Women Collaborate to Achieve Success: An Interview with Jen Mann

I've been writing professionally for a long time now, taking breaks here and there to procreate, and I can tell you that I would not be as far along in my career if it weren't for a network of women who have helped me along the way, just as I've helped them.
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"There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."
-Madeleine Albright.

Jen Mann is the blogger behind People I Want to Punch in the Throat and the editor who compiled the humor anthologies I Just Want to Pee Alone, and I Just Want to Be Alone, both of which I contributed to. She's also a faculty member for the upcoming BlogU conference where she'll be a key note speaker, this June 6-8, 2014, in Baltimore, MD.

We've known each other a while now, and because of our professional relationship-turned-friendship, I know what few may suspect from a self-proclaimed throat puncher. Jen will not go to hell. Not for refusing to help other women, at any rate.

I've been writing professionally for a long time now, taking breaks here and there to procreate, and I can tell you that I would not be as far along in my career if it weren't for a network of women who have helped me along the way, just as I've helped them. I'm betting Jen would tell you the same thing about her own success. In fact, I interviewed her about just that.

NICOLE: Is it fair to say that readers of your blog might assume you're, well, a hater? Can you tell us why they'd be wrong?

JEN: "Hater" is a strong word to describe me. I prefer "truth-teller." As women we're caught up in a movement to be perfect. We better have a good excuse if our pre-baby bodies aren't back days after our children are born, we must make wholesome, interesting and beautiful lunches for our kids to happily consume, we must have ah-may-zing homes that could be featured in magazines, and "blessed" marriages to our soul mates. Pop culture pushes this unhealthy message on us and it makes women feel like they're inadequate. So I just call B.S. I demand to see the messy corners of the kitchen that were carefully edited out of Pinterest pictures. I beg people to stop Photoshopping their abs on Instagram. I write about my gray hair, my love of all things chocolaty and salty (preferably together), my dusty house and the fact that I don't think every day needs to be an adventure or a magical day for my children.

NICOLE: So, you've got your popularity, a dedicated fan base, books of your own, including People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourge which is set to be released in September through Random House, why bother with anthologies?

JEN: The anthologies are my way of giving back to the community that has given me so much. I became popular because of luck and hard work. During the year after I went viral and found my audience, I met so many fellow bloggers who helped support me. They shared my posts and more importantly, they helped me sell my first book Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat. I started thinking about all of the wonderful writers I knew who worked hard, but just needed that stroke of luck to help find their audience. When we promoted the Holidays book together, I saw the power of our combined efforts and it inspired me to put together an anthology. I'd learned a lot about publishing already at that point and I knew I could put out a great product full of hilarious women and that if we worked together we could make it a best seller and find new audiences. I released I Just Want to Pee Alone in March 2013 and it's still a bestseller today. Almost immediately, readers started asking for a follow up. Pee Alone is about motherhood and I wanted to try something different with volume two. In March 2014 I released I Just Want to Be Alone. This one is about the men in our lives. It's a collection of ridiculously funny stories that any woman who has ever had a man live under her roof can relate to. I'm already brainstorming volume three and I think it's going to be terrific!

NICOLE: I think a lot of readers presume that blogging is a solitary engagement, maybe they see a lone writer tapping away at a computer. Is that your experience with blogging?

JEN: It was at first. When I first started blogging in April 2011, I didn't even know there was a blogging community. I used blogging as my own personal therapy sessions. I had a few friends and family who read the blog, but that was it. I didn't understand why a blogger would want or need a tribe. To me, other bloggers seemed cliquey and competitive. After I went viral I realized I needed a tribe. Luckily, I had my husband (The Hubs) to keep me sane during that time, but it would have been so much better to have a fellow blogger who I could talk to and who could understand what I was going through. For the first several months after that, I sort of learned through trial and error what to do, but I was successful despite myself. It wasn't until a few months later when I attended my first blogging conference that I met the women who would become my tribe. I had no idea when I met them in a crowded hotel bar that members of our group would go on to become New York Times bestsellers, regular contributors to television news outlets, Huffington Post contributors, web show hosts, paid columnists, award winners, brand ambassadors and conference planners. Each one of these women have the drive and desire to be successful at their craft, but the tribe keeps them focused, gives them energy, celebrates their triumphs and lifts them up when they're down. As a tribe, when one of us finds success, we always reach back and pull the others up behind us. When the water rises, all boats rise.

NICOLE: So, you have a tribe. How did you know that these women, many of whom are your co-faculty at BlogU, were "your people?"

JEN: I knew these ladies were "my people" the first time we rode in a crowded elevator together. During that ride one almost pooped her pants while another one had a panic attack. One of my new friends sang songs to calm the freaked out one while a couple more of us urged the pooper to do "anal kegels." Meanwhile, I yelled all of this encouragement from inside a stranger's smelly armpit, where I was stuck. I took a deep breath of particularly noxious B.O. and yelled to the pooper, "I realize this is your story to blog about, but you have 24 hours because this is comedy gold right here." She got her post done before the end of the day. After that ride, how could we not be friends? That right there is my definition of "my people." If you can't laugh at yourself or stand to have someone else laugh at you, then we can't be friends.

NICOLE: How much of your professional success -- and your professional satisfaction -- depends on your community?

JEN: That's hard to quantify. My tribe is always a great sounding board for me. I write a lot of controversial stuff and I always want to be on the "right" side of an issue. They've been very helpful to me when I ask them to have frank discussions with me about tough topics and they help me understand all sides of an issue before I write.

NICOLE: Everyone wants to know what the secret is. The secret to going viral, the secret to landing paid writing gigs, the secret to a large social media presence. Do you know the secret? Does it even exist?

JEN: The secret is... there is no secret, other than hard work. If you watch, there are lots of bloggers who go viral. Many bloggers get that one chance. The difference is what do they do when that opportunity presents itself. When I went viral the first time I had 70 subscribers to my blog and no social media at all. When I had a million reads on my Elf on the Shelf post, I was sitting in a corner rocking back and forth freaking out. My so-very-smart husband said to me, "What will you write tomorrow?" I was terrified. I knew I could never write anything again that would be as popular as the Elf. I knew I could never live up to that post again. I wanted to just ride the wave and then see how I felt in a week. He guided me to my computer and sat me down and said, "No. You want to be a writer. You've found your audience. Entertain them." And so I wrote new posts every day for months after that. I grew my social media presence through these posts. I used that opportunity to fulfill my dreams. Paid writing gigs tend to present themselves when you've got a large social media presence, but they're not always as great as you think they might be. Paid writing gigs feel like a "job" to me, so I rarely take them. The only paid writing gigs I take are book deals. I think bloggers get very caught up in growing social media and they don't focus on their writing. Let me reiterate: I went viral with 70 blog subscribers and absolutely no social media presence. Focus on your content. Entertain or educate your readers. Engage them and make them feel your passion in your writing. The essays that do the best for me are always the ones where my passion comes through. My readers feel it and they react to it too. Make them nod their head and say "Me too."

This post is part of a series produced in partnership with BlogU and The Huffington Post for the upcoming BlogU conference in Baltimore, MD, this June 6-8, 2014. For more information and to register click here."