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Posts Tagged ‘readers’

Readers — a decade later. This is why we write

In art, blogging, books, culture, journalism, life, Money, work on March 8, 2014 at 12:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

A check arrived this week that left me so excited I burst into tears.

It wasn’t the amount on the check — $491.00 Canadian — but its source, a Canadian gift to authors called the Public Lending Right Program. If your books qualify, (only those published within the last 20 years), you can register your work and receive, in effect, a royalty paid out once a year for the public’s use of your books through Canadian libraries.

malled cover HIGH

The enrolment period is open now, until May 1. Maybe your works qualify!

I was also thrilled to receive a payment that didn’t feel covered with blood and sweat, the way so much of my work now does.

The publishing/journalism business today too often feels less like a creative endeavor than a protracted and wearying battle — rates remain low, publishers pay late and editors refuse to negotiate contracts that claw back 3/4 of your fee if  they decide they just don’t like your final product, even after multiple revisions.

One Canadian friend, with four books in the system, says she used to make a pretty penny from the sale of her intellectual property. A book’s advance, ideally, is only the first of an ongoing revenue stream from your work; with Malled, I also earned income from a CBS television option and multiple, well-paid speaking engagements.

Like most mid-list authors, I’ll never “earn out”, repaying my advance and earning royalties, so every bit of ancillary revenue from each book is very welcome.

Twenty-eight countries have a similar program to Canada’s, with Denmark leading the way in 1941.

Not, sorry to say, the United States.

It’s a sad fact that writers here are not considered successful unless they sell tens of thousands of copies of their books, a bar that very, very few of us will ever be able to clear. Not because our books are boring or poorly-written or sloppy. They’re too niche. They’re too controversial. They’re too challenging.

Or, more and more these days, with the closing of so many bookstores and newspaper book review sections, readers simply never discovered they even exist, which makes endless self-promotion even more necessary than ever.

Here’s a new website to help readers discover year-old books  — called backlist books, in the industry — they might have missed.

And another, focused on business books.

There’s a fascinating resource called WorldCat.org — do you know it? If you’re an author, you can search it to see where your books have ended up; mine are in libraries as far away as New Zealand and Hong Kong.  A friend once sent me a photo of three copies of my first book, Blown Away, on the shelf in a Las Vegas library. I felt like waving.

Measuring your worth and success as a writer solely by your financial income is unwise. But if you measure your books’ value by the number of readers reaching for them, even a decade after publication — as people clearly did with this statement, for my first book, Blown Away: American Women and Guns — you can enjoy a different sort of satisfaction.

That first book came out in April 2004, still finding readers. Certainly, gun use and violence in the United States is an ongoing issue  — I knew that when I chose my subject.

My second book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail came out April 2011 and in China last July. According to this PLR statement, it, too, is still being read; in this rough economy, many people have tumbled from well-paid jobs into low-wage, hourly labor.

Our books feel like dandelion seeds, something light and ethereal blown hopefully into the wind. Will they take root and bloom and spread, our ideas heard and discussed and maybe even remembered?

Beyond our sales figures, authors never really know who’s reading us.

Having proof of ongoing readership and influence?

Priceless.

Two great books I just finished reading — and you?

In books, culture, entertainment, life on February 7, 2014 at 1:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I very rarely read fiction, so it was a bit of luck that I recently found — in, of all places, on the book/magazine recycling shelf near our apartment building’s laundry room — two terrific novels.

books

“Cutting For Stone” is by physician Abraham Verghese, and I’d read the rapturous reviews and thought, not for me. It’s a long, winding tale of twin brothers born in Ethiopia and their lives. Both become doctors. I might never have bought this book, his first novel, or borrowed it from the library, but there it was — free for the taking.

I found many elements of the book compelling. He really knows, (and researched, as he included voluminous notes at the back), Ethiopia and its history and geography, so I felt literally transported. I’ve never been there and might never get there, so I enjoyed that.

His characters were clear, strong, sympathetic. He describes many medical situations in a way no one but a doctor could write so persuasively; I loved his insider story of his character’s training in a poor Bronx hospital, especially.

