When life imitates art…
by Anna Buckley
Writing is a very solitary pursuit. I needed to get out of my office. Chrissy Butcher (left) of Hair Romance (and Mr and Mrs Romance), Rachel Devine of Sesame Ellis and Carly Jacobs (right) of Smaggle were holding a workshop ‘Little Blog Big’ on how to ramp up your blog. Knowing how useless I was at understanding electronic media, signing up for this Saturday workshop would be a very good thing to do. I’d also get to meet real people…so much better to talk to than the fictitious characters I’d been creating for my new book.
It was only a short walk away, down Smith and left on Johnston Street to inner city Abbotsford, near to where my books are set. This streetscape of grand old warehouses and seventies officeblocks very typical of these once industrial suburbs.
Carly was at the door, welcoming and directing us to the second floor. We gathered our name tags, sat down and, as all the attendees had arrived on time, the workshop began.
I like an organised and punctual group!
Carly and Chrissy introduced themselves. It was go, go, go right from the start and I was going to have to ‘pay attention in class’ to take everything in. I learnt they’d made the monumental step of giving up their day jobs and were now making a living as full-time bloggers. They were examples of a real life Christina Maxwell, the heroine of my books, who is forced to re-think her life after the death of her husband. She starts blogging as a way to counter her detractors, connect with the world and eventually… earn a living.
Here is an excerpt from the book, AWAKENING THE LOST WOMAN, where Christina Maxwell describes that transition
The blog was becoming a full time job.
Mondays were always busy. Still my weigh in day, photographing myself and then uploading the images. Then there were my readers’ ‘Before and After’ shots to be included. By the end of the day I usually struggled to finish replying to the many comments this subject generated.
Tuesday was ‘Escape Money’ day. This page was growing just as quickly as the weight loss column. Women were very keen to tell the world about their money saving ideas and secret stashes. It was morphing into a kind of ‘home economics’ section, not unlike the columns once seen in women’s magazines. The readers just couldn’t get enough of it.
On Wednesdays I introduced a new section on relationships. I would pose questions like, ‘How do you keep your marriage interesting?’ or ‘When is it time to leave?’ One week I asked ‘How do you get back on the dating bandwagon?’ and was so swamped with interesting stories that I realised this would become Thursday’s page.
Very quickly my little blog was growing and I was slowly allowing selective advertising. Only choosing products I would use myself. It also occurred to me many of my followers were offering services, had small businesses, things to sell, that my readers would find useful. Selling the pram, home baking, sewing classes, all generating interest. Not unlike the back page of the school newsletter, a local bulletin board. To these women I gave another page and charged a small fee.
Within a few short months I’d created my own on line magazine. It was generating some money and the readership was growing. Every time a new story about the Brown scandal appeared, more readers came on board.
The legal bills continued to pile up and my little nest egg was disappearing at an alarming rate. I realised the blog would need to start earning me more than a bit of pocket money. It needed to generate a proper income.
Surprisingly none of it daunted me. The more demanding my life got, the more driven I became. Every chance to earn, I took. The more subscribers and hits to the site, the more I was able to charge the advertisers. Slowly but surely my finances were starting to grow. At long last I was able to see a more secure financial future.
I’d created a heroine who used blogging to take control of her life, be financially independent and eventually create a business empire that would be the envy of any modern-day entrepreneur. And here today were these two inspiring, savvy and clever women doing just that. The joke is, when I began writing, I didn’t know how a blog worked, didn’t follow anyone on line and barely knew how to use a computer. While I was making it up these two women were actually living it!
Then it dawned on me… Chrissy Butcher’s real name was actually Christina…the name of MY heroine It was one of a series of spooky moments last Saturday where, as the title suggests, ‘life imitates art’!
When Chrissy and Carly finished their back-story they asked us to introduce ourselves. Before long I realised I was in a room full of tech-savvy people who were miles ahead of me in their knowledge of electronic media. I was the beginner in a class of experts. I barely knew how to put up a post let alone link it to TWITTER, FACEBOOK, PINTEREST or INSTAGRAM.
You see I’d only been doing posts since August last year (2014) and had come to blogging a bit ass-about. I’d published the trilogy first and then taken up blogging as a way to show the ‘pictures and stories behind the books’. Usually people are bloggers first and then, after writing thousands of words and putting up hundreds of posts, they may produce a book. Chrissy Butcher had done just that and her books have, spectacularly, made the New York Times bestseller lists.
Again I was reminded of this very thing happening in my book…
The publishers had let their American office handle the tour and yes, everything was bigger in the States. Sales were going crazy. In three short weeks we’d covered most of that vast country. Women queuing for blocks just to get a photo and an autograph. I loved the boundless enthusiasm of these people, it gave me the energy to keep up the grueling schedule.
The book was now making best seller lists in America and the next book, ‘Escape Money’, was in its final stages of production.
Chrissy was livin’ the dream, I was making it up on paper!
But my technological naïvety was so much more idiotic than not understanding how to link a post with the electronic world. I was a complete and utter technophobe. Up until 2012 I couldn’t even type. When in business I had a P.A. who did all that stuff leaving me free to do the designing job I was good at. Since that time I’d always been able to avoid typing by paying my daughter for every word needed.
It was laughable that I couldn’t type. How the hell did I think I was actually going to get this book written? Well I did start and this is what it looked like…
A trail of notes, literally cut and pasted (sticky-taped!) together, handwritten, in chronological order, ready for my daughter to type up the beginnings of my book (I’d kept it to remind me of how this whole bloody thing started)!
Apart from the fact that it was not appropriate to have my young daughter typing her mothers erotic novel (nasty!), it was absolutely unacceptable to avoid using a keyboard for another minute more! She sat me down, set me up and spent the next few hours painstakingly showing how it was done.
