Three years ago, LiteraryMama.com hit the web for the first time. Our main mission: connecting mama readers with mama writers. As I look at the scrapbook that commemorates that birth, I see images of the real-time writing support group that played midwife to LiteraryMama.com. In the snapshots, some of our editors and contributors hunch over journals as their children play in the background. In the early press releases and clippings, we talk about “making motherhood a theme worthy of great literature.” And in the screen shots I printed of our first pages, we seem so, well, earnest.
And we were. We started gathering together to write as a way to keep balance amid the seismic shifts motherhood created in our lives. We rented a room, paid a child care provider, and workshopped our writing. We had never heard of anyone combining a writing group with a play group, but we wanted to do something in addition to discussing sleep patterns while our children played. So, we did a radical thing: we decided to exercise our minds while our children exercised their bodies. Our children weaved through our circle. A mother would turn to respond to a need, change a diaper, or nurse a child, then come back to the conversation. Unlike many mother writers, we didn’t have to chose between books or babies. We got both.
Eventually, many of us moved away from Berkeley and this real-time writing group. But we stayed connected through computer monitors and phone lines. Soon, we took the little website I had created to publish our work “Books and Babies,” and upgraded it to “LiteraryMama.com.” Co-founder Andrea Buchanan designed the site and took on the role of Managing Editor, and many members of that original on-line and real-time support group became departmental editors. While some of us had never met face-to-face, the internet allowed us to create a working, creative group that made LiteraryMama.com possible.
I remember the first day the site went live. Would anyone even notice, I wondered? Would anyone get it? Would anyone even see what we are trying to do? The response was immediate and positive. We received messages of thanks, more submissions than we expected, and saw our readership grow rapidly. Honestly, I was a bit surprised. None of us had received a warm welcome from the existing motherhood publishing industry. Sure, we had a few publications, and Andi Buchanan and Ericka Lutz had published motherhood books, but we knew we were on the outside looking in. The piles of rejection notices proved that. We began LiteraryMama.com to create a place where we ourselves would want to publish – because most other publications found our writing too raw, too real, too literary, too full of big words, too edgy, too radical. Strangely, we found that our style of writing was exactly what mothers wanted to read. With all the marketing studies other, bigger publications had done, they didn’t find what we found right away. Mothers are smart, and they don’t want to be talked down to. Give ’em good writing, and they will read it. They will even scroll down to get to it. We broke all the rules of web publication, and, wow, was it good we didn’t listen.
LiteraryMama.com grew quickly from a small hobby site to one receiving significant attention from readers, editors, and publishers. Last year, Writers’ Digest named LiteraryMama.com one of the “101 Best Website for Writers” and Forbes Magazine called us one of its “Best of the Web.” We published selections from the site in the book LiteraryMama.com: Reading for the Maternally Inclined (Seal Press, Jan 2006). And each month brings tens of thousands of unique readers.
Most rewarding, LiteraryMama.com has become a launching pad for a number of writers, helping them to practice their craft, get their work seen, make connections, and finally, win book contracts. Furthermore, we continue to keep our audience updated about mother writers and their new books through our excellent book reviews and author profiles, as well as providing sneak peeks through excerpts. We have fulfilled, in many ways, our original vision and more, and I am proud of all we have accomplished.
To achieve this success, we have survived a steep learning curve, technical problems, ideological controversies, personal arguments, organizational restructuring, e-mail miscommunications, and hurt feelings. Our volunteer editors and writers continue working despite divorces, new babies, depression, court custody battles, miscarriages, emergency room visits, deaths of parents, and family illnesses. We are a hardy lot, facing the trials of life with the best tools we have: reflection, expression, and hope.
LiteraryMama.com has helped many of us, and it certainly has saved me. Reading what other mothers have written, sharing what I have written with other mothers made me feel less alone. And I think that is why LiteraryMama.com has worked. It’s about the messy struggle of motherhood, not the finished, glossy product.
You can see the evidence of these struggles in our pages. We write what we know. And what we know is how to mother children and texts in an ever changing, ever shifting world.
As the co-founder of LiteraryMama.com, Andrea Buchanan, has said, we saw ourselves in the beginning as a few voices shouting in the wilderness. Now, our wilderness has become a suburb. While we aren’t in the city yet, our style of mother writing has moved from the outer fringes of literary civilization toward the center. So, I look at this new landscape, I have to ask myself – what will LiteraryMama.com do in the next three years?
We are working to find a new niche in the new and improved mother writing market. Since many of our readers are also writers, we are considering developing our “Literary Reflections” department into an area of the site devoted to helping mother writers improve their craft and reach their writing goals, including hosting real-time and online writing classes, groups, and retreats led by LiteraryMama.com editors and contributors. We may also publish our own “Writing about Motherhood” book, each chapter written by the appropriate department editors. Overall, we could not only publish good writing, we could do more to help make good writers.
We also want to update the look and functionality of our site, with more interactive elements. We have two new web saavy individuals working for LiteraryMama.com, Marjorie Osterhout and Erin Sullivan, who are poised to take LiteraryMama.com to a new level, as they have already done in Columns. We are ready to introduce a new look, a new feel to the site.
Yet, if we are going to make such changes, we also know we need to grow as an organization. Instead of training editors and writers for other, larger, paying publications, I would love to be able to keep the talent we have nurtured by being able to pay them what they deserve. To do that, we are considering becoming our own business, joining forces with an existing business, or becoming the on-line extension of an print magazine. Our visibility gives us options; we will need to make some choices as we go forward.
LiteraryMama.com has always been about how motherhood can foster better writing. No one should have to choose between books and babies, and we have tried to show, through our example, that mothers can be writers, and writers can be mothers. Moreover, we still hold to our original claim – that not only can mothers write, mothers can write beautifully about motherhood, because motherhood is a theme worthy of great literature. And so we will keep writing, keep publishing, keep doing what we do – because it helps make us who we are.