And I loved the cover image: mysterious, enticing, colorful.

The other book was “Tell the Wolves I’m Home”, by Carol Rifka Brunt.

RifkaBrunt_Tell-the-Wolves

I also loved its cover — that exotic teapot is important to the plot.

This one resonated for me on so many levels!

It’s told through the eyes of a 13 year-old girl and unravels a mystery about her beloved uncle who has recently died. I won’t give it away, but it’s a terrific read. She, like me, lives in a town in Westchester County, just north of New York City, so all the references registered for me as deeply familiar.

I also covered the AIDS crisis, as a newspaper reporter, as it unfolded in the mid 1980s in North America — the book is set in that time period and addresses that issue, and powerfully brings back what it felt like, then, to know people dying of it and how the world was reacting to them then.

The first book is about two brothers, once close, who become estranged for years; the second book is about two estranged sisters who move from hostility back to closeness.

(I was raised an only child so have no daily notion of what it’s like to live with siblings. One of books’ many gifts is bringing us into worlds we will never experience ourselves.)

I highly recommend both.

(Whoever is leaving those books downstairs absolutely shares my taste — I’ve also found and read The Dive From Clausen’s Pier and One Day, both of which I also really enjoyed. It feels like Christmas on that shelf!)

This New York Times review of the TDFCP praises what I also found extremely well-drawn — what it feels like to arrive in New York City knowing not a soul and re-inventing yourself.

I don’t read science fiction, romance, chick lit, horror or YA, but…

What have you read recently I should reach for next?

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Who are y’all anyway? Introductions, please!

In behavior, blogging, life on January 18, 2014 at 1:57 am

By Caitlin KellyFINGERS ON KEYBOARD

Occasionally — every few months — I like to get a better sense who’s chosen to follow Broadside because this blog grows daily, now just over 9,000 worldwide, from Toronto to New Zealand to India. That’s 1,000 new readers since Nov. 7.

I’m glad you’re here, but I’m happiest when you comment. If you haven’t, please do!

Regular commenters include Rami, a college student in Ohio, Kathleen, a teacher in Germany, Dara a new father in Australia — his blog is terrific.  3Bones has written about the battle with cancer his wife faces in British Columbia. Ginny is a professional musician, Grace a college student, Ines a recent immigrant to my native Canada and Beth writes, beautifully, about life teaching kindergarten in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Julia is an old friend from summer camp and Cadence, who writes Small Dog Syndrome, has become both friend and paid assistant — even though we have yet to meet!

You’re a wildly diverse group in age, gender, sexual preference, race and religion. Which, from this side of the keyboard, is both exciting and daunting. Little unites us all but a pulse and a sense of curiosity.

A recent comment chastised me for being repetitive, writing too much about my own life as an author and journalist.

So, just to be clear, here’s my reasoning:

– I read every gravatar of people who sign up to follow my blog. While the vast majority never comment, many of you say you are writers, or journalists, or hope to become one, like R. Hans Miller, a frequent commenter here.  So, it seems fairly obvious to me this would be a source of interesting material to them. This may bore the rest of you. Sorry!

– I’ve been writing for a living since I was 19, a college undergraduate. I’ve saved a six-figure retirement sum from my labor, and new(er) or younger writers need to know that making a living (and a life worth having) from non-fiction or journalism writing, while tough as hell, is possible. Our industry is going through violent, daily disruption and many would-be writers think they have to work unpaid or will never find paid work in our field. Not true! Writing about our business, I hope, will both encourage them and offer real-time, everyday insights into how.

– It’s my blog and it reflects my life. After a few decades of adventures and experiences — from sea kayaking off of Ko Phi Phi to flying through the center of an Arctic iceberg — I’ve got plenty to share with you. Read it, or not. But if I’ve got nothing to add personally, I’m not going to wade into some topic or issue just to throw up some links. I have severely limited time available for unpaid labor, so I write here as I wish to.

