Writers@Work: From Blog Post to Book Contract
May 11, 2021
Note from Rochelle
Between working and getting ready to promote my new book, I’m finding it difficult to find time to think about my novel let alone write a scene. Oh, I show up to write every morning, but because of deadlines, I’m usually writing an article or editing a client’s book. Instead of continuing to feel frustrated, I’ve scheduled time to review my commitments and choose what I can let go of. I’m also considering one of the ideas in this post, How to Make Time to Write.
I have a special treat for you. Tune into the blog tomorrow to see the cover reveal for my colleague Sandy Brehl’s brand new book, Is It Over?
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jenny True to the blog to talk about how she landed a deal for her new book, You Look Tired. She recommends some wonderful books—just in time for summer reading!
From Blog Post to Book Contract
An Interview with Jenny True
By Rochelle Melander
Welcome to the blog! Tell us about the book.
Thank you so much for inviting me to be a guest on your blog! You Look Tired is a primer for pregnant people and new parents who don’t want any more advice. It addresses critical topics the other baby books don’t, such as, WTF is this squeeze bottle thing from the hospital? And, How do I deal with this chorus of conflicting advice telling me I’m doing everything wrong? And, Why do these m&#%=+f!@?!r’s keep telling me to do prenatal yoga?
Can you talk about how the book came about and its relationship to your Dear Jenny column?
When I was 39, I found myself single and living by myself in a one-bedroom apartment in Deep East Oakland. I was really happy: Not having to compromise with anyone is one of the greatest, and for some the most fleeting, of joys. On the other hand, I’d always thought kids would just kind of happen, and they didn’t! I started panicking, and I started blogging about my horrible OKCupid dates, wherein I’d try to enmesh various men into getting me pregnant. After a couple months, I tricked a really good one, my partner “SJ.” Six months after we met, we got me pregnant. A few months later, we got married, and then I moved into his house, and in July of 2017, I had our son.
I kept blogging, and when my son was three months old, I wrote a post that went viral. Romper reached out, and I pitched them an advice column. They made the biggest mistake of their lives and said yes! Then, after a year and a half, I began working on a book proposal — through Romper, I had a larger platform and wanted to capitalize on that before they came to their senses and fired me. I had connected with an agent a few years earlier, and when I was done I sent the proposal to her. She’d had a baby since the last time we’d met, and my proposal made her laugh, so she took me on. That was in November or December of 2019. In April of 2020, I signed with Running Press/Hachette.
Someone asked me if it was easy to get my book published. In some ways, it seems like that, because the one agent I sent my proposal to took it right away, and a few months later, three out of eleven publishers made offers. But I’m 44. I’m standing on a lifetime of writing and revising and teaching and submitting and rejection, and I finally tried something new, and this book is what stuck. I think of that quote that’s something like, “It takes a long time to become an overnight success.”
So the book is absolutely hilarious! Thank you for calling out the “sanctiparents” and talking about the tyranny of self-care. How did you help yourself to be funny while you wrote? Do you have tips for writers who want to “write funny”?
Ha! I wasn’t very funny when I was writing. It was kind of a dark time, to be honest: The lockdowns had started, our kids were at home, I still had my full-time job, my partner was still working, too, and now I had this incredibly short deadline — six months — to write a book. I would get up at 6 a.m. every morning, write until 9 while my partner took care of our kids, work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then slide into dinner, bath time, and bedtime, which is no kind of relief. It was hard to keep my sense of humor and remind myself HELLO THIS IS MY DREAM COME TRUE.
On the other hand, the fact that I didn’t have a whole lot of time meant I was going with a lot of “first grit” ideas, which writers know are often the ones that sparkle most. And I was working from a very keenly thought-out framework from the proposal. And I always read everything to my partner. If he laughed, I was golden.
Humor is really about surprise and recognition. To most people, the awful truth is a big surprise — first, to hear it named, and second, to realize they feel the same way, or can relate. My advice with trying to write funny is just to tell the truth, in your own voice.
You juggle parenting, writing fiction, nonfiction, and columns, and more. What are your tricks or tools for getting writing done?
There are no tricks! I do the important stuff first, and everything else gets done half-assed. I have gotten very little exercise since the pandemic started and can feel it taking years off my life. My partner often takes both kids somewhere on the weekend, and instead of getting some exercise and fresh air, I stay home to write. Although I’m beyond grateful to him, it’s not really a good system if I want to reach 100 in good health. I will say that I do prioritize sleep — I often go to sleep around 8:30 p.m. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m truly prioritizing it, or I just pass out. Also, I have a full-time job that, before 2020 ended, offered time off categorized under “other” (not sick, vacation, or bereavement time) at two-thirds pay, so, for example, anytime my partner, a documentary filmmaker, knew he was going to be working all day, I could take the day off to be with my son, and I could take mental health days that allowed me to focus on my writing. Frankly I’m privileged in a lot of ways: Race and class privilege paved the way for me to get an education that let me get the job that provides said benefits and pays well enough for me to afford child care and a mortgage payment and repairs and healthy food.
What are you reading now?
Oh, I love this question. I’ll only respond with books I like. I’m very near the end of The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. I don’t love the narrator, but that’s fiction, and it’s an absolute poem of a book. It wraps tighter and tighter as you read. I’ve just started The Big Letdown: How Medicine, Big Business, and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding WHAT A TITLE by Kimberly Seals Allers, and I can’t WAIT to get into it. I’m a huge fan of her writing and just her as a person, activist, and entrepreneur — her latest project is an app for Black and Brown women to share information about prenatal, birthing, postpartum, and pediatric care and to change the narrative around Black maternal birth. And OK, I have to share a few more: I LOVED On Beauty by Zadie Smith — ripped right through it after numerous false starts with other books — as I did with The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. Danielle Evans is a force — The Office of Historical Corrections is intense! And other books I’ve read recently and loved were Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women by Lyz Lenz, an incredible book I underlined half of that launched in the middle of the pandemic and the day before a derecho hit Lyz’s town, so it didn’t get the attention it deserves. And finally And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell, my new editor at Romper! I was in love with this book before I knew her. And I am a megafan of Samantha Irby. OK, I think that’s all.
About the author. Jenny True is Jenny Pritchett, author of You Look Tired: An Excruciatingly Honest Guide to New Parenthood. Jenny also is a longtime writer and editor and nationally recognized columnist for Romper. Her debut collection, At or Near the Surface (Fourteen Hills Press, 2008), won the Michael Rubin Book Award. She has published fiction in Boulevard, the Northwest Review, the Southwest Review, Salt Hill, and other journals and has written and reported for Guernica, Salon, and Bitch, among others. Her work has been anthologized and selected for publication by Steve Almond and Michelle Richmond, and she has been the recipient of fellowships from the Ragdale Foundation and the Tomales Bay Writing by Writers Workshop, a grant from San Francisco State University, and a scholarship from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Her story “Thieves” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Jenny has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and an M.F.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University. She has taught creative writing at the Bay Area’s Writing Salon since 2009 and at San Francisco State University and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In a former life she was a fact-checker for Sunset and Dwell and an intern for Mother Jones and Ms. As Jenny True, the voice of her blog and the “Dear Jenny” column, she has been recognized on the sidewalk by a mom driving by in a car, and a mom on a plane.
NOTE ON LINKS: Book links lead to my shop at bookshop.org. If you buy from there, I receive a tiny commission.