Jen Mann: Building An Audience One Imaginary Throat Punch At A Time

Jen MannBestselling author and humorist Jen Mann has been called, “Erma Bombeck with F Bombs!” which she considers high praise.

She is also a wife and mom who has a knack for saying things others think, but don’t have the nerve to say.

Her blog, People I Want To Punch In The Throat, has won numerous awards and accolades from readers and critics alike and continues to build an audience of avid readers who want to see what she’ll say next.

Her bestselling books include as I Want To Pee Alone,  the follow up I Want To Be Alone, and her latest People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Daycare Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges was just published by Random House.

Jen has also been published on Huffington Post, Headline News, and Babble. She won a 2014 Bloggie Award for Best Parenting Blog and was a Finalist for the 2013 Bloggie Awards for Best Parenting Blog and Weblog of the Year.

Jen Mann Interview

Books by Jen Mann

People I Want To Punch In The Throat  I Just Want To Pee Alone  I Just Want To Pee Alone

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Jen Mann Transcript

Tim Knox: Jen, welcome to the program.

Jen Mann: Hi, thanks for having me.

Tim Knox: We are so thrilled that you’re here. You and I are going to have a good time. I’ve been spending some time this afternoon going through your blog and sitting in my office laughing like an idiot. This should be a good call. Before we get started though if you will tell the audience a little bit about you.

Jen Mann: Well like you said I’m Jen and I write a blog called People I Want to Punch in the Throat.

Tim Knox: See I’m laughing already.

Jen Mann: Right yeah, the name alone just makes you laugh. Before you ask, I’ve never actually hit anyone. It’s not violent. It’s a humor blog. I started in 2011. My husband was sick and tired of listening to me say this person’s driving me crazy or this thing drives me crazy.

We work together from home. We’re each other’s only co-workers and so he was just really frustrated so one day he’s just like, “Could you please start a blog and write all this down so I don’t have to hear about it?” I said I wouldn’t even know what to call it and he said, “It’s very easy. People I Want to Punch in the Throat because you say it all the time.”

So that’s kind of how it started. I started writing here and there little things about really anything that drove me crazy – someone’s parking job or another mom in the playgroup, anything like that, something I saw on the news. Then around December of that year I wrote about my Elf on the Shelf. Do you know what an Elf on the Shelf is?

Tim Knox: I do know what an Elf on the Shelf is and I share your views.

Jen Mann: Yeah so it was early in the season and I remembered that we had not yet moved him for the night and my husband and I were sort of doing rock, paper, scissors in bed of who would get up and move him. I lost and so I had to move him. I wrote on my Facebook. I figured while I was up I might as well update my Facebook so I updated my Facebook and said something about am I the only who forgets to move this stupid thing?

I got so many responses and I thought, huh. I think I hit a nerve. Then a friend who has no children was very, very helpful and she shared a post called 101 Things to do with Your Elf on the Shelf. She said, “I don’t see what your problem is, you moms. You’re always complaining. Here’s 101 ideas.” I read that list and I thought oh my God; there’s only 25 days of Christmas and you’ve given me 101 things. It was things like roll out a red carpet or just make your kitchen a mess. I thought that’s not the point. I’m not trying to make more work for myself.

So I wrote about that and I shared it like I normally did and that one really struck a nerve and it went viral. It got a million hits in about two days. Overnight I found an audience and so I’ve just been working pretty hard since then to try to keep them entertained.

Tim Knox: That’s such an incredible story. I was reading that on your blog and I’m like this is one of those stories where you express your opinion and somehow overnight it just goes viral. Let’s back up a little. Had you always had an interest in writing? Other than the blog had you always written?

Jen Mann: Yes I always wrote. Even as a kid I wrote and then when I went to college I actually have a degree in Creative Writing. I was always going to write the great American novel. I never thought it would be a blog. In those days when I went to college blogs did not exist. We didn’t have the internet.

That was sort of the other thing with my husband too. I think it was kind of a combination of listening to me complain to him and me saying, “Someday I’m going to write,” and he was like you know what? I give you permission. You get an hour a day to go write and just say what you need to say. Get it off your chest and then come back and join the family. It saved me.

