How To Stumble Onto Your Brand…

Erin Taylor YoungErin Taylor Young has a remarkable gift for making her readers laugh out loud even as she’s delivering hard truths about living a life of faith. Her down-to-earth writing style invites readers into the books that God has given her and sends them away refreshed and assured that we’re not in this gig alone. Her first humorous nonfiction, Surviving Henry: Adventures in Loving a Canine Catastrophe, released in August and has repeatedly been accused of making people laugh until they cry. Erin lives in the Southwest with her husband, their two sons, and the infamous–and, against all odds, still alive–Henry. Check out her new book…I promise, it is a delight.

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Here’s the picture: Small local conference. Dream Agent attending. Must go.

Our writers group hosts a faculty dinner the night before the conference. The entertainment for the evening is to have us read short pieces we’d written. Out loud. In front of the whole faculty.

As you can surmise, somebody didn’t think that through.

My ditty is about writing amidst family chaos, but as I face the crowd I think a more appropriate title would’ve been “WHY Was I Dumb Enough To Do This?”.

After dinner, I approach Dream Agent. I want him to remember me when I pitch my YA fantasy the next day. You know, a human touch might make it harder for him to turn me down. (FYI—that doesn’t actually work.)

Mouth dry. Knees shaking. Possible imminent vomit. “Hi…I’m…Erin…”

He smiles. “You read that humor piece at dinner.”

“Umm…” OH MY GOSH, I’m having an actual conversation with STEVE LAUBE. Well, technically I’m gaping at him, but you get the idea.

He goes on like he hasn’t noticed my frozen-idiot look. “That was very well done. Humor is hard to write.”

“Umm…” Somebody get me a chimpanzee to speak for me. “…Funny things…happen to me…”

Steve gets that I-know-what-I’m-talking-about tone, in a good way. “Funny things happen to everybody. Writing them funny is hard. Nice job.”

“I…uh…thanks.” Actually, my humor is a fluke. I just write things like I see them. I can’t help it if I live in a cartoon.

Given my stellar conversation, I figure Steve will quickly flee. Perhaps to find that chimpanzee.

Instead he starts telling me about a wonderful humor client he has, and all I can think is good thing I’m not a humor writer ’cause Steve wouldn’t want two.

At our appointment the next day, I hand Steve the pitch sheet for my YA fantasy.

He does a double take, and I can see he’s not reading the sheet. Just squinting at it.

For a very long time.

Steve Laube. Speechless.

Then he squints at me, and his words come out like he’s marooned on an isle of incompatible data. “This is a fantasy.”

“Right…”

“I thought you were a humor writer…”

“But I write fantasy…”

Now we’re both squinting.

This lovely, awkward conversation is not the way I recommend you discover your brand. But it does illustrate the key point. Brand isn’t about how you see yourself, it’s about how others see you. And they will form an opinion.

Learn from my mistakes.

1) Steve categorized me in one reading. If an agent or editor can do that, chances are it’s a strong impression. Take. That. Seriously.

2) Steve reiterated the same thing to me more than once (as have others, but you don’t need to hear all my tales of slow-wittedness). What are the words and phrases you’re consistently hearing about your writing? Grasp the obvious. It’s not a fluke.

3) Once Steve branded me in his mind, he had an expectation of the writing he would get from me in the future—humor. When a guy squints at you for ten full seconds, it’s because you’ve confounded his expectation. Don’t do that.

Don’t hear me saying you have no control over your brand. You do. But the fact is that others can often see the unifying thread in your writing more easily than you can. Hear it. Pray over it. And be willing to let go of your self-preconceptions.

This is how we discover the uniqueness God planted in each one of us.

Trust me. It’s there. The place where you shine.

Find it.

Embrace it.

Delight in it.

Preferably before your next conversation with Steve Laube.

38 Responses to How To Stumble Onto Your Brand…

  1. Avatar
    Judith Robl September 15, 2014 at 5:15 am #

    Well said – with much humor. You have a real gift for delivering hard truth in a humorous package. That makes it both more palatable AND more memorable.

    Good job.

    • Avatar
      Erin Taylor Young September 15, 2014 at 8:00 am #

      Thanks, Judith. I know it was a memorable experience for me. As you can probably tell, it’s still burned in my mind. In detail… : )

  2. Avatar
    Lacy Williams September 15, 2014 at 5:47 am #

    Lovely piece! Great job, as usual, grabbing my interest and getting the message across. 🙂

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    Jackie Layton September 15, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    Hi Erin,

    Thanks so much for sharing. I’m laughing and feeling your pain at the same time.

    So glad you listened to Steve and figured out your brand.

