Please meet the awesome Andi Miller-Dunn, the woman with my dream job! I recently interviewed Andi for a profile feature story for my Magazine & Feature Writing course. I learned so much about her and am grateful for her assistance with this project. She wears many hats: wife, mother, reader, writer, instructor, runner, crafter…AND she somehow manages to do it all while being officially “non-compliant!” (Below you’ll find both the full interview and finished article).
Psssttt…You will find all the vital links to get to know Andi better at the bottom of this post!
Allison: Please introduce yourself so the readers can get a better picture of who you are. The basics: where you live, family life, hobbies, what you do in your free time? (Do you have free time?), anything interesting/unique about yourself?
Andi: I live in rural northeast Texas with my husband, 6-year-old son, and four dogs. I’m close enough to the Dallas area that I have fairly easy access to bookstores, culture, large cosmetics retailers, good food, and author readings without the daily burden of traffic.
While I’ve lived in North Carolina, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and a few other places, I always seem to gravitate back here to my hometown for my family, friends, alma mater, and a sense of home and responsibility to this area that I can’t shake. I have a pretty fluid schedule, so I spend time doing a lot of different things dictated by my professional life and my whims. I love reading, the online book community, social media, cool temperatures, kayaking, cooking, coffee with my mom, obsessive planning (and planner stickers), as well as sketching and playing with watercolors.
“I love reading, the online book community, social media, cooking, coffee with my mom, obsessive planning, as well as sketching and playing with watercolors.”
Allison: Have you always been a reader and writer? How and when did you discover your love of reading and writing?
Andi: I’ve always been drawn to stories. I try not to worry about my son when I think about how much he loves television because I was in the same boat as a kid. Reading seemed insurmountable and frustrating when I was first learning, but once it stuck, I was hooked. My grandparents kept quite a collection of children’s books in the house, so I didn’t want for material.
When I wasn’t reading or watching Reading Rainbow or something else on PBS, I was drawing, coloring, painting, playing basketball, or crawfishing in a ditch out in front of their house. It was a free range childhood, so I got to dip in and out of the things I loved. Oh, and superheroes. I was always wearing a cape. I loved stories of any kind, and I feel like I was always imagining myself in one. The Texas prairie is a blank slate for a big imagination.
I discovered my love of writing, specifically, in third grade. I wrote a piece of fiction for an assignment and imagined myself a soldier writing home to family. When it made my mom and teacher cry, I knew I’d hit on something.
“I discovered my love of writing in third grade. I wrote a piece of fiction [that] made my mom and teacher cry. I knew I’d hit on something.”
Allison: Please tell us more about your educational journey. What do you have a master’s degree in?
Andi: I have a master’s degree in English. I had a few different specialties in graduate school and managed to weave them all together from time to time: children’s and adolescent literature, graphic narrative, folk and fairy tale studies, and film. My thesis was on the performative nature of comics…specifically the Fables series by Bill Willingham…and how it mirrors the oral tradition and brings that sense to a contemporary audience.
My master’s degree was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. It was so hard and so invigorating. It was the most fun I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, I burned out around the time I started receiving PhD acceptances. I passed on a terminal degree in favor of teaching and for writing outside the academe.
That decision has been a huge education in itself.
“My master’s degree was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. It was the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Allison: You have jobs in addition to all your bookish activities online. How do you balance everything? Do you thrive on being busy? Is your workload ever a bit overwhelming or stifling?
Andi: I teach for three universities (both on-ground and online courses), blog, write for Book Riot and Book Riot Comics, and I recently opened an Etsy shop. It is overwhelming at times. I got on a big organization and workflow kick this year by necessity, and then I quit my full-time job as a Director of Public Relations. That freed up a lot of head space even though my schedule is still nuts. At least it is nuts because I’m doing a bunch of things I love rather than slaving away at something I only marginally enjoy in order to keep the benefits package.
I was fortunate to be able to ditch my full-time gig. I realize most people can’t do that.
“I was fortunate to be able to ditch my full-time gig. I realize most people can’t do that.”
Back to my organization kick! One of the first books I read this year was Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’m not naturally gifted when it comes to organization, so this Book Riot recommendation was just the thing.
