Blogs, Author Platforms, and Connecting (pt 7)

Blogs, Author Platforms, and Connecting (pt 7)

By CorporateM (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Last week I wound up wandering off into Twitter scheduling.  This week, I’ll probably wind up wandering a little, but I plan on trying to cover Facebook.  I’m having to make a nod to Tumblr because it is somewhere in between Facebook and Twitter for activity, I just haven’t had a chance to figure out how to play nice with that platform yet.  Same goes for Google +, so if anyone has suggestions, I’m all ears.

Facebook is actually two platforms in one.  There is the profile, which everyone is familiar with.  You get that when you sign up.  And, there is the Author/fan/business page (page for short), which is a connected, yet separate entity.

What I mentioned all the way back in posts One and Two of the platforming series is doubly important for Facebook.  If you don’t remember, please go back and refresh.

Blogs may not be discovered for a long, long time.  But posts on Facebook can, and often do, get shared quickly and it seems the worse they are, the faster they get shared, liked, or commented upon.  Which means any rants, negative or disparaging remarks, or backhanded complements you put out there will find the person they are meant for quickly.  Not only that, but the posts, once liked or shared, cannot be rescinded.  At least with the blog posts, if you delete the post, it creates a dead link.  But, from my experience, on Facebook, even if the post is deleted, some of it remains in the link created when it is shared.

Before you start touting how hard it is to keep things clean and polite, please be aware I DO feel your pain.  I just had to clean up a small mess before it became a disaster because I made a mistake.  I had a case of a panic-induced rant that the person it was about could have identified themselves in.  It wasn’t shared, thank heavens, but it was liked.  And, to make matters worse, it was on my profile, not the author page.  It was not about anything in my author life, which is why it wound up on the more publicly accessible feed.  I’m human too, this proved it, and I hope I managed to get it wiped clean enough not to come back and bite me later.

That is one of the things to be aware of – your profile feed will be seen by anyone who follows or friends you.  Your page has a much more limited visibility.  And so what you post to your profile is out in public where everyone can potentially see it tonight.  What you post to your page might take a day or two longer if you have a large following that is very active.

Let’s break this down into a little more manageable parts.

Personal Profile news feed

One of the biggest pieces I see, time and again, is that Facebook is a SOCIAL site – that means it’s a place to talk to others, laugh, develop relationships, and possible friendships.  So, if all you’re posting is content about your writing, you’re going to start sounding like a broken record.  A BAD broken record.   If you’re posting that type of content on your profile, it can get very annoying, very quickly.

If you can’t brag about, or talk about your writing, and you’re trying to build a platform, what can you talk about?  Well, here’s where you get sneaky.  Everyone you follow posts something.  Some of their posts are interesting, others not so much.  Some are posts you probably should stay away from, unless you want to become known as a snarky, snappish person, and some you should probably stay away from just because it shouldn’t be out in public anyway.  (Honestly, who needs to know you’re taking a dump right this second?)

That still leaves a huge variety of posts you can, and should respond to.  Try not to fill your friends list with only authors, or editors, or cover artists.  Yes, all of these people read, but you are also looking for people who aren’t in the writing business.  A few of the former can benefit anyone, but if you don’t have readers, then sooner or later, you’ll be talking to a saturated market.  The non-writers are the ones who have the highest chance of telling their friends about you, and your wonderful work(s).  Once you’ve started building your friends list, another good idea is to start organizing it.  That way you can keep in touch with friends and family a little easier.  Don’t try to sort out everyone into this list or that.  Just pull out the special interest ones – like your friends and family.  (And, then remember to check it regularly, since their posts are probably buried in your feed somewhere.)

When you are building your friends list, be aware you do not have to accept every friend request that comes in.  There is an option for the person to just “follow” you.  The upside is that if the person has a habit of posting things you do not wish to see, or find offensive, you won’t see their posts.  The down side is that you won’t be able to interact with them, because the information flow is only one way; from you to them.  I tend to limit who I accept friend requests from to those who are either active in the groups I participate in, or who have at least several friends in common with someone I know and interact with.  I made the mistake early on of accepting everyone who asked, and now my feed is full of romance and erotica authors.  And, I don’t willingly read either genre.  Just a word to the wise for those getting started on Facebook, or expanding their platform to Facebook.

Author Pages

I know there are many who swear you need a page, but with the changes Facebook has been instigating, the effectiveness of a page is being heavily restricted unless you are willing to pay, and pay dearly, to have those restrictions lifted.  If you are just starting to expand your platform onto Facebook, I would strongly advise just using a profile with your author/blogger/writer’s name, rather than setting up a separate page.  If you have a page, then you probably know what I’m talking about, and are already struggling to work around many of the restrictions.

The biggest reason to have a page, at least for me, is the fact that I can schedule posts to go out on the page.  For maximum visibility, I do have to share it to my personal profile, but it means I can write the posts in advance and have them set up to go.  Since it is my page, I see when they go out, which is a convenient reminder to duck over and share them.  I usually don’t do that with the blog posts that feed out, however.  And there is a reason for this that I’ll get to in a later post.

