by Leanne Hunt (@LatticeWindows)
I “met” Leanne in the comments section to an earlier post on Author Blogging. Part of what she said was: “I don’t think there is anyone else out there writing about the things I do—I am a self-publishing author, a blind computer user and an amateur psychologist/mystic…” That caught my eye, and I asked Leanne to tell the story behind her comment. I’m very pleased she took me up on the offer, and here she describes her journey so far.
The advice to “Build an author platform” is commonly heard in book marketing circles. Yet how do you build that platform, especially when you are a complete novice where computers are concerned? I confess, I had no idea when I started out, but I’ve learned some things along the way.
My journey into self-publishing began in July 2011 when I heard about CreateSpace, the entrepreneurial author programme run by Amazon.com. The news came via an interview on a local talk radio station and my response was elation. It felt like pure synchronicity because I had a freshly completed novel on my laptop and an inheritance that had come to me six months earlier. After dreaming of becoming a published author for thirty years, I realised there was finally a chance to make it happen.
The first thing I did was establish that what appeared to be a fantastic opportunity was, in fact, true. Once assured, the second thing I did was look for guidance on self-publishing. That was when I came across Joel Friedlander’s book, A Self-Publisher’s Companion and began educating myself.
Now, it must be said that I am not a likely candidate for this sort of thing. I began losing my eyesight when I was ten and became legally blind when I was 17. Up until a year ago, I could only read with the aid of tapes, but July 2011 saw the introduction of the Kindle into my life, with its amazing text-to-speech capability. A Self-Publisher’s Companion was the first e-book I read.
I noted with interest the chapter on using social media to market books online. As a blind person, I had steered away from social networking and anything that felt like over-exposure, partly because I felt technically incompetent and partly because of giving the world a window into my private life.
Yet Joel made it sound so easy and so necessary to an author’s success that I took the bull by the horns and faced my fears. After reading Twitter‘s Help pages and convincing myself that I wasn’t endangering my own or my family’s security, I was ready to choose a Twitter name and get tweeting.
But first I needed a brand. What to choose? Then it struck me; four months earlier, I had begun contributing a column on Open Writing web magazine called Through Lattice Windows, a name chosen to signify the fragmented nature of my visual field.
The name @latticewindows simply suggested itself, and with it, the idea of using a lattice window design as my avatar. Now I was branded both as a colourful personality and someone with a structured outlook on life, which was exactly the way I wanted to present myself.
The Birth of a Blog
But it didn’t stop there. Having enjoyed the sense of empowerment that being on Twitter afforded me, I moved quickly onto Facebook and contacted a string of friends whom I hadn’t seen in years. They were all excited to hear from me and wanted to know, “So, how is your eyesight? Has it deteriorated or stabilised?”
Most of all, they wanted to know how I managed to navigate around Facebook, especially since I don’t use the screen. I told them, that is the beauty of digital technology. What works for the sighted works for the blind; you just need the software to translate labels into voice commands and the courage to give it a try. It’s remarkable.
So remarkable, in fact, that I didn’t want to stop. Joel had written about the benefits of author blogging and I was eager to try it. Again, I found the setup on Blogger simple and easy to achieve on my own. I chose the name Diamond Panes to link in with my lattice window branding, and my daughter helped me to choose a stained glass window image to use in my design.
I really like this image because it creates an atmosphere somewhere between a sacred space and a cosy coffee shop, where inspiring ideas circulate and where people who have disabilities or other challenges in life can appear in a different light. I also like the idea that the world can be seen through many different windows, each offering a slightly different perspective but each having the potential to be integrated into a vast and wonderful whole.
Thus, the blog was born. As parts of my promotional material for my book have become available, I have showcased them on a separate page called “The Making of Jozi Gold“.
As a media kit, I am aware that it is unsatisfactory but Jozi Gold will get the proper treatment once the Kindle version is out. Meanwhile, going through the motions of mastering social media and creating my blog has taught me something important which I don’t want to forget.
Life Lessons from Cyberspace
This is what getting into social networking and blogging has taught me: You build your author platform one widget at a time, overcoming one obstacle at a time. When I started out in August, I had in mind that I would be concentrating on topics such as writing and the back stories of my characters. However, I quickly learnt that the challenges I faced gave me a particular view on the internet which others found intriguing.
People ask me technical questions and I answer them. From knowing absolutely nothing about computer jargon, I can now hold a fairly intelligent conversation with a technician or developer about the compatibility of a site to screen reading software or the features required in web design to aid blind navigation.
All this has nothing to do with my novel, which is a story of love and betrayal set in Johannesburg during the run-up to the 2010 World Cup. Nor does it really have anything to do with my stated goals for the blog—to provide a meeting place for blind visionaries and sighted seekers-in-darkness.
Yet what it does do is demonstrate, in very real and practical terms, how someone who started out as a technophobe and couldn’t even conceive of using a cell phone can change into an advocate for accessibility on the web and self-publish a book in the process.
I believe this is a good route to pursue because it is entirely personal and true to my lived experience. Thus, I am following the other advice that you hear in book marketing circles; namely, “Don’t blog about the book. Blog about your reasons for writing the book.”
Jozi Gold is essentially the story of a woman who picks up the broken threads of her life and weaves them into something worth treasuring, and this is the message I want to convey. Transforming hope into glory truly is possible.
Have you turned an obstacle into a focus for your author blog? How have you woven disadvantage together with opportunism to produce a profitable outcome? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.
Leanne Hunt lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with her husband and two daughters. She writes about her interests in books, spirituality and accessibility for blind people at DiamondPanes.blogspot.com which is also where you can find details of her upcoming book, Jozi Gold.
Blog header photo by dynamosquito