by Raymond Alexander Kukkee
In the blogosphere and writing business we occasionally run into extraordinary individuals that thrive on challenge and provide inspiration for the rest of us. One such individual is Amanda Dcosta. Recently I had the opportunity to have a heart-to-heart chat with her. Please join me in welcoming Amanda Dcosta, writer, published author, founder and CEO of Mandy's Pages.
RAK: Amanda Dcosta, Welcome! Thanks for agreeing to take time out to talk to us. I know you're really busy these days as the founder, Chief editor and CEO of Mandy'sPages .
MD : First, thank you for interviewing me today, Raymond. It is an honor to be here.
RAK: Mandy, the honor is mine. How about giving our readers a sense of who you are?
MD: I am Amanda … but prefer to go by the name Mandy. ‘Amanda’ sounds too formal and makes me feel as though I am in school; pulled up for mischief. AMANDA!!!! LOL… Well, yes, there might be some truth in the mischief part, but then… Mandy has become my signature name.
RAK: Mandy it is then; Let’s start out with who is the real Mandy Dcosta?
MD: I love the Lord, am very friendly, easy-going, and extremely patient. I am highly creative and indulge in hobbies from crafts to music and tailoring to painting. However, writing defines both my work and me. Apart from that, hmmm, I relish sweet corn chicken soup, coffee at least once a day and love to travel. And, I adore children!
RAK: A friendly, patient easy-going woman who is creative, loves the Lord, children, and coffee too. The ideal woman! And you’re a writer! We’ll give you that one, it must come in handy. (Laughter). Mandy, you live in Oman, on the other side of the world at this point, -- but where did you grow up and go to school? Where did you learn to write?
MD: I am currently in Oman but have been here only since 2008. Prior to this, I lived in India. I spent most of my childhood and my teen years in Vypeen, an idyllic island off the coast of Cochin in the state of Kerala. I did my studies in Cochin, at three different locations around the Cochin channel, which made it necessary to travel by boat every day.
As far as writing is concerned, I think I always had a flair for writing and enjoyed my competitive streak in school, when I realized I could write. In addition, my dad and grandma helped me from time to time.
RAK: That’s wonderful. You are a prolific writer—and I might just add here, an excellent one! What event in your life made you realize that writing was your future? When did you actually start writing?
MD: Thank you, Raymond. I think the first memory of something I wrote was a letter to my dad when he was in the Navy. I was around 3 or 4 and wrote him an entire page with just three words repeated over and over again, column-wise. Take a wild guess what they were (cat… rat … mat ). (Grins widely). Even as a young kid, I had dreams of being a writer. Wanting to write has been an ongoing, life-long desire. In school, I wrote poetry and essays. They were not great, but enough to allow me to win and be selected for inter-school and college competitions.
RAK: It is amazing to start writing so early in life. I think it's pretty exciting for anyone to discover they are a writer at heart. Tell us about the defining revelation that made you say to yourself , "Eureka!..."I am a writer".
MD: It was not until I started writing online in December 2005 that I took to a ‘career’ in writing. Prior to this, I was a science and management student and part of the retail industry.
The dream of being a writer was always there …but I could actually see it take effect when I signed up at Poemranker.com in 2005 to write poetry.
I received feedback and guidance that changed my whole outlook and scope of writing.
RAK: Have you kept any samples of your early writing for perpetuity, as an example of what not to do, perhaps? (I know I didn't --my early writing was terrible!)
MD: (Laughing) I've never really given this much thought. I usually save and file my work, but I’ve also been traveling a lot and relocating every few years --for the past 14 years, --so I’m not sure if there are any old files intact.
RAK: .....Okay-- that was then, this is now......so let's fast-forward to the present, 2013, The ‘Year of the Writer’ ; ---you are already an experienced, published author; you're a blogger, you’ve written hundreds, if not thousands of articles, and have published a couple of eBooks! That's quite an accomplishment.
I understand your first two books are business-oriented . Can you tell us about those? Where can our readers buy them?
MD: To date, I have published two management books in eBook format. They are part of a Project Management series which I hope to expand.
My books are ‘Project Management for the Beginner – Part 1’, and ‘Project Management for the Beginner – Part 2’.
