Blogging for authors is a tad different than it is for most bloggers who are looking to monetize their blogs and grow in the online space.
For one thing, there is no standard trajectory of growth when it comes to creating, launching and scaling an author blog.
Regular readers may remember this post on my blog by Damyanti Biswas, another celebrated author, where she spoke about how she grew her loyal audience to over 40,000 subscribers over a 10-year period.
In today’s interview, it is my honour and privilege to speak to Lakshmi Iyer, who is a close personal friend, a prolific blogger and an outstanding writer.
In fact, it was writing and blogging that brought us together. I stumbled upon one of her beautifully-written pieces and something about it struck a chord.
Ever since, it’s been a relationship that’s grown and flourished. We’ve met three times; twice in my hometown in Bangalore and once at her lovely home near Philadelphia.
The reason I chose to do this specific interview is to highlight the difference in the blogging journey for a traditional blogger vs a blogger-turned-author.
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Lakshmi Iyer is the author of ‘Why is my Hair Curly?’, a book for middle-grade kids. Why Is My Hair Curly is a delightful celebration of curly hair and the courage it takes to be yourself.
Interspersed with exquisite black-and-white illustrations by Niloufer Wadia, this chapter book explores genetics, family dynamics and adoption identity through a light-hearted and sunny tale.
Interview with Lakshmi Iyer
Question: Hi Lakshmi and welcome to my blog. How long have you been blogging at lgiyer.com?
Hi Shailaja, if you are talking about the domain itself about 5 years now but this blog has been around in various avatars since 2005.
My very first blog was lakshmusings.blogspot.com I shifted to WordPress once that came along and have not looked back
Question: Why did you start blogging and how have you found this journey so far?
As a formal blogger, I started sometime when Google’s Blogger first came around. But long before being a formal blogger, I used to write small essays on sulekha.com.
I also used to write long, rambling essays in the form of emails to friends and family. In truth they were the predecessors to today’s personal blogs that I share.
I blog because the urge to share my thoughts is innate. I am an over-sharer by definition and by that I mean, during my school and college days, I was that kid who told stories about their cousins and family ad nauseum.
I was that girl who would interject and take over a conversation because I had just a similar story to share. Hopefully, I have since learned to hold back and not hijack conversations.
Moving to the US in 2001 played a huge role in becoming a blogger because I have always had an extended circle of people to whom I would write emails or chat for a long time sharing what it was like to be in an alien land.
My musings on being a new bride slowly became a chronicle of what it was like to work in retail and later in a technology company.
As I grappled with infertility, I compartmentalized my feelings and used a private blog to talk about the treatments and my feelings in depth with fellow infertile women.
Some of it seeped into my lakshmusings blog and I found a certain resonance. People would write to me privately that they understood what I was going through because they were going through the same or had experienced it and could tell from the other side that there was hope.
Question: Is there anything you’d change about how you got into blogging?
In some sense the blog has been this invisible sisterhood (and I say sisterhood because a vast majority of my readers are women) that has had my back for a long time.
As I ventured into adoption, this family has seen me go through the process and become a parent. They have cheered me on as I raised twins and then later three daughters.
They have rooted for me as I made forays into writing essays and encouraged me as I dabbled in fiction.
Now, that my book is finally here, this blogging community is the one I owe it to. They have been there for the whole ride.
I don’t think I will change anything about this journey.
Question: You don’t have a self-hosted blog. How has this affected/impacted your reach as a writer and author?
Interesting question as I did dabble with self hosting for a bit prior to 2010. I had the domain lakshmusings.com and had a pretty commendable readership then.
I totally enjoyed setting up my self hosted WordPress server; I loved the process of researching widgets and tracking statistics and tweaking keywords in my titles.
Over the year or two, I also realized that with a full time job, a life dictated by hormone injections and mood swings that were terrible, the self hosting part was getting demanding.
I would upgrade the server and the widgets would not work. If I downloaded a new widget, it would be incompatible with my older server.
At some point, I took a step back and assessed the need for self hosting. I was not monetizing the blog. I had no intentions of doing so.
I loved the thrill of learning new technology and dabbling in it but it was not worth the time and dollars I spent on it. So, reluctantly, I gave up the domain and realized my old domain on wordpress.com was no longer available.
So, lakshmusings then became voicingaloud.
I lost a lot of my following in that transition. It was also a lesson well learned. Never give up a domain if you have readership tied to that name.
The dot com domain so far has been serving me well. It serves its purpose which is to be my home on the web.
As a newly minted debut author, I am not sure if I will have to revisit my options. Even if I did, I would probably spring for and go with the business account on WordPress rather than self host.
I might think about getting a professional overhaul of my site’s look if I feel my brand warrants it. Right now, what I have seems enough.
Question: What would you recommend for writers who’d like to stand out in the (rather crowded) online space? What must they do to get their voice heard?
The answer to that is rather simple. Authenticity.
