To Brand or Not to Brand

By: Beth Shriver


Writers and Illustrators belong to the Odd Duck Society

As I navigate through this publishing industry, I’ve learned many things: voice, pacing, motivation, characterization, and internal/external conflict, to name a few. But there is one aspect that I still have a problem with…branding. Although I understand the concept that as a writer or illustrator, to label yourself into a certain genre and style of writing and the reason for doing so is to develop a following of readers who know what to expect from your writing, I’ve had a considerable amount of difficulty doing so.
When I started writing eight years ago, the only published author I knew well enough to contact was a romance writer, Shelley Galloway, who informed me that romance is the biggest-selling genre. Although I’d never read a romance, with Shelley’s encouragement, I did. After studying how to put a story together, I wrote a young adult romance, Love at First Flight. Then I wrote a romantic suspense, A Case of the Heart, and another Reclaiming Faith. Two were published, which gave me the motivation to write still another romance, Love is a Rose. But through this process, I realized romance wasn’t what I truly wanted to write. I like a romance as a subplot, but it seemed to leave out so much of the characters lives about which I wanted to write.
I decided to try my hand at a historical fiction with strong romantic elements, Remnant of the Fall. This gave me an opportunity to tell more about the first-century Palestine setting and to show what it was like for Christians during that era. I liked the balance, and the romance seemed more real being a part of the story instead of the entire story. My next project, Annie’s Truth, was a women’s fiction. I thought I’d finally found my genre, until a speculative fiction idea, Fear of Falling, came bounding into my head that just poured out of me. Although my manuscript has been requested and has gone to the publishing board a couple of times, the Christian market is still warming up to this new genre in the CBA. So I left my niche and wrote another woman’s fiction, Funeral Hopper,/em>. My agent loved it, and so far it has been well received by editors.
Are you dizzy yet? I know my agent is, but she’s wonderfully and patiently waiting for me to settle down so she can brand me. I commend her for doing so. I sometimes feel like a rebellious teenager not wanting to follow the rules of the literary industry, which brings me to the next genre, none other than non-fiction. Yep, you heard me. My absolutely-God-given devotional, Peace for Parents of Teens, was released in May. Inspired by the difficulties my teen went through, I poured out my heart onto the keyboard with the desire to aide other parents struggling with teen issues. I’d never, ever planned to write non-fiction, but He had different plans for me and my writing.
After all that you ask, what exactly is a “brand?” Your brand should say something about you. One needs to learn how to create and reflect the brand that you want readers to know about you. Know how to build, to communicate, and to maintain (my weakness) a personal brand. The following steps may help you with this:
1. Develop a vision for your brand.
2. Position your brand in order to differentiate yourself from competitors as well as building one’s image using the media as a vehicle.
3. Create a personality for your brand.
4. Articulate the benefits your brand delivers to customers.

5. Define the values your brand represents.
It seems there is always something new to learn about the writing industry, and branding has become an important one, one that you and I, as writers and illustrators, need to settle into and find out where we’re comfortable. And that will be where God makes us comfortable, where he wants us to be.



(and Other Misperceptions)

by Martha Pineno-Hess

Choosing to be an artist was a decision, not a dream. I wasn’t born with drawing and painting ability. There’s NO talent here, just a decision based on interest and the guidance and support of my parents. My first interest in art came late in Junior High. Art classes in High School and summer art camps gave me the skills requisite for an art career.
I first trained to be an art teacher. Four years, two summers of art study in college gave me that opportunity. I’m a late blooming illustrator. But I believe my years as an elementary art instructor gave me insight into how young persons’ minds work and what would get the picture across. I needed to motivate children to learn new concepts with stimulating projects both in medium and idea.

When starting an illustration project

, where do I start? For accuracy, I ask the author what she prefers. Then do visual research. People have pre-conceived ideas about what something may be. For example, given the task to paint a dog one conjures up at least a dozen images of various breeds. So the image needs to be narrowed to one concept. Then elaboration can begin.
Doodle on scratch paper. Create thumbnail sketches. Ideas don’t just pop and picture themselves on paper. Read the text, letting an idea emerge into a cartoon type image. Then start sequencing. Put the ideas in order to match the script. If working with an author who is receptive to ideas, one might even suggest simpler text, easier to illustrate in a more active manner.


Ideas are everywhere. Observe. Research online. I actually have to shut off my creative mind in order to get daily tasks completed. I constantly look forward to future projects, trying to find ways to fit illustrating into 24-hour days.

What keeps me motivated?

I’m self-motivated, but being paid for a project gives me extra energy. I’m also concerned about pleasing persons for whom I’m illustrating. I need verification they’re content with my work. I never assume all my work is great. Small suggestions for improvement are welcome but I become annoyed if something requires repainting mostly because of the additional time it will take to correct. However, being somewhat a perfectionist, getting things just right takes precedence over my feelings.

My favorite illustrated book?

Talented Tabby because it focused on one character, Leo. I had more time to complete it and fewer distractions.

