Personal Branding as an Act of Authenticity

As an author on social media, a content creator, brand consultant, and a digital marketing specialist, I get asked the same question pretty frequently: “how do you brand yourself?” This broad, sweeping question usually has some other smaller questions nestled within, like “how exactly did you decide how to present yourself online”, “how do you stick to such a strong aesthetic sense across platforms”, or “how do I do what you do without feeling fake about it?”

I’ve condensed my varied responses down into one article based on my own experiences that I hope will help people integrate their own values and sense of self into a dynamic, authentic personal brand that others can connect to. This isn’t so much of a quick-and-dirty-social-media-hacks guide as it is a philosophy of personal branding in the internet age, and a discussion of my own strategy for content creation.

Cultural Context

Let me start by saying that “personal brand” is a concept that is being pushed hard right now on people, even very young ones. We live in a society where its not only possible but encouraged to curate your online presence into a recognizable essence, often with the unspoken aim of getting people to like and trust you so that someday they can invest in you financially or pick you out of the crowd for a job or project. This is not an inherently bad thing, and can be very fun and useful if leveraged in a healthy way! But it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you need to brand yourself to exist and that you need to live up to the color-coded, curated, narratively unified version of yourself that exists online.

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Suggested Reading

Before I continue I want to direct you to two amazing video essays about this issue, Lindsay Ellis’ essay on the way creators manufacture authenticity, and Natalie Wynn’s Ted Talk on how performing a hyper-stylized versions of different philosophical opinions on her Youtube channel have helped her protect herself from as much harm as possible. They’ve both been really helpful to me in A.) branding myself and B.) learning to see myself as separate from my “brand”. Let’s continue.

Creator Identity

I am a creator in the age of the internet. To be specific, I am an author and a poet and occasionally a public theologian. For me, my ~aesthetic~ is yes, a way to express myself, but it’s also the way I let potential readers get to know me, my vibe, and my writing. All of this serves a purpose, so that when I announce I have a new book out, my audience already like and trust me enough to buy it, and they already have a sense, however nebulous, of what they’re getting into. I hope this doesn’t sound callous; I have a very meaningful intimate relationship with my readers that I see as having spiritual value, but I also know what I’m doing when I post selfies or chat posts that go with the witch-saint-loving aunt thing I have going on Twitter of Instagram. And I think that people who aren’t trying to connect the right people with what they have to sell, artistically or in terms of services or otherwise, have to worry about branding a lot less.

I’ve been maintaining a social media presence as a writer for almost ten years now, and my brand has become more streamlined as I have grown into myself as an adult woman. I love this woman and respect her enough to know that she may change tastes and change her voice as she ages, and that’s fine too, but one thing that I’ve been moving towards in my mid-twenties is having what I call a “partially opaque” brand.

Opacity

A non-opaque brand is one of total messy off-the-cuff realness with almost no boundaries between creator and fan (Amanda Palmer does this well) and a totally opaque brand is put forward by a person who seems so unified, so separate, so enigmatic, that the lines between creator and fans are quite stark (think Donna Tartt). I used to have pretty much the same aesthetic that I have now but a brand that was almost entirely non-opaque; I posted my feelings and opinions on everything, talked openly about every single update to my religious, mental health, sex, and social life, and was 100% accessible at all times to readers. In an effort to protect my time, energy, privacy, and art as I’ve grown, I’ve learned to have more boundaries, but I still post selfies and life updates (generally with a bit of an ~aesthetic~ veneer but not always) and encourage people to ask me  questions because being warm and accessible and loving is important to me. It is, additionally, part of my brand. 100% opacity is not right for me because I want to be able to show up at book cons and hug fans and answer life advice asks and be honest about things like burnout or spiritual doubt or personal branding (how’s that for meta). I think if you are a creator on the internet it is very important to decide from the get go how opaque you want your brand to be.

For me, adding more opacity helped me distinguish my own life and value from what people on the internet thought of my work or my opinions, and it helped me to stop giving an excess of energy to places where I wasn’t getting it back. Being a bit more of a mystery at times has opened up space in my life for leisure and getting back in touch with who I am when the lights go down and I am no longer on a virtual stage.

