Thursday, August 22, 2013

Any Walking Dead fans out there?


One of the fun things about BlogHer conferences is that they get some very successful women to speak. And it's notable that they are not exactly "big names." I had no idea who Gale Anne Hurd was when I saw her name on the program, but she is arguably one of the most successful producers in Hollywood. The Walking Dead is the most popular show on television, and it's her baby. She is also the producer of such blockbuster movies as Aliens (1984) and Terminator (1986). Strong women like Ripley and Sarah Connor are a hallmark of her work.


BlogHer does keynotes in a Q&A style, and most of Gale's chat covered her career. After graduating from Stanford University, she was hired for $180 a week as an assistant to Roger Corman at New World Pictures. She said she did everything that no one else did, which included emptying the toilets in the mobile homes on the set, making coffee, and eventually marketing, even though she told Corman that she was not good at marketing. He ultimately agreed with her.

In 1982, she started her own production company, which she called Pacific Northwest. She noted that women producers never name their companies after themselves, but men do.

Gale recently premiered her most recent movie, Very Good Girls, at Sundance, and she is currently working on her third documentary about Native American women. She is also working on a pilot in Canada about a woman in the 1940s who tries to unravel the mystery of her husband's plane being shot down over the Pacific. And of course, she is continuing to work on The Walking Dead.

She likes working on a TV show because, "TV right now is where you go to tell great stories, and on TV, you can have strong female characters," she said. "And in the amount of time that it took me to make half of The Incredible Hulk, I've made sixteen hours of television."

Although she wouldn't divulge much about the next season, she did say, "A lot of season four will be about parenting and some parenting choices in this apocalyptic world."

Like all of the speakers at BlogHer, Gale was also very encouraging. "Go after your dreams," she said. "Don't let anyone tell you no. Believe in yourself, and don't give up."

Everyone in the audience received a free copy of the New York Times Bestseller, The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor. Even though I was really inspired by Gale, I am not a fan of zombies, so I'll be giving away my copy of this book to some lucky blog reader. If you want to know how the governor got to be the most hated villain on television, you'll want to read this book.

You can get up to eight entries to win by following the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below. You will get one entry for commenting on this blog post, liking my Ecothrifty page on Facebook, and following @deborahwrites on Twitter. And you can get one entry every day until the raffle ends by tweeting about the giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Changing the world, part 2

One of the nice things about the smaller workshops on Thursday was that in the midst of a huge conference with nearly 5,000 attendees, you were a part of a group of only 22 women sharing your thoughts, visions, and goals. If you missed the first half of "Your Blog As a Change Agent" workshop recap, you can find it here.

When we reconvened after lunch, one of the first things that Katherine said was, "You have to be fearless to be fierce," which she admitted is easier said than done. Although there are lots of books out there about how to be fearless, "It is a rare person who is totally in control and has no questions about themselves. I've never met a person like that." So, she has a special folder in her email for days when she feels down. That's where she keeps the emails from women who thank her for what she does, and some have even said she saved their life.

There was a discussion on B corporations, which I had never heard of before. Cheryl explained that they are "for-profit" corporations with a social mission. Rather than starting a non-profit like Katherine, Cheryl started a B corporation. The B stands for "benefit." The website www.bcorp.org explains the purpose of a B corporation this way:
Part of the reason that B Corp's exist is that historically, when a traditional company was not doing so well financially, and profits were pressured, then shareholders would get unhappy if the company continued to also invest time and money in helping others; and shareholder discontent could even result in lawsuits.  But with a  B Corp formulation of a company, everyone knows that helping others is part of the very fabric of the company; investors do not invest in a B Corp unless they thoroughly understand this.
So, basically a B corporation is for someone who wants to change the world, rather than someone who wants to become a millionaire. Cheryl said, when money is not your #1 objective, you can make clearer choices.

Authenticity and honesty -- Your readers have to know you as a person and trust you. Katherine won't take money from pharmaceuticals because she doesn't want her readers to think that she endorses one treatment over another. Cheryl said, talk online honestly, genuinely, like you are sitting in a bar or having lunch with your readers. Talk a little about yourself. You have to share enough so that people see your humanity; you are a real person. You should also look at your analytics so that you know your audience.