In general, I do thrive on being busy. I’ve struggled with depression and mild anxiety on and off since I was 7 years old, and I’ve always found that keeping myself engaged is a sure way to keep chugging along.
While I’m not naturally very organized, I am a creature of habit and routine. It doesn’t take long for me to establish a new, solid routine once the semester turns over or I take on a new project.
Allison: You teach online English university courses. How did you get started with that? Do you enjoy it?
Andi: I have been teaching in higher education since 2004. When I started it was totally on-ground and about four years in, I began to incorporate online courses. Then for many years I taught online exclusively.
It’s a fairly roundabout story as to how I got into it, but I certainly love it. I love it more than anything I’ve ever done outside of writing and reading books. When I started university in 1999, I wanted to be a graphic designer.
Actually it was a toss-up, from the beginning, between teaching and design. I figured I could make more money as a graphic designer, but once I interned for a Fortune 100 company in my third year, I realized how incredibly bored I was going to be as a designer. I changed my major and took off down the English path.
Straight out of college in 2003, I took a high school teaching job in rural North Carolina. I hated it. The students were amazing, but the administration and No Child Left Behind (among other things), helped me realize I needed to do something else.
Around the time I was getting fed up and ready to leave my teaching job, I got a call from my own high school English teacher, a mentor and great friend, who recommended me for an adjunct teaching position at a local community college. I jumped on the opportunity, and inside of a week I was back in Texas in front of my first college classroom. I was so young and clueless, but I had no choice but to learn fast and grow my classroom management skills.
I miss those early days when I would walk into the room and an exam proctor from the college’s main campus would mistake me for a student and hand me a pencil. That might be even better than getting carded to buy alcohol.
Allison: When did you discover Book Riot? How and when did you first get involved with Book Riot? Did you submit an application and samples of your work like many of us do each spring when BR puts out their open call?
Andi: I think I’ve known about Book Riot since day one. Jeff O’Neal, Rebecca Schinsky, and so many of the folks over there were bloggers who started their sites around the same time, or after, I did in 2005. I always wanted to write for them, but I spent years resisting that urge. I have no idea why. Fear of rejection? It’s kind of a long, convoluted story as to how I got involved, so let’s move through the next few questions to answer this one!
“I spent years resisting that urge [to write for Book Riot]. I have no idea why. Fear of rejection?”
Allison: How did you get involved with Book Riot’s Comics panel? Who did you contact to get started with their sister site?
Andi: In June of 2014 I finally worked up the nerve to ask around about joining Book Riot. Since I knew so many of the people running the site and writing for it, I felt like it was a good opportunity to approach them directly rather than waiting for an open call. I had to strike while I had the nerve.
Book Riot had just onboarded a slew of new writers, but they were getting ready to launch Panels (now Book Riot Comics) with Paul Montgomery as editor. At Rebecca’s recommendation I pitched some ideas to Paul, and he brought me onboard for the launch in October 2014. In fact, I think my piece “Our Reading Lives: Stuffy Academics Love Comics, Too” was one of the first pieces to run on the site.
Later, after I wrote for Panels for about a year, I again inquired about writing for Book Riot. Rebecca sent me over to Amanda Nelson, I submitted a few pieces for a trial run, and they brought me on.
Allison: Tell us more about your love of comics and why you write for Book Riot’s Comics panel. Are you an artist, and do you create your own?
Andi: I fell in love with comics later than the stereotypical comics-reading adolescent. In fact, I think I was 24 or 25. I picked up Maus by Art Spiegelman at a friend’s recommendation, and I was a complete reading snob at the time. I had no faith that I would enjoy it, but since it won a Pulitzer, I deemed it worthy of my time. I was absolutely blown away by the visual metaphors, and the way the images and text danced together. They made something really magical that neither the text nor the images could’ve accomplished on their own. It was raw and claustrophobic and clever and funny—so much emotion packed into two tiny volumes.
“I fell in love with comics when I was 24 or 25. I picked up ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman [and] I was absolutely blown away by the visual metaphors, the way the images and text danced together. I gulped down all the comics I could find after that.”
I gulped down all the comics I could find after that, and when I went into graduate school in 2005, “graphic narrative” was becoming a hot topic in academia. Bill Willingham’s Fables struck just the right note and brought my love of adolescent lit, comics, film, and folklore together into something I could write about and present at conferences. I kind of burned myself out on comics in grad school, so I didn’t write about them again heavily until I joined Panels in 2014.