The Fragmented Self

No one out here, not even the most deliriously aesthetic dark academia blogger with a watertight color scheme, is just one thing. When we brand ourselves (and yes it can be an intimate act of connection and self-revelation when done right) we bring forward things about ourselves that are important to us and have narrative cohesion. When I do branding consultations for small businesses like Fratres Dei spiritual direction, we do long self-exploratory sessions to determine which facets to bring into the light. But all of us contain multitudes and oftetimes our lives don’t have the sense of narrative cohesion the internet thrives on. Sometimes we can leverage that (I learned early on that there was no hiding my love of traditional religion and of experimental esoterica, my heavily spiritual life and my wildly doubtful faith. They were already so present in my writing that I stopped trying to hide it and Lo and behold I found the right readers) and sometimes we can’t, and that’s okay.

I suggest locking on to the things about yourself that you feel are most essential and have the most vitality, and then putting them into conversation with each other and trying to find connections. If there are ones that don’t connect to the others, that’s lovely, that’s a holy thing, but it may not belong in your online personal branding. Maybe that’s a private thing for now to be enjoyed between you and loved ones, to germinate until it can find a place in your public life, or to stay blessedly secret.

My advice? Always leave a part of yourself at the end of the day for yourself. You don’t own this internet hellscape every ounce of you.

In summary, a successful brand is an authentic version of yourself, just a little bit more tailored, and part of that success is deciding up front how much of yourself you want to share with others.

FICTION REVIEW: A Choir of Lies

Welcome to September, goblins! Yesterday was publication day for one of the prettiest books of 2019, Alexandra Rowland’s A CHOIR OF LIES, which I was so happy to get my hands on an arc copy of. To celebrate, I’m bringing you all my review. Trust me, you’re going to want this one on your TBR.

Three years ago, Ylfing watched his master-Chant tear a nation apart with nothing but the words on his tongue. Now Ylfing is all alone in a new realm, brokenhearted and grieving—but a Chant in his own right, employed as a translator to a wealthy merchant of luxury goods, Sterre de Waeyer. But Ylfing has been struggling to come to terms with what his master did, with the audiences he’s been alienated from, and with the stories he can no longer trust himself to tell.

That is, until Ylfing’s employer finds out what he is, what he does, and what he knows. At Sterre’s command, Ylfing begins telling stories once more, fanning the city into a mania for a few shipments of an exotic flower. The prices skyrocket, but when disaster looms, Ylfing must face what he has done and decide who he wants to be: a man who walks away and lets the city shatter, as his master did? Or will he embrace the power of story to save ten thousand lives?

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This is a gem of a book full of grit-teeth, open-eyed hope in humans’ ability to pull themselves up off the ground and do the right thing, even when the chips are down. It’s also full of snarky storytelling rap battles, tulip mania, whirling auction houses, lies that catch fire and almost take the teller down with them, and some grade A flirting. I’m so pleased to have gotten an ARC for review.

I loved so much about this book. I loved the slow unraveling of half-forgotten myths, the stories from faraway places dispersed throughout, the crowded canal city where our sweet, sensitive protagonist Ylfing finds himself living. Tender, introspection male protagonists are in short supply in any genre, but Ylfing is so wonderful and richly drawn. The strong, vibrant, morally complex middle aged women he finds himself surrounded by gave me life, and I fell in love with his problematic, smooth-talking, hedonist beau.

I’m not usually a fan of second world fantasy; one look at a string of fantasy place names and proper nouns and my eyes start to glaze over. But Rowland has pulled off a very clever magic trick here in making a complex, detailed fantasy world feel cozy and folkloric. They do this by feeding the audience world-building in tiny, tasty bites, like they’re guiding us through a cheese plate. A lot of people have already talked about the metatextual elements of this book (we have footnotes from an annotator reading the memoir of our protagonist about events they both experienced! your faves could NEVER!) but even those clever moments of commentary insertion feel naturalistic, effortless. Hell, Rowland can even make economic commentary RIVETING. Want to see how bubble economies are hatched, nurtured, and then grow big enough to threaten the safety of entire merchant city-states? Yes, you do. Trust me.

This is a book that takes you by the hand and spins you a yarn that grows bigger and wilder than you can ever imagine, but you don’t want to pull your hand away, not even for a second, because you trust somehow that you want to end up on the other side of wherever it’s going. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

AMAZON: tinyurl.com/yxpwgemo

BARNES AND NOBLE: tinyurl.com/y2hqzv34

INDIEBOUND: tinyurl.com/y6pxw6jd

GOODREADS: tinyurl.com/yxfjjptq

Lamentation of Mary Magdalene (from the Aramaic: they have taken away my lord)

In honor of the feast day of Mary Magdalene, I wanted to share a poem I wrote honoring her sacrifices, strengths, and doubts,. This is from my long-in-progress Lamentations series, which imagines Biblical characters in their darkest moments. 

