Q&A With Author Sally Slater

26 Apr

paladinIf you catch any common theme in my blog posts, it might be Girl Power. I’m a huge fan of boss ladies (as I kind of strangely like to call women who rock as of late). I’m a huge fan of women who follow their dreams and do things to better the world in their own way.

I met one of these women recently. Sally Slater is a colleague of mine and an author of young adult fiction novel, Paladin, which weighs in at No 7 on the Wattpad fantasy chart, with 10.7M reads, according to The Guardian and Wattpad.  No big deal at all, right?

Sally has a sharp wit and a biting determination in everything I see her do. She’s got a unique view of women’s role in literature (and in real life, I think it fair to say), and I think she serves as an outstanding example of what can happen when you “follow your bliss” and work for what you want.

I can’t congratulate Sally enough as her book is now on pre-order at Amazon. I’m sure there’s plenty more for us to see from this lady!

selfEnjoy a little Q&A Sally was kind enough to complete for me, below.

  1. How did Paladin come to fruition? Where does your story as an author start?

I’ll answer your question in two parts, because my discovery of writing and the story of Paladin stemmed from two unrelated events. I owe becoming an author to a professor in college, who shook some much-needed sense into me. I spent most of college trying to figure out who and what I wanted to be (first an actress, then a lawyer, then a healthcare professional…), and it wasn’t until he pulled me aside and said, “So, you’re going to be a writer, right?” that writing as a profession ever crossed my brain. He also bluntly told me that if I didn’t find a way to write in my career, I’d be miserable for the rest of my life. I really owe him a thank you note for that kick in the pants.

Paladin, on the other hand, was in part a pent-up response to all the hype around Twilight. I loathed Bella Swan, but more than I hated her character, I hated that this was the young woman millions of girls were looking up to. I’m going to spoil the Twilight series a bit here, but Bella at one point gets dumped by her boyfriend, and she becomes literally nonfunctional and near-suicidal. And that was glamorized! What kind of message is that to send? (See, even now, I can’t talk about the series calmly).

Instead of just ranting about it, I decided to write a book with my kind of heroine – a strong female protagonist who kicked butt but wasn’t totally unrealistic or unobtainable.

  1. Why the young adult fantasy focus?

I may be the grand old age of 26, but young adult fantasy remains my favorite thing to read, and now to write. It’s what I read growing up to the near exclusion of all other genres and I don’t plan on giving it up anytime soon, though I’ve since branched out.

  1. Who is the Paladin reader?

When I first started writing and sharing Paladin, I assumed most of my readers would be young women since my main character is a woman. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many guys have been into my book, too. There’s some humor, some romance, and a whole lot of action and violence, so I’d like to think there’s a little something for everyone.

  1. How did you create your characters? Do you take from your personality traits and life experiences?

I’d say the only character who remotely resembles anyone from my life is Sam of Haywood, the main character of Paladin. There are elements of my own personality that I gave her – I think we share the same sense of humor, and I also gave her my unfortunate nose because I think having a big nose builds character (or something). But our different circumstances (I’m not the daughter of a duke, alas) lead to very different overall personalities.

Braeden and Tristan (my two male leads) are heavily influenced by anime. Does watching anime count as life experience? Any otaku will immediately see evidence of my anime obsession in Braeden’s silver-white hair and funny eyes. Every anime lover needs their silver-haired bishounen.

  1. What do you love most about playing the role of “author?”

I love being able to control stories and having the power to decide how they end. Although to a certain extent, your characters control you and you lose control over your own story—but that’s a pretty cool experience, too. I love that I’ve created this whole other world with characters that feel almost as real to me as real people (notice I say almost…I haven’t gone crazy yet!). And it’s pretty amazing to be able to share this world with other people.

  1. What would you say to someone thinking about starting a foray into writing a book (of any type)? Any inspiration or caution?

