A Chat With Steph Young

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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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Business and Baby at Home!

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I’m really pleased to introduce and welcome Australia’s Sarah O’Bryan, author of Business & Baby at Home! More than just an author, Sarah walks the walk of a savvy “mumpreneur”, as she juggles three young children at home while continuing to build her home based business, Lasso Creative, as a Graphic Designer. As if that weren’t enough, Sarah is also comfortable in the media, engages audiences during her public speaking talks, and writes insightful, helpful articles in various publications, websites, and blogs. In today’s interview, we get the chance to know a little more about this fascinating woman.

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

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 Q Sarah, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and what lead you to write for and about work-from-home entrepreneurial mothers?

I’ve always been a firm believer in creating your own blueprint and leading with passion in life. I guess that’s why my husband and I were knee-deep in a gigantic dream-home reno at the same time I moved Lasso Creative into my home studio, and gave birth to my first child. Similarly, my third babe was born on the cusp of my book launch. I juggle the latest design project alongside the world that is Business & Baby at Home (Finch Publishing, 2013). This includes an appearance on the Today Show, contributing to numerous magazine features on the topic, and writing articles for Australia’s biggest women’s network, Business Chicks. Business and Baby at Home (Finch Publishing) is an extension on the way I run my business. It’s my way of passing on inspiration, innovation and the business acumen that I use to build my brand on a daily basis. The book is a set-up and survival guide for work-from-home parents, with a positive and engaging message that I believe is vital in today’s society.

Q What would you say has been your most difficult personal or professional lesson to learn?

I’m very ethical in everything I do, whether personal or professional and I’ve always had the natural assumption that others will behave the same way. It’s tough when you have to work with people who don’t share the same values. You’re left feeling let down and disappointed. I’ve learnt that it comes down to being mindful, and accepting jobs where values align for both parties.

Q If you could invite any two people to dinner, who would you choose, and why?

Frida Kahlo was a game-changer and has always fascinated me. She lived by her own set of rules, was a true artist and an amazingly resilient human being. I really admire resilience in a person. I would also invite Oprah Winfrey, because she’s such a wealth of information on life and business, has amazing connections, and is a true beacon of success. We share a common trait… she also loves food, so the table would be abundant, the music playing and the drinks flowing.

Q We all have aspects to our lives or our selves that aren’t well known. Could you share something about yourself that not many people know?

Most people tell me that I’m really relaxed and laid back, but it’s really the opposite. My mind is constantly ticking over, brainstorming new ideas and dreaming up my next goal in life.

Q As a woman on the move, I’m sure you have many, but what would you consider is/was your greatest WOW moment, and why?

Seeing the words of how my life works in print which lead to chatting to the stunning Lisa Wilkinson on the Today show, one of our national breakfast programs here in Australia. Being on set with the cameras, lights and crew was such a buzz! I was called on as an advocate for working from home and having that all-too-frightening discussion with your boss negotiating the move. It was new, challenging, and I felt completely in my element.

Q We seem to be seeing a global trend in this area, but why do you think so many women are choosing to work from home?

I think there are a few factors at play regardless of where you live. The first is the rise in the cost of living, real estate prices are sitting at an all-time high, and the weekly family food shop is an expensive exercise. For many, it’s just not an option to be a stay-at-home mum. Secondly, I think women want to retain some independence, and have an interest beyond motherhood. A lot of us enjoy our chosen professions, and want to stay connected with it. Others find becoming a mum is the inspiration for starting a new business. Plus, the world is changing, it’s now more acceptable to work from home, or create more unique work practices. Technology is continually evolving to support flexible work arrangements.

Q Working from home can seem like the ideal dream job, but what do you think are the biggest obstacles new “mumpreneurs” face and aren’t prepared for?

A lot of mums tell me they don’t feel supported by their partners or family and friends. In some cases, there’s an attitude that what they’re doing is not a proper job; particularly in the early days, when the business may not be making a huge profit. Support is very important. I talk in the book about adopting an equal-parenting approach, but also an equal approach to all the responsibilities of running the household. The other factor I’ve found is having the determination to persevere, even when you feel disillusioned. You can often hit roadblocks or speed-bumps, and it can be tougher than you think to get the business moving.

Q Time management and scheduling have to be the cornerstones for any successful entrepreneur. Could you give us an example of what a regular day for you looks like, and how you juggle all the various demands?

My day always starts with a cappuccino! I then get the older kids ready for school, and all the other usual family demands in the morning. Once the school run is done, and the baby is settled, I check my current work-in-progress schedule to figure out my priorities for the day. Then it’s all about ticking off the to-do list! I may design a new logo or brochure for a client, respond to a journalist or pop some material on Facebook or Instagram. I use my little one’s sleep schedule as blocks of work time. It’s great for client phone calls and is a really productive way to work, as you know you have a deadline the moment the baby wakes. By the afternoon, I’ve made progress. I always make time for some afternoon tea, park or play time with the kids. If my husband is home on time, he’ll make dinner and do a few household chores while I play tag and head back into the studio to finish any major projects off. It took a while for us to get the balance right, and while every day is different, we always end the day with dinner at the family table.

Q What do you think are some of the mistakes people make when starting out, and why?

The old saying, ‘do what you love, love what you do’ is a huge factor in finding success. Do something you’re passionate about because this is what will keep you motivated when you lack enthusiasm or are feeling exhausted. People often forget that whilst they may look like it on the surface, not many businesses are over-night success stories. Years are spent planning, working, networking and building businesses, and hopefully it’s done with joy in people’s hearts because they are doing what they love to do.

Q Really making any new business a long-term success is tough. What do you think is the secret to success for those who choose to work from home while raising a family?

I’ve found one of the biggest issues is knowing when to switch off. I know for me, a huge amount of self-discipline is required to not constantly check my phone, or think about the design project I’m working on. It’s really important on many levels to know when to take the work hat off, or vice versa, take the parent hat off when you’re working. It’s about being present, living in the moment, when your children are telling you about their day, or being completely on task when you’re working to meet a deadline. Work/life balance is never achieved, it’s just maintained.

Q Everyone wants to know; what are some of your best tips for mothers who want to successfully run their business from home, while still being a hands-on parent?

Keep a work-in-progress (WIP) list at all times so you have a record of your jobs. Update this throughout the day so that nothing slips through the cracks. Go over it at the end of your workday to help you switch off and relax, knowing that everything is in place. This also means you start your day with a clear direction of what needs to be done first.

Set reasonable lead times for yourself so that when you’re particularly busy you’re not overly stressed trying to deliver on time. It’s better to surprise a client by getting a job done early rather than it being late. If it’s taking longer than you expected, retain clear communication with the customer, assuring them you’re doing the best you can and that they’re a top priority.

