6 Questions Reveal Your Brand Strategy

When writers ask how to create a brand strategy, I share with them what many a wise marketer has shared with me: "Your brand is what other people say it is." In other words, people trust their friends and acquaintances far more than they trust clever slogans. Word of mouth is the most powerful form of communication we have. The key with brand development is to focus on what people say consistently about you. 

So what do people say about you? Consider the compliments as well as the questions put to you at events. As part of our human nature, we take a lot of our knowledge and experience for granted. The first step of your strategy is to relax and put yourself in the shoes of the audience. ​

Start with a Beginner's Mind​

Consider the example of Phillippe Petit, the high-wire artist who walked a tightrope stretched between the Twin Towers in Manhattan in 1974. The crowd stood beneath his feet, staring up in hushed Awe. He exemplifies what we call in coaching "unconscious competence." What appears to be Petit's instinct is really the result of thousands of hours of practice until the moves became unconscious to him. In fact, if you watch the documentary about him, you'll see that in the very beginning he fell off  a lot of French laundry lines in his hometown.

When you teach a workshop or give a reading, the audience experiences you at your practiced best. They aspire to be in your position. So, the key to developing your brand strategy is to meet your audience where they are. A treasure trove of great content is there for you to use for your own brand and platform building, but you need to relax and allow it to come to the surface. With your beginner's mind, answer the following six questions. 

6 Questions ​Reveal Your Brand Strategy
  1. Make a list of questions you are asked most often by other writers. Then, separate these questions into the following categories: craft, theme, creativity, and publishing.
  2. When people approach you after an event, what are the compliments you hear most often? In other words, what are you doing really well?
  3. Reflecting on your writing career, what inspirational quotes stay with you?
  4. What do you consider the stages of development for a writer? What does each stage look like?
  5. Make a list of challenges you've faced in your writing life.
  6. In your library, which are the five most important books? ​
How to Organize Your Content

The question you might be thinking is: what do I do with this information? ​At least, I hope this is your question because it is the topic of a future post. 

The answer depends on your style of working and your methods of organization. So before I launch into suggestions, I'd like to hear from you first. Post your organizational tips, questions, and thoughts in the comment section below. 

Let me know how I can help you walk the walk to develop your brand!

39 Law & Order Episodes in the Arts

No matter where you are in the world, Law & Order is playing on a screen somewhere. While there are several brand spinoffs, I'm partial to the original series. When it debuted in 1990, I arrived in New York City, sight unseen, as a new editor at HarperCollins. I remember how exciting it was to walk all around Manhattan and to see different production sets on location. 

When it comes to the murder investigations, I am not surprised that in the show's twenty year run, the publishing industry leads the way with at least nine murder plot lines, followed musicians and film producers. ​

For all of you Law & Order fans who are writers, artists, and creators of all kinds, I put together a guide to the creativity-fueled episodes (1990 to 2010). 

Your thoughts on why publishing leads in the number of murder investigations?  

Paint Pallet

"Prisoner of Love"

The investigation into the death of a controversial artist reveals that he was involved in twisted sex games with two powerful figures. 

Theatre actor


An aspiring actress dies from a drug overdose. Investigation reveals that her domineering mother may have driven her to suicide by forcing her to act in a pornographic film.

Theatre actor

"His Hour Upon the Stage"

The frozen body of a Broadway producer is found five years after his death. Stone suspects that a show investor and producer's girlfriend were involved. 


"Star Struck"

An obsessed fan is charged with the brutal beating of a soap opera actress. During the trail, he claims a voice in his head told him to do it. 

Photography Camera

"Skin Deep"

Logan and Cerreta investigate the death of a fashion model photographer and discover that the photographer's real business was prostitution.

Theatre actor

"Extended Family"

A Broadway producer's daughter is abducted from a department store. Later, she and her mother are found in a woman's shelter. 



A 19-year-old co-ed accuses a crude heavy metal artist of rape. However, Kincaid fails to reveal an important detail about the accuser to Stone before trail. 


"Blue Bamboo"

A singer claims Battered Woman Syndrome as an excuse for killing her former employer, whom she claims abused her during her employment.


