Q&A with 'Mommy' blogger/author Janet Frongillo
Janet Frongillo practically missed the email when it arrived in her inbox last fall. It was from a literary agent, wondering whether the Bedford resident and blogger would be interested in writing a book.
Indeed she was, and that book – "Mommy Mixology: A Cocktail for Every Calamity" — was recently published by Berkeley, Calif.-based indie publisher Ulysses Press.
The book, which features 60 cocktails with names like the "No!Jito" and the "Harvey Wallpainter," is interspersed with humorous stories on motherhood — a subject on which Frongillo, as the mother of three young sons aged 3, 5, and 7, can wax for days.
An English major in college and a writer for her college paper, Frongillo took a different career path after school, working in pharmaceutical sales and management for about 10 years before deciding to stay at home after the birth of her first son. Years passed before she again took up writing, and "it was sort of like riding a bike," said Frongillo, who launched her blog, "Muffintop Mommy," three years ago in October.
Touching on subjects beyond just motherhood, it has gathered a dedicated following and gets between 5,000 and 10,000 hits a month — an established readership that helped her to land the book deal. The 100-page book is available at Barnes & Noble, on Amazon and in most bookstores.
Q. When and why did you start your blog?
A. I started my blog when my youngest was around six months old. I'm sort of a night owl and I would be up late anyway waiting to feed him and whatnot, and I just had found out about blogs — which did not make me cutting edge at all, because they had been around for quite a while when I discovered them. I had always loved to write and I had gotten away from it over the years.
I thought at least that other mothers could get some laughs at my expense and it was a good way to chronicle what my kids' early lives were like.
I started with a free WordPress site, and I emailed all my friends and let them know I was starting the blog and they told people, and it mushroomed from there on Facebook and Twitter.
It started out most people reading it I knew — but now more people who read it are people I don't know.
Q. Is it weird for you not to know who is reading your blog?
A. That's why I do my best not to reveal too much personal information. I don't use my kids' names on the blog, and I don't talk about where I live specifically, because I don't feel that's pertinent to what I write about anyway. I don't put pictures of my kids on the blog. Some people are comfortable with that, and I'm not — you just never know with this world that we live in.
Q. How many page views do you get a month?
A. It depends on the type of post that I put up. I'd say between 5,000 and 10,000 a month. I have 500 followers on Facebook, and 1,500 followers on Twitter. I've been at it for a while.
When I first started the blog, and I eventually did want to write a book, everything I had learned about publishing I learned when I went online. I learned that if you want any shot at getting published, you have to come to the table with some kind of following, because publishers are affected by the economy as well, and they want to know there will be buyers and a market to buy it.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for the book?
A. The interesting thing about the book is, it wasn't actually my idea. What happened was I received an email from someone in the publishing industry one day. She was from an agency — she referred to herself as a 'conceptual agent,' which is different from a regular book agent in that she came to me with the book idea to see if I would be interested in writing the book.
Typically you have your own idea, write a book proposal, and seek out an agent and try to sell to a book publisher, whereas this type of agency has the book ideas, then they look for the right author to execute their idea.
They contacted me and wanted to see if I had any interest, and it was so up my alley I couldn't believe I didn't think of it myself. What you do is write the book proposal, which is sort of like any other business pitch with sample chapters. Basically it's for the publishing industry to show why is there a need for it, why would anybody buy it, and it did end up selling to Ulysses Publishing. It was sort of backwards a little bit.
Q. How did the agent discover you?
A. She actually just found my blog on the Internet. I think she searched for a humor blog, and she and her partner found it, and she said she loved my voice and thought I would be the right fit. It was completely crazy. I think it's important that if you have a goal, to communicate it to others, because you don't know who you might meet.
Q. You must have been shocked to receive that email.
A. It was an email out of the blue that I seriously almost missed. I have a personal email and an email associated with my blog, I was about to pick up a son at preschool, and I honestly thought it might have been spam at first — I don't think it's too typical that you get an email from someone legitimate who works in publishing. There are obviously a lot of people out there who would like to write books.
I had an idea for a book previously, a collection of nonfiction essays, and I had contacted a few agents, and they were kind and responded and said, "You're funny, but the funny-mom-essay-thing ship has sailed."