Set short and long-term goals for both personal and professional achievements. These may be setting financial benchmarks, acquiring a number of new clients, or getting to Pilates once a week. It’s a huge encouragement and as you tick them off they give direction to keep you on track for where you want to go.

Maintain a strong routine that enables you to get your work done. A lack of routine can result in shapeless and unproductive days with no progress. We all know as a parent, you can get to the end of a day and think where did the time go? So create and stick to a routine that works for you and allows blocks of time that you’re working through your WIP.

Q How can we connect with you in social media?

Website: www.businessandbabyathome.com.au

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/businessbabyathome

Instagram: SarahOBryan_

Twitter: @SarahOBryan_

Thank you so much for your time today, Sarah! You’ve given us some great insights, tips, and encouragement on women/mothers working from home. Congratulations on the success of your book, Business & Baby at Home, and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours!

 

Editorial Note: Sarah O’Bryan is also one of over thirty experts featured in the newly released Office for One: The Sole Proprietor’s Survival Guide. (https://www.createspace.com/5029312)

 

 

The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say

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“The best executive,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt, “is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Suffice it to say during all of the years I was employed by someone else, there was only one boss I ever had who fit T.R.’s definition of quality leadership. Woefully, the rest were either manic control freaks and paranoid blame-gamers or women that were gung-ho about teamwork and upward mobility…until, that is, they crossed over into managerial positions and promptly pulled the drawbridge up behind them.

Such are the individuals who could benefit mightily from David M. Dye’s new book, The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say. Targeted to leaders and managers, this how-to guide is packed with practical and encouraging tools for cultivating energized, responsible, and results-oriented teams.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: With 20+ years of experience in multiple business sectors – including nonprofits – who would you say had the greatest influence in honing your professional skills (and passion!) for leadership and employee engagement?

A: I’ve always believed that the very best life-textbooks we have are when things don’t go well. I’ve had some excellent leadership mentors, but often the people who weren’t very good taught me the most and helped me honed my own professional skills. My passion often came from realizing what would be possible if only the leadership was more effective.

Q: How has your mindset changed and evolved from how you originally approached leadership issues and how you address them now in consultations with your clients?

A: When I was young, I went searching for the secret to changing people (naïve, I know!). Of course, as I matured, I came to understand that the only person you are responsible for is you. Consequently, my approach to leadership shifted from fear, power, and control to real engagement based on taking responsibility for myself and the environment I create for the people I lead.

Q: Once upon a time, individuals fresh out of college (or even high school) would go to work for the very first company that hired them, climb the promotional ladder, and remain there until the day they retired. Nowadays, many students are not as wedded to the idea of corporate loyalty and, accordingly, view every job as a revolving door to somewhere else. How then, can today’s employers create an environment that will not only engage the members of their team but also provide incentives that will make them want to stay?

A: No team can thrive without trust. The tension you’ve described is a lack of trust between employers and employees. When neither group feels that the other cares about them, it is tough to build high performance organizations. The answer begins with something Stephen Chbosky, Writer and Director of Perks of Being a Wallflower, said: “The generation gap is nothing more than a conversation we haven’t had yet.”

People want similar things, but they want them in different ways. They want meaningful contribution, purpose, recognition, a feeling of growth, a sense of power over their own destiny, the opportunity to use their strengths in meaningful ways. These express themselves in different ways in different people…so start with conversation. What is important to you? What is important to them? Why are you both here?

Q: How do these principles of engagement and esprit de corps extend to the external teams with whom a company does business, especially, for instance, if their management practices are radically different?

A: It depends on the nature of the interactions. If an external group is going to be closely related to day-to-day operations, you want to be very careful about doing business with someone whose values are very different from your own. More generally, however, treat those individuals and their teams consistently with your own values and practices without judgment or criticism. You may even change how they do things.

Q: What are some of the most common mistakes that managers make under the umbrella of “Motivation”?

A: Band-Aids!

What I mean by Band-Aids is when manager becomes aware that there is a motivation or morale problem and they respond with a team bowling day or a pizza party. The team collectively rolls its eyes and now feels even worse. Why?

They feel worse because now the manager is essentially telling them, “I’m not going to address the real issue. In fact, you must now feel better because we did something ‘fun’.”

This is so demotivating. Fun is only fun when fundamentals are sound. If there are broken systems undermining productivity, having a pizza party is like slapping a Band Aid on an infected wound without first cleaning it, disinfecting, and getting stitches.

Q: Is leadership a natural born talent or one that can only be learned through hands-on experience?

A:  It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and. Leadership has many components and most everyone is born with strengths in one or two areas. Effective leaders learn their skills and acquire ability through study, mentors, and experience.

Q: There are lots of leadership books on the market but you’ve approached the topic very differently. How did you come upon the idea of the ‘things your team needs to hear you say’ as a structure for your message/book?

A: Above all, I want the tools I share to be practical – something you can read during lunch and apply as soon as you return to your team. I focused on what leaders say because words are an easily modified behavior, because words work, and because what we say is often the start of further behavior change.

Q: You’ve included a number of individuals and stories in your book. Was there one in particular that profoundly touched your heart and made you say, “Wow”?

A: I share a story about a time my daughter asked why nothing she does is good enough. It is difficult to share, even now, how impactful that was. It goes back to why I focused on what leaders say: our words have incredible power, either to create or devastate.

Q: What’s the first thing you hope your readers do after finishing your book?

A: I hope the first thing readers do is tell themselves, “You can do this!”  The second thing would be to pick a phrase and share it with their team.

Q: What prompted you to launch Trailblaze and what are its core objectives?

A:  We have thousands of years of leadership wisdom available to us and yet 2/3 of Americans say they’d prefer a better boss to a raise in pay.

Clearly, there are so many leaders in need of practical wisdom they can apply in a fast-paced, pressure-filled environment. I launched Trailblaze to provide leaders, managers, and supervisors with practical tools they can use to get more done, build teams that care, and meet their goals.

Our core objective is to help leaders be effective at what they do. I think of my work as a “force-multiplier” for all the wonderful vision, passions, and energy people bring to their jobs.

Q: If you had to summarize your message on a billboard, bumper sticker or tweet, what would it say?

A:

Everyone’s a volunteer.

Lead to bring out the best, not wring out the worst.

Be the leader you want your boss to be.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

A: My website is http://trailblazeinc.com.

For more about the book, check it out on Amazon or get more information at http://trailblazeinc.com/7things

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Imagine what can happen when people take responsibility for their corner of the world and work with those around them to make a better tomorrow. I invite you to be one of those people!

 

The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats.

