A Chat With Steph Young

No Plus One cover.jpg

In the sort of “perfect” world the mothers of an earlier generation envisioned for their daughters, every “meet cute” that transpired in a laundromat would magically end up in a fairy tale wedding, every blind date set up by well intentioned friends would be Hugh Grant and not Eddie Munster, and every man who ever whispered all the right words would actually fulfill them. In the wackily imperfect world of the 21st century, however, finding “Mr. Right” has more likely become a quest for “Mr. Right For Now” or a reluctant acceptance that maybe matrimony just isn’t in the cards one has been dealt.

In her new book, No One Plus One: What To Do When Life Isn’t a Romantic Comedy, author Steph Young embraces a mirthful message of female empowerment – that instead of lamenting you’re seated at a table for one, you should be happy that you neither have to share your dessert nor be chided about whether you’re cheating on your diet.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Why do you feel the message of your book is important, especially in an era where we’re constantly bombarded with messaging that we’re not meant to live our lives as singletons?

A: My friend Jill Dickman and I dated a lot and we were single all the time. Though we were still working through our own disappointments, our friends would always come to us for advice when they were newly single. The common themes were boredom and loneliness. The loneliness seemed to stem from a lack of self-confidence. They wanted reassurance that they were desirable – don’t we all?

Predominately media makes a fairytale ending seem like the norm, which becomes the ultimate success for women. Try to think of a movie – even those with strong female lead characters – that doesn’t end with a love connection. So when your life isn’t turning out like the movies, women tend to assume something is wrong with us. Jill and I recognized this and set out to tell women that it’s okay to be single. And while we are single, whether for 2 weeks or 10 years, we should still enjoy life, not pine away for a perfect relationship, which seems to be up to chance or luck anyway. We promote the idea of feeling complete as is.

Q: If you could time-travel, what would you most like to go back and tell your younger self about romance, sex and happily ever after?

A: I probably did tell myself this, or somebody did…But really, just stop worrying, analyzing, fretting. Time will take care of everything. We are all on the right path to where we need to go. Single or taken, life is to be lived so don’t waste time analyzing if somebody likes you back or not. Just keep it moving and do what makes you happiest. Another huge piece of advice that finally clicked for me recently is to stop beating myself up. So much energy is spent feeling bad for what’s not going right. This is the biggest time waste/energy suck there is. It has absolutely no positive value. It doesn’t make you feel better; it doesn’t motivate or inspire. It just makes you feel like shit. It was a hard shift to stop doing this, but once I got some mastery of it, my life changed.

Q: What’s the stupidest thing you ever did in the name of love?

A: I haven’t done many stupid things in the name of love, but when you fall sometimes insecurity seeps in and gets the best of us. One time I was fearful that a guy I was dating was sleeping with other girls, so one night I waited outside his house in my car to see if I could catch a girl coming in or out of his place. Now as an older, wiser me, I would handle this insecurity with good communication and getting up the guts to talk to him about it. Or if I felt he wasn’t showing me the kind of love that made me feel secure, I’d probably just stop seeing him. I really admire a friend of mine who moved to Europe in the name of love. She left her whole life and started over for a really, really nice guy. It’s been working out so far. They are now married and have lived together for four years. We all have different paths; we can’t judge our own life on somebody else’s. I don’t know if I would be able to take a leap like that but I love that she did. It’s all part of the adventure.

Q: What inspired you to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) and turn your perspectives about living an unapologetic single life into a book?

A: The book started on a whim. It happened one day when Jill and I were sitting in our living room (we were roommates at the time) and going through old journals and cracking up at our ridiculous dating stories. Then we said out loud, “We should write a book” and so it was. We put together an outline and some ideas that afternoon and picked it up every so often. The slow process lasted for years until we got serious about it last year and set the goal to complete and publish No Plus One.

I had no idea what writing a book would entail, and I really didn’t think it was going to be so hard. I don’t think all messages make for good books, but we agreed the story + “how-to” nature along with the homework would warrant a short and snackable book.

