A sale tag with the word

In the U.S., the traditional advice for keeping the peace with family or friends is to avoid talking about religion or politics. That “rule” goes back to at least the 1800s, when it was presented as an etiquette tip for genial conversation.

The idea was further popularized by the character of Linus in the Peanuts comic strip (which was later expanded into It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, an even more popular animated TV special that’s still broadcast annually before Halloween).

Linus says:

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people…religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

Yet on social media, people regularly break that “rule.” (At least as far as religion and politics. I haven’t seen any Great Pumpkin debates on Twitter yet. *smile*) So we might question whether that advice still applies.

As writers, that’s an important question, as the impression others have of us forms our brand, and our personal beliefs can certainly affect others’ opinions. So should our personal beliefs play a role in our brand or not?

That’s not an easy or straightforward question. And like so many things, the answer depends on who we are and what our goals are.

Understanding how we feel about this one issue of sharing our personal beliefs might also help us figure out the big picture of our brand and our brand’s voice. Are we quiet, or are we loud?

Despite some of the arguing on social media, one way is not “better” than the other. Those who choose one way over the other are not automatically stupid. The two approaches are simply different styles, and the style of our interactions might affect or inform many aspects of our brand.

Some Brands Are Quiet…

Just like the traditional advice, some believe that religion or politics should have no (or a very limited) place in our social media updates unless we’re writing religious or politically themed stories.

In real life, bringing up religion or politics can cause arguments, break up friendships, and affect the level of respect between parties. Online is much the same.

Some choose not to extensively express their personal beliefs online because:

  • They don’t want to deal with conflict.
  • They’re more introverted and keep their thoughts to themselves.
  • They think others are entitled to their own opinions and don’t have a goal of changing others’ beliefs.
  • Their beliefs are more complicated than black-or-white divisions, and they don’t want to be pigeonholed based on a single opinion.
  • They don’t want to alienate potential readers, etc.

None of that is wrong.

Those of us who fall into this category may think others are making a mistake when we see Twitter or Facebook rants about political causes or religious beliefs. We might not like in-your-face opinions and strive to avoid them—avoiding those with that style in the process.

The reluctance to be pushy may also carry over into discomfort with “louder” styles of promotion, those that come across as salesy or “listen to me because I’m awesome” approaches.

In other words, if we have a quiet style, that might affect every aspect of our brand, from how we share and interact with others to what types of promotion make us want to crawl out of our skin and take a cleansing shower.

…and Some Brands Are Loud

The Twitter feed or Facebook wall of some people is more likely to be filled with links to political or religious statements. It doesn’t matter to them whether they write political or religiously themed stories or not. To them, their personal beliefs are relevant to everything.

They recognize that sharing their beliefs might cause issues, but they often are so passionate about their beliefs that they’d feel they were being untrue to themselves to not express them. They might even feel that they were being a traitor to the cause to not attempt to influence others to have the same opinion.

Some choose to express their beliefs online because:

  • They don’t have a goal of avoiding conflict, or they figure the opportunity to change the world is worth the risk.
  • They’re eager to share their thoughts and opinions with others.
  • They want to change the world, and that goal permeates every aspect of their lives.
  • They want to be clear and upfront with their beliefs and figure to not worry about others’ reactions.
  • They don’t care about losing readers who disagree with them, or they believe those who disagree with them wouldn’t enjoy their books anyway, etc.

Again, none of that is wrong.

Those of us who fall into this category may think others are weak with their beliefs (or else they’d be shouting them loud-and-proud too). We might appreciate getting opinions into the open, where they can be discussed, debated, and judged.

This willingness to be pushy might carry over into an ability to tap into “horn tooting” promotion styles, where a sales approach is seen simply as a way to conduct business.

In other words, if we have a loud style, that might affect every aspect of our brand, from how we try to influence and interact with others to what types of advice strikes us as an insult to our beliefs.

Step One to Brand Sanity: Know Your Type

I’ve written before about the steps of building our brand. Much of determining our brand has to do with knowing ourselves:

Who do we want to be?

Under Step 1: Decide Who You Want to Be of that post, we can add the idea:

  • Think about what brand and marketing style feels more natural to us.

Are we naturally loud with our opinions? Are we willing to risk conflict to get others to agree with us? Do we want to expose our beliefs outright to make it clear where we stand? We might fit right in with the loud style.

