CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, FCIPS, I.S.P., ITCP, MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
Noted Communications Expert, IT Authority, and Prolific Author
This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Shelley O’Hara.
Shelley is a communications expert with varied experience in writing, editing, designing, teaching, training, and promoting. Her custom publication creations include internal and external newsletters, ghost-written books, and training materials for corporations.
Moreover, Shelley has developed several book series from concept to final product, including design, content, and organization plus she collaborates with and coaches authors. Amongst her more than 100 book credits are several all-time best-selling computer books (such as the Easy series).
Listed amongst her clients are: the Indiana Court of Appeals, Walker Information, Gateway, Que Publishing, International Air Transport Authority, Wiley, Prentice Hall, DDC Publishing, Earthlink, and IUPUI.
She served as Associate Faculty Member for courses at University of Maryland and IUPUI. Shelley received her BA in English from the University of South Carolina graduating Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa; her MA in English is from the University of Maryland.
Q: Shelley, as a celebrated author and communications expert, we are fortunate to have you do this interview—thank you.
A: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.
Q: Describe your journey into computers, writing, and the lessons learned along the way? How has your educational background contributed to your success?
A: Ironically enough, when I was first hired as a tech writer I had never even used a personal computer before. The president liked my writing style and thought it was easier to teach someone about computers than to teach someone how to write. I am still grateful for that opportunity. I quickly became enamored of computers and learned how to use all kinds of programs. What has helped me, I think, is my curiosity. I like to figure things out, and I think that’s one of the lessons I’ve learned—experiment, try new things.
My liberal arts background gave me an interest, again, in lots of things, and I was always a good student. As a freelance writer, meeting deadlines is critical. I’ve never missed a deadline. When you work on your own, managing your time is so important, and I learned that or practiced that in school.
Q: What tips can you pass on for those who want to create a book series?
A: My advice is to think about the readers. What do they need? What will help them? For what purpose do they use (in the case of computer books) the computer? Picture the readers in as much detail as possible. Where do they shop? How do they like to spend their free time? What motivates them? Then design your series with your audience firmly in mind.
Q: What are the most important consideration areas when creating materials for Web content, business plans, brochures, and training exercises?
A: Again, I’d say the audience. What are the needs of the readers of that publication? Also, what is the goal? Do you want to promote something? Teach something? Challenge? Encourage? Explain? By knowing to whom you are “speaking” and to what purpose, you can best plan your materials.
Another point is to say things clearly—it’s easier said than done! Your reader, regardless of the publication medium, should know immediately what he or she will get from reading that work.
Q: You have a love for art—please provide more details?
A: My love of arts (and crafts) is a lot like my love of computers. I like to get in and tinker around, make things. I am working right now on using photography editing software to create collages. And image transfer pictures, although I was surprised to see that the film for this type of image is $100!!! Not what I was expecting. I like to sew, but I have limited skills. I use my grandmother’s old circa 1940 Singer sewing machine. Back then the quality of appliances was different.
BTW, I think because I do not consider myself an “expert” at most things, I can easily play the role of the reader of the beginner. Most of my success comes from addressing beginning users, helping them understand how to make their computers work for them, in a style that suits that audience.
Q: What important lessons can your share on the topic of career and personal coaching?
A: It’s been my experience that most people don’t know what they "really" like. If you asked most people to make a wish, they’d most likely wish for something generic like “to win the lottery” or “world peace.” If you don’t give a lot of thought to what you like to do and what makes you happy, it’s unlikely you’ll find happiness (or recognize it!) Even if you are busy, you need to take time to think about what you want from life, what excites you, what makes your heart flutter.
Q: Describe your most surprising experience?
A: That’s a tough one. I suppose it’s looking back and seeing how much I’ve done in a fairly short period of time.
Q: Do have any humorous stories to share?
A: Too many! I also have written short stories and a novel (The Marriage Trifecta) and almost all of my fiction writing is (intended to be) funny.
Q: Detail your current work?
A: I just finished 2 books on a totally untech topic, Kierkegaard Within Your Grasp and Nietzsche Within Your Grasp (published by CliffNotes). I enjoyed these projects immensely because it gave me the opportunity to learn about something new.
I’m also looking to teach some classes at IUPUI (Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis) on writing as well as developing some business courses for an adult learning college.
Q: Can you share your most valuable guidelines on using Google from your book, “Easy Google”?
A: 1) Pick your search word carefully. Use something unique or you’ll have too many matches.
Q: What future books, columns, and articles can we expect from you?
>A: I’m working on a new book (possibly series) that covers the Top 50 Things you need to know. The book is organized by what you get from the features/tasks—the benefits. For instance, there are chapters on saving time, being safe, working smarter, and so on, and each chapter then covers the best features for that topic.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: You’d make a good coach! This is exactly the kind of question I’d ask a coaching client. I’ll go “big” and say that I’m writing all kinds of different things (novels, screenplays, computer books) and traveling, especially to Italy. I love Italy.
Q: What are the most important trends to watch, and please provide some detailed recommendations?
A: 1) The low cost of computers. If you are in the market for a new computer, shop around.
Q: List the best resources for technology and business professionals.
A: I deal mostly with the novice group, so that’s my focus. I’m sure there are other more high-tech resources, but I’ll stick to some of the basic ones.
1) The actual users of the product—that’s why I teach training so that I can see what people are doing and what they are struggling with.
Q: Who/what do you think are the winners and losers in IT in next five years and why?
A: I see the winners as those that can make products work together seamlessly and those that provide support for the entire system—not just parts. I see the losers as those that promote closed systems—that don’t like to share and don’t want others to “play with their toys in their playground.”
Also, I see a widening gap between what’s available and the understanding of how to make that technology work. I sometimes feel overwhelmed when I read the latest computer magazines because there’s so much new technology. And I’m in the industry. I can’t imagine what “ordinary” users think. I’m guessing they just want it to work and then are frustrated when it doesn’t (like programming a VCR in the “old” days). This makes security and support key, I think.
Q: You pick five topic areas and then provide us with those valuable rare “gems” that only you know.
A: 1) Area 1: Italian Cooking
2) Area 2: Creativity
3) Area 3: Time Management
4) Area 4: Having Your Own Business
5) Area 5: Surviving as a Writer
Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?
A: 2 desktop computers, cable Internet hookup, one laptop
Q: If you were doing this interview, what five questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
A: Q1: How do you sit down and write a book?
Q2: What’s the hardest part about creating a computer book?
Q3: What’s your favorite “addiction?”
Q4: What are the stupid things you do/learn from?
Q5: What’s the best/worst thing about working as a freelancer?
The worst is not having control over the flow of your work; it’s usually feast or famine for me. I’ve either got a bunch of projects going all at once or none. When you aren’t working, it’s scary wondering what if nothing ever comes up again. Even though I’ve been on my own 11+ years and have experienced lots of ups and downs, I still am anxious every time I’m not working on something.
Q: Shelley, thank you again for your time, and consideration in doing this interview.
A: You’re welcome. I appreciate your interest.