Suggest questions for Portland’s Blog to Book panel

Do you ever dream of publishing a book? If so, you’re not alone — getting published is a dream shared by a lot of bloggers (including me!). So I’m especially jazzed to be moderating the From Blog to Book panel discussion planned for Press Publish Portland, considering how many of our featured bloggers either have already published books or have books coming out this year.

Jerry Mahoney, ready to sign his book
Here’s Jerry Mahoney, signing his book Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad.

Mary Laura Philpott, Cecilia Gunther, Jerry Mahoney, Christine Lee, and Ananda Leeke will join me on stage in Portland on Saturday, March 28 to talk about how each of them came to publish a book (or books) and how blogging influenced their journey to publication. From self-publishing to multiple book deals with major publishing labels, these bloggers will share about a lot of the ways books are born in this new age of print media.

I know I’m dying to ask these folks a bunch of things, but I want to know what you’re curious about, too! If you would like to suggest questions for the panel, please leave them in the comments — note that we won’t answer them here, we’ll save it for the panel discussion at the Portland event.

By the way, if you’re in or near Portland, tickets are still available for Press Publish, and they come with a WordPress.com Premium upgrade or VaultPress Backup Bundle — a $99 value!

Get your ticket!

And don’t forget to RSVP for the free Longreads Story Mixer on March 27, so we can make sure to have enough snacks and libations for everyone.

RSVP for the free mixer!

We can’t wait to see you soon at Press Publish!

Speaker Spotlight: Mary Laura Philpott

Mary Laura PhilpottMary Laura Philpott has definitely not written every *single* word in the English language. Probably she hasn’t even written 80% of them — there are loads of words out there that just aren’t used that often — like “smaragd” and “stibnite” — so including them in your article isn’t necessarily a good idea (unless you’re writing about minerals).

That said, Mary Laura has written a lot of words in a lot of different combinations, sizes, and flavors. Articles, essays, book reviews, advertising copy, style guides, interviews, columns, blog posts, listicles, poems… she is prolific, and her publishing experience is robust. Also, she draws penguins in a very endearing way.

Mary Laura is the editor and producer of MUSING — the online literary magazine from Parnassus Books, the legendary independent bookshop in Nashville, TN. She’s also the co-author of Poetic Justice: Legal Humor in Verse, so it’s pretty clear she can see the humor in just about anything.

A rough sketch of a penguin holding a pen and a pad of paper
Or can they?

Lots of people get to enjoy Mary Laura’s sense of humor on her blog I Miss You When I Blink, which features her “on deadline, off topic” writing, including tips for ladypersons, interpretations of fashion ads, and our friends the Random Penguins, who have a book coming out. (A book about them. Not by them, by Mary Laura. To the best of my knowledge, penguins can’t write.)

So, that blog of hers? Well, it wasn’t always possible to connect Mary Laura Philpott, author and editor extraordinaire, with I Miss You When I Blink, because she started that blog anonymously as a side project. Do you want to hear the really interesting story of how she went from anonymous blog to many-professional-opportunities-plus-book-deal? Lucky for you, she’s agreed to tell you all about it at Press Publish Portand on March 28!

In the meantime, here’s your chance to get to know Mary Laura a little better by reading an interview:

Q. What made you start blogging on I Miss You When I Blink?

A. I started I Miss You When I Blink in 2012, right after finishing up a big project that had eaten my life for two years. I found myself with a bunch of time on my hands all of a sudden, and I didn’t want to immediately hand that time right over to another work project or volunteer endeavor. So really, I guess I started blogging as kind of a placeholder. It was a fun little side project that I thought might keep me occupied until I decided what I wanted my next big thing to be. Blogging wasn’t much of a stretch at the time — it was fun and easy. Writing is what I do naturally (and what I do for a living), and I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh, so a humor blog just made sense.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. I Miss You When I Blink is a space for the things I create that don’t have a place anywhere else. That’s not to say it’s a place for my writing that’s not good enough to be somewhere else, or that I’m not editing and composing what I put there — I am — but it’s a good spot for more casual, more silly, sometimes more bizarre writing and illustration. Some days, I’ll work for a few hours on a professional project and then do another little bit of work on something else, and then I’ll work on something kooky for the blog and think, “Now this one’s just for me.”

a picture of a champagne cork dressed as a duchess
Cork, the Duchess of York.