 

 

How to Prepare Your Young Child for Success in School

How to Prepare Your Young Child for Success in School

I often consider myself fortunate to have been a toddler in a pre-technology age. Yes, there was radio and television but they figured only minimally in terms of educating me or keeping me mindlessly entertained. I also seem to recall that my favorite toys were sans batteries and that I could be mesmerized for hours with “talking” sock puppets, blowing bubbles, making hand-shadows on the walls, collecting fallen flower petals, and turning the pages of a colorful book as the nearest available parental read out loud to me.

As a result of these experiences – all of which were “free” – I knew how to read, write, talk up a storm, color pictures and do simple math before I ever started school. Margaret Welwood’s book (available through SmashWords) may be small in terms of page count but it packs a pleasant punch of happy memories and serves as a reminder to today’s parents, grandparents and guardians that the very best thing they can spend on the little ones in their lives is Time. It’s a message that can’t be repeated often enough, especially the concept of carrying on conversations with toddlers even though logic might otherwise tell you that they haven’t a clue about, oh say, what the national deficit, global warming, or supply side economics even means.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with your background as an educator and ESL instructor. During the 25+ years you worked with immigrant families, were there any differences you observed between the passion they exhibited to give their children the best learning opportunities versus the mindset and expectations of non-immigrant parents?

A:  An interesting question. I would say that in my experience most parents want the best for their children and will sacrifice to provide for them. However, some of the refugees I worked with had suffered so terribly in their home countries that I believe they had a heightened appreciation of what it means to be Canadian. They were truly grateful for the opportunities their children would have here.

Others, whom we would term “economic refugees,” gave up good positions in their home countries so their children could have a better life here. One young woman told me that in her country she didn’t have choices. “Here,” she said, “I have choices.”

Q: What attracted you to the topic of early learning?

A: I’d worked with children off and on for years. When I wanted to promote our college’s English as a Second Language program for adults, a freebie on the website on how parents could help their children learn seemed like a good idea.

Q: What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in this field?

A: My early work with children consisted of teaching nursery school, Sunday School and English as a Second Language. In later years I worked as a teacher aide with Canadian students who had special needs. Thus I can’t really speak to how curriculum and delivery have changed, but I will note another important facet.

That is the emphasis on safety and security. There were no peanut-free schools when I started out. Fire drills yes, lockdown procedures no. And no signing in and out at the day care. I was so impressed with the director of Tommy’s after school care. I used to pick him up about once a week. Once I picked him up two days in a row, and the director asked, “Is he staying with you now?” They don’t miss much!

Q: What do you feel distinguishes your approach to early learning tools and techniques?

A: I believe that’s what is in the book is simply common sense, based on shared experience and solid research.

Q: Define the desired takeaway value of this book for your readers.

A: I think that for conscientious and aware parents and caregivers much of the value may be in being able to say, “I’m doing most of these things. I’ve got it right!” But there may be a couple of surprises. I’m really intrigued by the link between learning a second language and delaying Alzheimer’s symptoms, and the possible link between excessive screen time and autism.

Other parents, particularly young ones, may find a lot of new information that they can use from day one.

Q: Throughout the text you’ve incorporated wonderful pictures rather than using stock photos. Why?

A: None of the pictures except the cover one were taken with the book in mind. I looked through some very attractive—and free—stock photos, but they all looked so posed. They didn’t fit with my theme of using everyday experiences and no-cost or low-cost activities.

Q: Tell us about your prior writing/editing experience.

A: I started writing freelance newspaper and magazine articles, then edited a business magazine and a Writer’s Digest award-winning book on diabetes education.

Q: How did you get into writing picture books for children?

A: My grandchildren, Tommy and Tina, were the impetus. They like me to read them stories, but there’s something special about making up our own. Tina even missed her school bus one day while she and I were engrossed in our story about a bug hotel! And once Tommy called, very sad, and said, “I think what would help me is a really funny story.” I did a take on Jack and the Beanstalk using his house, and it helped to distract him from his sorrow.

Q: The best writers were often voracious readers growing up and have simply carried that thirst for reading into adulthood. Would that apply to you?

A: Yes. I really liked science fiction. My mother used to park me in the book section of The Bay while she did her shopping, and I worked my way down a series of SF books.

Q: What and who were some of the books and authors that especially resonated with you?

A: Marooned on Mars by Lester del Rey and French-Canadian fairytales. I also read non-fiction books about astronomy. The Stars Are Yours by James S. Pickering was an inspiration. I bought a telescope, and my friends and I had a space club.

Q: I’m assuming you read aloud to your children when they were toddlers?

A: Oh yes, and years after they were toddlers, too.

Q: As crucial as this bonding experience is between a parent and child, a lot of today’s moms and dads who are dual wage earners or are single heads of households lament that they just don’t have enough time to read aloud, much less play games. What impact does this have on a child when s/he starts school?

A: Some older teachers say that kids aren’t as smart as they used to be. I think part of that is the need for faster and flashier stimulation than a book affords. Yet, earlier this year as a volunteer story reader at a day care, I found that the children were, in general, very good at listening to stories. I also never saw a TV on there.

Reading and playing with children is important, but I believe that a lot is also accomplished through solitary and group play with generic toys that encourage creativity.

Q: Every year there seems to be a strong push to get technology into the hands of children at a younger and younger age. In your view, what are the pros and cons of this approach to early learning?

A: Pro—it’s the way our world is, and children need to be ready for it. Also, some learning technology is highly interactive. I’m attempting to learn French with a free online program and a set of DVDs I’ve borrowed from the library, and I think they’re pretty effective.

Con—I think some children are less able to entertain themselves or to pay attention to what’s going on around them. And they are losing the ability to interact with others through play. I see these as real losses, and I’m always encouraged when parents limit screen time.

Q: Writing is a solitary pursuit. Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s in progress or do you make everyone wait until it’s completely done?

A: Allow?? I insist! I love getting feedback.

Q: You’re giving your book away for free and yet this still requires marketing efforts on your part to let parents, grandparents and guardians know that it’s available. What steps are you taking to accomplish this?

A: I’ve posted a link on my website. There are several links to the book on my g+ page because I’ve posted it on several communities. I offer it to people I meet who show interest in the topic—and I ask people like you and The Edimath for reviews!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: The artist is coloring the pictures for Scissortown and then the marketing will begin in earnest, hopefully this month. (I have a reading at the Christian school booked for Jan. 27.) I’m also doing a course on Google AdWords.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: The e-book, Scissortown, and other books to follow are expressions of my love for my grandchildren and our enthusiasm for stories.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Please visit Writing Books for Children to learn about my writing journey, Grandma’s Treasures to learn about Tommy and Tina, the inspiration for my stories, and Grandma’s Bookshelf for a video about Scissortown, a link to my free e-book, and reviews of books I like.