Financial challenges -- Cheryl said, "The universe will provide. I have looked in the face of a zero bank balance. I know the money will come. It may mean that you have to make some choices. You won't get there at once. There has never been a better time for people like you and me, where you have a cause."

How can you get people engaged? Start something controversial. Yes, I know that's hard! But whenever I write a controversial post, I do see readership increase a lot.

Relationship management is key, said Katherine. Going to BlogHer made her blog explode because she made so many personal connections. "You cant just be behind the laptop, just be on Facebook or Twitter." She said you should try to be on every social media. Find out where is your audience spending their time.

And then they asked a few questions to help everyone clarify their goals, as well figure out where we need to start outsourcing --

What things from your life would you still be doing if ...
  • aliens landed?
  • today was your last day on earth?
  • you had no kids?
  • money was no object?
  • you were done with all your other goals?
  • if you had all the money in the world?
Why start outsourcing? Because you can do the same things you are doing, but you can get it done faster. And you can move forward with other goals.

Cheryl's top 5 tools
  1.  The Way We're Working Isn't Working (book) -- When I looked this up, it is now apparently published with the title Be Excellent At Anything.
  2. How We Decide (book) -- trust yourself -- baseball players just know when to hit the ball
  3. Bookkeeper, agent, helpers -- don't try to do it alone
  4. Relationship building, teamwork, buddy system -- love your buddies
  5. Archetypes + SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis)
Katherine's top 5 tools
  1. Community, community, community
  2. Use project management software such as Basecamp, Smartsheet, Teambox
  3. SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis)
  4. Theory of change
  5. Going all in and committing to fail (I am OK with failure if it happens. I won't hold myself back anymore.)
One of the ladies said, "There is no failure. We are all failing our way to success." Basically, even when you think you've failed, you have learned something, and you are one step closer to your goal.
"The real tragedy is the tragedy of the man who never in his life braces himself for his supreme effort -- he never stretches to his full capacity, never stands up to his full stature." -- Arnold Bennett
Cheryl closed by saying, "Don't die with your music still inside you."
"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world." -- Harriet Tubman

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Clarifying values and business relationships

Taking a little break from summarizing all the great info from BlogHer to actually talk about something that has been ruminating in my head for the past week. Although this isn't a summary of what I learned, it is directly related to the experience. Basically you make money from your blog by getting commercial sponsors, putting ads on your blog, and so forth. I was explaining this to a friend last week, and she asked why anyone would believe a post you'd written if you were being paid to write it. Great question! And the reason for my rumination!

No average person starts a blog with sponsors from day one. You could do it if you're already famous and have a good following that you know will flock to the blog the moment it exists, but then you are not an average person. So, you have to have a blog long enough to get a following, and your followers needs to know you as a person and know what you believe in. They trust you! When you decide to look for sponsors or advertisers, those companies need to be true to your mission and your beliefs. Obviously, if I had ads on my blog for McDonald's, people would be screaming "hypocrite" loudly, which would be a well-deserved criticism since I haven't set foot in one of them for something like a decade. And all of my followers would leave, along with the advertisers and sponsors.

So, the question is ... who do I want to hitch my wagon to? There were a lot of businesses in the expo at BlogHer looking to connect with bloggers. Some, like Food Saver and SodaStream, would be obvious great choices because I already use their products and think they're awesome! Some, like the wine companies, would not really be a great fit because we make our own wine, so I didn't even stop at their booths or sample their products. But then there are some that are in an area that is a little gray like vitamin companies. I am not a fan of vitamins, as I believe people should eat a natural diet filled with real foods to get all the nutrients they need. I do realize that getting enough vitamin D is impossible for many of us living in the northern part of the U.S., so I accepted some free bottles of vitamin D to give away on my blog as we head into winter.

Some companies gave us samples in the swag bag that we picked up at registration or left them in our hotel room, so we didn't have a choice about whether or not to take them. BlogHer had a swag exchange room, where you could leave things you didn't want and they'd be donated to charity, but it only opened on the last day, and I never found it. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the plastic cupcake cups left in my room by Denny's.

