Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Some Lessons Learnt From A Friend's Book Launch

Buy the book: Email tirelomakgeledisa@gmail.com
A book launch is a delicate thing.  Once the book is ready, you book a venue, do a heavy load of marketing and promotion for the event, get some good reviews lined up, organise snacks and drinks and then you hope that people who are influential in the book world and some of the author's fans actually show up on the day.

And when the work is by a debut author, it's even harder to imagine that there will be crowds attending the event, especially when the publisher is a tiny independent and the author is not a well-known person to start with.

The weekend launch of my friend Tirelo Ole Makgeledisa's book, "Voices of Jesus and Ancestors"   published through indie publisher Iphupho Publishing blasted through all that conventional wisdom.

The launch was held at Skoobs, Theatre of Books at Montecasino in Fourways, Johannesburg.  That's right - that Montecasino where it's always dark and you can eat and drink and watch theatrical shows and gamble away all your money on slots and time just flies by unnoticed.They have a bookshop too. I didn't know that, until Ole's launch.

So how did she get the launch so right? Keep in mind that some of these things don't and won't work for everyone, or they are counter to how we do our own processes:

1. The invitation was enticing

It told you everything you needed to know to attend the event.

Notice the mention of how much the book costs. So you can buy the book while you're there :)

 2. The venue was just right

Skoobs is lovely. And fits right in with that Montecasino vibe. The bookshop is fairly large, on two levels I think, with aisle after aisle packed with books.And Deborah (the owner I think) is very keen on locally published books, including self-published and books by indie publishers. They seemed to be very busy, so whatever mojo she's using must be working.

A warm welcome from Deborah

Ole's book launch also brought in a large crowd of family, friends, colleagues (current and former) and well-wishers. And they didn't just sit there, listening to the speeches (I was one of the speakers). The guests tweeted the event, took pictures with the author and posted them on their social media platforms, basically saying to their own friends, "don't you just wish you were here with us?"

The debut author signs autographs
This was a group that was inclined to celebrate and just needed an excuse, which is great when you're launching a product. The master of ceremonies also encouraged everyone to buy a copy of the book (pay for it downstairs) and then come up to the reserved area for Ole to autograph. It was fun. It was lighthearted. We celebrated Ole and her achievement. Most importantly,books were sold

3. The book touches a raw nerve in South African society

So a lot of people were inclined to attend the event because they wanted to be part of the conversation. In her book, Ole tells the story of how she grew up caught between African traditions and Christianity. She speaks about how she hears voices... and started having visions at the age of eight.

She kept that secret for many years, because she knows that in our society, when you hear voices you're either deemed crazy or  possessed by evil spirits. Ignorant, too steeped in superstitions are also some of the labels.So traditional practice became a dirty little secret we all keep. We know people who do it. Some very "respectable" people even consult with them under the cover of darkness. Ole said she was done with being ashamed.

4. She built an audience for the book before she even wrote it

More than 80 people attended the event, I think

Ole started to publicly talk about the book long before she wrote it.Friends, family and colleagues heard so much about the story they wondered when she'd ever write the book.

 "That book was long overdue!" Kgosi said. As I sat here writing this post, I tried to work a good descriptor for Kgosi. What is Kgosi's relationship with Ole and me and the other people who attended the event? I couldn't find an appropriate word. Yes he's a friend. The brother of a close friend. A mutual friend with so many people.

There was a lot of "oh, I didn't realise you two knew each other!" And that was the nature of things there.. so many people who are connected with Ole and with each other building a huge network.

This network was built over a lifetime through university and various jobs and social situations and relationships. Some of the people have a keen interest in books. Others were just interested in her book, or in this particular subject matter.

The people who attended the launch were just the tip of the iceberg. There were many more people who were interested in the book and event but couldn't make it.

5. Ole posted story snippets on Facebook, building a following

Once she started posting her story snippets online, more people joined her on Facebook page. "I suggested that she stop giving the story away and write the damn book," Itumeleng, another friend, said. [the French is his for emphasis, LOL].

6. She gave updates on the publishing process

Her followers knew the book was coming and when she didn't mention it, someone would ask about it. So people knew to set aside time for the launch. It also helped to build up a lot of goodwill for the project.

7. She has the support of some key people

Of course there was a huge fallout from her social network over the fact that she was writing an autobiography. Her memories may not be complimentary afterall. She didn't name names.

Some people from her church were also uncomfortable with the subject matter. To them, hearing voices translates to demons and possession and the need to get closer to God. Friends, especially the modern, educated kind, were uneasy about a public admission that she hears voices. "She's lost her mind," another mutual friend said.

To me felt like too much nakedness in public. I worry that there will be a backlash because she touches on a lot of sensitive topics and discloses many things about her family and upbringing that I would not choose to disclose if it was my family. But then, it's not my story, is it? It's hers and I'm glad for her that she is able to tell it. Which is why I supported her.