Are we naturally reluctant to toot our own horn about our beliefs, accomplishments, or anything? Are we willing to hand people information and let them reach their own conclusion? Would we rather let our worldview and opinions creep into others’ thoughts through the subtext of our stories? We might fit better with the quiet style.

Step Two to Brand Sanity: Recognize the Other Style of Advice

A few months ago, a marketing article in a monthly writing magazine ran into trouble. The article’s advice included tips along the lines of “authors shouldn’t talk about politics or religion.”

This advice was not new. Heck, I’ve posted before about avoiding those topics unless it fits our brand.

Plenty of companies and brands don’t get involved in controversy of any type. We could find this advice repeated hundreds (if not thousands) of times throughout marketing and promotion articles over the last century or two.

However, for reasons that have more to do with the viral nature of outrage than with the advice itself, a firestorm erupted on Twitter over the article. Protests ensued, and jobs were threatened. Why?

When Loud-Style Brands Receive Quiet Advice

Those of the quiet style looked at the article and shrugged. Everyone had seen that advice before.

Those of the loud style took the advice as an insult to their worldview. They (understandably) don’t like to be told to be quiet with their opinions.

In fact, being told to be quiet about their opinions can feel like a disagreement about the opinions themselves and not just a disagreement in communication styles. In this particular case, some authors protested to the magazine that such advice was discriminatory to marginalized groups who need all the supportive voices they can get. That’s a legitimate issue that could result from following the standard advice in some situations.

When Quiet-Style Brands Receive Loud Advice

On the other side of the coin, much of the marketing and promotion advice has a very pushy and hype-oriented voice: “Your job is to convince potential customers that you’re the best thing since sliced bread!!!” “Get attention by promising to solve all their problems!” “Buy now because the price will never be this low—ever, ever again!”

Those of the quiet style despair of ever gaining attention against those with louder and more noticeable brands. The loud-style advice can make them feel that their only option is to become the slimy kind of a used-car salesperson.

Or if they know successful loud-style authors, they might feel envious of how easy the loud types make it look to have that unapologetic, energetic, or irreverent attitude. But unless they relied on clichés, the quiet types also know they couldn’t maintain a similar impression for long because that style doesn’t come naturally to them.

Step Three to Brand Sanity: Ignore the Other Style of Advice

Do you see the similarities in those two examples above? In either situation, we can feel as though we have to be untrue to ourselves, and that doesn’t make anyone happy or comfortable.

I pointed out a few weeks ago about how there are two kinds of encouragement advice: pushy and sympathetic. Depending on our situation, mindset, or our mental health, advice that might be helpful to one person might be harmful to us, or vice versa.

This brand-style issue is the same idea but focused on branding and marketing advice. Again, neither branding style is wrong, and neither kind of advice is wrong.

However, if we don’t recognize our strengths, weaknesses, personality style, or goals, we might be harmed by trying to follow the wrong-for-us kind of advice.

We might feel pressured to be someone we’re not, or we might feel that our opinions are disrespected. We might feel that we have to be fake, or that we have to become less private than we want.

When branding advice doesn’t work for us or feels off, that doesn’t necessarily mean the advice should be disparaged. (There is plenty of bad marketing advice out there, but there’s a difference between “bad” and “bad-for-me.”)

Instead of wasting our time arguing about advice that doesn’t apply to our style or situation, it’s far better to recognize what does work for us. Our brand—and our brand’s style—should feel authentic and genuine to us.

That might even mean that we’re loud about specific issues or in certain situations and quiet the rest of the time. We’re not required to be black-and-white in our thinking—or in our approach. *smile*

Discover What Works for Our Style

No matter which branding style fits us, there’s an audience of readers who will relate to—and prefer—our style. We’re going to be most genuine when we respect our readers, and that means we have to be true to ourselves when projecting our brand and creating others’ impression of us.

  • We want to be honest about who we are.
  • We want to respect our audience of readers.
  • We want to use authentic and genuine ways to relate to our readers.
  • We want to find promotion techniques and messages that work for us (tooting our own horn vs. sharing reviews from others, etc.).

With either style, we want to use the words, messages, and approaches that reflect who we are. That’s the only way we’ll be able to attract those who will appreciate our brand—and us—for who we are. *smile*

Have you noticed different branding and marketing styles before? Have you seen marketing advice that fits quiet brands better? Have you seen advice that fits loud brands better? Do you know what style fits you best, or does it depend on the specifics? How do you feel when faced with advice geared toward the opposite style?

