What Do Your Readers Want to Know About You?

Heart of Forest by Wojtek Kowalski via Google under Creative Commons license
Heart of Forest by Wojtek Kowalski via Google under Creative Commons license

Twice this week I have read or heard something that made me sit up and take notice. In both instances, some of the discussion centered on our readers and the importance of placing the focus on them.

In other words, what is at the heart of your blog? Why are you blogging? What do you want people to know? AND what do your readers want to know about you?

* * *

The first incident was while reading a post by Joel Friedlander in which he talks about the importance of an author maintaining a blog. After he has provided a list of things to include in your blog, Joel moves into a discussion of the “origin story,” basically where you are coming from.

In other words, our readers deserve a bit of our background and experience in order to trust that we are qualified to be writing what we write. We must share where we come from, our background, and our experience — the things that qualify us in their eyes.

Joel closes with a great example of how he used this himself after taking a course on blogging. He calls it his Publishing Timeline, an overview of the places where he had gained experience in publishing, the topic on which his blog is based.

* * *

The second time I came across a similar reference was in a webinar presented by Joe Bunting of The Write Practice and Story Cartel. The subject of the webinar was building a platform for creative writers.

I know none of us like hearing any more about “platform,” and I understand most of you reading here are nonfiction writers, at the moment. I signed up for the webinar to learn a bit more as I have two historical fiction projects waiting in the wings. And I did pick up some good bits of information.

During the webinar, Joe talked about creative writersplacing their emphasis on writing about the genre they are writing in, others writing in the same genre, and books published in that genre than about how to write.

Granted Joe’s comments were directed to writers hoping to publish creative fiction and therefore he points toward writing about the writer’s chosen genre rather than so much about his “origin story.” Joe also pointed to sharing the story you are writing. He pointed out that Tim Grahl of Out:think says 40% of a book can be given way to some people but not everyone. A good example is James Patterson who gave away approximately 19 chapters of his last book.

Therefore, sharing your story on your blog is an effective way to begin building that platform, for capturing your readers’ interest now and when it’s time to publish, you have a following already interested.

Afterwards I thought to myself, “Well, you don’t have to tell me twice!” Usually hearing something repeated, or something similar, impresses on me that these are ideas worth remembering.

* * *

Both Joel and Joe emphasize the impact these actions will have on building platform, drawing readers, and making our image known giving us a stronger reference point when we are ready to publish that next big book! As writers, our blog readers may become our book readers and our most valuable marketing tool.

?4U: What do you see here that will help you improve your standing with your readers? What do you want to start doing to implement either of these ideas? Join the discussion below!

Remembering Dad

Clockwise L-R: Dad sitting at a linotype machine, Dad at 16, and Dad showing me how to use my new tricycle
Clockwise L-R: Dad sitting at a linotype machine, Dad at 16, and Dad showing me how to use my new tricycle

Dad was and still is my hero.  Life was never easy for him growing up. The story I’ve been told, not by Dad but by other family members, is that when he was four Dad and his siblings, a brother seven and a sister nine, their mother took them to an orphanage after the death of their father at age 36.  With no means of income and in the early 1900s, my grandmother had no other choice. Skipping ahead a few years, Dad found himself left behind as his siblings reached the discharge age. Dad stayed at the orphanage until he was 16 and had lost track of his siblings.

At this time, he moved to Winchester, TN where he began work as an apprentice at the newspaper in this small town.  The work was hard and when not at the newspaper, he helped the owner of the paper with his peanut crop.  Fortunately, the owner also provided him with housing.  According to Dad, the best part of the job was meeting Dinah Shore before she was famous.  Her father owned the local mercantile where Dad shopped on occasion.

The hard work didn’t end there.  When he became proficient in typesetting, he moved to Nashville and began working at a variety of places.  But he always worked hard.  Hard at work and hard at home.  He never seemed to want to be idle, except when his poor health got in the way.  You see Dad was a recovering alcoholic.  And the alcoholism had taken a toll on his pancreas, liver and stomach.  He almost died in 1948 when I was just two years old.  After that, his health kept Dad from doing a lot of things other dads did with their families.  But one thing was sure — Dad always showed up for work and he worked hard.