 

The Secret Blueprint to More_______* (fill in the blank)

Chris_M._Sprague_headshotWhat if you were empowered to have more free time and energy, get important things done quickly and more efficiently, and eliminate the barriers to success?  In his new book, The Secret Blueprint to More_____* (fill in the blank), author and motivational speaker Chris M. Sprague reveals that you already possess the tools to move mountains, pursue your dreams, and positively impact the lives of others. It all gets down to understanding how, exactly, you’re uniquely wired.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with an overview of the academic and professional journey that got you to where you are today.

A: My journey (like many others) has been full of twists and turns.  Going beyond the academic, I started out with dreams of being a professional bowler with a back-up plan of working in radio, television and film.  I began both acting and bowing at the age of 5 and by the time I was 16, I had already been accepted to the #1 bowling college in the nation which also happened to have a great mass communications program.   I ultimately decided not to attend college right out of high school to continue my disc jockey/entertaining career.  Over the next few years, I moved around from job to job trying to make ends meet and eventually made my way into a corporate job with an Information Technology company.  In total, I took a 15-year detour from my passion and purpose of inspiring and empowering people’s lives.  At the end of my corporate career, I went through two layoffs in two years.  I then spent 12 months of trying unsuccessfully to get back into the workforce.

That’s when I made the commitment to start my own business.  A few months before I started my business, I had joined John C. Maxwell as a Founding Partner in his coaching, teaching and public speaking certification program.  At first, I attempted to use the training as a way to show prospective employers that I was pursuing personal growth and not just sitting around all day waiting for things to happen.  However, it didn’t help.  What I have figured out now is that going back to Corporate America was never what I was meant to do and that God had bigger plans for me.  Over the course of the past 2 ½ years, I have begun to bring together all of my life experiences (the best teacher) and realize that many people out there are in situations similar to what I’ve been through and they can benefit from my mistakes.  The biggest part of my journey that I feel can help people is the discovery of how people are wired.  I say this because, discovering how I am wired – and discovering that everyone can and should understand their own wiring – was the seminal moment in my life and business that changed everything.

Q: Who were some of the people that inspired you when you were growing up and what lessons did they impart which became incorporated in your personal blueprint for success?

A: This is a tough one.  Before the age of 18, I don’t remember too many people (other than Jesus) inspiring me.  The things I incorporated from Him into my life were, being a man of my word, always trying to help others and standing up for what I believed in even if the world doesn’t think I’m right.  When I think of someone inspiring, I think of someone that I say, “I want to be like” or, “This person is a great example”.  I believe part of my challenge growing up was that I never let anyone inspire me.  As I moved into adulthood, the first real inspiration I can remember was Anthony Robbins.  Granted, this inspiration was also coupled with some skepticism (let’s face it, I only knew him through his late night infomercials).  However, I felt that if his story was true and he did what he said he did, then there was hope for me!  The biggest lesson I learned from Tony is that we all have a great power within us and we just need to understand how to harness and unleash it.  If I (and the people around me) would have understood how I was wired earlier on in my life, I believe I would have had more inspiring people around me and I would have been more open to inspiration.

Q: Who do you most admire today for the way they in which live their lives, run their businesses, and/or take risks to push the envelope?

A: It would be a three-way tie among Jesus, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.  Each of these people were/are calculated risk takers and quick decision makers.  The best thing to do if you’re going to fail is fail quickly and then move on to the next challenge.  I can also identify with the way each of them is wired.  Jesus was wired to be a servant leader (and so am I).  Steve Jobs was wired to push the envelope (and so am I).  He was also wired to know when people needed a push to get things done (and so am I).  Richard Branson is wired to be the ultimate risk-taker (and so am I.  However, my risk-taking side is still being un-pasted.)   This concept of removing the paste covering your wiring is something for another article.

Q: When did you first know that becoming a published author was a goal you wanted to pursue?

A: Until 2012, I didn’t think I was wired to be an author.  However, once I uncovered a way to unleash my creativity in written form, I realized that I was always wired to write.  However, my wiring had been pasted over (covered-up) by negativity though out my childhood/school years.

Q: Tell us about the inspiration behind your book.

A: There were two inspirations behind The Secret Blueprint to More (_____*).  The first was that I have always wanted to help people.  Since people learn in different ways, a book was a great way to reach people who love to read vs. people who love to learn by watching.  The second what that I knew I needed my own platform as a public speaker and that I needed to begin to set myself apart as an expert.

Q: How did you go about defining your target audience, developing chapter content, and organizing the requisite research?

A: Given that this book was meant to be applicable to everyone, I never really did nail down a specific target audience.  This is also an extension of how I am wired.  I (like many other people) don’t want to limit the people who this book will help.  I also feel that if I completely ‘niche’ a book, it will limit the audience the book will appeal to.  The good news is that, I am also wired to understand that now that the general book is written, niching it down is that next logical step.  As for developing chapter content, I just sat down and started writing.  I say this not to diminish the efforts of other authors who spend months and years writing their books.  I only say this to illustrate that, once you understand how you’re wired and match what you’re doing to your wiring, your roadblocks melt away.  As for the requisite research, all of the material from the book came from personal experiences.  So, it was just a matter of organizing my previous experiences into something readable.  I’ve also always been a people watcher and an investigator.  This led me to accumulate thousands upon thousands of hours of anecdotal research and findings.

Q: There’s certainly no shortage of books on today’s market about personal growth and empowerment. What do you feel distinguishes your own approach?

A: My current book is a collection of things I’ve used personally to get ‘more’.  These are not theories or ‘Gee I hope this will work’ types of things.  These are concrete steps that will produce results.  I have also kept these general and broad enough so that at least one thing in the book should match the way most people are wired.

Q: I love your fill-in-the-blank title! How did you come up with it?

A: Thanks!  It was based on a number of focus groups.  I had a few different titles.  All of my original titles were based around changing one’s mindset.  The people in the focus groups liked the original titles.  However, their feedback was that the general public wouldn’t be looking for things on shifting mindset.  They felt the general public would be looking for something more concrete.  Then, after Charlie McDermott wrote the forward for my book, the idea of The Secret Blueprint hit me.  Finally, I added in the More (____) when I realized that the topic in the book would lead people to more free time, more success, more happiness and a whole bunch of other ‘mores’.  Had I started off by niching down to one particular segment, it would have gone against my wiring and there would have been mental roadblocks stopping me from succeeding.  In fact, this is exactly what happened when I first started my business and everyone kept telling me I needed to niche to a particular group before I created my content.

Q: So what’s your own word to fill in that blank?