I’ve scraped my palms bloody
trying to roll away that stone, teacher mine,
but it appears the Romans can keep their word after all.

Does my visitation surprise you, Son of Man?
Did you really expect me to wash away your memory like
lamb’s blood from a doorway simply because
I can no longer kiss your calloused hands,
hear the Galilee in your Aramaic,
doze off to the lulling rhythm of your breath?
I thought you better acquainted with my stubbornness, lord.
You are my Sabbath and I will observe you
regardless of how many drink to your death.

Where shall I begin?
Your mother’s been very kind to me;
she makes sure I eat and I ensure she sleeps.
We are bound by blood, she says, bound by
the communion wine which stained us up to the elbows
when we washed and anointed your broken body.
I wonder if she realizes adopting a crossroads-girl from Magdala
will never fill the hole left by a martyr-boy born under the Eastern star.

Peter cannot breathe for missing you,
and John weeps like a woman in labor.
The rest have retreated, drawn themselves into hiding
like sightless creatures blinded by the light of a new day.
It’s as though everything we could have been
gave up the ghost on that tree with you
and now all that’s left are girls with ruined reputations
and boys with scarred fishermen’s hands
staring back at us from cups of bitter wine.

What do you want me to say, teacher?
That your people drink deep from the well of doubt,
that something dark and empty roams the streets at night,
crowing it’s bloody triumph from the temple walls?
That every gulp of air in a world without the promise of you
is like filling my lungs with poison, like drowning alive?
I came to give you word of your people, Yeshua, so here it is.

If ever you loved us,
do not abandon us now when all we have left
are riddles and parables and the hope of a third day.
Do not inflict us with Sheol,
with the absence of you.

 

Pride Month Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

I’m not really one for big parades and teary social media coming-outs, but I wanted to intentionally commit time this Pride Month to study and appreciate the history, art, and literature of LGBTQ+ people. As most of you already know, I’m a bisexual woman whose books feature people and couples from all sorts of backgrounds, genders, and sexualities, and I’ve found such solidarity and freedom in queer theology and LGBTQ+ inclusive fiction.
So I dusted off the old TBR and followed my instincts around from queer book to queer book, and ended up reading four amazing books this month! I didn’t intentionally set out to read one f/f romance, one m/m romance, one queer theology text, and a gay history book, but I’m pleased with the balance nonetheless!

In the Vanishers’ Palace – Aliette de Bodard

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 Stars)

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This Vietnamese science fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast takes place in a shadowy, lush world driven by linguistic magic, generational trauma, and alien technology. The central romance is between two women, a displaced scholar and a powerful dragon shapeshifter in need of a tutor for her two wild children. Their tentative love story is interwoven seamlessly with fresh worldbuilding, the main character’s driving devotion to her family, and the struggle of repairing a world ripped open at the seams by previous rulers who did not steward it well. All in all, a mind-opening speculative ride with a happy ever after to sweeten the telling.

 

Transforming – Austen Hartke

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5 Stars)

41mW-vAfmQL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I’m a big admirer of Hartke’s work as a speaker and Youtuber, and his first book is a warm, welcoming introduction to transgender-inclusive theology. Hartke raises up the voices of diverse trans Christians rather than focusing on proof-texting, which was so incredibly refreshing in a sphere that is usually obsessed with nitpicking translations of Hebrew and Greek. As a bonus, the book ends with pointers for self care, church inclusion, and pastoral best practices. It’s a good blend of memoir, theology, biblical study, and social mobilization, and would be a good starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about the transgender experience in the American Christian church. As a bonus, Hartke imbues the narration of his audiobook with such a soothing, centered authenticity!

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1949 – George Chauncey

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5 Stars)

0465026338I was looking for queer history to round out Pride Month and am so happy I picked up Gay New York, despite my initial trepidation. I was hesitant about committing to such a long book that focuses primarily on the experiences of gay men, since I’ve found similar histories to be dismissive of women, transgender people, and especially bisexual men.  However, Chauncey paints  a rich portrait of the complexities of turn of the century gay life with an eye towards ethnic and class distinctions and norms of homosocial behavior, all while being fully aware of the text’s  limitations. The history is thorough, compassionate, fact-checked, and doesn’t project modern political struggles or sociological sexual labels onto the diversity of queer life 100 years ago. Anyone who wants to understand the development of gay identity, anti-gay political policies, and “gayborhoods” in America should  pick this one up. It’s proof that even during a time when it was much more dangerous to be out, there was still queer joy, art, love, activism, nightlife, and scholarship happening in the public eye.

