Liz Mays wants to help young women achieve all they can in the creative field, which is why she recently wrote two incredibly helpful books about how recent grads can find success in the professional world: The Get-Ahead Guide: Go From Job Zero to Successful Career Professional and What’s Your Magic Power?
The 37-year-old Scottsdale resident, an L.A. native with a theater educational background, became a successful self-made journalist, writing for publications across the country, as well as editing Arizona Foothills Magazine. Now, she’s the Outreach Director for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU and is always thinking of her next book idea.
Learn what she thinks are the most important tips for young women to succeed in the workplace, and keep scrolling to hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
It was the beauty of it. I really loved the lifestyle. It’s an easy place to commute. There are jobs. It’s a nice metro full of professionals.
The arts are really attractive to me, and the great part is you don’t have to go the distance from one side of L.A. to the other side of L.A. to experience what Scottsdale has to offer. It’s big, but at the same time, there are a lot of things that are central. I really love the center of Scottsdale and the way it’s walkable.
I moved here about 10 years ago and had always wanted to move to Arizona since I drove through it a long time ago. I must have been 22, and I was going to grad school in Illinois. I passed through Arizona and thought, “Well, this is where I would live if I didn’t want to be an actress,” which is what I was planning to be. Over the years, I realized I wasn’t meant to be in acting and was meant to be in publishing.
Long story short, I ended up moving with my now-husband to upstate New York, and we lived there for several years. I did nothing but freelance, though I burnt out on that for awhile. We moved to Illinois where he had some family ties, and I said to him, “I’m going to make four phone calls, and I’m going to call every publisher in town. If I don’t have a job by the end of the day, we’re moving to Arizona.”
On the third phone call, I landed a job interview, and by the end of the day, I had a job. It was a small-town situation, and after a year, we were ready to move to Arizona.
What’s your educational background?
I have two degrees in theater, my undergrad from Gonzaga and an M.F.A. from Western Illinois University. I also have a master’s degree in digital media entrepreneurship from the Cronkite School at ASU.
What’s your first memory of wanting to be a writer?
In elementary school, we had to write and illustrate our own book. A silly assignment, but for me, I really took it seriously and remember thinking that should be something I would do. As I was growing up, I remember clipping dresses and fashion pieces out of magazines and putting together notebooks of them. That’s how I became enamored with magazines.
What has your career evolution been like?
I freelanced a lot for magazines and was a certified professional resume writer. I wrote anything that would keep me out of a day job. I did nothing but write and edit for three years.
When I was in grad school, I discovered I was not meant to be an actor, but I was writing and submitting things to people all the time, when the Internet was just beginning. There was no such thing as a “blog” yet, but people were making rudimentary websites. I would pitch a lot of op ed, creative nonfiction, personal essay pieces to these websites and was getting published. I also was pitching magazines and got a few pieces published.
I moved to upstate New York and got a call from a publisher that was sort of like a second-tier Cosmo(politan magazine), who had received one of my self-addressed, stamped article queries and wanted to publish it. That brought on some of those types of clients, and I got a freelance gig working for an art journal, while I was doing some proofreading and resume writing. I did that for about three years, and then I moved to Illinois with my husband and got a job as the only editor at one of the community newspapers.
I later moved to Arizona and became executive editor of Arizona Foothills. I was there for about three years and decided to go back to grad school to get the digital skills that were becoming so important, and now I do outreach for the Cronkite School and love that. At night, I get to work on my books, my writing and different projects that interest me.
What drew you to self-publishing?
In the past, you had to go through these gatekeepers who controlled what got published, and nowadays, anyone can publish whatever they want without permission, or programmers or designers. For me, I wanted to do the same thing with a book.
For NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) about a year and a half ago, I decided to write a book. Then, I wrote a second book a couple months later, and I was able to get them into the ebook stores by using the PressBooks.com platform, which I now do some marketing for.
I experimented with (self-publishing tool) CreateSpace with another book I had written with my husband a long time ago, a children’s book (Auto Nation: A Coloring Book), and just experimenting with all these self-publishing tools has gotten me really excited.
Now I’m working on a book to teach people how to self-publish their books. I’m almost done with it.
What inspired The Get-Ahead Guide and What’s Your Magic Power?
I had been a certified professional resume writer, and working with individual clients, I realized how little even highly placed people know about how to do their own resumes. When I was thinking about doing a book in a month, I thought it would have to be about something I know, and it would have to be first-person. I wanted to teach people what they could do with their resume, but also that in the digital age, it’s not just about the resume anymore. It’s so much more — it’s this huge package of your entire brand.
The other place I thought I could provide value is to young graduates, because I do the occasional career lecture for students, and I found I get more questions than I would expect, and that there’s a lot of mystery around how to break into creative careers. I wanted to demystify that for women and also tell them the truth that it’s not that easy to get into. You really do have to work really hard, and here are some simple strategies that will give you an edge. Even if you’re not the most talented person in the world, you can work hard and use these strategies to be successful in getting where you want to get.