A: Peace.  Using the tips I laid out in the book, I have been able to reduce stress, frustration and have more time for doing the things I love.  To me, that brings me peace.  This is also an extension of how I am wired.  I am wired to look at things in detail, be able to explain them in detail and then bring them up to a very high-level and go from the 1-foot view to the 100,000-foot view.  The challenge for me (and people like me) is to not make things so board that they go from appealing to everyone to appealing to no one.

Q: Just as teachers often learn new things from their students, authors are often provided new insights about themselves in the course of penning a book. Was this the case with you as well?

A: Yes!  For me, it was the fact I could be an author.  I spent many years believing I didn’t have that ability.  Every time I tried to write a book, I would write a few paragraphs and then say, “Ok, I’ve told them everything.  No need to write anymore.”  What I didn’t realize until last year was that, if I just pretended to be speaking rather than writing and let the words come out of my fingers rather than my mouth, I had a lot to say!  Before this book, every time I started to write, I merely thought about writing.  Now, when I start to write, I imagine myself doing an interview or a stage performance and the words just flow.

Q: So many people in today’s society – but especially women – feel as if they have to “have it all” in order to say they have successful lives. When they fall short of that objective, they immediately label themselves as failures. What’s your response to this?

A: While we all fail sometimes, no person is a failure.  Every time you have a challenge and things don’t go as planned, you should use it as a learning experience.  If your challenges come early in your career or life, be thankful and remember – it’s much better to make your mistakes when nobody’s watching.  Each time you have a challenge or fail at something, it’s preparing you for future successes.  Much of how people react to failure either has to do with how they are wired or the paste they have let the world use to cover their wiring.  This is especially true for people whose wiring has been pasted over with the belief that they must ‘have it all’ to be a success.  This is where it gets interesting.  There are those who are wired to believe they must ‘have it all’ to be a success.  Those are those who make it look easy when they try to ‘have it all’.  For those people who struggle to ‘have it all’, most likely they’re doing things against how they are wired.  They have also bought into what the world says they need to do to be successful.  If they just went back and found out how they were wired, they would be able to have what they truly want and deserve.

Q: What are three things that people can do to adjust their mindsets and start improving themselves from the inside out?

A: The overarching thing is to uncover how you are wired.  This involves going back, way back to a time before the world began to paste over your wiring, cover it up and change you from who you were meant to be to who you are today.  To do that, here are three things people can do today to start moving down the path to uncovering your wiring.

1) Realize that it all starts with attitude.  Attitude is the only thing you have complete control over every day.  Establishing an attitude of success and making it a habit will help you get through the trying times.

2) Reflect and plan on a daily basis.  Each night, about 15 minutes before you go to bed, you should be reflecting on the day and planning for the next day.  That way, your subconscious gets all night to work on the best solution possible for the challenges you know you will face the following day.

3) Live in forgiveness.  People get too caught up in anger and in judging themselves and other people.  Living in forgiveness (forgiving yourself and others) is a happier and more peaceful way to live.  Waking up every morning and repeating the following affirmations will help put you in the right state of mind:

I am able to forgive myself.

I am able to forgive others.

I am able to forgive life.

I am able to forgive God.

I am one who lives in forgiveness.

Q: What part does timing play in the equation for personal growth?

A:  I believe that personal growth must be intentional and not accidental.  Therefore, in the strictest sense, timing has very little to do with personal growth.  However, the timing of events in your life can play a role in stunting your personal growth – if you let them.  That’s why intentionally growing and sticking to a personal growth plan is so important.

Q: How do you define your own purpose and passion in life?

A: I believe that we’re all endowed with a purpose and passion from God.  It manifests itself in our gifts and what we are naturally drawn to do.  My purpose and passion is to positively affect the lives of 10,000,000 people each year.  While I can see this clearly now, it took me many years to understand my wiring and to get back to living to my purpose and passion.  That is one of the reasons I’m on a mission to help people better understand themselves.

Q: If you had only one thing in the world to do, what would it be?

A: Be on stage speaking.  I love being on stage and speaking.  I love the interaction with people, how the energy flows and how, when things all line up, you and the audience become one.  Being on stage (or holding court as some of my friends call it) is where I’m at home, at peace, and doing what I was born to do.  From the time I was a small child, I was wired to share.  While many people chalked it up to me being talkative, what they didn’t realize is that it was more than merely being talkative.  It was a deep rooted desire to share.  It also brings about the biggest joy in my life, inspiring and empowering people to transform their lives.

Q: Are there any new book projects up your sleeve?

A: I am currently working on my next three books.  One is a follow-up to The Secret Blueprint to More, the second one is tied more closely to my research on how people are wired and the third is a deeply personal one about a journey I’ve taken in 2013.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: The best place is my website, http://chrismsprague.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: When you look at people who are succeeding and people who are struggling, one thing separates them.  The ones who succeed understand and utilize how they are wired.  The ones who struggle, don’t.   It’s that simple.  Understanding and utilizing your wiring is what took people like Oprah Winfrey and Loretta Lynn from poverty to the heights of their profession.  It’s what takes someone who cannot survive doing a technical job and makes them a great manager.  It’s what top-notch CEOs understand when they build their inner-circle.  It’s what allows incredible authors like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, John C. Maxwell and others to churn out new books year after year.  It’s what takes people from relative obscurity to fame.  To make this happen for you, I invite you to check out The Wired to Thrive Project.  The core of this project comes from material that has helped thousands and thousands of people from over 40 different countries around the world.  The Wired to Thrive Project will kick into high-gear in January 2014 with the goal of inspiring and empowering people to understand how they are wired and thrive.  The goal is to have 47 people preregistered for The Wired to Thrive Project by December 31st, 2013.  More information can be found at http://WiredToThriveProject.com

The Art of Assessment

art of assessment
Christina [Hamlett] introduced me to Magdalena Ball last month, as she knew that I had recently started publishing book reviews. I was familiar with Ms. Ball from her previous interview with Christina but I was not expecting Ms. Ball to be quite so generous (even though she refers to herself as “gregarious” and the tone of her book conveys that attitude as well). In addition to this amazing interview and her guide to reviewing, Ms. Ball offers a free e-course “How to be a Reviewer”).
For more information about The Art of Assessment, please check out my book review at http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-and-interview-the-art.  It has become my bible as a reviewer.

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: Why did you write and assemble The Art of Assessment?

A: The Art of Assessment was actually my first book, written about 14 years ago. I wrote it initially as an adjunct to The Compulsive Reader to be used as a how-to guide for my reviewers to help them write more thorough and consistent reviews. It started off as a small, 20 page pamphlet, but as the interest in the site grew, I decided that it would be valuable to turn it into a full-length book and look at a range of reviewing, particularly since, at the time, I was doing a lot of mixed media (children’s videos, concerts, and CDs as well as books) and there wasn’t much out there in the way of guidance.

