Ep 24 Contact your fave author, how to find time to write, show don’t tell, and blogging sensation Nikki Parkinson’s new book

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In Episode 24 of So you want to be a writer, Kurt Vonnegut’s beautiful letter, how to find the time to write, why writing no longer buys a champagne lifestyle (or does it?), how to get ‘show, don’t tell’ right, Writer in Residence and blogging sensation Nikki Parkinson, why you need name dice, what to do when you hear nothing from an editor and much more!

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Show Notes

New Philosopher’s Australian operation to launch women’s magazine Womankind

Students wrote to their favourite authors asking them to visit. Kurt Vonnegut was the only one who responded, writing this beautiful & humorous letter.

How to find time to write: advice from the experts

Twitter Picked Up 16M Active Users In Q2

The best literary hashtags on Twitter

Writing no longer buys a champagne lifestyle

“Show, Don’t Tell”: How To Get It Right

Writer in Residence

nikki-new2Styling You is an advice-driven fashion, beauty and lifestyle blog with a highly engaged readership, which is motivated to buy featured products and services. The blog helps busy women find and embrace their individual style while learning to love and accept the age, shape and size they are right now. Styling You is written by stylist and former-journalist Nikki Parkinson.

Styling You
Nikki on Twitter
Hachette Australia on Twitter

Web Pick

Name Dice

Working Writer’s Tip

I’m starting out in freelance writing for magazines and newspapers, and it’s very frustrating to spend so long working on a pitch only to have a negative response from the editor or, worse still, nothing at all! This is particularly frustrating if I’ve spent the time researching the publication, finding a relevant hook, gathering information and stats, and putting effort into collating the information into a succinct pitch. Of course, I know editors won’t commission every pitch they receive but is this something that we just need to get used to? Or is it simply a matter of honing our pitching skills which can only come with time? – Jodi

Find our answer here.

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Email us
podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Transcript

Valerie
Thanks for joining us today, Nikki.

Nikki
Thanks for having me, Val.

Valerie
Tell us about your book, I just love the whole concept, I can’t wait to see it in stores, it’s called Unlock Your Style. Tell us what your book is about to start off with.

Nikki
My book is basically part manual, part story, part best wardrobe friend and I hope that it will help women go through the process of finding their own personal style. It’s not about telling what they should be wearing, but giving them the confidence to choose clothes from their wardrobe or in stores so that they feel confident whatever their day dishes up to them.

Valerie
Tell us why and when you decided to write it.

Nikki
It’s a bit of an interesting story. It began on the blog as a 14-day series in January 2013. January is traditionally a quiet reading time on the blog, or so I thought, and I thought, “Just to keep things exciting for me as well I’ll do something different and kind of take people through a little bit of a process where they could start the new year with a focus on their own style and digging in their wardrobes and getting sorted there. By the end of that 14 days people were reading it everyday and really joining in. That kind of caught me by surprise a little, by the end of the 14 days a lot were asking for it in a eBook form, like in one form that they could easily refer back to.

I had always had in the back of my head to get an eBook designed, which I did through Kelly Exeter at Swish Design, and that went on sale in April of last year. It sold quite well. One of the buyers was commissioning editor at Hachette, unbeknownst to me. Within a month I had a meeting with him and he said, “I want you to pitch this, and I want to take this to a commissioning meeting.” I had a deadline of early June last year to have that proposal in. Basically they gave me the outline of what was required for the proposal, so I stuck to that. That path through to meetings at Hachette, including the costings, I think it was marketing and then the costings to see whether they thought it would be a viable project. I had a contract to write that by mid-July.

Valerie
Wow, fantastic. Did you always want to write a book, or was this all a bit accidental? Had it been in your grand master plan to get a publishing deal?

Nikki
Yes, but I didn’t really have plans for it.

Valerie
OK.

Nikki
It was funny, for ages on my blog I had a little feedback form about would you like to be in my book? Submit a question that you would like answered in a book, and I didn’t really have a firm idea about what that book was about. It was interesting that the series on the blog kind of firmed up what the potential for that book could be.