Spectred Isle – KJ Charles

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5 Stars)

519worCWdzL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_My favorite romance of the year and one of the best fantasy/fabulism titles I’ve read in a long time. Imagine The League of Extraordinary Gentleman meets the Raven Cycle with a slow burn historical romance at the center, and you’re getting there. A disgraced archaeologist is thrown in with the rich heir to a family legacy of self-sacrifice and occultism, and together they must unravel the supernatural forces threatening to tear England apart. Folklore-driven mysteries, deft subplots that kept me guessing, a well realized supporting cast, a hard won love story, plus scorching love scenes of lightest d/s that will squeeze your heart all come together to create a deeply satisfying story. KJ Charles really outdid herself here.
Have you read any of the books I picked up for Pride Month? Let me know what you thought of them in the comments!

F/F Fairy Tale Book Bundle Giveaway!

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🌟GIVEAWAY ALERT🌟

Hello bookworms! To celebrate summer’s return I’m giving away a bundle of three sapphic YA fairy tale retellings, including my dark, enemies to lovers Snow Queen retelling! This giveaway is open to worldwide readers. If you’re looking for a little bit of f/f enchantment to round out your pride month reading, here’s your chance to snag a gift bundle!

The winner will be chosen at random on July 7th, and prizes will ship from the Book Depository! All it takes to enter is a working email address.

The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember // The Little Mermaid

Ash by Malinda Lo // Cinderella

Robbergirl by S.T. Gibson // The Snow Queen 

Share to spread the love, and good luck! 💕

ENTER TO WIN

 

Ritual, Rosaries, and Prayers Written in Flesh

This is a reprint of a guest post I wrote for the Fratres Dei blog. Be sure to pay some love forward and check out Rachel’s amazing blog about embodied spirituality and contemplation in the material world!

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I was raised in a spiritual tradition almost entirely bereft of embodied ritual. This wasn’t necessarily my parent’s fault: I was very fortunate to grow up in a household that was supportive of both my Christian faith and of my asking tough questions. My parents always supported me whatever church I decided to attend or not attend, and I had room to grow and explore. So it was of my own volition that I delivered myself into the hands of the non-denominational evangelical cultural conglomerate that ruled much of early aughts Christianity.

If you were a passionate, spiritually-minded teen in 2008 it was hard not to get pulled into the religious force behind WWJD bracelets, the CCM music boom, purity rings, and flagpole prayer circles. This hyper-Americanized, hyper-Protestant form of Christianity focusing on individual salvation, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and increasingly creative evangelizing of one’s neighbors was almost ubiquitous. I’m being general in my description of the movement because I know that my teenage brain flattened nuanced doctrines and my faulty memory has lumped the many, many churches I attended in together. I’m more interested here in expressing the theological impact these experiences had on me than cataloging them perfectly, so I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. 2000s evangelicalism was the wide gate through which many entered into their own spiritual journey, and not every cultural contribution of the movement was negative. But hindsight gives us the maturity to see the holes in the fabric of our religious traditions, and for me, those holes were the absence of ritual.

In my teen years, church service followed a general formula: a half hour sermon on whatever the preacher felt like bookended by modern praise and worship music. There was the passing of the offering plate, and sometimes testimonies or announcements, but that was it. During church, the body clocked out. You were supposed to sit still, listen, learn, and most of all, believe. The believing was paramount; at the end of the day it was the only thing that mattered. You could live a holy life (mostly defined but what you abstained from) and do good works of kindness and charity (advisable but not grace-administering), but right belief was the stuff of a true Christian. And while I do think that belief is a cornerstone of Christian life, the churches of my youth pursued right belief with absolute, idolatrous abandon.

This dominant theology made seasons of religious doubt especially gutting, and when I grew frustrated with wanting more of religion, with wanting ways to do religion in my body, to touch it and taste it and hold it for myself…there was nothing. The only reprieve I had from total alienation from the body was the rock band praise and worship nights I occasionally attended. They were the only religious spaces in which I could cry or raise my hands or dance myself into an ecstatic state that purged me of all the pent-up emotion from months of stillness.