— If you can find time, there’s lots of good stuff in the archives, about travel, writing, relationships, cross-cultural issues. There are 1,544 posts here. Some of my favorites? This one, from 2009, on why you should read the obituaries, especially of non-famous people. This one, also from 2009, on why being a news journalist means joining a tribe, in a good way. Or try this Canadian pop culture quiz I wrote in 2010.

If you’re new-ish here, and/or haven’t introduced yourself in the past, or have yet to comment, please step up:

Where do you live?

What sort of work do you do?

What are you studying or teaching?

If you could meet one famous person, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Have you lived in a variety of places? Why? Which did you enjoy most?

When you listen to music, whose do you choose?

If you play music or an instrument, which one(s)?

What drew you here, or keeps you coming back?

Thanks for coming to Broadside — and adding your ideas and insights to this community!

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Tell me a little about yourself?

In behavior, blogging, life on August 13, 2013 at 1:09 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Now that Broadside is past 6,500 (!) followers worldwide, it’s time for some more introductions.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of you off-line — Lorna, Michelle, Danielle, Anne, Niva, Elizabeth, Cadence, Charlene, Jael — but am curious to know a little more about y’all.

Lurkers, yes, you!

I’ve enjoyed comments from new followers like Georgia and Darlin’ in Austin — whose blog Key + Arrow I’m loving, and Kathleen R., who teaches in Germany and Grace, a college student who writes Cultural Life.

I know, from checking the gravatars and profiles and blogs of every new follower, that many men also visit Broadside and some consistently comment, like New Zealand author Matthew Wright, DadofFiveboys, Rami the student/writer, Nigel, an Australian writer,  and Kentucky schoolteacher Paul Barnwell.

But there are legions of you who still — silently, comment-less — remain ghostly presences…

Who are you people?!

With a hat-tip to Lisa Kramer, of Lisa Wields Words, for the idea, please tell me/us a bit about you!

— Where do you live?

— If you’re in college or university, what are you studying? Are you enjoying it? If you’re a teacher/professor, what do you teach?

— Who are your three of your favorite bands/musicians/composers?

— Do you have a pet? Type? Name?

— What’s the view from your front window?

— Your favorite food?

— Dream job?

— Favorite author(s) or books?

— What’s a perfect Sunday morning?

I’ll go first…

— Tarrytown, New York, a village of 11,000 people 25 miles north of New York City, right on the Hudson River. It was named one of the nation’s 10 Prettiest Towns by Forbes magazine.

— I attended Victoria College at the University of Toronto, studying English, French and Spanish (English major), with a goal of becoming a foreign correspondent. I loved the intelligence of my peers and the high standards of my professors. The school is huge, with 53,000 students, which felt impersonal.  I worked as a reporter for the campus newspaper, which jump-started my journalism career.

— Tough one! Joni Mitchell, Bach and Aaron Copland. (Also, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, Keb Mo, et al.)

— Just my husband!

— The Hudson River, the west bank of the river and the towns along the water’s edge. We also see the Tappan Zee Bridge, now under re-construction, with the noisy hammering sounds as they dredge the river bottom.

photo(16)

— Maple syrup, closely followed by very good, creamy Greek yogurt. Great combo!

photo(18)

— Running my own magazine with unlimited funds and a super-talented staff.

— Alexandra Fuller, Jan Morris, Edward Abbey (non-fiction); Tom Rachmann, Richard Ford, Balzac (fiction.)

— Waking up healthy beside my husband…cranking up some blues or rock and roll…blueberry pancakes and bacon…the usual three newspapers, in paper: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

Let the introductions begin!

Are they reading your blog?

In behavior, blogging on June 19, 2013 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The first time I posted here — July 1, 2009 — I was shaking.

Seriously.

I’ve been writing for a living since university, and had grown very accustomed to attention and feedback for my ideas, photos and writing. Unlike many bloggers, this wasn’t my first attempt to gain eyeballs, just the latest iteration.

Would anyone ever show up?

Today, this blog has more than 5,400 readers worldwide, in Ghana, Malaysia, Lebanon, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the Middle East, India. Crazy, but gratifying.

