Colleen Lanin, founder of TravelMamas.com, blogged her way to a new job.
Where were you when this whole thing started?
I had been taking writing classes for years but had never submitted anything for publication. I was taking a personal narrative class and in one of my stories I said something about wishing I could quit my job in marketing so I could fulfill my dream of becoming a full-time writer. My teacher wrote some encouraging words in the margin of my paper and that was all it took. A few days later I gave my resignation. I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and I decided I would write a novel before my daughter was born. I accomplished my goal but the book was not anything worth publishing. However, writing that book taught me something very important as a writer: you can’t always wait for the muse. I learned how to face an empty computer screen every day and write, whether I felt like it or not.
How did you come up with the idea for a blog?
I’ve always loved to travel, and after I became a mom six years ago, I looked for a book or website to teach me how to travel with a baby or toddler. Almost nothing was available at the time. So I started asking my friends, neighbors, fellow playgroup moms, and pretty much any parent I met for advice on traveling with a little one. After I had taken a few family trips, I started typing up tips I’d gathered from my experiences and from fellow parents. Pretty soon I realized I’d written about three chapters of a book.
A couple years later I had a second child, and my writing hobby/career was put on hold while I busied myself with changing diapers, scheduling the baby’s naps, and playing with a preschooler. I enjoyed being a mom, but I couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling that I was ignoring my passion for writing.
A friend asked me if I had any advice for traveling with a baby so I sent her those first chapters. She told me I had to write that book to help other moms, and she would be the first in line to buy it. That bit of encouragement was the push I needed to get writing again.
I decided to write a book about how to travel with babies, toddlers, and young children called “The Travel Mama’s Guide.” I gave myself three months to write a book proposal so I would be ready for the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference, which is where I met and eventually signed with an agent.
My agent advised me to build my platform as a travel expert before we sent the proposal out to publishers. That meant landing some freelance work with magazines, teaching classes on how to travel with babies and toddlers, networking within the travel community, and creating my blog, TravelMamas.com–a site for parents who want to travel with children…and stay sane!
Tell me about this new job. What is it, and how did it come about?
After nearly two years of platform-building, freelancing, and blogging, finally this past fall my agent sent my book proposal out to mid- to large-size publishers. We received a lot of “positive” no’s from editors who said they loved my writing voice and felt the book filled a void in the marketplace, but they felt (ironically) there was too much information about travel with children available online.
When I signed with my agent and started landing freelance opportunities and building my blog audience, I felt like I had found my true calling. For the first time in my life, things were coming easily to me. After the book proposal rejections, it was time to face reality and figure out my next move. I could step up my search for freelance print gigs and find a way to make more money from blogging, I could try to sell my book to small publishers on my own or as an e-book on my website, or I could return to the marketing/public relations field.
After the holidays I read an article in “O” Magazine about goal setting. I closed my eyes and visualized achieving what I truly wanted–to be able to earn money writing and editing travel stories without needing to play the freelance game of constantly sending out queries to try to land the next paid article. I wanted to find a steady job with a large print or online publication. Plus I wanted a part-time position so that I could continue to build TravelMamas.com and have time to spend with my two young children. I was dreading launching a job search so I envisioned the job coming to me.
The very next day I received a Twitter message from an online acquaintance. She had recommended me for a position with a large social media site. I followed up with a tweet to the editor later that day. After a brief phone interview, I was offered a contract position with Tree.com, the company that owns Lending Tree, RealEstate.com, and other businesses. This new social media site launches at the beginning of March and showcases 14 blog channels, covering topics from finance & money to sports & recreation. I am the channel leader for travel & vacations–doing exactly what I had envisioned, working part-time as a travel editor and writer.
To what do you attribute your success?
My dad (and mentor) recently said to me, “You’ve been acting like you were somebody before you were anybody. Keep it up!” When I first launched TravelMamas.com and started writing on a freelance basis, I had no idea what I was doing. I had never interviewed anyone. I didn’t go to journalism school. I hadn’t really even read blogs before, and I didn’t have a clue how to make one successful. But I went for it. I landed big contest prizes for my site and lined up interviews with travel writers and entrepreneurs I admired. Eventually PR companies started approaching me offering products to review and free travel. I had a dream. And I acted like I deserved it, even before I believed I did.