Write from a place of authenticity. Write about things and places and people and stories you are intensely familiar with.
Write from your heart. Edit as much as you can. Look for ways in which your story can resonate with a larger theme.
Stories are as much about human connection as it is about anything else.
Writing with the goal of monetization requires a different strategy that I am not qualified to comment on as I have not gone down that road.
Shailaja, you are probably a good person to talk about that.
*Shailaja’s note: You’re too kind, Lakshmi 🙂 Here’s an interview I did with a blogger who makes a full-time income from her blog.
Question: What would you say is a reasonable time frame in terms of growth as a blogger or an author? How long should a person blog before being ‘seen’ in the digital space?
In my case, it was a less crowded field when I started. The goal then was community. I feel disconnected with today’s version of blogging. So, I am afraid I am not a good person to talk about it.
In general, though for any endeavour to bear fruit, my personal observation is that you have to invest at least one to two years of your life.
Question: Is there a specific moment in your blogging journey where you experienced a shift in terms of writing? Perhaps a course or a workshop or a retreat that made it possible?
Yes. My earlier posts were stream of consciousness. As I wrote consistently, I realized I was writing for an audience and my ‘voice’ changed.
To put it visually, I imagine myself sitting in a circle talking to my readers. The spotlight is on me but the story though, is of connected-ness. I took a one-year writing course with Simon Fraser University in Canada online.
It was the first time I had my pieces workshopped. As my peers read and highlighted what worked and what didn’t in my writing, I started noticing patterns.
My grammar is not great. I switch tense often.
My classmates and mentor showed me how to build an arc into a narrative. Every piece has a goal.
Even if every piece I write is personal, it has to show evolution, learning, a human moment. It has to have that moment of connectedness for it to resonate.
In 2018 I attended a two-week summer session in nonfiction writing at Yale. That was a turning point as well because it was then I realized the power of networking. People I met there were editors at literary magazines. They sent limited invite only call for submissions. These people had connections.
They were immensely talented. There were people with multiple books under their belt who came to hone their craft and, in the process shared inside tips and tricks. The two weeks at Yale were transformative for me.
Personally, taking the courses made me feel like a legitimate writer. I struck ‘aspiring’ off my bio. I treated myself seriously because for the first time in my life, I saw myself as a writer.
Question: What are the best social media platforms for a writer, in your experience?
Answer: In my experience it is not the platform that matters. It is the platform on which you can genuinely engage that matters.
For me, Facebook and Twitter rate higher than Instagram. For those who are visual story tellers, Instagram and Pinterest may be a natural way to amplify their work.
It does not matter how many platforms you are on; what matters is that you engage with honesty and intensity.
Question: Does a writer need social media or can they get by with just a blog?
Answer: A writer needs a blank page or a document to write. Social media helps but to be a writer, you need to write and write a lot.
You also need to read. A blog works just fine.
Create great content. Engage with the people who comment and like. Follow like minded writers. Build your community. Make those interactions real life when possible.
The best way to get your name out there is to engage and engage well.
Question: Do you have any book marketing tips to share for aspiring writers and new authors?
- Identify your core readership.
- Create your personal cheering squad. In my case, long time blog readers, family and friends who have consistently commented on and responded to my words became my squad.
- If you have a book coming out, spend time making a list of people who can market your work for you. Spreadsheets and to-do lists are your friend.
- Make life easy for the people who are willing to amplify your work by specifying exactly what you need them to – right down to the script they need to use for social media sharing or talking to their local libraries and schools.
- Take time out of your life to acknowledge these people who are rooting for you.
- If you have a portfolio of work you have built over time, reach out to the editors you have worked with and ask if they would be willing to review your work and amplify it on their website.
- If you have a social media presence, promote your work intensely but sparingly.
- Treat your readership like you would want to be treated. That means do not approach people only when you have a need for them to promote your work. Be actively interested in what they do.
- Pay it forward. Help other writers. Help newbie writers and bloggers. The gift of your time is precious and earns good karma.
Question: If you had to do anything other than being an author or a blogger, what would it be?
Answer: I’d probably dabble in film-making. Like I said, I am a storyteller at heart.
The human experience is universal and we have so many stories inside of us. The medium truly does not matter.
Thank you so much, Lakshmi, for being so authentic and honest in your answers.
It’s been a pleasure having you on the blog and I wish you continued success with your blog and on your journey as an author.
About Lakshmi Iyer
Lakshmi Iyer is a banking professional. She writes at night when her children are in bed. An MBA graduate from LeBow College of Business and an alumna of the Yale Writer’s Workshop and Simon Fraser University, she writes creative non-fiction on her personal website http://www.lgiyer.com.
She has work that has appeared in Verve India, The Huffington Post, Adoptive Families, Centered Magazine, Mutha Magazine, The Aerogram and, two anthologies that carry her essays.
She lives with her husband and her three daughters (two adopted and one biological) near Philadelphia, in the US.