"Family Values"

During the investigation into a wealthy publisher's death, the victim's daughter claims to be having a relationship with her mother's new husband. 



Briscoe and Curtis go to Los Angeles to question a personal trainer about a movie executive's murder. During the investigation, Curtis finds a potential romantic interest. 



Briscoe and Curtis serve an arrest warrant on a Hollywood director in the film executive murder case. Opposing counsel--Jamie's ex-husband--challenges the warrant. Jack and Jamie now must go to L.A. to defend it.



The prosecution's murder case against the Hollywood director threatens to fall apart. And the case could cost Jamie her job and custody of her child, and it could cost Curtis his marriage. 



The investigation into the murder of an up-in-coming editor uncovers a love triangle between the victim, a pretentious writer, and a jealous attorney. 



Detectives suspect that a best-selling novelist was shot because she was having an affair with a married FBI agent who was helping her with research. It turns out that they have the right motive, but wrong suspect.


"Surrender Dorothy"

The DA's office believes that a well-known psychologist/author may have driven his daughter-in-law to suicide because of her increasing rebellion against his "submissive wife" philosophy.

Paint Pallet


A man claims he acted under extreme emotional disturbance after he murders the woman who sponsored a graphic painting. 



Detectives discover that a murdered concert violinist was having an affair with her orchestra conductor.


"Swept Away"

A Reality Show cast member kills one of his fellow cast members during a heated argument. But was the confrontation staged?


"Formerly Famous"

Briscoe and Green suspect that a washed-up former Vegas lounge singer may be connected to his wife's murder. But they also discover that his wife has a history as a con artist. 


"3 Dawg Night"

A hip-hop star goes on trail for the murder of a night club patron who accused him of being a sellout.


"True Crime"

McCoy becomes suspicious of a former police officer and current true crime writer investigating the death of a controversial rock singer, when the singer's wife is killed. 



A promising young writer confesses to the murder and robbery of a cabbie and demands that he receive the death penalty. 

Theatre actor


The child of a popular comic dies after he is reportedly thrown out of a window during a fire. 

Theatre actor


A popular Broadway composer is accused of murder. His psychiatrist blames it on a traumatic episode he had as a teenager.



The leader of a rock band is accused of tampering with a flamethrower at a concert, which causes the death of 23 people. 


"Everybody Loves Raimondo's"

A film producer is killed at this restaurant known for its mob ties and celebrity clients. 



A novelist dies after undergoing multiple plastic surgeries. Detectives believe her doctor took unnecessary risks.


"Ain't No Love"

A hip-hop performer is accused of murdering a rap mogul, but his friend testifies during the trial that he is the killer.  



An investigation into the death of a conservative talk show host leads to a stalker who claims to be having an affair with his wife. 


"Dining Out"

The host of a popular cooking show is on trial for killing a television executive. However, the trial takes an unexpected turn when a juror is enamored with the client.

Photography Camera


A botched burglary ends in murder, and the apartment in question belongs to a paparazzi who may have compromising photos of a celebrity and her baby.


"In Vino Veritas"

A washed up, anti-Semitic actor is arrested with blood on his clothes. Detectives later discover that a Jewish television producer he has a connection to has been murdered. 


"Charity Case"

The adopted infant of a soap opera star and a relative of the baby's biological father are center to a murder investigation.



A jeweler who caters to the hip-hop community pleads guilty to killing a female rap star. But he later claims that a violent record producer intimidated him into confessing to the crime. 



While investigating the death of a former male prostitute whose memoirs have become a best-seller, Lupo and Bernard discover that the writer was a fraud. 

Theatre actor


The death of a gay male actor exposes a scandal that threatens to bring down a powerful pastor of a large New York church who preaches intolerance.


"Melting Pot"

The murder of a film director leads to motives that include immigration and Muslim fanaticism, but picking the correct one may be difficult.


"Murder Book"

Green and Cassady investigate the death of a publisher who approved a book written by an ex-athlete that describes how he would murder his wife if he was the real killer.


"Reality Bites"

The father of several special needs children is accused of killing his wife over her reluctance to sign off on a reality show based on their family.

Write by Hand

I love Bette Davis. The other night, I caught her film In This Our Life on TCM. Released in 1942, there is one part where her uncle and father are waxing and waning for the good days. You know the ones. The days of honor, duty, personal responsibility. Some things do not change. 