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How Can Guest Posting Help Us?

by Jami Gold on May 26, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Arrows pointing in every direction with text: Expand Our Reach with Guest Posts

As writers, we have to be a one-man band for many aspects of our career. Those of us who self-publish have to direct everything, from the editing and cover design to the publication of our work.

Those of us going the traditional route can turn over some of the jobs to others, but even if we traditionally publish, we still have to do the majority of our marketing. And that can be a problem.

No matter how we publish, there’s a limit to how much marketing we can accomplish on our own. We might not have a big platform, with only a handful of friends or followers on our blog or social media.

Or our platform might not be that engaged. Some people fall for the temptation of a “I’ll Like your Facebook page if you Like mine” or a “I’ll follow you on Twitter if you follow me” approach. That method can improve our numbers, but they might be numbers who don’t care about us or what we have to say.

Either way, we probably have only so many friends or family members in real-life or online who are willing to go above and beyond by spreading the word about our work, and the word-of-mouth approach that people respect is difficult to get started. So how can we reach people we don’t know?

We Can Borrow a New Audience

One way to expand our reach is to “borrow” the audience of someone else. Essentially, that’s what happens every time someone retweets or shares our social media posts. A retweet or share spreads our message to a new audience—that of the person sharing our post.

Blog tours work on the same principle. The readers of the blog might be different from those who read our blog or social media messages directly, so we get to expand the scope of who’s exposed to our work.

Many marketers talk about the power of guest posting, which can be done anytime, not just during a new release. Even if all we have is our blog or social media accounts, we can impress others with our insights or knowledge or inspire them to want to hear more from us.

Done well, guest posts can benefit both parties, as both the guest poster and the host share audiences for the day. For both directions, a guest post can expand their reach by spreading their message to a new audience.

How Do We Guest Post?

Some bloggers don’t take guest posts, or they invite the few participants they’re willing to accept, so they’re never open to guest post proposals. Other blogs are built on guest posts, so they have a formal proposal process. And plenty of others fall somewhere in-between.

My blog usually falls into the “I invite those I want” camp. When I think of a blog topic that I don’t have the experience or knowledge to tackle, I reach out to someone who does and ask if they’d like to guest post.

Most guest post proposals I receive every week are no better than spam. They have no idea of my blog, my readers, the value I try to deliver here, etc.

That’s the first key. We need to find a blog where our message would be a good fit for the audience. That means we have to know the blog to some extent, know their audience, and know their policy about guest posts.

The second key is knowing how to present our proposal for a guest postNo blogger wants to risk their reputation on a bad guest poster, so we need to convince the host that our post would be a good match for their readers.

3 Tips for a Successful Guest Post Proposal

Last fall, I opened my blog to guest post proposals for a couple of days to help me out during NaNoWriMo. After I analyzed what made me choose certain proposals, I noticed the winners all succeeded in three areas:

  • Add Value for the Host’s Readers

All popular blogs have an audience because they offer something to their readers. They’re providing a benefit of some sort. The best guest post proposals will include information about how the host and/or the host’s readers will benefit from saying yes to the proposal.

Personally, last fall I looked for posts I couldn’t write. I don’t claim to know everything or to have had every experience, and as I mentioned years ago about why I do accept guest posts, the opportunity to expand the knowledge base here with topics beyond my awareness is one of the best (if not the best) reason to allow guest posts.

  • Appeal to Many of the Host’s Readers

If we know the blog we’re applying to (and not just “cold-calling” them with spam), we’ll know something about the blog’s audience. A blog geared toward non-fiction might not be the best place to propose a post about character development. *smile*

Last fall, I tweaked some of the proposals so the topic would be more applicable to a broader range of readers. For example, rather than a post targeting just a certain genre, I asked the guest poster to expand their tips to be inclusive of many genres.

  • Meet Expectations of the Host’s Readers

Some people proposing ideas think only about what they can gain from a guest post, so they don’t think about why a reader would care about their message. There’s a reason I don’t run promo-only posts here.

I allow guest posters to plug their book or blog in the bottom of the post, but the post itself must be full of information because that’s what my readers expect. To that end, I gave suggestions for how the guest posters could make the post meet my readers’ expectations, such as how to focus on tangible and applicable tips.

