writing, wellness & women's empowerment

The Birmingham Jane: Carrie Rollwagen

Posted on October 19, 2014

 

bham jane nail art

Carrie Rollwagen is representing for the Birmingham Janes! Contribute to her Kickstarter campaign and she’ll represent for your blog or business too. She’s also offering a nail art workshop as a reward.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? 

I have a long list of answers to this question: do a one-year blogging challenge, write and publish a book, strive to run a profitable small business, launch a Kickstarter campaign. But my list could be summed up with one statement: Be Carrie Rollwagen.

Rollwagen is a small business owner, a prolific blogger, a social media guru and much more. She also has the cutest nails in town. And now she’s about to add something else to her resume — published author.

Rollwagen, co-owner of Church Street Coffee and Books and the writer behind the Shop Small blog, is now about to publish The Localist, a book that’s all about shopping locally. Rollwagen decided to self-publish the book and recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund her project. She reached her fundraising goal in less than a month!

I had a chat with Rollwagen recently — at a locally owned coffee shop, of course — about her book project and her secrets to success.

Becoming a Localist

Carrie Rollwagen

Rollwagen’s interest in local shopping began when she managed a small book store in Mountain Brook. She believed that the camaraderie she experienced at that store was unique to locally-owned shops. But then she worked at Starbucks and found the same sense of community there as well. Rollwagen, a former full-time journalist, wanted to investigate.

“I’m a frustrated journalist,” she says.

And so in 2011 she challenged herself to only buy from locally-owned stores for one year. She launched the blog Shop Small to chronicle her adventure.

Rollwagen admits that she thought her “Shop Small” challenge would be extremely difficult and extremely expensive.

She was wrong.

“I spent far less money that year than I usually do,” Rollwagen says.

She explained that when you shop small there’s less of a chance for impulse buying. There are very few, if any, displays set up in locally owned shops to entice you to purchase things that aren’t on your shopping list. Furthermore, because local shops weren’t as easy to get to as big box stores, Rollwagen would often talk herself out of buying things. And she wasn’t eating any fast food.

Finding stores at which to shop was easier than she expected. She often found what she needed simply by asking friends or doing a quick Google search. Rollwagen was even able to go to the movies thanks to the Birmingham-based theater The Edge opening that year.

What was Rollwagen’s conclusion after this year of shopping small?

“Local is almost always better,” she says.

Rollwagen is a localist, but she’s also a realist and she makes no claims that small business owners are somehow better people than the owners of big box stores.

“It is in the financial interest of a small business owner to be a nice person,” she says. “Small shop owners have a better incentive to treat people well and build community.”

If you have a bad experience at Target most likely you’re going to go back to Target nonetheless and even if you don’t chances are the Target employee you had a bad interaction with doesn’t care. Small shop owners know that it’s good customer service and a sense of community and camaraderie that will bring you back.

While Rollwagen doesn’t recommend that other people take on her extreme shop small challenge, she does stress that we should all buy local as often as we can as this is a great way to improve your community.

As Rollwagen explains in her Kickstarter campaign video, for every $10 spent at locally owned stores four to seven dollars goes back into your community. When you shop corporately only three dollars, at the most, goes back into your city.

Think of the local place first, she says. Amazon doesn’t pay taxes in your state.

Deciding to Self-Publish

DIY Publishing

Rollwagen admits that she hasn’t been a fan of self-publishing in the past — and for good reason. As many avid readers know, a book needs good editing, good design and a good marketing campaign to be successful. Most self-published authors don’t have all these skills or the resources to hire someone who does.

But Rollwagen’s book is centered on Birmingham and she thought a book a that was this, well, “localist” wouldn’t appeal to traditional publishers.

“Just because it doesn’t have a national market doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist,” she says.

Rollwagen’s Shop Small blog was quite successful thanks to her fresh, informative content and effective social media marketing. But she knew she had more to say.

“I wanted to tell this story in a new way,” she says.

So she decided to write a book and self-publish it.

The book is part memoir, focusing on her life as a localist and even offering a few tips on how people can shift their own shopping habits to support small businesses more often.

The book is also a study of buying patterns — why you like big box stores, why they’re not all bad, and the effects of our shopping on us as individuals and on our communities.

The book also offers a behind-the-scenes look into Church Street Coffee and Books.

To ensure that her self-published book would be of high quality, Rollwagen launched her Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to hire an editor and designer.

How to Rock Your Kickstarter Campaign

Rollwagen reached her fundraising goal of $5,000 in less than a month. Now she’s working on her stretch goal. She’s hoping to raise an additional $3,000 so she can go on a book tour to spread the localist gospel to other towns.