I think at one point or another, every writer gets stuck and doesn’t know where to go with their story. Maybe it’s because they start doubting their own work, or because they don’t know where to take the plot next. I would just say that “writer’s block” or self-doubt or whatever you want to call it is completely normal, and to stick with your story. Set your story aside for a week or a month if you need to, but then come back to it.

  1. This might be a silly question, but did you have any hesitancy whatsoever to put your name on the book? Did you feel any pressure to make your name gender neutral? My point in asking this surrounds the (now antiquated) J.K. Rowling phenomenon / hoopla over the fact that a female author could do so well (gasp!).

Honestly, no. First of all, giving full credit to my parents here, “Sally Slater” might as well be a penname. It just rolls right off the tongue. Well done, parents. Basically, I had to either become a newscaster or an author, and I became the latter.

Second, Paladin is a story about a woman, by a woman. I’m incredibly proud to have written a story in the fantasy genre—which is so often dominated by men—about a powerful, realistic heroine. I want my name all over it.

  1. Lastly, what’s the most amazing, funniest, craziest things that’s happened in the process of writing and publishing a book? (I’m thinking about some funny fan stories, etc.)

Upon Googling myself…as one does…I discovered that I am listed as a young man’s favorite author on his OKCupid profile (in the section where you can list your favorite books, movies, etc.). I’m the first author he has listed, ahead of Lois Lowry’s The Giver and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. I was tempted to send him a message, but I realized that might be creepy…he is definitely too young for me, and I no longer have an active OKCupid profile.

Reputation is Everything

13 Mar

The public relations industry is small. Despite the fact that there are numerous PR agencies around the world and nearly 230,000 people work in the field, many of us are connected by a few degrees of separation.

From Day 1 at your first internship or job in the PR industry, you begin to make a name for yourself. It might seem trite or silly of me to say that, but I still keep in touch with a number of the people I worked for at my college internships and same with some of the interns who have worked with me. I have a clear recollection in my mind of who worked hard, who was a great leader, who was a positive force in the office, and the same for people who complained a lot, placed blame on others when things got tough, and so on.

You never know when your first boss will be your client five years from now! Lasting impressions (good ones!) can be advantageous in a long term PR career when you’re job hunting, pitching new business and making new media connections. This field is centered on relationship building and you should protect your reputation fiercely when you put the work in to earn a good one.

For anyone in the field from the start of your career to the last days before retirement or a career switch, the importance of reputation and respect for both yourself and others should be deeply ingrained. We are crafters of reputation are we not?

Because I love lists, and why not, here’s a few things you can do to build and protect a solid reputation:

  • Answer emails. If a job recruiter is reaching out but you aren’t looking at the moment, respond regardless thanking them for reaching out and that you hope to stay in touch down the road.
  • Don’t talk badly about others. DUH. Word travels quickly in the COMMUNICATIONS FIELD.
  • Don’t be self-serving. While you must watch your own back, your priorities at work should be serving your clients and the media; and if you are in a leadership position, the success of your reports. No one wants to help someone out who is a serial narcissist only out to get their own and is always asking, asking, asking and never giving.
  • Promise, then deliver. From leadership to entry level positions, if you have a task at hand and others are depending on you to deliver, do so. Simple as that. If things aren’t going according to plan in your efforts to accomplish the task, whether it’s compiling a media list or a complete website overhaul, openly communicate such obstacles and a tentative timeline for completion.
  • Respect people’s time. Time is at a premium in the office nowadays as we all move at breakneck speeds. If you schedule a meeting for an hour, stick to that time so people can move along with their day. Nothing says “I don’t respect your time” like holding people in a meeting for a lengthy amount of time with little accomplished other than you listening to yourself talk.
  • Respect yourself. Your work and efforts should be quality.
  • Above all else – remember The Golden Rule, and that other thing your mom taught you about not saying anything at all if you had nothing nice to say, etc.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

Lack of Confidence = A Lot of Problems

9 Jan

15503376268_c22ddf58fbOne of the best on-stage pageant answers I’ve ever heard was in response to the question, “What do you think is your generation’s greatest problem?”