I had great success last fall in being able to pick from the best of the proposals. I was able to offer posts about topics that I didn’t have experience with or that offered insights beyond my knowledge.

At the same time, my guest posters got to borrow the readers of a “Top 100 Websites for Writers” blog. And due to my blog’s popularity with search engines, those guest posts live on for anyone searching on the topic later.

However, I don’t want my blog to be overwhelmed by all-guest-posters-all-the-time because I know what it’s like to follow a blog that seems like a bait-and-switch. So I open my blog for proposals only at certain times (as in, last fall was the first time ever).

Want to Guest Post on My Blog?

The first part of July will be the second one of those times for me. *smile* My family is taking our first vacation in years by traveling with my extended family to a remote mountain area…where the internet connection is a question mark. (Let’s hope I won’t need to *cue banjo music*.)

So through the end of May, I’m accepting proposals for guest posts. If your idea is chosen, I’d need the post by the middle of June so I can schedule it into my blog before I go, and the post would run sometime between June 30th and July 9th.

Have an idea for a guest post? Hit me up through my Contact Page with a proposal for what you’re thinking. I run topics here that cover all aspects of writing, from craft and publishing advice to the ups and downs of writing life.

Anyone who guest posts would be providing a direct benefit to me by filling in during my vacation. So unlike most of the time, I’m eager to receive proposals. *grin*

Have you ever proposed a guest post to a blog? If your proposal was accepted, why do you think it was? Did it fulfill each of the three criteria? If it wasn’t accepted, were you missing one of these three points? Do you have any questions for me about guest blogging or proposals?

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What Does It Mean to Give Up?

by Jami Gold on May 21, 2015

in Random Musings

White flag with text: What Does It Mean If We Surrender?

I know this is an odd topic for the post right after my debut novel release yesterday, as my release proves that I didn’t give up. *smile* But I also had a guest post at the fantastic Adventures in YA Publishing blog yesterday that talked about the danger of discouragement.

The context of the guest post was mostly about the kind of discouragement we can encounter if we start writing young. In that post, I share a story about how I was discouraged from writing as a teenager when others treated me as though I’d done something wrong by listening to my characters and following my muse. I was so discouraged, in fact, that I didn’t write again for years and years.

In other words, I. Gave. Up.

That got me thinking about one of the blunt and harsh pieces of advice that floats around the writing community every so often:

If you can stop writing,
you should stop writing.

Er, really? Only those who have a compulsion to write—no matter their life circumstances—should be writing?

Could have fooled me. I went for years without that compulsion, yet I have three books for sale now. According to that advice, I should have remained a quitter and never should have started writing again. *pfft* No, thanks.

As with many kinds of advice, there’s a kernel of truth at the center of the idea. However, it’s too easy for advice like that to be discouraging when it lacks context for that kernel of truth.

The Truth: Writing Isn’t for the Weak

The idea behind that advice is true: Writing is hard, and too many people dive in thinking it will be quick, easy, and lead to fame and fortune.

Those who start writing on a lark or for superficial reasons are likely to give up when they discover it’s not as quick and simple as they assumed. For those, advice to give up sooner rather than later can save them time and frustration.

Also, it’s true that those who write often do feel a compulsion. I’ve joked about how my fingers start getting itchy if I haven’t written anything in a while. But does that automatically mean that if we don’t feel that compulsion—each and every day—we’re not a real writer?

The Context: Writers Are Allowed to Take Breaks

Even as writers, we’re allowed to take vacations and sick days. We’re allowed to have days, weeks, or even months when life overwhelms us. We’re allowed to feel blocked in our writing.

Heck, I know writers who have struggled with severe car accidents, cancer, or other medical issues and can’t write for months at a time. Should they think that they must not be real writers if they’re not tearing out their hair every day because they can’t write?

Or what about those I know who have experienced major tragedies or emotional upheavals and withdraw from everything. Because they could stop, does that mean they should stay that way?

Absolutely not. Even if we don’t have itchy fingers during those times, we’re still a real writer. If we write, we’re a writer. Period. Yes, even if we give it up for a time and come back later.

The Deeper Truth: Everything We Do Is a Choice

My point is that each day of our life is a new day. We get to decide each and every day who we are, who we want to be, and what we want to do.

Maybe yesterday wasn’t a good day. Maybe we’ve had writer’s block for a week. Maybe we’ve had house guests and personal issues for a month. Maybe we’ve suffered from pregnancy-and-sleepless-new-mommy brain for a year.

