Mia Freedman is a writer, editor, columnist, broadcaster and podcaster. She is a former Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan and TV executive for Channel 9, and the founder of Mamamia and Spring Street. Mamamia began as a personal blog in Mia’s lounge room in 2007 and now reaches more than 4 million women per month with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and New York.
Mia's published books are Work Strife Balance (2017), Never Forgotten: Stories of love, loss and healing after miscarriage, stillbirth and neo-natal death (2014), Mia Culpa (2011), Mama Mia: A memoir of mistakes, magazines and motherhood (2009), and The New Black (2005). She is the host of two podcasts - No Filter and Mamamia Out Loud, and is a regular on the radio and TV circuit.
- Lisa Wilkinson was the first to hire Mia, and Mia credits her with teaching her how to write for an audience, as well as forcing her to build the foundations required for a successful career in media.
- Elizabeth Gilbert has influenced Mia greatly, especially in relation to her thoughts on writing and creativity.
- Mia recommends two podcasts, The Guilty Feminist and Pod Save America.
Nic Brasch: Mia Freedman probably has the largest readership of any writer in Australia, and her influence on the media industry has been profound. Mia in synonymous with not only magazines in Australia, she is one of the original bloggers. She edited a national magazine at the age of 24. When she left the print world, she continued to write, but took her writing to a new platform: the blog. That blog has grown into the dominant online presence, MamaMia.
I talked to Mia at the State Library of Victoria, when she was in Melbourne talking about her latest book Work, Strife, Balance. Mia explained her love of writing began with one specific style of writing.
Mia Freedman: I wrote poems, and I got into creative writing. I was lucky enough to go to an Opportunity Class, in years 5 and 6, which was sort of… Back in the 70s there were these accelerated programs…
Nic: Where was that?
Mia: In New South Wales they have… They still have them now but they’re a little bit different now. So, what they do is they have them dotted around the state, and you do a test when you’re in year 4, and they select sort of, you know, 60 kids to go to this opportunity class. So, they’re the kids that are, sort of, academically, you know, at the top of their game. And what it meant for us then, and it was the early 80s, it meant that they could sort of say ‘Ok, these kids are pretty proficient in the basic things, so we don’t have to do the basic things’. And it was also quite a hippy time and there were no desks. So, we sat on the floor, we wrote a lot of poetry, we designed, you know, architectural things. It was really creative. And I think it really stimulated in me a love of writing. I mean I’ve always loved talking…
Mia: And I’ve always been a show-off, so to me writing was just another form of self-expression.
Nic: So, who are the… What sort of books were you reading? What sort of authors were inspiring you? Or what sort of genres?
Mia: I’m going to embarrass myself and say Sweet Valley High.
Mia: You know, the wonderful series about Jessica and Elizabeth, the twins. One was good and one was bad. But I… from a very early age, I loved books and I was a voracious reader.
But I loved magazines. From when I was really young. And not just magazines that were aimed at girls, because back then there was only Dolly. I would buy everything. I would buy Woman’s Weekly, I would buy Woman’s Day, I just loved the medium. I don’t know whether it’s my short concentration span or the fact that I’m a visual learner and I like the pictures.
Mia: But I loved everything about them, and of course back then that was the only form of women’s media and girl’s media available, so I was just naturally drawn to it.
Nic: Did it get to the point where you were learning the names of the editors and did they become role models?
Mia: Oh yeah. So, Lisa Wilkinson was the editor of Dolly, and to me, she was the person I was most interested in. I mean I kind of also worshipped the girls, the models, but I more worshipped Lisa. I wanted to be her. And I remember feeling devastated when she announced in her editor’s letter – that was my favourite part of the magazine – where she wrote about what was going on behind the scenes that month. And she talked about how she was leaving Dolly and she was going to Cleo, and I wasn’t ready really to graduate to Cleo yet. I was only about 10 or 11 or 12, and I was just devastated. I was like, ‘How could she do this to me? How could she leave me?’ And of course, she went on to be my first boss and give me my first job in magazines, you know, when I was 19.
