This Is Why Credibility Forges a Strong Brand by Guest @Charli_Mills

In October of 1983, my husband jumped into a war zone known as Urgent Fury. As far as battles go, the one for Grenada barely registers. In fact, the US government declares 1983 as part of a “non-combat” era. However, the reputation of my husband’s elite unit of US Army Rangers earns him respect regardless of where he served.

He volunteered for the Army in 1981, volunteered for Airborne school, and volunteered for the Rangers. He had to pass three phases and accept an assignment to a Ranger unit. He also qualified as a combat diver and managed his unit’s Zodiacs. He emphasizes that he volunteered for service and dangerous duty, something he’s fiercely proud of achieving.

But it’s made for a rocky after-service life.

Not only did my husband bash his knee on that Grenada jump, but he also struck his head twice. Just a week before, he took a hit to the head that knocked him out. None of these incidents warranted a Ranger seeking medical attention and wouldn’t be worth mentioning decades later had it not been for puzzling changes in his cognition.

He’s needed a total knee replacement for 35 years. As he aged, chronic pain aggravated combat PTSD, the kind rooted in survivor’s guilt and anger – the fuel a soldier is taught to use but not neutralize. While seeking VA treatment, we discovered an alarming loss of processing ability linked to long-term effects of subconcussive hits.

So how does my husband’s military story relate to the authenticity of my author brand?

How Life Contributes to Our Author Brand

Much of the fiction I write explores the lives of veteran spouses and women in history. The world marginalizes the role of women in history, and that’s where I excavate stories for my literary art. For my first novel, I decided to write a contemporary story that wouldn’t require intense research. Something close to home, like women who marry soldiers.

Seven years ago, I set out to complete the first draft, and during that time my husband’s complex service-related issues surfaced. I became his strongest advocate, battling what singer-songwriter, Mary Gauthier, calls “the war after the war.”

Each week, I write flash fiction at my literary community called Carrot Ranch, using a character to explore what veteran spouses experience. When circumstances took a dive into the worst, and we became homeless in 2016, I followed my husband across the west as he tried to find work.

Every day, I considered abandoning ship, craving stability. I explained to him that I didn’t doubt he would protect me from danger below a bridge, but I lost faith that he would not defend me from living under one.

I had a modest income from writing contracts and could have left him. But this was the man who got me through my most challenging period, confronting childhood sexual abuse.

So, I stayed. I wrote. I wrote about our experiences. I wrote for the brand communications of clients. I wrote about my character who had her own former Ranger to comprehend.

This Is Why Credibility Forges a Strong Brand by Guest @Charli_Mills via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo #Brand #AuthorBranding #writing

How Our Journey Forges Our Brand

We landed in the remote Keweenaw Peninsula, the thumb of copper-rich land that juts into the belly of Lake Superior from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Our eldest and her husband provided a place for us to live in their home while we sorted out my husband’s conditions. After a year, we had secured medical and mental health care. The Vet Center, a legacy of Vietnam Vets, provides support for the spouses of combat veterans, a rarity.

That’s when it hit me – I was one of the marginalized women I track down in forgotten history. It changed the dynamic of my novel, and I began to include the stories of these women, who, like me, served their nation by serving as advocates for difficult veterans – the ones we read about in statistics and cluck our tongues over high suicide and homelessness rates.

I began to understand the frontline where I served alongside these women for which society gives us no names.

A recognizable analogy from the military goes like this: There are sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. They say that the sheep are everyday people who go about their lives not believing in evil. The wolves are the evil that exists, preying upon the sheep. They know violence. Sheepdogs know violence, too, but they protect the sheep from the wolves. The sheep tolerate sheepdogs, but don’t assimilate with them. This analogy explains the isolation that military and veterans experience. But it fails to recognize those who marry sheepdogs. Who are we?

Like Johnny Cash who wore black for the oppressed, I wear my husband’s old field jacket in my official author headshots to call attention to the spouses who stick it out. We know our spouses are broken and we don’t desert them because of it. Instead, we push for help, we advocate for care, and we honor their service. For the men and women who saw combat and for the men and women who hold their combat veterans afterward, I wear my husband’s shirt.