War. Poverty. Drugs. Terrorism. Violence?

None of the above.

This contestant’s answer was “a lack of self-confidence.” I’m sure she put it in many more words and much more eloquently, but that was the gist of it. I immediately envisioned Tina Fey’s monologue to the “jailed” female students in the gym at the end of the movie “Mean Girls.”

While we may think girls and young women in no way lack confidence given the self-obsessed world of social media that we live in, I think the opposite is the case. We’re breeding a generation of females that base their self-worth on how many likes they get on an Instagram photo of themselves – one they took ten times before posting the “best” one. We are, in general, severely lacking in the confidence realm.

You might think I’m crazy for saying this contestant’s answer was a hands-down “Best Of,” but think about it.

There are regular news headlines about young girls bullying one another on social media, sometimes resulting in the most horrific events one can imagine. Even in colloquial discussions in the office, someone can say “oh I have three daughters at home,” with an exasperated look to indicate, “little girls are the devil reincarnate.”

I’m no psychologist (paging my sister-in-law for some insight here in the comments section, maybe), but to me, a lot of greater issues with girls and women stems from the fact that we lack self-confidence for a slew of reasons (fashion ads with thigh gaps, maybe) which then manifests itself into nasty competitiveness and back-stabbing. We act out in ways that aren’t true to ourselves and make being female a competitive feat. You know that whole “I’ll blow out your candle to make mine brighter…” No? There is also the fact that some people are just plain old competitive and mean…that sucks for them, but… #rambling

One of our biggest fundamental challenges as women from pigtails to stilettos, is that we often lack confidence and can overcompensate in negative ways. I exclude myself from this in no way. I did ballet and pageants…I am a poster child for lacking self-confidence, and I’ve been plenty nasty to my fellow girls.

I even have male friends who have said that they hate working with women because many of them try to be a bitch because they translate that to being “male-like aggressive.” (Don’t get me started on being assertive and being perceived wrongfully as a bitch. That’s an entirely different blog post.) Women, according to these friends, are hard to work with because they have something to prove.

Where does this stem from ladies? By the way, I’m not concurring with my male friends in the slightest – rather using this as an illustration.

The beauty of being a woman – being a human being – is that we come in all different shapes, styles, colors, etc. and we are all constantly evolving. We are all different and have a different way of doing what we do.

Having it All

I’m tired of the questions: “Can women have it all?” While I balance a lot of things in my life, “all” means different things to different people. Someone might laugh at my measly concept of “all” while others may think I’m insanely overextended.

However, what we can start doing to (wishful thinking?) eradicate this question from all future media interviews with female entrepreneurs and heads of state, is to enable each other to “have it all.”

Women educating and empowering other women is the key.

The empowerment of my fellow ladies is actually why I chose to stay involved with the Miss Connecticut Organization after I aged-out of the competition. If I could, in some small way, make an impact on just one young woman by being a positive influence in her life – to show her that doing well personally and professionally, does not mean you have to beat others down (a perceived epidemic in the competitive world of pageants) to build yourself up – and to show her that absolutely everyone lacks some amount of self-confidence / we all have our own battles, so let’s not make it harder for one another – then I can say I truly accomplished something good.

Save your “man hating” nonsense – this is far from that. What I’m trying to get across is that we, as women, will be our own worst enemy, if we continue to allow things to kill our self-confidence and self-worth. It’s what makes monsters of us.

Now put your cell phone down and stop trying to take the perfect selfie. You look great.


Minimize Miscommunication

29 Oct

jean_victor_balin_icon_bulleJust because

When speaking with loved ones and colleagues, I’ve caught myself thinking many times “I’ve told you this already/multiple times/don’t you listen/am I dreaming that I told you this?” Please tell me I’m not the only one!?

