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Interview with a Scary Mommy: How Jill Smokler Turned Her Blog into a Business Empire

These days, plenty of celebrities and regular parents are trying to turn their procreation into a business. From Kourtney Kardashian, with her new parenting blog, and Beyonce, who already trademarked little Blue Ivy‘s name, to the millions of mommy bloggers who dream of book deals and endorsements, building a brand out of your children is definitely a trend.

The Grindstone sat down with one mother who didn’t set out to build a Mommy Empire, but succeeded all the same. Jill Smokler, the creator of Scary Mommy, has risen to a level of success that all mommybloggers, celeb and otherwise, have to be a little envious of. This week her book, “Confessions of a Scary Mommy: An Honest and Irreverent Look at Motherhood,” hit bookshelves everywhere. Her parenting community averages of 1.5 million page views a month. She’s achieved what millions of writers and bloggers aspire to do, she turned her blog  into a full-time and high-paying career.

Is this how you expected your career to turn out? Did you ever think of writing for a living?
No, it’s super ironic. My background is in art and my degree is in graphic design. My husband was the writer. He dreamed of writing a book. I still don’t think of myself as a writer at all. I feel like I talk-write. I never thought I would be writing.

How has the book been different from what you’re used to?
Writing the book was much harder. With the website, when something inspires you, you write. When something doesn’t, you don’t write. It was hard to get used to deadlines.

Do you think blogging as a career comes easier for those who were busy preparing to do something else?
One of the reasons why my blog ended up being something that I could stick with because I started out innocently, a fun little baby book. If I really started it as a business, done my research, did everything for page views, it wouldn’t have had the same message. If I had it to do over again, there would be things I would do differently.

Like what?
Well, I would’ve started my blog with an A. All those alphabetical lists and I’m always at the bottom of them. But I wasn’t thinking like that when I started Scary Mommy. That’s probably why it worked.

Was there a clear moment for you when your blog stopped being a way to share your thoughts and became a way to make money?
About two years ago I got a job working for Nickelodeon’s parenting website. Having that job made me realize that I love that online world. I had a hard time balancing their site and mine. That was the point when I decided to give it a go. And I’m so grateful every day that goes by. Thankful because I’m the worst employee in the world.

Wait, why are you the worst employee in the world?
I think I’m always right. I have a really hard time appreciating other points of view. I have a tough time collaborating. What I love about the website is that I’m in control. I don’t have to run anything by anyone. It’s mine. You never have that in your working environment. I had great jobs, but I was miserable. I hated sitting behind a desk and wearing suits.

There’s a question I get asked a lot, and I think I just want someone to commiserate with. How do you deal with people who ask, “How do you qualify as a parenting expert? Plenty of people have kids. What makes you special?”
I’m not special. I never claim to be a parenting expert. I never pretend that I do. My site is just my opinion and my experiences. I wrote a post called “How To Ensure That Your Children Become The Worst Possible Sleepers, Ever, In The History Of The World.” I thought I had sleep all figured out. I was doing whatever felt natural to me. It completely failed and they suck.They still suck at sleeping. I’m completely not a parenting expert. I certainly get negativity in other ways. But it’s your site, and you’re not forcing anyone to read it.

When your personal life becomes your business, does it get difficult to separate the two?
Um yeah. it does sometimes. It’s difficult with the kids, the older they’re getting. I’m becoming more and more guarded what I say about them. My husband and I are open books. I find myself really considering what I say about the kids though.

Speaking of your work encroaching on your personal life, I recently had a mom from preschool read what I wrote and I didn’t realize she was following. It was really difficult.
I remember the first time that happened to me. This woman came up to me at preschool and started talking about the blog. It was uncomfortable, because I barely knew her and she knew everything about me. I had just written a really personal post and I wasn’t comfortable. I don’t think twice about 50 or 60 comments from people I don’t know. But one person catches me off guard and talks about a post I wrote when I’m not prepared and it’s definitely not fun.

Plenty of celeb mothers are incorporating parenting advice into their brand. Are Soleil Moon Frye and Kourtney Kardashian competition for regular moms making a career out of parenthood?
For me, it’s so different. I don’t have any interest in how the Kardashians parent. Someone else could say the same about me. I don’t think any of us are more qualified. I don’t think being famous means that they have anything better to say about the parenting world.

How important was networking with other mommybloggers to your success?
It is really important. I would say it was hugely important and continues to be. That was a group that I really relied on. And just meeting people in person helped a lot. I went to a bunch of conferences. From BlogHer and smaller conferences. Meeting the people in person is huge. It validates all those things that you’ve said in emails or on Twitter. The internet is great and the connections we make online are so important. I have relationships with people I’ve never met, but its different once you get to see them face-to-face.

I have to ask, mainly because it’s a debate that I’ve been having around the mom-business world. Do you feel that terms like “mommyblogger” and “mompreneurs” marginalize or empower working mothers?
With “mommyblogger,” I shy away from it now because I think that my site has become more of a community than a blog. My two or three time a week blog post are just a single aspect of the site. “Blog” doesn’t encompass the site as a whole. I think the uproar over “mommyblogger” is silly. I read a post that we really need to transition from “mommyblogger” to “momblogger.” That is ridiculous. Like the “Y” at the end makes a difference. For “mompreneur,” I can see if its a business. No one would call you a “Mommy CEO.”

As someone whose been to the Mommy Confessional more than once and understands how much it helps moms, how do you think that aspect of your website grew your brand?
I have very little experience in parenting. I have young kids. The message boards and the confessional help people relate to others. It gives something else for readers to connect with. But I feel like its very much a reflection of me and its out of my control. All of those write-ins end up being a reflection of me and that’s hard. I feel like I have to keep a tight watch on it. Its impossible to control conversations sometimes, but my name is at the top of the site. People don’t associate message boards on with the owner of the website, but they do with mine. I have a couple moderators and a community manager. I try to jump in and keep an eye on it. That’s definitely something I struggle with. For a while the confessional wasn’t moderated. It was easier but it was also horrifying.

You started your business as a stay-at-home mom. Are there days now when you miss that time and focus on your family?
It’s a full-time job that enables me to work on my own schedule. So today my daughter has a class play that I can go to. I need to go to the mall today. And I’ll make up the time at two a.m. when I can’t sleep and my mind is racing. People ask me about balance all the time and I feel like I haven’t found it. I still have the juggle. I have not managed to find the perfect balance. It’s something I strive for but I’m not sure if I’ll ever achieve it. Although, there is something to be said for a job you can do at home whenever you want.

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