I’ve also been fortunate to have had my posts chosen six times for Freshly Pressed, which showcases a selection of WordPress bloggers every day. If you haven’t ever made time to read any of them, I urge you to. I always find something lovely or thought-provoking.

Every day, five to 15 new people find Broadside and decide to follow.

I’m honored, and really enjoy the diversity of readers, and comments.

For those of you hoping to grow your audience, some things to think about:

What’s your goal?

If all you want is to create an on-line record of your thoughts and work, I’m not persuaded that’s a blog that will ever gain much traction or many readers, while LinkedIn is professionally useful for this purpose.

Some people say they want their blog to be a place to process their feelings. Which is fine — it’s your blog. But if your real desire is to attract lots and lots of eyeballs, you’ve got to be a little more focused. No one, I assure you, has time or energy to read rambling navel-gazing better suited to a long private conversation with a friend, or a journal entry.

Every time you post, consider the question — what’s in it of potential value to your readers?

How often are you posting?

The metric I’ve read is to post three times a week, which I’ve consistently maintained. Some people post every day, which is too much for me to absorb as a reader and too much to produce as someone — like you! — with a busy life and many other interests and commitments.

If you’re pooped trying to make it all up without help — use links and timely, much-discussed news stories as inspiration.

Two women knitters with blogs, holding up thei...

Two women knitters with blogs, holding up their knitting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you showing other bloggers a little love?

I don’t follow a ton of blogs, but I look at the site of every single person who signs up to follow Broadside. I make it a point to visit the sites of people who “like” a post so I can “like” or comment on theirs.

Are you making your blog visually inviting?

I’m dismayed by how few bloggers seem to understand a basic principle — we’re visual creatures! We want something pretty or interesting or memorable to look at and think about, not just a big fat pile ‘o words. Zzzzzzzz!

Include photos, drawings, sketches, video to illustrate your posts. Since few bloggers bother to do this, yours will immediately stand out from the crowd.

How’s your punctuation, design sense, theme choice and layout?

I won’t read any blogger who simply throws down a huge chunk of copy, (especially white on black), without one single paragraph to break it up visually and intellectually.

It’s like yammering on without taking a breath. NO one anywhere in the real world gets away with that shit.

English: A Saturday afternoon barbeque for the...

English: A Saturday afternoon barbeque for the Progressive Bloggers on Parliament Hill, East Block, Ottawa, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you living an interesting life?

If your life is pretty quiet and routine, are you still offering readers some fun, quirky or moving insights into it? What value are you adding to my day in return for my attention?

Elizabeth Harper, an ex-pat American from Georgia now living in Cornwall, posts some of the most beautiful photos I’ve seen on the web. I keep her posts in my email forever just to go back and look at them. They’re like 17th century paintings.

Do you reply, quickly and authentically, to comments?

I try to reply to every single comment. If someone has made time to read long enough to care, to care enough to comment, that’s a hell of a compliment. Replying is polite.

Are you funny?

We all could use a good laugh — and I don’t mean simply plugging in a pile of gif’s. I mean seeing your world, and sharing it, in a way that makes us laugh along with you.

Are you too angry?

I get it.

Believe me, there are many, many things to rant about. But it’s got to be balanced out by something lighter. If all your blog is about is yelling and screaming and bitching and moaning — even if your target(s) are 100% deserving, you’re not likely to grow your readership into the thousands, even hundreds. It’s just too tedious after a while.

Tone matters

Your blog can be whatever you choose, of course. But which voice? Meditative, poetic, sassy, smart-ass, challenging, wise?

One blog with a very consistent tone, is Truth and Cake, written by Rian, a 30-something American woman who married a Canadian man and moved to Vancouver. She’s wise but not dull, encouraging but not sappy, firm but not bossy. I love her choice of header photo — snappy pink heels and all.

Another is Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot, by Australian writer Nigel Featherstone. I enjoy his meditative voice and gentle questioning of almost everything. Every time I read one of his posts, my blood pressure drops.

Are you obsessed with being Freshly Pressed?

Easy for me to say, right?

Yes, being FPed will boost your visibility, big-time, probably adding hundreds of new followers within hours. But it’s not the only measure of your blog’s value. If your readers are reading, commenting, talking to you and to one another, it’s working.