Nic: So what do you think, I mean I know you were very young, but what do you think she was doing right, you know, that attracted you to her, in that magazine? What was she getting right?
Mia: Lisa was always brilliant at walking in the shoes of her readers and looking through the eyes of her audience, and it’s something that’s now, it’s influenced me in everything I’ve ever done, in every aspect of my writing, in every aspect of every media platform I’ve ever worked on. I… she taught me not to look out on your audience, and project outwards, but to be in their shoes, and their ears and their eyes, and look back at what you’re creating. Because there were a lot of people who wanted to be in magazines to create content that would impress their peers, or the industry, or their friends, and Lisa always taught me to have my eyes on the prize, which was the reader, not… You know, because that’s a bigger number than your peers.
Nic: [Laughs] Absolutely.
Mia: And they’re your boss – you know, apart from Kerry Packer being your boss –they’re your boss when you’re creating a product. Your audience is in charge.
Nic: Sure, it’s all about numbers.
Mia Freedman: Yeah.
Nic: Particularly the magazine industry, the mainstream media. Tell us a little bit about your path then into journalism.
Mia: I left school and I did, started a journalism degree at UTS, which is a university in Sydney. That was one of the few places you could do journalism then, because most people didn’t, it wasn’t a big thing, there weren’t many media degrees or you know, this was in 1991 or 92. And I hated it, I hated it from the first minute, I plagiarised my assignments because I was an arrogant little shit.
Mia: And I thought… I just didn’t like it. I wanted to be out in the real world. And so, I got an opportunity to do work experience at Cleo. I wrote a very unoriginal letter to Lisa, and for whatever reason, she invited me in for a quick chat. And I, with the arrogance of youth, expected her to be giving me a job. But I had no skills or experience, so she said do work experience for two weeks, and I knew immediately that I had to try to create a Mia-shaped-hole. And at the end of that two weeks I hadn’t yet, and I said, ‘Can I keep coming in a day a week?’ She said ok, and then I’d keep coming in two days a week, three days a week, hoping no one would send me home.
Mia: And I was waitressing, I was living at home, I didn’t have a lot of living expenses, there were no mobile phones back then. So, I just worked and worked and worked for months until a job finally – an entry-level job – did finally come up. And then I sort of worked my way up from there.
Nic: Isn’t the arrogance of youth a wonderful thing?
Mia: Totally. And people say that millennials are so over confident and everything but they’ve got no, you know, proprietary stake on being arrogant. I think the younger you are, the more you think you know. Now I’m – 25 years later I think I know far less than what I knew back then.
Nic: [Laughter] That’s right. So, was that first job strictly a writing role?
Mia: It was actually a really interesting role. It was a beauty writer job. So, I knew nothing about beauty, I sort of put on lipstick sometimes, but that’s all I knew. The reason it was so good is that beauty editors… It’s no accident that a lot of beauty editors become editors because it is like, more than any other job on the magazine, it is the closest job to the editor’s job, in that there’s the visual side to it, there’s the words, there’s… you’re client-facing as well, so you’ve got to go to functions and so you get a strong sense of how the business works. And it’s like a little mini editorship, in a sense. And so, even though I didn’t like the beauty side of it, I learnt the craft really well in that role, until it got to the point where, you know it sounds incredibly indulgent but, I was never in it for the free products that you got and the fancy lunches, that was my least favourite part of the job. I wanted to be sitting at Lisa’s feet, learning how to be an editor.
