Today we’re talking to Stephanie Sprenger, who blogs at Mommy, For Real. Stephanie is a writer, and mother of two, blogging about the highs and lows as she navigates the great identity crisis of motherhood. Stephanie is also a music therapist who works music into her blog through her ParentZ Bop parody series, the co-founder (along with Jessica Smock) of The HerStories Project, and a Listen To Your Mother alum. You can find Stephanie’s writing on such coveted sites as The Huffington Post, Mamapedia, BlogHer, and Mamalode. She shares how she has taken her writing beyond her blog.
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Beyond Your Blog: What should we know about your blog, Mommy, For Real?
Stephanie Sprenger: Mommy, For Real is a mostly parenting website. The tagline is “A candid glimpse at the imperfect reality of surviving the daily grind with young kids”. So basically a real look at motherhood and parenting and the icky stuff. I do write tender loving things, but a lot of it is humor, or the honest ‘this sucks’ part of parenting.
BYB: When did you start blogging and what made you start?
SS: I started in June of 2012. I’d started writing this nebulous memoir 6 years ago. I thought about blogging then, but I thought “Oh my god. This is so self-indulgent! Writing a diary and putting it on the internet?! I’m not gonna blog!”. And now I’m so pissed because it feels like if you got in on the ground floor back in the day, you could really be going places now. So instead I wrote this whole stinking book and pursued getting an agent for a while. Then I decided to start the blog as a platform/alternative to getting published, and a different avenue to pursue in an effort to be taken seriously. Now I look back at that book and cringe, but I still want to be a published author in not only books, but in other places too.
BYB: You published The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, and now you have My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends coming out September 15th (2014). What got you interested in putting together an anthology?
SS: I met Jessica Smock in the blogosphere (through her comments on my BlogHer post) about a year and a half ago. We had a lot in common with the books we liked to read, so I was reading this great memoir by Susanna Sonnenberg, called She Matters: A Life in Friendships, and it made us start talking about what we would write our friendship memoirs about. We decided to start a blog series called HerStories: Tales Of Friendship, where we got guest posts from bloggers. We decided to turn those into an anthology along with other posts, and put it together as a hodgepodge on friendship including a section on loss, including deaths and friendship break ups. Interestingly, this last section got the most feedback from readers. Then suddenly, it was like everyone wanted to talk about this and had a story to tell about friendship losses. We realized that people don’t really talk about breaking up with your friends. It was a topic that had not been granted permission talk about, so we decided that this would be our topic for the next anthology and went from there with an open call for submissions. The open call let us craft the book and make it more cohesive with better flow. We were able to make sure the topics, themes and styles were really diverse and balanced, because we had this huge pool to choose from. We had between 120-130 submissions, but could only use 35.
BYB: As someone who has waded through tons of submissions, do you have any tips to give to bloggers who are submitting to an anthology, especially for the first time?
SS: I always say submit! Rejection sucks, but it shouldn’t be a deterrent. You can always submit it somewhere else, or use it on your own blog if it gets rejected. Plus, it’s practice to help you become a better writer. Frequently when we write personal essays, it’s something valuable that needed to get out of us, and I think there is value in that too. I’d also suggest keeping true to your voice while making sure your essay is structured really well and not all over the place. Being your own editor is really important too. I’m terrible at this. I like to just word vomit and say “That felt so good to write! It’s perfect! It’s finished!”, but you need to sit on it and come back to it. Finding a blogging tribe of other writers that you can trade writing with for feedback and edits before you submit is important too. It’s really helpful to have other eyes on it. My partner Jessica Smock is offering a Personal Essay Bootcamp. The next one is offered this September/October. It’s a guided tour easing you into the components of personal essay writing: what makes a good essay, how to structure it, what questions you want to ask yourself, what message do you want to get out there.
BYB: Do you have other future projects?
SS: We will announce our next project letting people know what our next anthology topic will be probably in the first week of September. We will do another open call and start opening it up for submissions!
BYB: Switching gears – your sidebar is pretty ridiculous as far as all the places you have been featured. Looking at that was probably one of the first times I thought “Oh my gosh, maybe I should start submitting to some of these places!”. What is your balance between time spent submitting work vs. blogging etc.
SS: In the summer all bets are off. I haven’t really submitted to anything other than HuffPost this summer, because I can use stuff that I’ve already published on my site and bring it back to life there. I submit to them a couple of times a month. I used to post 3-4 times a week on my own blog when I first started blogging, but I just don’t have it in me to do that anymore, and part of the reason is because I like to spend some of my time submitting to other places. One of the great things about submitting is that there are tons of things that I wouldn’t write on my own blog, but that I know would be a great fit for In The Powder Room or something like that. I still want to focus on doing at least semi-regular content for my own blog, and for me that’s once a week.
BYB: How did you become a HuffPost Blogger?
SS: It took me probably a year and a half of trying, and then I co-published an article with a HuffPost Blogger on another site, that was then put on HuffPost, and I became a HuffPost blogger from that.
BYB: How many submissions would you like to do per week?
SS: I want to be working on maybe 3-4 submission potentials per month at a minimum
BYB: Are you submitting to lots of places at once or focusing on a few at a time?
SS: At the very beginning I would submit everywhere all the time because I felt like I needed to climb that ladder, but now I’m a little bit more lazy and I don’t feel like I have to cram my foot into all the doors anymore. I got to the point where I was doing too much and I allowed myself to fall off a little and I don’t feel really pressured to get back in there. I’m trying to be a little bit more sporadic to save my sanity. I also want to broaden my horizons and be a little more diverse with where I submit.
BYB: How many rejections do you get?
SS: Maybe 30%, although I don’t like to do things I’m not good at, so I tend to submit places where I think I have a pretty good chance at acceptance, so that helps my percentages.
BYB: What motivates you to post on other sites?
SS: It does get you new readers. I love HuffPost because they pay me in traffic and Facebook likes and new readers. It may not be tons, but they usually end up being readers who really care. It also builds up my portfolio and my bios and may help me in the future with being published in other places.
BYB: You mentioned HuffPost. Any other favorite sites as far as where you like to be featured?
SS: I do like Scary Mommy too and Jill Smokler is great! Her readership is mind-boggling, and I also love In The Powder room because I love working with Leslie Marinelli, and it’s just so fun to write for them. I think BlogHer is great too and you get really good reader interaction because of the other bloggers reading.
BYB: What sites are at the top of your aspirational list?
Many thanks to Stephanie Sprenger!