Q: How do you consider the skill of good assessment an art form?

A: I think that writing a good assessment is like any kind of writing—there is always an element of art in it—the sense of what works and what doesn’t; the “ear” that a reviewer develops by close, active reading. It’s also a skill, which can be learnt to a certain extent, but the creative element—the building of a new piece of writing; determining the overall approach; the theme of the review and writing something that does justice to the work itself—is art.

Q: What is the broader value of a well-written review?

A: Of course a well-written review is of value to both an author and a reader. But in a broader sense, as publishing becomes ever easier, the need for curation is vital. We need close readers who can help filter the good from the bad—applauding great work and providing critical judgment on work that isn’t so good. It’s important for society to have that, and I suspect that the demand will continue to grow dramatically.

Q: You wrote about the need to deliver balanced reviews, and to approach negative reviews with tact, but what about where the story is awful and there aren’t sufficient good points to balance the negative? (Such as with those books you simply cannot finish because the process of reading is too arduous, or where the author’s style is painful, or the book is ridden with so many typos you wonder how it ever got published in the first place.)

A: I feel quite strongly about the fact that, if a book can’t be read in full, that it needs to be put aside and a review bypassed. This is especially important when the author is unknown and the house is small. Writing a super-negative review of an amateurish effort is like kicking a kitten. It’s not only a waste of effort, it’s mean-spirited and can cut down a new author in a way that’s not helpful to anyone. I know this seems a little like a contradiction of my earlier statement, but I also feel that reviewers have a responsibility to remain professional and not use their reviews to put others down needlessly. Curation is one thing and bullying is another. It’s far better to just put a book aside and write a thoughtfully worded note saying that the book needs a professional edit or that it’s not working for you than to write an extremely negative review. I also think that it’s wrong to review a book when you haven’t read it all. It’s fine to not be able to finish a book but I think that if you can’t read it, you shouldn’t review it. Otherwise you’re judging based on skewed criteria. There’s nothing wrong with declining to write a review on the grounds that the quality is not up to publishable standards. I’ve done it a number of times.

That said, if a book is published by a well-known author and/or a reputable publisher and is error riddled or badly written (especially when you know the author can do better) then I think a negative review is most certainly in order. But the book absolutely must be read in full—even if it’s painful. Otherwise I don’t think you’re being fair to the author.

Q: Thank you. (That’s a relief; I have a policy of never writing harsh reviews of new authors as well.) Could you please give us a sample of what you would write to an author in the situation where you’re politely declining a review?

A: Yes. Here’s an example of how I have (on numerous occasions, both for myself and on behalf of another reviewer) declined a review: “Hi Joe, thanks for sending The World According to Cricket. I’m afraid that I’ve been unable to finish the book and therefore am declining the review. As I’m sure you know, the review process is subjective and I’m sure you’ll find another reviewer who will be able to review the book for you. In the meantime, I wish you all the best with the book’s promotions.”

You’re not obliged to give them a reason (this isn’t a paid-for critique), but if the book is rife with errors, you could indicate that. If they’re really dismally untalented, I wouldn’t mention it. There are readers who may well like the book, you’re just not one. You’re not obliged to do this either but if it’s a small/self-published book, I’ll sometimes offer to send it back to them, or even to put it into BookCrossing or donate it to the library—just to be nice—it’s a small world out there! But don’t let them draw you into a discussion. If they try to pump you for reasons (doesn’t usually happen) then be evasive or stop answering the emails altogether.

Q: How do you define the broad scope between the amateur reviewer and the professional reviewer?

A: This used to be a very clear distinction. A professional got paid for their work and an amateur didn’t. However, there are many forms of “payment”, one of which is publicity and books and some reviewers get paid sometimes and sometimes they work for the publicity, the sheer joy of sharing their opinions, or as part of a broader online presence/platform. So the distinction is now fuzzy. Also we’ve moved into a situation where everyone is a reviewer—when people buy a book on Amazon they’re encouraged to put up a review and it doesn’t have to be thorough or professional. There are a lot of opinions available—some useful and some not so useful. So I’d say that the difference between the two is that an amateur is not looking to put together a formal, professional quality review but is just voicing an opinion. A professional is someone who takes the ‘job’ seriously (whether paid or unpaid), and puts care and attention into the review—making sure it’s thorough, balanced, substantiated, well-written and based on a close reading.

Q: As someone with degrees in English literature (Your honors degree in English Literature from the City University of New York and your postgraduate studies of English Literature at Oxford) how valuable do you consider formal education in the pursuit of becoming a truly professional writer?

A: I do think that my studies helped me a lot in learning to read more complex types of texts. I’ve already been a big reader and I don’t expect that this would be any different if I did an engineering degree instead of a literature one, but obtaining an English degree requires a lot of evaluative writing (assessment at college/university level is almost all evaluative writing), close reading, analysis and synthesis and these are all relevant to the kinds of writing I do (particularly nonfiction—the reviewing work for example). However, I do think these days that “formal” education isn’t any more valuable than informal education. I just did a 10 week (free!)

Q: Wow! That course sounds amazing. Where can we find it?

A: ModPo was utterly brilliant. (I don’t know when the next one will happen, but they’re definitely planning another one.) Though it wasn’t part of a “formal” degree course, it was as good as anything I did in a formal setting and hugely valuable to my writing. There are many resources now available to students, and I use the term student very broadly. We’re all students and the learning process never stops. So while I think taking courses is certainly of value and can open and stretch even the oldest, most jaded writers, having a degree matters rather less I think than it used to.

Q: Most review sites have specific format and style guides, and The Art of Assessment emphasizes the need for thoroughness and depth (as illustrated by your sample reviews). How much can a reviewer deviate from those established formats and style in the fostering of their own “voice”?

A: Having a guide makes the writing easier and it’s always important to follow site guidelines when submitting a review, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. I’m not sure all sites would be so open, but I’m very open to novel formats. I’ve published reviews in verse form, in question and answer style, and even in multiple path options!

Q: Multiple path options?

A: I actually removed the multiple path review as the reviewer wanted to publish it elsewhere and it was a paid gig—quite a few years ago—but it went something like this: If you think that the review should talk about characterisation next, then click here. If you prefer it to talk about plot, click here.

As long as a review is, as I mention a lot (on my little soapbox), thorough, balanced, substantiated, well-written and based on a close reading, as far as I’m concerned, I’m willing to take any kind of format or structure. Of course it takes a lot of skill (or art if you like!) to be that creative. It’s far easier to stick to a template.

Q: Your book covered almost everything but a travel section. While the basic principles probably apply, could you direct us to any specific resources for learning how to deliver travel reviews (in addition to reading other reviews) and where we might get them published?