However, we were also given bottles of vitamins from MegaFood, whose tagline is, "Fresh From Farm to Tablet." The shrink band around the top of the bottle says things like "slo-food process" and "fresh & local food" and "authentic nourishment." After staring at the bottles for a few days, I decided to open the Women's One Daily. To my surprise, the typical vitamin stink did not jump out of the bottle to assault me. I moved the bottle closer to my nose, but it wasn't until I practically stuck my nose in the bottle and took a big whiff that I got the scent. So, I decided to actually take one. Several hours later it occurred to me that I never had the typical nasty vitamin burp, and my pee never turned neon yellow. Maybe I missed it, I thought, so I took one again the next day. I've taken one of the vitamins every day for four days now, and I haven't had any of the typical reactions that I dislike about vitamins. And the bottle also states that the ingredients are GMO free, vegetarian, and for those with allergies, soy free, dairy free, and gluten free.

What's not to love? If someone needs to take a vitamin, this seems like a good option. Should I consider any sort of relationship with this company? How would my readers feel about it? How would new visitors to my Thrifty Homesteader blog view an ad on there? Of course, if I write about the vitamins, I could always throw in my belief that you need to be eating a nutritious diet of whole foods, but what about ads? This is going to take some more ruminating. In the meantime, however, I'm going to focus on making a list of obvious companies whose products I already use and love.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Changing the world

 Katherine Stone and Cheryl Contee
My BlogHer'13 experience started out on Thursday as I attended a pre-conference workshop. With several from which to choose, it was a very hard decision to settle on attending My Blog as a Change Agent. I also wanted to attend My Blog as a Business and My Blog as a Media Company, but I couldn't figure out how to make the cloning app work! And clearly, since I've been working without pay forever, my motivation really is to change the world. And every now and again, I hope that Oprah is right when she says, "Do what you love; the money will follow."

It was great that the Changemaker sessions were led by two women who have become wildly successful following their passions. Cheryl Contee and Katherine Stone both started blogging simply because they were passionate about a topic and wanted to vent. They had no plan or strategy the day they sat down and wrote that first blog post.

Cheryl Contee is the co-founder of Jack and Jill Politics, one of the top black blogs online. Her conference bio says,
She is included in The Root 100 list of African-American leaders; Huffington Post lists her in the Top 27 Female Founders in Tech to Follow on Twitter in 2011; Fast Company named her one of their 2010 Most Influential Women in Tech. Cheryl has appeared in the Washington Post, NY Times, San Francisco Magazine, BBC, CNN, and others. She serves on several boards and advisory committees: Netroots Nation, BlogHer, Blogging While Brown, Applied Research Center, and CommonGoods.net. Additionally, Cheryl is a partner at Fission Strategy where she helps non-profit organizations and foundations use social media to create social good.
After her own experience with postpartum depression, Katherine Stone began blogging at what is now the world's leading blog on the topic, Postpartum Progress. She also blogs at the Fierce Blog, Disney's Babble.com, and Huffington Post Parents. She is the founder of Postpartum Progress Inc., a nonprofit focused on improving support for women with PPD. Her conference bio says,
In 2012, Katherine was named one of the fiercest women in America as part of More magazine's annual Fierce List. She also was listed among the most influential mom bloggers in 2011 and 2012 by Babble, and has been selected as a Health Hero by WedMD and also WEGO Health. Katherine has been featured by CNN, the Huffington Post, Yahoo, AOL, PBS, the Today Show, HLM, ABC News and the Washington Post among others. She often speaks publicly at such events as SXSW, BlogHer, the Mom 2.0 Summit, and many women's health events.
So, how did these women become change agents?

When Katherine had her first child in 2001, everything went perfectly and then she had a devastating bout of postpartum depressions. She was stunned. She didn't know where to get help, and thought she was a terrible person and that her son deserved a better mother. She worked at Coca Cola at the time and was angry that in 2001 she didn't know that it could happen or where to get help. She said, "You couldn't even find help where you thought you should be able to." It just kept gnawing at her that she couldn't find help.

So, Katherine's question to the audience was, "What keeps gnawing at you and won't let you go?"