None of that should determine who we are today, much less who we are for the rest of our lives. Just because we might have given up in the past doesn’t mean that we have to stay that way. We can make different choices today. Or tomorrow. Or next year.

I speak from experience. I gave up writing for more years than I want to do the math for. I felt no compulsion. No need to write. Not even a sense of missing writing.

In my guest post, I state—somewhat tongue-in-cheek—that giving up writing for so long was my Worst Mistake Ever. And yet… I’ve recovered from it.

Yes, it would be a mistake to give up writing for longer than “needed,” but who’s to determine how long we need? On some level, I needed that time to recover from boring-books-required-for-school burnout.

For most of that non-writing time, I wasn’t reading either. (And maybe that’s the real tragedy. *smile*) I’ve also shared that I got my storytelling fix in other ways (mostly Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games).

Once I rediscovered the joy of reading, the compulsion to direct my storytelling instincts into writing returned. Imagine that. *grin*

In short, when I was ready, I made different choices. I started writing again, learned what I needed to know, and applied my life experience to my stories. In other words, I’ve erased every aspect of that mistake other than the “lost” years, and even those brought the depth of my life experiences to my writing that I wouldn’t have had before.

So we shouldn’t think that giving up writing is a “sign” that we’re not cut out for it, or that we should stay given up. Not writing yesterday simply means we didn’t write yesterday. That’s it.

There are some mistakes we can’t undo. Giving up writing for a time isn’t one of them. *smile*

P.S. I have two giveaways for print versions of Treasured Claim going on this week. One is at my guest post at the AYAP blog, and the other will run on Goodreads this weekend.

Have you heard that “if you can stop, you should stop” advice before? Have you ever voluntarily stopped writing for a time? Were you ever forced to set writing aside for awhile? Did you worry about whether that hiatus was a sign that you shouldn’t pick up writing again? What made you get back into writing?

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Man adjusting a watch with text: Ever Have to Hurry Up and Wait?

Many times in our writing career—just as with life in general—we have to hurry up… And then wait.

Maybe we had to hurry to finish a contest entry in time, and then we had to wait for the results. Or maybe we had to hurry to send our revisions to our editor, and then we had to wait for their feedback. Or if we’re in traditional publishing, maybe we had to hurry up to submit our book and then wait for over a year for it to be published.

I’m in hurry-up-and-wait mode today. I’ve been getting about 5 hours of sleep a night for the past couple of weeks as I rush to get the next link in my daisy chain publishing schedule ready to go.

But now, everything should be done. *fingers crossed* The retailers should send out the (hopefully correct version) of Treasured Claim tomorrow to those who pre-ordered. The print version is already up for sale. The next book, Pure Sacrifice, is already available for pre-order and linked in the back of Treasured Claim.

Now, I just have to wait…

I hate waiting…

Especially for something as big as this…

Tomorrow, I’ll officially be a published author of not just my free Unintended Guardian short story, but also of a novel.

(Does that sound more official? It feels that way to me, so this release of Treasured Claim makes me feel more like a “real” debut author. *smile*)

Treasured Claim has been my “flagship” book for years:

So I think I’m allowed to be a little bit excited and nervous and freaked out and impatient about its release tomorrow. *smile*

Treasured Claim Releases Tomorrow!
(in Print and eBook)

Getting Treasured Claim ready for print was a whole separate chaotic project last week that was much more stressful than it should have been. But everything worked out, and I love everything about the final result. I want to pet and hug my book. *grin*

Treasured Claim print cover
Desperate for treasure,
a dragon resorts to thievery,
but a knight steals her heart…

A shapeshifting dragon on the verge of starvation…

For Elaina Drake, sparkling jewels aren’t a frivolous matter. Without more treasure for her hoard, she’ll starve. On the run from her murderous father, she’s desperate enough to steal—er, acquire.

A modern-day knight seeking redemption…

Disgusted by his father’s immorality, Alexander Wyatt, Chicago’s biggest corporate titan, is determined to be a man of honor. Yet the theft of a necklace, stolen by an exotic beauty at his latest fundraiser, threatens to destroy all his charitable work.

A predator made prey…

Passion ignites between thief and philanthropist, sparking a game of temptation where jewelry is the prize. But when Elaina’s exposure jeopardizes Alex’s life, she must choose: run again to evade her father—or risk both their lives for love.

