I thought I liked to take pictures, but for Me Ra Koh, the “photo mom” host of “Capture Your Story” at Disney Junior, photography was her salvation. And the bouncy real life mom, wildly waving hair only slightly restrained with a glittering headband, was onstage at this year’s DFW Writers Convention to spread the gospel of community through photos.
She knew she was born to be an artist, but her first book took 10 years, a recovery memoir, took 10 years to write, finally being birthed the same year as her daughter. Unfortunately, the joy of book launch and beautiful baby girl was soon overshadowed by the loss in pregnancy of a second beloved baby. And during the year of grief that followed, “I quit writing,” she said.
The loss, however, convinced her of the importance of capturing every moment with the child she still had. “I went to Costco and bought my first camera.” Her husband caught her love of photography, the couple started a business photographing weddings, she found photography reinspiring her inner writer. “Photography parallels writing and storytelling.”
With the advent of social media, she started blogging about photography, posting five times weekly. It took seven years of this grueling schedule, but she accumulated a following of 50,000 unique readers.
Then she received “this random email from Random House,” asking if she’d be interested in writing a book on the subject. The result, Your Baby in Pictures, became the first of a trilogy of photo how-to books, which led to guest blogging stints at Disney and travel site Condé Nast and then “why don’t we pitch about traveling?" It was an inspiration that eventually had her family circumnavigating the globe.
Then came Facebook. She hated it. “Facebook was stealing my blogging audience! I was so annoyed.” But she came to embrace it, relieved at how much Facebook eased the pressure of her previous blogging schedule. “Blogging should not be our career. Our career is writing books.”
Her not-so-secret secret of success with social media: “know what you’re about, beyond the book you’re working on. Just like your characters need a theme in your book, what is your theme? If you only get on social media to talk about your book, you will get sick of talking about your book. But knowing what your theme is: now you’ll know what to blog or post about.”
Not sure of your theme? She passed out lists of possibilities – themes for literature and life – including “compassion as heroic,” “the struggle for self-definition,” “there are no random acts in life,” and a popular one among her audience of writers, “the power of storytelling.”
“I’m amazed at how many people want to know what kind of person I am before they buy my book.”
Her suggestions for personalizing themes include "sharing bits about a personal story” (although she emphasizes only doing this once the writer has worked through an issue for herself), “extras – all the things that don’t make it into the book,” who and what inspires the writers, “anything I can teach – can I include a photo tip?”, and our personal creative process. And of course, always include a photo.
(Next Tuesday, Me Ra Koh’s tips for taming the social media circus)