That’s the story of my brand icon, which caused a minor shirt-storm on Twitter, calling my gender, age, and size into question. What right did I have to wear the shirt?

Another author, with his own set of credentials, questioned my choice of clothing. His creds are apparent and documented in Wikipedia. His name’s not worth mentioning. He called out a woman with Ranger tabs and unit insignia because those who serve in elite military units loathe posers. I get it. But he further demonstrated how little respect the spouses of combat veterans receive. He actually validated a cornerstone of my brand – that I’m part of a marginalized group of women whose stories I write.

What’s the Story Behind Your Brand?

Do you have a deep or compelling story behind your brand or pen name persona?

Think of Rachel Thompson. She infuses her brand with two sharp points of credibility – she survived sexual abuse and corporate marketing. Rachel masters her credibility with published books, popular Twitter hashtags and chats, and a persona that tells you she has evolved far beyond surviving. Rachel writes and advocates with an expertise that we trust. She’s credible because she’s authentic.

As an author, you have to do more than retain your credibility. You first have to recognize it, and then cultivate it.

My first step into literary art was not as my role of a veteran spouse. That evolution came later. My initial point of credibility had to be my ability to create literary art. Sure, you can write and say things like, “I’m looking for readers who get me.” Okay. So, you have ideas, storylines, and characters that disturb your waking hours with their presence. Likely, you have passions. You better have a vision for what you want to write.

Creativity can look like chaos. But your brand needs to be:

  • deliberate,
  • organized and
  • intentionally executed.

You’ll not get credibility with a chaotic brand. Unless, of course, chaos is indeed your brand (but I doubt it).

As an author, you are your brand. It’s often one of the most uncomfortable ideas of authorhood. It feels as if you lose privacy when you are your brand, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Just because I share some of my personal hardships associated with identifying as a veteran spouse doesn’t mean I lose control over my privacy.

Be deliberate. Pick and choose where and when to share your details. Stay aligned to your authenticity. Don’t invent details – save your imagination for your fiction. However, be creative. Rethink who you are as a writer and be prepared to evolve because you will grow and change. Make sure the core of your brand stays identifiable as you, as an author.

What if you have a pen name or a persona? Again, be deliberate. Some authors choose to include details that connect them to elements they write about, like fairies or anime. I know historical writers who like to emphasize a wild west connection. I take on some of that, too. I was born into a buckaroo culture (cowboys from California influenced by the vaquero traditions of ranching and horsemanship). I use it as a fun vibe more than a backstory, and you can do something similar.

You can create your persona or pen name brand from real details. Never deceive. You’ll lose credibility faster than a fad falters.

Building Brand Credibility

How do you build credibility? Here’s where you need to adopt the mindset of a professional. Being an author might be exciting but doesn’t get you off the hook for being skilled. Writers often have many innate abilities, including imagination and storytelling. Identify your strengths and commit to plugging any skill gaps, such as grammar issues.

For example, I’m a professed comma splicer. My theory of commas is based on putting the punctuation marks in a shaker and sprinkling liberally across my sentences. I will likely die trying to overcome my comma confusion. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to learn, practice or invest in professional software, such as Grammarly or ProWrite.

Beyond skills, think of your experience. I’m a firm believer that every role or job I’ve tackled held gifts for later use. If you work a day job, think about your experiences to give you credibility. Even though I left my marketing career to pursue my dreams of literary art, I use my former profession as an author. It gets me writing gigs and has helped me develop workshops to teach authors specific elements of marketing. I excelled at branding, so I use that experience to further my own brand and help other authors develop theirs.

Achievements are your shiny stars to hang from your brand. Think of literary contests you’ve won, stories or books you’ve published, awards your writing has earned, or reviews that make you dance on your tippy-toes. Think of these as your proudest moments. Look for them annually and contain them in your brand communication. Be deliberate. Pick which achievements to further or build up your brand.

Use your author credibility for mobility. Where can it take you? If your experience relates both to your brand and specific audiences, then make those connections. One literary device I use is the hero’s journey. I use it to teach veterans the power of telling their journeys into the cave and sharing elixirs from their experiences.