At home he worked hard maintaining our house and yard, and each year there was a little garden back in the corner of our back yard.  He treasured the vegetables and fruits he planted, and Dad’s love of blooming flowers grew larger each year. One of my favorite memories is the year he planted close to 100 tulip and daffodil bulbs in a bed along the side of our garage. One by one, the squirrels dug up the bulbs and “planted” nuts!  It was one of the few times I ever saw Dad lose his cool.

Dad reached hero status with me by loving me quietly, gently and warmly.  Unlike our mother, Dad’s voice was never raised.  If something was wrong or if we were in trouble, it was a quiet talk with Dad about understanding what was wrong and asking us to explain how it would not happen again.  If you asked him for advice, Dad was slowly explain what he would do in the particular situation but ended with a reminder that this is your situation, your decision, and your consequences.  It was part of growing up, he always reminded.

I think Dad always knew how I cherished our relationship, and to this day I find myself talking to him when times get a little tough.  I’m always thinking about him wondering what life would have been like if he’d been healthier, if he and Mom had married a little younger (Dad was 45 when I was born), and if he’d lived longer (he died at age 72).  I was only 27.

I have a long list of things I credit my Dad with infusing into my life:

  • love of reading and words
  • love of music
  • gentleness and compassion
  • good work ethic
  • standing for what you believe in
  • a quiet Christian faith

On this Father’s Day and every one since his death, I sit and wish he were next to me so I could tell him again how much I love him.  But, he’s not here, and I tell him anyway.  I believe in heroes, and I believe they can hear us.

Dad, I love you!

Travel Reflections – Part 2

In my last post, I talked about our recent trip to Tennessee for a graduation, visits with family, and our experiences riding Amtrak across this beautiful country of ours.  Today I want to share some of what we saw through the windows as the train ran across the tracks, more stories heard on the train, and the importance of family stories.
As we traveled west to east, the landscape keeps the eyes busy.  Looking from side to side in our car, we could see so many and varied sights, it was hard to decide which photos to catch.  Here are a few of the best of our landscape shots through the train windows.  From top left to right, our first full day took us through Glacier Park and here is our first sighting of the Rockies, and then crossing Two Medicine Trestle, rising 215 feet above the river.  On the bottom row, left to right, are images of my attempt to capture a stunning sunset just out of Williston, ND, shooting over my left shoulder.  Lastly, our first sightings of home ground in Tennessee.

But before I forget, we found more amazing stories among our fellow passengers on our return trip:

  • The couple across the aisle was traveling from New York to Oregon to attend a granddaughter’s wedding.  Hearing how they met in Germany, while he was in the service, was a special treat.
  • In front of us sat best friends from high school, two men about our ages who were returning from their annual trip together.  Something they’ve done ever since high school.
  • Over breakfast in the dining car, we met two more men just about our ages, cousins, who take a trip to somewhere each year as well.  Is this a new guy thing?
  • And then the couple who sat behind us traveling home from Montana to California, having made their annual jaunt to visit her family.  Meeting them led to discoveries of commonality in our lives.

Once again, I was reminded of the importance of all our stories, not only in our lives but the impact our stories have on others and theirs on us.

Our first stop as mentioned in my earlier post was for our grandson’s high school graduation. The first day we were together with family there we spent time thinking back over vacation trips when our children were younger and how they compared to vacations for kids today. How times and travel had changed.  The differences in the places we travel.

We, of course, talked about grandson Kory’s plans and college.  And we ate southern food.  Unfortunately, the first night there, thanks to an evil virus, I became so ill I spent the next four days of trip in our hotel room in bed.  I missed graduation, but have photographic memories thanks to grandpa.

From there, we traveled about an hour’s drive to the west to spend some days with our son’s family.  Our son and his wife have a 15-year old son, Michael, who graduates in three years. His intellect is amazing, and he tests off the charts when it comes to IQ.  We have enjoyed hearing of his successes and dreams long distance but now we were there, up close and personal.  We learned so much, and since leaving we’ve heard it was a mutual experience.

Michael, seen in the photo at the right, has his sights on entering Vanderbilt University to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering with an eye on automotive design.  Interestingly, Grandpa Bob’s first job out of art school was for an automotive design firm in Los Angeles.  Bob had photocopied some of his drawings from that time, and he and Michael sat for some time going through them.  Later that evening, as our daughter-in-law told us, Michael sat down and went through the drawings explaining them to her.