Ole works in broadcasting (director, TV News) so she knows a lot of people in the media who can help her spread the word. An interview with a major radio station was arranged right there at the event, broadening the people she can reach. I'm blogging about it, and I expect several people will also do the same.

The way forward

She still has to deal with the challenge of getting a hard copy of the book into people's hands.  There is also a documentary in the works. Of course there is! As a director, that is the medium she's most comfortable with.

I learnt a lot from her process and will be taking some of those lessons into my own work. I hope some of what I'm sharing is also useful to you.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Creating A Blended Office Space For A Productive 2016

As a way to kick-start 2016 on a fresh slate, I spent the past week cleaning my home office and rearranging the furniture to create a comfortable work environment.

View of my office from the door

I'm very pleased with the result - it has the tools I need to brainstorm, write and track projects. It also provides me with the space to organise my life and hobby projects.

I'm one of those people who are curious about where my favourite creatives work: do their spaces affect their output, or can they do what they do anywhere? What do they need to have at hand to be able to get into flow?

I've written  and continue to do so in a variety of places - at my home office in Johannesburg and here in Phokeng, news conferences and events with a laptop on my lap or table back when I worked as a journalist fulltime, in numerous corporate reception rooms while waiting for my appointment, in coffee shops, restaurants and airports. There was even a job where I loved writing in an underground parking garage. The  security people were kind enough to put a metal garden table and chair there and it was very quiet and peaceful when I needed my fingers to fly.

Anyway, without knocking any of those spaces, I have to say I love the current version of my home office best. I also enjoy the outdoor space I periodically move to when it's too hot in the house (we've been getting up to 43 degrees Celsius/ 104 degrees Fahrenheit this summer and the fan dries my skin).  So here are my reasons I love my current space:

1. It's a room with a door and well away from the traffic of daily life in my house

This means I can keep the door open while I work, if I don't mind the sounds and interruptions, or I can close the door if I need to focus or don't want to be interrupted or just feel like cocooning in the room to work.

2. It has plenty of cupboard space

It's a former bedroom, so double-wardrobe serves very well as a storage area for my research and project material.

My best storage solution for documents
It also has a great hanging file cabinet which I got from OLX for a song. The cabinet is a treasure: I can file business and client papers in there, of course, as well as character and setting profiles and whatever information is relevant for my projects.

3. A table to write by hand

Some story drafts start out by hand. I find that the words flow quickly then. It's a great way to silence the internal editor: I know I can't physically delete anything, so I have to run with the idea at hand and wait improve things later when I write the second draft into the computer.
A table to sit, write by hand, edit, brainstorm ideas

The table is also necessary for reading documents (on my laptop) and print copies of manuscripts  when I edit. I'm still old-fashioned like that, needing to look at the paper version and write on it with a red pen and colourful markers.

4. Boards to de-clutter the poor brain

Sometimes there is too much clutter in my head; too many ideas for stories and articles, gardening and craft projects I want to work on, admin work I need to do, stuff I need to say or do for family, grocery lists - it's just too much stuff to remember.  At first a plain notebook seemed to work, but looking for the information when I needed it was time-consuming. Or I would forget the task because there is no reminder coming from my notebook. And ja, in case you missed it, sometimes I'm like a cat chasing its tail. The boards help - if it's written down somewhere, I can focus on the task at hand and not have to worry about it.

The board  is for handy for unsorted info
So, I cut square pieces of paper from old documents  and dump all the stuff happening in my head on them.   There is no particular order to the info dump. Just one idea per piece of paper. Then I stick the paper to the board (I have two). I then set aside time to sort through the information to decide:
a) What fits in with my immediate project goals and has firm deadlines goes into Google Diary and on the chalkboard wall to give me reminders
b) Story information goes into appropriate story files, to be dealt with when I write that story, article, web copy etc
c) Hobby and life information (e.g gardening, volunteering projects, groceries) go into appropriate files and the lifestyle diary
d) Long-term stuff that needs to happen but I have no idea how to do it/don't have the resources stays on the board.

5. It has plenty of seating

My main chair - the navy one - is very comfy, but I also have a sofa for when I'm reading or a family member needs to chat about something. Usually they just stand, but if it's a long conversation it's nice to be able to offer them seating.
A comfortable chair is crucial when you spend hours sitting down

There is also a very nice footstool (see maroon space near the grey board at the corner, with a black/yellow/red laptop bag on top of it). Sometimes I put it under my table as I type; sometimes I climb on it to write on the chalkboard.

The mat is mostly for the cats, which lie down on it during the day while I work.