RAK: That’s great! Thank you for those links. I hope our readers will check them out and buy them! Will you be taking the existing books to print?
MD: About putting them in print,-- I have never really given it much thought. My focus with them was just to get my feet wet in the world of publishing.
RAK: That’s understandable. Give us the compressed version of the jacket backs we may see on them, and...how many books do you have in mind for the series?
MD: As the title implies, these books are intended for the beginner-- and for managers who have to deal with new projects, --but initially lack theoretical and systematic training in carrying out such projects.
The first two books cover the all-important initial phases and processes of a project; namely, initiation, planning and risk management, based on working experience. The next books will deal with the actual execution of projects.
RAK: Mandy, next question, I have a secret… I know you were working on an epic children's novel in November. You know, the NaNoWriMo challenge and all that—which we did not join. We held our own challenge instead. Head to head. Tortoise and Hare. The big questions are, did you try the story line on the kids, and did they approve it for publishing? “Is it finished yet?”
MD (Laughing happily). Publishing is down the road, I'm undecided at this point. This is the first epic novel that I have ever attempted to write. The story line is intact, but each time I try to edit, I seem to delete chunks of description and replace it with fresh material --or I cannot seem to decide what to retain and what to throw away. I think the edit phase is more annoying than writing the story. Seriously!
--How did you ever manage to complete your book, Raymond? Although my book is not complete, what I can share with you is the title of the story. Initially, the working title of my book was ‘Simply Evergreen’. But now that I see the book in its entirety, I have named it ‘Tambalacoque’. ' Tambalacoque' is actually the name of a tree, also called the Calvaria Tree or the Dodo Tree. Dodos used to feed on the fruit of this tree. The Calvaria is now an endemic species with only 13-recorded specimens living today, and it has been facing extinction ever since Dodos disappeared.
RAK: That’s amazing! So you’re following the wise old writer adage, “write about what you know” with a little bit of modern environmental awareness added. It’s not a bad idea to make that information public, your book could help.
That’s great ---and--- no, my own challenge novel is expanded to 70K words now, not finished yet either, --but technically we both finished our 50k challenge, didn't we.... (Laughing)
Mandy, do you have any other big writing projects in progress?
MD: I had started a Children’s Book series called ‘Terry’s Pet’. I have completed the first part of this series and have kept it aside for want of good illustration. I had planned on writing the next part and brain-stormed ideas at one point of time, but never quite got down to it. There is another book that I have written in part, which is also a children’s book titled ‘Princess Ruru’. Both of these books have been inspired by my children
RAK: That’s wonderful…children do inspire, don’t they? …..So what are the other driving forces behind Amanda Dcosta the writer? What keeps you ticking? --How about Amanda Dcosta the CEO? What vision drives her?
MD: I would say that the constant desire to write is what keeps me writing. If I am not writing or spending time doing something or the other-- since I must keep myself occupied all the time, I dream. -- Yes, I am a dreamer at heart. I have big plans and never settle for less. If I plan to do something, I do not like to do it just for the sake of doing it. I need to excel. I constantly tell myself that ‘if others can do it, so can I’.
A big part of my writing is based on faith. To me, if I use my talent profitably, God will bless me with more. If I do not, even what I have will be taken away from me. It is as simple as that. So essentially, when I write, I see this as a gift from God and HIS way of being part of me or making me part of Him. After all, He is the ultimate author and we follow what he inspires us through His Word.
RAK: How about Amanda Dcosta the CEO? What vision drives her?
MD: Writing, and the desire to showcase writing the way I want to. The need to get interactive with writers made me start my website Mandy’s Pages. From the start, it was a serious step. I started my blog under this name and the response was so overwhelming from readers that I knew I had to take it a step further.
Once I started Mandy’s Pages as an online content publisher officially, and I was sure about my decision, being CEO was just part of the process. If you want business, you have to show people that you mean ‘business’. There is no fooling around as in, ”I’m just trying this for fun. Let’s see where this goes.” --so I took up the role of CEO and editor-in-chief.
RAK: Wow…you are driven. Okay, let's cut to the chase and talk about your pet project now. Tell us about Mandy's Pages.com , --which is, --for the record, a beautiful general interest website with great content. You started the site a year ago, ---in fact on February 29th, which was a leap year. What was the bottom line reason you decided to start your own privately-hosted website?
