The whole thing started back in May when I was considering how to get my writing life up and running for the summer. I’d had a bunch of story ideas, and some publications I’d thought about pitching.
Then I thought about it more and I realized: After more than 20 years of sending out ideas and stories, I no longer had the stomach for the rejection and constant demands for more rewrites, all for the same payscale as 1982.
I’d also been thinking for awhile about doing a book on women and aging—all the changes that happen in one’s 40’s and 50’s and how to cope.
Then I came across a few articles in mainstream media, like David Carr’s NYT column on the lackluster evolution of women’s websites.
Then, another NY Times story by Anne Raver, about Margaret Roach, the fifty-something former editorial director for Martha Stewart Omnimedia, who had chucked it all to garden and blog in upstate New York.
Earlier that day, as we sat down to lunch, she reflected on the life she has made for herself here.
It must be nice to write whatever you please, I said, which elicited a fierce response.
“Do I want to hand stories to some magazine and have them rewrite them?” she said. “Forget about it; I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it. Did I say I’m not doing it? You know what? I can’t. I’m sorry. It’s just not a stage in my life I can go to.”
A fellow traveler! I realized: there are a lot of us out here. Could we link?
Then I thought: what if you could create a, fun, informational, interactive citizen journalism website for women in their 40’s and 50’s that would use crowdsourcing to provide advice and connection about the things real women our age talk about?
Sex and the City for the post-menopause generation. Build a site that combined good journalism with a sense of humor (could I get Roz Chast to illustrate?), a social networking element, and later, to sell advertising that would give me a freelance income.
Could I use the years of experience I have as a writer, and editor of small publications to become an online publishing entrepreneur? What would it take, and could I learn what I needed to know?
The result: http://www.fiftyshift.com: the website for women of a certain age. I hope to launch September 1.
My sister-in-law told me I’d have to earn an MBA to do this. Instead, I am doing this project totally using public domain information, found, either online, or in my local library or bookstore, or from all the smart people I know.
I started online, and found this: an account by tech entrepreneur and writer Guy Kawasaki of his startup, called Truemors (which he just sold to NowPublic for an undisclosed amount.)
Here’s what Kawasaki says:
For not a whole lot of money and time you can get something out there and see if it works. If it does, hallelujah: there’s no better time to raise money than after your prototype is scaling up. Indeed, you may not ever need to raise money. Fyi, there is no worst time to raise money than when you have nothing but an idea. Actually, there is a worst time: When you’ve burned through the first million, and you haven’t shipped or gotten any dogs to eat the food.
And the technology is easier than ever. Three years ago when I did my first website, www.bjroche.com, I spent a week trying to learn Dreamweaver before I called my friends Al and Liz Canali and said, hey, set this up for me, will ya?
This summer Al and Liz are developing fiftyshift for me. And it’s a totally different experience. We are using a template from the website drupal.org, which features hundreds of open-source templates and several hundred modules that we can pick and choose from. Once we get the site set up, the content management system will allow me and my writers to edit stories online with just a minimum of html tweaking.
I also spoke to another friend, Max Hartshorne, who owns and runs the very successful travel website gonomad.com, and who hires many of our students as interns. His advice: build the audience before you go hunting for advertisers. They don’t want to look at you until you have at least 10,000 uniques. (That is, unique readers) each month. So that is the plan for the first quarter.
I bought my domain names on godaddy.com, and, at Max’s advice, I bought up the .org, com, net, just to cover myself, plus the domain names were on sale that day! I bought up each domain name for about $10 each.
Now I am trademarking the term fiftyshift in case I want to do something with it. This will cost about $500.
And if I want to sell tee shirts and mugs, CafePress will do them for me and fill the orders.
And yes, I CAN get Roz Chast to illustrate. For a fee, of course. This image would cost me $250 to display for one month.
Now I am working to get my content developed, and spreading the word (telling all my old media girlfriends!) and getting the look of the site going.
At minimum, I will get real world experience in online publishing, have a place to publish things I find interesting, and build a small business. At worst, I will lose a few thousand dollars and I’ll have war stories to use in my teaching.
On the web, even failure makes good reading.