Q: What governed the decision to write a book from two people as one?

A: We initially started writing the book as a fictional story from one character’s point of view, however it wasn’t really coming together, so we decided to switch to a non-fiction, how-to / self-help style. Our stories were so similar, we felt it would be less confusing to the reader for us to seam our stories together rather than following two separate narratives. We also wanted to get to the heart of the issues rather than drag the reader through backstory and set up.

Q: Tell us a bit about how the day-to-day development process worked for both of you.

A: We worked really well over Google docs. When one of us would get stuck, we would hit the other up and say, “Can you pick this up?”  Since we knew each other so well, we could essentially fill in the missing pieces. We were friends for a long time and we had both lived through a lot of the stories together.

Another tactic that worked was when we’d jump on the phone while both of us were in the live Google doc and talk and write. That was really efficient because by working together we didn’t let writers block settle in for too long. Either the other person would pick up and write, or we could talk through what we were really trying to say. Talking out loud often helped us find the right words to write down.

Q: How do you manage to stay away from envy, ego or jealousy from getting in the way of your friendship/partnership?

A; It can be an easy to fall into the trap of wanting individual success or feeling resentful if you feel like you’re contributing more than another person. When we decided to finish the book, Jill and I clearly outlined our individual goals, desires, and expectations on how we wanted to contribute to the project and what we wanted to get out of it. We agreed that our number one goal was to get our message out. We weren’t using this platform to turn a huge profit or grow our personal platforms, though either of those would be an added bonus. We really believed in our message and wanted to help women. We also outlined a partnership contract that identified how we would split everything should we turn a huge profit. The important part of that process wasn’t necessarily having a signed contract, but rather working through the contract together. It gave us a forum to communicate. It can be awkward approaching a friend about a contract. It can seem insulting, like you don’t trust the other person, but I’ve been on the loosing end of a friendship agreement before, so I was happy to go through any awkwardness if it meant saving our friendship in the end.

Q: What was the greatest challenge during the creative process?

A: The biggest challenge was writer’s block. It’s really hard to make a streamlined and cohesive story, especially sustained over nine chapters. Getting the words on the page was difficult, editing and re-writing parts that didn’t make sense was even more painful. Being persistent was also really hard. It took over a year of intense and consistent writing and editing. I have a full time job so the time I would write was at five o’clock in the morning. Getting up and doing this everyday was a challenge but it soon became habit.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when this journey toward publication began?

A: I didn’t know how long the marketing process would be. Books are different than other products because the word of mouth is much slower. People need to read the book before they pass it along. So after a year of marketing we are still gaining interest and audience, we haven’t reached a tipping point yet, but I know with consistency of messaging we will find the right fans. With a traditional publisher, they will typically do a big marketing/PR push for you at the beginning. I talked to people who had gone the traditional route and still were not satisfied even though they had a big publisher behind them. They also had less control of the outcome. The decision to self-publish meant we had to do all the work, but we also control all the profit as well. We also can continue hitting new audiences and trying new marketing tactics long after the launch.

Q: Did you ever encounter writer’s block along the way? If so, how did you get past it?

A: All the time. Writer’s block, frankly, sucks. One tactic we used was to talk through it. I would call Jill or she me, and we’d say what we were trying to say. By the time we had talked for five minutes, we had formulated the words and could continue writing. Another tactic is free-form writing. When you can’t find the right words, sometimes just writing any words, even if they don’t make any sense, can get you past writer’s block. The last part is to read. When I run out of inspiration I remember to look outward. Sometimes I’d find the nugget I was missing while exploring other articles, books, artwork, etc. Also, the same goes for getting out of your house to experience the real world. Our life experiences give us insights that we use, so it’s important to take time out to go get some new material and perspective.

Q: Tell us about the decisions you made regarding a publisher once the book was done.