MD: When my blog ‘Mandy’s Pages’ received a lot of support, I could tell my readers were happy with what I presented. I knew that I had something unique to offer, whether
It was my writing voice, or the fact that I caught the attention of readers by giving them something they wanted. Eight months after I started blogging, and being quite frustrated with content word mills that seem to swallow up our work for next to nothing, I was of the mindset to start a website exclusively for my own content.
-- However, when I got down to it, and kept staring at some of these sites, I was like… ‘Hey, what if I started something new with Mandy’s Pages for everyone? What if … what if? ” LOL…. Once that idea started playing on my mind I could see a whole lot of possibilities. Discussions at various writing groups seemed to encourage the idea even more. Writers were unhappy. Writers needed a break from the cheap word mills, and it was time to recognize each writer’s worth.
When I put the idea across to Mike Williams, he supported me wholeheartedly. Creating a fully functional website is not only expensive but also laborious and requires persistence. When he said he was willing to work with me, I was beyond thrilled. If I could have, I would have hugged Mike that day. From then on there was no turning back. (Happily smiling)
RAK: Most experienced writers and freelancers are now aware there are major changes in the writing market, and not necessarily better for the experienced freelancer or the neophyte just starting out. As you know, with the decline and blatant failures of 'word mills' and that business model, writers seldom get paid up front for an article. Then they may, or may not only receive 'revenue share' --perhaps a few cents per thousand views. What makes Mandy's Pages unique and different?
MD: Mandy’s Pages, first and foremost, was started with the writer in mind; if the writer is not part of it, there is no Mandy’s Pages. With this concept in place, payment structures began to formulate. What is unique about Mandy’s Pages is that writers may submit content to the site. This content, with exclusive rights given to Mandy’s Pages, is displayed for a period of six months, with additional display time beyond this period as an option. Writers are free to request deletion of the article from the site after a six-month period -where all rights will be transferred back to the writer. Unlike other sites, Mandy’s Pages will retain neither the work nor the rights to these articles. The writers are in full control of their work.
RAK: So for six months articles are exclusive to Mandy's, and even offered for sale--with the approval of the writer, and then can be removed entirely from MP if the writer so wishes. Excellent! ......How have you solved that eternal problem of writers being paid only pennies, you know, the poor writer sitting up in the attic, living on breadcrumbs and water?
MD: At Mandy’s Market, when a writer sells an article, there is a fixed payment structure in place; (65:15:20). For all sales, 65% of the sale goes to the writer, 15% to the editor and 20% to Mandy’s Pages. Everything is transparent.
There is no guessing whether MP is paying the writer in a fair manner or not. Before a writer accepts an assignment, or sells an article, he /she is totally aware of the potential earnings of that title. If clients add a bonus amount to the sale, --which amazingly, does happen upon occasion, --MP again divides the bonus in the same ratio 65:15:20.
RAK: Excellent. So the old speculation about publishers selling an article for $150.00 and paying the starving writer only a buck-- never has to become an issue or a question. And paying your editors results in superior quality work. That’s encouraging!
Does MP offer publicity angles for writers?
MD: Apart from the main content sections and Mandy’s Market, MP also reviews new books by ‘promising’ authors and showcases them in the Author Spotlight section.Newbies, amateur and seasoned writers may also find encouragement in our new feature Friday’s Stars, which again, was created with the writer in mind.
RAK: You certainly seem to have the interests of writers at heart. --What is the official mission statement, --what is the main goal of Mandy's Pages at this point?
MD: The motto or tagline of Mandy’s Pages is ‘Uniting Writers. Encouraging Dreams.’
If writers were to unite, and speak up for a single cause, --imagine how effectively convincing our collective ‘voice’ could be. This is the power of the word. This is the power that exists in the writing community.
RAK: I can see that --with you as CEO, ethics and integrity--and fair treatment of the writer --are cornerstones of Mandy's Pages. What is the fourth corner-post?
What holds Mandys platform up?
MD: The fourth corner-post is undoubtedly my friend and business partner, Mike Williams, owner of 21st Century Web. Mandy’s Pages as a functional web site would not exist without him. I am ever so grateful he is part of this venture. I would in fact call him the first corner post. (Grinning) I thank him.
