Why is it important for authors to communicate with their audience?
A writer is nothing without an audience. If you don’t have readers, you’re just keeping a diary. Nothing wrong with keeping a diary, but writers have to focus on serving your readers. Whatever knowledge, experience, understanding and analysis you want to share, not connecting with readers is the biggest failure you can have. So you have to find your audience, and listen to them. Find out what they want to understand, what problems they have that you can help them solve. If you can, ask them how they best learn something new, and deliver your information to them that way.
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned that will help authors build platform?
Never write off a social network. If you hear about some new place folks are congregating online, get an account! You’re allowed to groan while you fill out the form. My first post on a new network these days is often a variation on the “Oh god, another profile to keep track of!” theme. Explore it for an hour a week. Connect with WorkingWriter—that’s my handle! If you find a network useful, you’ll know soon enough. Then tell me about it.
Your bio states that you enjoy making technology understandable, which is an important in building online. What’s your magic formula in simplifying tech?
Everybody is good at something, and everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are different. Yet some weaknesses are more socially acceptable than others. It takes courage to say you’re bad at reading, but nobody blinks an eye when you say you can’t figure out your cell phone.
Just remember that software isn’t omnipotent or perfect. Sometimes software really is confusing, because programmers don’t always put themselves in other people’s shoes. They think: “If I can see the logic in a particular workflow, shouldn’t everyone else?” That’s less common than it used to be, but I still see it every day.
Another piece is that we don’t give ourselves enough credit. If you’ve been using computers and other tech since the ’80s, you’ve learned an awful lot. Tech books and manuals don’t have to show you how to use a mouse anymore. Chances are you already know that once you’ve filled out a form, you click OK to finish. It’s all in getting used to the process.
Now the downside of this “I’m a dummy” attitude is that it gives us an excuse not to learn. In some ways, you really have to want to learn new stuff to get good at it, but humans are learners “by default.”
I try to remember that most people don’t care about the details of a particular technology, they just want to complete a task. We all need to remember that the best technologies help make us smarter and more efficient. They don’t replace humans, they make us think better. Right now, I’m reading Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think, that shows us how the combination of computers and our own brain-power are an unbeatable combination.
Where do you write your books and hang your hat?
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These days I live in an old (built in 1922) bungalow in West Allis, WI, a working-class suburb that used to make tractors. I’m 15 minutes away from downtown Milwaukee, and 15 minutes in another direction from my daughter and her family, the main reason I came back home from Boulder, CO.
My basement, now my writing office, was a big reason we bought this house. The previous owner was a carpenter who’d walled off half the basement for his woodworking shop. He took all the power tools with him, but I got a room full of cabinets to store all my books and tech gear, and a great place to write.
I’m connected with a group of web enthusiasts who organized the city’s BarCamp tech un-conference. Now in addition to BarCamp, I also help organize our annual WordCamp (teaching and celebrating WordPress) and WriteCamp (where writers of all genres and experience levels get together to improve our craft and our business-savvy.
At what age did you start writing?
When I was 13, I sent a letter to an editor wondering why some people didn’t vote which was published in the old Milwaukee Journal. I’m not sure if I was hooked from that moment on, but I knew I enjoyed seeing my name in print. I was a columnist for my college paper, wrote for alternative weeklies for a long time, then I found my niche writing about technology.