Nic: Sure, sure. And if you learn the basics of your craft, you can then go anywhere. If you’re learning about… writing about beauty, learning about the beauty industry, that puts you in the right place…
Mia: Well it doesn’t matter if it’s beauty or if it’s pets or whatever…
Nic: Whatever it is…
Mia: You’re learning the tools. And for me, yeah, it was really fundamental, and I talk in my book about the importance of building foundations. And I was always in a hurry to get promoted and become an editor. I set this goal that I had to be the editor of Cleo before I was 25. And, I really had to make sure, and fortunately with my magazine career I did build foundations, even though I built them quite quickly. I was offered two editorships when I was 21, one of a teen magazine called Girlfriend and one was to be the founding editor of Cleo in New Zealand. But, with enormous wisdom that I don’t know how I had at the time, I said no to both those jobs even though me ego would have loved to be an editor at 21.
Mia: I knew I wanted to stay close to Lisa Wilkinson, because she was the most talented editor out there and Cleo was my favourite magazine, so I wanted to stay in the main game.
Nic: Talking about setting foundations, and I’m just – because obviously you were doing things right and being noticed, because not everybody at the age of 21 is offered editorships – can you give us an example of a foundation or things that you know you were doing right that attracted that attention?
Mia: Look, I think I learnt as much as I could out of being a beauty editor, and I went to Lisa around the time that I was offered these two jobs, and said ‘I don’t want to do beauty anymore, I just want to be in the office eating a sandwich at my desk and you know, learning everything I can, and being as exposed to everything as I can’.
Often it wasn’t my choice to learn my foundations. I got to the point where I was promoted and promoted, and Lisa left to have babies, and I was number three, I was the features editor, and the deputy editor was promoted to editor. So I just assumed I’d go the next rung up the ladder, as many young naïve people think. It’s like ‘Well, it’s my turn’.
Mia: And she said to me – she made a really hard decision because we were friends – and she said, ‘I’m not going to give you that job’. She knew what she needed, which was someone who had different skills to her. She saw that my strengths were too similar to her strengths, which was really smart of her, and she said to me also, ‘You’ve got more to learn, you’ve got more to learn, you’ve got to be a features editor for longer, it will make you a better editor.’
And so I did, I knew how to be a writer, I knew how to be a features editor, and working your way up those rungs really did help me. To the point that, when I was offered the editorship of Cosmo, which was a virtually identical magazine in the same company, but that I loved a whole lot less, I was 24 and I ended up getting that job… I think because I didn’t want it so much.
Nic: What was the first thing you did on the first day as editor of Cosmo?
Mia: I decided that I was going to bin all the sex and relationships stories from the magazine, which…
Nic: Gee, that must have caused an outcry.
Mia: It did. [Laughter] So my editor, or my boss, she was my publisher actually, she’d been the editor before me and she was in her 50s and she’d hired me because she was like, ‘Well, I don’t know what young women want anymore.’ And so then I said ‘No more sex and relationships articles’. Because I forgot what Lisa had taught me, and I decided that because I was in a different life stage – I’d met my partner and I was, I probably didn’t know it even yet but I was about to be pregnant, and I wasn’t, you know, the young single girl – I’d read and written a huge number of sealed sections and sex stories and relationship stories, and I was done with those. So, I just assumed everyone else was done with them too.
Mia: And that was a massive mistake. And she did a great thing though, she let me try it for one issue. She knew that one bad issue wasn’t going to be the end of the magazine so, of course sales tanked immediately, and I learnt. I learnt a much better lesson that way than I would’ve if she’d of stopped me from doing it, because then I would’ve always thought it was the right thing to do.
Nic: Yeah, so you forgot that rule about the audience.
Mia: It wasn’t a magazine for me. It wasn’t, from the minute that I started editing Cosmo, I was not in the Cosmo life phase. And I was indeed pregnant three months later, so it was a good slap down for me.
Nic: Your knowledge of that industry now, how has it changed, particularly thinking of young people wanting to get into that area? Obviously, there’s so many different ways to get in now, what advice would you have? Or do you think it needs to be done a different… Would your approach of then work now?
Mia: It would be different. I mean, they don’t exist anymore. So Dolly and Cleo literally don’t exist anymore, and who knows how long Cosmo’s got to hang around.