In addition, I have very strong pillars in my editors and writers. My writers have been exceptionally supportive and are skilled in their respective fields. I know so, because clients have purchased almost all content they have submitted via Mandy’s Market. Many satisfied clients have even offered bonus payments.
RAK: So your clients are happy campers. Paying a bonus spontaneously is amazing, rare at best! So Mandys Pages really is getting a very positive response out there in the custom writing market and from writers themselves.
--How do you feel about the fact that you may be setting a new precedent, a new business model to be emulated here?
MD: I reserve my comments for now, Raymond. . Don’t get me wrong, but I’d rather not be carried away by it. Mandy’s Pages has been receiving a lot of support and encouragement. However, fine-tuning what we have, and what we would like to have at the site, is a laborious task. I should hope that in the end, readers, writers and clients all find satisfaction in interacting with Mandy’s Pages. Ultimately I want writers to share their success stories from being part of Mandy’s Pages, -either actively or indirectly.
RAK: Fair enough. You’re a savvy and humble lady. (grinning) Success speaks for itself, I think that’s a given. Ethics and integrity are always so important, and often overlooked.
Mandy, let's look at the bigger picture now
…. Other than collecting and writing beautiful content on MP. Recently you went one step further and started Mandy's Market for the sale of articles specifically tailored to meet the needs of publishers. Custom articles. Written to order. That's a big step, how is that project going?
MD: Mandy’s Market is your one-stop shop for unique, excellent and custom content.
RAK: Wow…that’s quite a statement.
MD: Although originally there was no specific promotion for tailored, custom-ordered work at the site initially, we have been working hard to get clients.
There have been times when I’ve not seen a single client request in my inbox, and equally, there are times when demand for content has been phenomenal, --considering MP itself is a newbie.
RAK: Got any more huge plans for expansion of MandysMarket? New products? New web sites, divisions? A conglomerate? Any definite plans to develop new web sites? Psst..I won’t tell if you don’t tell me.
That is like diving into the ocean to search for something, Raymond. I’m always full of plans. I either want to sell something, write something new, or put up a new section for a particular ‘plan’ I have formulated- and the possibilities are endless.
However, being realistic, keeping up with these ideas is not as easy as I would like it to be. Either it is the lack of time, --or an idea is not yet practical at this point of time, --or simply because we do not yet have sponsors or advertisers.
Whatever the plan, it HAS to be a win-win for all those involved, especially for my writers and editors.
RAK You have all bases covered, it seems. Tell me, does living in Oman cause any difficulty for you or Mandy's Pages? Does living in Oman create limitations for your proposed business model?
MB: Even if someone is an excellent English writer, opportunities may be very limited in a country where English is not the official language.. When I apply for writing positions I may get blocked or receive a reply in my inbox saying I do not fall under the required demographic.
When sites do allow me to sign up, they ultimately want a US Social Security Number, which I cannot provide. Finally, word mills pay nothing more than a few cents per thousand page views; they are all circumstances that encouraged the start of Mandy’s Pages.
RAK What advice would Amanda Dcosta offer to a neophyte writer?
MB: Writing is akin to faith. All you need is a little mustard seed in you, the desire or dream to write. Keep at it and you will see your dream turn to talent and skill. Do NOT let others tell you otherwise. If you desire to be a writer, you WILL find a way to express it. Like my grandma used to say, “Where there is a will, there is a way!”
RAK That is great universal advice. What's in the future for Amanda Dcosta ?
MB Amanda is led by dreams and is constantly researching ways to improve herself as a writer, entrepreneur and publisher. But first, her goal is to get her current projects and books completed satisfactorily. At Mandy’s Pages, she is ever conscious of the needs of writers and wants to build on this. Without her writers, Mandy’s Pages would be just another cheap word mill.
RAK Behind every author is ___ ?
MD: The dream that got you started in the first place.
RAK Thank you, Amanda Dcosta ! and--Mandy, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you. I sincerely wish you the very best of luck with all of your endeavours in the future,--including your books, Mandys Pages, Mandy's Market and any new SECRET projects on the horizon. Thanks again! Have a wonderful day!
Is that Incoming I hear?