As with anything other part of your platform, you have to answer the same basic questions:  What are you posting?  How often do you want to post?  And how much content do you want to create?  Even if you are just sharing content from your blog, you may wish to supplement that with other information, since you’ll have an almost entirely different audience on the other social media platforms.  Again, that’s something for another post.

There are a few other perks that come with the page, but if you aren’t getting much engagement, then they don’t mean much.

 

Once again, it seems I’ve wound up rambling.  I’ll let you go today, so you can experiment with the ideas I’ve provided.  Let me know what worked, or didn’t work for you in the comments.  I’m still learning, and I’m sure there are many tricks that I haven’t even thought of yet.

Until next time, happy writing!

 

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Blogs, Author Platforms, and Connecting (pt 6)

Blogs, Author Platforms, and Connecting (pt 6)

Drstuey at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

And, we’re back once again to discuss platforming.  So far, it’s mostly been about working on the “backside” of your platform.  Today, we’ve finally built up your original foundation that you are ready to branch out and expand on what you’ve done so far.  There are three key ideas to make this happen.  I’ll try to cover them in a reasonable order, so if it looks like the discussion is going to run long (even for me), I’ll break it up.

Ready to get started?

The first, and easiest way to expand your platform is to reuse content that you’ve been building up on your blog for other areas of the social media platform.  There are many sites that say you “must” do this or you “must” do that.  In some ways, I’ll jump on that bandwagon, and others I’ll say it’s a bunch of hogwash.  About the only “must” you’ll want to develop for yourself is your authenticity.

I know there are bloggers, authors, writers of every stripe and shape who use a screen name or pseudonym for about as many reasons as there are psudonyms.  Do not let the term “authentic” deter you if you are one of this group.  You can still be perfectly authentic, and maintain your anonymity.

For now, we’ll go with the concept of reusing your content.  Yes, I know, I’ve just said that twice in the same screen.  It is because it’s is a good way to get started.

But, how do you reuse your content?

For starters, if you’re on WordPress, and other sites, such as Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, or Facebook, the solution is easy.  Link your accounts together.  You can set it up so there is a two-way information flow, or you can set it up so it is only one way.  For me, since I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment, I’ve set my information flow to flow from the blog out with no return input.  It makes it a little harder to get the engagement from followers, but I follow the concept that the blog is the heart of my platform.  Facebook makes up the blood vessels, and twitter and/or tumblr is the actual blood.  In this circulation model, you don’t want the turbulence from the blood to flow back and interfere with how the heart or blood vessels are functioning.  (I’m still trying to figure out tumblr, and tweet too much to make feeding my twitter feed back to Facebook logical.)

OK, going to back up a second here to that comment about Twitter…

Twitter is a very fast moving platform.  If you don’t have an account, this section may not be important to you.  If you WANT an account, or want to figure out what to do with it, then I highly advise looking through Nat Russo’s blog series Here about twitter.  He’s done an excellent job in breaking down not just how to set up an account, but also some of the basics for that platform.  There is a TON to learn there, so don’t expect to master it overnight.  With the information Nat has published, I’m not going to go into the basics – he’s done it better, and probably much more clearly than I ever could.

However, there is one point I’m going to emphasize now.  If you do feed your blog posts to twitter, and expect them to be seen – you’re going to be disappointed.  Twitter is a constant river of information.  A LOT of information.  I don’t remember the exact number of tweets go out every minute, but I do remember it was huge.  And, your one tweet when your blog post goes out will get drowned out quickly.

Tumblr is similar.  Not quite as fast paced, but still very busy all the time.

For these two planks of your platform, you’ll need to have some strategy to help ensure your posts get seen.  (That goes for all of the social media sights, not just Twitter and Tumblr, but it’s a bit more important for these two.)

The easiest way, and one that can lead to a bad gaff if you’re not careful, is to use one of the third party scheduling apps.  I prefer Hootsuite, but others prefer Buffer, or tweetdeck.  Once again, I advise looking around and investigating the many different options out there before selecting the one that works best for you.

A wonderful friend of mine hosted a guest post for me about how to reuse your blog content for Twitter.  You can find the article over Here on his blog.  For just what to reuse, head on over there.  If you already have an idea of what you want to use, then let’s get to the nuts and bolts of trying to get your content noticed in a good way.

Yes, I deliberately said “in a good way.”  One of the common, and more irritating ways I have run into, ways of getting content noticed is for the author of the tweet to use the same tweet, or some close variation of it, over and over again in a small time frame.  If you are working on a deadline for a release, or campaign, I can understand doing this.  It is a short term, short duration “spam” activity.  It can generate some results, but don’t expect them to be over the top.  Often, if someone starts doing this, and it goes on longer than a couple of hours, that person will either be muted (if they are lucky) or unfollowed.  That is not what you are trying to accomplish.

While being unfollowed on Twitter does not have the same impact as it does on Facebook, it does mean there is one less person you are reaching, and one less potential reader you can engage with.