And that, my friends, is how I feel about writing by hand. Just because the world runs on smartphones does not mean we should throw writing by hand out the window, even if elementary schools are throwing it out of the classroom. Allow me to make my case.

​3 Reasons to Write by Hand


As a form of thinking, writing brings clarity. Our written thoughts point to patterns of what we say "yes" to in our relationships and what we say "no" to in our lives.

Are we saying "yes" and "no" in a way that honors our values consistently? ​

Read aloud. Each word by your own hand validates your unique role in the world. ​


​Writing by hand is tactile. We slow down to form the letter of each word, allowing us time to distinguish between our emotional states, happiness and joy, for example, are not the same. 

With typing, the tactile sensation of pushing the keys is the same for every letter. We sacrifice reflection for production. ​


The 21st Century is the Age of Sharing our Selfies. Every organization and social media service provider uses our personal data to aggregate marketing information and to channel our emotional needs back to us through targeted advertising.

To write by hand is to create a sacred and safe space to be alone with our thoughts and feelings.​

In This Our Life was the last novel written by Ellen Glasgow. She wrote 19 novels before this one. Can you imagine it? No computer?! She wrote early drafts by hand. In 1941, Glasgow won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel and Warner Bros. bought the film rights for $40,000. 

I rest my case. ​

Why You Need a Reader Persona

One of the unwritten rules of growing up on a farm is not to name the animals. After you name a chicken, pig, calf, or goat, you'll never be able to slaughter it for food. Naming creates a relationship, a sense of intimacy. 

Calf looks like Peanuts

Peanuts, a Black Angus calf I named after he was rejected (within minutes of his birth) by his mother, wobbled against my leg for balance. From that moment, we were in an relationship. Twice each day, I mixed gigantic baby bottles of calf-manna (powdered milk) and walked to his pen to feed him. After he ate, I let him out of the pen. That summer, he followed me around the farm while I did chores. We were pals. He trusted me.

A year later when Peanuts was an adult steer, Dad scheduled him for our annual livestock drop off at the butcher. I took a stand. "We are NOT eating Peanuts."

Dad shrugged and said "fine by me." He chose a brown steer that I had not named and put him in the stock trailer instead of Peanuts.

Peanuts lived happily ever after grazing in the pasture.  

The following week, as usual, we had sirloin steaks on the grill for the fourth of July. Year after year, steer after steer. 

Steaks on Grill
What's the Marketing Point, Here? 

Recently, I thought about Peanuts when I read Jesse Weaver's article about the business models of social media companies. Weaver is the director of product design at Gaia.com. In Weaver's discussion about how the free Web is eating itself, he made a keen observation about "hooking" people on content and using the word "user." Weaver writes, "the only other people I know who call their customers users are drug dealers."

I stopped reading to consider this.

Is this what we do when we create content for engaging with our audiences? Are we trying to get people "hooked" in order to move them through a sales funnel because we need as many "users" as we can get in order to grow our platforms? To me, this approach feels similar to a livestock funnel: year after year, steer after steer.

Give Your Audience a Name and a Definition

As creators, we have a responsibility to model respect in our writing, art, business. Once you make the decision to eliminate the term "user," when thinking about your ideal reader or customer, your work finds a deeper level of meaning. You begin to engage with a "persona," a fictional composite of your ideal reader, viewer, or client. 

How Do You Create a Reader Persona? 

Before I share my strategy for doing so, I am curious to learn if you created one or more personas to describe your audience. How is the reader persona and effective tool for you? If you have not created a reader persona, what are your immediate questions? Send them to me and I will incorporate them into my next post on this topic. 

Please post in the Comments section. ​

7 Keys to Changing Agents

It is mid-July and that means one thing: summer writers' conferences are in full bloom. In addition to networking, refining craft, and reading their work, many writers hope to meet the literary agent of their dreams. At these conferences, you will also meet a good percentage of agented writers who want to change agents. 

On any given day, there might be 100 good reasons to change your agent. However, to do so is not a simple decision. Making the change requires careful consideration and a strategy. Otherwise, all you are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. You'll have the same frustrating experience with the new agent because you did not take the time to define your needs, goals, and communication strategy. In today's post, I cover seven questions and four tips. 