She decided to devote her life to writing about postpartum depression and today her site gets a million page views a year. Of course, she is no longer a lone mom blogging. If you really want to change the world, you have to expect that your blog will grow bigger than what one person can handle. At some point you will have to bring on other team members and figure out how to let go of the reins a little bit while still remaining true to your mission and your vision. Katherine now has volunteers who do some of the posts on her blog, and although they are free to share their information and opinions, there are "guard rails" that provide guidelines for posts. For example, no one is supposed to include medication names and dosages because Katherine doesn't want people assuming that a particular drug or dosage will work for them without consulting their doctor.

Cheryl agreed that it is hard to let go and stop doing everything yourself, but when you have an online community you will see leaders emerge and you'll know who you want to become part of your leadership team.

After seven years of blogging, Katherine decided to start a non-profit because she felt she needed to do more than just blog. She was still hearing the same stories from women as when she started the blog. Starting the non-profit was not necessarily an easy thing. In fact, after she started it, she had a crisis in self-confidence and didn't do anything for months except cry and wonder why she did it!

"Just get out there and do it and forget about the reasons you are holding yourself back," Katherine said.

Cheryl initially started blogging after a politician used a racial slur. She felt that as a middle-class African American, she was not being seen. Everyone knows about the black celebrities and the men in prison, but it seemed that the middle-class, college-educated group was mostly ignored. She initially used a pseudonym because she was afraid she would risk her job and possibly her life if she used her own name. When she reached 700,000 unique page views per month, she was both terrified and thrilled. Like Katherine, she had to ask for help because the blog grew to be something bigger than what one person could handle. She began to look through the comments to find people who had good insight into the issues.

Challenges

What is challenging as a change agent?
How do you overcome those challenges?
"Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes it meaningful." -- Unknown
Not so sure you want to be a change agent? Cheryl said, "Whenever you ask, 'who am I to do this?' then ask, if not me, who else will do it?"

Katherine said, "Why do I throw myself on the fires? Because 1 in 7 women get postpartum depression. Only 15% of them ever get professinoal treatment. The 85% who don't get treatment can go on to have lifelong chronic mental illness and their children have cognitive issues, behavioral issues, and will grow up to have mental health issues as adults. I have a 7-year-old daughter. I have 20 years to fix this for her" before she gets pregnant and has a child.

"This isn't about me. I'm trying to help other people." Cheryl said, "Every woman in this room has more of a chance to change the world than any woman who ever lived before." And then she held up her cell phone, and said it has more computing power than what sent a man to the moon. "There is nothing to stop you except yourself."

Some of the attendees at the session were from India and China, so we also got a glimpse of how the rest of the world is moving towards technology -- or not. Rural India doesn't have the Internet, so the Indian bloggers are giving a voice to those people whose stories would not otherwise be heard. The woman from China writes about the work camps in that country. This also means that you can't rely on social media 100% to get the word out because not everyone is connected, although the number is steadily growing.

The morning half of this particular workshop was more inspiring than instructional, but I was so inspired that I didn't even realize the lack of nuts and bolts until I started going through my notes. The main instructional part of this workshop talked about how to grow your movement -- because if it is just one person, it can only get so big. If you really want to change the world, you will need help. So, how do you grow? Ask super-users what skills they have, what connections they have, and jump offline and start raising awareness of the situation in the real world. Even though you may not have started with a strategy, you will need a strategy to grow.
  • What is the change you want to see? 
  • Whose door needs to be knocked on so that the change will happen? 
  • Who will make a difference? 
  • Who knows them?
And one really good piece of advice from the ladies before we went to lunch -- it is okay to not do something, or to not share a particular story, if you are not ready to do it. "You can get story-sharing remorse like crazy." Procrastination is not a horrible thing all the time.

My take-away: I totally get it now! I know that people are most likely to stick around on your blog and be engaged when you are posting regularly. Yeah, every day is best, but who really has time to do that? There are a few really devoted people who do that, but most of us will fall short. When you are not able to post regularly, you need to partner with others to make that happen so that you can build a community with like-minded individuals.

Another very important take-away for me: Don't let self-doubt slow you down!

Coming up next: the afternoon half of the workshop where we do get into the nuts and bolts of changing the world.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Outlining the next chapter of my life

Last weekend I attended BlogHer'13, which is the largest blogger conference in the country, and my brain was filled to overflowing with an abundance of information about how to navigate the next chapter of my life. It occurred to me during Guy Kawasaki's keynote that I have been working with an outdated paradigm. In fact, I feel like quite the dinosaur, but unlike the dinosaurs, I'm planning to adapt to the new landscape and thrive.

