An Author With A Mission.

Developing my mission statement helped me to clarify my goals in a way that I had not done before.

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When completing an author interview recently, I was surprised to find a question about my mission statement. My immediate reaction was, “My what?”

 

My next thought was of Jake and Elwood saying, “We’re on a mission from God!” in The Blues Brothers.

BluesBrothers
Image from tenor.com
Of course, it makes sense. If I can crystallise my goals in writing into a statement, it’s going to make them easier to achieve.

 

I do that all the time as a teacher. I think about objectives, learning intentions and success criteria all the time. So why didn’t I think about my objectives, intentions and success criteria as a writer? To be completely honest with you, I have no idea.

 

So, I started to work on my mission statement by writing down some basic questions:
What do I want to achieve?
What do I want my readers, or potential readers, to know?
How do I measure success?

 

Simple, right?

 

Wrong.
They’re actually really complex questions.

 

What does success as an author mean? Is it selling a million copies of my books? Well, that would be nice, of course, but it’s not just going to happen without me doing anything to achieve that. Who is going to buy my books if they’re not actually any good? My goal has to be one that I can achieve, and it has to be one that I can measure to see if I’ve met the mark.  My goal , therefore, is to write something that people enjoy and benefit from, not to become a millionaire. Because it’s more achievable, and measurable through both feedback and sales, it’s far more satisfying and encouraging than hoping for something that might never happen.

 

What do I want my readers to know? Recluses are mysterious, sure, but that only has limited appeal. What I really want them to know is that I understand what I’m writing about – grief, love, pain, pleasure, excitement, fear, exhaustion, joy. I want them to know that what I’m writing is real and meaningful. I want them to know that if they’re going through something really awful and difficult, I get that because I’ve been through some awful and difficult stuff too.  Particularly in my poetry, I want them to catch a glimpse of my soul, or see some blood on the page – metaphorically speaking, of course. I want there to be understanding between us. I want to connect.

 

So, measuring success isn’t in how many copies of each book I’ve sold, or how many dollars I’ve made. For me, success is in knowing that I’ve touched someone’s heart, or encouraged them, or entertained them. If they read my horror stories, I want to know that I scared them and they loved it.

 

The beauty of this process of setting goals and working toward them is that I can see with every review that I am achieving my goal, even more effectively than I can with each sale.

 

I owe enormous thanks to the person who asked me about my mission statement. They helped me clarify my goals in a way that I had not done before./div>

So, without further ado, this is my mission statement as an author:

 

Joanne Van Leerdam is an award winning poet and multi-genre author who is committed to writing meaningful and thought-provoking literature for the enjoyment of her audience.
Joanne is a thinker and puzzler, a reader and musician, a traveller, and a teacher who has never lost the joy of learning.
Joanne draws inspiration from her own experiences and observations of the world around her, crafting those ideas into works which will encourage those who struggle to persevere and inspire others to see the world from a new perspective. This is as true of her blog posts as it is of her works of poetry and fiction. She aims to continue to grow her readership into a fully global and inclusive audience.

So tell me, do you have a mission statement?

How to Achieve A Visually Attractive Twitter Feed.

Just because you can use 280 characters, doesn’t mean you should.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of people commenting on how they love the new 280 character limit for Twitter. I’ve also noticed a lot of people writing long tweets with no line breaks, and barely any space in them to take a breath.

My message here may be unpopular with those folks, but it must be said: just because you can use 280 characters, doesn’t mean you should.

Remember, people are basically lazy. They don’t want to have to work to figure out what you’re saying, and they don’t want to wade through thirteen hashtags to do so, either.

When it comes to writing tweets, I’ve always assumed that the rule of “less is more” applies. I want my message to be short, easily understood and digested, and easily acted upon.

ScreenHunter_439 Feb. 20 21.34

I’ve always tried to keep my tweets to well under the 140 characters, as short as 100 characters if possible. A short, effective message is more attractive to people than a slab of text.

As an author, I’ve heard more people than I care to try to count tell me that they don’t like reading. (I know, right? I don’t understand it either.) However, it’s something that I’ve taken to heart when writing anything promotional. Any ad, tweet, or invitation is completely ineffective if it puts people off before they even really look at it.

I always leave a line of space between my main message and my hashtags. It breaks up the tweet so it looks more accessible. I also think that it makes the hashtags a bit more obvious, given that some people might take notice of those before the actual message.

When it comes to hashtags, I wrote a few months back about ‘How To Avoid Hashtag Hell’ in social media. I advised then to use two well-chosen hashtags, and no more. Given the increased word limit, I’m about to start experimenting with using three to increase the discoverability of my tweets, but that would be my upper limit. This isn’t a rule, as such, but simply my desire to keep my tweets looking simple and attractive. I’m no expert in advertising or design, but I go by what I experience myself: when a message is easy on the eye, it’s going to get more attention.

On that same assumption, I always include an image. People are very visually oriented and will, more often than not, look at the picture before the text. I try to make the image relevant to the post, and will often superimpose text and web addresses on the image in a way that won’t detract from the visual effect I hope it will achieve. Where appropriate, I use logos that will build familiarity with my work. Otherwise, I use my own images or stock images that are copyright and royalty free, so that I’m not infringing on copyright, either. There are lots of places that offer them, but I find pexels.com and pixabay.com to be excellent sources of quality images that are free for reuse for any purpose.

ScreenHunter_437 Feb. 20 21.33I use a link shortening service so that half the tweet isn’t taken up by an enormous web address or link. Bit.ly is free, so are many others. I use Buffer to schedule my tweets, and it shortens links automatically, so that’s a double win!