So, young women's magazines are almost, I was going to say redundant, but extinct is the word I was going to use. They’ve been replaced, and all magazines are really really suffering. They don’t get those big numbers anymore, and part of that is the fault of technology and part of that is the fault of them, that they didn’t evolve, and that they kept producing the same types of content and types of imagery that make women feel bad about themselves. And women just got sick of feeling bad about themselves and they moved on.
So I would… it’s been a long time since I’ve met a young woman who said to me it’s her dream to get into magazines. It’s not the main game. It was, in fact it was the only game if you were interested in being in women’s media, or reading about women’s issues, but now there’s so many more opportunities. Now it’s never been as easy to get discovered, because you can write an amazing post that somewhere, even on your own blog, you can write an amazing Facebook post on your page and it can go viral, and you’ve got the attention of everybody.
Nic: Mia continues to get attention in everything she does, and she gets it for the right reasons. She’s authentic, refreshing, and smart. More from Mia in a moment.
Mia: [on Mamamia] I wanted it to be big, I always wanted it to be big. I wanted it to be big and then I wanted to sell it. I wanted a big media company to come along and buy it, that was my aim.
Nic: You had an exit strategy with it!
Mia: I did, I did have an exit strategy, because to me that was a sign of success and, you know, I… and also none of the big media companies were offering me
Jobs, so I thought ‘Maybe I’ll create my Mia-shaped-hole that they don’t even know they’ve got over here’ [laughter].
And, because I didn’t know how I was going to make money any other way. But also, I wanted to do something that was different to everything else out there. So at the time it was before social media, it was 2007, and any… the content or the websites for women were very siloed. So, there were cooking sites, there were parenting sites, there were fashion sites, and there were gossip sites, which is such a progressive view of what women are interested in [laughs].
And I was interested in all of those things, but I didn’t necessarily want to go to a site that was just about cooking or just about parenting, because they can be quite specific. But I was also interested in a dozen other things, and I was interested in them all at once, all on the same day, so there was nothing that was creating all that different content for women.
So that’s what I wanted Mamamia to be. And I knew that I didn’t want it just to be my voice, but at the time I thought I had to write it all because I thought that’s why people were coming. So, when my husband sort of came on board about a year and a half or two years later, when the site had grown, but he identified that I was the single point of failure. And it was impossible to make Mamamia… or it wasn’t impossible, but it wasn’t scalable, with just me. So, he straight away identified that it needed to be a women’s website that was edited by me, in the same way I’d done a magazine. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. And that’s how we’ve always, ever since, worked in tandem, whereas he’s been the vision and the strategy, and I’ve been the creative.
Nic: Ok. Over the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about Mamamia, and women’s magazines, and women as an audience, as opposed to men as an audience. So, when I look at Mamamia – and there’s so many different categories, you know you’ve got your books and politics and cooking, everything – but you know, when you talk to people, the audience is always just given as women, implying that there’s just this sort of women’s mentality, if you like. I mean, is it a particular type of woman? You don’t see the equivalent for men.
Mia: You really don’t, and I think that that’s because women are super communicators. We are biologically programmed to communicate, and that’s how we’ve always ensured the survival of our tribe: by sharing, collecting information, and sharing it to benefit our tribe.
And, I’ll give you an example, so I remember vividly, sitting on the couch in the early days of Mamamia, and people were starting to submit content to me and I would put up guest posts and stories from other people. And this woman had written this heart wrenching, absolutely devastating story about losing her two year old son in a backyard pool drowning accident. And I was so affected by what she’d written that, my husband was sitting next to me, and I turned to him and I tried… I started telling him the story, and he physically put his hand up to, like, block my words, like, in front of his face, like, ‘Don’t tell me that!’ And I said ‘Why? What?’ And he goes, ‘I can’t do anything about it and it’s just going to upset me’.
