It's easy to brand people

all you have to do is ignore everything unique about them

Salutations to those of you who wear feathers, and a warm hello to everyone else!

Today we are discussing branding.

You don’t have to like a brand, but you want to know what to expect. To be good, a brand should be accurate. It should depict the product.

So, being a product myself, last week, I responded to a Columbia University call for human alumni willing to be guinea pigs for an online branding webinar. My thinking was that, worst case scenario, my new author website ( would get some eyeballs.

My branding dilemma was: “how do I brand my author website so that it differs from the Pen Parentis site (which I also run), but not so different as to detract from the nonprofit.” The branding expert needed a lot of background to get to know me. I gave her fourteen internet links and then she called me and we talked for an hour because she had a hard time placing me.

I explained that when I started Pen Parentis, I tried to delineate myself as an author by signing everything writing-related “M.M.DeVoe” and everything administration-related as “Milda M. De Voe” — this worked for ten years, until Google in all its brilliant wisdom, decided to change the way it searched to be more comprehensive.

My short fiction is intentionally weird. My most successful pieces straddle the line between reality and something else. These two stories fit the M. M. De Voe brand: Here’s a long one with a short title. Here’s a short one with a long title.

My first book does not suit the M M De Voe brand. I am very proud of it and worked hard to create it, but it was intentionally published under Milda M DeVoe. (It’s nonfiction and lovely.)

The whole point of Pen Parentis, early on, was to counteract the knee-jerk reaction of people who assumed that because I was a mom I wrote about kids. I told the branding expert that I wanted to be known for my quirky speculative fiction!

The branding expert decided to retool my LinkedIn page. LinkedIn is the only place on the internet where I behave entirely professionally, and it’s pretty boring.

The branding expert took one look at my LinkedIn Profile and told me to take everything Pen Parentis off of it. Then she said “speculative fiction isn’t really a thing. Just call it cross-genre fiction.” Then she said why do you have two names anyway?

She severely chopped my bio: “As a mom who writes, I used my ten-year experience to write this memoir to help other parents. Besides writing, and helping writers, I do occasional professional voiceover work in Lithuanian and English.” All of the advice felt slightly off, as though she was hacking off all the extra arms of a spider and trying to pass it off as a dog.

(warning: do not Google “mutant giant spider dog” for images)

The actual live branding event was open only to Columbia alumni, and—ironically—it conflicted with this public premiere of my latest author-interview — on Between the Covers TV, where I got to be very much myself.

Meanwhile, the branding expert kept me offscreen while she transformed my LinkedIn profile to erase every professional literary event I have ever hosted. She simplified me. And then she added in all the quirky details that derail a conversation, like the Lithuanian voiceover work. How does that sell novels?

I am eerily intrigued as to what to actually do with her advice. Oh. In case you want to hire her, this is the branding expert:

Yeah. So those are my random, ridiculous thoughts this week. Sorry it was all about one thing. (I had my 2nd Moderna shot Thursday morning, so I’ll try to get out more!)

Your reward for reading this far—one last ridiculous moment:

When you read one sentence over and over and over without retaining it, what happens to the read words? You have a memory of the physical act of reading but not the content. How is that possible? Where do those thoughts go?

Have a wonderful week and may you find whatever it is you need or want—on your first try.


PS: speaking of branding, if you use the awesome (and free! and super useful!) Submission Grinder to track submissions of short stories, did you notice how they quietly replaced their meat grinder logo with a juicy submarine sandwich? I miss the creepy hand-cranked grinder; it was a better metaphor! I’m still wondering why on earth they did it. Were people offended by the meat grinder?

PSS: A gift! In case you are a writer and seeking literary magazines, I just stumbled across a great newsletter with the sole focus of literary magazines. Here’s the link. Enjoy!