Some blogs are just never going to make the FP cut: they’re too specific, too sexy, too curse-laden, too shout-y. Be yourself, but be realistic about the mass appeal of what is more likely to get picked by the WP editors.

Aim for the intersection of personal and universal

This isn’t easy, but it’s what works best.

I’m not a widow, but I’m eager to read what Niva, a TV writer in Los Angeles, is writing at Riding Bitch; her header photo speaks volumes about her spirit.

I’m not an educator, but I enjoy reading Mindful Stew, written by Paul Barnwell, a thoughtful high school teacher in Kentucky. Terrific bloggers manage to find a way to make their concerns matter to the rest of us, even if we don’t share, and never will, their specific experiences.

Are you passionate about your posts?

One of the worst habits I see in many other blogs is the written shrug. If you’re really that bored, tired or distracted, why inflict it on your readers? Bloggers like this annoy me. They want attention, but haven’t done anything special to warrant it, sort of like the five-year-old at the playground yelling “Mommy, watch me! Watch me! Watch me!”

OK. I’m watching, already. Whatcha got for me?

Are you open to differing points of view?

I’m happy that we’ve had some pretty heated (civil) discussions here. A perky, chirpy echo chamber is boring.

How much are you willing to reveal about yourself and your thoughts?

Possibly the most essential element, and one that’s damn hard to do well! Too much emotion and it becomes grossly confessional. Too little, and we never really get to know who you are, just some coy cipher. Yes, discretion is important, certainly for professional reasons. But a tidy/polite/buttoned-up blog becomes a big snooze.

Have you given your posts time to cool down?

It’s rare I write a post and hit publish. Many are refined for days, sometimes weeks.

I’d skip sex, religion and politics. But that’s just me

I rarely post on religion or politics, and almost never about sex, (sexual politics, yes.) Most of the time, it’s not worth it to invite/wrangle trolls and craziness.

What do you think?

What’s working for you?

What do you enjoy here at Broadside?

Here’s my last post about how to blog better, with tips…it got 96 likes, so it might be worth a look if you’re new here.

The rules of engagement

In behavior, blogging on May 4, 2013 at 3:26 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve been spoiled here at Broadside by readers who are — thank you! — a lively, funny, smart group, from Danielle and Matthew and Cecile in New Zealand to Leah in Iowa to Rami in Ohio to Maddy in Lusaka to David and Elizabeth in England.

I’d name more, but there are (!) so many of you, which is unlikely but also lovely.

I want to pause our regularly scheduled programming to go a little meta for a moment.

The whole point of blogging, which I do in addition to writing for a living full-time, is to create a community where we can talk to one another frankly about the stuff that matters to us: work, love, the challenge of making a decent living while living our values, friends, family, heath, feminism, public policy, art, creativity, beauty, travel, home, design, ethics, writing, journalism  — frankly, whatever seems interesting.

If it’s not fun, why bother?

Every day, five to 10 new people sign up to follow Broadside, which is crazy but flattering; we’re now at 4,600+ readers worldwide, of all ages and nationalities, from Haiti to Ghana to Malaysia to India to rural Australia.

An example of travelling the world using a RTW...

An example of travelling the world using a RTW ticket. Start in London, travel eastwards through India, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Ghana back to home, all using the same ticket with the same airline alliance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I was a little shaken recently to get a comment, which I trashed, (which I’ve done maybe twice in almost four years of blogging three times a week.)

I debated whether or not to trash it, or reply publicly or reply to them privately.

But I did trash it. Life is too short to argue with or absorb toxicity from people I don’t know, and for whom I work without a paycheck.

The commenter called me “weak” and a “fucking hypocrite.”

Everyone is entitled an opinion and I want to hear yours.

I’ve been called on the carpet a few times here by readers, for my short-sighted or stupid or unkind thinking. It’s useful and interesting, as long as everyone remains civil and respectful, even in the middle of a hotly contested argument.

But no one is entitled to ad hominem attacks here, on me or on anyone else who makes the time to come here, read and comment.