I call it the veteran’s journey, though, because hero is a touchy word, especially among combat vets. It furthers my credibility within the veteran community and lets me give back an empowering tool of storytelling for healing through literary art. Think about what powerful connections you can make to take your brand to another level of recognition.

Finally, have a credibility crisis plan. This is where you’ll be grateful for thinking about your brand and brand stories deliberately. Had I worn the shirt in question in my author headshots because I thought it was a hipster thrift-store find, I might have insulted the military community.

Be sensitive and be prepared. Don’t react defensively but do respond promptly. My shirt-storm was brief because I got an early head’s up, and once I had an authentic story to back up why I wore the shirt, commenters backed down. Be professional even if others are not. (Unless your brand is not to be professional).

Credibility will fuel your career. Be deliberate. Be authentic. Then, when that New York Times best-selling author calls out your brand, you can be prepared to be noticed.


The Congress of Rough Writers by Charli Mills

The result is a strangely compelling, very enjoyable experience where these little vignettes transport you quickly from scene to scene in a dizzying array of place, colour, texture and emotion…A fascinating book packed with bright ideas and worthwhile material. I was greatly entertained by the stories and essays and so taken with the idea that I thought I would give it a go with a 99-word review…

Charles Remington for Readers’ Favorite



One free Author Action Plan. It’s a tool I developed in consultation with authors to help them map their progress in the three areas of creation, platform, and publication. It’s personalized and can be used independently once an author is taught how to use it.

(Valued at $150.)This Is Why Credibility Forges a Strong Brand by Guest @Charli_Mills via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo #Brand #AuthorBranding #writing #giveaway

Want to win this giveaway? Simply leave a comment WHY below!

All comments must be left prior to midnight on Monday, May 20th, 2019 in order to be eligible to win. Winners for the week announced on Tuesday, May 21st.

Good luck!

Charli Mills

How To Strategically Build A Brand Experience By Guest @Charli_Mills via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo

Charli Mills, writer and lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch Literary Community, received a BA in creative writing in 1998 and began telling business brand-stories thereafter. By 2010 she earned the Master Cooperative Communicators designation, recognizing career achievements. She won multiple national awards for writing, publishing, and her presentation, “Telling a Compelling Story.” In 2018, she published her literary community’s, “The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol 1,” which earned a 5-star review from Readers ’Favorite. Branding remains a cornerstone of Charli’s career success. She conducts brand audits for authors to build strategic platforms to reach target readers.


For a more detailed plan on developing your book marketing, purchase Rachel’s new book,
The BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge now on Amazon!
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Get On That, Would Ya?


  1. Anne Goodwin on May 17, 2019 at 3:07 am

    Love this essay, Charli and Rachel, and am honoured to have followed your brand development at the Ranch and grateful for how you’ve nudged me towards mine, which is still a work in progress.
    I really like this line from your backstory:
    I didn’t doubt he would protect me from danger below a bridge, but I lost faith that he would not defend me from living under one.
    It takes courage to admit and courage to stick with it.
    Whoever wins the giveaway has the chance to take a huge step forward.

    • Charli Mills on May 17, 2019 at 11:16 am

      Anne, our brands should grow and evolve with us! I’ve watched you focus your branding, which includes a strong credibility element. I can’t wait for when you level up as a published author because I know it’s coming and your brand is ready.

      It took a while for me to articulate what it feels like to both trust and not trust my husband, yet still stand beside him in the aftermath of it all. Thank you for singling out that statement.

  2. D. Avery on May 17, 2019 at 3:24 am

    Well done, Charli Mills. It’s all there. What a comprehensive and cohesive article. (If only I had read it prior to impulsively leaping into this blogging/writing thing.)

    • Charli Mills on May 17, 2019 at 11:19 am

      Even if we compulsively jump into this thing we aren’t quite sure what to make of it, we can still grow and evolve a brand. And that is the purpose of the Author Action Plan as a development tool. You’ll get to use it when you host the Carrot Ranch Writers Refuge in Vermont this July. Thanks, D.!