*****

Available at:
Amazon | Kindle | Apple iBooksBarnes & Noble | Kobo

(GooglePlay and ARe links coming soon!
You can also add it on GoodreadsClick here for the latest links.)

Treasured Claim is currently priced at $0.99 for the pre-order sale. On Wednesday, the ebook price is going up to $2.99, so order your copy today!

Pure Sacrifice Available for Pre-Order!

I’m also excited about having Pure Sacrifice for sale because its buy links are the next step in my daisy chain plan. If people enjoy Treasured Claim, they’ll be able to order the next book right away. Cool, right?

Plus, Pure Sacrifice makes me a true multi-published author. In mid-February, I had zero books for sale, and now I have three! This year has been crazy insane, and it’s not nearly as smooth behind the scenes as it looks, but… Yay! My plan is working! *grin*

Pure Sacrifice cover
To save his race, he must keep
the chosen virgin pure.
But she has other plans…

A shapeshifting unicorn desperate to save his race…

The last guardian of his kind, Markos Ambrostead must keep the chosen Virgin hidden and untainted. But when an attacker breaches his protective magic, he’s forced to reveal himself to defend her life.

A tenacious woman who refuses to be ignored…

Celia Hawkins wishes the world would get a clue and stop treating her like she’s invisible. Only one man notices her, or is that her imagination? After narrowly escaping an attempted rape, she demands answers from her mysterious rescuer—starting with why he’s been following her.

Rules were made to be broken…

Markos can’t risk being tempted by the Virgin, yet emboldened by his attention, Celia’s determined to become his friend. Maybe more. Maybe much more. Now he must hold onto his crumbling willpower to maintain her purity—or his tribe will become extinct.

*****

Available at:
Amazon | Apple iTunes | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

(Google Play and a print version coming soon!
You can also add it on GoodreadsClick here for the latest links.)

Pure Sacrifice is currently priced at $0.99 for the pre-order sale. When it releases, its price will be going up to $3.99, so order your copy soon!

*whew* That’s it for all the promo stuff, and obviously, I’ve been busy. But now I have to keep myself busy while I wait for tomorrow. *drums fingers*

P.S. If you’ve read Unintended Guardian, have you left a review on Amazon or Goodreads? *smile*

Have you noticed the “hurry up and wait” issue in publishing? What about in other areas of your life? When have you encountered it? How did you handle waiting? Do you have any questions about my books or my publishing plan?

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Are Beta Characters Weak?

by Jami Gold on May 14, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Keyboard buttons spelling BETA with text: Are Beta Characters Weak?

Between my guest post at the Writers in the Storm about balancing character strengths and vulnerabilities and my post on Tuesday about alpha heroines, we’ve been talking a lot about character strengths lately. But I want to talk about the opposite problem: a character without strengths.

In the comments of my last post, Lee Summerall brought up the question of where beta characters fall. Lee was concerned that because I talked about the strengths of an alpha heroine, that must mean that betas are the opposite: weak.

As I pointed out in my reply, I would never say that betas are weak. Different, yes. Weak, no.

I think this is important to realize, especially as how Lee points out, in real life most of us (and most of our characters) are going to be a mix of traits. Like I mentioned in that post, I don’t think many alphas—hero or heroine—will have every alpha trait on the list.

So where do beta characters fall? And what would a weak character really look like?

Is It Bad for a Character to Be a Beta?

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t write uber-alpha heroes. My characters are a mix of alpha and beta traits, with some leaning more one way and others leaning more the other way. So by no means do I think beta traits are negative.

That’s hard to tell within popular society, however. If we do a search on beta male traits, we’ll find tons of articles from men’s sites with headlines like “Avoid These Beta Behaviors at all Costs!” or “Be an Alpha or Fail in Life.”

Um… They’re writing for a different audience, trust me. *smile*

If we go back to the original use of alpha/beta and how they relate to wolf packs, we see that betas are the second in command. Second.

In other words, there are a lot of other wolves further down the peon chain than the betas. In many cases, the betas are required to step up and lead the pack later in life, so they’re obviously not incapable of acting like alphas when the situation calls for it.

What Are Beta Traits?