The next evening we had to say our goodbyes but not before more sharing of stories, likes and dislikes, and common areas of interest.  In conversation, we determined that neither Grandpa Bob nor Michael liked yogurt, tapioca, and a variety of other things.  They also learned the number of car designs they both think are the “best.”  Smiles abounded in the room, and you could tell Michael was soaking up this family storytelling.

A text message from his mom the next morning told the tale.  Michael went home and told his parents how much fun he had watching Grandpa get excited talking about cars and design, how many things they liked and disliked that were the same, and how it felt good to know he wasn’t such an oddball in the family after all.  At reading this aloud, Grandma cried and Grandpa placed his hand over his heart.

The richness of that time together will hopefully be for all of us a time of remembering, finding ourselves in our stories and the stories of others, and that Michael will some day tell his children these stories, both serious and funny, so that they can be passed on in time to the next generations.

This, dear friends, is our responsibility as the keepers of our stories.  We must not keep them to ourselves — we must share them, whether verbally or by written word.  So, get out there and share!

MY NEXT POST will focus on storytelling and the ways in which we can share our stories, both written and verbal, so that future generations and others will have them to enjoy.  Join me on Wednesday, June 5th.

Travel Reflections – Part 1

Click image for attribution
Click image for attribution

Recently, we traveled via Amtrak from Portland to Chicago.  Our destination a small town in Tennessee by rental car.

Our grandson, Kory, graduated high school on May 18th and that ceremony was part of our reason for travelling.  However, we have other family in the area we visited as well.  More about that later.

What I want to write about here are the stories we heard and shared with total strangers, who became friends, as we travelled the journey mapped here.

The morning after our trip began on a Monday afternoon we met a mother and her young daughter, Evelyn, aged 3.  Their trip was a surprise graduation gift for Evelyn’s aunt. Grandma was disappointed they couldn’t come, so bought their train tickets.  Evelyn regaled us with her stories of the train trip so far.

Evelyn’s storytelling skills were amazing, her use of words astounding.  Curiosity drove us to ask her mother how Evelyn had gained such a command of the language.  Evelyn’s dad began reading to her as soon as she came home from the hospital, and as a family they share stories in the evening about their days.  Kudos to this young family!  I predict Evelyn may be a writer some day.

Click on image for attribution
Click on image for attribution

Among our travelling companions were three young adult women committed to the German Baptist Brethren faith.  Each of them had been to a place of service in the Northwest, and now they were on their way to an annual camp meeting. Their peaceful and quiet conversation, coupled with their delight in sharing about their growing up and current lifestyle, made for pleasant company as we travelled.  The photo here is not of these young women, but it is representative of their dress.

The storytelling skills these three shared were gifts passed down through generations.  One of them was constantly writing in a journal. Yet more evidence of the importance of sharing our stories with our children, grandchildren, and others, and the benefit of recording in a journal to remember the stories we want to share.

Our interactions with Evelyn and our German Brethren friends grew short as the rails sped under and behind us.  We reached Chicago not having met too many others on the train, at least who excited us with their storytelling quite like these already mentioned.

Grandpa Bob and Kory
Grandpa Bob and Kory

The trip to Chicago was about 48 hours and then we had another eight hours of driving.However, our arrival was in good time for graduation on the 18th.  And we’re so proud of Kory, seen here with my husband, Bob, following his graduation ceremony.

Our first night together with our daughter Suzanne, her son Kory and Bob’s ex-wife, Linda, was a time of sharing stories and catching up.  The storytelling had caught my attention on the train, and I wanted to spread that gift throughout our family.

Kory has done amazing things the past 12 years.  Kory has completed his education in spite of ADHD and Asperger’s.  Although he is still combating difficulties in some areas, Kory’s determination led him to apply to and receive acceptance from a local university in his home town.  In fact, the white honor cord he is wearing is for achieving one of the highest ACT scores in his class, an accomplishment which has earned him a couple of scholarships.

I have much more to share with you about storytelling, family, the highs and lows of our journey and what I learned about people and their stories.  Come back on Monday, June 3rd, for the next installment.