      • D. Avery on May 17, 2019 at 1:01 pm

        Uh, so why, oh branded one, is your picture here in the reply spots not the same as it’s been? You switching things up? Lassoin’ Librarian?

        Yeah, it must be great to have a valiant protector (your sheepdog) but so poignant and distressing for that dog not to be able to handle safe and stable times for his sheep. Flocking hey, sheep must be scratching her head wondering how to herd this dog.

        Yeah, great post, this.

        • Charli Mills on May 17, 2019 at 1:46 pm

          I wondered that, too! Then realized when I responded to you and Anne I used a personal email instead of Carrot Ranch and it took me in the way back machine to 2010! Now I’m trying to dismantle that old Gravatar. Yes, evolving pains can happen to even old buckaroos.

          • D. Avery on May 18, 2019 at 1:06 pm

            Good luck with the gravatar machine. But this error illuminates just how well you have done with your own branding. You’ve come a long way, Woman. And yet still the best you.

  3. Sara Ohlin on May 17, 2019 at 8:12 am

    Charli,I love this post so much. The brand advice is so easy to understand and helpful. But it’s your story I love even more. My dad was a Vietnam Helicopter pilot and I have written a memoir (and published several of the individual essays) about growing up listening to his war stories and how those stories connected and divided us over the years. I love your phrase, “the war after the war.” Thank you so much for sharing all of this.

    • Charli Mills on May 17, 2019 at 11:25 am

      Oh, yes, Sarah — the stories that connect and divide us in combat veteran families. So much of our experiences are little understood and I’m glad to hear you wrote a memoir. I believe that by sharing these stories we propagate understanding, healing, and dignity. Thank you!

  4. D.B. Moone on May 17, 2019 at 9:49 am


    How did I miss your story when we follow one another on Twitter. Our numbers grow, which is both a pro and a con. The con is we interact less with those we would typically associate more. I feel your story. I’ve lived your story except I was the service member.

    I loved your analogy of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. And yes, the sheepdogs have gone unrecognized. It’s hard as hell to be the caretaker of a veteran. While I am not the caretaker, I recognize this in my life.

    I sacrificed nearly 28 years for my country so that I would be able to one day retire and write, as well as have health coverage for life. What I did not consider is that I would retire to find I was 100% disabled due to service-connected disabilities. However, the worst part of the deal was after two back-to-back deployments; I could not write. I spent the majority of three and a half years in bed. My dreams were gone, or so I thought, and my life became dark.

    The good news is that I am writing again, but I am still pissed that I lost five or six years of writing, but there is one manuscript I cannot go near. Perhaps one day, I will lose the fear that keeps me at a distance from this particular manuscript. And I do use a pen name, but again, out of fear.

    Thank you for sharing all that you did in your guest post.


    • Charli Mills on May 17, 2019 at 11:36 am

      Hi Donna! So good to hear from you and about your story. You are one of the marginalized marginalized (and no, that’s not a typo, you are double-hit). Mary Gauthier also wrote a song about the sisters that serve. If you haven’t yet listened to her album, Rifles and Rosary Beads, I highly recommend you do.

      Combat veterans have altered brains. When you fear something your survival instincts kick in because you are trained to face danger. But when its something back in the civilian world, it’s hard to adjust. So for those who might say, Oh, just get to writing, they don’t understand.

      This is why I teach the 99-word literary art form to veterans. It’s a way to create new brain patterns, and eventually, it can jumpstart longer projects of fictionalize difficult or unprocessed events or thoughts. I hope you would join us over at Carrot Ranch to play with the 99 words. And if you ever want help accessing the difficult manuscript, I would help you strategize a working plan for it.

      I wish I could give you back those five years. But I can help you write through the next five. I got your six on that, okay? Thank you for sacrificing for our country. While others might not get it, you still are. It doesn’t end at retirement.

      Now we’ve met! Thanks for sharing your story!

      • D.B. Moone on May 18, 2019 at 8:40 am


        Thank you for your kind words, as well as your encouragement. We never know the stories behind those we mutually follow on social media. I am grateful to Rachel for including you in this year’s #NaNoProMo campaign and thankful to you for addressing branding and starting your post as you did.