On the 18th of July, 2012, I’d written, in long hand, a time line (that stupid list you saw stretched out on the floor). The next day, after a grueling 4 hours, I’d converted it into my first full page of typed notes. Within 9 days I’d tapped out the first chapter. By August 18, 2014, thirteen months, three books and 250,000 words later I finally typed THE END. I’d mastered the beast!
Back to the workshop. I took a deep breath, got my anxiety under control and opened my mind to the brilliant words of advice the girls were giving. Luckily there were pages of typed notes too, so I got my pen out and started scribbling madly. I had so much to learn. (I needn’t have worried, it was all very clear and the girls volunteered to take me aside for a bit of remedial work during the break if there was anything I wasn’t up to speed on.)
I’d learnt to always to keep my camera handy, took a few pics and wondered what story might emerge from today’s events. It wasn’t until I attempted a panoramic shot of the area that I saw what the room was about. It was a big space with a number of small offices along the periphery. Curious, I asked Carly about the venue. Along with a whole lot of other people, she rented a petitioned office. A space away from home, a more professional place to meet clients. A much more affordable way to rent an office than taking on the financial burden of an entire building. JUST LIKE THE BLOODY BOOK!
Again I was having the ‘life imitating art’ experience. This is how Christina Maxwell becomes the landlady of a similar office development…
Fitzroy and Collingwood were full of empty warehouses and factories just like these.
Many inner city properties had been snapped up for development, but the housing market in Melbourne was slowing. There had been no mining boom in this city and with the closure of more manufacturers, sites like these were coming up more frequently. What’s more, the site was zoned ‘commercial’. It would take a change in planning regulations to make this real estate more valuable and with this encumbrance it made the property relatively cheap. I thought about this and realised I had the perfect solution.
‘How about we partition off part of the upstairs space?’ I said.
‘I don’t get it?’ Cindy said looking at me, puzzled by my suggestion.
I told her I had heard an author speak about the need to leave the house, to go to a specifically allocated space in which to work, away from the distractions and procrastinations of home.
‘There must be lots of women who need an office away from home, in the inner city, who can’t afford to rent an entire place.’
‘And you’re saying that we could provide that space at a reasonable rent?’ said Cindy.
‘Yes, with the possibility that the space could be made available to us if we needed it in the future.’
Not only did this solve our problem of a lack of space, but it made good financial sense. I calculated that we could afford to buy the building, if we had paying tenants to offset the cost of the loan.
I put this question to my readers first. Would they consider renting a small office away from the distractions of home? I was overwhelmed by the almost instant response. We would have no trouble getting tenants.
After lunch the girls got down to the nitty-gritty of running their business. I loved that they shared not only their successes but also the hard lessons learnt over the years. There was so much to take away from this brilliant day. Here are a few quick tips…
-Find your blogging groove, let it be a reflection of your personality, try to develop an individual style…and be consistent.
-Use all forms of social media, but remember your aim is to get your reader back to your blog, your primary site.
-Post content at the right times. Long posts are best left to weekends when the reader has more time to take in your lengthy prose. Readers are reluctant to download long posts at work first thing Monday morning.
-Manage your time and don’t waste precious hours clicking away in the name of ‘research’.
-Diversify your income streams and don’t put all your eggs into one sponsors basket.
-And finally, DON’T GIVE UP YOUR DAY JOB UNTIL YOU’VE TALKED TO CARLY OR CHRISSY AND ATTENDED ONE OF THEIR WORKSHOPS… (my advice, not theirs!)
By 4 o’clock we’d picked their brains enough and it was time for the girls to sign off. Carly had said to bring water, to keep our bodies hydrated and our brains ticking over. I’d brought bubbles instead and after such thirsty work it was time for a real drink. We checked out the goodie bag (those girls had thought of everything), swapped stories and exchanged cards.
“Anna, you mentioned you write erotic fiction.”
“What led you to that?”
“I’d read ‘Fifty Shades’ and wanted to write something different to the traditional tale of the 21-year-old virgin… a more modern-day heroine…some one I could relate to.”
“I understand! You may be interested in the story I have to tell.”
“My marriage ended, I had to reinvent myself, emotionally, financially and sexually. This is what I write about in my blog.”
I was gobsmacked. Charlotte was living the life I’d given my fictitious heroine, teasing me with tales of her adventures, a real Christina Maxwell. We agreed to meet for lunch and take this discussion further. I couldn’t wait to check out her blog.
My husband rang. He was in the area, wondered if I wanted to go for a drink on the roof-deck at Naked for Satan on Brunswick Street….book one, page 129…!!!
We said our farewells, thanked Chrissy and Carly then I headed to Brunswick Street to meet up with my husband.
I tried, excitedly, to explain to him what had happened, the strange synchronicity of the day, of ‘life imitating art’. He gave me a completely logical answer (typical), something about being an observer of our time, and didn’t really understand what the fuss was all about. Perhaps I would calm down after a glass of beer. It was one of those times where you really had to be there…or in my head at least.
I’d learnt so much, pleased to have met so many inspiring people, surprised at what an unexpected story of that days adventure I was now able to tell. Or was I…had this day been real or was I just recalling bits from the book, the lines between fiction and reality were so blurred? I quickly googled The Good Girl Confessional and there was Charlotte living her real life…much more interesting than any made-up character I could ever create!
Cheers, Anna x
P. S. Thanks again Chrissy and Carly and to the interesting group of people I was able to connect with… it really was worth getting out of my office for the day.
Have you ever had one of those ‘life imitating art’ experiences? If not, maybe you could give me something a little more grounded… your best blogging tips? Leave a comment and share the love!
Love you to read my books
The Lost Woman series follows the sexy adventures of Christina as she makes her way through a world of new media, design, fashion, travel, and … men.