Tim Knox: So really the blog was your way to vent.

Jen Mann: Yes.

Tim Knox: Was it almost like therapy for you?

Jen Mann: Completely, cheaper than therapy. Cheapest therapy I have.

Tim Knox: Maybe if other people blogged like this and got their venting out online there would be less violence in the world maybe. I don’t know.

Jen Mann: Maybe. I’m a big proponent of it. I think everyone should vent their spleen and then go back to the day.

Tim Knox: Before you started the blog what kind of writing were you doing?

Jen Mann: Well before that it was a lot of… I sort of envisioned myself as like the next Donna Tartt, only I have no talent like her. I really thought I’d write some sort of sweeping literary novel that the critics would love and would be a big seller, a New York Times bestseller and people would rave over it. That stuff is still sitting in a drawer. It’s not terrific.

Tim Knox: Well you seemed to have hit your niche here though. The blog is just hysterically funny and you’re now doing other things. You write for Huffington Post and a number of others and you’re doing anthologies. I want to talk about all of that but I want to go back to this. I’m always fascinated when someone says, “Well I just put up a blog post and a million page views later I’m…”

That really is basically how it worked. You posted this blog post about the overachieving Elf on the Shelf mommies and somehow it went viral. Do you have any idea how that happened?

Jen Mann: I don’t. If I did I’d do it every day again and again. My husband runs the backend and he really watches my analytics and things like that. He did a lot of research on that trying to figure out. Obviously if we could recreate it again I’d love to.

What it came down to I think is timeliness that it was a couple weeks before Christmas. I think everybody was sort of feeling the stress of it all coming down on you. The Elf was very popular that year. Up until that point he had only been sold kind of in specialty stores and that was the first year I think he was available in Target. So more people knew about him and could feel the stress.

Pinterest I think added a lot. I had never heard of Pinterest until that night and it was shared on Pinterest. I had never put a photo on a blog before and I put a photo on that one and it just went wild on Pinterest. I was not on Pinterest but a lot of my readers were. Pinterest can kind of make you feel really bad about yourself sometimes. You go through and you’re like, “Wow, that looks amazing. I could never do that.” I think this was sort of like the anti-season. Like everybody was really feeling the pressure.

We all feel like we want to make it so special and so perfect, especially at Christmas, for our kids and our families and you can’t. You can’t do it every single day. Something’s got to give. I think that little elf sort of made everyone say, “Yeah, I’m tired of that stupid elf.” The fact that it was kind of listy and kind of ranty and then humor. Funny and heartwarming both tend to go pretty far when you’re looking for a viral post.

Tim Knox: That was, what, two years ago when that happened?

Jen Mann: Three years, 2011.

Tim Knox: Since then you’ve won and been nominated for a number of blogging awards. You’ve also written books. You’ve self-published three books in the last couple of years and those have sold incredibly well.

Jen Mann: Yeah I self-published. One is a collection of my own stories and then I’ve self-published two anthologies where I have a story in each one of them but it’s also me and about 35 other women as well.

Tim Knox: What are the types of stories in the anthologies?

Jen Mann: All three books are humor. The Christmas one is humor too. They’re all humor. The first one I published was called I Just Want to Pee Alone and that’s the one where I think every parent feels that way. So that one’s all humor. I like to leave my anthologies pretty broad. I just told them to bring me a funny story about being a mother about being a woman or motherhood, something like that.

So it’s got lots of funny mom stories, lots of vaginas in there and just breastfeeding drama. I think a lot of moms love that book. They really relate to it. It’s been a real hit, that one. Everyone just really is drawn to it. It has a really funny cover to it. It has like a toilet on the cover with toys thrown in it. You can’t skip that. What is that? You take a closer look and you think yeah, I get that book.

Tim Knox: You seem to write and say a lot of things other people think but don’t have the nerve to say.

Jen Mann: And that was the fun thing about the I Just Want to Pee Alone anthology because for that one I just literally invited some of my friends whose writing I admired and said, “Write me a funny story,” and they really took a chance on me to do this and that I would do a good job with it. Many of them were not humor writers. They write about other things but everyone has at least one funny story they can tell. Tell me one funny story. That’s all I need.

