Recently, I started a new endeavor over on Tumblr which is part blog, part social experiment and part self-therapy. I’ll touch on all of this in what I’ve titled the EPIC TREATMENT OF OPUS because I’m really covering everything there is to know about this fun new adventure.
One of the biggest challenges I face and an independent author is the fact the only way someone is going to ever hear about my work is if they hear it from me. This can directly through interaction with me, or perhaps via another person I have been in contact with. There is no publishing house behind me. No literary agent getting my name out there. I don’t have a P.R. person releasing statements about me. It’s all me.
This is one of those unique situations which become exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. It’s exhausting because it’s hard. Even if you “touch a person” (get your message directly to them), often they still won’t read anything you’ve written simply because they haven’t ever read anything you’ve written.
That’s a conundrum, right?
So where does the exhilarating quotient come in? Well, I have to tell you, every time your author’s page on the vendors you sell your books through adds another tic mark in the sold column, it’s exciting. It truly never gets old. I went to bed last night around midnight, got up at 4:18, the first thing I checked online was those author pages. Two books sold… while I was sleeping. Somehow I sold those two books. Maybe it was a post on social media which got someone interested. Maybe it was a great title capturing the imagination of a couple of buyers. Perhaps it was an awesome write up in the description. Who know? Let’s not forget I was sleeping when this happened. Imagine how many I’ll sell today while I’m awake and productive!
This all leads to how I got started with OPUS. I was looking for a new way to reach people. I wanted to try yet another platform to accomplish this. In the last three years when I started writing, I’ve gone from never having been involved in social media at all to systematically getting involved in Twitter, Facebook, Word Press, Mail Chimp, Instagram and now Tumblr.
My “new” idea was actually an old one for me. I’m a believer in a couple of things:
1). I like meeting new people. All kinds of people. People who share my interests and people who don’t. I want to talk to everyone. Can’t you learn more from people who don’t share your common interests anyway than those who do?
This leads directly to my second point…
2). All people are interesting. It’s true. A lot of people love celebrity gossip. Not me. I want to know the personal story of the person who just put three heartbreak symbols on Twitter. I want to talk to the person who runs the Instagram account which only has wedding photos, yet likes every photo I post, even though I have nothing about weddings. If I could talk to these people, then I want to know everything. What do they do for a living? What TV shows do they watch? When they decorate for Christmas, do they just do a tree and a few items here and there, or do they go all out? If they don’t celebrate Christmas, can they tell me about the traditions of their beliefs?
It just doesn’t stop. It’s just how I think.
The idea for OPUS sprouted from this natural curiosity I have. I knew I was going to do something like this and I was toying with “ordinary people and their stories.” Then it came to me, “Ordinary People, Unusual Stories” or OPUS. According to Google’s online dictionary, one of the definitions of the word opus is, “Any artistic work, especially on a large scale.”
It should be noted, I truly love the idea of meeting new people and it’s not the first time I’ve tried to do something like this. Two times in the last 10 years (before I even started writing books) I wrote to this local rag of a newspaper we have asking if they wanted a guy to write for them who saw interesting things around town and approached the individuals for an interview. For instance, there used to be a person who lived near me who had a giant Statue of Liberty replica in their front yard. Huge. Like 20 feet tall.
Where they transplanted New Yorkers?
I don’t know. Sadly, I’ll never know. The newspaper never bothered responding. I even took one last shot at this when I started writing. Right here. Yes, I mean literally. On this screen on which you are reading right now was to be a blog called St. Louis Neighbors. I was going to take my newspaper idea and just produce it myself. There was a little bit of a weird vibe going with approaching people, without the credential of being with a local newspaper though. Knocking on someone’s door and saying, “Hi, I’m Steve, your house is cool and I want to write a blog.” I’m thinking I’m getting like 2% saying yes, 50% never opening the door, 45% slamming the door in my face and the final 3% calling 9-11.
My idea to overcome this was a beautiful letter. Explaining how I was just starting writing and wanted to organically grow readers, how I was interested in talking to them. etc. blah blah, Sincerely, Steve Akley. Kissy face. Second kissy face and then closed with a heart symbol.
Okay, no kissy faces or heart symbols, but I did compose a letter lining out what I wanted to do and why I had contacted them. Man, I went all out. I took the 20 most interesting houses I could find in the greater Oakville area. I had that one house that looks like the Brady Bunch house. I had the Portland House, where it looked like the place was just dropped from Oregon including the bees in the backyard. I locked-in on the one place where the guy is trying to build a gothic castle. Clearly, the woman who is trying to recreate a Victorian-era mansion, complete with gardens would want to be featured, right?
Anyway, I found 20 great places. I sent out 20 letters.
My responses: 0.
Maybe I shoulda done the kissy faces and hearts.
With that dream officially shattered, I changed the name of this blog to Write Steve Write! and started blogging weekly about my writing.
1,070 words and I’m not even to the details of OPUS yet. I told you this one was EPIC.
So I came back to my idea of getting to know strangers with the launch of OPUS on Tumblr. My goal with this new vehicle is to get to know people on a very informal basis. I ask them questions, most would probably only ask if they had known people for a very long time. Nothing too intrusive, or inappropriate mind you, just fun little scenarios.
I think it really gives greater insight into the person than some more conventional line of questions. I feel like I really know the person when they participate in these brief Q&A sessions.