If I were a painter instead of a writer, I guess it would be like coming home at the end of the day after painting a bunch of portraits and landscapes and doing a finger painting of a monster with five eyeballs. It’s fun to let loose a little bit. And because this site is entirely my own creation, I decide what goes in. Maybe one week, I write about something I read in a magazine, and another week, I post pictures of Champagne corks that I’ve dressed in tiny outfits.

Having a blog also takes the place of those really long email threads that used to go around, where you send something funny to a friend, and then they respond and forward it to more friends, and then before you know it, you have 100 emails in your inbox with “Fwd: re: re: re: re: re: re: re: re:” as the subject line. With a blog, it’s all in one place, and it’s much easier to share and comment.

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. The most popular posts on I Miss You When I Blink are the ones about fashion ads. I actually love fashion — I can get lost in an issue of Vogue for hours, and I love to dress up — so it’s not really that I’m saying, “Boooo on this industry.” I just love to take a moment and look at those ads literally, to imagine what they’d be telling us if they were part of an actual how-to guide for life. When you look at them that way, they’re just so hysterically bizarre. The most recent post on that theme, “How to Be a Ladyperson at the Holidays,” went a bit viral. I think it was shared on Facebook almost 100,000 times? The posts along those lines — or like this one, where I studied the J. Crew aesthetic — are among my own favorites, too.

Some of my other favorite posts resonate with smaller groups of readers, but are just as rewarding for me. As a lifelong reader and writer, I’ve always loved talking about books. I used to post little book reports on the blog about what I’d read lately, and those didn’t exactly go viral, but they did spark some really fun, nerdy conversation when they were shared. And eventually, those led me to start writing for outlets like the Barnes & Noble Book Blog and Book Riot, which then led me to what I’m doing now, which is editing and producing Musing, an online literary magazine for the indie bookstore Parnassus Books (which, of course, we built with WordPress.com). So in a way, those less popular posts are my favorites, because they helped me make a shift in my professional writing life that has been really fun and rewarding.

#PenguinsWithPeopleProblems
#PenguinsWithPeopleProblems

I very rarely write about my family, because my spouse is a much more private person than I am, and I also want to respect my kids’ privacy and let them tell their own stories whenever and however they’re ready. (Also, I just feel like there are so many people doing such a nice job writing about parenting already that I can’t see that there’s much for me to add on that topic.) But occasionally, I will post something family related. This was a favorite of mine, based on a weird experience we had in an elevator.

And then every now and then, I’ll just throw something together in the moment and post it purely because it makes me giggle, like this. And that’s actually how the little “random penguins” characters started out — just a one-time joke, which then become a recurring thing, and then a spin-off site of their own, and now a book, Penguins with People Problems. I love when a spontaneous thing like that grows legs.

Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how positive all the feedback is. I really love to make people laugh; so when someone comments that a post made them laugh or is the funniest thing they’ve seen all week, that’s music to my ears. I’m sure there are people who’d think the stuff I post on my blog is ridiculous, but I guess they aren’t looking. Or they aren’t commenting, in which case I appreciate their restraint.

There was a reader once who wrote, simply, “This is stupid.” That’s all. It was tucked in among a bunch of positive comments from other people, and it was so understated and simple, I just loved it. Now at the bookstore where I work, whenever someone does something that everyone’s fawning over and calling brilliant, one of my coworkers will deadpan, “This is stupid,” and it makes us chuckle. Not everything is going to please everyone. Frankly, I’m surprised whenever anyone I don’t know even notices that this blog exists.

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. Well, I’m happy to share any experiences I’ve had, to the extent that they might be helpful, or at least entertaining. I’m also looking forward to seeing what other people are doing. There’s some great undiscovered talent out there. It’s so fun, when you’re just wading through the muck online, to stumble upon something brilliant or hilarious. And oh yes, there’s plenty I’d like to learn. I manage a few different WordPress sites, and I’m sure there are lots of things I’m doing wrong, plus cool features I have no clue about. I’m bringing a list of questions for the Happiness Engineers. Thanks for having me!


Want to see Mary Laura speak at Press Publish Portland on March 28? Get your ticket!

Speaker Spotlight: Jerry Mahoney

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 mahoney holding his newborn twinsJerry’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?

jerry mahoney signing books at a tableA. 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.

Jerry mahoney's familyI 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.

Get your ticket today!