Often to get published now, you have to be a famous person, like Tina Fey, or you have to really have some sort of unique spin on it, and you have to have some huge, ginormous platform with lots of followers. My goal was to keep building my platform and followers, and in doing so and growing my blog and getting my name out there, that's how this person found me. It was fortuitous.
Q. Do you have any experience in mixology?
A. Actually, I do not have a background in mixology, except for working at a bar in college, but I don't know if that counts. However, I do love to entertain. (The agents) didn't think of any of the drink names or recipes — I either had them or got them from friends by asking what they like to drink. A lot were generous in sharing them with me, and one of my friends helped me to vet the recipes.
Q. What's your favorite recipe in the book?
A. I have a lot of them that I love. I tried to vary the recipes in the book so there would be some for every taste and budget. The Punkin Pansy is a fall favorite, and it's so simple — all it is is a pumpkin beer, with a shot of vanilla vodka, and you rim the glass with brown sugar and cinnamon. This time of year anything with beer in it, or the Orange You Glad You've Got Ice Cubes, which has orange vodka and orange ice cubes.
Q. How long did it take to write?
A. The proposal sold around Labor Day weekend of last year, and it was due in mid-January. I did most of it at night and on the weekends. To be honest, the proposal was more challenging to write than the book. Once the proposal sold, doing research and writing anecdotes was all so fun, whereas the proposal was more of a business-type thing that was pretty structured, more of a sales pitch, which I was used to.
Q. Have you gotten any bad reactions from people about conflating drinking with parenting?
A. I have not yet, but I'm clear in the beginning of the book that I certainly don't condone anyone getting drunk in front of their kids, and I never in a million years would condone someone having too much to drink and then getting behind the wheel of a car. It's supposed to be a fun, cheeky book for mothers to unwind with a couple fun stories with a cocktail.
Drinking responsibly in front of your children is obviously important, and if you can't do that, you need to find another way to unwind. Kids learn so much from watching you — you can't tell them to say "please" and "thank you" and then be rude to the waiter.
Q. How often do you blog?
A. I update it about once a week. It's cathartic. I want to make people laugh — the best compliment I can get is from someone who doesn't have kids. The blog is not just for mothers, I write about things that have nothing to do with being a parent that I share and I think others could relate to.
Even thought the name "mommy" is in it, I wouldn't categorize it as a mommy blog.
I keep the writing on par with what I would get paid to do. I don't want to put my name on something I don't think is my best work. I do try to take it seriously as my own publication. Life in general is difficult — I love that my blog is a place where people can come and get a laugh.
Having a sense of humor is so important when you have kids, so much of it is so ridiculous that you have to laugh. I think it's really important to be able to see the funny in it or else the days are going to be really long.
Q. Any plans to write another book?
A. I'm not totally sure at this point. One (I've thought about) is a children's book about peanut allergies. Two of my sons are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts — it's such a dangerous thing, and I think there could be more education around that subject in a fun and lighthearted way so it doesn't scare kids.
Q. How has the publisher helped to get the word out?
A. They've been really great at reaching out to other bloggers. I think some people underestimate the reach of blogs, but there are blogs about anything you could ever really imagine. Some of them don't have huge followings, but their followers are the people who would be the target market for my book.
Q. Any advice for other writers aspiring to get published?
A. Let people know what your goals are, whether you want to write a book or whatever your goal might be — if you tell people, it makes it real. You never know who might know someone who knows someone who thinks you're a fit. I think the message to never give up, and that's something I wish to convey to my kids.
When you think about the publishing industry, if you think about authors like the author who wrote "The Help," she got rejected 60 times. What if she had given up on the 59th time? Nobody would fault her for it. But it ended up being a huge bestseller. There are so many wonderful books that are sitting in people's drawers right now. There are people out there who have published books that aren't that great, but the difference is they didn't give up.
Q. With the preponderance of ebooks and tablets, do you see self-publishing changing the whole publishing industry?
A. There have been examples where someone self-published something where it becomes such a crazy hit. I think self-publishing used to be looked at negatively, and that is definitely changing. E-books make it much easier to self-publish as well — in the past there were issues with quality, where you could tell when someone published a book themselves. But now there is a paradigm shift, there are authors who want to take charge of how and when they publish, to control when it actually hits the shelves, and have more control over what's in it.
Self-publishing is here to stay, there's probably pros and cons to both — it's a huge industry. If I had a crystal ball I'd love to know how it'd all shake out.