  4. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka September 15, 2014 at 6:15 am #

    I love your humor, Erin. 🙂 And your truths. Your line: “When a guy squints at you for ten full seconds, it’s because you’ve confounded his expectation. Don’t do that.” Great truth here and fun. And I got the point. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  5. Avatar
    Robin Patchen September 15, 2014 at 6:23 am #

    Seems you found a great way to discover your brand–ask people what they think defines your writing. I’d like to say that’s obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it. So…brilliant!

    • Avatar
      Erin Taylor Young September 15, 2014 at 8:10 am #

      Go for it Robin! Ask away. You’ll get eye-opening answers. : ) And FYI, I think your brand is beautifully spun stories of redemption in messy human lives.

  6. Avatar
    Pamela Gossiaux September 15, 2014 at 6:33 am #

    Erin, I love it! You’re so funny. I’m a humor writer and totally get “living in a cartoon”. 🙂 I write amongst kid and pet chaos too! Huzzah!

  7. Avatar
    Sandy Faye Mauck September 15, 2014 at 7:20 am #

    This reminds of someone I knew in the art world, she loved a particular artist and tried to paint like her. He home was filled with hundreds of oil canvases. None of which I felt were very interesting. But I came across a beautiful watercolor on the wall. It was amazing. I asked her who did it and she said she did. I encouraged her to do watercolors like that.

    She didn’t have to stop painting—just change the “Brand”.

  8. Avatar
    Davalynn Spencer September 15, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    Erin – fun post! I remember feeling the squirm during a what’s-my-brand conversation with the lovely Gayle Roper. She didn’t squint, but she did tilt her head and say, “You’re wearing a denim jacket …” and boots and jeans. Western? Duh. You’re right. Sometimes other people see it before we do.

    • Avatar
      Erin Taylor Young September 15, 2014 at 8:12 am #

      Love it, Davalynn! I can totally picture Gayle Roper doing that!

  9. Avatar
    Patti Jo Moore September 15, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    Loved this, Erin! Thank you for sharing with us. Your talent for writing humor sure comes through in this post, and personally I think our world needs more humor. 🙂
    I had to chuckle as you wrote about gaping at Steve Laube. 😉 Even though I’ve been to several (okay–5) writers’ conferences, I always feel I’m gaping (or gawking, LOL) at the editors and agents I so admire.
    Blessings as you write, Patti Jo

  10. Avatar
    Virelle Kidder September 15, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    Great post!! Loved it!! I, too, keep stumbling over humor. Hmmm.

  11. Avatar
    Julie Jarnagin September 15, 2014 at 8:07 am #

    Fun stuff! I’ve gotten that look from an agent at an appointment before – not from Steve but from someone else. A “lovely, awkward conversation” is a great way to describe agent appointments in general. 🙂

  12. Avatar
    Sandy Faye Mauck September 15, 2014 at 8:18 am #

    Just read a few pages of your book…you have a great gift for humor-making us see it. Cracking up, over and over. How many people have not had a critter in their lives that has not made the whole household crazy! LOL— for Real!

    • Avatar
      Erin Taylor Young September 15, 2014 at 11:47 am #

      Sandy, I think you’re right–we can all relate to an insane critter (or family member)! Thanks for your kind words about my book. Feel free to tell ten thousand of your closest friends. : )

      • Avatar
        Sandy Faye Mauck September 15, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

        Erin, you inspired my thoughts and blog today and I put your site on there. I have to get a book for my crazy critter granddaughter (who went from hermit crabs to chinchillas LOL).

        I absolutely love your Bio. Everyone go read it the Bio and the first pages! It is still making me laugh.

        • Avatar
          Erin Taylor Young September 15, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

          Hermit crabs to chinchillas? LOL!
          And I liked your blog post. But then, I’m definitely a fan of Audrey Hepburn and My Fair Lady. Also I’m a fan of painting, but I had to get a whole college degree in art to find out that I’m not very good at it. : ) I admire those who are.

  13. Avatar
    Ann Shorey September 15, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    Great post, Erin. Sometimes how others brand us comes as a surprise. 🙂

  14. Avatar
    Jenelle. M September 15, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    “Hear it. Pray over it. And be willing to let go of your self-preconceptions.” Great advice!

    Delightful post, Erin, thank you for being honest with us. I’m encouraged how God works in such wonderful, mysterious ways.

    I tracking what you’re saying, but I was wondering if there was ever a time where you recognized how natural writing humor came for you? For example, the piece you read for the faculty at the conference…did that piece flow out naturally?

    • Avatar
      Erin Taylor Young September 15, 2014 at 11:43 am #

      Good question, Jennelle. Writing in general is actually hard for me. I’m very slow–I have to chase the words around in my head for a long time before I catch the right ones. But when I’d do that–when I’d find the words that let me tell my story the best way I knew how– they’d end up coming out in a humorous way.