Having been a journo the thought of writing so many words was a little bit daunting, I think. I think that was kind of blocking where I was at with it, you know? Do you sit down and just write 60,000 words or whatever. I don’t know — kind of everything I’ve done with my blog business has kind of just evolved. I like that aspect of it.

Valerie
That’s true. As a journalist you’re used to writing things that are 500 words or 800 words, maybe 1,000 words, so 60,000 is massive. Take us through that process. You got the contract in July, when did you have to deliver the manuscript? How did you then make those 60,000 emerge? Did you have a set routine? Did you pull blog posts together? Did you start from scratch? Take us through that journey.

Nikki
I had about eight weeks, all up, to get the manuscript done. I could have had until November to write it. I started about mid-August, I think once everything was finalised. I was going away for a girlfriend’s holiday, 40th, to Bali in October. I didn’t want that hanging over me while I was away. I brought that deadline from the publisher back a few weeks. All and all I think it was about eight or nine weeks of writing.

I kept the blog up at the same time. That was probably the biggest challenge to me. I just didn’t squirrel away and do the book, I kind of had to keep the business side of my blog going at the same time and that meant keeping up my regular posting there Monday to Friday. At this point I realised I couldn’t do it all and I contracted out to some other bloggers to write at least one of the posts every week. I would commission what the topic would be. It would be done to the particular style. It would be written by them, but I knew that it would be ridiculous to think that I could keep that up myself, that same posting thing.

What that freed me up to do was I would do the rest of the blog writing at the start of the week and generally leave Thursday and Friday to write the book. When it came to the book, thank goodness, my editor at Hachette understood that I was very much a deadline-focused girl and could they break it down. They actually had me submitting four chapters a fortnight, which that format really worked well for me because I then broke that down to two chapters a week. Except for one week where I was at the Pro Blogger Conference I met that two chapters a week self-imposed deadline. It just made it possible to break it down and not think about the total word count.

Valerie
You said you brought the deadline forward, most authors — publishers are used to them missing their deadlines, not ever bringing them forward. Did they fall off their chairs when you suggested that?

Nikki
No, but they should have, because the other part of the component, the book, and I found this the most stressful actually, was organising the photo shoot. That had to happen according to the availability of the photographer and that turned out to be the first week in November. It’s actually just as well that I did bring that back, because then I was able to have a couple of weeks to organise my models, all the clothes, all the beauty products, basically coordinate that whole shoot in Sydney for the book. It was actually fortuitous because that would have just been crazy if I was pitching the manuscript as well as trying to call in 100 beauty products.

Valerie
This sounds like a dream run, it’s fantastic. A lot of this is basically because of your blog. Just in case there are any listeners who are not familiar with StylingYou.com.au, which is a blog I love, tell them what it’s about.

Nikki
The blog has a very similar message to the book, the book is going to be great because it kind of underpins what my blog has become and what it is all about, and really I aim everyday to help women, busy women generally, I actually don’t know any women who aren’t busy, to find their style that they feel confident in, to show their personality in what they wear, to dress appropriately for a certain occasion. It’s typically for an over-30 demographic, in that demographic you’ve got a lot of women going through all sorts of different life events and changes. They might have kids, they might leave the workforce, they might return to the workforce, they might be made redundant, they might leave a relationship — there’s a lot of confidence stuff in there that they might need help with. It might seem superficial to think about fashion and beauty stuff, but if you can kind of get that sorted and simple in your life then it’s amazing how much confidence that can give you to do whatever is required.

Valerie
Why did you start your blog and when did you start it?

Nikki
I started my blog almost six years ago, in July 2008. Initially it was to market my personal styling business that I had started after jumping out of journalism after a 20 year career. I accidentally fell into blogging because the first website that was designed for me was designed on a WordPress platform. I’m so grateful for that. I had said to this person who was doing my site for me. I said, “Look, I don’t want to be coming back to you when I want to share new information.” Or, “I want to continue to do things that I did when I was a journalist.” He said, “Well, you need a blog.” And I went, “Yeah, sure, whatever you say,” not really knowing what that was or how that differed. All I knew was when it was delivered to me that I could pretty much go in and upload content, much as you would be writing on a Microsoft Word document and that pleased me a lot.

