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I recently had the huge pleasure of talking with Judy Rothman Rofé about her wild journey from anonymous blogger, to best-selling author of The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions: Strategies for Helicoptering, Hot-housing & Micromanaging. Oh, and if that weren’t enough, she’s also an Emmy-winning children’s television writer, producer, and lyricist.
Anonymous blogs? Blogging serendipity? Speaking engagements? Anthologies? Being published? Blogging tips? Book tips? Having your book optioned as a possible movie?
This interview has it all!
Beyond Your Blog: Can you tell us a about your work as an Emmy-winning children’s television writer, producer and lyricist, so all of the parents of small children reading this can get as excited as I did when I learned about your career?
Judy Rothman Rofé: The blogging is really just a little sideline that happened accidentally. I started working at Sesame Street many years ago as an assistant and then was a producer at Disney and later became an executive at The Disney Channel. I then became a writer, producer and lyricist of both animation and live action. I won the Emmy for Madeline, where I was in charge of the show for many seasons. I also worked on Sesame Street, Angelina Ballerina (the newer version) and Pajanimals, to name a few. I still work on children’s shows including several projects currently in the works.
(NOTE FROM THE INTERVIEWER: Please note that this transcript does NOT include me becoming a neurotic fan when Judy mentioned that she wrote the Pajanimals songs. Having a three and four-year-old, I just barely stopped myself from launching into Squacky’s rendition of “How Do I Know If It’s Morning Time?”, a song Judy wrote in honor of her early rising son. Luckily I sat on my hands and stifled my squeals of delight enough to continue on with the interview.)
BYB: Your blog started out as anonymous. Can you tell us about it, including why you chose to make it anonymous?
JRR: A bunch of the other soccer mom friends of mine heard about the college tour I was going on with older my son in 2008. They thought I was insane, planning a trip to visit 14 colleges across 8 states in 11 days, and they told me to blog about it. I made the blog anonymous because I thought my son would be mortified if he knew I was talking about him and his friends, and also I was afraid that anything I said about the colleges could affect his chances for being accepted. Coming from the west coast, I wasn’t prepared for how crazy everyone was on the east coast. I observed parents being competitive with each other and I saw kids that had been put into these beyond-belief extracurriculars, like founding a galaxy, inventing a new antibiotic or trapeze artistry. My kids were doing normal things like soccer and newspaper and I thought ‘Oh my god! I’ve done them a disservice!”. So much of the blog was commentary on the parents, that I called it The Neurotic Parent, and the only people who knew about it were the soccer moms who told me to start it in the first place.
On the 5th day of our college tour we were at Cornell, and I figured out how to look at my blog stats. I saw that I had 500 followers! Instead of being happy, I panicked, wondering how people found out about it. It turned out that one person had shared the blog with the entire senior school body at a private school, and it took off from there.
BYB: An excerpt of your anonymous blog was included in the anthology I’m Going to College—Not You!: Surviving the College Search with Your Child. Did they reach out to you or did you have to submit your writing?
JRR: The Editor is the Dean of Admissions at Kenyon College, and she knew that I was from LA. She started asking parents until she found me. I was flattered when she asked since I had been writing for 3-year-olds all these years. I was excited, but still paranoid because I still had another child who was applying to colleges. She published a 40 page excerpt in her book and I went on a book tour with the writers, but did not reveal my name, and was always introduced just as “The Neurotic Parent” alongside top authors like Anna Quindlen and Jane Hamilton.
BYB: Do you have any memorable experiences from being a part of that book?
JRR: Even though I’d seen my name in credits and kids books adapted from shows I’d written, it was very affirming for me that I could go on the internet, write comedy on one of 5 million blogs, and be discovered over and over again by the exact audience I wanted.
BYB: How did that then morph into your book, The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions: Strategies for Helicoptering, Hot-housing & Micromanagingin 2012?
JRR: I got an email from a publisher (Prospect Park Books), who also tracked down my identity. We were able to meet in person to talk about publishing a book, and long story short, she convinced me to come out of the closet and use my name. Luckily my youngest son was accepted to college early, so the publicity didn’t conflict with his acceptance. Both my kids ended up going to Duke and I found out that everyone at Duke knew about the book anyway. I was invited to speak at parents weekend the year my younger son was accepted. The colleges mostly seemed to have a sense of humor about my writing, mainly because of their own experience as parents in that situation.
BYB: What blogging advice would you give to other bloggers about taking their writing to the next level beyond their blog?
JRR: I have the kind of book that’s called ‘evergreen’, and I highly recommend that to bloggers. It means that there is a new crop of readers every year. My prime demographic is probably 10th and 11th grade parents, and every year there is a new crop of those. Until people stop being nervous about college, there will always be new readers.
I would also say, be a good writer. A lot of what I see in the blogosphere is written very well, but a lot of what I see is also, frankly, terrible. You are not going to have a good shot at publishing a book if you’re not a good writer. I would suggest taking a journalism course online or at a community college, because I believe that’s one of the best ways to learn to write nonfiction. I think many bloggers are often used to reading other blogs, and that’s all they read, but I’d recommend reading other materials as well so you’re not always immersed in that blog-style of writing.
I also think it’s important to have a niche blog. There are a few people who are interesting enough to do a diary of their lives, but most people can’t pull that off. I fell into a niche accidentally, but I think the reason it was so easy to come up with material was because I was focused on one issue, and I highly suggest that to other bloggers. For example, it’s not a great idea to just say ‘I’m going to write about parenting’. Let’s say your little daughter is always dressing up in crazy outfits. Your niche could be a fashionista blog for little kids. It could still be about your parenting, but around that niche subject. I’d say the same about food. There’s room for more flood blogs, but they need to have some angle that hasn’t been done before. I’d also say that there is always room for a good humor blog, though you don’t want to try to be funny if you’re not.
There are also ways to concisely reach out to editors without following the traditional rules. In other words, before you submit, try networking through social media groups. For example, I’ll get annoyed in my television career if I get an email from someone with a pitch, but it’s fine if they send it through LinkedIn. Just the fact that I’m on LinkedIn is kind of an invitation for strangers to engage with me, where an email is more intrusive. Likewise with Facebook, if I’m in a Facebook Group with someone and they reach out, I’m much more likely to respond.
BYB: Tell me about your speaking engagements.
JRR: I never had any special training in public speaking, but the first year the book came out, I think I did 20 or 30 appearances, and after that, once the publicity tour was over, I started getting inquiries about how much I charged. I’ve been invited to speak at paid engagements at high schools and now middle schools.
BYB: The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions has been optioned by the producers of The Life of Pi. What does that mean (for a layperson).
JRR: That option has moved onto someone else, and there will be an announcement soon. They still have to sell the property to a studio and once the studio buys it, they can still decide whether or not to make a movie, so it’s always a long shot, but if there is a movie deal, the book would get a lot of publicity.
BYB: What’s next on your radar as far as blogging and writing?
JRR: I can’t morph the blog into an empty nest blog because there isn’t enough humor – as soon as you start it, it gets really depressing! I was thinking of maybe a neurotic parent’s guide to micromanaging your kids’ first job, since everyone seems to be freaked out about that, and that would be an extension of the current blog. I might do something different, depending on where my life goes. For now I’m sticking to college admissions material because of my speaking engagements.
I’ve just returned from visiting my son who’s studying abroad, and I am going to do a post about that. It’s just insane how all these jealous parents are visiting their kids abroad for a few days and the kid gets to stay for 4 months — how is that fair? It’s turned into a huge vacation for the kids, and they are certainly better off than we were at that age!
Many thanks to Judy for sharing her amazing story with Beyond Your Blog!