Rollwagen offered these tips on how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign:

  • Apply the tips that Kickstarter gives you and look at projects similar to yours for promotion ideas.
  • Produce a great video and in it be sure to convince people that your project is something that you can actually do. Also, explain exactly how you plan to use the money.
  • Have enticing and creative rewards and be sure to include their cost in your project budget. One of Rollwagen’s rewards was nail art! For a donation of $10 or more, Rollwagen would decorate her nails with the name of your company. Nail art was a perfect way for Rollwagen to help promote her project because whenever someone would say “Oh, I like your nails!” she could strike up a conversation about her Kickstarter campaign.
  • But these conversations could only happen if she was out and about. So Rollwagen’s other piece of advice is to be sure to network during your campaign. And carry business cards that include a URL for your campaign.

 

The Birmingham Jane is a See Jane Write series of profiles on women in Birmingham who are making a difference in our city. If you know of a woman who is making a difference in Birmingham please send your nominations to javacia@seejanewritebham.com. And don’t be ashamed to nominate yourself!

This story was originally posted Oct. 6, 2014 at SeeJaneWriteBham.com.

Man of the Hour: TJ Beitelman

Posted on September 17, 2014

By Javacia Harris Bowser

TJ Beitelman

TJ Beitelman

Though TJ Beitelman is a published author and poet he often refers to himself as “a frustrated visual artist.” As soon as you begin to read his latest novel John the Revelator you will understand why. The book is packed with rich images that captivate you, pull you into the story, and haunt you in your dreams. Black Lawrence Press, Beitelman’s publisher, describes the book this way:

Part reluctant Tiresias, part locusts-and-honey outcast, teenaged John stumbles into the darker thickets of human insight—the high arts of vice and violence—and the small Alabama town he calls home will never be the same when he comes out the other side.

Beitelman is a native of Virginia and though he has lived in Alabama for 18 years, he admits that it has taken a while for the state to feel like home. John the Revelator, oddly enough, has helped.

“For that novel in particular the sense of place is so important,” Beitelman says. “It was a way for me to connect with this place and to put my emotional truth squarely in this place.”

john the revelator

Each scene of the book plays out in your mind like a movie reel. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that Beitelman first wrote John the Revelator as a screenplay.

The idea for the novel was born of a short story titled “Tiresias the Seer” that was published in 2004 in the New Orleans Review. First, Beitelman tried to expand the short story into a novel, but with no luck. Then he got another idea.

“I’ve always wanted to write a screen play and I also subscribed to the theory Alfred Hitchcock once said that films are more like short stories,” Beitelman says. “So I figured maybe I will go back to the original short story and try to make that into a screenplay.”

Beitelman completed the screenplay but then considered the reality of both the film and publishing industries. He knew it would be much harder to produce a screenplay than it would be to get a book published.

“I thought this might be an outline for the novel,” he says. “So I went back through the screenplay and fleshed it out into a novel and it worked. I wouldn’t recommend that process. It took a long time and it was very frustrating and I probably wouldn’t do it again, but it worked.”

Along with its rich imagery, John the Revelator also has a distinct lyrical quality that you would expect from Beitelman considering he has an MFA in poetry from the University of Alabama.

“Things like how it looks on the page is important to me and white space is important to me,” he says.

Furthermore, Beitelman says he typically writes his narratives in pieces. The “frustrated visual artist” says he would even describe John the Revelator as a collage.

“There are different voices in the book,” Beitelman says, “So it’s a collage of voice as well as narrative and images.”

As a high school student in Springfield, Virginia, Beitelman took all the visual arts classes he could as they were the only creative outlet at his school. Though, he admits he wasn’t the greatest artist in the class, he appreciated that his teacher treated all the students like artists and took their work seriously.

“I still think of my teacher and the things he said about visual arts,” Beitelman says. “He always used to say that if you’re going to draw a crooked line on purpose, make sure it’s really crooked. Otherwise people are going to assume you were trying to draw a straight line and you couldn’t do it. It’s surprising how applicable that is to all forms of art.”

TJ Beitelman teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. And sometimes he rides a skateboard in the hallway.

TJ Beitelman teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. And sometimes he rides a skateboard in the hallway.

Beitelman teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine – a public institution in Birmingham, Alabama for gifted junior high and high school students. I teach English at the school and, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Beitelman is one of my favorite colleagues.

Curious, I wanted to know how Beitelman found time to write while working such a demanding full-time job.

“Early on I felt like I had to have the Stephen King attitude towards it where you have to write a certain amount every day,” Beitelman admits. “I thought that was the only valid way to be a writer. I discovered I am the other kind of writer. There’s at least two. There’s that writer that sits down and invites the muse to come every day and it’s very compelling when you hear that, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years now and I have produced work and I am the type that writes in bursts. I need a burst to create raw material and then I tinker with it for a long time.”

beitelman_npm

For writers stressing about not writing daily, Beitelman says you should let yourself off the hook.