And that was such a ka-ching moment for me, because women can think that staying home and watching a really sad movie like The Notebook and crying our heart out is a good night in. And we can share a piece of content about a child that’s died, or a tragedy, or something awful, because we’re programmed to. We share it in the hope that maybe someone else will lock their backyard pool gate, like this person’s neighbour didn’t. Somehow, by sharing this information about this thing that’s really affected us, it will help the tribe, which is, you know, other people. So… and the other thing that women do is we share content. My husband and my oldest son, whose 19, are on Facebook, but you would never know. I mean, my husband the other day posted something, he’s never posted anything before and he had to ask me how. And my son, you would never know that he’s on there because they lurk, they’re just lurkers. Whereas women, we’re liking and we’re commenting and we’re sharing and we’re posting and… because women share content for a bunch of different reasons. But one of the reasons that we share content is to be helpful, because the only thing women like more than being helpful is people seeing them be helpful.
Mia: We like to be helpful with an audience. So, if we’re sharing a piece of content about the signs of ovarian cancer, or here’s a great charity that helps homeless women, you know, get access to free sanitary products, or here’s a really moving story about a kid… that is helpful. So that gives us status within our circle, which these days is social media. So now, you know, editors have become redundant because we’re all editors, we’re all editors on our own social networks.
Nic: And then social media, modern technology works so well for the sharing.
Nic: I mean, platforms are designed for women.
Mia: Yeah, they really really are, and which is why running a women’s media company, because the sharing metric is the most important thing that you can do. Because it costs us the same amount of time and money to create a piece of content – whether it’s a podcast, a piece of video, or a written piece of content – and we create about 60 of those every day, it costs the same to create something that’s consumed by one person or a million people. Same. So, which would you prefer? There’s only one that you can monetise.
Nic: Exactly. Speaking of monetising – and you hear about it all the time, it’s so hard to monetise social media and new technology and stuff like that – were you thinking of monetising from the outset? Other than selling it, were there other options? And how have you been so successful monetising it?
Mia Freedman: I always knew that we had to monetise it because otherwise it’s a charity, it’s not a business. And, you know, the hours required, even just when it was just in my lounge room were sort of 18 hours a day six days a week, and I was posting six stories a day. I guess I didn’t have to, but I sort of, I knew that’s how many I wanted to consume, and it’s, you know, addictive in a way, and the appetite was there for it.
So, and I always tell anyone that starts a blog, you know, you’ve got to start how you want to finish. If you don’t… don’t start posting six stories a day and then drop down. You can’t. You can post more but you can’t post less because you’ll piss off your audience. So, I knew that I had to monetise it, and I knew that they key to that was building an audience, which I knew how to do. The monetising of it didn’t… I mean I knew how to do it, but I didn’t have the time or the interest. So that’s where it’s important to have someone who’s got different skills to you, which is my husband who’s got business skills and I’ve got the editorial skills. So, he’s always had the strategy for moving it forward and monetising.
Nic: Are you an over sharer?
Mia: I really am.
Nic: You’re an over sharer, so whether it’s in your books or blog posts, you know, you’re willing to put it all out there. If you weren’t an over sharer, would you have been able to write the same stories, tell the same sort of stories, would it have been very different?
Mia: You know it’s interesting that… I suppose there’s two types of over sharing, and there’s two reasons for which I do it.
One is, I do it to reassure other women, because I know I’m comfortable, you know, I’m in a position of power and confidence and privilege and it doesn’t cost me to share a photo of my saggy tummy or, you know, admit my failings as a parent. So, if I can make someone feel better about themselves and their own perceived inadequacies, then that’s a win for me.
But the other reason that I share is because, fundamentally as a writer, that’s how I process things. So, writing about losing a pregnancy, writing about anxiety, it was really crucial for me to write it to process it properly. And the key though was not writing about it immediately. Because, that can help processing – and I’ve never been a journaler or anything like that, not since I was a tiny kid – but I think that there’s a lot of unprocessed, raw over sharing that goes on on the Internet. And that’s not what, certainly this – my new book – that’s not what that is, because I’m very weary of that. Because I find that, I don’t know, I just don’t find it very helpful to just blurt a bunch of stuff out. I think it’s much better, it’s of much more value to the world if you can think about it, have some perspective, and gain some wisdom from the stuff that happens to you, not just vomit it out there every time, you know, in real time.