I also wanted to tell women the truth it’s not perfect out there. You’re going to encounter some out-there stuff, but don’t let that be a colossal blow to where you’re going.
One of my favorite quotes, that I heard from Marlo Thomas, is, “Thoroughbreds run with blinders on.” I think about that any time I’m being distracted by something petty. I think about if it’s really that important that it merits my attention. I’m going where I’m going no matter what, and I’m keeping my focus on that.
What is the most common mistake people make when it comes to their resumes?
They make it all about them when, in reality, it should be all about the employer. They need to realize they’re going to provide the employer with a value, even though to them it’s about receiving a paycheck. What benefit can you provide to the employer, and what can you give them that no one else can who does the exact same thing as you do?
I call that the “magic power,” and it’s important for people to get to that brand statement about themselves, as a professional who does a certain thing but does it with a non-tangible, special skill that’s a value-add.
Why did you decide to target your books to young women?
I felt like it was an audience I knew I could speak with, because I’ve had a lot of interns and students come to me who remind me of the young woman I used to be. I didn’t get any help and had to navigate my career all without a journalism degree and without knowing anything. I feel like women don’t get the training they need for the politics piece of it.
I also feel like for those special situations women occasionally encounter in the workplace, there is nobody who gives them that kind of training. Also, creative professions can be particularly hard on women in a number of ways, from the family/work balance, to the culture of the workplace. I wanted to help them understand the nuances of what they’re walking into, and how to win.
In my experience over the years, I worked with a lot of men who were more fearless than their female colleagues. And guess who got ahead? So, I wanted women to also be fearless.
What’s your best tip for instilling fearlessness in yourself?
It’s about remembering your career is all about you. You need to know where you’re going to go and how the job you’re in is going to fit in with that plan. You need to do what you need to do to get where you need to go. You need to be relentless and keep your eyes on that goal, and not let anything get you off that path.
You also need to remember, no matter what you’re going through at that moment, it’s going to pass, and you’re going to get where you’re going. You need to have that confidence.
How do you foster self-confidence?
I think I’ve been blessed, because I had a mother who told me I could do anything I wanted to do, and I truly believed her and still do. That confidence let me walk into a job interview, when I didn’t have a lot of experience, and sell my services, when a lot of people would have been afraid to make a cold call to put themselves out there in the first place. People have needs, and if I can meet those needs, why shouldn’t I introduce myself? That’s not something everyone is born with, and I want to teach people how to do that.
I think cold calling is really important. To build partnerships, to do sales, to do anything to sell or promote yourself, you have to cold call. If you don’t like talking with people, or you’re really shy or don’t have that confidence, force yourself to make one cold call a day to someone who could help you.
What’s your writing process like?
I set a goal for a number of words every day. Sometimes I set a number of chapters or a time to hit.
I have a writing room, and the only thing I do in there is write. I won’t allow myself to check email or work or make a phone call. I also light a stick of incense, which takes about a half-hour to burn, and it becomes sort of like an hourglass or a countdown.
Even if you’re not feeling like writing, and what’s coming out is terrible, it’s better to just spew it out and get thoughts out, because then at least you can revise it later. If you’re really feeling unproductive, you can always edit what you wrote.
What are your goals?
I’ve caught the book bug, and I want to do more of this. I’m not sure necessarily what my next books will be, but I think there’s something I can offer to the world in that way, and hopefully make some money from it.
Entrepreneurship is not creating something once and selling that thing once and repeating the process. It’s creating something once and selling it numerous times, without you having to have any part of that transaction. The Internet makes that possible. If I can write something that really takes off, hopefully eventually I can make a living off that.
What tips do you have for marketing your book?
Build your email list, your social (networking channels) and your author website. You can pre-sell your book if you’re still in the process of writing it, and blogging is really important. Let everyone you know you’ve done this, and get them to help spread the word.
Search engine optimization and metadata are really important, because you have to make sure your book description contains the keywords people might be searching for that relate to your book.
What advice do you have for someone who’s never written a book but wants to?
Just do it. It’s more about the discipline. You’re never going to finish if you don’t start. If you do it every day, maybe you’ll get to something where, even if it’s not right then, you can come back to it a few years later and say, “Wow. I can actually piece this into exactly what I want it to be.”
Sometimes, as a creative professional, you have to be able to look back in hindsight and fix things you weren’t able to when you were more naive. If you’re really new, get it all out while you’re fresh, and it’s just gushing. You can always come back to a project.
Learn about other Valley authors:
Learn more about ‘Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’ author Nicole Zangara here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about ‘The World Needs Hope’ author Sara McClellan here on Phoenix People.