We’re continuing Women Entrepreneurs’ Month by interviewing one of our very favorite working moms. Jill Simonian – known as the FAB Mom – constantly surprises and impresses us with her smarts, sense of humor, incredible work ethic, and dedication to her husband and two girls. She’s had a long and successful career in television and currently appears twice a week on CBS LA. Plus she just published a book, The FAB Mom’s Guide!
What we love most about Jill is her candor and willingness to discuss some of the thornier parts of life – those moments when things don’t go quite according to plan. Read on and be inspired by her honest take on what it’s like to write and publish a book.
* * *
Work Kids Wine: Jill, thank you so much for doing this! Our very first question is how did you ever find the time to write a book? You seem just a little busy!
Jill Simonian: Here’s the interesting thing: I decided that I was really going to go full force and write the book when I was completely unemployed in 2015. Prior to that I had a weekly job on Hallmark Channel’s Home and Family, but for all of 2015 I just wasn’t getting hired.
I’d had the book idea in my head since I had my second baby. In 2014 I’d found a literary agent I really liked and had some great conversations with her, and then I chickened out on actually pursuing the project. But in 2015 when I realized I had some time, I decided to go for it.
WKW: What was it like to shop your book? What did the whole process look like?
JS: My agent was great. She walked me through exactly what the book proposal should look like and told me what to do. It was like completing a homework assignment. I’m a really good self-starter and good at thinking outside the box, but it’s nice when someone gives me instructions. I did exactly what she told me – writing samples, chapter samples, a full rundown of what would be included in the book, and a rough outline. She took my work and shopped it to publishers. From that point on she did all the work.
WKW: Was it stressful for you?
JS: The writing the proposal not so much, but sending it around to publishers was very stressful. We got a few false bites. I’m used to being rejected because of working in television – rejection just goes along with it. It’s part of the process. But the book rejections felt much more personal. That’s probably because it’s the written word and it was my very own story.
With auditions, if I don’t get hired I just assume it’s because the producers just want to go in a different direction – they’re looking for a blonde or something. With the book, rejection felt so personal and emotional. I took it a lot differently.
WKW: We totally see where that would be the case. Writing is personal in a different way from being on camera. Did you have to go to a lot of publishers?
JS: Yes. My agent went to at least thirty. Big, small, independent, up-and-coming – she shopped it everywhere.
WKW: And then you got your deal!
JS: Yes! I ended up signing with a small, up-and-coming publishing house with a very solid reputation. I got my publishing deal the exact same month I was hired by CBS LA, in February 2016. These two major career things crashed on me at the exact same time.
WKW: Of course. When it rains it pours. So you ended up having less time than you thought to write! What was the actual writing process like?
JS: I was given more freedom than I imagined I would have. Going into it, I was under the impression that I’d be given deadlines month by month so my editor could go through it. Nope. After signing the contract in February, they gave me a deadline of end of the summer. They just told me to start writing and send the entire thing to them in August!
I ended up going through a bunch of other books to figure out how to put the whole thing together – organize it, format it, etc. I read all the time, but actually writing a book and figuring out the structure is very different from just reading!
I turned in my draft in August and didn’t hear back until the middle of November when I got light edits back. I had a ten-day turnaround time to do a final edit, and I was getting ready to leave for a family vacation. I spent the next ten days re-writing and editing, and sent the final draft over to my publisher.
WKW: Whew! That sounds like a whirlwind. We’ve heard from other authors that ceding control of what the final book looks like can be challenging. Was that true for you?
JS: Yes, although I had a lot of input. I started getting samples of artwork for the cover and I didn’t love them; they didn’t look the way I had pictured. The art was wrong, the fonts were wrong. Previously I worked in marketing for a big footwear brand, so I had an idea of what it ought to look like in order to sell well. I ended up hiring an illustrator to design the entire cover.
Then I got a sample of the book, and the paper was a thick cardstock, which is not what I had pictured. I asked my publisher why they’d chosen it, and they said that paper made the colored printing look the best. I asked if we could ditch the colors in favor of a thinner paper, but it was too late to change it. So, yes, at the end of the day I had to surrender some control. It was hard!
WKW: We believe you. And now the book is published and you’re on to marketing! What’s been harder, the writing or the marketing?
JS: Marketing the book is much harder, especially in this news cycle where every day there is a crazy breaking news story about something that we actually all need to know about. There is no room for lighthearted fare these days.
My book covers a lot of different ground – celebrity stories, lifestyle, and some subjects that are controversial in the parenting communities like babywearing and breastfeeding (or opting out of breastfeeding!). Initially I planned to pitch the book differently to different media outlets, pulling from all of these categories. But I ended up having to pitch the controversial subjects over and over again, because controversy is what’s selling right now.
WKW: Knowing what you know now, is there anything you’d go back and do differently?
JS: Actually yes – I wish I could go back and retitle the book. When I wrote the first draft, my working title was “The FAB Mom’s Guide: How to Get Over the Bump and Bounce Back Fast After Baby”. We never went back and reexamined whether that was the right title.
FAB is an acronym for “focused after baby” – it’s about learning to love your life as a new mom. But people assume my book is a weight loss book pushing the benefits of high heels and fitness. That interpretation of the title totally slipped past me. I thought my title was engaging because it was a rework of the “bounce back” concept. But I think some media outlets have shied away from covering the book because they don’t want to push weight loss on new moms.
So, if I had it to do all over again, I’d rename the book: “The FAB Mom’s Guide: How to Bounce Back from the Bump and Get Focused After Baby”.
WKW: Oh wow. That is a good and tough lesson. Thank you for sharing it. On that note, do you have any other advice for aspiring authors?
JS: Make a mental note to emotionally check out of it. When you’re working on something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, you have to become obsessed with it. You have to live, breath, sleep it in order to do a good job. That being said, you have to treat this as though you’re not the author and this isn’t your personal story. You have to emotionally separate yourself so you can tend to the business of it and not get dragged down.
I’m not someone to say “This is draining me” or “I’m tired” but this book really did take it out of me, and that’s because I was just a little too connected to it. If something didn’t go well, my emotions got involved. So that’s my advice: flip the switch so you’re not emotionally attached to it!
WKW: Jill, thank you so much for all of this! We’ve loved talking to you!