Tell us about yourself.
My name is Dena Harris and I graduated from the UNC-G LIS program in December of 1998. I worked for a year as a database librarian at Lorillard Tobacco before taking some time off to travel and do volunteer work. While volunteering at the Women’s Resource Center in Greensboro, I discovered I had a real passion in working with women and took a job there as the Director of their New Choices program which helps displaced homemakers re-enter the workforce. I started writing articles for the News & Record about job search strategies and discovered I loved writing (and, okay, seeing my name in print). From there I took some online writing classes and landed a humor column for a cat magazine which led to my first book, Lessons In Stalking. I kept writing pet and job search strategy articles for magazines, as well as teaching public speaking and magazine writing workshops. That led to, in no particular order, to my becoming assistant editor of the Greensboro-based Diversity Woman magazine, a second book called For the Love of Cats, speaking engagements at writers conferences around the country, and starting my own business, Write For You, which targets small businesses who can’t afford a full-time writer but need assistance with copy for brochures, web sites, press releases, etc.
Are you self-driven?
I’m strongly self-motivated. You have to be as a writer. For all the hard work and long hours and effort you pour into a book, there’s always a better-than-average chance that it won’t pay off. The publishing industry is shrinking and it’s incredibly hard to land an agent and a book deal these days, at least through traditional channels. You don’t become a writer for the money so much as for the dream and for the somewhat-pure love of just creating.
Are you a leader?
I think I’m too self-involved to be a leader. Writing for a living is a solitary–but not lonely!–business. I keep plenty connected with other people through networking, interviews, and social media. I have knowledge in certain areas and I’m always willing to share it, but I don’t think I have that certain “pull” that true leaders exhibit.
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Did the LIS program encourage you in your work? How so?
With hindsight, you can look back on your life and see how all the pieces fit so nicely together. Without having completed the LIS program, I don’t know that my career path would have been what it is. I will say the LIS degree plays out nicely on a writer’s resume as I can sell that not only do I have strong writing skills, but I’ve mastered the art of research as well. Huge selling point.
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Tell us about your book!
My newest book is Who Moved My Mouse? A Self-Help Book for Cats (Who Don’t Need Any Help). It’s published by Ten Speed Press which is a division of Random House. Each chapter in the book is a parody of a popular self-help book, so you’ve got things like, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Cats,” and “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff… Unless It Moves Suddenly and Without Warning.” Foreign rights for the book have sold to the UK, China, Thailand, Germany, Brazil, and the Netherlands. The premise of the book is that it empowers felines to make the twenty minutes they’re awake each day the best twenty minutes of their lives. The book is available at all major bookstores, amazon, and you can read an excerpt on the website at www.selfhelpforcats.com.
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What has your been your biggest achievement so far?
On a surface level, I’d say landing a great agent for representation and having a book published by a division of Random House. But that’s just in-the-moment pleasures. Long-term, I consider my biggest achievement having the courage to walk away from my work at Lorillard and the Women’s Resource Center and deciding to go for it as a writer. I was terrified. What if I failed? What if I didn’t make any money? (Just for the record, those fears don’t go away, but you learn how to work around them). Pushing past the guilt and doubt and fear and owning the fact that this thing–writing–is what I want to do was life-changing for me.
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What is your goal/what do you want to be known for?
I’d like to be known for making people laugh and reminding them that life isn’t as serious as we all make it out to be. I’d like to reach this goal through more books and also teaching/speaking engagements.
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What are a list of five skills that you absolutely need in the workplace?
- An eagerness to learn
- Reliability (do what you say you’re going to do – no excuses)
- A passion for what you do
- A sense of humor
Which of the following (from our new strategic plan) fits your education from UNCG best? How so?
- The student applies advocacy, marketing, and communication principles for entrepreneurial leadership. As a self-employed individual, I apply the principles of advocacy, marketing, and communication every day. I have to, in order to stay ahead of the game. I’d love to closet myself in my office and do nothing but write, but this career demands high levels of self-marketing and promotion, both for my books and my writing business. I employ marketing and communication tactics to get my name out, as well applying these tactics when I’m working on behalf of my clients.