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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Tried and True Graduation Tips

Graduation

Forty-five years ago last month, my fellow graduates and I were walking together across the football field, new diplomas proudly clutched in our hands and tears filling our eyes. We were turning the page to a bold new chapter, although I’m sure that more than a few had absolutely no idea what that chapter was going to be. While the high school curriculum had been replete with Home Ec, Typing, and Metal Shop classes – along with Math, Science and Language – I can’t think of a single one that actually spoke to the “life” skills we would need upon leaving the nest. Nor, for that matter, were my classmates’ parentals providing useful instruction. In my own case, my parents expected me to stay in their well feathered nest until such time as I would marry someone of their choosing and, subsequently, hire others to pay the bills, shop for groceries and manage a household. When instead I defied them by getting my first job at 19 and moving into a studio apartment downtown, I would likely not have survived more than a month of my new-found independence if I hadn’t been shown Life’s ropes (including how to balance a checkbook!) by a bevy of helpful neighbor ladies that were keen to have a “project.”

If I were a student today and on the precipice of graduating from high school or college, my mentor would be Terry Matthews-Lombardo, author of Tried and True Graduation Tips. At 50 pages, it’s a bite-sized read that even your most multi-tasking and short-attention-span offspring can (and should) make time for. Just be sure to buy two copies – one for them to vigorously mark up, yellow-highlight and dog-ear its corners and the spare to give to their kids.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your new book, Tried and True Graduation Tips, is a must-have guide for students on the threshold of leaving the classroom and learning to navigate the workaday world. Turning back the clock, what were the thoughts, dreams and fears going through your head on your own graduation day?

A:  I have this great photo of myself and a group of my best gal-pals at our graduation and we were all smiley and giggly with our gowns flowing in the wind.  Every time I look at it I’m reminded of how care-free and exciting that day was for us – mostly because we just felt like the world was awaiting our greatness!  But also because, as I recall, we were fearless back then, perhaps more naïve than today’s grads, and certainly more clueless!

Q: At what age did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?

A:  I was fortunate to grow up in a family that did a good deal of traveling so at an early age that opened my eyes to the magic of learning about areas beyond my small hometown.  The more places I visited the more I wanted to learn about other destinations, so a career in some part of that big wide industry was in the cards for me from the start.  I was particularly fascinated by hotels, thus my choice for that major in college.

Q: Who or what had the greatest influence on those aspirations and choices?

A:  My mother introduced me to reading James Michener, most of whose books are an incredible travel narrative that served to pique my curiosity about all those places he wrote about.  And my father gave me the gift of opening my eyes to the world of travel so it was definitely a family affair.

Q: If you could write a letter to your younger self in high school, what would you say?

A:  Dear Terry:  If you work hard and play nice through it all, it will be alright in the end, so don’t try to predict the future.  Que sera, sera!

Q: Are public and private schools today doing as much as they could/should in terms of offering curriculum in career development?

A:  I truly believe they are missing the mark on basic training in Life Management 101.  I even mention that in Chapter One of this book!  Like it or not, you get enrolled in LM101 the minute you graduate, and most kids are not at all prepared for the basics like managing a budget, understanding the importance of insurance, asking plenty of questions when they don’t understand something, and even time management.  Signing up and moving into that first job and/or apartment can be a sobering experience

Q: If you were in charge of that curriculum, what would you do differently?

A:  I would definitely include a math class that explains basic finance in terms of matching your expenses against your income, understanding the whole banking process and investment systems, the importance of retirement planning (that seems so distant and useless until it isn’t!), and so much more.  Teaching math only in terms of algebra and geometry is useless on so many levels unless, of course, all your students are going to be engineers and physicians.  But if you’re heading toward a non-technical professional career, you need real life vision regarding money.  I do remember taking economics but the professor was so out of touch and it was all just so boring when it could have been presented in a relevant and meaningful way, applicable to life management.

Q: To what do you attribute your expertise in this area?

A:  I have over 35 years of progressively successful professional career experience that includes working for some of the biggest names in corporate America (such as both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios) as well as working for a small startup and an international association. You learn from and grow with each and every job; and all of those lead to my present position as an independent business consultant, writer and speaker.  I consider every job I’ve ever held as being part of that training ground, and at some point you look at that body of knowledge and say, “Hey, I really do know what I’m doing here!  Time to share some of that knowledge!”

Q: What was your biggest goal in writing this book?

A:  To provide some concrete business advice to kids that need it during a vulnerable time in their lives, aka graduation.  No matter what field of work they are going into, job interviews will be needed, people skills will be tested, and as I say in the book’s dedication, “You haven’t finished learning yet.  The life before you is one open book, so keep reading!”

Q: So what’s your response to those who might say, “My kid just graduated from college. Why would I need to buy another book on this subject?

A:  Because this book has some valuable tips and proven counsel for job interviewing, personal financial management, and making that transition from college life into real world living.  And no matter how much [parents] have spent on that diploma, for the most part the graduates are not learning these basics in those expensive classes.  Plus, this one is cheap and actually useful J

Q: I’m pleased to see that you’ve included information on manners, something that seems to be woefully lacking in today’s younger generation. Is it too late to counteract the combined effects of entitlement (gimme gimme gimme), parental indifference to etiquette rules, and the insularity/anonymity fostered by technology?

