Last week, before things started to get too book launch crazy for Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl), we were able to sit down for a brief chat about grammar, podcasting and so much more. We’re also giving away five copies of her new book Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, so be sure to leave a comment below with your biggest grammar conundrum.
I’m really nervous here. It’s one thing to have a teacher or professor to look over your work, it’s yet another to send it off to a grammar specialist. What was your goal and how did you become involved in Grammar Girl?
I had been playing around with podcasting, and Grammar Girl was just my hobby. I came up with the idea when I was editing technical documents at a coffee shop on the beach. I realized I was seeing the same writing errors over and over again, and thought it would be fun to put out a short podcast that helped people brush up on their grammar and usage.
You were podcasting almost from the beginning, before many people even knew what podcasts were. You made the top ten list within your first year. With that world having been so new, what made you decide to go that route? How did your audience find you?
I have always been interested in technology. I worked at Internet start-ups during the dotcom craze, and although after that I was working as a technical writer, I kept up with all the new developments, so I heard about podcasting very early on. In fact, by the time I started my first podcast in 2006 I felt as if I had already missed the boat. It’s laughable when I look back on it.
Word-of-mouth seemed to be the way people found Grammar Girl. The show was featured at iTunes one week, and then it took off and never stopped. I could tell from the e-mails I got and blog posts I saw that people were really excited about the show and telling all their friends or co-workers about it.
A few months later the Wall Street Journal chose Grammar Girl as their Web pick of the day and I was invited to be on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and after that the business side of the podcast started coming together.
Where do you get most of your topics? Do viewers send them in because they’re stuck between affect and effect, lay or lie, or some similar challenge? Or do you see something during the week that might influence your topic?
Usually my topics come from listener questions. I have an e-mail address where people can send in questions (email@example.com) and a voicemail line where they can leave questions (206-338-4475). Sometimes I play those voicemails to start the show, so if someone leaves a question, they might hear it played on the podcast.
Occasionally, something in the news will catch my eye and I’ll use that as an introduction to a topic. For example, when Nancy Pelosi was elected Speaker of the House, I did a show about the words “woman” versus “female” because people were referring to her as both the first female Speaker of the House and the first woman Speaker of the House. When Saddam Hussein was executed, I did a show about “hanged” versus “hung,” and on New Year’s Day I did a show about how to write dates.
I read in an article that you once said that you wish, “people would be less judgmental about poor grammar and rather that blatantly pointing out errors, give them the skills to correct themselves. My job isn’t to make people feel bad about having the courage to ask questions.” Do you find that your listeners are often apprehensive about contacting you for fear of grammatical errors? Does the same sort of thing happen when people meet you in person?
People regularly say they are nervous when they write to me, which makes me a little sad. The whole reason I do the Grammar Girl show and wrote the book is to help people who struggle with writing, so the last thing I’m going to do is criticize someone who took the time to write a question or a thank you note. People seem less nervous when they talk to me in person. Once people meet me they quickly realize I’m not the kind of person who relishes correcting people in public.
Is Grammar Girl something that you do full time? Do you work out of your house or do you have to go into a studio to record your sessions?
Grammar Girl and Quick and Dirty Tips are a full-time job for me. I’ve been working on the Grammar Girl book for almost a year, and in July I’ll be increasing the production schedule for the podcast to two shows per week. I’m also working on a handbook for first-year college students, and a writing book for teens, and occasionally do speaking engagements.
Besides working as Grammar Girl, I’m also the managing director of the entire Quick and Dirty Tips podcasting network. The network has nine shows that release a weekly podcast, and I work with all the news hosts and personally edit about half of the scripts. We have a pretty aggressive schedule for launching new podcasts this year, so it’s keeping me very busy.
You have a book coming out this week (today as a matter of fact), what made you decide to take the podcasts and turn them into a book?
Listeners were regularly asking for a book, and writing one seemed like a logical next step. I’m particularly excited about the cartoons in the book. I have a lot of fun memory tricks that use the characters Squiggly and Aardvark, and it’s been a blast to see them turned into cartoons.
What’s next for Grammar Girl? Daily grammar tips? A movie with Grammar Girl as the unlikely super hero? A clothing line?
Besides writing the other books (which won’t be out for at least a year or two), I already send out a newsletter with a weekly grammar tip, and I hope to make that daily within the next few months.
My publisher, Henry Holt & Company, just created a wonderful free Grammar Girl quiz widget that people can put on their Facebook page, MySpace page, or blog (see above). It has a quiz now, and once people put it on their pages, I can push out new quiz questions so there will always be new challenges.
We’ll also be putting the Squiggly and Aardvark cartoons on T-shirt and other products, and I’m working on a grammar song. Surprisingly, people seem excited about the Grammar Girl temporary tattoos we’re giving away on the book tour (which starts July 14; the whole schedule is here), so we may do more little things like that.
I have a lot of other plans for next year, but I like your movie idea. If anyone wants to make a Grammar Girl cartoon (or video game), drop me a line!
Any suggestions or helpful tips for our readers?
The best advice I can give you is to admit when you don’t know something and then look it up.
If someone wanted to send you in a question for your show, what’s the best way that they could reach you?
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