Second favorite?

The Coffee Connection, a compilation of my designs and paintings created over a 25-year span. I find hand-done illustrating more satisfying than computer art.

Medium choice?

Watercolor, acrylics, oils, pen & ink, cut paper, photography. Sometimes the illustrating process is determined by the medium. In general watercolor has a soft, fluid, spontaneous look. For an Early Reader my first illustrated book (watercolor) appeared delicate. Adding ink enhanced detail. Varying medium makes subsequent books unique beyond just text.

What inspires my illustrations?

Characters. But story determines background. Photos help with characters and accuracy in motion. I often combine several photos to create one illustrated page.

Lifeless illustrations?

Not mine! Paint’s naturally intrinsic motion by the brush lends flowing attention to detail. My years of painting, particularly people and animals, serve me well.

Challenges and Suggestions?

Designing entire books. Planning page turns. Blocks around art? Word placement? Title and Signing pages? Page number to meet publishing/printing costs? To stimulate mind pictures early on, divide manuscript into sections. Then focus on one action or detail. Readers can picture the rest. Since each page must relate to previous and next page of story art, illustrating is probably harder than painting complex individual artworks. Working with someone else’s idea can be difficult when it isn’t something you’d choose to paint.

Key advice?





Mariam Davis Pineno

            You play “Duckling-with-inquisitive-nature” and I’ll naturally do my best to play “Old Wise One.” Naturally, because I already have “Old” down pat and “wise” attributable to a teacher’s history for leading while ruffling the fewest feathers.

So waddle to the edge, shove off, and start paddling. Why not? Of 700-words (max) you may read one answer here that resonates in your fine-feathered head.

  • You have a story to tell and a desire to see it in kids’ hands being read in your lifetime. If accepted by most main-stream publishers, your book will remain submerged for years.
  • You have requisite skills and you like controlling the whole process from registering the ISBN (for a fee) to authoring your own front and back matter (i.e. Dedication, Succinct Synopsis and such). You will search your text and sometimes fuzzy head for a best-selling title.  (See Lisa Lickel’s February article)
  • You have kept your beady bright eyes on the latest and best kids’ books, observing and experiencing enough to claim confidence in your ability to write in age-appropriate voice.
  • You promise yourself with every downy feather on your body that you will not “quack” down-to or in didactic tones but rather leave young readers with a suitably subtle message, if any, and with satisfying take-away, for sure. Make it grow out of your test—your story.
  • You think economy of words throughout, clarity your watchword.
  • You build in effective page-turns and repetition (word, phrase, action) for Early Readers.
  • You will give thoughtful consideration to your Dedication and Bio (without telling your life story) and will compose a unique signature for signing your books. Example: When signing my chapter book IT DOESN’T GROW on TREES, I draw from the theme with “May your motivation work wonders,” as does Brenda Hendricks when signing her new picture book WHAT’S the BUZZ, BUMBLY BEE? with the phrase “Fly high and trust God!” As writers, not waitresses, we find “Enjoy!” lacking.
  • You will seek out fellow Odd Ducks’ help or will pay a Pro for experienced line-editing and/or proof-reading. Critiquing (welcome well-intentioned criticism) will roll off like water off… (you know).
  • You don’t mind going without a few bags of grain, realizing full well that it’s rare as orchids in a creek to make a great profit from sales. Quack! “I can afford this.” Quack it often.

(Note: Honest self-publishing companies will even tell you upfront, before accepting your manuscript, that you aren’t going to get rich quick—if ever. So plunge in and sink or swim at your own risk.)

  • You have (or someone you know who won’t charge you a wing and a webbed-foot has) studied and acquired the considerable skills to properly paginate, lay out text and illustrations to complement, and to scan into your computer. In other words, you, Odd Duck Designer, are about to assume the role of at least eight editors with no guarantee you’ll savor a single crumb.
  • You may set your own unit price, knowing the standard, universal arrangement is 60% for the Odd Duck and 40% for the owner of the pond.
  • You researched enough to know the term “self-publishing” is ambiguous. It encompasses various styles from do-it-all-yourself (from disc to printer, as are all of my picture books), to submitting manuscript, paying, and dealing with no less than twenty-five people. I’ve done both. So I can say, “WHY NOT?”

Detailed explanations and answers to your specific quirky quacks can be had by e-mailing Friendly-reader e-mail makes my heart sing. I always quack back.

Mariam has authored one chapter book entitled IT DOESN’T GROW on TREES for Grades  3-6 (Ages 8 and up). In collaboration with daughter/professional artist, Martha Pineno Hess, she has published four full-color young reader picture books: TALENTED TABBY; LEONARDO’S LESSON; A HAT for HANNAH; and A BOX of BEARS just released in October, 2009.  

Mariam’s delightful books can be purchased at the above links,, and Cygnet Studios in Elizabethtown, PA. IT DOESN’T GROW on TREES can also be found at the Walden Books store in the Susquehanna Mall, Selinsgrove, PA.