth, soul and Sun God (Re), suggesting she was in direct contact with the god and thereby legitimately held her throne.

In pursuit of her legacy, she focused on two things: Architecture and art. She built roadways and sanctuaries, erected commemorative obelisks, and carved her immense temple into the limestone cliffs near Thebes, containing more than 100 statues of herself in various religious poses.

Hatshepsut was basically everywhere. Even though her stepson, ascending to power after her death, did everything he could to remove and erase her legacy from history, most of it still remains.

And so, what four things can be learned from Hatshepsut's strategies for establishing a personal brand?

First, values. For Hatshepsut, they were leadership and legacy.

Second, opportunity. You may not be able to have yourself declared king like Hatshepsut, but in an author's world, to me this means finding a niche that will allow you to shine, and has subject areas that speak to you (like Re) and can keep you interested. Branding is a long-term relationship.

Third, focus. Hatshepsut did not try to do everything, but focused specifically on a few main things that addressed her values. She promoted trade, which made it easier to obtain the things she needed, like building materials for monuments, and art from all over the world. An author may have a lot of demands on his or her time and resources, and still needs time to write. Don't participate in every charity, choose one or two that fit your brand values. Don't try to attend every event or be on every social media platform. Choose the ones that really serve you in some way and fit who you are.

Fourth, endurance. A strong brand will endure. Note that Hatshepsut's has been around for nearly 3,500 years. Most of us can remember corporate brands we grew up with as kids, even if the company that created it no longer exists. I'll bet you can think of some authors right now who have amazingly durable personal brands. Their names alone conjure mental pictures. Bronte? Hemingway? Melville? Austen? Dickens? Twain? And the list goes on and on...

Stay tuned for Part 3 next week.

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards! You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.

Historical accuracy: It's good to be right

Last year when I started promoting my historical novel Sharavogue, I got several wonderful and very positive reviews on amazon.com, but was looking to spread the news to other readers. I requested a review from another place my book was listed, Indiebound.com. Great people there, but unfortunately I was matched up with an anonymous reviewer who I can only believe is a bitter and lonely individual. I say that not just because I received a bad review, which I did, but because it was unreasonably bad. Upon reading it, my hands began to shake. I had spent years carefully researching the time, the characters from that time, and all the details. It was the details this reviewer zeroed in on, questioning in a rather nasty tone the book's title, whether a certain kind of tree was present at the time, and so on, including the basic opening sequence in the book in which Oliver Cromwell arrives in Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland. The reviewer claimed Cromwell had never traveled that far.

Cromwell in Ireland, a history of Cromwell's Irish Campaign ... with map, plans and illustrations

Now, since this is historical fiction, and it was at least plausible that Cromwell had visited the village in question, it does not really matter whether he actually did or not as long as I am clear in my author's note about the places where I have stretched the facts in support of the story. But I had studied Cromwell and found that he did in fact visit Skibbereen. I made two mistakes here.

First, I had found an historical map (above) that actually tracked Cromwell's progress in 1649, going through and past Skibbereen in southwest Cork. It gave me a premise to work from but, not realizing I might need it later I did not file a copy. If I'd had that copy I could have submitted it to the reviewer to request a revision in the review.

Which leads to my second mistake: engaging with the reviewer. Upon reading the erroneous review I sent back a message to Indiebound pointing out the errors in it based on my research. They sent my message to the reviewer for a response, and the result was a longer and even more erroneous and spiteful version of the original review. Indiebound passed it off as just a difference in opinion.

Happily for me anyway, while researching my new book I came across the map again, from the British Library no less, and saved it in my files.

Readers of historical fiction love a good story intertwined with fact, so that they can learn about historical  lives and times as they are entertained. I know, I am an avid historical novel reader myself. But as they used to say, tongue in cheek, when I was in journalism, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. Do be as accurate as possible because you will have to defend some of the details. Don't sweat a minor detail if it helps move the story forward or it doesn't really matter. And don't follow my example -- keep copies of or document everything you find that might be useful to your story. You never know when it might come in handy. I won't be sending this map to the reviewer at this late date, but I feel vindicated anyway. And that's why I say…it's good to be right!