So what are beta traits? Just for fun—and because I like the challenge—I’m going to take the traits that one of those men’s articles says to avoid and show how those traits are not a bad thing. *smile*

  • Weak and Submissive Body Language:
    At first glance, this seems like a bad thing, right? But what if we’re faced with a boss with an itchy finger on the “you’re fired” trigger? An alpha might act cocky anyway.
    In other words, a beta would use their smarts to avoid a pointless and/or harmful pissing contest where the contestants metaphorically compare the size or length of their you-know-whats. Choosing to be submissive either to someone we respect or to survive to fight another day is not weak.
  • Afraid to Take Risks:
    Afraid? Or simply more cautious? Again, some alphas would be overly confident and jump into a decision without enough information.
    In contrast, a beta might be more calculated with the risks they take. Yes, there are many people who never take risks, but we’re usually not going to find them among our characters—if for no other reason than it’s our job as the author to push them into situations that force them out of their comfort zone. *smile*
  • A Follower:
    A beta wolf won’t follow any random wolf that comes along, just like how he’s not submissive to every member of the pack. Only the alpha. His choice to follow the alpha is calculated—maybe because being second-in-command is a promotion, or because of loyalty, or because he respects the alpha.
    J.R. Ward writes uber-alpha heroes in her Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Yet every one of those alpha heroes chooses to follow the king. It’s not a bad thing to support those we care about or respect.
  • Seeks Approval:
    In real life, most of us want others to like us. This desire might keep us humble instead of arrogant, or inspire us to be friendly to the cashier at the grocery store even when we’re feeling tired and grouchy.
    There’s nothing inherently wrong with being nice just because we don’t want others to dislike us. This need drives much of what keeps society functioning and often forms the basis of many of our characters’ vulnerabilities, which helps keep them likable and relatable.
  • Lacks Confidence:
    Many of us lack confidence in one or more areas (writers are notoriously filled with self-doubt), and this is a common source of our characters’ vulnerabilities as well.
    Some of the advice in men’s articles for this trait is awful: “only those who lack confidence are perfectionists,” don’t worry about the future,” etc. That advice could easily lead to over-confidence, sloppiness, and the stupid kind of failures.
    No one is going to be an expert at everything, and it’s smart to admit when we don’t know enough to take action or make a decision. Real alphas know when to trust their team, and real betas are smart enough to recognize when something is beyond them.

That post I linked to last time about alpha male traits was condescending enough (which is why I focused only on the traits themselves and not on that other post’s descriptions), and the articles about beta males are even worse. Either way, don’t believe everything they say. *smile*

What’s the Core Difference between Alpha and Beta?

Beta traits are not bad, negative, or weak. It’s not a bad thing if we (or our characters) feel the need to prove ourselves (this drive can be a different kind of ambition) or give up in the face of failure (quitting a job we hate or abandoning a story that’s not working is often the best thing for us), etc.

In fact, when we look at the specific beta traits, the real difference between alphas and betas often seems to come down to where they draw a line. For example:

  • They both can take risks (the beta wolf wouldn’t be second-in-command without taking some risks), but a beta’s risks might be more cautious or calculated. Or maybe they’re only comfortable with smaller risks.
  • They both can have confidence, but an alpha might be faster to assume they know more than they do. Or that their instinct should be trusted more than the experts.
  • They both can be confrontational, but a beta might have a smaller circle of passions that would inspire them to confront a situation. For example, a character would have to be far below beta to not act to save a loved one.
  • They both can be determined, but an alpha might stick with a problem until a solution is found. A beta might step back and reevaluate or call it a good-but-failed try faster.
  • They both can be leaders, but a beta might happily give up the job if someone more qualified comes along.
  • They both can have opinions, but an alpha might be more stubborn in sticking to their opinion while a beta might be more willing to listen to others or to keep quiet when their opinion isn’t needed or helpful.

Last time we talked about how alphas know who they are and are comfortable in their own skin. The same can be said for many (not all!) betas.

However, their priorities might be aligned more with others: others’ impressions, others’ loyalty, others’ trust. They might be focused on others for the greater good. These are not “bad” things.

In others words, the strengths we find in alpha characters often still exist in beta characters, but maybe at a lower or toned-down level. At the same time, as I mentioned under “Follower” above, the traits we find in beta characters might exist in alpha characters as well, but maybe only in very limited situations.

How Does This Relate to Story Writing?

A healthy character—who they are at the end of the book—will often consist of a well-balanced mix of alpha and beta traits.

  • An overly confident or overly unemotional alpha might learn to embrace a certain amount of beta caution or emotional vulnerability to connect with others (especially in a romance).
  • An overly risk-avoiding or insecure beta might learn how to tap into a certain amount of alpha confidence or risk-taking and thus come to trust themselves more.