So it was nice for them to sort of like, it was like an outlet for them. I’d get these emails saying, “Can I say this word?” I’m like yup, you can say that word. “Do you think I could talk about this?” Yes, definitely talk about that. So it was nice for them. It kind of gave them the chance to say what they were thinking too and really let loose. They knew that I was going to publicize this with my audience especially and they would respond to that. They love that.

Tim Knox: So these were other writers?

Jen Mann: Yeah, other bloggers. That one’s all bloggers and then the second one I just published in March and that one’s called I Just Want to Be Alone. That one we took on husbands and boyfriends and that one was actually my husband’s idea. People are like, “Oh you’re husband bashing.” It was his idea. I write about him a lot. He gives me a lot of leeway to write about him a lot on my blog and my readers really enjoy it because, again, it’s another one where we all have those same common complaints about our husbands and our kids and so they get it.

So the husbands one just came out in March and that one I actually opened up the submissions for that one. That way I was introduced to some new voices that maybe I had never heard before so that was really cool.

Tim Knox: What attracts you to doing these anthologies? Do you do the editing part yourself? How does it work?

Jen Mann: Yeah I do. What happened with the anthologies was that I had all this success with the Elf on the Shelf and then I found my audience and I’m writing my blog and I’m doing really well with that. Then I put out a Christmas book and the Christmas book did really well. I had all these blogger friends who were happy for me but they were also sort of like, “Gosh, how do you do that?” I’m like I don’t know exactly. I don’t really know.

So I was thinking all I needed was that spark. I just needed something to hit for me to find an audience and I thought well now I have this platform and I know my fans like to read funny stuff so I’m going to put out a funny anthology with the people whose reading who I read who I admire and maybe they’ll get a spark too from this. So it was just sort of a way for me to sort of reach back and help pull some others up behind me.

Tim Knox: How do you publish that? Is it done through self-publishing?

Jen Mann: Yeah I did it through CreateSpace and then it’s also available on all the Kindle, Nook and iTunes, everything like that.

Tim Knox: Do you like writing the blog or doing the books?

Jen Mann: The blog is fun because I get instantaneous. I know right away if it’s a hit or miss so I like that and I like interacting with my readers and I can do that better on the blog. The books I enjoy.

The books are a lot of work to get them… I’m actually working on another anthology right now and so I’ve got submissions coming in. That’s a lot of work to kind of like get through all the submissions and get them ready and figure out which ones I want and put together the book and get it laid out and everything. But I do like the sort of, I call it tribes. I form tribes with my authors that are in my books. I do like that. I like the comradery and forming the tribes and working with each other.

They both have their pluses and minuses but it depends on my mood that day. Some days I’m like I’m not interested in reading anthology. I’m just going to blog today.

Tim Knox: When you were walking across the stage to pick up that Creative Writing degree did you ever think you’d go on to write a book called I Just Want to Pee Alone.

Jen Mann: No, my English professors are probably cringing.

Tim Knox: Were you always funny?

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Jen Mann: Yeah I was, yeah. I’ve been told I was funny. I knew I could tell a funny story. I just never thought about writing it down. I’ve done a lot of like stand-up at parties; I’m always the one telling a story and everybody’s laughing.

Tim Knox: You’re always the loud girl making everybody laugh.

Jen Mann: I am.

Tim Knox: And then on the way home you’re talking about how you want to punch them in the throat.

Jen Mann: True. Only the ones who didn’t laugh. Only the ones who didn’t find me funny.

Tim Knox: Up until now you’ve done self-publishing but you’ve got a new book coming out with Random House. Tell us how that came about.

Jen Mann: Well after I published my Christmas book, which is Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat, that one went on to do really well as a self-published book but it’s one of those things. You kind of have the ego thing hanging over you. I wanted a big New Yorker publisher. You go to a party and see someone and they’re like, “What do you do?” “I’m a writer.” “What’d you write?” You tell them and they’re like, “Oh you’re self-published. That’s so cute. What a great hobby for you.”

Tim Knox: Don’t you want to punch them in the throat really?