6. My main writing area

My PC box has outlived 3 brand new laptops. I bought it in 2010. Refurbished. 
It's arranged for my comfort : the PC and printer for work, my hard copy lifestyle diary (an annual Christmas gift from my younger sister), pieces of paper and pens to scribble ideas, chalk to write on the board, an old notebook or two from my old files before I began to use the small papers, space for my mug and water, really good speakers for music and videos. We have WiFi, but I also have a wireless modem for redundancy and when I travel.

The chalkboard area, which covers most of the wall I face when at my desk, is handy for outlining a story/project, so I can just look up from my seat and get an idea of what I need to do next.

7. More storage area for craft projects

This is where I store my craft  materials. Usually, when I need a break from work, I just grab the basket, sit on the sofa and sew, knit or crochet. It's very relaxing. Weather permitting though, I also spend time outside in the garden when I take breaks.

Basically, I'd say the office space is not fancy and except for the electronics, nothing in the office came new. Most items are gifts from family and friend or I scored them cheap online or from a secondhand store. Still, I love this space. It's not only a good tool that allows me to blend various aspects of my creative self, but a space that I look forward to coming to.

P.S. My nephew, who also works from home, has an office down the passage aka he's within harassing  shouting distance when I need to bounce some ideas.

And when it's too hot stay indoors?

This is the back stoep I escape to. There are big trees nearby and a cooling breeze that makes exremely hot days bearable. The stoep is also hidden away from the main entrances, so people find me here because they want to, not because they were passing through.

The colourful mat on the floor was crocheted with strings of plastic cut from used supermarket bags

Anyhoo, that's my space. The post was mostly inspired by WeWork, a co-working office space. Also please feel free to share about your own creative space in the comments below.

Monday, January 04, 2016

A Blessed 2016 To You

A blessed 2016 to you. I hope the year brings you good health, peace and prosperity. The past year was good to me. It had its big wobbly moments, of course, but it started and ended very well for me.

Health and wellness

My body feels the best it has in decades. In September I finally got back into jogging/running after abandoning it decades ago, and do around 7km every other day or so. I'm slower than snail most days, but it's lovely to be out and the endorphin are addictive, so overall, I'm satisfied. I also eat better (no diet!). So for 2016, I just want to learn more about nutrition and refine what I've been doing.

Client Work

It's necessary, of course. But I'm learning not to stress too much about it, not take on too much and to live below my means.I'd like to see consistency and more long-term contracts, freeing up my time to increasingly focus on my own projects.

Own Projects

I wrote A LOT! I even have some finished projects that have been edited, typeset, proof-read, have covers etc. These include a non-fiction ebook and some children's stories. But, I was also feeling like a bear in winter, just wanting to hibernate and seemed counter-intuitive to launch ebooks I was not 100% confident I would promote adequately. So I continue to write... and the finished stuff can wait until I can do them justice.

The Writing Life & Hobbies

I'm still based in Phokeng and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But 2016 will see me spend more time in Johannesburg, maybe even do a 50/50 split. I love that city and its creative vibe.

I'm also still growing food, though the past Spring and Summer were a complete failure due to drought and water shortages. I had plenty of water for my own use, but it seemed cruel to use it to water my garden when some people don't always have drinking water. So on dry days we ration the water out to those in need. Grey water and rainwater harvesting systems will be necessary, I think, to allow me to garden and not feel it's inappropriate to water it.

I also plan to continue with the volunteer work. Currently I work with a local NGO in the village to help them access existing services and create programmes they need. The work is done 100% by volunteers and every family in the community contributes R10 per month. You'd be shocked by how far R10 can go if managed very frugally. This Christmas we managed to buy 70 elderly families with Christmas hampers on a budget of less than R8k, including transport. We initially budgeted for R10k, but our goods came in way below that.

I'm also chairperson of the Royal Bafokeng NGO Forum. The forum is made up of 93 NGOs located in the the greater Phokeng (29 villages). Again, it's helping them set up governance structures that allow them to access resources available to them and providing them with training on how to run NGOs effectively. In the great scheme of thing, for this pretty much involves using my professional skills set to benefit local communities.

I take so much for granted, just by virtue of how I've lived and what I've learnt, and doing the volunteer work has shown me the value doing admin work. No matter how just your cause, how talented you are, very little can happen until all the forms are filled in and signed and the supporting documentation is attached. Urgh!

Again, the volunteer work will continue into 2016.

So what will be different then?

All things going well, I want to write more, and this time, make an effort to get it published. I want to communicate more. Not like my pre-Phokeng days, where my online life was as busy as my offline one. But, I want to do it more often; make it meaningful.

I'd love to hear how your 2015 went and some of your plans for 2016.

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With the exception of entries specifically credited to individual authors, the content on this blog is copyrighted by Damaria Senne and may not be reprinted without permission.