Using the third party apps to schedule your tweets can lead to this occurring, and is one of the biggest reasons why many would strongly suggest not using them.  However, I believe that most, if not all of you reading this, have day jobs, or other things in life that pull you away from Twitter.  And, keeping your name in the feed is always a good thing.  You just want the attention you are receiving to be positive as well.    So, when you set up your schedule, you have to answer the same questions for Twitter you answered about your posts – how often do you want your content to go out?  How much content do you want to go out?  And, how long do you want to “work” your presence in the stream of consciousness that makes up your followers Twitter feeds?  These answers are important, as they will help define how you set up your schedule.

Since I keep an active schedule on the blog, posting a new post for each of my daily series, I want those posts to be seen.  That means I’ll have to have a minimum of 7 posts per day for each of them.  I choose to run a week behind on when my Twitter schedule picks up the posts to ensure that I have active links to use in the tweets themselves.  I don’t want to risk scheduling a post that hasn’t gone live, and generating a “dead” link for a few tweets – you never know for certain who is going to click on that link and follow it back to your blog post.

And, since just one post will tend to get drowned out in the feed, even if I just posted my seven tweets, I’ll get some exposure, but probably not enough.  I like to run three tweets per day for each of the posts.  That’s 21 tweets to set up for each day.  Since my following is world-wide, I want to make sure everyone has a chance to see the entire set.  Again, I recognize that as readers, not everyone is able to hang out on Twitter all day, or even for the same time every day.  And, so I have a staggered schedule.  I am “on the air” for twenty two hours a day, seven days a week.  When I set up the schedule, I start at 2 AM local, and run until 10 PM local.  That’s a LOT of tweets!

Here’s where the savvy comes into play.  Remember I said I have a staggered schedule?  Here’s what I mean:

Sunday I’ll start at 2 AM with the first tweet of the week.  It’s always the author interview I hosted the week before.  Every hour, I’ll move to the next series – character interviews, the behind the scene posts, the platforming post, a piece of my original work (poem, short story, flash fiction), A book review, and a filler piece to make a total of 7.  The filler usually is an extra book review or second character interview, though I’ve also used a second piece of original work for the slot as well.

Monday starts at 2 AM with the character interview and ends the rotation with the author interview.

Each day will start with the next series in the week, so that each day has a different post series to start the day off.  I then fill in the rest of the schedule in rotation.  It’s a pain in the backside to do in Hootsuite if you’re scheduling each post individually.  There is a work around, however.  I’ve had a few people ask me about it, so here’s the cheat sheet version:

  • Open Hootsuite
  • Go into the scheduler tab (left hand side, the little arrow that says “publisher”)
  • Go to “Past Scheduled” – this should come up with an over view of the current week.  If not, in the upper right hand corner, click on “week” to get this calendar view.
  • Have your selected tweets in a separate program.  I prefer Word, because I like tables.  I’ve also used Notepad and tried to use Excel (Excel didn’t work out too well)
  • If your monitor is big enough, shrink your browser window to just over half the screen so you can have your other document beside it.
  • Start copy/pasting your tweets into the days/times you want them to go out.  The trick is to work a week in advance.  Since Hootsuite starts their week on Sunday, you’ll want to double check the dates.  You CAN work in the current week – I’ve done it – but if you make a mistake everything you’ve copied will vanish when you correct the tweet.  Handy if you’re assembling a super-busy tweet schedule – because you have a fresh canvas just by advancing to the next week, and then coming back to the current one.
  • When you’re done scheduling, head over to the home screen (little house icon with “streams” beside it), and take some time to interact with your the various feeds you’ve set up.

I tend to work in tweetdeck for the interactions, since Hootsuite is delayed quite a bit.  But, I prefer Hootsuite for the scheduling, especially now that they’ve figured out how to enable you to attach images to your tweets.

You can also connect your Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts, though if you are using the free version, you can only link 3 profiles.  Each profile also has it’s own fresh page for the schedule, so if you want to set up a series of scheduled posts for the other social media platforms, you can.  I prefer to have a little more personal control over my Facebook, so just focus on scheduling for Twitter.

 

Seeing as this is heading into super-long territory, I’m going to let you go for this week.  Feel free to experiment with what I’ve mentioned, and if you are so inclined, leave a comment below about what worked or didn’t work for you.  I’m always learning, so the way I’ve presented may be flawed, or you may find a way that works better.

Happy blogging!

 

If you’ve missed the previous installment of the series, you can find it Here and the entire series Here

Blogs, Author Platforms, and Connecting (pt 5)

Blogs, Author Platforms, and Connecting (pt 5)

By JeffreyVromant (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve been talking about keeping your posts organized.  When you were setting up your blog, you made the decision about what types of posts you’d be making, how often you’d be posting, and where you’d be feeding the posts through to.  If you have an active blog, like I do, there will come a time when you need to start organizing the posts for others to find them.  And, tables are my preferred way.

There are several negatives to using tables, the biggest of which is that it puts another layer of choices between your potential reader and the information you hope they find.  If you are using your blog as a sale point, this can seriously impact your sales.  Recently I came across a statistic that every time you add a choice, you lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 90% of your readers.  That is a rather substantial loss for anyone.  Before you decide to add in a list, table, or other selection point, you do need to take that loss of viewers into account.  Maintaining the tables can also be a big time hog, and so may not be a good option  – even if your posts, post series, or post material are a good candidate for the table format.