Jen Mann: They’re probably the ones that I come the closest to actually giving it to, yeah. I’m like you have no idea what’s out there. You have no idea how accomplished self-published authors are that are out there. It was sort of my ego. It’s like you said. When I’m walking across the stage picking up my diploma in my mind I’m thinking someday Random House will sell my book. I decided to start looking and see if there was any interest. I found an agent who took me on and we put together a book proposal and several places bid on it but Random House was the one I chose to go with.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about the agenting process. How many agents did you query before you got an interest?

Jen Mann: Well I went backwards. I queried probably six or seven agents and I had only one that passed on me but the thing was is, like I said, I went backwards. I had a chance where I met somebody from a publishing company and I flipped them my book, my Christmas book and I said, “Read this. I have others.” Then they contacted me and said they’re interested. So when I contacted agents it was like, “Hey I have this publisher on the line who thinks they want to buy a book from me. Do you want in?” It was kind of a no brainer for the agents to say yes.

Tim Knox: Yeah it’s easier when you walk up to them with the potential contract. I know a lot of agents and if they didn’t believe in the project they wouldn’t take it on.

Jen Mann: Maybe yeah, and then the other thing is I have a large social media and that also opens a lot of doors for me.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about that because one thing that everybody talks about these days is the platform. It’s not like the good old days when you could just be an author. Now you’ve really got to be an entrepreneur and a marketer and you’ve got to have a whole platform and you do that very well. Talk about the progression over the past few years of how you went from someone who had just started this blog to where you are now.

Jen Mann: Well when I started the blog I did not have any platform. I started a blog on Blogger and I had 70 subscribers and that was all I had. I didn’t have a Facebook page. I knew what Twitter was but I didn’t have a Twitter account. I didn’t know what Pinterest was. When I started going viral… I had people who liked it but I also had people who really hated it and hated me. It kind of freaked me out that I’m getting these emails from people and they’re trying to friend me on Facebook and tell me that they either want to be my next door neighbor and my best friend or they want to kill me.

So that sort of freaked me out so I started a Facebook account basically that night for the blog and I just would say go over to that Facebook and I’ll talk to you over there where I can be more anonymous. So that grew to maybe I think 18,000 people that first two days that I was able to capture and then since then I’ve just worked really hard.

It’s one of those things. The more you blog, the more people that are going to come read it. So I would blog and then at the end of every blog I’d tell them to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and I’m trying to get into G+ but I just can’t manage one more darn social media but I’ve got an account. Go find me on G+. I’m just always sort of promoting.

I feel like people are only good at one thing. Instagram is the new hot thing. I will never be on Instagram. I have an account. I did start one. I went to some conference and they told me this is the new hot thing, where the kids are. This is where you want to be. I’m like what am I going to take pictures of honestly? How dumb is this? There are people who are just like mastering Instagram. There are people who are mastering YouTube. For me, I’m a 42 year old lady in the Midwest. My audience is me and we just like our Facebook. It’s who we are. So that’s kind of where I’ve found the most people is Facebook. That’s where I interact and that’s where I can share things with them and talk.

I started a Facebook page for I Just Want to Pee Alone as well. That one’s actually really big because it has a funnier name and people like it. It’s interesting. It’s two totally separate audiences so it’s really funny.

Tim Knox: I think one thing that you kind of touched on there and I hear this a lot is you have to build those relationships. Now if you’re an author you really are more accessible from your readers and your critics than you’ve ever been, right?

Jen Mann: Now I have a much thicker skin. Those first few that came through that didn’t really like me, I was really kind of like, wow, that hurt. Now my favorite thing to say is just ‘Namaste’, which is just like bless your heart, good luck to you. Now it doesn’t bother me.

Tim Knox: And in the back of your mind you’re thinking something else, right?

Jen Mann: Exactly.

Tim Knox: Let’s kind of talk about that a little bit because that’s another thing. You’ve got to have a thick skin to, number one, handle the rejection that may come along but also to handle the critics and everybody seems to be a critic.

Jen Mann: Yeah. “I hated this.” Okay well, you try tomorrow and see how you do.