“I don’t worry myself over when I’m not writing anymore because I feel like the stuff that happens when I’m at the keyboard is only 10 percent of it,” he says. “Ninety percent is feeding the process.”

Beitelman says he feeds his writing process through reading and traveling and even doing things as simple as taking walks.

“Mostly it’s something more nebulous and vague than that,” Beitelman adds. “It’s a mindset of not turning off the impulse to the create something. I filter everything through that creative impulse. So there’s a permeable wall between the real world and the art you make from it.”

 

Javacia Harris Bowser is founding editor of See Jane Write Magazine. 

 

For our Man of the Hour feature we take down the “No Boys Allowed” sign and share stories of men who are doing great things in the writing world. Send your nominations for Man of the Hourto seejanewritemag@gmail.com.

Blogging 101: Lessons Learned From One Year of Blogging

Posted on September 7, 2014

By Javacia Harris Bowser

When Birmingham-based blogger Bertha Hidalgo started her style blog Chic In Academia one year ago she didn’t have much of a plan and didn’t think her site would be much more than an outlet for her love for fashion.

But when she threw a blogiversary party for Chic In Academia late last month she had plenty to celebrate. Thanks to her blog Hidalgo has had the opportunity to work with a number of brands and has even been featured in B-Metro magazine.

We had a chat with Hidalgo at her blogiversary party about the lessons she’s learned from one year of blogging.

Bertha at Blogiversary

Bertha Hidalgo at her blogiversary party for ChicInAcademia.com

“Because I started my blog for fun I didn’t invest in a camera and I didn’t put much effort into my pictures,” Hidalgo says when asked what she wishes she had done differently this past year. Hidalgo says she also didn’t realize how important it would be to frequently post fresh content.

Finding time to blog can sometimes be difficult for Hidalgo. Not only is she a wife and mother of two, but she is also a PhD-level genetic epidemiologist. Hidalgo firmly believes that it should be socially acceptable for a woman to be both intelligent and fashionable, and that those two qualities should not be mutually exclusive.  She started her blog, in part, to show the world that a woman can indeed be both.

Hidalgo usually find time to blog in the evenings after she’s put her two sons to bed.

Hidalgo believes that one thing she has done well this past year is be original. Chic In Academia is not just another fashion blog simply featuring one “Outfit of the Day” post after another.

“If I just did that I knew I would be a guppy in a sea of Shamus if I did that,” Hidalgo says. “I talk about how I shop and how I find deals.” And, as the blog’s title might suggest, Hidalgo also blogs about fashion for the workplace. Sometimes she also blogs about fitness.

Happy birthday Chic In Academia!

Happy birthday Chic In Academia!

Though she’s only been blogging a year, Hidalgo has already garnered much attention for her site. Betabrand included her in a campaign that featured women with doctorates. B-Metro magazine recognized her as a style icon in its July 2014 issue. And when Hidalgo announced on social media that she was attending this year’s Birmingham Fashion Week, Lotus Boutique offered to provide her with outfits for the week.

 

Some of the opportunities she’s landed has been through social media. Hidalgo is very active on Instagram, for example, and uses this platform to engage with brands. Her Instagram tip: hashtag, hashtag, hashtag.

Hidalgo is also a great networker although she doesn’t see it as networking. She’s just passionate about blogging and passionate about fashion, so she loves to talk about both.

“I talk to everybody about what I’m doing,” she says. “If you do that enough with the right people then you’re at the forefront of their thoughts when opportunities arise.”

 

Javacia Harris Bowser is founding editor of See Jane Write Magazine. 

Back to School: How one woman’s love for blogging led her to grad school

Posted on September 6, 2014

By Javacia Harris Bowser

Alexis Goes Back to School

 

Last month fashion blogger Alexis Barton of SameChicDifferentDay.com made an important announcement on her website and social media channels. This particular announcement wasn’t about a new line of designer duds or about fall fashion trends. Last month Barton announced that she was going back to school.

Barton is now attending a graduate program in community journalism at the University of Alabama. The program, “encourages students to think critically about the role news plays in community and to explore new ways to serve communities through the evolving practices of journalism,” Barton says. And she believes this program is the next step in her journey as a digital storyteller. 

Barton has maintained her popular style blog for three years.  Her personal style tips also have been featured in The Birmingham News, Skirt.com, Life and Style PR and on WBHJ 95.7 JAMZ. Barton has appeared on ABC 33/30′s Talk of Alabama, CBS 42′s Wake Up Alabama and a number of other television programs. Barton has been named a 2013 Role Model by the Girls Scouts of North-Central Alabama and this year was named a Birmingham Trailblazer by The Birmingham Times. She has worked with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, H&M, Girls Inc., Macy’s, Belk, and many other non-profits, businesses and brands to help make the world a more stylish place. 

