What happens when a great writer has a great story to tell? Well, in the case of comedy writer Jerry Mahoney, you get a great blog, a great book, and a great speaker for Press Publish Portland on March 28!
Jerry’s story of how he and his partner Drew had twins via gestational surrogate has been told in a Modern Love column Jerry wrote for the New York Times and in this Today Show piece from October 2012. Like many of us, Jerry blogged regularly for a while and then took a hiatus. When he came back to his blog after becoming the stay-at-home dad of twins, he found himself writing the kind of blog that he couldn’t find but wanted to read — and as it turns out, it was the kind of blog that a lot of other people wanted to read, too! It’s hard to imagine Jerry cooking up those hilarious posts about playground etiquette, minivans, and The 5 People You Meet as a Gay Dad and gathering over 16,000 subscribers during naptime, but I guess they don’t call him Superdad for nothing!
Jerry’s blog has a somewhat unusual, “you get what you give” comment policy. He doesn’t require comments to be approved before publishing, because he doesn’t want to discourage anyone from writing. He warns, “When I do respond to a comment, I try to do so in the same tone and spirit of your original comment. If you’re nice, I’ll be nice. If you’re snarky, I’ll snark back.” The comment threads on many Jerry’s posts read like a fun dinner party, with a lot of interchange between Jerry and his readers, and between his readers as well.
Jerry Mahoney will be flying in from New York to speak at Press Publish Portland on March 28 about his experiences in publishing, including how he mobilized his blog’s community to shoot his book to the top of the Amazon charts. And in the time-honored tradition of our speaker spotlights, here’s a great interview with Jerry:
Q. What made you start blogging on jerry-mahoney.com?
A. I was working on my memoir, the book which eventually became Mommy Man: How I Went from Mild-Mannered Geek To Gay Superdad, and my agent told me that if I wanted to get it published, the best thing I could do for myself was to build an online platform. At the time, there were not a lot of gay dad bloggers I could relate to, so I figured I had a perspective people would appreciate hearing. I loved the idea of writing something, publishing it instantly to my site and within minutes, getting feedback from readers. My book took over two years to write, with no guarantee it would get published at all. I probably would’ve gone crazy trying to get it done — and who knows if I ever would’ve finished at all — if I hadn’t had the blog along the way to provide instant gratification for my creative itch and to reassure me that I had a voice people wanted to hear. So at the same time I was building an audience for the book I hoped to publish, I was learning just what that audience wanted to hear from me.
Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?
A. The more I wrote, the more I realized I had to say, and the more I connected with followers, the more encouraged I was to say it. I really felt like my blog was adding to a bunch of conversations — about parenting, about LGBTQ people, about twins, about raising kids in the 21st century. And people seemed to appreciate my sense of humor. That’s the great thing about having your own space online. The people who think you’re funny/informative/interesting will stick around and the people who don’t will find other sites to read. So you end up writing for a very supportive and appreciative group of people.
Q. What’s your most popular post? Is that also your favorite post? If not, what are a few of your favorite posts, and why?
A. My most viewed post is called “I Won’t Be Your Gay Friend If…” I wrote it in response to people like Kirk Cameron and Sarah Palin defending their anti-gay remarks by saying, “I have lots of gay friends.” I figured people like that deserved a little refresher on just what friendship means. I’m very proud of that post, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite.
I think the most representative of my blog is probably “How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, By a Gay Parent“. My kids are still very young — they’re in kindergarten now — and I know my family probably confuses a lot of their friends. When my kids tell people that they have two dads, it introduces a topic into a lot of families that they weren’t expecting to discuss with their kids so young, so I figured it was only fair that I offer some suggestions on how to deal with it. That post got lots of attention and was reprinted a lot, which made me feel like it struck a chord with other parents. That definitely makes me feel good.
I also like a post called “The 10 Biggest Secrets I Keep From My Kids“, including “I was an even pickier eater at your age than you are,” “I don’t know how we’re going to pay for your college,” and “While you’re napping, I shove my face full of chocolate chip cookies for two hours straight.” It’s one of my more fun posts, and at the same time really honest about some of the hard parts of raising kids.
Q. How have readers responded to your writing?
A. When I first started my blog, I was a little nervous what I might be opening myself up to. There are homophobes out there, obviously, but beyond that, parents are some of the judgiest people on Earth. I wasn’t sure what kind of response I’d get for, say, confessing that I let my kids watch TV before the age of 2. The amazing thing is that the comments on all posts are usually 90% positive, if not 100%, and the ones who disagree tend to at least be respectful. Trolls are few and far between. That’s because people usually share stuff they agree with, which brings in other people who appreciate what you’re saying. Over time, the people who keep coming back to your blog are the people who relate to your perspective.
There are exceptions, of course. Every once in a while, something I post will anger some community or other and a bunch of people will come in and rant. I get the feeling that someone’s riling people up and saying, “Hey, this guy said this. Go let him have it!” The good thing is, if it becomes disruptive or abusive, I can always shut down their comments.
Overall, having a blog has been a great way to connect with people who think like I do, relate to my struggles and laugh at the things I find funny. I feel in some small way like I’ve built my own community online. Now when a hater swings by to leave a nasty comment, five other commenters swoop in and smack them down before I even can.
Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to share with the Press Publish audience? Is there anything you’re hoping to learn at Press Publish?
A. I’d love to share everything I’ve learned about using my blog as a platform to publish a book, finding your niche and your point of view, writing share-friendly posts and using humor to connect with an audience. Of course, the main thing I want to share is my URL!
I’m looking forward to meeting other bloggers and hearing about their experiences. I’m always looking for ways to make my blog look better and to reach a wider audience, and I’m sure I’ll pick up lots of great tips on how to do both.