Tim Knox: Let’s see you get 180 followers to hang on your every word. See how you like it. Do you ever think about going back and writing in some other genre, maybe a work of fiction or Carl Hiaasen is the master of humor story, something along those lines?

Jen Mann: I do think about it. Right now I have so many ideas for People I Want to Punch in the Throat that it hasn’t really reared its head on me yet. I think it’s got to be a mindset for me because it’s kind of like what I said earlier where to me I feel like if I’m going to write fiction it needs to be something lofty and impressive and then I think or I can just Bridget Jones Diary part 3. I thought that story was really funny.

I think if I do write fiction it probably will still be very funny and just more chick lit because that’s what I like to read. Write what you like to read.

Tim Knox: Your blog is I would call it more observational humor. Is that what you could call it?

Jen Mann: Yeah I would.

Tim Knox: When you’re leaving the house are you always looking for that next inspiration for the next blog post?

Jen Mann: I don’t know if I’m looking for it but it sort of happens. One of my readers said it best. She said to me one time when she met me in person. She said, “I just feel like you can tell any story and make it funny. It wouldn’t matter where you’re going. Something funny would happen along the way.” I think that’s kind of more what I’m looking for, just something… how can I spin this so it’s funny? How can I go back and tell my readers about going to the pool today with my kids but make it funny even though nothing really funny actually happened? So that’s more what it is.

Tim Knox: That’s such a great point. I’m an old standup comedian and the people that are naturally funny are the ones that really just see humor in everything where other people don’t.

Jen Mann: Yeah, exactly.

Tim Knox: And that’s what you write about.

Jen Mann: I try to. I don’t succeed always but sometimes, yeah.

Tim Knox: Do you have any plans to expand this out into doing more speaking and that sort of thing, to build this platform out?

Jen Mann: I would love to.

Tim Knox: You have to be great at it.

Jen Mann: I don’t know. I’m getting better. This summer I did a few conferences where I was a speaker and I’ve already got something set up for the next year coming. I really enjoy it. The thing I really like here is we’ve got a local library that does like a mom’s night out and they invite all the moms to come. They have like a bar and there’s a couple of us that will come in and read a funny essay from something that we’ve written, either a blog or book or something. Then we just sort of answer questions and tell stories. That kind of stuff is really fun. I enjoy doing anything like that. Yeah, I really enjoy speaking. I just don’t know… my name is kind of scary so people get a little worried about what I might say.

Tim Knox: That’s okay. Let’s talk a little about the marketing side because you mentioned your social media – Twitter, Facebook, that sort of thing. For authors out there who don’t have the sense of humor but of course they’re writers, talk about the importance of getting involved in the online marketing and perhaps even starting a blog. I hear from two camps. Number one is “I’m busy writing books so I don’t have time to write blogs,” and then I have other authors who go, “I write my blog because that sells books.” What do you think?

Jen Mann: I think you have to do kind of what works best for you and what works best for your readers. For me, because I was a blogger first, the blog always sells books. I can always see a spike in book sales on days when I have a good hit on the blog, whereas on a day where I don’t write I don’t sell as many books.

For me, I can’t give up blogging. I have to continue blogging plus I have things to say that they’re not really necessary. They’re not really necessarily good for a book and so I continue to blog as my venting session and as my way to get it off my chest and as a way to sell books. I’ve seen so many other independent authors and traditionally published authors who don’t blog who just interact on social media. I think that is a good thing and I think that can be done really well.

If you look at somebody like Jennifer Weiner who is really active on Twitter. She always does the live tweets of The Bachelor and things like that, just creative ways to sort of engage your audience I think are always good. You don’t maybe necessarily have to blog. A lot of the blogs that I like to read that are author blogs are more about either their process but as a writer that’s what I’m interested in. I’m interested in their process, their ideas, marketing ideas they might have and tips like that, writing ideas. I think that if you have never had a blog I don’t know that you necessarily need a blog.

I think as long as you’re active on social media, especially now because it’s so hard with the new Facebook algorithms that if you put a link that takes you off Facebook a lot of people don’t see it. You’re better off to just interact on Facebook and on Google+ and things like that where you have room to type and tell people what you want to say.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little bit more about the Random House deal. Did they pick up one of your self-published books and now they’re doing a second book? Is that right?