So I welcome your ideas and insights, your advice and stories. I am very eager to hear comments, especially from more of you.

But nasty behavior not only scares and annoys me, it creates a tone I don’t want here and inhibits others from speaking out.

This whole talking-to-total-strangers thing requires a level of trust and candor that is highly counter-intuitive, to me anyway.

When I write journalism, the comments flooding in to The New York Times in reply to my stories there, (258 came in worldwide on one recent story about workers over 50), are very rarely directed at me personally. I’m shielded both by the nature of those stories — far less personal than these posts — and by the institution that chooses to publish my work. Nor am I required, (as a freelancer), to reply to anyone.

I did read every single of those 258 NYT comments, in full. But the rules of engagement here are very different. I do answer almost every comment here.

So let’s stay cool, OK?

Thanks for listening.

Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for being here.

Life after being Freshly Pressed: tips, advice — and welcome!

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, journalism, Media on December 12, 2012 at 2:01 pm
English: Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité

English: Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whew.

More than 5,000 views (in three days) later, and 532 likes, life here at Broadside is back to normal. It’s fun to be featured, but the Niagara of comments is overwhelming if — which I do — you try to reply to each comment and visit everyone’s site who “likes” a post and/or who signs up to follow this blog.

For those new to Broadside, welcome! It’s a bit like throwing a party, happy to see old friends, and finding 300 people you’ve never met in your living room.

I blog every other day, sometimes a bit more often, on a variety of topics, often on writing. I am happy to hear dissenting views, but won’t tolerate rudeness, to me or others here.

If you want to argue a point, cool! But please do it with wit, facts and intelligence.

Insults are a direct route to the trash bin.

For those of you new here, I hope you’ll visit the blogs of some of the regular commenters here, like Nigel Featherstone, a writer in Australia; MrsFringe, a snappy mom in Manhattan, Michelle, a feisty, fun mom in Minneapolis; Rian, an expat American in Vancouver; the witty C, who I hope to meet for tea in London, Elizabeth, who traded Atlanta for Cornwall mid-life and the loquacious Rami, a student in Ohio.

A few thoughts on being FPed and how to get there, which Rami asked me about. I’ve been FPed six times, which is crazy, but flattering. The posts were about everything from why we need to thank one another, the lost art of conversation, how to write better to this most recent, about women’s obsession with their bodies.

I’m Caitlin Kelly, a Tarrytown, NY-based career journalist who writes for a living, and have been doing so since 1978, so blogging comes easily to me. I write frequently for The New York Times and have written two well-reviewed books. I hope you’ll buy them, and spread the word if you like them!

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” has sold well; it’s the story of my 27 months’ working in an upscale mall, and includes interviews with dozens of others nationwide, from the CFO of Costco to a woman who’s 51 making $7.25/hr — with a master’s degree and $60,000 worth of student debt.

Retail is the largest source of new jobs in this economy. Terrible jobs!

Here’s a link to both…

I’ve also sold personal essays to places like The New York Times and Marie Claire, so I have some experience writing for an audience about things personal. My second book, a memoir of working retail, is also filled with personal detail, interwoven with dozens of interviews.

So…how to get Freshly Pressed?

Be consistent

Blog on a regular schedule. People who start to enjoy your work want more! It’s frustrating to find a terrific blogger but never hear from them. People have short attention spans. Don’t let ‘em wander off.

Choose your tone

I think this is key. The blogs I linked to above each have a clear and consistent voice, some calm and meditative (Nigel and Elizabeth), some encouraging and upbeat (Rian), some funny and smart (C.) When FPs editors go looking for people to feature, they, too, need a good mix of voices. If yours isn’t clear and strong, your chances of being featured likely diminish.

Tags and categories!

Be sure you are adding these to every post.

Mix the personal with the universal

This is the toughest balance of all. Too personal is confessional and tedious. Too universal is too vague and no one can relate to it.

How about a call to action?

Several of my posts that have been FPed make clear I want readers to do something — Say thank-you! Start a conversation! Write better! They might not do any of them, but it’s clear what I want them to think about doing, at least.