A further advantage of using Buffer is that it enables me to recycle my tweets so that I don’t have to spend hours each week coming up with new content. I regularly change the hashtags and messages on a reused tweet so that I’m not just giving people the same old thing time after time.

When it’s done a few rounds, I’ll rest a great tweet for a while, and pick it up again down the track if it’s still relevant. I save them in files in Evernote, so all I have to do when I come back is copy and paste it into a new message, attach the image, and off I go.

ScreenHunter_439 Feb. 20 21.33

Some of my tweets don’t have links. This is a deliberate decision on my part – sometimes I just want to offer a thought, a joke, or a compliment to my audience without asking them to do anything in return. That’s not a rule either – it’s just how I like to do things.

Finally, mix it up. If all you tweet is ads for your book or service, or quotations from your work in progress, it can get a little humdrum. I keep things varied by tweeting about great books, free reads, short reads, book reviews, magazines, great blog articles, and interesting tidbits of history, science and general interest far more than I tweet ads for my own books. My books are worthy of advertising and attention, and I would love to find more readers, but I don’t believe in shoving them in people’s faces at every opportunity, either.

I know all that seems like a lot of work, but being active on social media does take effort and thoughtfulness if you’re going to have something meaningful to offer.

Since I have been following these guidelines, I have had new followers every day. I started 2017 with just over 300, and now I have 3000 more than that. It’s slow growth, but it’s organic growth – my audience actually wants to be my audience! And that is worth far, far more than being able to fit a bunch of stuff in one tweet.

One Year of New Horizons.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try.
It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me. 

Promo New Horizons Cover eBookSIBA 2017 badged

What a surprise this morning to realise it has been a year since ‘New Horizons’ was published.

When it launched, I was nervous about how it would be received. People knew me as a poet. Would they be interested in these stories? Would they find them as meaningful and profound as my poems?

It was certainly fitting that these stories are about how people encounter and respond to changes and new situations in their lives. Heaven knows, I was experiencing that for myself at the time.

Since then, it has sold around the world in paperback as well as ebook, and has won the 2017 SIBA Award for Best Short Story collection. It now has a shiny badge on its cover to announce that recognition to the world.

This gave me good reason for positive reflection this morning. There are times when life feels as though it’s at a standstill, or when it feels like I’m not achieving what I want to as a writer.

Yet in the past year, I’ve achieved more than I ever would have thought or dared to imagine twelve months ago:

  • Three new poetry collections, all of which have been nominated for awards.
    Of those three books, Nova has won awards for 2017 Top Female Author – Poetry, Reality Bites 2017 Best Non-Romance, and the bronze medal for a poetry collection in the 2017 SIBA Awards.
  • Two poems in two different themed anthologies, nestled in amongst the work of some incredible writers.
  • Two macabre/horror titles.
  • Two ‘reinvented’ fairy tales about to be published in a magnificent anthology titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’,  with other stories written by five of the most creative minds I know.

Who knew?

If you’re a writer – published, aspiring, or just for your own enjoyment – be encouraged. You may feel like you’re not achieving much, but you are. You may feel like you’re a small fish in a very large sea, but every small fish has its place and a purpose, too.

If there’s something you feel you’d like to do, or try, but you’re lacking confidence – be encouraged. You will never know what you can do until you try. The only way to find out where any road will take you is to follow it.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try. It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me.

So here’s to another year and whatever challenges, journeys and victories it brings.

Promo New Horizons Fiji Sunset

An Armchair Spectator’s Perspective.

I love watching the Olympics on TV. The achievements of the competitors are amazing, and I can only imagine what it must feel like to be part of the atmosphere there with the cheering, whistling, and excitement of each event.

I am getting increasingly frustrated with the TV and radio commentators, though. I don’t know what it’s like in other nations, but the Australian media seem to be frequently making remarks about our competitors not winning medals when they were “expected to”, with the implication that they’re letting us down somehow.

Let’s stop and think about that for a moment.
Whose expectations and assumptions are we working on?
Most certainly, not mine.

I don’t think the competitors have those expectations, either. I have no doubt they have hopes and aspirations as they pursue their dreams of victory and success. They put everything into it that they can. Nobody goes in half-arsed and decides while competing that it doesn’t matter so much.

It’s important to remember that every single one of them is a champion for just getting there. They’ve beaten a bunch of other competitors who wanted to be there too. They’ve achieved personal bests and performed feats that are pretty much impossible for most of us ordinary folk.

Our commentators aren’t doing anyone any favours by adding more pressure with the weight of comments that imply that someone was expected to win, and didn’t. Going into the Olympics, there were reports of Australia hoping for a certain number of medals, particularly in certain events. It wasn’t the athletes or swimmers who expressed those goals, it was the media. And how the people “back home” interpret the results is strongly influenced by the ways in which the events and results are reported on and discussed in the media.

It’s easy to want to win everything. It’s easy to consider our own nation a “favourite” among others. We need to keep an open mind, though, and remember that everyone in other countries has the same hopes as we do for our competitors. Just because someone holds a world record doesn’t give them any entitlement to win that event again.  As Australian swimmer Bronte Barratt said on Thursday before the Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay, “As we’ve proven many times before, if you’ve got a lane, you’ve got a chance, so we’ve got a great chance.”  She’s absolutely right. Everyone has an equal chance once they make the final.

As for the competitors, they want to do their best. Of course they’d love to win, and they’ll be disappointed when they don’t. But to be there is a victory in itself, and we shouldn’t let any commentator diminish that. And when the race is over, we should be praising and encouraging, not criticising.