Thursday, April 14, 2011

Interview with Meagan Francis, Author of The Happiest Mom

I'm reading: Interview with Meagan Francis, Author of The Happiest MomTweet this!

I'm thrilled to be a part of the blog book tour for The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood by Meagan Francis. I've known, read and respected Meagan for years (even naming her as one of my top influencers circa 2009), so it's especially exciting to see her latest printed work.

Just like her blog of the same name, The Happiest Mom book is full of common sense tips ("Five ways to -nicely- blow off busybodies") and food for thought without sounding condescending--just what I expect from Meagan.

It's perfect for moms who are pressed for time because it's engaging, yet easy to read in small chunks. As you read through it, you'll feel like you're getting advice from a trusted friend. You might even be motivated to make a few changes so that you, and your family, can be happier.

Also, I'm coveting an "Aim low, go slow" poster (see Secret 2).

I had a chance to talk with Meagan about the book and the process and thoughts behind it.

Kim Moldofsky: I remember when you first started your blog, The Happiest Mom, a few years ago. It was a time when a lot of the books and blogs out there seemed to be venting about the hardship and previously untold negative aspects of motherhood, what was your thinking?

Meagan Francis: I think that the ability to "get real" about motherhood via the internet--at first, it was parenting bulletin boards, then mom blogs--was intoxicating for a while. I mean, finally you could actually say that you found your kids boring sometimes, or express all those frustrations about motherhood, and other mothers would read it and say "Yes! Me, too!"

But after a while it started to feel like I was just reading the same vent over and over. After reading maybe the hundredth post that week about tantrums and losing your identity as a mother and not getting any sleep for years I took a look at my life and thought, gosh, is motherhood really that bad? In the mid- to late-2000s, there were also numerous much-talked-about titles out about how hard motherhood is. And while I think it's great that we were all being honest with each other about the hard side, it seemed like it was no longer okay to talk about the other side anymore. If you wrote about a good day with your kids or said you were trying to be a better mom or even just admitted to being pretty satisfied with your life, you weren't being "real" or "authentic." Or worse, you were bragging.

I had definitely been guilty of doing the whole shtick--writing about my failures as a mother to get laughs, writing about the millions of ways my kids annoy me in order to get the nods and validation. But I was only being half-real. There is that, but there is so much more. I wanted to elevate the conversation a little, to inspire moms to be happier, because I know from experience that you can screw up and still be a good mom; that you can be annoyed by your kids, but still be happy they're there.
KM: You've always stuck me as a very grounded, organized and practical person. Still, with five kids how to you manage to write books, articles, a blog and other freelance projects and still be a happy mom?

MF: I lean heavily on my husband, and have confidence in his competence as a parent. I try to use every minute as wisely as I can. I have gotten used to taking advantage of all those small snippets of time that life offers--five minutes here, fifteen minutes there, they all count. I'm not perfect at it, but one thing I'm always trying to do is be a better gatekeeper of the way I spend my time.

If I'm "working" but not actually doing anything productive, it doesn't count as work and makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable. I try to recognize when that's happening and redirect myself. If I'm watching TV for "entertainment" but am not actually feeling entertained, what's the point? I'm convinced we all have a lot more time than we like to tell ourselves, but we use so much of it distracting ourselves from life, engaging in numbing activities like flipping around the TV or sitting there on Twitter hitting "refresh" over and over. Even brain candy should do something for you--inspire, entertain, inform, relax you--it's not really play if you aren't having any fun; it's just zoning out.

KM: I envision you sitting down and churning out thoughtful posts, fingers flying over the keyboard in no time at all. What is the writing process like for you? (maybe also note difference b/w blog, book and freelance articles?)

MF: Well, I am a fast writer, and that definitely helps. I think that's partly because I spend so much time thinking about the things I write about. Let's face it, moms spend a lot of time doing things that don't require a ton of brain activity--sweeping the floor, wiping noses. I do some of my best thinking in those moments and that means less time staring at the screen waiting to figure out what to write about.

Generally speaking I sit down and just start writing. Sometimes I outline, particularly if the story or post or chapter hasn't taken shape in my head yet. Other times I just start spouting off and then edit heavily later. If I can't get moving on a project in five minutes, I move on to a different part of it, or a different project, or go for a walk or take a bath. There's absolutely no point staring at a blank screen, and just makes you feel more "stuck."

Freelance articles are a bit different, especially if I have to talk to experts or sources to get their take on a topic. In that case I always start with the experts and let them help me shape the story.

My process is always different because I'm always working on many different kinds of things at once, and because my life is unpredictable. If I know I have six hours stretching out in front of me I may take more time getting into the topic. If I know I have just 30 minutes to work I'm more likely to attack the keyboard with a vengeance. But one thing is always constant--I think through topics while not sitting at the computer, and work out what I'm trying to say while going about my life. Then I apply my butt to the chair and write.

KM: Congratulations on successfully turning a blog into a book! Can you share a bit about that process? Was it simply a matter of reworking old posts?

MF: That would have been a lot easier, but no! The content in the book is definitely inspired by the blog, but it's all new stuff. On my blog I tend to dig into micro topics and am quite wordy. The book is much more easily digestible and packed with tips and advice--not as much analysis and reflection. Kind of like Meagan Lite...which makes it a great gift, because it'll be easy for a mom to read. Of course, it's not easy for somebody like me to write short, so there was a lot of back and forth between the editing team and I, trying to get the tone (light, funny) just right and to keep the book short enough that it wouldn't feel overwhelming to busy moms who gave it a quick glance at the book store.

KM: What advice do you have for bloggers who are trying to make the leap from blog to book?

MF: Blogging is great because we can really embrace a small niche and be completely ourselves, but because of the cost and resources involved in publishing a print book, a publisher is going to want to know that you can appeal to a wider audience. They are probably also going to want to know that you can reach some of that large audience via your blog and social media efforts, so demonstrating that you have a solid, loyal readership that comes to your blog because you offer something unique is definitely helpful.

Set yourself apart from the crowd by creating great content, and by being consistent, professional, and likable (or, if being unlikeable is your thing, stick to it!) Of course you should be yourself, but any time you're publishing on a wider scale you have to produce something a lot of people will want to read, so "packaging" yourself in a crowd-friendly way matters.

Also, professionalism is key. Unless you happen to have hit on the hook that brought in a million readers overnight, you need to demonstrate that you aren't a fly-by-night blogger who will be gone tomorrow. Publishers will be much more inclined to work with you if you show staying power. Also, if you're working with brands, I think it helps to participate in quality campaigns that demonstrate you are desirable but also allow you to keep your authenticity.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book. I'm also working with Meagan on some book-related publicity, but not this blog tour. This is her doing. See? She really is on top of things!

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