While I am an artist, I do not draw my own comics. Maybe one day. I don’t really discount anything anymore. Art is another one of those loves I let go dormant for years on end. When I left my undergraduate program in graphic design and new media, I let my art go, too.
I’d always been into fine art, and I didn’t dig into it again until this year when I started designing, drawing, painting, and ultimately opened an Etsy shop full of book plates and planner stickers. It’s a fun way to bring my love of books and art together.
Allison: You have an impressive book blog at Estella’s Revenge. You started the blog in 2005. What’s “Estella’s Revenge?” What did you intend to accomplish with the blog when you first started? What motivates you to continue with the blog?
Andi: When I started the blog, I really wanted to piss off an ex-boyfriend. I achieved that goal within two hours of publishing the first post, so I had to find another purpose. I wish I was kidding, but that’s the honest truth.
I’d had a book blog prior to Estella’s Revenge, for about six months. I was completely smitten with T.S. Eliot at the time, so that first incarnation was called The Wasteland. I wanted something a little less emo when I re-opened the blog, and since I really was writing it to spite someone, I chose “Estella’s Revenge” in reference to Estella from Dickens’ Great Expectations. She and Miss Havisham are still two of my favorite literary characters, but Estella rolls off the tongue a little easier than Miss Havisham. Angry Estella + angry Andi + revenge on the ex-boyfriend = Estella’s Revenge. Voila!
At first I used the blog for general ranting and word vomit. I complained about grad school, made banal observations, and I wasn’t above a drunk post now and again. I was reading constantly and sitting around talking about books all the time for school, so the blog took a bookish turn.
There weren’t many book blogs then. In fact, most of the book blogs that began to crop up were people I’d known in Yahoo! Groups devoted to books. I’d been heavily involved in Yahoo! Groups from 2001 to 2005, so blogging became an outgrowth of the bookish community that had taken root there first.
I’m still friends with so many of the people from those groups…friends I’ve had for 15 years. It kind of boggles my mind, and it’s definitely one of the reasons I’ve been so invested in the book blogging community over the last 11 years.
“Blogging became an outgrowth of the bookish community that had taken root there [in Yahoo! Groups]. I’m still friends with so many of the people from those groups…friends I’ve had for 15 years. It kind of boggles my mind, and it’s definitely one of the reasons I’ve been so invested in the book blogging community over the last 11 years.”
Allison: Describe (in detail, if you can) your typical work day. If you have time, please include a timeline of your workday and your duties/responsibilities.
Andi: Whew! Let’s start with an overview of the days/times I teach, and I’ll plug in the details from there:
- Teach on-ground, two classes, from 9-11am
- Teach on-ground, one class, from 6-10pm
- Teach on-ground, two classes from 9-11am
- Teach on-ground, one class, from 6-10pm
- No on-ground classes, so I catch up on my one online class this day.
- Teach on-ground, two classes, from 9-11am
So let’s use Monday as the typical work day!
4:45-5:30 – Up and out the door for a run
6:15-7:30 – Shower, get the kiddo ready for school and out the door
7:30-8 – Finish getting myself ready and out the door for a 30-minute commute
8:45-11 – Drink coffee and teach. This is a traditional college classroom at my alma mater. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people I know and love who have been great mentors to me. I have total flexibility to teach the way I’d like. The only requirement is a standard freshman composition textbook.
11-noon – Commute home, usually with a post office stop to mail off Etsy orders.
12:30-1:30 – Lunch, email for all three institutions that employ me
1:30-4 – Whatever needs doing: this often includes putting new work online for the online class. I’ve taught this particular class for so long, I have everything set up and structured the way I like. I change the content during the summer or during winter break, and all I really need to do during the regular semester is deploy the work, answer questions, and grade the work. That probably sounds like a lot, but it’s fairly streamlined because I’ve been doing it forever.
This flex time may also include designing, printing, cutting, packing and shipping Etsy orders (though I do more of that on the weekends).
This is also the time I blog or write for Book Riot. By the time I sit down to write a post I’ve more or less hashed out the contents in my head. I have plenty of time to think through the details while I’m running or during my commutes to teach.