But Barton has more to do and she believes education is the key to unlock the doors she wants to strut through in style.

 

How do you think this field of study will help you in your efforts to become a digital journalist?
My background is primarily in creative writing and blogging, which can be very different from traditional journalism. I hope to learn the fundamentals of the craft, add to the skills and instincts I’ve already developed as a creative writer/blogger, and gain new ones. This program presented me with the opportunity to really immerse myself in the craft. I want to serve my community to the best of my ability as a writer/blogger/journalist and have learned a lot already, but I wanted to fill in the gaps and this program will allow me to do that.
 
Why are you interested in journalism despite the challenges the industry is currently facing? 
It’s a calling for me. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and despite the changes in the industry I believe we will always need people to report what’s going on in the world. So the challenges don’t discourage me, they excite me; there are plenty of opportunities for storytellers and journalists to remain relevant and to thrive. As a blogger, I’ve already embraced the digital realm and that’s where a lot of opportunity lies.  The key is in being ready to adapt to those changes and challenges.
How will you balance both school and work.
I find balance by sticking to a schedule and trying to maintain some semblance of organization at home. I try not to overload myself, and I’m always reminding myself that I can do anything, but not EVERY thing. The blog has been great practice for getting a handle on that.
 
How will you make time to maintain your blog?
I’m accustomed to maintaining the blog while working, volunteering and trying to maintain a personal life, and that won’t change.  It’s a creative outlet for me, and I just make carving out time for it a priority.
 
In what ways do you feel blogging and the opportunities you were afforded because of blogging pushed you toward pursuing this goal?
Over the years, blogging definitely helped me figure out that I have something to say and gave me the confidence to say it.  It has shaped my instincts for storytelling as well. When I found certain doors in the journalism industry closed to me, it was a way of proving to myself that I could find a way in anyway. I have always taken blogging seriously, and to have others respond to it the way they have – whether that’s reading it or inviting me to participate in fun opportunities – has been further motivation to pursue digital journalism as a career rather than just a passion project.
 Javacia Harris Bowser is the founding editor of See Jane Write Magazine. 

See Javacia Write: Higher Learning

Posted on September 6, 2014

This summer I attended half a dozen writing blogging conferences — one of which I organized and hosted myself.

While it may sound as if I need to go to conference rehab, I say “No, no, no!”

I attend all these conferences simply because I love learning and I love sharing what I’ve learned.

y'all connect badge

At Y’all Connect, a blogging and social media conference held in Birmingham, I learned about the importance of knowing your audience, that helping someone for free today can actually pay off big tomorrow, the value of visual content, and much more.

sjw at y'all connect 2

a few lovely ladies of See Jane Write at Y’all Connect

At BlogHer ’14 in San Jose, California, I got inspired to blog as if my life depends on it. (And I got to meet Arianna Huffington and share the same air with Kerry Washington!)

Arianna Huffington

And at the Bloganista Mini-Con, a conference for fashion, fitness and lifestyle bloggers that I hosted through See Jane Write Birmingham, I was inspired by speakers like Megan LaRussa Chenoweth to work on taking my writing career and See Jane Write to higher heights.

Megan and Javacia

At the Bloganista Mini-Con with keynote speaker Megan LaRussa Chenoweth

Last month I attended WordCamp Birmingham and a talk by Reneta Tsankova, chief operations officer at SiteGround.com, helped me see branding in a new way. So often blogging gurus and social media marketers tell us writers and entrepreneurs that we need to see ourselves as brands. And that just sounds dirty! Thinking of yourself as a brand can feel cheap, shallow, or even dehumanizing. But Tsankova talked about branding in a way that really resonated with me. She said that when it comes to branding we should focus on values.

What are your values? How will you showcase these values? What makes you (or your business) different? What do other people think makes you (or your business) different?

Drafting a list of values for the See Jane Write network was simple. I value self-expression through storytelling and the written word, women’s empowerment, wellness (especially exercise and physical fitness), and Birmingham — I am devoted to making my city a better place. While I’m not sure what other people think makes See Jane Write different from other networking groups, I believe we offer a safe space for women to learn about blogging, business, writing, and social media — a place without pressure or pretense.

BlogHer14

fun snapshots from BlogHer’14

Thanks to all these conferences I attended this summer I feel I am truly headed to the next level as a writer, as an entrepreneur, and even as a woman.

This month I’ll be posting articles that are all somehow tied to the importance of learning. I hope they will inspire as much as this summer’s conferences inspired me.

xo,

Javacia Harris Bowser

Founding Editor