Sunday, July 3, 2011

Calliope Nerve Interview Series: Ron Graham

Ron, tell us about your books: Stress Free Entrepreneurship and When Things Break. Why are they important?

These are attempts at regaining relevance. I used to have a larger engineering-oriented audience about 15 years ago, and then the Internet changed, and I went in a different direction myself. But I have used them both in classes I've taught, on start-ups and on engineering failures, and while the classes have been well-received, that doesn't necessarily translate into people lining up for the books. It might be that I have to market myself better, and, well, I'm working on it.

You own and operate Clarity Strategic. What does your business do?

Clarity Strategic is a consultancy. I offer basic Web design, social media and overall Internet strategy. It's a start-up, and while I've done good work when the work has been there, like all start-ups it's a bit of a struggle to find the work. Most entrepreneurs will tell you that you must always be "about the grind" to make that business growth happen. And YOU know that's pretty much the life of the author as well, because who is an entrepreneur if not an author?

How does Social Media play into your career?

I think it's worth pointing out that the Internet has given us more opportunities to use our voice, than has ever been available before. With blogging, podcast, vodcast, social media, etc. etc. there are many, many channels for good voices to be heard.

The flip side is, we have to be the good voices, because those same channels are crowded with voices clamoring for attention. With great power comes great responsibility, once again.

Social Media is us, using the Internet to communicate with us in various ways. It's kind of like the culmination of previous social incarnations, like message boards, Usenet, chat rooms, instant messaging, etc. - it's all integrated now. And a major result of that is that you really can't do business the way we used to, not any more. You can't control the message and have potential customers hear only what you want them to - social media and its associated chaos have put paid to all that. Our choice now is this: we know the conversation about us is already happening. Do we want to be PART of it, or not? I, like many others, say "WE DO!!!"

That the Internet has become mostly Social Media doesn't change one thing: we still have to write, and write well. I mean, if we expect to be heard. And as in any other form of writing, business and technical writing - my specialties - only improve in technique through practice.

You write to become a better writer. Knowing this, I'm writing all the time. And I'm making friends online with others who feel this too. Yeah, I'd say I'm prolific. Not like the famous guys like Seth Godin or Chris Brogan or Brian Solis or anyone like that, but I am getting stuff out there, and grinding to get it seen by pairs of eyes.

The great thing about social media is that it offers almost constant inspiration, new ideas every day, new people to question you. And I listen to people: I really try to keep a finger on the pulse not only of social media, but of popular culture - at least, in those areas where I can make a positive contribution.

Do your readers want to understand social media a little better?

Kabani, Shama Hyder. The Zen of Social Media Marketing.

That's a good place - a very good place - to start.

How did you become an author? How many books and articles have you written?

I have no books in print. I have these two e-books, along with two others I have taken off the shelf for being outdated. I may be updating them eventually, but there's a lot to do. But I became an author after teaching college writing for several years – I have seen young people who really can't write well, and I've helped them. When they were willing. LOL

I've written several conference papers and articles for non-refereed publications from my life as an engineer. But blogging and guest blogging – and efforts like this – have pretty much replaced that. Blogging is where we publish today, for the most part, and it works well as a knowledge management system. It's a way we can quickly locate our best stuff for collecting into an e-book.

Consider yourself prolific?

Prolific is something like Janet Evanovich, with a slew of detective novels. You become prolific, I think, by finding that niche that people love, and really exploiting it. I have some expertise in some areas, but have not yet really connected with my own audience. They're out there. I just have to find them.

Who or what inspires you to write?

Need. Again, a writer writes knowing he has a voice that must be heard. Why do we feel our voices must be heard? Because there is a need out there going unfulfilled until we are heard.

Why do you write?

I'll give the same answer here: I believe there is a need I can fulfill, and fulfill uniquely.

Believe in writer's block?

Screw writer's block. The world's still turning, and it doesn't feel sorry for me. LOL Seriously, if I can't write, for whatever reason, I do something else for a little while, then force myself to write SOMETHING. Just to get off dead center.

What techniques do you use to market yourself, your business, and your books?

So far, I've depended heavily on social media. But that's not nearly enough. I have to do blog trades, and let new audiences see my ability. I have to launch a podcast – I had one ten years ago – and use that to grab new audiences too. And I have to speak at conferences – something I've always enjoyed. But the fact is, you have to give yourself away a lot, to gain the trust and respect that will get others to drop a buck on you.

What advice do you have for authors who want to go full time with their writing?

If others want to write, and market themselves online, they must be made to know that there is no end to the marketing effort. NO days off. So get used to it, get to like it, embrace it. Once you're good at it, then stuff really starts to happen. That's success: when stuff happens.

What's on your recommended reading list?

Well, besides Shama's book above, which I of course recommend, I'm looking at picking up Chris Brogan's Trust Agents, and Brian Solis' Engage – a couple more social media milestones. After that we'll see. I read quite a few graphic novels for pleasure, and have read the Harry Potter books and most of Jane Austen's works again and again.

How do you feel about publishing/reading tech today? (i.e. Blogging, ebooks, LULU, on demand publishing, I-Pad... etc.) How do you feel technology effects readers and publishers? Will e-books replace the real thing?

I've been on the Internet now for 25 years - that's likely to be longer than anyone else you know. And in the early days, it was possible to easily find a niche for what you know. I'm sorry to say that it's not as easy now, and my status as an Internet veteran doesn't make it any easier for me. If anything, I have to always redefine myself to remain relevant in a world filled with such cacophony.

As for whether e-books will replace the real thing, to that I say “not before something else comes along and replaces e-books as we know them today.” But eventually we're going to have some sort of hand-held device (more powerful than an iPad and easier to read than a smart phone), or possibly a personal attachment (more intimate than a wristwatch) that we depend on for just about everything we read. It just won't get here in my lifetime. But not too long after.

Why is the small press important?

Someone has to allow new talent to break in. We don't know whose work is going to SELL until it actually sells. I mean, there's someone great out there, that we can't depend on big, profit-driven publishing houses to find for us. It might be you. It might be me.

What's next for Doctor Ron?

The next thing for me? Maybe I should get to know some of your readers. Let them know how to reach me. I LOVE to talk cross-disciplinary. :-)

Ron can be reached via his website: http:// www.claritystrategic.com.

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