The positives for me, however, outweigh that negative.  Because I have so many posts, and I want them to be accessible all the time without anyone having to scroll, and scroll, and scroll, or search and search (hoping they hit the right search string).  The way I set up my tables lets me do that.  Depending on your blog’s theme, adding in tables may be an easy process, or it could take a LOT of work to make them look just right.

I won’t go into how to code the tables, though I’d be glad to discuss it should there be enough interest.  There are several wonderful HTML coding references on the web you can find with a quick Google search.  I’m going to stay on track for how to connect with your readers, future readers, and anyone else who comes across your blog.  (I hope.)

The only reason I bring up organization, is because there are some blogs that unless you know exactly what you are looking for, you will never find it.  And others are so easy to navigate that finding that tidbit of information you need right now falls right into your hand.  Organization is how that comes about.  That doesn’t mean the information you’re posting shouldn’t be engaging (which is a whole other subject I’m still figuring out), but it does mean the content you’re posting can be found easily.

When you are organizing your posts into some type of selection category – either through menus, tables, charts, word clouds, or what ever, you need to make sure the selection options are understandable and relevant.  In a way, this ties back with tagging your posts.  It would make no sense to post a book review under “interviews”, if the interview is the main focus of your post.  Even if there is an interview that is part of the post, not everyone will know that the first time they look for it.  It is acceptable to organize the dual-purpose post under both selection criteria, however.  It allows people to find it either way.  And that is part of making your content accessible.

And that brings me to the last point of this piece of the platforming story.

When you are posting, you CAN choose to have a post serve many purposes.  An example is when I host tour posts for T.J.’s Virtual Tours.  Most often, those posts have a bit about the author, some type of mini-interview, and either a group of reviews, or examples from the book that’s being toured.  A lot depends on what type of tour I’m participating in.  And, it is also a cross connection to other blogs, which helps with overall discoverability for me.

That is a lot of what platforming is – it’s getting yourself discovered.  And, having your content organized so others can access it easily makes that process a little easier.

I think I’ve dropped enough big pieces of information for you to think about for one post.  So, I’ll let you think, and see about following my own recommendations.  There’s a lot of content hidden around my blog, and while some of it I’m keeping “off the radar”, I need to do some maintenance so the rest of it can be found.  Happy platforming, and we’ll see you next time when I’ll dive into the concept of how your blog content can be used to expand your platform.

If you’ve missed the previous installment of the series, you can find it Here and the entire series Here

Blogs, Author Platforms, and Connecting (pt. 4)

By Patafisik (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Welcome back.  Ready for the next step?

Today, I’ll be talking about how to set up your posts on a schedule, and finalize any modifications you may wish to make to your blog.  I know, I know, there’s quite a few posts out and about that talk about some of this, I’m just adding my two cents to the pile.

 

So, let’s get started.

I’ll start with the easy one, since that will take up the least amount of time.  If you’ve been following along with this series, you should have a pile of blogs stashed away in your “drafts” folder.  You could come back once or twice a week and open the individual posts you want to publish that day and just hit publish.  For those who intend to just have one post per week, that is probably the best idea, actually.  One, it makes sure you visit your blog regularly to respond to comments, check up on the other blogs you may be following, and do any maintenance you may need to do.

For those who intend to have a more active blog, or whose life is really busy, this is usually not an attractive idea.  I know some who are extremely busy, and just can’t pry the time loose to come over and publish a post regularly.  And, that is one of the things with blogs – if you want it to be found and develop a loyal following, you’ll want the posts to be as regular as possible.  It’s OK to have some down time, but you don’t want to let that happen very often.  (And, from painful experience, try to post a warning before you go silent!)

So, how DO you schedule your posts?

If you’ll take a look at your side bar on the right – where the list of categories, tags, and all that good stuff is – at the top is a box that looks something like this:

Scheduling

If you’re in the new format, it will probably look something like this:

 

Scheduling New

Now, what you’ll want to do:

  1. Open the post you want to schedule
  2. In the “old” menu – click on “publish immediately”
  3. In the “new” menu – click on the date
  4. This should open up a drop down calendar, or at least a menu to choose from
  5. Set the date you want your post to publish.
  6. Set the TIME you want your post to publish – if you’ve set up your blog to reflect your personal time zone, it will post at that time according to your clock.  If you are using the default time, it will post at that time in GREENWICH time.  (Example:  I set this post to go out at 12:01, and it went live at 12:01 AM CST/ 6:01 AM Greenwich).  Normally, this isn’t an issue when scheduling posts, but if you are part of a blog tour or blog hop and are scheduled to post a certain amount of time after the one before (or a certain amount of time before another blog), you’ll need to keep this in mind.
  7. Click that big blue button.  It should say “publish”.  You can add a step if you prefer, by clicking “OK” under the time stamp you just set up if it makes you feel better.  I’ve done both, and will continue to use both.  There’s times I just don’t quite trust the “Publish” button to pick up on the schedule.
  8. Lather, rinse, repeat as often as you like for the rest of your posts.