I recently attended the Healthcare Leadership Forum, an event sponsored by one of my clients. Vineet M. Arora, MD, MAPP, Director of the Graduate Medical Education Clinical Learning Environment Innovation and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago (she’s smart, accomplished and so cool) gave an engaging presentation on team communication and care transition in the healthcare realm. Despite the focus on the healthcare sector, her points are meaningful in any environment.

Who would you say you have the most miscommunications or misunderstandings with in your life? Dr. Arora asked the audience this and the overwhelming majority said, “my spouse,” with a chuckle, of course.

Dr. Arora shared that we most frequently have miscommunications with those closest to us (It may be our spouse, parent or coworkers.) because we make assumptions about the amount and clarity of message retention. And we all know what happens when we assume!

“Speakers typically overestimate how well their messages are understood by listeners, while senders assume that the receiver has the same knowledge they do,” she said.

Miscommunications and misunderstandings are frustrating and time consuming as we all know. I know I can always do a better job of being thorough and clear in my communications, especially at work. So how do we achieve that?

The human brain can only remember four to five items, according to Dr. Arora and recent studies. Given this, she suggests “chunking” information. Give the top, related salient points you are trying to relay in small groups of information.

“Read back” is also helpful. You can ask the person you’re speaking with to reiterate their takeaways from the discussion. As this can come off as somewhat belittling in a personal, non-work related conversation (maybe that’s just my opinion, but if my husband said to me “okay, now tell me what I just said to you,” I’d likely laugh at him), I prefer to just interactively recap. End the discussion with brief points, takeaways and next steps and avoid information overload.

Also, be sure to minimize distractions. If your husband is watching TV and you’re trying to discuss the phone bill, odds are he’s not going to retain a lot. If you’re trying to assign a task to a coworker and she’s furiously fielding emails with her eyes glued to the computer screen while you’re speaking, she’s barely going to capture anything you said. Put yourself in an environment with little to no distractions, and make sure you’re receiving “good listening” cues such as nodding, solid eye contact and directed posture.

Some of these points can seem basic or given. However, I have to ask myself how often I actually practice them. It takes effort to communicate effectively and sometimes busyness can override best practices. Save yourself and your colleagues and loved ones time and possible annoyances in the long run by making the effort upfront when communicating.

Being a Pro Project Manager

22 Sep

workingI joke that most PR people have A.D.D. The work environment, especially that of a PR agency, is not conducive to dedicated focus on any one thing. I almost see a bit of attention flightiness as a good thing. If you’re able to switch from the deep concentration of the byline drafting process to answer a client call, and then wrap that up for an internal team meeting on another client without breaking a sweat – you’re golden.

When I first started my job at KNB, I was tasked with being a project manager. I had advanced to a more senior position and my role as I had known it over the years was going to change. Embarrassingly though, I had to ask my husband what a project manager really does and how the role was any different from what I did on a daily basis as is. It took me only a few seconds to realize, I was pretty much already playing that role, and I had already built the skills necessary to make it an “official” part of my job description. Now when people ask me what I do, silly me quotes the Planet Fitness commercial: “I pick things up and put them down.” Pretty literally, while I write, pitch, strategize and more on a daily basis, most of my job is moving things from one person or place to the next efficiently, and making sure balls don’t get dropped.

It takes a special set of skills to excel as a project manager. Rest assured, these skills are always evolving and there is always room for improvement. No one is perfect. Here’s hoping the following will get you off to a good start as a project manager, or help you revisit or hone your skills in your current role.