4-5 – Pick up kiddo, help him with homework, make dinner.
6-7 – More flex time. This is usually when my child is outside playing. I usually take care of odds-n-ends involving writing, teaching, or Etsy. This time may also include reading the next assignment for my on-ground classes.
7-8 – Family time.
8-8:30 – Kiddo in bed…time to decompress, play on my phone. Ha!
8:30-10 – Flex time. Read, write, stickers, whatever needs doing.
Lest it sound like I totally ignore my husband, he works from home, too. He’s in IT and works remotely for a company in central Texas. We have a really small house, so he’s in our official office space, and I’m set up in our bedroom. We tend to float in and out of the entirety of the house all day and chat it up like teenagers.
Allison: An obvious but necessary question: WHEN DO YOU HAVE TIME TO READ? When asked this question, I always say: “I don’t have time. I make time.” When and how do you squeeze in quality reading time?
Andi: Sadly, I haven’t read a book in two months (UNTIL THIS WEEK!). That actually has nothing to do with work. I’ve been in a bitchin’ slump the likes of which I see every two or three years.
Summers in Texas are really bad for me when it comes to reading. I find the heat oppressive and ridiculous, and I think my seasonal depression is backwards compared to everyone else’s. With fall coming on and a break in the heat, I find I’m more willing to read.
I just downloaded Just Mercy (reading now) and The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts. I spend a lot of time talking to my students about critical thinking and social justice issues, so I’m itching for more of this reading.
One of the keys to quality reading is listening to my moods. There’s no sense in fighting it if I’m not in the mood for something. I read for every professional aspect of my life, but my professions don’t dictate what I read. I feel really lucky that way. I can take anything that’s lighting me up to my students for discussion. I can turn any of my reading into a post.
“I read for every professional aspect of my life, but my professions don’t dictate what I read. I feel really lucky that way.”
Another key to my professional and reading life is using my time wisely. I naturally think ahead all the time. I’m an anal retentive planner by nature, and my brain is a ping pong ball. As I get older, I have to write more things down, which is a bummer. I keep tons of notes on my phone, a list of ideas in Evernote, and if I’m afraid I’ll forget something on my commute, I take an audio memo.
While I’m not a huuuuge audiobook fan, I also take advantage of my commute times to do some listening when I’m in the mood (30 minutes each way on MWF mornings and an HOUR each way for the night classes on Tuesday and Wednesday). I also listen to audiobooks and podcasts when I run. It’s a good way to keep up with the book world in general. I love all of Book Riot’s podcasts.
I’ve always had a similar response to yours when people ask me how I have time to read. A former co-worker was a creative director of marketing during the day, and he spent the majority of the rest of his time doing fine art…video work and things like that. He asked how I find time to read and my response was, “The same way you find time to do art.” It’s usually an issue of priorities.
Allison: What would you recommend to someone like me who’s a young writer without many writing samples to showcase? How do I best promote the work I do have (via blogging/social media) if I want to eventually nab a contributor spot with Book Riot?
Andi: Don’t throw anything away. Keep meticulous digital files so you can rediscover bits and pieces that might sprout into an article, post, or feature. Take every opportunity you can to write for different outlets—guest posts, etc. I definitely think keeping a vibrant blog is a great way to 1) build your portfolio 2) be a visible part of the online book community 3) stay abreast of all the things going on in the book world.
“Don’t throw anything away. Keep meticulous digital files so you can rediscover bits and pieces that might sprout into an article, post, or feature.”
While so many people are sure blogs are dying, I disagree. It’s a repository of your work which can easily be pushed out to “hip” channels like Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and even Pinterest. Even though Facebook is not terribly cool anymore, I still get consistent, notable traffic to my blog from there.
Don’t be afraid to promote your writing via social media from your blog or anywhere else. People are afraid to toot their own horns, but many of us follow a large number of individuals on those channels, and it’s far too easy to miss the promotion. Most of the time it’s not going to annoy anyone to send out content links a couple of times per day (Twitter in particular).
Allison: What do you say to people who claim they don’t like reading? (I’m simply curious).