What are people talking about?

Not the bloody Kardashians! But in a more general way, in the culture. It might be the U.S. Presidential election or Hurricane Sandy or unemployment or Christmas or Eid. People want to read something that’s current and meaningful to them.

Great headlines matter

Hard as hell to do well. Really hard. But the best posts draw in many readers with a funny, moving or quirky headline that make you want to read more.

Get angry!

One of the major changes I’ve seen recently in what’s featured on Freshly Pressed, (which I read every day), is their choice of material that’s more challenging and provocative, whether grief, divorce, politics. Women bloggers, especially, tend to be too polite. Say it loud and say it proud! What’s the point of blogging if you keep pulling your punches?

Read your competitors

This is pretty basic. If you really want your blog featured on FPed, you have to read at least some of what is chosen there to analyze what they’ve done so well. As a journalist and author, I read a tremendous amount, often envious of others’ clarity or turn of phrase. The only way to get better is to read the best.

Those of you who’ve been FPed — Rian, Michelle, others — what advice would you offer?

The bitterly disappointed reader — who’s to blame?

In books, business, culture, women, work on February 28, 2012 at 12:33 am
Popeye

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the problem:

You, the reader, want someone to write a book that resonates with you. It’s all about you!

Except, sadly, it’s not. It never will be.

Writers, certainly of non-fiction, write what they know, how they think, what they’ve studied or taught, how they were raised.

Every single one of us writes through multiple filters: race, age, gender, nationality, religion, political beliefs, income level, ethnicity.

Then we have to pass the gatekeepers of agents, editors, publishers and their sales and marketing staff. And, oh yeah, the retailers who only order our books on commission, shipping them right back within six weeks unless the merch is moving.

So when readers expect writers to write in a way they find cosy and comforting, a peculiar and somewhat infantile rage often emerges when some of them, inevitably, find our work disappointing.

“It’s not what I expected!” they wail.

Well, what did you expect?

Some readers who feel a writer has failed them not only dislike our books — they dislike us personally.

Which, while I love the passionate involvement readers can have with our books, is also a little weird — I don’t loathe Alexander Payne as a human being if I hated (which I didn’t) — his new film, “The Descendants” or his hit “Sideways.”

Separating the creative product from its producer seems a challenge these days.

I’ve seen this in four instances and I think it really bears discussion and reflection.

The first, of course, is the huge best-seller “Eat, Pray, Love” written by a childless, educated white woman who left her suburban marriage to travel the world in search of herself.

The very idea! Jowls shook worldwide in horrified indignation. How dare she…pursue…pleasure?!

If I pick up Dickens or Balzac or John Grisham or David Sedaris, I know what I’m getting into. I’m an adult making an informed choice. If I loathe the book — its tone, content, voice, pacing, dialogue, plot (or absence of same), well, tant pis! It’s the price of admission, kids. Just because it’s for sale doesn’t guarantee it’s great or that it will make me happy.

So when this blogger was chosen for Freshly Pressed, I took immediate exception to her decision to tear up the book she was reading because she disliked the author’s point of view.

Part of her objection was the privileged background of its author, Gretchen Rubin, whose father-in-law is the former secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin. Her book, “The Happiness Project,” has been a huge best-seller.

She is who she is.

I chose the cartoon of Popeye because I live and write by his motto: “I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam.”

Expecting any writer to write as if s/he were someone else you might have a beer with instead burdens even the smartest authors with an added hurdle to clear when trying to find and grow an audience.

Same criticism has followed Laura Vanderkam, a young Princeton grad whose third child’s arrival just preceded that of her third book. For a woman in her early 30s, that’s a whole pile ‘o achievement.

I know Laura personally. She’s privileged, well-educated, a driven, goal-oriented woman.

She is who she is, and whether you agree with her gogogogogogogogo mindset, her worldview inevitably colors how she thinks, the subjects that engage her and how she approaches them.

If you don’t share her worldview, you probably won’t enjoy her books either.

My memoir of working retail, “Malled”, has drawn some of the most vicious comments I have ever heard anywhere, including three years of relentless high school bullying.

