Cupcakes & Bats
An exploration of brand-building.
“I am the softest and most ruthless I have ever been.” – Unknown
If you’ve followed me for a while and know about my company, Quill & Crow, the ‘Mother of Crows’ concept is pretty self-explanatory. But people often scratch their heads at my social media handle, @cupcakesandbats. I decided to create a blog post explaining this while exploring the concept of brand-building, but how does one begin such a layered topic?
My online author career started while I was in a highly liminal space. As a collective, we were all coming out of the pandemic and trying to figure out how to move forward. Personally, I had just finished grad school, my youngest kiddo was set to go to ‘real’ school, and my romantic life was on the rocks. In my arms was a Gothic vampire trilogy begging to be sold.
Starting from ground zero on social media, I knew I wanted to attract people interested in the kind of things I wrote and the kind of person I was. So I leaned on my darker parts: my love for all things Gothic, horror, the occult, vampires, heavy metal, witchcraft, etc. This, blended with my obsession with mythology and penchant for goddess-based spirituality, birthed my Dark Goddess persona. It was easy to slip into a “character” online—it was a part of myself I felt okay sharing, and it kept the other parts of myself (the mother, the lover) safely out of the public eye.
This persona was only exacerbated by the social media climate I was thrust into—the Dark Goddess was adept at thwarting the abuse tactics of toxic personalities, predators, trolls, and users/abusers. She could handle running an entire company and all the pressures involved. And most importantly, she could handle thousands of social media followers—she kept my wall up and took no prisoners. I soon found myself writing dark goddess-inspired poetry and, for a time, even did an educational video series on the different dark goddesses across cultures. It seemed the Dark Goddess would never die.
Until she did.
Ask anyone who has ever built a brand–it’s not an easy task. My brand as an author, and by extension, my company’s brand, is very distinct: we are Gothic horror. It was easy to stay and create content ‘on brand’ because it reflected who I was at the time. The problem was I was changing. No longer coming naturally to me, the brand required more and more energy to maintain. An example of this was when I randomly Tweeted (what do we call this now? X-ed?) about how much I love kids and promptly received a slew of jestful comments implying I’m a wicked witch who likes to eat children. While I love to banter and laugh and have made that a part of any platform I’m on, this one stung. Generally, I’m pleased to have people play along with my “Dark Goddess” antics, but I’m also the loving mother of four amazing kids. I adore children; in fact, before the publishing company, I had just finished up my Master in Library Science degree, specializing in Children’s Librarianship. Before that, I debated being a teacher.
It was becoming clear that I could no longer ignore the shift unfolding before my eyes. My company was changing, social media was changing, and my personal life was changing. It hit me that I could either resist or adapt and move on.
Enter my softer side.
It was a chilly October evening when my husband and I strolled down the streets of downtown Cleveland to discover the sparkling, bright pink oasis that was Colossal Cupcakes (in case you were wondering, my romantic life is very much no longer on the rocks). Complete with a giant throne, the place looked as if Barbie had decided to get into the cupcake business. It was nearing Halloween, so their bubble gum pink walls were covered in dozens of black bats. Blame it on the Halloween vibes or the sugar high, but I was obsessed with the juxtaposition. Two seemingly opposing things coming together is one of my favorite aesthetics to play with, and I soon found myself using pink and black in my creative content. Noticing the shift in my art, my husband remarked that I am dichotomous myself, almost like a blend of cupcakes or bats, depending on the situation. I realized he was right (looking back, even my old AOL screen name was angels13demons), and although I resisted the idea of presenting the world with a softer version of myself, a new persona was born.
Except it isn’t just a persona. Cupcakes-and-bats represents the marriage of my two sides—my roughness and my sweetness wrapped up in one. The Dark Goddess does not have to die; she can exist alongside the softer parts of me. After all, that is who I actually am; I will go above and beyond for those I love, but when crossed, well. Feel free to use your imagination.
Our world is always changing, and you can either resist or go with the flow. While stressful, finding ways to adapt is the most useful tool one can have for whatever path you embark on. In a creative industry that relies heavily on image, persona, and aesthetics, it’s imperative to construct a brand that can be maintained with minimal energy and offers the ability to shift. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.
I often wonder why so many people/companies mimic other brands; while copying something someone has already created seems easier, it quickly turns on you. Without the ability to shift and adapt, these folks are essentially waiting for someone else to show them the next move, which might not always be in their best interests. In general, we tend to remember the true brands, while the rest fall into the ‘Wish version’ category.
I’m not sure what the future will hold for my career as an author/publisher, but I do know that my path becomes clear by following my instincts as a creative and spiritual woman. I urge anyone trying to build up an author brand to do some real soul-searching before they begin.
Any time you know you’ll be investing large amounts of energy, be sure it’s on something that can be done with ease.
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