Andi: “You haven’t found the right book.” As a high school teacher, a professor, a stepmother, and a mom, I’ve been pretty good at helping people find the right books. Especially reluctant readers. People who already read usually don’t have trouble finding more to read, but for people who are starting from scratch, it’s so intimidating.
I’m convinced there are books out there for everyone.
“I’m convinced there are books out there for everyone.”
Allison: You write freelance pieces for selected sites/panels—in addition to blogging, teaching and public relations. Is “freelance” the correct term? Does the freelance life work for you? Does it provide you with flexibility? Can you give some drawbacks of the freelance life as well as the perks you’ve experienced?
Andi: Freelance is definitely a fair term. Even as a professor, I’m a freelance one. My teaching is based on a semester-by-semester contract. My longest teaching contract at this point is 8 years and still going strong.
The freelance life definitely works for me. I mentioned before that I left my last full-time job (PR Director) in March 2016 after three and a half years. Prior to that I was the Director of Interactive Media for a publishing company. Prior to that I was the Program Chair of General Education for a college. Even when I was working those full time jobs, I had freelance work on the side.
I hoard jobs. I have since I began working at 17. I’m not sure why I do that. I’m the only child of an extremely hardworking single mom, so I think it’s partially that. I don’t like the idea of one door closing and not having some windows already open. Keeping busy is a way that I stay vibrant.
I get bored easily. I like higher education because it fulfills a very specific need in me—much like the soul-deep call to read and write—to be useful and intellectual. I’m affecting people and having dialogue with them as a reader and writer. Same thing as a professor.
The up side to freelance work is the ability to change up the projects, keep the experiences diverse. The down side is the lean times. Summers are ugly for me when school is out of session and there aren’t any adjunct positions to be found. But again, I can fall back on writing, more traditional freelance opportunities in marketing, copyrighting, and social media consulting because I have years of experience that came as a result of being a reader, and in turn, a writer.
“The up side to freelance work is the ability to change up the projects, keep the experiences diverse. The down side is the lean times.”
It kind of amazes me how well it’s all come together and meshed over the years.
Allison: Anyone pursuing a writing career is interested in knowing about the financial payoffs. You do it of course for the pleasure of writing, but the freelance aspect makes it difficult financially for some people. Without going into the gory details of your paychecks (cause that’s no one’s business but YOURS), do you feel that freelance writing can be worth it financially if one is passionate enough?
Andi: Totally. Passion is a big factor, but also thinking several steps ahead is absolutely necessary to make sure you have enough opportunities lined up.
Technology is a wonderful thing because networking opportunities are a click away at all times, as are freelance marketplaces sites like UpWork. Everything has a downside, though. Freelancers must create boundaries for themselves and value their own work. There is a plague of people who want freelancers to do significant work for far less than their time and talent is worth. It takes a lot of sifting through the listings.
Allison: What’s the first step I should take if I’m writing a daily/weekly book blog and I want to promote it to get more followers and more traffic. What do I do? What did you do when you were first starting your blog?
Andi: When I started blogging there were no best practices. Now you can find a zillion articles about the things you should do to have a successful blog…and a successful book blog, specifically. I might’ve written some of those posts along the way, in fact.
Having had to figure it out on my own, I can say this: being visible in the community is the best thing you can do to promote your blog. That’s also probably more difficult now than ever before. When I began in 2005, we were like a small town. We could make the rounds to each other’s houses to visit and catch up. Now if I skip two days of blog reading, I have over 1,000 posts in my RSS reader.
Still, I’d say commenting on blogs is a great way to start. It shows people you’re thoughtful and interested in knowing them. In the book community, that’s so important. From there, I think you begin to find a tribe. Even if you can’t make it around to everyone’s house to visit, you begin to find a small, trusted circle, and that circle tends to open out into wider and wider circles.
In the same community vein, taking part in events is an effective way to drive traffic, meet people, and get more exposure all at once. Everyone knows about Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon, Bout of Books, Bloggiesta. Even the most visible people in the book community, the folks at Book Riot, for instance, or people in publishing, know about those events and are in on them either personally or through their connections.
Social media is more important than ever, and finding your niche is integral to being effective. If you have mad Tweeting skills, get to it. If you take a beautiful photo, Instagram is for you. No one can do it all, and if you try, you’ll stretch yourself too thin and end up selling yourself, and your blog, short.