SharavogueCover2Get a copy of Sharavogue to learn about Cromwell's march in Ireland. When he gets to Skibbereen, the village is called "Skebreen" -- a shortcut the locals used. Cromwell is real, his march is real, and Skibbereen is real. The protagonist and her companions are fiction. The bridge in question is fictionalized based on undocumented legend, and a good story for sure!

Love those Royal Palms, and the trees too

Since returning to my home state of Florida after 21 years in Seattle, I have delighted in seeing the beach on a regular basis, the beautiful mossy oaks and the majestic royal palms. I did not know when I engaged with the Florida Writers Association I would have such a wonderful Royal Palm surprise in store! First Place for Historical Fiction

At last week's FWA annual conference I received the Royal Palm Literary Award, first place for historical fiction, for my novel Sharavogue. It was an honor hoped for but not expected, and I am thrilled to be among so many talented writers who were recognized.

It was my pleasure to be sitting next to my new friend Linda Reynolds, whose unpublished thriller manuscript Spies In Our Midst also won a RPLA -- her book to be out later this year. And Mary Ann Weakley, my new friend from the book signing tables, won the RPLA for her memoir, Monastery to Matrimony, A Woman's Journey.

At the signing tables I also met Nadine Vaughan, who writes children's books and historical fiction, and lives just minutes away from me. We may be collaborating on some things soon. A shopper at heart, I picked up a copy of The Lantern by my friend Joanne Lewis, as well as The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan. Both of these are intriguing and hooked me on the first page.

Set up for book signing at the FWA Conference Bookstore

Here is a partial list of the RPLA winners (from NE Florida), provided by Vic DiGenti, FWA Regional Director. For the full list see the FWA website:

Congratulations go out to a host of NE Florida writers who hauled in a large number of RPLA Awards. This includes the Book of the Year Award to M. W. Gordon, whose book Deadly Drifts took first place in the Thriller/Suspense category (Published), and went on to garner the Book of the Year (Published) award for having the highest total number of judges' points. BTW, Mike was the speaker at last month's Ponte Vedra FL Writers meeting.

General (Pre-Published) FIRST PLACE –BABE by Elle Thornton Fantasy (Pre-Published) FIRST PLACE – The Jaguar Key The Eternals: Book One by Kate Maier writing as Katherine Starbird Science Fiction (Published) Second Place – Lifespan by T. J. Silverio Women’s Fiction (Pre-Published) FIRST PLACE – Merciful Blessings by Lynn Kathleen (Pen name for Nancy Quatrano and Daria Ludas Historical Fiction (Published) FIRST PLACE – SHARAVOGUE by Nancy Blanton Novella (Pre-Published) Second Place – The Magic in the Middle by Mark Reasoner Thriller/Suspense (Published) Second Place – Power Fade by Keith Gockenbach Thriller/Suspense (Pre-Published) THIRD PLACE – A Lion in Spring by Kenneth R. Overman Autobiography/Memoir (Published) FIRST PLACE –Meeting Her Match: the Story of a Female Athlete-Coach, before and After Title IX by Debbie Millbern Powers SECOND PLACE – From the Inside Out by John David Tinny THIRD PLACE – A Life of Blood and Danger by Daniel J. Hill. Educational/Informational (Published) Second Place – Schools: A Niche Market for Authors by Jane R. Wood

Writers conferences and book festivals are such fun and great ways to meet and learn from other writers. They are not great places to sell books, unless they also open and advertise the book fairs to the local reader community. But as I noted recently in another blogger's post (and I can't remember which one or I would link), it does not matter how many books you sell at these events, it is about the people you meet and the effort you make to get your name out there. I sold only two books at St. Augustine's Heritage Book Festival, but one of the readers is a wonderful person who gave me a great review. Was it worth it? You bet!!!

SharavogueCover2So in addition to the thrill of winning a literary award for Sharavogue, the other benefit is the confirmation that it is important to continue writing. I am working on the prequel and sequel to Sharavogue and my research is uncovering some remarkable stories to tell. Stay tuned...

And mark your calendar for the Amelia Island Book Festival, February 19-21, 2015.