Jen Mann: Right so I sold them a two book deal. The first one is People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges and that one will be out September 9th and that one is all about suburbia as you can guess. It’s playgroups and school outings. I have kids who are in elementary school so there’s a lot of that kind of drama going on. Then they also purchased Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat and that one I’m actually expanding. I’m working on that one right now and I’m adding to it. I’m going to add some more chapters to that one and then that one will be released December 2015.

Tim Knox: Do you see just continuing the series of ‘fill in the blank’ I want to punch in the throat?

Jen Mann: I think so. When I first decided I wanted to write some books based on this I looked at Jen Lancaster and I really like her model of how she’s done it. I kind of broke mine down in the same way where it’s like this one’s all about suburbia and that one was all about Christmas and I’ve got some in the works of traveling and working, people I’ve worked with, sharing a cubicle with people I want to punch in the throat. I don’t know. We’ll see. I’ve barely started those so we’ll see. We’ll see if those are ever going to come to fruition.

Tim Knox: When you’re writing these what’s your process? I know you treat this like a business but do you write on a schedule? Is there a specific time of day you write, number of pages you have to write?

Jen Mann: Yeah I actually go by word count. I try to get about 3,000 words in a day somewhere whenever I can. I have two kids. Last year my kids went to school all day for the first time and that was like a gift from God. I frittered away so much time. It’s so weird. If you only have naptime to write in you get so much done but when you have like six hours you’re just like “Oh I wonder what’s on Pinterest today. Cat picture!”

I’ve been trying to do better about that, to put myself on a schedule. I found that word count works best for me. Maintaining my social media is still important so I think it is important to pin a few cat pictures and that will help me and I like to check on blogs and comments. My husband doesn’t really consider that work but it’s work. It’s important.

Tim Knox: I’m sure you’ll set him straight.

Jen Mann: Yes, exactly. So I would say most of my writing is done very early in the morning or very late at night when it’s quiet or sometimes I just leave the house and go away. I like to work at McDonald’s and get my drink and they have 80’s music playing and it inspires me. I don’t know why.

Tim Knox: What does your husband think now three years later after he told you to go write a blog and write him alone? What are his thoughts?

Jen Mann: He takes full credit. It’s all him, all of it. He’s like, “I knew it.” He really did tell me this on the very first date we had. We had this date and I told him someday I want to write a book and he said, “You’re going to write a book. You’re going to be famous. I know it.” I was like, “Oh shut up, you don’t even know anything about me.” So now he’ll say that. “Remember? Even from the beginning I believed in you. I knew.” But yeah, he does take a lot of credit but he also helps me a lot.

Tim Knox: It’s always nice to have a man behind you.

Jen Mann: That is true. I do have a lot of friends though who write and they don’t have the support. Their husbands are sort of like, “Step away from the computer. You’re done now with your hobby.” So it is nice to have him really be as supportive as he is.

Tim Knox: Jen, this has been wonderful. I really do love your work. I love your blog. Tell folks how they can learn more about you and find you and buy your books.

Jen Mann: You can find me at PeopleIWanttoPunchintheThroat.com. You can find me on Facebook at People I Want to Punch in the Throat. I’m on Twitter as @ThroatPunch and I’m on Pinterest, G+ and all my books are in Amazon and Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Smashwords.

Tim Knox: When you wear out the Punch in the Throat niche are you going to go for punching other body parts?

Jen Mann: Punch in the nuts. I don’t think so. If anything I keep joking that I’m going to start like a… I have a craft room in my house and I’m a closet crafter. I love to craft and my glue gun is always hot. I joke around that I’m going to start a DIY blog next but I won’t tell anybody it’s me.

Tim Knox: That could be your motto. My glue gun is always hot.

Jen Mann: That’s right.

Tim Knox: I love that. Jen Mann, this has been a lot of fun. We will put up links to the website and I do encourage everyone, if you want a good laugh go over there and visit PeopleIWanttoPunchintheThroat.com, buy one of Jen’s books. Jen, let’s do this again.

Jen Mann: Yeah, thank you so much. This was a lot of fun.

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