Wordy Wednesday with Joanne Mallon

This week a learning experience for us all with the author Joanne Mallon, who amongst other things writes about Social Media use!

So hello Joanne, tell me a little about yourself: I am a freelance writer and author of three non fiction books – Toddlers: An Instruction Manual; How to Overcome Fear of Driving and the latest one Social Media For Writers. I also have a geeky lifestyle blog called Opposable Thumbs www.joannemallon.typepad.com and am a career coach for writers and other media types www.joannemallon.com

When did you start writing?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. When I was nine I won a national poetry contest. The poem was printed in the local paper and they paid me the princely sum of three pounds, so that was my first paid writing gig. I trained as a broadcast journalist and worked in TV as a producer for about 10 years, but over time I gradually got more and more into print and online media, since writing was always more my thing than broadcasting. I started a blog about 8 years ago partly in order to become a better writer. I think writing is like a muscle and the more you do it the more you can improve. My style is essentially practical, down to earth stuff laced with humour. Over the years I’ve written everything from software instructions (not much room for the funnies there) to an Agony Aunt column.

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?

Since I’m a total introvert, being home alone helps a lot. This isn’t always possible, especially since my other half is also a writer and works from home in a different room. I like peace and quiet, so that gets a bit more challenging when it’s the school holidays and the kids are at home. Other than that I find exercise very helpful for giving me mental clarity, so I will go for a walk or to the gym most days and that’s often where I get my best ideas. I wear a fitness monitor in an attempt not to end up glued to my desk so I walk about 5 miles a day. Also a deadline is very helpful, otherwise I will just faff about and waste time.

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?

 I start with whatever I’m being paid to write, or whatever has the closest deadline. When writing is your job you don’t really have the luxury of doing it as and when you feel like it, although for my personal blog, I post on that whenever I have something to say. I run a children’s blogging site called KidsBlogClub www.kidsblogclub.com and I aim to post on there every Tuesday and Friday.

For books I keep a running word count and every time I sit down to write, before I start I will have a minimum number of words I’m going to get to that day. The challenge is actually sitting down to do it in the first place – I procrastinate quite a lot, but it’s like warming up to a run. Sometimes I think that procrastinating is just part of the dance that writers do, and ultimately if you get to where you’re going, that’s the important thing.

Then threaded through my week will be some sort of promotional or marketing activity – either doing interviews or pitching for new work or just polishing up the website and LinkedIn profile. Being self employed means that you have to keep planting seeds if you want to keep reaping a harvest. But I also think that if you believe in what you’ve written and you think it could make a positive difference to people’s lives then you owe it to them to spread the word, and that’s where doing promo stuff comes in.

Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone? if not, what else do you do?

It’s split between freelance writing, career coaching (I specialise in coaching people who work in media – see here www.joannemallon.com), social media management (which also involves writing in the form of tweets and Facebook updates) and occasional consultancy. I like that what I’m doing changes every week, depending on what kind of commissions and new clients come in.

What’s good about income from books is that it’s ongoing and you should get a (hopefully increasing) royalty cheque every year. My first two books were with a publisher who specialises in books which also raise money for charity, so when I get royalties the charities get a donation too, which is great.

Other paid writing I do includes: writing for websites and magazines; sponsored posts for the blog; technical authoring (instruction manuals); writing blog posts for clients; writing tweets. It’s far from being an easy profession but it is doable. I haven’t sold any foreign rights to my books, but that seems to help authors a lot. My other half has a book coming out that’s been sold to 8 countries, so that’s 8 lots of advances and royalties for one book.
With my coaching clients who are writers, what I’ve observed is that the most successful ones tend to have a non-sexy specialism, because those pay better. The less people who can write about the stuff you can, the better for your business. Or if a writer’s main specialism is something quite popular and over-subscribed, such as travel or parenting or beauty, then it can work quite well to have a non-sexy specialism to sit along side it. So you might write about lipstick for fun, but pay the bills by writing technical reports.
And of course the benefits of writing a book are not just financial. I get a lot of emails and tweets from people who say that my books have helped them in some way, and that’s really fantastic. When you write a self help book, a big aim of it is to make a positive difference to the world, so to see that actually happening is amazing. There are people who have turned around their relationship with their toddler; or got back out on the road again after being scared to drive; or got to grips with social media thanks to my books, so I feel very grateful to be a part of that process.

What are your favourite biscuits?

Anything with seeds or cheese in it. I know most people will say chocolate but I’m a rebel.
Where do you do most of your writing?
At my PC, unless my son is using it for gaming. Then we have to tussle for screen time. I make a lot of lists in notebooks but actual writing I tend to do at the PC, facing a blank wall to lessen the distractions.

What book are you reading at the moment?

 I have a couple on the go – I just went on a trip to Rome, so now I’m reading a book about vampires and set in Rome, called Dracula Cha Cha Cha by Kim Newman. Also just starting a non fiction book – Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community by Wendell Berry - which is my book club book for this month. I like being in a book group because you end up reading all sorts of great books that you never would’ve discovered otherwise.

You use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?

 I think social media is essential for a writer these days, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t use it. Writers have always had to help spread the word about what they do and this is just the latest way of doing it. So I use all of the platforms to varying degrees. I find that I get a lot of writing work via Twitter – either I’ll spot a shout out from an editor, or somebody will recommend me for something. I got my initial book deal for the first two books because the publisher had tweeted that they were commissioning.

Right now I have a dedicated Twitter feed for the new social media book @SocMed4Writers which shares social media tips for writers and has over 4,000 followers. People keep tweeting me that they’ve bought the book and are enjoying it so I think that helps a lot to spread the word.

Of course the challenge is that you end up spending all your time shooting the breeze on Twitter and not achieving much else. How I manage that is by having a cup of tea rule, in that I only go on Facebook or Twitter when I’m having a teabreak, ie if there is a cup of tea actually on my desk. I also schedule regular daily tweets throughout the day via Hootsuite, so it makes me look more active on there than I really am.

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?

Yes I love my Kindle Paperwhite, especially for travelling. Now and again I read ‘real’ books but I prefer digital.

Do you dream in colour?

 No idea, I’ve never really noticed. I do have some pretty vivid dreams though.

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?

 Weep! Probably go for more walks and listen to podcasts. And then have to get a proper job.

What is your ideal holiday?

 I like going somewhere I haven’t been before and walking about to explore it, then collapsing with wine and a good book in the evening. I would never go on a beach holiday and just lay by the pool. I live in the city, in Brighton so I like a bit of countryside on holiday. I like to not have the internet on holiday, although that gives my teenager the horrors.

Joanne Mallon's new book is Social Media for Writers 

This is a book for all writers - authors, journalists, copywriters and bloggers. It shows how you can use social media to help you attract more writing work. Through practical, easy to follow advice, you'll learn how social media can become part of your income stream as a writer. Best-selling authors and successful freelance journalists also share the secrets of how they use and manage their social media. It includes chapters on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram. Social Media for Writers also covers what your writer's website needs to contain, and how to set up a successful blog. You'll learn how not to let social media become a terrible time suck, and how to make it work for you.

Thanks to Joanne for taking part, do you agree or disagree with her answers? feel free to comment below (especially about biscuits)

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