You may wonder how I find the people I feature. It’s all through social media. I can’t say I’ve written down rules for finding people, but I do have some unwritten guiding principles I use.
1). They must be connected to me on social media. I don’t attempt to reach outside of my personal groups to find anyone.
2). The person has to be over 21. Again, none of the question ever have, nor ever will be inappropriate in nature. It’s just something doesn’t feel right about inquiring anyone below 21. I’ve got an 18 year old daughter. If I came home one day and she was typing on the couch and I asked her what she was doing and she responded by saying, “I’m doing an interview for some guy on Twitter,” I’m not thinking I’m like that as a father. Well, I treat individuals with the same respect and courtesy I would want afforded to my own daughter, so no one under 21 (since I don’t know these individuals if I can’t tell, I simply don’t ask).
3). They have to be interesting. The people who share the dumb lists on Twitter don’t interest me. You know the “click bait” with dumb titles, like 20 Greatest Celebrity Asses, Number 4 is a Real Shocker. This doesn’t interest me. In fact, I just mute as many of those as I can.
4). Finally, they have to be nice. The underlying message to the OPUS blog is there are great people out there. Everyone is jaded about people on the internet. I don’t want everyone to totally let their guard down as there clearly are bad people out there, but don’t lock out everyone. There are great people out there. I’m just getting started with OPUS and I have to tell you, it’s mind blowing. People are genuinely nice and willing to help out.
Of course, this leads to the discussion of, “What’s it like reaching out to strangers?”
Kind of like marketing your work as an author, it’s exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. I don’t ever want to anger anyone. I’m just trying to meet some new people and introduce a new audience to my work. Besides the potential to anger people, I realize there are also two other potential scenarios I’m not fond of either. The first being is what is this guy’s true motive? Is he trying to swindle me in some way? The other being worse even than that, is he a creep?
I had this great exchange with Lauren Elizabeth on Instagram this week (she said I could use her name on here by the way). She’s actually going to be in upcoming OPUS interview. As I approached her to be in my OPUS blog, she talked about the number of guys who contact her innocently enough at first, then it quickly transitions to send me some nude shots or “let’s meet.”
Lauren Elizabeth in front of my personal favorite of her photos, “The Camel Selfie”
It turns out Lauren is a hobbyist photographer who travels all over the globe, both for work as well as personal travel. Another passion of mine is art. I’m a big fan of painters, sculptors and photographers. In addition to the final product of the art they create, it never ceases to amaze me how these individuals see things just a little differently. Photographers like Lauren have this unique ability to look through their eyes in a different manner than the rest of us to capture what’s interesting in the moment.
Sample of Lauren’s work. Does this stuff not look like it belongs in National Geographic?
What I love, love, love about Lauren’s work is the fact she writes the story of her pictures. Not in some sort of stiff clinical manner you might see in a text book, but instead, from a human perspective, telling you what she was doing that day. What was going well, what wasn’t. What was funny about the day.
It’s literally a look at what I find so fascinating. How does Lauren see things differently than I do? How can she grab these great shots when I never would, even if we were in the same place at the same time?
That’s a person I want to get to know. Hello… OPUS!
Do you not want to know Lauren, and people like her, too? OPUS.
I do think it provides the new blog of mine has the potential to provide a service. I mean Lauren who spoke so openly about how many people she just ignores because of the issues she’s had. Luckily, we had been connected early on for both of us in Instagram (I looked it up, she was my 10th follower), she felt comfortable responding to my request. I’m thinking she might be more apt to engage with someone if they read about her on OPUS because their interest in her would likely come from what was interesting about her from the interview. She could connect to some nice people and not just those seeking something a little more illicit.
A connection like that delivers everything I could have ever wanted from this project and much more. I feel like I’m a better rounded person from expanding my connections and relationships beyond the circle of people I have simply just always known.
Not everyone says yes to my requests. I get a few nos and I’m okay with that. I don’t want anyone to get interviewed if they are uncomfortable in doing so. Those that have said no have been very polite and we’ve left it on good terms.
The ones I don’t like have been no response at all. I just feel bad. Have I intruded on their personal time? Do they think I’m a weirdo?
While I’m having an incredible amount of fun doing this so far, I realize their is a shelf-life for everything. In fact, for some reason it hit me yesterday. 100. I’m retiring the OPUS concept with 100 interviews.
Don’t worry, I’m only five into this social experiment. Even though it won’t go on forever, there’s still plenty of time to meet new people, make new friends and maybe one day you’ll be getting an incredibly polite request from me to appear in an upcoming interview.
I’m not a weirdo.
No kissy faces or heart symbols will be included.
OPUS can be found at: steveakley.tumblr.com
Thanks to all for reaching out to me about the loss of all of my files with the corrupted flash drive last week. There wasn’t one negative Tweet or direct message. In fact, nothing but kindness.
I am humbled and honored to have such support come my way.
Next week in Write Steve Write! I face the demons of this traumatic experience by finally opening up my Architect of Passion book, the only file I completely lost. I have a saved version, but it was done before 8+ hours of changes with the subject of the book, a deep revision by an editor and the creation of several new chapters. I’ve been dreading opening up the file and trying to get it back where it was before the tech crash. I’m off work on Monday, it’s all I’m doing.
I’ll write about that experience here next week!