A: That’s a good point and maybe I’ll add it later (you’ve already given me a few new chapters to work on!). I guess one of the reasons I didn’t include travel is because travel writing is a whole genre in itself and encompasses a lot more than just a review—a whole book can be written around a trip or visit. But for those who love to travel, it’s a wonderful profession and there are jobs out there for it, too, especially for really good writers. You can also combine travel writing with other forms of writing. For example, Anthony Bordain is the travelling chef. Glenn A. Baker is the travelling rock and roller. Firstly, as with any other form of writing, I would recommend beginning by reading others, and getting a feel for the best kinds of travel writing. Michael Palin and Bill Bryson come to mind immediately. Also magazines like Conde Nast Traveler are a good source of shorter forms of travel writing: There is also quite a good online site.

Thank you. That’s very generous of you! In your book, you suggest new reviewers read up on good reviews to hone their craft. How would you recommend someone contact an established reviewer to request guidance or mentorship?

Well, there’s nothing like a little flattery. One easy way to get guidance and support is to submit work to an established site. This will often result in some excellent guidance and if you get a few reviews published and want more guidance or mentorship, it’s easier to ask for it. I do think a direct request for mentorship might seem a little odd. There are, however, formal mentorships available through almost every writers’ center and that might be a good place to start.

Q:Thank you. (I’ll hunt down those writer centers for my website.) You were born in New York City, studied in England and live now in NSW Australia. How does your international background contribute to your approach in reviewing (and life in general)?

A: I think that leaving the country I grew up in has broadened my perspective in many ways. I was pretty green when I went to England! There was so much I didn’t know—about geography, about history, about the world in general. I was quite an embarrassment, especially because, as a New Yorker, I naturally thought of myself as reasonably sophisticated and worldly and wasn’t backwards in making my uninformed opinions known. Having been exposed to a number of cultures I feel like I’m multilingual (in English!) and able to read across cultural boundaries quite well.

Q: As someone who has been exposed to a few different cultures around the world, I understand; you couldn’t have encapsulated the experience better. I love how you talk about “reading across cultural boundaries”. What’s an example of that from your life?

A: ln my life I work with a lot of different nationalities. I can often understand the subtle body language of an Australian versus a Canadian versus a New Zealander—or their colloquial expressions. It helps with communication. In reading, I feel I can more easily penetrate into the setting and context of a book. For example, Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, one of my favourite novels, is so inherently Australian, from the way people talk to the kinds of dreams they have and the way they relate to one another. I feel I understand that now, whereas I wouldn’t have gotten it to the same extent before I left.

Q: You received a Masters in Business from the Charles Sturt University and a Marketing degree from the University of Newcastle. When and how does this education and experience come into play as a reviewer (and in the direction of your various endeavors)?

A: I’m not sure that the business and marketing degree have had a dramatic impact on me as a reviewer—they were both done for the day job and certainly taught me some skills in terms of metrics, statistics, promotional processes, and analysis, which may have some positive effect on my ability to promote my work, my site, and my other writing (the novels and poetry books for example). Mostly though, they were time-consuming when I did them and impacted on my ability to spend more time doing creative work. Everything is a trade-off in terms of time.

Q: Tell us more about your work as a knowledge specialist in a multinational company. What does your job encompass and how does this feed into your passions?

A: Firstly, my day job supports my writing habit. Knowing that the money is coming in frees me to not worry too much about the overall financial situation with my writing—I’m free to do what pleases me and to not stress too much over sales figures. I’ve been doing this job in various guises for nearly 24 years (!), so I’m reasonably well-skilled at it and have managed to organize very flexible working hours which has suited me through the births of my three children, a range of life transitions, and of course my all-consuming writing passions. So I’m very lucky to have the job. Additionally, I work in R&D, managing the library, looking after a range of commercialization activities and am actually very stimulated by the science (as my poetry will certainly show). I’ve even walked out of a meeting with a few choice words or concepts in my head, and had to write an entire poem on the spot.

Q: Cool! How many poems from your Sublime Planet have come from this process?

A: They’re all kind of sciency! But at least 30% were directly inspired at work. Plasmonic nanobubbles, Dryland Salinity, Blind Deconvolution, and Plane Strain all came out of words that came up in real conversations and left me salivating! (I’m a little strange that way I know).

Q: (I don’t think that’s strange at all, but then I’m a bit of a closet geek.) ow has your work as a reviewer enhanced your authorship?

A: One of the key things my reviewing has done in a marketing sense is to give me a big online profile with readers. The Compulsive Reader has over 10,000 subscribers to our monthly newsletter and we get some 30,000 hits a day—all readers! That’s an amazing network of people who know me, have been reading my reviews for some 14 years and who I can promote my other writing work to. In addition, being in the habit of close-reading has really helped me to understand what makes for a good book—it’s “ear-training” that translates into a really good sense of what does and doesn’t work from a writing point of view. No class can teach that—it has to come from regular reading. Of course I also read how-to books and having a regular in-pouring of new material has not hurt my own writing (other than to distract me away from it since there’s almost nothing I’d rather do than curl up with a book).

Q: In your previous interview with Ms. Christina Hamlett in November, you mentioned you had nearly completed your next book of poetry [Sublime Planet], and that you were on your third novel—this one a science fiction/time travel adventure. Please update us on these projects.

A: The writing part of Sublime Planet is done. That’s a collaboration with my poetry partner Carolyn Howard-Johnson. The book is a full-length poetry book focused on environmental poetry. We’re currently editing and working with a wonderful artist who is doing the cover for us. The idea with that book is to release it for Earth Day 2013 (April 22). We’re planning to give a proportion of the profits to an environmental charity (yet to be confirmed), so the whole project is very exciting and bringing together a number of threads in my life that are of interest to me. There was a strong sustainability theme in Black Cow as well, so it’s a good follow-on.

My third novel will probably take a bit more time to finish! I’m not a fast fiction writer and am still hard at work finalizing the plot points and setting up my beat sheet (a step-by-step plot outline), but I’m pretty excited about the direction the story is taking—it’s a big change for me and working cross genre is proving very interesting.

Q: Please elaborate on how your work is cross-genre.

A: The work has elements of sci-fi (my poetry too)—there is time travel (sometimes in the poetry), aliens, and the new novel will also be historical fiction, but it’s all rooted in the psychological and more literary fiction than anything else.

Q: From my research into the publishing industry, I was advised against promoting more than one project at a time, but you manage to write and market across several genres (nonfiction, poetry and prose, as well as your reviews and blogging), seemingly simultaneously. What would be your advice to others who want to tackle a similar range of projects?