“I actually started to hate her”, wrote one woman.

“Bitter, pretentious and lazy, lazy, lazy,” wrote another.

These are not book reviews, dear readers.

These are character assassinations, written under the soothing cloak of anonymity, and posted forevermore on Amazon.com — the place where would-be buyers, you know, make decisions about our work.

I can assure you, if someone stood outside my store or my home, shouting how nasty my food or products or service were, I’d take direct action.

But in this virtual world, where total strangers make snap decisions about who we are (based on — hello! — a deliberately chosen and heavily edited narrative voice), the real person behind the words on the page becomes some weird, annoying ghostly abstraction.

The writer you meet, certainly in non-fiction or memoir, is but one facet of that person. Judging and dismissing them with a sneer only reflects a sad lack of sophistication about what book-writing is.

My readers no more “know me” than someone who sits beside me on the subway for 30 minutes.

The next time you loathe a book — or love it — try to remember that a real person wrote it.

With their best intentions.

There Are 500 Of You! Thanks!

In behavior, blogging, life, women on October 11, 2011 at 12:24 am
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Woo-hoo! Time for some celebratory fireworks! Image by 雙魚寶寶攝影小天地 via Flickr

It’s taken what feels like forever — and this little blog thang pales in comparison to those with a kajillion readers and ads and sponsors — but we hit 500 subscribers this weekend, after slightly more than a year blogging at WordPress.

(I blogged for a year, paid [sweet!] at True/Slant before that, so have 1,155 posts, the archives of which typically draw in about 20 percent of my daily visitors.)

I’ve been Freshly Pressed three times, which is very cool.

You, my lovelies, are everywhere! I did a rough headcount and found readers in:

Bhutan (hi, Aby! A former True/Slant pal, and fellow newlywed)

London (from which, Ruth, a lovely South African, blogs here)

Belgium

Australia (g’day Charlene and Nigel!)

Amsterdam

Edinburgh (and even met Lorna and Sarge when they came to New York; Lorna blogs here)

Cairo

Spain

Sri Lanka

Canada (my home and native land)

Korea

Ireland

India

Egypt

France

and, where I live, the United States.

I’m awed by what fun, cool, creative and interesting people have stopped by, and continue to do so. Many of you, like me, are world travelers or ex-patriates like Ruth and Lorna. Many are professors and work in the arts, like Lunar Euphoria, who teaches theatre to kids or The Observationalist, who has a thriving career as a theatrical costume designer in New York City, no small accomplishment for a man in his early 30s.

My only wish? That more of you would comment and join in the conversation.

But thank you for making the time to sign up, to read, to converse, to share your thoughts and insights.

A friend recently asked me what I’ve been doing for fun. I didn’t hesitate in my answer:

Blogging!

Why Books Resemble Dandelion Seeds

In behavior, books, business, culture, education, journalism, Media, women, work on May 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm
Satellite image showing Christchurch and surro...

Christchurch, NZ. My book is down there somewhere! Image via Wikipedia

Tiny, white fragile — they float on the breeze, landing and sprouting in the least likely of places.

The great joy of writing and publishing a book, for me, is watching in wonder as it settles down worldwide — libraries have so far bought Malled in Kamloops, (a medium sized city in the interior of British Columbia, where my college best friend lives) to Christchurch, New Zealand to Denton, Texas, where it’s filed under “vocational guidance.”

A young friend, a fellow journalist, shot me a message on Facebook — “I overheard buzz about your book!” She lives in Hong Kong. Cool!

Like seeds, thoughtful books carry with them the germ of new growth — the spread of ideas, sometimes raising questions, even occasionally changing readers’ minds about an issue they once felt sure about, or maybe never even considered.

I’ve been honored to hear readers tell me “your book bolstered me at work” (from a retail associate in Phoenix) to “I’ll never shop the same way again” (readers in California and Toronto.)

I’m thrilled knowing my babies are finding readers all over the world. A friend then living in Las Vegas once sent me a cellphone photo of my first book, of two copies on his local library shelf.

I was so excited I wanted to wave.

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