It was probably about a year or so in that I realised, “Oh, blogging is a thing, there are other bloggers out there and people leave comments and there’s a community. It’s actually a lot of fun because once people comment on things and leave you feedback you’re not just broadcasting, you’re starting a conversation.” That’s probably when I kind of refocused and turned things around.

Valerie
You’re a full time blogger now, when did it become a full time income-earning activity for you then? You started it six years ago because you had a styling business, but when did it become full time writing?

Nikki
I stopped taking personal styling clients beginning of 2012, so just over two years I’ve been a full time blogger. Everyone’s definition of full time is different, but for me it was replacing my previous income as a journalist, I guess. I’ve well and truly done that.

Valerie
Absolutely.

Nikki
In a way that is so more flexible.

Valerie
I love your blog and I cannot wait to get the book. What do you think the publishers saw in you, apart from the topic, which is a great topic, I love books like this, but what else do you think the publishers saw in you that made that appealing to them? 

Nikki
I really think that the existing audience that I have is increasingly appealing to publishers, just like it’s appealing to brands who might want to work with me. For publishers it’s not an easy sell, but I would say easier because I’ve got an audience who is already connected to what I write. They’ve shared every step along the way and they’re as excited as I am. I think those are the kind of things that you can’t fake. You can’t suddenly build a social media profile just because you’ve got a book coming out. I think it’s actually very fortuitous that I’ve got it this way around. The book really will unpin the blog for me. I really like that aspect of it.

Valerie
I think you hit a great point in that you have this existing community who are sharing the steps with you along the way. They’ve connected to you not only through your blog but through social media. I speak to a lot of first time authors who say, “I’ll get on social media once my book is finished and it’s in stores.” What’s your comment on that?

Nikki
I think before they even pitch their book idea that they should be building on their social media presence, they’re obviously already a writer, enjoy writing, I think at the very least you’re showcasing what you’ve done and what you are capable of. Publishers are definitely looking at those networks as part of the approval process.

Valerie
How would you describe your social media strategy then? 

Nikki
Val, I don’t have a…

I’m going to sound like a hippie here, I really am all big on the organic. I have built it all from every little win. There’s a sizable following on Facebook now, but I think that’s because the demographic of my readership, if they’re on social media, they are more likely to be on Facebook. That’s the strategy, I spend more time on Facebook as a social media platform than any other at the moment.

That’s probably been the way for the last couple of years. I love Instagram for the creativity, but you can’t really track whether that’s bringing more readers or engagement to your blog. Twitter in the early days was an awesome way to connect on an industry level and to just connect with other people around Australia. It’s quite noisy now. I think it still works really well for events and for different programs that might be happening, where there’s a hashtag and you’re following along. I think that’s a great way to just kind of get that immediacy, but as far as cutting through and building an engaged audience I don’t think as much.

It doesn’t mean Facebook is easy, but I just have created a little routine around it. I publish on my blog every day at the same time, Monday to Friday, so my readers have kind of gotten to know that. I also publish about that post everyday the same time on Facebook. Apart from that I might put up a couple of posts, up to five maximum during the day, about different things that are relative to my audience, but apart from that no great strategy.

I know other bloggers who have Excel formats, who have got their posts scheduled months in advance, I think it’s the journo in me who would like to react to things that I see and share things that are current and relevant. If I have something scheduled I can just move the time around if something else comes up that I would rather share.

That’s the strategy.

Valerie
I think that’s an important point to notice as well. Some people think, “No, I couldn’t, I don’t have the time to do a big Excel spreadsheet and plan all of my social media posts,” but in my opinion anyway one of the reasons people do connect with you, why you resonate with them is because it’s just natural, it just seems like a really normal thing that you’re posting this. It doesn’t seem calculated or anything like that. I think that it’s good that you think it’s organic.

 

It’s the eBook that kind of started this in a sense, that kicked it along a bit, what proportion of the eBook, if any, ended up in the actual book?

Nikki
The eBook was about 50 pages and this is 176 pages, full colour. The bones of the eBook are in here, definitely, rewritten and very much expanded on, because the amount of text had to be upped and updated and super-edited by a super editor.

Valerie
Did you take that eBook and expand it to 100-whatever? Or did you take the skeleton of it, but rewrite it from scratch?

