Spring Publication Set For ‘iRules: Syncing Family Values With The Digital World’
Janell Burley Hofmann’s debut book, “iRules: Syncing Family Values with the Digital World,” is slated for publication in May. Expanding on the iPhone contract she wrote for her son that garnered national attention, Ms. Hofmann widens her scope by diving into topics of children, technology and how to apply family values while existing in this digital age. She is the mother of five children.
I had a chance to sit down with Ms. Hofmann on a cloudy October morning at Momo’s Food Emporium in East Sandwich to discuss how her journey as a writer began, the spark that set her career on fire and using her voice to support and empower families to implement their own values around technology.
She arrives straight from her early run at Scorton Creek, one of her favorite stomping grounds. Her dark hair is slicked back in a ponytail.
“Am I late?” she asks, almost breathless. “I figured I could squeeze in a run before and I didn’t have a watch.”
“Nope, you’re right on time.” I say, which is true.
Settling into our table, our beverage selections made, we begin:
ND: Tell me, when did you know that you wanted to be a writer, how early?
JBH: In high school I took writing workshop as electives. I was always a huge reader. In college, although my degree is in communication with a focus in PR [public relations], I always opted to take writing courses as electives…There was always that little seed.
When I went to India in 2010, part of the requirement for being on that volunteer trip was that I had to do a blog, it was part of the exchange, being that it was good PR for the organization (Made by Survivors)… You were seeing sick children, children who were trafficked, young girls trafficked into prostitution and then you were able to play with them, like they were your own kids, and then you had to report on that basically, share what that was like. I think that was the first time I didn’t write to be graded, I didn’t write for approval, I wrote from my heart. And that got a lot of positive response. From there I brought that same voice back to my writing. I think that is when it took a turn, for it to be more professional.
ND: And then you started doing your own blogging?
JBH: [After I came back] I began writing personal narrative on motherhood. There was an article I wrote about my daughter. I shared that with Rachael Simmons, who wrote “Curse of the Good Girl” and runs a girls’ leadership institute and I have attended her curriculum workshops. I sent it to her and said if you want to share it, share it. That piece went viral off of her site and then the Huffington Post saw it and picked it up. They asked me if I would blog regularly for them. They share [your work] and it goes around the world. I would not ever have had the reach to get my writing out there, without the Huffington Post, because it’s global. She laughs freely, takes a sip of her coffee and continues.
If I talked to people who I went to high school with, they would tell me that I was always a writer…and that was news to me! She laughs louder.
Sometimes we just have things that we just don’t know... Now that it’s a part of me, I cannot imagine not having it.
ND: Were you surprised by how much attention the iPhone contract you wrote for your son got?
JBH: Making the iPhone contract for Greg was so ordinary, but because I had the Huffington Post platform and it’s shared so widely, everyone had such a strong reaction to something that I wrote and sat on my kitchen island for two days. I didn’t think, “This is my masterpiece!”
ND: I knew in reading the contract that it was not meant to be preachy; it had to do with how you do things in your own home, giving Greg boundaries around his new iPhone.
JBH: I saved the e-mail that I sent to my editor at the Huffington Post. It is dated December 27, and I said, super casual, “Hey, I wrote this. Share it if you think it’s appropriate.” She e-mailed a reply that said, “Hold on. People are not talking to their kids like this. Nothing about this is cliché. Get ready.” I was like, what the hell is she talking about? And I went back to my post-Christmas chaos and my life—pine needles wall to wall. The next morning, “Good Morning America” was in my house. It was wild!
It has been spiritual...If I needed proof that things unfold the way they are supposed to, then this whole experience as a writer has proven that. I didn’t try to do this. I was just in the right place doing the right things and opportunities unfolded for me. So, I still don’t know all the answers.
ND: How did the idea for a book take shape?
JBH: When the iPhone contract went viral in December, there was massive media attention…It was translated into 12 different languages. This topic was bigger than I even knew. The whole world is talking about technology right now and its cultural impacts on how we raise our children and how they live. I didn’t know all that. I never saw anything about technology being my platform. Amy Hughes, who is now my literary agent, contacted me and she thought there was a book there…It took me a while to wrap my brain around expanding the contract more than it was, because for me it was simply a two-page document, a one-dimensional piece of paper, something I did for Greg that took me about 10 minutes. She pushed me and I am glad she did, because I would have never written a book about this, basically built a business around this topic, around raising families and technology, which is what is happening. There are speaking engagements, radio spots and there’s writing. She was always saying to me, think career change and at the time I just couldn’t. I spent a lot of time fighting that—about a month, I didn’t think I wanted to talk about it, I didn’t think this is me. But, what I realized was that underneath the iPhone contract was my parenting values and that is something I can talk about.
ND: And then…
JBH: I made peace with the idea that the technology is what was going to get the attention, but my message of parenting values and philosophies is what is underneath it. That I could balance...For the next four months I worked closely with my agent on a book proposal. This was an outline of what I was going to put in the book. We needed a concept, iRules, so that after reading this book, you could write your own contract. I want to empower families to make choices—to make choices for themselves. It ended up being a 75-page proposal and in the first week of July it went out to sale, my agent took it around to publishing houses. From there, 15 publishing houses said they wanted to have interviews with me. I was working at camp, sitting behind one of the cabins in my minivan without it running, I was trying to “fake it until you make it”…I was pouring in sweat, it was the week of the 4th of July and I did interviews in my car. I did 15 one-hour interviews that week. It was intense. They were interested in the project, but now you are selling yourself. It was about really being on. Being so clear in your voice.
On July 10 it was auction day. Eight people came on that day to bid on the book proposal. They were all big name publishing houses.
ND: I can imagine this process could be overwhelming. Does your agent help you in this area?
JBH: Yes, she broke it down for me…after the auction closed, she asked me, “What’s your gut instinct?” I said I wanted it to go to Rodale publishing because I thought they got the concept the best…with accepting the offer from Rodale, they wanted the entire book done by October 15 and it was July. I had three months to write it.
ND: Did you set daily goals for the amount you had to write, because it was such a short amount of time between July and October?
JBH: I wrote whenever I could. I wrote every single day that the kids were in school.
ND: If you were going to be able to choose which genre to write in, what would you have chosen?
JBH: I think I would have chosen narrative—to write my own personal stories. The ordinary pieces of parenting that are really the most important. My journey into motherhood, I think this is a story I will tell eventually, but I don’t think I would have ever been paid to write that story, right now—first.
For more information about Janell and her upcoming speaking engagements or tech tips, visit her website at www.janellburleyhofmann.com or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter at twitter.com/janellbh. You can also find her on the Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.com/janell-burley-hofmann.
Nicole M. Donovan is a recent graduate from Bridgewater State College. She lives in Sandwich with her husband, Michael, and four children, Patrick, 16, Kieran, 15, Aidan, 10, and Jack, 9.