“Social media is more important than ever, and finding your niche is integral to being effective.”
Allison: What do you most enjoy about literature? (Just another curiosity question.)
Andi: Getting to experience other points of view. My mom and grandmother were always solely interested in non-fiction because they couldn’t see the value in something “made up.” I, on the other hand, have always favored fiction, though I certainly read quite a bit of non-fic. I love the opportunity to learn more about the human experience and you can do that through any book.
Allison: Favorite author(s) and book(s), please!
Andi: Hmmm, off the top of my head: anything by Roxane Gay, Lucy Knisley, or Kelly Sue DeConnick. This year I’ve loved Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt, Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron, and Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.
Allison: What’s the best piece of advice someone has ever given you?
Andi: “You can be anything.” My mom and grandparents always told me that, and I believed them. I’m sure everyone, as they age, has the tendency to question whether they’ve done enough, and I’m no different. I don’t know if I’ve done enough, but I’ve always done what I felt was right, and what really called to me.
“I don’t know if I’ve done enough, but I’ve always done what I felt was right, and what really called to me.”
Allison: What’s your recreational life like? Does running/exercise help you stay focused and balanced with your hectic schedule?
Andi: Ohhhh yes. My brain never shuts up, and given the nature of my work—so many freelance gigs and things to do and read and write and draw—it’s very easy to feel a sense of information overload. For me information overload is an endless loop of clicking and checking and reading and clicking and checking. Not quite sure what I’m clicking or checking for. When that happens I know it’s time to clear my head, often that is running. I can leave the noise out on the road and come back to my to-do list and find my priorities a bit better.
Allison: What’s the first thing you do every morning? The first thing you do before bed every night?
Andi: Ha! Sadly, I’m sure they both involve my phone. First thing in the morning I see what notifications are waiting for me. At night I tend to watch YouTube videos while I go to sleep. It usually doesn’t take more than two minutes and I’m out.
Allison: What’s your take on social media? Is there such a thing as too much promotion and involvement?
Andi: It’s the greatest and worst! I love it and hate it. I don’t know that there’s actually such a thing as too much promotion and involvement, but for me it can begin to contribute to that sense of information overload I mentioned earlier. Without social media I never would’ve met my best friend, reconnected with my college boyfriend who is now my husband, and I definitely wouldn’t be doing all of the things I’m doing now. Social media is a huge part of my life, but I also know it’s absolutely necessary to disconnect sometimes. It’ll still be there.
“Social media is a huge part of my life, but I also know it’s absolutely necessary to disconnect sometimes. It’ll still be there.”
Allison: Favorite quote/motto:
Andi: “Try harder than you’ve ever tried.” My son tends to be quick to give up when things are hard. He’s six, so that’s natural. I always tell him he might need to try harder than he’s tried before.
This year has been one of the biggest years of learning and change for me: leaving full-time work, doing Couch to 5K (when I’ve always hated running), and doing lots of projects all over the place. I’ve tried harder than I’ve ever tried at a lot of things this year, and it’s been invigorating (and at times, exhausting).
Allison: One lasting piece of advice for budding book bloggers who want a piece of that pie!
Andi: Blog how you want to blog and find your voice. There’s no right way. You don’t have to bend over backwards for publishers or review ARCs (but do, if you want to). Write about the things you love. Write about them in a way that makes you happy.
“There’s no right way. Write about the things you love. Write about them in a way that makes you happy.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
“PAYING THE BILLS WITH WORDS: ANDI MILLER-DUNN’S WRITING LIFE”
Andi Miller-Dunn has the professional life readers and writers dream of.
In addition to being a wife, mother, avid reader and writer, jogger and social media maven, she writes a personal blog, contributes to the popular literature web site Book Riot, helped launch and contributes to Book Riot Comics and co-organizes the semi-annual Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon.
In other words, Andi has figured out how to pay the bills with words. Her life flows with creative energy and opportunity, and she loves every minute of it. “Keeping busy is a way that I stay vibrant,” she says, and “hoarding jobs” is her way of staying fresh and active—and entertained. “I get bored easily,” she says.