  • Organization, organization and organization. It goes without saying, the better organizational skills you have, the better you’ll be at running things. Whatever works for you – list making, charts, grids, online tools – remain dedicated to your best practices. While there might be a need for adapting your organizational styles to your colleagues’ or perhaps your office uses a tool like Basecamp, stick to what you know keeps you organized.
  • It’s all in how you say it. My role at KNB requires me to manage my peers and supervisors (we all really help manage each other as a team). I don’t think any senior staff member would take it well if all I did was distribute bossy emails: “Where is this? It’s due today!” In fact, no one would appreciate that. Ensuring that tactical items progress smoothly, plan well in advance with your team. Have a meeting at the start of every project, or hold a weekly meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page. Be helpful in your tone, not demanding. And lastly, walk the walk. You don’t add much to a team when all you do is facilitate the movement of something. Make sure you are equally contributing and carrying your weight.
  • Plan ahead. Deadlines are missed. It happens. However, in the deadline-driven world of PR and journalism, a missed deadline can be detrimental. Always keep internal deadlines for deliverables to play it safe. If an editor tells you a byline is due November 1, tell your client it’s due October 25 (sorry clients!). This will give you some much needed wiggle room in case something goes awry keeping you from meeting the expected deadline. While this may enable clients to think “oh, we can always get the deadline bumped,” it at least gives you a bit of flexibility.
  • Be smart. Knowing what is important to what team members can save dozens of emails and unnecessary, time-consuming conversations every day. Oftentimes, we think that more information is better. While that can sometimes be the case, I loathe information overload. It taxes your decision making abilities and zaps mental energy. Be considerate of your teammates’ time and try to have an inkling of what’s on everyone’s plate so your entire team can stay focused.
  • Find a balance. No one likes a pest. There is a fine line between following up on things and just being annoying. If you need something from a teammate or client, especially something that’s timely/pressing, follow up once or twice via email depending on the timeframe. If you don’t get an answer, take it to the phones. Most times making a request verbally softens what might seem like a demanding tone over text in an email.

Like I said before, there’s no perfect project manager and there’s no perfect way to do it. Find your style and what works for you and your teammates. Now back to picking things up and putting them down…

#IceBucketChallenge – You Are Helping

11 Aug

Ben Kosinski, founder at Sumpto wrote an article recently on how the #IceBucketChallenge was a big ole FAIL. Check it out here: #IceBucketChallenge: Why You’re Not Really Helping. With no personal offense intended toward Ben (I’ve never met him and I’m sure he’s lovely), I disagree with pretty much everything in the post.

I’ve come across equal amounts of posts in my Facebook feed featuring people dumping ice water over their heads and people slamming the campaign saying how stupid and pointless it is. Here is my take as a PR person: IT’S A GREAT CAMPAIGN.

In everything I do as a public relations professional in my professional life and my volunteer work, I try to accomplish two overarching goals: 1) Get people talking about us and 2) make money. The ALS Association and the creator of the #IceBucketChallenge have accomplished both.

Awareness: Everyone is talking about the challenge. Even in the case where people are slamming the idea, they are still talking about it. And that spurs questions like “Oh, what’s ALS?” I’ll be entirely honest and say I knew very little about ALS other than the connection to Lou Gehrig. Huffington Post, Elle, TIME, NBC News – they are all talking about it! When clients talk about viral campaigns – this is it, folks.

Money: Ben clearly states in his Huffington Post entry: “…the ALS Association has seen as much as four times as many donations during this time period than last year…” Will these donations continue to pour in at such a healthy rate? Sadly, it’s likely they won’t. But brand and awareness building is a marathon, not a sprint. Small campaigns add up to major brand power and recognition.

I’d say this is a job well done. We can all go home now.

However, enter the nonprofit argument used too often: For every dollar we spent on X, we could have donated X. Ben argues that we could have all just donated the cost of the ice bags we bought (who doesn’t have a freezer? You can come to my house and we’ll eat ice cream together.). “…just imagine with me for one second: What if the thousands of people who spent money on buying one or two bags of ice actually gave that money to ALS? It would be out of control.”

What if the March of Dimes stopped making beautiful mailers to call for annual donations? What if the Red Cross of Connecticut just didn’t hold their annual gala? I know. I too believe that some nonprofits could really save money in certain areas to improve their bottom line. But in my opinion, it usually takes money to make money (within reason, of course).