Nic: [Laughter] That’s right. Well it starts losing impact if you do it too often. When you are writing those pieces to process, at those moments are you writing for yourself and not an audience, or are you still aware of the audience?
Mia: This is the first book that I think that I’ve written for other people. My other books I’ve very much written for myself to process things, but I also did write this for myself. Because I’ve written on the internet for so many years now – 10 years – and I stopped writing my newspaper column probably about six years ago, and so I don’t write in print at all anymore.
The last book I wrote, from scratch, was I don’t know, maybe eight years ago. So, I really wanted the luxury of being able to write in a way where there was more context and more space and more room and more time. Writing for the Internet… the internet has changed the way we write. I mean, even just the very basics, you know, I always talk to people about writing for the Internet and most people tend to sidle up to their point and reach it in about the third or fourth paragraph when they’re submitting stories to us. Which is fine if you’re in a magazine, you know, or in a book or whatever. But you can’t do that online – you have to hit it not just in the first paragraph but in the first sentence, if not the headline.
Mia: So, it’s really changed the way we write. And I know how to do that very well and very easily after all this time, but gosh it’s a luxury to have that space. I mean I wrote 100,000 words, which was just daunting. And gosh my concentration span is a lot shorter than it used to be! But it was just this wonderful luxury to be able to have the time and the space to actually make a point in a more subtle nuanced way.
Nic: In your busy life, how did you write 100,000 words? So what was your…
Mia: I wrote more. I wrote about 150,000 words because I’m an over sharer and an over writer.
Nic: Of course, all writers do that. So when, when did you do it? What was your routine?
Mia: I had to… I spent a lot of time feeling stressed about not writing it, as every author does. And I actually put it off for a year because I was going to do it a couple of years ago, but it was my son’s last year of school, and I knew that to write this book I would have to disappear down the rabbit hole, and I couldn’t do that to him. I wanted to be more present in his last year of school. And so I finally sat down to do it last year, and it took me a few months writing. I mean I still had a full-time job and I host a couple of podcasts and I’ve got my kids. So, it’s not like I could take time off from any of that. I took a couple of weeks of, but, you know, it suits me better to write it around the edges. There were some times where I just had to lock down, and weekends… and it took a toll on my family. It took a bigger toll on my family than, I think, anything since Mama Mia in those early days. And working at Channel 9, that took a toll on my family [laughs].
Nic: I’m sure. Did you get up early in the mornings?
Mia: No, I don’t write in the mornings very well. No, I write at night. So, I found that I would literally – I’m a very good sleeper, so I would, and I like to write in bed. So, we’ve got a spare room and I would camp in there because my husband can’t handle the sound of me tapping, and I would… I had to sneak up on myself to write. Because, like every writer I know, I don’t mind writing, I just hate starting. So, I’d sneak up myself, and sometimes I’d let myself watch the TV, have the TV on in the background, but I’d write literally until I fell asleep, until I started nodding off. Nic: Right.
Mia: And the best writing I got done was actually when I was proofing and just finishing it off on a flight to New York, just earlier this year actually, and I got… I think the secret, I should’ve just taken my advance and bought a couple of around the world tickets and I could’ve written it in a week.
Nic: [laughs] Yeah.
Mia: Because when you’re trapped, it’s very hard not to be getting up and checking the Internet… the struggle is real.
Nic: Of course. At what point did you know this is the point I’m going to stop this book?
NIc: There must have been more things you want... So was it just a deadline?