One thing to be aware of – when you schedule a post, the date is automatically inserted into your post’s URL.  If you are posting into a new month, and sending out links for others to use for prescheduling, you will want to make sure that the link is still good when the months change.  There have been reports of the pre-scheduled posts having bad links because of this issue.  If it’s only for your blog, then this won’t be an issue.  The post will go out live when you scheduled it, and all will be well.

 

Now, to change gears.  You’re blog is coming together, you’re putting out content regularly, and yet … you still want to make your pages feel more like you.  That’s where the customizing comes into play.  Something I highly recommend after a painful, personal experience:  set up a second blog.  It’s not going to be published, or your main focus.  You just want somewhere you can experiment that won’t affect your current blog.  (Yes, anything you do through the customize menu DOES affect your blog, even if you haven’t hit the “publish” or “save” button.  It’s not so bad with new blogs, but once you’ve had yours up and running a while, it can sting quite a bit having to go through and figure out how to fix what you accidentally broke.)

There’s a few things I know folks like to do to tweak the customization more than the standard theme layout allows.  I’ll try to cover these.

Background

With every theme, you are given a default background.  Most of the time, what is offered is fine.  However, if you want to modify it, there is a way.  It will take a little bit of tech savvy to make it work, but it is possible.

  • Hover over “My Sites” and on the drop down menu, click on “Customize”  This will take you back into the customization menu where you started when you set up the blog in the first place.
  • Click on “Colors and Background”  to open up the new menu
  • Hover over the background color, and click “Change” to open the options menu
  • Here you can select your own color, but clicking on that link – just drag the little circle to the color you want, orbackground
  • You can click on “Select Image” to use an image as your background.
    • The thing with using images is that you’ll want to use a small image that tiles properly.
      • You can use a single big image, but with so much of the world today using mobile devices, that image can get shrunk, skewed, or altered into something you wouldn’t recognize, and potentially something offensive.
    • When selecting an image that tiles, try to find one with a pattern on the edge that smoothly flows on all four sides.

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This one almost works, and if you are using it for your background, you can probably get away with it.  Maybe.

Note how when you’re transitioning from the first tile on the left to the one beside it, how the puzzle pieces look like they’ve  been sliced.  They have been – that’s the edge of the “tile” image.  This is really what you don’t want to see.  And, the transition from the top tile to the bottom is even worse.  It’s very obvious that there is an edge between the two tiles.

 

The background I use for my blog is an image.  I got it back when I started playing around with building websites, and it is a custom background image.  It was designed to flow smoothly between tiles, so that there were no obvious edges.

If you are someone who likes playing with graphics, there is nothing stopping you from creating your own background image.  Even if you’re not comfortable playing on the artistic side of the street (and not everyone is), you can still find images that will work.  I believe some may still be free, others you may have to pay a small fee to use.  Just make sure you know what the license agreement is.  The last thing you want to have happen is to have a take down notice posted to your blog because you didn’t have the right to use the image.  (goes for any images you use on your blog.)

Depending on the theme you chose, there are a few other image options available.  One of them is the “Featured Image”.  This will set the image you selected at the top of your post.  The downside is that it must be an image you’ve uploaded.  I don’t use this option, preferring to insert my images through the “Add Media” button.  This gives me the flexibility to either find an image on the web that I like, and insert the image via the web address, or upload an image if I can’t find one I like.

 

The other common customization I’ve seen (and used) and wish were used more often helps organize things a bit.  Actually, there are two customizations that fall into this category.  One is the “jump” link which is used for on-page navigation, the other is columns or tables.

For the jump links, the Word Press techs have a nice post about how to do this.  In fact, that’s where I learned to do it for my Reviews page.  You can find the article Here.  It requires a little bit of tech savvy to do this one, but it’s still in the range of “easy”.  I’m going to save Tables and Columns for their own post because that requires a LOT more space, and is a bit more complicated.  I’ll show you my way of doing it, and for anyone else who has ideas, I’d greatly appreciate hearing about it!

Now that you’ve got your blog coming together, and posts going out on a schedule, I’d like to hear back – what do you want to hear about when it comes to platforming and making connections?

 

If you’ve missed the previous installment of the series, you can find it Here and the entire series Here

Roni Askey-Doran Sops By To Visit With The Pukah

Roni Askey-DoranSM

 

Welcome back once again for another fun author interview.  Today, we have Roni Askey-Doran coming in from Ecuador to visit with us.  Roni, why don’t you get us started with a little about yourself, and where you are from?

  • I was born in Tasmania, Australia and currently live in Mompiche, Ecuador
  • I’m an army brat and grew up moving around all over the place. When my father retired from the military and bought a farm, my itchy feet kept me on the road and so far, I have visited or lived in 46 countries on six continents. For about five years, I just wanted to settle and get my hands dirty in fertile soil. In 2009, I bought a piece of land in Mompiche and built a house from bamboo and local hard woods. For now, I’m content to grow tropical fruit trees (soursop, jackfruit, rambutan, custard apple, cacao, mango, papaya, and five kinds of bananas just to name a few) and I also make my own chocolate straight from the tree, but I’m also aware that nothing is forever.