Nikki
As part of the proposal I obviously had to come up with a chapter outline that would fill an expanded book. Some of those chapters are the same as the eBook, but within those chapters expanded. Some are new chapters that weren’t in the eBook at all. It’s a combination of the two, expansion within a chapter, plus also extra chapters.

Valerie
When you were writing, Thursday and Fridays, the two days that you had dedicated to writing the book, did you have a routine? Did you think, “I’m going to write 500 words before lunch and 500 in the afternoon.”? How did you make it happen?

Nikki
I’m a shocking procrastinator — shocking, shocking, shocking. This is why bringing the deadline forward, that actually worked for me because the tighter the deadline the more urgency I see. I realise that in myself, and my daughter has actually identified it in herself too.

I brought it down to Thursday and Friday and the aim was to do one chapter on Thursday, one chapter on the Friday, because I had to two chapters a week in my own self-imposed deadline. I was working within school hours, I just had to get off social media, which is probably my favourite procrastination playground, and just hit fingers to the keyboard.

When I was on a typewriter at university starting journalism one of my first lecturers said, “Think through your fingers.” That seriously has stuck. From that moment on I never wrote anything down first, I just hit the keyboard and let it all pour out and then come back in and play with it. It’s like a brain dump. That’s what I would do with that chapter, I would just go write… “Here it is…”

There might have been like a skeleton from the eBook to work from, like anything you’ve previously written you go, “Gee… I want to re-do that,” or, “That’s outdated already.” And I went from there.

I think that’s traditionally how I’ve always written.

Valerie
Yeah, short deadline. 

Nikki
Yes.

Valerie
What has been a surprising outcome of writing the book? Or what is it that you’ve learnt from the whole experience?

Nikki
That I really didn’t believe it was all happening until the book arrived in my hand.

Valerie
Really?

Nikki
I think just because I’ve been in the online world for so long. Another big part of the whole process for me was working on the design and trying to get the — obviously I didn’t do the design, but it came to me and I wanted to tweak it to just make it to sort of gel with what I had in my head and how it was on the page. That was a big challenge as well.

I think it’s just realising that you can do something like this, you can do a major project. The other thing is the credibility factor of doing a book. You know, everybody from relatives to friends at school, they don’t understand what a blog is necessarily. But, “Oh my god, you’re writing a book?! That’s awesome.”

Valerie
What’s next? Have you got book two planned?

Nikki
Of course I don’t, Valerie. I’m hoping the idea for that will generate from this and from getting out and talking to people who are buying the book and continually on the blog getting feedback. It might be even down further into more specifics about what to wear for this occasion, what to wear for this particular part of my life, you know? This might be the first tool and then really bringing it down even further.

Valerie
Finally there are a lot of listeners who are so intrigued by this concept of being a full time blogger, what would be your top advice to them on the key things they need to consider if they want to make it as a full time blogger?

Nikki
Don’t give up your day job, or have good other sources of income. You’re going to have to be prepared to have income coming from other forms until such a point in time that you’ve built up an audience that is marketable to a brand or is marketable for your products, because either way you go you don’t really have something to sell, whether it’s your space or your products until you’ve got an audience. To get that audience you’ve got to devote time to building and creating and writing solid quality content that’s engaging and that people want to log on and read and they want to be part of your community and join in on your social media networks or on the blog. If you lose focus of that then the rest of it is not going to happen.

Valerie
Great advice. Finally, what’s next for you?

Nikki
Well, apparently I’ve got to sell this book now.

Valerie
I have no doubt that this is going to fly off the shelves, I can tell already.

Nikki
Initially there’s going to be a lot of book events and book launches and that sort of thing. I kind of don’t know how that’s all going to unfold. I am not booking in or doing much else apart from that.

The blog will keep going and that takes a lot of work, just because you reach a certain point in readership you can’t just stop. Each week that takes a lot to feed that and to keep up with the business around that. I don’t have any other grand plans for anything else at this point.

I will hopefully be getting around to as many places in Australia as possible to meet people.

Valerie
Wonderful! We can’t wait to see you. Best of luck with the book, we think that it’s going to be awesome. Thanks for talking to us today.

Nikki
Thanks so much, Val.


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