I am probably not the only writer who has been walking around thinking that the big goal of having a blog was to get a book contract. I started blogging in 2006 at Antiquity Oaks, talking about my day-to-day life on the farm growing our own food, and I assumed that once I got a book contract, I would then be able to make money writing. Well, my third book comes out this fall, and I'm still not making money. Yes, I get an advance and royalties off the book sales, but following the advice of many authors who have gone before me, I've been spending the advance to supplement my publisher's efforts to promote my books, hoping that it would increase sales and I would ultimately make a profit. That hasn't really happened. And it doesn't happen for most authors, so I'm not alone. And even if I had not spent my advance on publicity, I still would not have made enough to live on.

But there are a lot of writers who are making money today, and they're doing it through their blogs. They are creating their own little mini media companies, and some of them have grown far beyond the "mini" stage and become small businesses with employees and other team members. It was rather depressing to meet people who started blogs far more recently than 2006 and are making a very good living from the business that they've developed.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to share with you the notes I took at BlogHer'13 as I outline the next chapter of my life.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The next chapter

Home 
This week I'm at the BlogHer '13 Conference, being held in Chicago this year, which is practically in my backyard. No, I'm not speaking at this conference. I'm here to learn, and being close to home is really important to me because that reduces the costs considerably ... and that brings me to my next goal.

After writing three books that were published by a traditional publisher, I am pretty much "over" the thrill of being published, and the goal for the next chapter of my life is to actually make money. I am not talking about being greedy or getting rich here. I am simply talking about making as much money as someone who works at the local discount store or fast food restaurant, so that if my husband were to die tomorrow, I wouldn't get evicted from our home after the life insurance runs out. If you think that authors are all rolling in buckets of money, check out my previous post on that topic.

It is a sad fact of life that the digital revolution has made information easier to access and cheaper than ever before. There are a gazillion writers out there willing to write for free or next to nothing, which has driven down book royalties, advances, and payment for magazine articles. In fact, hundreds of magazines have gone belly up over the past few years because of dwindling subscriptions and advertising dollars. And most magazines don't pay a penny more today than they did twenty years ago.

So, what does this have to do with the BlogHer conference? Bloggers with good business sense can make money. I've often lamented the fact that I am a terrible business person, but I really need to get past that. My son recently suggested that I read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, and although it might seem like the perfect book for young women -- and it is! -- it is also a great book for women whose children are growing up and leaving home. Right off the bat she got me thinking ... "What would you do if you were not afraid?"

My answer ... I would charge more for my writing and speaking. (And in many cases, "more" simply means "something" as I often speak or write for free.)

And you have no idea how hard it was for me to admit that! Why? Because I'm afraid that if I ask for fair compensation, people will think that I'm greedy or unworthy and they won't like me. This is a common problem that women have, according to the legions of research quoted in Sheryl's book, so I am not alone. And this is one reason that women make less money than men almost a century after we got the right to vote. We have less confidence, and we simply don't ask for more!

So, in the next chapter of my life, I want to be a big girl and start earning a living myself. I feel that I have been truly blessed to have a husband who earned enough money that I could stay home with our children when they were young, but they're all grown up and gone now.

It's time to stop being afraid ... and turn the page to discover the next chapter of my life.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Writer's conferences

If you write, and if you are even semi-serious about writing as a career, at some point, you should attend a writer's conference (or two or three). I've attended a few over the years, and I've always wanted to attend the one sponsored by the American Society of Journalists and Authors because some say it's the best one out there. It is always held in New York City, which is how they are able to get a very large number of publishing professionals -- agents, editors, etc -- to attend. And I'm excited that I will be attending this April, not just as an attendee but as a speaker. I'm moderating a panel on "How to Negotiate Your Own Book Deal," which is geared towards people who don't have an agent.

So far, I only have one other person on the panel, but it's a publishing lawyer, so that's a good start! I'm hoping to add another author and/or agent to the mix, so if that might be you, please get in touch! And if you're a writer at any stage of your career, consider attending!