I could have sought out different spiritual practices to fill this gap, but for a long while, I didn’t. Churches with more ritual structure veered dangerously close to Catholicism, that seat of superstition and corruption I had been taught to distrust, and other spiritual practices of embodiment, like meditation, sacred movement, or labyrinth walking, were demeaned as gateway drugs to the occult new age. So I lived in a place of fear and increasing frustration, traversing the same dead-end paths of circular logic. I tried in vain to shake myself out of spiritual stagnation with more Bible study, more attentive listening, more holiness. Nothing worked. All the while, the trappings of other religions, the ancient blessings and the prayer beads and the breathwork and the candles and the holy oil called my name.

In college, I pressed as hard as I could into the world of nondenominational Christianity before realizing that tree would never bear enough fruit for me to live on. So I evaluated my options. I explored Judaism and Wicca, ever seeking out that sense of sacred time and religious ritual that drew me undeniably, and I attended services in other denominations, starting small with the Lutheran church before working my way up to that terrifying and beautiful taboo, the Catholic Church. While I was studying for confirmation in the Episcopal Church, I was also learning about the magical practices evident throughout Christian history in both folk religion and the faith of monks and mystics. All the while, I dismantled the walls of fear I had built around my faith brick by brick, with probably more agonizing than was strictly necessary. I let my body take the lead in this task, prayerfully following my natural worship inclinations.

As a child, I had been possessed by the urge to kneel or cross myself in church. So I learned the form and function of the traditional mass, and all the bodily congregant responses. I armored myself with the rosaries and candles that had bewitched my young imagination. I learned the names of the saints and a few credal prayers, since my tongue ached for holy incantations to speak times of trouble or need, and I used folk charms to bless my home and ward my friend’s bedrooms from nightmares, since my hands itched to make manifest God’s protection in the material world. Despite what evangelicalism had taught me, these spiritual practices didn’t alienate me from God or lead me down a path of superstition. On the contrary, my new embodied rituals were empowering and balancing. They helped me quell the obsessive moral anxiety a lot of us pick up during a childhood spent in Awanas and Friday night lock-ins, and they deepened my respect and reverence for God considerably. I felt like I had been trying to carve out a spiritual life on stone with a blunt chisel, and someone had just handed me creamy sheaves of paper and fountain pens, pencils, and watercolors in every shade. With the right tools, so much more was possible.

When I started on my journey into embodiment, I was so afraid that my body would betray me. I had been taught that she was an ugly byproduct of our fallen nature, that she was a hysterical playground for the devil’s deception. I had been taught that only the rational, unemotional mind could be trusted to steer a faith life, and that religious experiences should be subjected to constant scrutiny lest they deviate from right belief in any way. And while I am a proponent of spiritual discernment and slow, prayerful spiritual growth, I think that we’ve been taught to sell our bodies short.

Much of the ministry of Fratres Dei is focused on embodiment, on tapping into the natural giftings and inclinations of our bodies and listening to them. This flows from a theology that sees the body not as a ball and chain our soul drags around, but as an inherent, essential expression of our spiritual reality. When I had the pleasure of seeing Rachel, our resident spiritual director, last week at a wedding, she led us in an unbridled dancefloor experience that can only be called spiritual. I was once again reminded of how right and good it is to express our shameless joy and celebrate loved ones with our whole might in the bodies that God has given us. It’s a journey that I’m happy to be on, late on arrival or not, and I look forward to all the things I’m going to experience and learn in this body as I grow.

If you’d like to get in tune with the stirrings of your soul in your own body, Fratres Dei offers personalized spiritual direction sessions and monthly ecstatic dance meetups for that very purpose. We’re excited to meet you and learn more about the wisdom your body brings to the conversation.

99 Cent ROBBERGIRL Flash Sale

Hello goblins! ROBBERGIRL has been marked down for 48 hours as part of the I Heart Lesfic spring megasale! There are amazing women-centered love stories in over 40 subgenres in this sale that have been marked down to 1.99, .99, or even free. You’ll never see ROBBERGIRL at a cheaper price, so snag your copy of my dark and sapphic Snow Queen retelling before the sale ends on May 31! 

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AO3 TAGS

  • femme witch with secrets
  • disaster tomcat knife bisexual
  • haunted churches and cursed castles
  • found family telling stories around the fire
  • only one bed in a snowy Swedish winter
  • tilting your enemy-to-lover’s chin up with a knife
  • the power of forgiveness
  • a slow burn to knock you down at twenty paces
  • a historical lesbian love story with, wait for it, a happy ending

Grab your copy for a single dollar before the sale ends on the 31st!