Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Kristin Johnson about her life, her writing career, and what inspired her to write her social media etiquette book, Ain’t “U” Got No Manners?
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m originally from Michigan and I’ve lived in California for half my life. I have a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and a bachelor’s in writing from the University of Michigan. I’ve traveled in Asia and abroad and done research trips.
I’ve worked with people all over the world from the US and Canada to Trinidad and Tobago to Japan. I write fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays. I’m a prize-winning/ prize-finalist writer, blogger, ghost-writing/creative writing consultant, screenwriter, and editor.
I’ve published/collaborated on several books and co-produced two short films, “Accidental Date” and “Aftermath,” which have been award winners, award finalists or semi-finalists in several film festivals.
I’ve adapted several books to screenplays/teleplays including THE LAST MOON by DeAnn Lubell. I’m a member of the Desert Screenwriters Guild, an officer of World Game-Changers, and a member of Palm Springs Women in Film and Television. I also work with the Happy Guy Marketing as a ghostwriter.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was a preteen. I wanted to write an historical romance, of all things.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I’d been writing short stories, poems and plays as a kid, but I truly started writing when I was a preteen and decided to write a novel. I’d written short plays, short stories, and a few poems, but writing a novel took it to another level.
When I was at the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California it became a career for real. Although I’d written articles for newspapers and I’d published poetry, I took the leap to professional writer at, appropriately, the Master of Professional Writing Program.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
For Butterfly Wings, my first published book and first novel, it took two years. I started writing it as a class assignment in writer Shelly Lowenkopf’s Literary Types in the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California. It was a sexy literary love story. I had an idea about the complicated love between a former fashion model and a sculptor/artist.
Shelly Lowenkopf wanted me to finish it after I’d completed the class. I finished it, workshopped it with fellow writers, and published it with iUniverse in the year 2000.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Although I’ve completed many books with co-authors/clients and have been credited on some of the projects, the last book I wrote on my own (although any book project to a certain extent is collaborative) really started many years prior to publication. I had worked on some material on etiquette, and a friend, the late Joyce Spizer Foy, was my editor.
I shelved that project, and then in the summer of 2015 she found the original through serendipity. She had started A Vegas Publisher and wanted to publish it. It required a new approach (see next question), so I reinvented it and it took a year and a half from reinvention until publication in early 2017.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Ain’t “U” Got No Manners?
When I was reinventing the etiquette book, I realized that some of the material about cell phones and technology had changed dramatically. Social media had changed dramatically. Somehow, I got the idea, talking with my editor and my mother, to create a social media manners book.
My mother passed away before the book was published, sadly. She was the inventor of what I call the “Think button.” E-mail programs have a “Save” and a “Send” button. My mother thought that what our digital life needs is a “Think” button!
Also, at that time the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign was changing the conversation about social media, especially given the role that it played and former President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter. I caught the zeitgeist. At the time, ideas such as “disinformation” and “cancel culture” and “canceled” hadn’t been invented—although “fake news” was just becoming a buzzword. “Metaverse” was for cyberpunk. Elon Musk wasn’t thinking about buying Twitter. Nobody thought that you would spend an entire year locked down having meetings on something called Zoom.
I also saw so many awkward moments on social media, from ordinary people and celebrities who made the headlines to people I was “friends” with online. I struggled with how to use social media effectively myself. And there were so many beautiful moments I saw as well. I decided there needed to be a guide on how to communicate! My editor loved the idea, and she had founded a publishing company, A Vegas Publisher. She wanted to publish the book.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Ain’t “U” Got No Manners?
It’s a complex subject and I’m a writer/journalist with a background in working for an Internet company, but I’m hardly a psychologist or expert. It’s just my observations about culture and technology.
Another challenge was not to come off as preachy. More than one reviewer called the book entertaining. Local TV personality Patrick Evans in my area called it “the Bible for social media.” So, mission accomplished. I wrote in the book that none of it was meant to be used to ban free speech.
A third challenge is that the information changes all the time. Social media and technology seem to change every second. I had to check information all the time.
Promoting the book was a challenge as it always is. But it did lead to a lot of conversations. I’d mention the words “Internet manners,” and half the time the reply would be “There are none.”
What was your research process for Ain’t “U” Got No Manners?
I wanted to make the book relevant and tell personal stories where appropriate. Some people graciously agreed to be interviewed, like Internet sensation Balpreet Kaur, Sweetening the Pill author Holly Grigg-Spall.
I also solicited stories via email and in certain communities online such as the discussions on Stage32, and in person at the writers’ groups/conferences I attended. People there were incredibly gracious. Joe McGovern, liberal filmmaker (“The Other Side” documentary), offered insight, and renowned speaking coach TJ Walker and several authors such as David Gelles and Kara Swisher of Vox Media gave me permission to use material from Gelles’s book MINDFUL WORK and from Vox Media, respectively. My niece and nephew (a preteen and a teenager at the time) also contributed their insight since they have literally grown up with technology.
I asked for tons of permissions to use stories, text, graphics, and charts, for example from PEW Research Online and The Onion.
How did you plan the structure of Ain’t “U” Got No Manners?
I decided to tackle the most common social media topics such as email, texting, chat, online bullying, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, posting photos, Internet dating, talking politics online, privacy, and so on. Underlying the whole book was iOS/DOS, an operating system for the mind, as in “I Operate Smart/Don’t Operate Stupid”.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Ain’t “U” Got No Manners? need?
Apart from having eagle-eyes (like my late mother, a published author and former teacher) among my family and friends, I had Joyce Spizer Foy and Virginia Clark from A Vegas Publisher. Virginia now runs A Vegas Publisher. Joyce was a grammar Nazi and literally wrote the book on marketing books. Virginia has a bloodhound’s sense for edits.
My book was well put together, but Joyce and Virginia noticed things I could never have anticipated. The biggest task was to check all the references, especially the Web sites, because as you know Internet information changes constantly.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
- Know why you’re writing. What do you have to say that is compelling? Why are you doing it?
- If you can answer question 1, then just do it.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m always working on lots of book projects. I just finished contributing to the Speaking From Our Hearts series of books from World Game-Changers. All ten volumes. I’m planning to work on the third book in the Kingdom of Treasures series with Asmaa Jamil. I also may do an updated edition of Ain’t “U” Got No Manners.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am proud of it, and it was worth the effort. Any time you publish a book, take a project from idea to conception, it is an achievement. It was a book that opened many unexpected doors for me. I got to do podcasts such as “Mastering the Game of Life” and do local radio and TV spots. I gave a lecture on maintaining health while using technology at a local compounding pharmacy.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
- Book: https://www.amazon.com/Aint-U-Got-No-Manners/dp/0996843744/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
- Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AuthorKJ
- Follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristin-johnson-810345/
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