Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Guest Post: Author Kate Flora on "Branding, Platform Building, and the Call of Story"

Please welcome author Kate Flora to the blog today….

Branding, Platform Building, and the Call of Story

Thirty-three years ago, I bought a computer, sat down at a desk, and started writing a mystery. That led to another, and another, and another, as I got hooked on the writing process. Along the way, during the ten years I spent in the unpublished writer’s corner, trying to write in the company of the boy who never slept and the one who was an escape artist, I ended up with several trial books in the drawer, learned to be a
better writer, and developed the alligator-tough skin a writer needs to survive rejection. I found a character I loved in my Thea Kozak “strong woman” series. I acquired an agent and a three-book hard/soft deal and thought I’d gone to the show.

I was living every writer’s dream. A book a year. Nine months of writing. Three months of promotion. I would have been happy if that had gone on forever. But that was not to be. Publishing is a game of numbers and mine, alas, convinced my publisher to drop the series. One year I had two new books out—a series book and a stand-alone suspense and the next series book in the pipeline—the next year, I was the writer formerly known as Kate Flora or Katharine Clark, wondering what to do next.

This was before we worried about branding and platform building. This was back when writers thought mostly about storytelling. When I was dumped, as so many of us are, I pondered my options. Go back to practicing law, fade away from utter despair (even the alligator-tough can despair), or find something new to write. This period taught me the value of taking chances. Getting dumped led to a publishing collaboration with Susan Oleksiw and Skye Alexander, producing yearly anthologies of crime stories by New England writers as Level Best Books. Getting dumped made me realize that interviewing cops for my series had made me fascinated by the police officers’ lives, and to a new series of police procedurals, my award-winning Joe Burgess series set in Portland, Maine.

At the time, I had no idea where that would take me. Writing cops meant spending time with cops. R.A.D. classes, citizens’ police academy, ride-alongs, and developing contacts who could answer questions. Writing cops also meant reciprocal relationships with police officers who were interested in writing. I coached writing; they answered questions. Until the day one of my contacts had a murder investigation he wanted to write about, and my coaching role became a collaboration on a true crime. The result was the Edgar-nominated book, Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine.

What does all this have to do with platform building and branding? Well, the advice we’re given these days is to pick an area—thriller, suspense, police procedurals, traditional mystery, or true crime—and focus on that to create a personal brand. As a writer, I believe in going where the story is. That means I still write the occasional Thea Kozak mystery when a story idea fits that series, and love revisiting Joe Burgess to see what he and my fictional Portland cops are up to. It also means that when my public safety contacts have stories to tell, and need a collaborator, I say yes. This means that I’m straddling the line between fiction and
non-fiction. It means that if I have a brand—it’s crime and cops and telling the stories behind the headlines.

If someone were to ask, “What do you write?” I’d have to answer: mysteries, including strong, amateur, female PI and police procedurals. Suspense novels. Short stories. True crime. And most recently, memoir. And not MY memoir. Yes, I can hear the branding police and the diligent digital carpenters who are building my platform say in disbelief, “Memoir? What were you thinking?”

Yup. Because story calls up. The deputy police chief who wanted to write about a case led me to the Maine warden service, whose search and rescue expertise and trained cadaver dogs and handlers found the body in Finding Amy. Then the wardens sent me up to Miramichi, New Brunswick, where they’d gone to Canada to help find a second hidden body. That became the Agatha and Anthony nominated Death Dealer. Then one of the wardens on both those searches called up, said he’d recently retired, everyone said he told great stories but had no idea how to make them into a book, and asked if I could help. And even though it confused my brand even further, I said yes.

The result? Roger Guay’s memoir, A Good Man with a Dog: A Game Warden’s 25 Years in the Maine Woods.

Kate Flora ©2016

2013 and 2015 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction
www.mainecrimewriters.com  "Living and writing in the great state of Maine."


Earl Staggs said...

A fascinating story, Kate. You carved a successful career by being flexible, adventurous, and gutsy. Kudos to you.

Old Fogey said...

Thanks, Earl. It's hard to be open to taking risks, but the results have been fascinating. I've also acquired some great new friends, and an offer to go salmon fishing on the Miramichi! Curious to see what the next story will be.


Debbi Mack said...

I think a lot of branding comes down to writing what you want and conveying that online in some way.

Going where your instincts tell you the stories are is being true to yourself, no matter what kind of story you decide to tell. So ... kudos for choosing to write what you do, Kate! :)

jrlindermuth said...

Good advice here. Follow the story and don't be afraid to take chances.

Margaret Morse said...

Kate, what an interesting journey for a writer. I admire how you had the courage to pursue opportunities as they came up, even if they weren't what you expected.