  5. Dana Lemaster on May 17, 2019 at 8:17 pm


    Thank you for sharing your experiences in this thought-provoking article. You’re so right about wives-they often deal with the most difficult issues but receive the least amount of credit. It’s wonderful you’re reaching out to correct that imbalance.

    I read the points about branding with interest. My brand is still very much a work in progress, although It’s taking shape. I’ll certainly refer to your article while finalizing my author website and beginning to promote my upcoming novel.

    Dana Lemaster

    • Charli Mills on May 18, 2019 at 7:37 am

      Good luck with your book launch, Dana! Allow room for your brand to grow and evolve as you do as an author, but always be deliberate with your branding. Cheers!

  6. Robbie Cheadle on May 19, 2019 at 2:13 am

    This is an excellent article about building a personal brand. I learned a lot of new information about Charli Mills here too and my regard for her has increased even more.

    • Charli Mills on May 19, 2019 at 9:09 pm

      Thanks for reading, Robbie!

  7. Gloria on May 19, 2019 at 2:57 am

    I’m working hard on my first novel and I need all the help I can get Charli. I depend on articles like this. I haven’t thought at all about branding. I’m panicking now (again). I haven’t even been blogging lately, and I’ve cut down on social media because I’m putting all my energy into writing the novel. It’s all a learning curve for me.
    Perhaps I should be trying to build up my brand now. Not sure what that is though. Lots to think about. And I would absolutely love to win the prize.

    • Charli Mills on May 19, 2019 at 9:17 pm

      Gloria, it’s an exciting time to be working on that first novel, and I think many writers feel that same sense of panic. It’s an unsettling realization, too that you (not your book or your writing) are the brand. Authors have much in common with entrepreneurs. They have to build business, products, and brands, too. It can all come together. Rachel gives so much support here and her 30-Day Challenge book is great to get before you finish and launch that first book.

      • Gloria on May 20, 2019 at 1:07 pm

        Thank you Charli. I’m up for that. 30-Day Challenge it is.

  8. Linda Moran on May 19, 2019 at 7:34 am

    This is such amazing information. I write fiction and non-fiction – more of the latter these days. I’m trying to brand myself as a Renaissance woman so I’m not locked into one category. I have a LONNNGGGG way to go! Would love a push.

    • Charli Mills on May 19, 2019 at 9:22 pm

      A Renaissance woman — that’s a great brand to embrace for a writer of multiple genres. Think about all those ways you exude that vibe, and invite your readers to experience that brand vision. This writing journey, it’s a marathon or a pilgrimage. I hope it is long! We do evolve and our brands along with us. Just remember to be deliberate, to give it thought.

  9. Raiscara Avalon on May 19, 2019 at 9:50 am

    Another giveaway I can definitely use! I’ve been on both sides of the military/military spouse line. It is an…interesting…dynamic.

    • Charli Mills on May 19, 2019 at 9:27 pm

      Raiscara, I read between your ellipses. It’s a full-on experience and not an easy one. I can only imagine what it must be like to be on both sides of the line. We are so blessed with a Vet Center counselor who is a combat vet herself. Keep writing, and if you get the chance, get other vets to write, too.

  10. Mary Lou Webb on May 19, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing your moving, powerful story. I’ll be taking the lessons I learned here with me as I explore my own brand. You gave me a lot about which to think, and I want to use what I’ve learned to come up with an authentic, credible brand.

    • Charli Mills on May 19, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      Giving thought to your brand and having that willingness to be authentic will get you off to a great start. Thanks, Mary Lou!

  11. Jennifer Gilmour on May 20, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Certainly feel like I have a direction with a brand and just need tow rod on it a little more. Jen

  12. […] Most marketing is done online, as is more networking these days. Frances Caballo shares 4 dirty little secrets about social media marketing for authors, Shaunta Grimes tells us how to use Medium to build a market for your books, Penny Sansevieri has 5 essential strategies for selling romance novels, and Charli Mills discusses why credibility forges a strong brand. […]

  13. Lydia on August 26, 2019 at 3:53 am

    This was such a well thought-out post. Thank you for it.

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