      Simply trying to be true to the story as I saw it brought my natural voice out, even if the writing of it was difficult. Does that make sense?

      • Avatar
        Jenelle. M September 15, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

        Erin, oh my word, thank you for confessing that you write slow because so do I! I’m surrounded by many writers who do not and when people ask me if I’m done yet over and over, I feel so alone at times. I ditto all that you said about trying to find just the right words to convey what’s going on in your mind. Phew. I feel encouraged 🙂

        Yes, your answer made complete sense. Your last line made me smile. How cool is it when staying true to the story brings it out in a more natural way? I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

  15. Avatar
    Martha Rogers September 15, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Love this Erin. Your reaction to Steve was exactly the same as mine when I met him at a conference many years ago. So glad you found your “niche” and continue to write humor.

  16. Avatar
    Judy Gordon Morrow September 15, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Erin, since I had the joy of meeting you this past spring at Mount Hermon, and since I’ve known Steve (and his endearing expressions!) for many years, I had a delightful time envisioning your conversation. Still smiling!

    Beyond that, thank you for the wisdom of your words. I realize I need to pay more attention to the comments others give me to better identify that “unifying thread.” Looking forward to the “mulling and praying process” about this. Thanks again for a great piece!

  17. Avatar
    Terri Weldon September 15, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    Great post, Erin! Thanks for sharing your epiphany with us. Steve was spot on, you’re an awesome humor writer.

    I’m a little slow on the uptake, so someone will probably have to whack me upside the head before I make a firm decision on the two genres I’m toying with. And no, I’m not taking volunteers.

  18. Avatar
    Rachel Leigh Smith September 15, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    I write romance. And I’m all about the hero. So how do I present myself? As exactly what I am. A romance writer who writes romances that are majority his POV.

    Doesn’t matter what romance sub-genre I’m dabbling in, he’s front and center and it’s all about him.

  19. Avatar
    Regina Jennings September 15, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Erin, you could make a grocery list hilarious. Thanks for the great post!

  20. Avatar
    Nick Kording September 15, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    Great advice. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in what I think I’m supposed to be writing rather than what I write well… this was a good reminder.

  21. Avatar
    Paula Bicknell September 15, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    Erin:
    This message really hit my heart. Thanks so much for sharing your writing journey. I took a picture of your Henry book in our Sam’s Club and sent it to Karen awhile back. I live in Yuba City, Calif. and was thrilled to see your story there in the middle of the shelf (perfect eye level) this summer. Our family farms and we just finished our summer harvest. Reading your book is on the top of my “good” to-do list. 🙂
    Blessings,
    Paula

    • Avatar
      Erin Taylor Young September 16, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

      Paula, I love that you have a “good” to-do list. I’m wondering what’s on the “not good” (yucky?) list. Maybe that’s like scrubbing the toilet or something. So it’s good to be on the good list. : )

      I hopped over to your blog for a bit and enjoyed your writing. : )

  22. Avatar
    Holly Smit September 16, 2014 at 7:00 am #

    The moral of the story is: we are all part of the body of Christ. Steve Laube obviously gets to be an eye. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a big toe, right? I mean, someone’s gotta do the walking. You have a knack for earthy wisdom, Erin. I love that I can follow your lead (which makes me the next toe over. Hmm . . .)

    • Avatar
      Erin Taylor Young September 16, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

      Hey, the good thing about toes is that you always have a buddy right next to you. I can live with that. : )

  23. Avatar
    sharon Srock September 16, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Erin, you always make me laugh. I’m glad someone told you what you were meant to be.

  24. Avatar
    Anne Love September 17, 2014 at 4:44 am #

    Thanks for this cute and focused story that makes me rethink my brand.

  25. Avatar
    Laurie Tomlinson September 17, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    Hahaha! Such a great post!

    What is it about Steve? I accidentally branded my critique partner a Katniss-style bow hunter to him because I was a writing newbie and had no idea it was him in the elevator.

    Oh man. It’s fortunate that he’s such a good sport 🙂

  26. Avatar
    Rebecca DeMarino September 21, 2014 at 6:17 am #

    I love your story about meeting Steve, Erin! And he was so right about you! I love your humor and adored Surviving Henry! I also love conversations (and workshops) with Steve ~ he is so generous and kind with his spot on advice!

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  1. So, You Think You Can Make Readers Laugh? | Inspire Christian Writers - June 17, 2015

    […] wrote a guest post for The Steve Laube Agency Blog about this very thing. And yes, it’s an “Oh sure, it’s funny now” story involving the first […]

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