The 7 Questions You Need to Answer Before Changing Your Agent

1. At the start of the relationship, what convinced you that this agent was the right agent for you?

2. Did you sign an agency agreement? Do you know the mechanism for termination or renewal? Did you have it reviewed by a publishing lawyer?

3. What projects did you submit to the agent? What books were sold? Also, what projects did you discuss?

4. From the time you hired the agent, what are your most recent accomplishments in regard to building your brand and platform? 

5. What are your publishing expectations and how do you convey these to the agent?

6. How does the agent work with clients? When you started working together, did you agree on communication style and frequency?

7. What is motivating you to make this change now? ​

Bonus Question

If you achieve your goal of retaining a new agent, how do you envision your writing career will be different in 6 months? #womenwriters

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Okay, I know. More than seven questions. But, I what you to achieve the success you deserve. Now, let's move on to the four coaching tips. 

4 Coaching Tips for Your Writing Career

1. Do Your Homework: ​It's a tough publishing world out there. Your agent might have the most amazing reputation for the breakout books of 10 years ago. Today, publishing business models continue to change. Ask what the agent has sold in the last 12 to 24 months. How do you fit into the agent's business strategy? Why is he or she taking you on as a client?  

2. Be Clear on Business Details: A literary agency provides its clients with expert representation in the publishing industry. It is a business relationship. Therefore, before you sign an agency agreement, you would be well served to have a publishing lawyer advocate for your interests. Have your agreement reviewed. It's your career.  

3. Work from a Plan: It is wonderful to have a great agent who is working hard to place your book with the right publisher. You can check GET AN AGENT off your list. With this goal accomplished, revise your writer's business plan accordingly. What's next on the list? If you do not have a plan, I'm curious why. 

4. Define Your Working Relationship: ​Agents say "no" to projects much more often than they say "yes." Once an agent says "yes," it means the world to you. For the agent, your book represents one more selling opportunity among others in the hopper. The agent has a much broader focus than your book alone. It takes time to trust when silence means the agent has the project in hand, no news. Or, silence means your forgotten.  A conversation about communication is the key to a successful relationship.

Key to Changing Agents

"Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work."

-- Stephen King

Change my literary agent

​Please share your thoughts and any tips with this community. 

A New Growth Spurt

It's mid-July, the corn is high, and I'm celebrating 10 years of working with writers, artists, and creators of all kinds. I feel deep gratitude for my clients, friends, and family. Your examples of courageous creating inspire me to be a better coach and human being. 

Working one-to-one with clients and facilitating workshops, I'm in Awe of how people express the best of themselves through creativity. Creativity is the conscious effort of rising up each day, passing through the mud, following the light. As the roots of Melissa's Coaching Studio go deeper into creative communities, I'm devoting more attention to the meaning and value of work over the course of one's lifetime. To learn more about how I help creative people become powerful, creative people, click here

What You Can Expect to Find Here​

My intention is to empty my notebooks of business experience, publishing adventures, teaching practice, and coaching questions in order to help you have, be, and do more with your creative work. By December 2016, I hope to have posts daily on the following schedule. In the coming weeks, I will invite contributors for Sunday's Living Legacy feature. 

This blog is a conversation. I'm glad you are here!​

Monday = Career Strategy: Best practices to help you define your goals and connect with people.

Tuesday: Marketing Muscles: The why behind marketing practices, how to build the skills, and how to evaluate results. 

Wednesday = Show Me the Money: Value your talent and your opportunities are boundless. 

Thursday = Ancient Wisdom: There is so much to learn from what is visible and invisible, if we these teachers into our lives. 

Friday = Reviews: Books, Movies, Exhibitions, Shows, Restaurants, Products. The works. 

Saturday = Chill Out: Relax, play, laugh, see and do new things.

Sunday = Living Legacy: ​ Essays about teachers, mentors, influencers who shape and inspire us. 

Please Kick the Tires

This is the first post. If you find it does not format properly on your device or you have any other feedback about the design of the site, I welcome your comments and suggestions. Over the next month, I will be adding new functionality and pages. ​