The Corey Vilhauer Brand

“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

This past week, I was given an offer on one of our photos – a picture taken almost as a throwaway, rescued from the pile and produced into one of my favorites. A national publication wants to use it. And they’re willing to pay us. Us. Little amateur Corey and Kerrie, skilled in ways we never realized.

A friend of mine asked how this possibly could have happened. How do you take a photo and, a few weeks later, without any promotion or marketing, get it sold?

And the answer is easy: The Internet. An amazing tool. (As long as you use it correctly.)

Three years ago, my entire creative portfolio consisted of six articles for a local men’s magazine and one blog. Yet, I desperately longed for a career in the creative industry. I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t know how to position myself.

So it was complete blind luck that I began to realize my name was starting to gain a little equity, thanks to both a published column and, even more surprisingly, this little blog. I associated my name with Black Marks on Wood Pulp, one of the few consistent South Dakota blogs at the time. I made friends with other bloggers – primarily the political ones – left comments and became sort of well known in the S.D. blogging community.

The person I interviewed with for my first ever writing job was familiar with my blog. She enjoyed it. She hired me.

From here, I realized I had something. I submitted Black Marks on Wood Pulp to 9rules, gaining a larger audience and more connections. These – and most of the local marketing or web design personalities – turned out to be the first twitterers I ever followed – and, in return, my first follwers. I took up flickr to post our photos and, through a mixture of the three, my name was suddenly known for writing, photography and basic WordPress blog design.

There are a lot of people out there who are much more talented than I am. So it has a lot to do with luck as well. But I’ve managed to make give my name value – both through recognition and results – in a way that I never could have without the ‘net.

And in giving my name that value, I turn up on more people’s searches. Because I have a background already, my creative endeavors are automatically given more credence. All things being equal, you choose the more well known person over the unproven kid, simply because you know what you’ll get.

To answer the question my friend asked, I simply put my stuff out for all to see. I unabashedly brace for failure, discover a lack of it, and forge ahead. I embrace feedback, write and contribute to the teeming humanity located within, and come out with something I can be proud of.

This networking, though for the most part passive, has given me – and countless others – a feeling of success. The type of success that drives us to continue creating, even if only to a small audience.

Because we know that, for every person who leaves a comment, there are hundreds who stop by and silently admire. For every person who complains or writes off, there are just as many who are coming across your work for the first time.

Because it’s always out there, my name continues to gain value. And with it, my creative endeavors gain traction faster than they did when I was starting up.

It takes a long time to build brand equity into a name. But given enough time, and the willpower to continue linking back to your identity, someone will take notice.

And when they do, you can finally begin to reap the rewards.

This was lovingly handwritten on November 19th, 2008