Grief is a sacred journey

An Interview with Jill Swenson: Engaging, Writing, and Building an Author Presence on the Web

Elaine Mansfield and Jill Swenson - An InterviewElaine Mansfield is a writer, blogger, and bereavement group facilitator at Hospicare and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County. Elaine writes about how accompanying a spouse through death can be an initiation into the power of love that stands strong in the face of mortality. Widowhood challenges women to face death consciously, mourn fully, and find positive ways to stand alone in a new life. Buddhist rituals, the poetry of Rilke, women’s mythology, and a dream visitation gave Mansfield a new sense of purpose and direction after the loss of her husband. She mastered the tractor in order to mow the trails on the land she shared with her husband in the Finger Lakes Forest. As hydro-fracking encroached on Seneca Lake, she bought land to bring under her conservation easement. She recently completed her memoir manuscript, After Loss Comes Life: A Memoir of a Marriage [working title], and prepared her book proposal for submission to publishers.

Jill Swenson: It is one year since you began working on building an audience platform while finishing your work-in-progress. Can you describe the process and your progress?

Elaine Mansfield: I began with a complete redesign of my website, www.elainemansfield.com, last May. My site previously focused on my work in nutrition, exercise, and women’s health, so I reviewed all the articles and deleted some. With the help of the Swenson Book Development LLC team, we migrated to WordPress and created a beautiful new design that reflects me in my new life.

A year ago, I began to write blogs. The short format suits my temperament, and I like using photos taken by my friends or me or digging up old family photos. Although it was a challenge to learn WordPress and figure out how to format my posts, I got the hang of it. My blog gets 2,000 visitors a month, more than 100 subscribers, shared on average 85 times on Facebook. Caring.com recognized it as one of the 18 Great Caregiver Stories on the Web in March 2013.

I post my writing about grief, loss, and hospice issues on the Hospicare FB page or in the Hospicare newsletter. These are some of my most faithful readers because we share the grief of losing someone we love.

Although I’d been a LinkedIn member, I began participating actively after doing a guest blog exchange with Marty Tousley of http://griefhealing.com. Marty runs a bereavement website for Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix. She shared LinkedIn groups and associations that worked best for her, and I’m involved with some of these groups plus others that I’ve found online.

Jill Swenson: You don’t use Twitter or Pinterest, but you do use Facebook and LinkedIn. Why? 

Elaine Mansfield: Facebook fits me and fits the profile of my readers: female and over 40. LinkedIn is where I network with professionals, especially in the areas of hospice and bereavement. FB and LinkedIn feel familiar now, and I feed my blog to these platforms. I am involved with a number of American Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) groups and Hospice groups at LinkedIn. I would rather have depth in my involvement than scatter myself around. As I get closer to publishing I might explore Pinterest because of all my photographs and Tweets to expand my audience.

Jill Swenson: Depth involvement with your readers is a good description of what I’ve seen you achieve. Your blog posts regularly get reader comments and you have a high level of engagement with your readers. What tips can you share?

Elaine Mansfield: I ask the reader questions at the end of each blog. But I think the essential thing is that I care about my posts. I try to make them appealing with interesting images. It helps that I comment on other blogger’s sites as much as I can.

At my own site, I write careful and thoughtful responses to each reader comment. They took the time to read and respond, and I value their ideas and interest. If a comment comes from a new reader, I follow up by finding the person on Facebook or on LinkedIn. I try to create relationships, and slowly my friendships and a community with a common interest grow along with the number of readers. It’s a slow step-by-step process, but much has happened in a year.

Jill Swenson: What are some examples of blogs you’ve written that brought you new readers?

Elaine Mansfield: People love when I write about my marriage and life in the 60s—the adventures of a young hippie couple finding their way in the world and madly in love with each other. These get shared by my son’s community in San Francisco and I’ve found many new readers this way.

Love stories are always a hit so my articles about loss and my husband’s illness always stress the love and commitment of that relationship—so I mix gratitude and love with grief because this is my experience.

I wrote about the gas industry’s threat to Seneca Lake. Tony Ingraham recorded me reading Angry Faces, Placid Water: Fracking, LPG Gas Storage, and Seneca Lake. The video has had about 1000 views.

My audiologist’s office, Hart Hearing Center in Rochester, NY, shared my blog post about my hearing loss widely with their clientele and associates.

Two topics I plan to explore in future blogs are food and health issues. The section of my website section on bone health still draws many readers. My recipes and healthy-eating articles bring in foodies. Once my garden gets going, this will become a topic.

Ellen Schmidt, my writing teacher, shared my post about her writing class. I write what appeals to me first rather than worrying about what appeals to others. I write many first drafts in my writing class with Ellen, so if anyone wants to blog, I suggest a weekly writing class to keep the words and ideas flowing.

Tish Pearlman, poet Laureate of Ithaca, subscribed to my blog, and because of my Hospice work and the Caring.com recognition, she invited me for a 30-minute interview on her syndicated radio program “Out of Bounds.”

I am featured in an Ithaca College senior journalism documentary on volunteering at hospice and will see it for the first time in mid-May.

Jill Swenson: Working at expanding your connections and community takes time. You played a role in reconnecting me with an old friend from college, Lynne McCollum Staley, who is now a bereavement counselor and with whom you have established a professional friendship. How much time do you spend on your blog, Facebook and LinkedIn? 

Elaine Mansfield: More time than I want to admit, but some of FB time is just for fun.

I usually write a draft of a blog in a writing class and this keeps the creative flow nourished. Then I spend a few hours refining and formatting the draft. Since I use photos in every blog, that adds more time. Sometimes I have appropriate photos, but sometimes I venture outside, looking for the right image. I consider this fun rather than work because photography is an enjoyable creative pursuit as I get better at it.

LinkedIn, probably 15 minutes a day, but if I find articles I want to read, it might be 30 minutes.

Facebook, about an hour a day with a mix of personal and professional work. As a memoir writer, it’s hard to separate the two.

Jill Swenson: What are some of the best practices you use to achieve social engagement with readers? 

Elaine Mansfield: Respond to comments. Make comments on others’ blogs. Post interesting photos. Share on FB. Post my blogs where appropriate in my LinkedIn groups.

It also helps to assist other writers, and I’ve received support in this way. Twice, I’ve promoted something of value that they have written, and they have offered me a guest blog. I don’t expect this exchange, but it’s nice when it happens.

I have significant hearing loss, so I enjoy interacting through writing rather than through listening. Email and texting are easier for me than telephone calls, although I want to hear voices, too. Since I live alone, social media engagement is a natural way for me to interact with others and connect to readers.

Jill Swenson Any tips for other authors on using social media in their publishing pursuits?

Elaine Mansfield: Get a good social media teacher. Take part in a good writing class. Learn to enjoy social media rather than resent it. Make it another creative outlet and imagine what you’d like to share about your work, your life, the walk you took in the woods, the place where you got lost, a dream you had, an unusual event, the things that hurt.

Engage, don’t just sightsee (as I did in the beginning). Make new friends and find the community that is interested in what you like. Actively search and read what other writers have to say. Like others’ Facebook pages and let them know you appreciate their work. Spread the word about other people’s writing.

Don’t swamp people. Sometimes I see something I’d like to share, so I make a note and remember to return to that person’s page and share it another time or the next day. As in the bereavement groups I lead, it’s important to share the space and not hog it. I’m always seeking balance in response to others and putting my stuff out there.

Be patient (not my strength) and watch your platform build over time.

– May 2013