So their character arc and the story plot often focuses on events and situations that will force our character away from the unhealthy or extreme level of their traits. Scared betas will find courage they never knew they had. Cocky alphas will find a reason to trust others. Etc., etc.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s sometimes a thin line between strengths and flaws. Any alpha trait could be good or bad, a strength or a flaw, depending on how extreme of a level it’s taken to. Ditto for the beta traits. And whether our character is alpha or beta, they’ll need to find the strength to overcome their flaws.

What’s a Character without Strengths?

As I mentioned in my reply to Lee, we usually want to write characters who aren’t passive. They’re going to be proactive in some way and not just reactive.

If we’re writing literary fiction, we might have passive characters who merely react to the plot. However, I focus on genre writing, and our characters would do something to actively interact, cause, and create the plot.

Simply by writing a story that forces our characters to face uncomfortable situations, we’ll show them being active in typical alpha ways, no matter how beta they are. For example, a character could be beta in every way except for their determination to protect a child, etc.

This is far different from a character without any internal strength. Recently, I read an interesting article about the danger of people being too nice.

In a psychological experiment testing why certain subjects would be willing to follow orders to hurt innocents, researchers found:

“Those who are described as “agreeable, conscientious personalities” are more likely to follow orders and deliver electric shocks that they believe can harm innocent people, while “more contrarian, less agreeable personalities” are more likely to refuse to hurt others…

People who were normally friendly followed orders because they didn’t want to upset others, while those who were described as unfriendly stuck up for themselves.”

It might be easy to say, “Oh, friendly and agreeable, that must mean beta.” Except that beta wolves choose who to give their loyalty to. They wouldn’t follow a random wolf—or a random researcher.

They give their support because they see the bigger picture and know what’s for the greater good. Remember all those words like calculated in my list above? Betas are smart.

Someone who follows randomly is like the wolves below the beta in the peon chain. They might not even have enough ambition to be beta.

That’s what a character without any internal strength looks like. That’s what true weakness is.

In storytelling it’s usually a far worse problem to write one-dimensional characters than to write a character with beta traits, or even a preponderance of weaknesses. A three-dimensional character with weaknesses will often be more interesting than a one-dimensional character who’s all-alpha-all-the-time.

In fact, we might write characters who start along the lines of those who would follow randomly. We might have characters so broken or abused that they have no strength.

Yet in a positive arc story, these characters would grow and strengthen. That growth can make for an interesting story. That growth makes them strong. Whether they eventually lean more toward the beta or the alpha side of traits, even those characters are definitely not weak. *smile*

Do you disagree with my take on betas? Have you seen popular culture descriptions that make betas sound pathetic? Do you think betas are weak? Do you write characters with some beta traits? Do you agree that for many characters, the healthiest path might be a mix of alpha and beta traits?

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What Is an Alpha Heroine?

May 12, 2015 Writing Stuff
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I struggle constantly with keeping my heroines likable. Especially because I want my heroines to be on equal footing—power-wise—with the hero. In other words, I want alpha heroines to go with my alpha heroes. So let’s take a look at how heroines might be alpha characters.

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Do You Have a Publishing Plan?

May 7, 2015 Writing Stuff
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Those of you who have been following my publishing process might be wondering why the one book I have out so far is free. After all, it costs money—potentially lots of money—to publish a book. Let’s take a look at a publishing plan for when it might make sense to give our books away for free.

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What Should We Do If We’re Sick of Our Story?

May 5, 2015 Writing Stuff
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When we first start writing our story, we’re filled with passion for the idea. But at some point, we might dread working on our story. Is that a warning sign? Or should we plow forward anyway?

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Story Climax: Forcing Characters to Move Forward

April 30, 2015 Writing Stuff
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Whatever happens in the Climax is often the reason we decided to write the story back when it was just a twinkle in our muse’s eye. But just before the beat of the Climax, our character experienced the Black Moment/Crisis, where they gave up. How do we get them to recommit to the story goals?

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Revision Technique: Why Did You Do That?

April 28, 2015 Writing Stuff
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Everything we write should be intentional—the words we use, the events we emphasize, the emotions we evoke, the themes we build, etc. But when our writing doesn’t match our intentions, we might need trusted feedback that forces us to justify our choices.

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