September 18, 2015

Building a Brand with Life Experiences

By Kay Bratt

When I spent almost five years living overseas in China, I never dreamed my experiences there would be the platform that would one day launch a successful writing career. It all started with a journal I kept about moving out of my comfort zone, battling culture shock, and witnessing human tragedy on a daily basis. When I began sharing excerpts of the journal online, it became a way for me to deal with the mountain of contradictory feelings that came from living in a foreign country. 

Following the advice of others, when I returned to the states I published that journal into a memoir. No one was more stunned than I when it caught the eye of Amazon Publishing, an emerging force in the publishing arena, and was re-launched under their brand new imprint, AmazonEncore. The print rights were eventually secured by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Surprisingly, that book would snag several number one spots in various categories and its success would encourage me to keep writing.

That was seven years ago. Fast forward to today and I’ve expanded my readership by publishing a total of twelve titles, all China-related and within what some consider an impossible-to-flourish narrow niche. It’s been said that to be really successful, you should write within a popular genre like romance or horror. While that advice may be a quicker path to success, I’d encourage new writers there is another way—and that is to use your experiences and passions to build your readership.

You’ve all heard the old adage, write what you love to read, and based on my results I’d have to agree. Keep in mind that it’s also easier to make ripples in a small pond, rather than trying to keep treading water in the big oceans of the more saturated genres. Remarkably, my narrow-niche subject has now landed well over two hundred thousand books into the hands of eager readers.

Those same readers frequently ask how I get ideas for my stories. Besides using the real life memories I made during my time in China, I also find inspiration in online articles and news reports. I weave those I am most passionate about into ideas for novels. A few years back, I came across an article about a scavenger who spent decades picking up abandoned children, then raising them as his own. Sprouting from that one idea a 4-book series, The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, emerged and was published by Lake Union, and has led the charts competitively at one time or another, even a few times reaching the number #2 slot in all of Amazon’s Kindle titles. Each of those books contains emotionally impactful story lines inspired by real events I’ve read about or personally witnessed during my time in China. Life experiences—yours and those belonging to others that you are lucky enough to share in—are a sure fire way to build your brand and reach your intended audience.

My latest book, The Palest Ink, is a prequel to the Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters series is now available.
Kay Bratt is a child advocate and author of the series, Tales of the Scavenger's Daughters, and the acclaimed memoir of the years she spent working in Chinese orphanages, Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. She has actively volunteered for several nonprofit organizations, including An Orphan’s Wish (AOW) and the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for abused and neglected children. In China, she was honored with the Pride of the City award for humanitarian work. After living in China for several years, Bratt now resides in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina, with her husband, daughter, dog, and cat. Website: Twitter: and Facebook:

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