A: We made the decision to self-publish before we completed the book. Often when pitching to a traditional publisher, you don’t need the final manuscript, you need a pitch. Early on we pitched our project to literary agents and got a few bites, but after a year of this we grew impatient of the process. We decided that getting the message out was far more important than signing with a publisher so we set on self-publishing. It’s a much more involved process, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who doesn’t have an interest in anything business minded. If you only enjoy the writing process, I would suggest trying to find a publisher (even a small one) who can help with the publishing details. I personally love business and new projects, so it was something I wanted to dive into. There is a huge learning curve, so it was important to give myself time and do a ton of research throughout the process.

Q: What has been the response by your readers?

A: The response has been more fulfilling than either of us imagined. While I feared scrutiny, mostly I just wanted to make sure people “got it.”  It was really important to have the message land. We wanted women, and especially single women, to feel good. We designed the book from the format to the length to do just that. When I see comments or reviews and women say that single or not, they’ve gained a sense of empowerment or self-confidence, it fills my heart. It means a lot that our message and experiences can directly connect with somebody and impact their life. I believe in paying it forward and in the power of positivity, so I feel good knowing that I’m spreading positive messaging around in the world.

Q: What are you doing to promote this title and which methods have yielded the most success for you?

A: We’ve run the gamut to promote No Plus One. The biggest goal is awareness, so all marketing is done with that in mind. I’ve got a great PR person who continuously reaches out to get placements and features. I worked on an influencer seeding strategy using my personal relationships. I also write articles to promote my book along with other articles that are a cut down of the book to help find and hook potential new readers. The most effective network I have are my Facebook friends and family. They are the most supportive and engaged audience. I’ve also tried paid tactics like FB and Twitter ads as well as iAds, but these aren’t my favorite methods. All the tactics should be done in tandem to be really effective. Writing for platforms, like Thought Catalog or Mogul, plus PR and influencer seeding have been the most effective.

Q: What do you feel sets your book apart from similar self-help titles about relationships?

A: Most other self-help focused was on how to change your behavior to remedy being single (i.e. find a relationship). Our book focuses on discovering the beauty in being single and feeling confident in yourself so that you are comfortable being single. It neither promotes finding a relationship or being single, it just recognizes that being single is a special phase that we can all benefit from.

Q: Are you currently writing full-time or does another career absorb a lot of your waking hours?

A: I have a full-time, well, more than full-time job in marketing. All my writing happens early in the morning. It was a huge commitment to get this book done while working the hours my day job requires. I bordered on the verge of obsession. I needed to set a really aggressive goal in order to finish. For about a year I woke up at 5 a.m. to write for as long as I could before I needed to get ready for work. Other times, I’d spend all weekend writing. I don’t write the best at night, but even sometimes, I pined over chapters just to stay on my self-imposed schedule.

Q: When and where do you do your best and most energizing creative thinking?

A: I love writing first thing in the morning. I pour some coffee and sit in front of my windows and just write. The Internet is a really distracting place, though, so I do my best not to get sucked into mindless surfing while on my computer. I also found that putting on vibey, calming music was really effective. I loved the idea of working before the rest of the world was up.

Q: What would our readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I am actually quite good at my day job in marketing, which has little to do with writing self-help. I’ve become somewhat of an industry expert in digital marketing based on the portfolio I’ve built with the brand I work for.

Also, I didn’t really start writing before I wrote my book. The extent of my writing was journaling or the occasional blog post. Writing the book made me feel comfortable enough to call myself a writer.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m starting a new job in brand marketing in a few weeks. I’ll be heading up a team so that will be an entirely new challenge in leadership. I’ve been taking a breather from writing so I hope to start up again in a really authentic, no-filter style for a new project. I am also working on a screenplay – which I have no idea how to do.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Following me on Twitter or Snapchat (@StephYoungMC) is a really quick and unfiltered look at who I am as a person. I also write a lot of articles on onMogul.com; I can be reached on any of those platforms if anybody has questions. I’m always happy to help other writers / entrepreneurs.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Don’t ever be afraid to go after your dreams.

 

 

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