With all of that travel and experience, do you have a specific event or time you can point to and say, “There.  That is when I knew I wanted to make writing part of my life.”?

  • When I was a toddler, I had a story book called Epaminondas and his Auntie that Dad used to read to me at night. I loved that book so much and we read it so often that I knew the story by heart and if he got one word wrong, I’d correct him. Eventually, Dad became increasingly bored of reading the same story over and over with his pedantic little audience, so he taught me to read the book. By the time I was four, I was making up and writing little anecdotes to read to my teddy bear at bedtime. Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember.

Do you have any books that helped influence your life toward becoming a writer?

  • By the time I was 12, I had finished all of Charles Dickens and moved on to Tolkien. At that age, I devoured books and within a couple of years had read every book on my mother’s vast bookshelf, which included several authors way above my age group such as John le Carré. However, when I first picked up Tim by Colleen McCullough, something changed. I went on to read everything she wrote and, at the highest point of her writing career, I was fortunate enough to meet Colleen at a book festival. Bryce Courtenay’s Power of One was also a story that stayed with me for a long time. Absoloodle! Another story that I have always loved is Don Quixote by Cervantes. I read it while traveling across Turkey by bus in the 90s and laughed so hard at times that people looked across at what I was reading and were really surprised. I think I caused a mini-reading-revolution in Istanbul at the time, with everyone I met running out to hunt down copies of Cervantes brilliant novel.

Do you consider any of these authors to be a mentor to you, or does someone else fill that role?

  • Definitely Colleen McCullough. Her writing style, her diligence in her work, her passion and her absolute dedication to research is something to which I aspire. When I met her at the book festival, after accumulating so many rejection letters from literary agents and mainstream publishers that I could have used them to wallpaper my entire bathroom, she said three words to me which I have never forgotten: Never give up.

Is she your favorite author then?

  • It’s extremely difficult to pick one out of the thousands of wonderful authors in the world today. The author that has left the most impressive mark on my mind is Cervantes. The way he wrote humor is beautiful. Don Quixote is a work of art and it’s something to aim for when I’m writing humor. Annus Horribilis is funny, but as women’s fiction it’s more genre specific, whereas everyone on the planet can laugh at Cervantes work. It’s brilliant.

That’s quite a recommendation.  May have to actually look up Don Quixote, it’s one of the few classics I haven’t tried yet.  While you were writing, did you have any support outside the family who helped you keep going?

  • Living so far away from home for most of the last three decades, it’s difficult to find one single network of support. Despite this, I consider myself extremely lucky to have such a strong network of friends, most of whom live a long way from me, who keep me afloat and make sure my feet stay firmly on the ground when my head starts traveling towards the clouds. From all around the world; the USA, Canada, the Americas, Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia there are many kind and generous people within my support network who are there whenever I need them, which can be frequently when things get rough.

I agree there whole heartedly.  A world wide network of friends is invaluable when you’re writing.  (Means you don’t ever have to worry about the insanely late/early hour odd question.)  You mention things getting “rough” is that because of the challenges you’ve encountered in your own writing?

  • There are times it’s hard to get started. Part of my process is to think about the story for a while before I put a single word on paper. It can be weeks, months or years before I begin to write. I hand write notes at all times of the day and night, regardless of what I’m doing at the time. I’ll interrupt dish-washing or laundry to scribble a note I feel might be relevant to the story. Sometimes, all these notes are still not enough to get me off the starting block. Most of the time, I don’t let it worry me. Time spent in my garden is time spent cooking the story in my mind, and I know that when it’s cooked through, it will come out as a good product in the end. Even though there are times I feel like I need to rush things, I don’t. Some of my best work is produced in the slowest cooker.
  • [Also] remembering to eat. When I’m wrapped up in the story and busting to know what happens next, hunger pangs are not welcome. They’re nothing more than an irritating distraction from my writing and could cause me to forget my train of thought. There have been times in the past when I’ve been in danger of starving to death for the sake of a good story. These days, I have achieved a modicum of balance and manage to take time out to eat and drink plenty of water. Toward the end of Broken, I kept a large pot of soup on the stove at all times, and there was often a freshly made cake in the oven. I’d cook before I sat down to write so that when the dreaded hung pangs struck, I could quickly grab a bowl and continue working. There is a jug of water on my desk at all times. I’d use the eating time to reread my work. Broken was edited over steaming bowls of tomato and quinoa soup.

Through this journey, are there any lessons you learned along the way that you can share with us?

  • One of the most important things I have learned as a writer over the years is to just let the story flow out as it comes to me. Any first draft we write is really just us telling ourselves the bones of the actual story. The real work comes when we make the time and the effort to fill in the details so the reader can see our vision too. Letting the words come, ignoring mistakes and focusing on the story itself really matters to me. I’m a perfectionist, so forgetting there is a mistake isn’t easy. That kind of thing usually niggles at me until I go back and fix it, but that can detract from getting the story down too, so I try not to do it. Each book takes me one step closer to being able to let go and let the story flow.