Mia: Never. It was a deadline. And I think that Elizabeth Gilbert, who I was so grateful and lucky – even though I write that we shouldn’t call ourselves lucky and grateful – I was lucky and grateful that she wrote an endorsement for the front of my book. I’ve been heavily influenced by her writing about creativity, particularly a book called Big Magic, and I’ve heard her speak many times. She talked about creativity is, you give it your best shot in the time that you have. And that that part is important because you could keep writing a book forever.
Mia: You really could. So, you have to say, this is when I’ve got to stop. The thing with a book though, is that it’s not as hard a deadline as when you publish on the Internet, when it’s literally you hit ‘publish’. Although, you can still sneak on and re-edit, which I do. But with this, it’s like it comes back and it comes back and it comes back and it’s like no, this is the last time.
Nic: How do you feel about mining friends and family for stories? Do you believe the stories belong to them or if once it’s out there, bad luck, that’s it?
Mia: Such a good question, and it’s very writer’s dilemma, isn’t it?
Mia: And I’ve learnt the hard way because I think, particularly children are vulnerable to their parents over sharing, because the things that we don’t think are private or embarrassing, they do, so you know, everyone’s definition of what’s private is different, and mine obviously is very different to most people’s, and very different to my children’s.
My son wrote a chapter in this book where he talks about me breaching his trust, and it being hard to trust me, which was hard to read. And that really caught me, and caused me to take stock and check myself. I’ve always been – my husband's always been very clear. I used to have the sense that as long as I was the butt of the joke, it was ok. But what’s funny about my son is that, he’s a writer now, he works at Mama Mia, and he’s been writing some fantastically funny first-person stuff about like when my husband and I had to go overseas earlier this year and he was a single dad to our two younger kids… And he’s told some stories about them that would mortify them if they knew. You know, and he’s made them the butt, and I said ‘Look at what you've done here and you’ve made them the butt of the joke’.
Nic: [Laughter] Like mother, like son.
Mia: Yeah. And I’m like, ‘See it’s hard when you’re a writer, it isn’t it, because it’s good content and it’s a funny line’.
Nic: That’s it, you don't want to let a good story go, do you?
Mia: So, I think he gets it a little bit more. But, I’ve learnt the hard way, I’ve learnt the hard way.
Nic: Yeah. So, Work Strife Balance is your fourth book, what did you learn? Why is this either better or different from the others? Did you learn from mistakes in your previous ones?
Mia: Very much so. So, two of my books were collections of columns, so that was just basically stuff I’d already written. I wrote a memoir called Mamamia, but that was a real sense of needing to process and close the book on something – my time in magazines and a pregnancy loss that I had about half way through a pregnancy were the sort of main thrusts of that book. So that was very much me needing to process those, and I wrote it for that. This book… I could’ve easily just written another first person book but it was my husband and my publisher, who ironically is a man, who both encouraged me, or maybe not ironically, they were the ones that encouraged me to step up and, you know, convinced me that I had a thing or two to share, that I had some advice to give, and some wisdom to share. And I was like ‘Oh no really no one wants to hear from me…’ And they were like, ‘You know, come on. There’s a million other people out there doing it who are far less qualified than you and have far less experience in these particular areas than you do. Step up’. And it’s like they gave me permission. And so, I really wrote this with the view to it being helpful. It’s the book I wish that I could’ve read in my 20s and 30s and 40s, and it would’ve made navigating so many of those things that I’ve written about, which are all very common experiences, from a marriage breakdown to career humiliations to a bunch of different stuff, but I hadn’t read about them anywhere when I was going through them so I felt incredibly isolated.
Nic: How did you get your first book publishing deal? Did you go to them? Did they come to you?
Mia: I can’t even remember. I think… No, they came to me, they came to me. And I’m fortunate enough, you know I had an agent for that book, they came to me and then I signed with a literary agent. A lot of my friends who are authors now are not going with agents anymore because we can do it ourselves. Particularly if we’re in the media already, we’ve got those relationships and we’ve got that ability to just, you know, make emails.