A: Sometimes across several genres in a single work! I think that it’s important to do what excites you and gives you pleasure as a writer and not take too much note of the market or what’s ‘hot right now’ (particularly because the buying public is fickle). That’s why I’m so grateful to the day job for freeing me from trying to do a ‘breakthrough’ work. I try to stay interested in what I’m doing and for me that means working in different media. When I’m finding the fiction is challenging and I need a break I’ll work on poetry (which is always pleasurable for me). Nonfiction (blogging, writing articles, etc) and reviewing is always there too—something I tend to do for enjoying as a second part of my reading. I think that it’s good for the writing mind to have different hats—keeps everything fresh. I also find that the exacting process of getting a single line perfect in poetry can make for richer, more vibrant and poetically powerful prose. Having a good sense of story and character development often makes for more interesting poetry and nonfiction. And of course the more you write the better you understand what others are writing and the processes behind them, so everything works together.

Q: You are a poet, writer, reviewer, mother, radio host, blogger, friend, wife and life-artist; how do you manage to juggle everything, be stellar at what you do, and keep your sanity?

A: I’m definitely a juggler (but not sure what ‘life-artist’ is—sounds good though!).

Q: I consider you a life-artist because you appear to handle everything with a certain grace, and you project the sense that life should be approached as another art form; something to be celebrated, played with, rather than endured.

A: I’ll take it (even if the grace part isn’t, um, always true). I credit my sanity (such as it is) to a few things—firstly, my husband, who most certainly keeps me grounded (sometimes kicking and screaming that I want to stay airborne!). My children also definitely keep me grounded. I guess if I’m giving advice on how to juggle so many things at one time and keep the sanity I’d say to try and focus on each one when it’s being done, or as my mother would put it, ‘be here now’. So if I’m reading a book, I’ll read it as if it’s the only thing I’m doing. Even if I’m dipping in and out a lot, because I keep getting interrupted, I’ll still read it with intensity; even when I’m not reading, I’ll let my mind play over the story, the characters, and the plot. If I’m writing, I’ll try to give my writing serious focus when I’m doing it. It may be only 10 minutes of focus, but that’s the thing I’m concentrating on for that 10 minutes and I try to make it like it’s the only thing in my life just for a little while. Otherwise ‘overwhelm’ sets in and nothing is done well.

Q: How do you deal with writer’s block?

A: For me, the block tends to come when I hit some problem—usually a fiction based one—such as how I work out a plot issue. I like to brainstorm through it—to just stop writing and do some mindmaps or talk to my kids about it; they’re a great source of plot since they all read a lot (don’t know where they get it from).

Q: That’s brilliant. I brainstorm with my family as well. May I ask, what are mindmaps?

A: Mindmaps are where you have your central idea in the centre and brainstorm related points around it.

I was really struggling with something the other day and I told my daughter and she just started throwing ideas at me at a very rapid pace—how about…how about…what if… She was really awesome (and I promised her a credit). By the time she had finished playing around with ideas with me, I was completely unstuck and ready to get back to it. For people without such a wonderful, in-house resource, using any kind of brainstorming method or working with a friend often helps. Another thing that helps me with block is to swap genres. So if I’m struggling with a poem, I’ll switch to my novel. If I’m having difficulty with the novel, I might just take a break and write a review. All writing has a tendency to free you up—getting the writerly juices flowing again.

Q: What is your favorite method of preventing burn-out (like when you read too many books)?

A: I never burn-out from reading too many books! Reading is almost always a relaxing pleasure for me. But I do have tendency to have far too many projects on the go at once, not to mention a busy family life and a full-time day job (see question above about ‘sanity’). I’m kind of energized by all the stuff going on around me (it’s all interesting), but if the noise levels start to get too much (I’m pretty sensitive to noise) or I feel I’ve got one too many projects going on and I’m not giving decent attention to any one thing—I become too abstracted and dispersed—then the best way for me to deal with that feeling is exercise. In my case, breathing-based exercise like swimming or yoga is ideal. 30 minutes of swimming laps, or an hour of yoga, will almost always settle me and help me get perspective or work out problems. It’s not always easy to take that 30-60 minutes when I’m so overloaded, but I try to do it nearly every day. If I don’t, I really feel it.

Q: This is very helpful, thank you. One area you were not able to cover in your book was that of organization (in terms of how to schedule deadlines intelligently, offering enough time for one’s own editing process, for the review site’s submission turn-around, etc.) as well as dealing with authors or people who consider a review has not accurately captured their product. Will there be a follow-up book that covers these subjects, or supplementary articles published through your blog?

A: Organization is a pretty big topic that extends well beyond reviewing, but perhaps I’ll take you up on your suggestion to look at how, for example, one might deal with the very likely scenario of having many books to review and setting up a priority system. I have to work it out myself first! Actually I do have a kind of system—I do try to do things in order, but sometimes there are really urgent deadlines. For example, Mike Scott of the Waterboys is in Australia this week, and I only got his book to review last week. He was pretty keen for me to include info in the review on his Australian tour, so I put aside everything else and just did that. Impending interviews will often require that a book gets prioritized as well. I always use a to-do list which I manage on an annual, monthly, weekly, and daily basis, ensuring that the big projects flow through from annual to daily so that I find time each day to work on them (otherwise they’d never get done…).

But overall, scheduling deadlines intelligently, leaving enough time for editing and review site submission turn-around all come down to general organizational practices, which may be beyond the scope of my book, and have been covered really well elsewhere. David Allen is a pretty smart guru on time management. He has a free newsletter, podcasts and lots more on the topic. I also like Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Productive People. It informs most time management philosophies that are out there and is still simple enough to just incorporate into a lifestyle. You can get the habits online.

In terms of dealing with disgruntled authors or marketers, basically I just try to deal with them professionally, but not too humbly. If you’ve read the whole book (or experienced the whole product—see my note above about not reviewing something you can’t finish), written [your review] well and substantiated your comments, you don’t need to justify your review in any way. You’re not a marketer, nor are you working for the author and it’s not up to the author to judge your review.

Your audience is primarily the reader and being honest is important. If someone wants a PR person, they’ll need to hire one. Otherwise, by all means, strive for thoroughness and accuracy and fix errors where they occur (and don’t review on a partial experience—I know I keep saying that!), but don’t feel the need to pander to author egos. Negative reviews are, unfortunately, part of the process (all authors get them), and a reviewer should never apologise for their review.

Q: You previously discussed happiness and optimism with Ms. Christina Hamlett. What gives you strength?

A: My family is my key source of centredness which, if it’s not too new-agey a thing to say, is the core of my strength.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to say?

A: Joanna, this was such a thorough interview—I think you’ve covered everything! If readers want more, they can always drop by my website. There are some freebies there, as well as information on all of my books.