I noticed that you had a few books out on Amazon.  Do you remember what inspired you to make the shift from the vignettes for your teddy bear to longer works for the public?

  • As a child, I recall my father constantly telling wonderful stories. Regardless of how many times I had heard the same story, I always listened intently and still remember a lot of his stories today. I think that part of my need to write is also a profound desire to tell stories as eloquently as my father, using vivid lexiconic imagery in the same way he used his voice, hand gestures and facial expressions.
  • My first novel was Pendulum, a fictionalized story based around my own experiences of sexual abuse. I needed to take that pain and find a way to put it outside myself so that I could look at it from a different perspective and begin the healing process. It was quite a long process and that first novel took almost ten years to complete. Contrary to popular belief, it was not a cathartic experience. It was excruciating and it took me back to horrific places I never wanted to revisit, but in the end I was able to get the story out and that was the catalyst for the deeper healing process that I needed to go through at that time.

So your works contain quite a bit of reality as well as personal experience, I’m guessing?

  • I’d like to think it’s [Broken] all realistic. Emily is a modern woman living in a modern world. She takes the bus, she goes to work, she eats corn chips and checks her email, and thinks she’s too fat. Every day, most of us do many of the same things that Emily does – hopefully with the exception of carefully planning a suicide on our birthday. The story follows Emily throughout her day, each chapter representing one hour of her life. As we read, it’s like taking a walk around inside her head. We know exactly how she feels and what she thinks every step of the way. Writing it this way, I felt that readers would easily be able to identify and connect with her character on many levels and cheer her on until the end.
  • Apart from hearing the tragic news of Robin Williams suicide, and also bearing the pain, anger, guilt and confusion at the loss of several good friends over the years, I have stood in the same place where Emily stands in the opening chapters of Broken. Fortunately, my life was spared and I have found purpose and a million good reasons to carry on. All of my novels carry a part of my soul within their covers, whether it’s a small part of a large part depends on its relevance to the story.

Do you leave messages of hope in your writing for readers to find?

  • When Robin Williams died on my mother’s birthday, Broken was born. Heartbroken and stunned at that terrible news, the whole world was left with one single question: WHY? Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide knows that the question remains unanswered. The intention of Broken is to explore some of the possible answers to that question. It’s my hope that this story will help people with all forms of depression, and also help the families and friends of people who suffer from depression, to understand and discuss that particular thought process. Suicide is currently one of the world’s leading causes of death, and opening up a dialogue so we can begin talking about it will hopefully save lives.

With everything you have been through and learned along the way, if you were able to go back to the beginning and keep the knowledge you have now, would you change anything along the way?

  • Not a thing. Broken felt right from the start. Naturally, it went though its process, first draft, second, third, fourth, editing and re-editing and re-writing until I was satisfied that the manuscript contained everything I wanted to express. There is a wonderful thing that happens when I write. It’s kind of hard to explain, but here goes: even though I fully outlined the story, once I got it down, the book wrote itself. It’s as if I was merely the vessel through which the story and the characters flowed until everyone involved was happy with the result. This is the second novel in which this has happened. The first was Chasing Unicorns. Both times, I needed to keep writing so I could find out what happened next because I truly did not know. The characters came out of the walls and explained their role within the story, each fitting perfectly into the text as naturally as moss growing on a riverbank. Broken feels to me like it’s my best work ever. It will be hard to top.

Do you remember when you first considered yourself a writer?

  • I’ve always been a writer. When I accidentally changed careers from chef in the UK to journalist in Istanbul in the mid-90s, I became a professional writer for the first time in my life. Seeing my own words, and my name in print in that first issue was like a drug. Instantly, I became addicted to wordsmithing and have never stopped.

Sounds like writing is your career then.  Both a self chosen, and career chosen option.

  • Yes, it’s a career, and I’m dedicated to writing. Broken is my fourth novel and my eighth published book. However, book sales are not what puts food on the table. In order to survive, I rent out beds in my third floor loft and I sell home-made organic chili sauces, jams, chutneys and chocolate to local restaurants. Even though I’ve been kept alive by my cooking skills for a few years, I don’t consider it a career. My current sauciness is just a way to get by until the last twenty plus years of writing transform suddenly into an overnight success and I no longer have to eat the pages from my novels to fill my belly.

::Chuckles:: Hopefully it doesn’t take that long!  Perhaps if you shared some of your current news, or a bit from your current project, the timeline to success can be cut down a bit.