It’s a lot easier to negotiate for yourself now with email. Because women are, generalisation, are not very good at negotiating for themselves. Women can be fantastic negotiators, but because of the ‘likeability index’ – the more successful and powerful a woman is then the less she is liked – in our innate desire to be liked, we can be too self-deprecating and we just are like ‘Ah, whatever you want to pay me, that’s fine’. But now email makes that a lot easier. Now, most of my friends, we’re all doing it ourselves.
Nic: And you can attract, these days, because of technology, blogs, you can attract the attention of publishers in a way you couldn’t before.
Mia: Well now, of course, because we have access to four million Australian women, I mean, that’s every publishers dream.
Nic: Exactly. Exactly.
Mia: So, it’s kind of like, well, what can you offer me? Because I know what I’ve got. I was going to self-publish this book, I really was. And I might again in the future, but because this was such a big deal for me, this book, and it was so different to what else I’ve done, and also because we are running a business, I didn’t want to have to deal with the part of actually selling the book. I wanted that taken out of my hands.
Nic: Have you ever considered writing fiction?
Mia Freedman: No.
Nic: Ever had a go?
Mia: Never had a go [laughs]. I can’t, I’m in awe of anyone who does. I am in awe of anyone who does. But, I have thought about it but it’s just never, yeah, it’s just… I just don’t think I’d be very good at it.
Nic: Ok. What do you look for in a good writer for Mamamia, if someone approached you? I mean, you mentioned before, getting straight to the gist of the most engaging part, but what else are you looking for in somebody?
Mia: Yeah, that’s so interesting. Well, for digital, you’re looking for somebody who can grab you with the first sentence, and, you know, writing for the Internet is different. Like there’s a certain language of the Internet. You have to be fast, fast, you know. That’s the other funny thing, and I struggle actually, I find it much easier to write a story that has to be up in 20 minutes than I do having a 6 month or 12 month deadline. I mean, give me 20 minutes any day and I’ll bang it out. So, fast fast, fast. I mean, in some digital media companies and media companies, writers have to produce up to 20 stories a day, and they are, you know, between 200 and 500 words each.
Mia: And it’s a good thing for your writing muscle. You know, people say to me ‘I want to write, what should I do?’ I’m like, just write. Start a blog, doesn’t matter if no one reads it. The more you write, the stronger that muscle gets. And the faster I’ve got through writing – I went from a monthly magazine to a weekly column, to you know, a six times a day website. And it does, it does… you know just do it on Facebook, just any kind of writing is good and will strengthen that muscle.
Nic: And I guess if you’re writing that much, you’re finding stories far more… You’re looking out for stories everywhere you go, rather than just waiting for the big one, just anything has to be a potential story.
Mia Freedman: Absolutely. And for me also, it’s got to be, it’s got to push those share buttons. It’s got to be something that I read that I immediately want to send on to someone else, either because I feel the same way, or it’s helpful, or some of the other reasons why women share.
Nic: I usually end the interview by asking the writer which classic book they wish they had written, but in your case, as an avid fan of podcasts, and as a host of podcasts, I’m going to ask you which podcast you wish you’d created?
Mia: Two. One called The Guilty Feminist, which I’m absolutely loving at the moment. Another one is… I’m obsessed with US politics, obsessed, and there’s one, there’s a new company called Crooked Media, and they through the election did one called Keepin’ It 1600, because they’re all former Obama staffers, and since then they’ve launched their own company called Crooked Media. And they’ve got a number of podcasts, but they’ve got one called Pod Save America, which I really like, and it’s inspired me to start a political meets pop culture podcast for Mamamia, which is going to be called Tell Me It’s Going to be Ok. Because I feel like so much of the political commentary around Trump is male, and there are a lot of women who are fascinated by it and terrified by it and do want to know that it’s just going to be ok.
Nic: It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you Mia, and picking your brain...
Mia: Oh, it’s been my pleasure.
Nic: … And learning about Mama Mia and blog writing and everything else, so thank you very much for sharing your time.
Mia: Thanks so much for having me on The Garret.