Saturday, August 6, 2011

Personal Branding: Stationery

In her book Making a Literary Life, Carolyn See suggests that writers—and would-be writers—should form the habit of writing “charming notes” to authors they admire. That would be one charming note per day, “five days a week, for the rest of your life.” A phone call will do as well, See advises; but how many of us would find that easier?
One of my takes on life is that some people are better in person and others are better on paper. Think about it. Don’t we all know some charming people whom we admire for their smooth styles and ability to talk to anyone? I have friends like that. Maybe that description fits you.
On the other hand, some of us are more comfortable typing out our messages. We E-mail; we build stories and books; we write blogs. We’re better-than-average spellers. We like English; we like getting it right. And our words flow best onto paper or the screen.  
I’ve been sending charming notes for years—not five days a week, but when I had something to say to an author. I did it my usual way, via E-mail. Sometimes they E-mailed me back, and sometimes they didn’t.
When I re-read Carolyn See’s book a few weeks ago, I knew that I would be sending out books to reviewers and others. Some would require a note, so I took yet another step in the personal branding process. I ordered personalized stationery. This might not be front-page news to many of you, but I had never had personalized note paper in my life.
I went to a store where I could expect personalized service because I didn’t want to make a social faux pas by picking something tacky. As it turned out, choosing the paper was easy; there is white and there is ivory. You can find pink note paper and notes with colored borders, but the risk is that they could be discontinued. I chose plain ivory.
Let’s face it: Does one put one’s first initial, last initial, or full name on the front? And what type font should be used? What color? How large should it be? I took my brother to the store with me because he has a good eye, but I already knew what I wanted if it worked. The type font used for my name on the cover of It Started with Dracula looks very much like my signature, and it would forge a connection between the notes I would write and the books I would be sending. It turned out to be a fine choice, per the stationery expert.
I received e-proofs but felt more comfortable returning to the store to discuss and approve my stationery before it was printed. After an additional round of correction—I thought my name was just too large—we ordered the stationery and picked it up within a few days.
If you want a career as a writer, writing charming notes is a great idea. I write mine by hand when I use my new note paper, although I guess whatever you decide is okay. Ms. See tells the story of John Updike, who typed his on a typewriter and had so much to say that the letters were jammed up and crooked on the paper.

Making a Literary Life is full of interesting stories written in a wonderful style, if you want to give it a try. I bought it in hardcover a few years ago, but the other day I saw a paperback version in Barnes & Noble.

Oh, by the way, in addition to being an author, Carolyn See is a book reviewer for The Washington Post. I sent her a copy of It Started with Dracula with a charming note. We'll "see" what happens.

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