I sincerely applaud the starters of the #IceBucketChallenge. I think it was a great idea that accomplished so much in such a short time. Like with any campaign, the message can get diluted, which I think is why many people are hating on the act. Some who participate and are unaware of why or are unclear on the message can cheapen or water down (no pun intended) the point to where it becomes, in fact, pointLESS. That’s simply a hazard of any campaign that grows at a speedy rate. Two thumbs up to the ALS masterminds behind this initiative from this PR gal.

The Turnover Rate in Public Relations

5 Aug

Laurent L. Lawrence, Associate Director of Public Relations for the PRSA in New York recently penned a great post on Media Bistro: The 4 Culprits Behind PR’s High Turnover Rates. Take a read.

I felt the need to weigh in with my own thoughts here as well. For the sake of ease and brevity, I’ll just go point by point.

The problem: External recruitment rather than internal support

My take: Yes, yes and yes. Once you’ve got at least a year, even less, under your belt in PR, the recruiters start calling and emailing with enticing opportunities elsewhere. Perhaps it’s the human default – the grass is always greener on the other side, and if you aren’t exactly thrilled working where you are, a recruiter might just help you jump ship before someone internally lends you help, valuable career insight or direction. Should I even mention that the recruiters always tout higher salary? Not to give my generation a blanket overgeneralization…but I will…a higher salary will always be enticing to us/me at first glance. Obviously I will do my homework and due diligence, and not simply switch jobs for a dollar sign, but man can a raise sound and feel nice. Sallie Mae is knocking on my door, people!

The problem: Low wage increase is the new normal

My take: I cannot speak from the business owner perspective and won’t pretend like I know the perfect solution to this issue. Like I said above, a more competitive salary is enticing. I used to work for an agency that gave me a raise (even if modest) every six months via formal review and that gave me the warm and fuzzies. It felt good – like I was valued and appreciated. Even if it was an “HR tactic” to keep people on board, I’ll take it. I sound like such a money grubber, sorry. I’m not!

The problem: Lack of management accountability

My take: YES. I have only ever worked for small (and one mid-sized) agencies and a reoccurring theme was lack of guidance, on-boarding, acclimation and training for new people. With that said, I truly believe that this is an issue because senior level management is time-strapped. I’m sure there are exceptions of laziness, burnouts and the like, but no smart business owner will intentionally fail their people from the start – not unless they want to lose clients left and right. I second Lawrence’s sentiments from his entry: “A manager’s responsibilities should always include training, mentoring and protecting their staff by making sure they are properly prepared to do the work being assigned to them.” There must be time allotted for these types of things. Clients’ needs will have to be put aside to allow for this time, but in the end, the better trained and acclimated their team is, the longer the relationship will last (hopefully).

The problem: Non-existent onboarding

My take: Pretty much covered in the above. The only thing I’ll add is that I too have been thrust into a new business pitch the third day I was working at a new firm. I was so unprepared and it was embarrassing. For the sake of solid client relationships and always being perceived as thoughtful, prepared and strategic, no new hire should take part in any external pitches or meetings before they are ready.

If I were to pinpoint one specific issue that threads throughout all points made in this entry, it is this: lack of time and resources. Many of the problems Lawrence points out and their respective solutions have to do with people, namely management, having the appropriate time and resources to:

  • Internally support staff so they aren’t readily poached by recruiters;
  • Research appropriate, competitive industry wages and review staff members every 6-12 months granting them wage increases if earned;
  • Properly advise, oversee and train junior staff.

None of these “fixes” will slow or even stop the high turnover rate in PR anytime soon. This will be a drawn out process. But perhaps if we make time and commit to bettering our staff retention practices, there could be some positive change. Now repeat after me: Sorry client, we can’t come to the phone right now, we have internal onboarding to do so your AE sticks around!

What makes me stick around? Feeling valued, heard, challenged and passionate about the work I’m doing. What about you?


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