  • There are several tidbits of news in my life right now. My fourth novel, Broken, just came out. That’s big news in my little corner of the world. Apart from that, my newest rambutan seeds have begun sprouting and we should have fruit in about five years. This is also wonderful news. And… in August this year, I’ll be traveling to Australia to promote my book and visit with family for a while. This news is a long time in the making, but it’s happening at last and I’m excited.
  • At the moment, I’m working on Phew! Argh! Eeew! a non-fiction collection of short stories that took place on my travels around the world. It’s subtitled Travel Tales I Never Told Mum, so that should make my next trip home a bit interesting. The stories recount the times I almost died, the near-death experiences, accidents and illnesses that I didn’t write home about, as well as a smattering of some of the hilarious events and also the disgusting things that happen when you put on a backpack and leave home for decades at a time. As a woman traveling alone, I feel it’s important to write about the good and the bad. In all of my work, regardless of the event, I make an effort to shine a spotlight on my sense of humor, so Phew! Argh! Eeew! will be a fun read for the most part, although it will probably convince armchair travelers to stay at home in the safety of their comfortable seats.
  • There is a story called “Are you sure it’s just a cold?” about the time I contracted Falciparum Malaria in western India and almost died in hospital. Hovering between life and death for several days, the doctors and nursing staff had all but given up hope. My temperature was soaring and my pulse was weak. No one expected me to survive. They called in a priest to perform last rites and a gaggle of giggling nuns came in daily to see if I was still breathing and to pray over my inert body. They also brought in food for my travel friend who was at the end of her tether, terrified I was going to die on her and guiltily wishing I would make a decision one way or the other. The local villagers came by my bed while I was unconscious to bring flowers and pray, leaving small Buddhas and prayer beads as I lay fighting for my life. On the fourth morning, I woke up and surprised a nurse who had come to change the IV drip. One of the ten percent who survive the most deadly strain of malaria, I accidentally became somewhat a hero in the village.

With the different stories you write, do you have a specific writing style that helps set you apart?

  • My style has changed and evolved over the years. I used to love long descriptive sentences and detailed descriptions. Nowadays, I prefer shorter sentences and just enough description for the reader to evoke their own mind picture. My process has also changed as I have grown into my role as an author. These days, I read all my work aloud chapter by chapter as it’s finished, and I also read my completed manuscripts backwards, from the last chapter to the first. If I were to go back to Pendulum and implement this process, I have no doubt some radical changes would be made to the manuscript. Broken, on the other hand, was purposefully written as an emotional page turner, with short sentences and brief descriptions designed to carry the suspense from beginning to end.

Changing tracks a little here.  I keep hearing your interesting titles, and I’m wondering how you select them.  Do you have a specific technique, or do the stories themselves provide?

  • The story is about Emily Zylaz who is planning to commit suicide on her birthday. When someone gets depressed enough to reach that point in their lives, many elements of their life must be broken. Usually, it’s not just one thing that breaks a person, their heart, their mind, their spirit, and their soul, it’s the culmination of several events that leads to that first thought: I wish I were dead. Broken seemed like the most appropriate title for a novel about suicidal thoughts.

What about the cover?  Did you make it yourself, or did you work with someone else?

  • Usually, I design the covers of my books. There are two things I need to begin a writing project. The book needs a title, and I need an image that adequately reflects the story. Not all the final covers are the image I started out with, but that initial image helps me keep the plot on track. There is one image I did not design on my own, on the cover of I’m Bipolar And I Know It. A blind artist in Los Angeles drew the figure for me after I explained what I wanted, and another graphic artist colorized it to my specifications. Between the three of us, we created a beautiful book cover. I also post my covers online to elicit comments, but that is often more confusing than not. If you send an image to 1000 people, you get 1000 different opinions, so nowadays I just go with my gut.

::Nods::  Makes sense to me.  (And, yes I’ve read it.  You can find the review here.  We’ll wait if you want to go look at it before moving on.)

With the tough stories that you tell, what do you read for fun?

  • I’ve just started The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. It’s my first fiction for a while, I spent the last year and a half reading mostly memoirs and biographies with the odd novel thrown into the mix. I’m only into the first few pages so far and looking forward to getting my teeth into it.

 

Do you read anything by new authors?

  • I recently read Carolyn Parkhurst’s Dogs of Babel and loved it. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.

 

And, the dreaded question for most authors:  What advice would you offer for other new and developing authors?

  • Read, read and read, and then write, write and write. And then read everything you write both forwards and backwards and out loud. When you can hear your story in spoken word, mistakes leap out and smack you in the forehead. It’s one of the most useful writing tools ever. These days, they make computers that will read your pdfs in a monotone, making it easy to hear when something sounds all wrong.

Will have to try that.  My poor cats are usually my first audience, but I know since I wrote it I’m not catching everything.

Roni, thank you so much for stopping by today.  Before I wrap this up, do you have any last words for our readers?

  • One day, I would love to meet my readers in person. There are so many fantastic people out there who read and who enjoy my stories. People from all over the world email me comments all the time and I think it would be really special to meet them face to face and share a few moments being in the same space. Apart from that, I’d like to say thanks for reading, and please keep reading and sending your comments. They’re all appreciated.

 

And, there she goes folks.  Roni Askey-Doran.  If you enjoyed the interview, you can find her blog here, Twitter here, and Amazon page with most of her books here.  (Don’t ask me why Amazon doesn’t have them all listed.  Shame on you Amazon!)

She will also be returning on Sunday with Emily from her latest book Broken.

 

If you enjoyed the interview, and wish me to host one for you, please stop by my Offered Services page, and fill out the simple submission page.  I’ll get back to you soonest to discuss details.