A: No, I don’t believe it’s ever too late to encourage civility in one’s training!  It does go against the grain of “I don’t need to really talk or communicate with people because I work on a computer all day”, but in the end we all know that every job requires some level of human interaction as does day to day survival.  At some point you’ll have a conversation with your landlord.  One day you’ll need to buy a car or house.  Shoot, even basic things like a trip to the grocery store normally results in human interaction.  There’s a new marketing campaign out right now that encourages “dark for dinner” indicating families should all put their cell phones and PDAs aside during one meal each day and, wow, just have a conversation!  Brilliant, isn’t it? How great would it be if more kids were brought up with this kind of engagement instead of being glued to their computer screens all day long?  There’s such a lack of basic interpersonal communication skills out there right now and it’s great to see this national campaign promoting old fashioned family chatter at the table.

Q: What was your inspiration for those “Author’s Additional Five Cents Worth” tips at the end of the book?

A: I’ve raised two successful kids (yes, beaming with pride) and I gave them both the list of “Ten Things I Wish My Parents Had Told Me When I Was Your Age” which is what I share at the book’s end.  I made it very personal and I think every parent should do the same to help their kids feel empowered to ask questions and understand that just because you have a diploma doesn’t mean you have all the answers.

Q: What’s the best graduation present a parent, relative or mentor can give?

A:  Good and sage advice – maybe via Tried and True Graduation Tips? (shameless self-promotion!) But seriously, I do include some great gift ideas in Chapter Three, one of which is a decent interview suit.  For the most part, the college wardrobe is seldom considered professional, so basic pieces – not fashion statements – are what college grads need right away.

Q: What did you give your own offspring for graduation?

A:  My son did get a new suit from us (of course, he picked it out), and my daughter got a new set of luggage because she had already worn out her old stuff and would be doing some business traveling in her new job. (Also, as a fashion major, she already owned a few good suits and presentable interview attire.)

Q: Assuming that college was affordable for everyone, is a university education the best fit for every high school graduate?

A:  I don’t think it’s ‘the’ one size fits all answer anymore.  There are so many great technical institutes and boutique training options out there specializing in all kinds of unique career paths that I really think if you do your homework (no pun intended) you can find something that’s affordable and makes sense to get you started on your career path. You hear the term niche or target marketing a lot these days and that applies to higher education opportunities as well.

Q: Breaking into the competitive job market starts with having well polished interview skills. What are some of the top interview tips you’ve included in the book?

A:  A good self-introduction and a solid handshake are a must, and mastering both usually give you a boost of confidence that will carry through during the entire interview process.  Simple but very meaningful and highly effective tools.

Q: Like many authors, you opted for the self-publishing route. What governed this decision and what were the easiest/hardest aspects of donning the DIY hat of author, editor, publisher and marketer?

A: I self published via Amazon/Create Space mostly for two reasons: 1] I knew this was a very short and simple book, and 2] I wanted to test the waters for any future publishing that I do.  I currently have several other books in the works (don’t all authors?) and starting out with a short one to test the waters was the path I chose.  It’s been an incredible learning experience and true to the advice I kept reading about from other authors, the biggest challenge is doing your own marketing, especially when it’s a non-fiction book.  As you’re writing you might think that the formatting, uploads/downloads, cover art and all those elements are the biggest obstacles but then one day you get past all that and have an actual product at which time you turn inward and say, “Whew – I did it!”  When in reality, all you did was print a book.  I read some sage advice somewhere that basically said an author’s journey is only half done when the book is finished.  The next half of the journey is to get someone to read it.  So true!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Writing is my encore career, and therefore I’m still gainfully employed as a professional meeting planner.  But this also allows me to continue traveling, attending conferences, and giving me oh-so-much-more to write about!  I’m also constantly getting magazine articles published along with always pitching more ideas.  I feel it’s all part of (the necessity of) building your base as a writer, so everything I do now has that for a goal.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work (and, of course, buy your book!)?

A:  I maintain a writer’s website at www.tmlwrites.com and keep a blog going there with interesting posts about my travel and lifestyle stories.  I also have a professional blog called the Hospitality Hive which is published via the Orlando Sentinel/Hype Orlando, and in this one I cover all kinds of topics related to the Central Florida Hospitality scene.  That link is http://www.hypeorlando.com/hospitality-hive/ I always tell subscribers to not to worry about me clogging their inbox as I only post a couple times per month on each blog site.  Personally I get really turned off when I subscribe to something and then get bombarded in the inbox with constant posts, so I struggle with what the right amount is to keep people interested.  Plus, I feel if you put out quality instead of quantity the readers will appreciate you more.  As for Tried and True Graduation Tips, it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and ereader format.  There is a direct link to it on my website, and also at Tried and True Graduation Tips: WHAT WE KNOW FOR SURE ABOUT GRADUATION AND BEYOND

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I love this quote from Mark Twain about becoming a writer:  “Writing is easy.  All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” This is so true, and a reminder to me that every word I put on that keyboard counts!  I try to write with purpose whether it’s to inform, entertain, or more often both because I think life can be a pretty serious journey.  I also believe that everyone has a great story (or two) to tell, and I just hope that people are interested in mine!