A former director of public relations, Andi currently teaches for three universities, on-ground and online. When she’s not blogging, writing for Book Riot, or shaping minds in academia, she’s operating a newly-launched Etsy shop (https://www.etsy.com/shop/wreckingballdesign) where she sells book plates, among other items.
Her passion for reading and writing started in childhood. “Reading seemed insurmountable and frustrating when I was first learning, but once it stuck, I was hooked,” she says.
In third grade, “I wrote a piece of fiction for an assignment and imagined myself a soldier writing home to family. When it made my mom and teacher cry, I knew I’d hit on something.”
Although her career journey has been chaotic at best, Andi found a way to make her varying talents and interests intersect in a profitable and entertaining way.
“When I started university in 1999, I wanted to be a graphic designer,” she says. “I figured I could make more money as a graphic designer, but once I interned for a Fortune 500 company in my third year, I realized how incredibly bored I was going to be as a designer.”
She decided on a master’s degree in English instead. “My master’s degree was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” she says. It allowed her to jumpstart a teaching career, and she’s been teaching English university courses for 13 years now.
She admits her workload “is overwhelming at times. My schedule is nuts, but at least I’m doing a bunch of things I love rather than slaving away at something I only marginally enjoy.”
Andi’s blog, “Estella’s Revenge,” (http://estellasrevenge.blogspot.com/), which she launched in 2005, was instrumental in her landing the contributor jobs with Book Riot and Book Riot Comics. “I’ve known about Book Riot since day one, and I always wanted to write for them, but I spent years resisting that urge. I have no idea why. Fear of rejection?” Fearful or not, she was brought on board after pitching some original ideas for book and comic-related posts.
Andi suggests that blogging is one of the best ways to showcase and promote one’s work—and help it reach a larger, target audience. “I definitely think keeping a vibrant blog is a great way to do several things. It helps you build your portfolio, be a visible part of the online book community and stay abreast of all the things going on in the book world.”
She follows her own advice to the letter, noting that technology and social media in particular are great allies in a writer’s quest to publication. “Don’t be afraid to promote your writing via social media from your blog or anywhere else. Even though Facebook is not terribly cool anymore, I still get consistent, notable traffic to my blog from there.”
Her advice for young writers wanting to nab contributor spots with Book Riot—or any other publication—is simple but vital: “Don’t throw anything away. Keep meticulous digital files so you can rediscover bits and pieces that might sprout into an article, post, or feature. Take every opportunity you can to write for different outlets—guests posts, etc.”
Time management is another important tool in Andi’s writing life. Without a good sense of routine and discipline, she knows she’d never get everything done. “I have to use my time wisely, and I’m always thinking ahead. I keep tons of notes on my phone, a list of ideas in Evernote, and I even take audio memos during commutes. I also listen to audiobooks and podcasts when I run. It’s a good way to keep up with the book world in general.”
It would seem that Andi has little “free time” but really she’s always doing what she loves. “I spend time doing a lot of different things dictated by my professional life and my whims. I love reading, the online book community, social media, sketching, playing with watercolors.” Although she says she’s been in a reading slump lately, she’s finally getting back into her reading groove.
Andi knows herself well and recognizes certain patterns in both her professional and reading life. “One of the keys to quality reading is listening to my moods. I read for every professional aspect of my life, but my professions don’t dictate what I read. I feel really lucky that way. I can take anything that’s lighting me up to my students for discussion. I can turn any of my reading into a post.”
When asked that age-old question, “How do you have time to read?” she asks how anyone has time to do what they love to do. “It’s usually an issue of priorities,” she says, noting that someone as busy as she doesn’t have time to read, she makes time to read. Even if she’s reading in between projects and taking care of her son, she’s still reading.
Andi also successfully helps people find books that might turn them into serious readers. “As a professor, stepmother, and a mom, I’ve been pretty good at helping people find the right books. Especially reluctant readers,” she says. “People who already read usually don’t have trouble finding more to read, but for people who are starting from scratch, it’s so intimidating. I’m convinced there are books out there for everyone.”
Andi reinforces the idea that with enough passion—in all areas of life—everyone can make a living doing what they enjoy. It takes time, hard work, and focus, but it will come together and you will find yourself doing what you love—and maybe getting paid for it.
The best piece of advice that fuels Andi’s work ethic and life came from her mother and grandparents. “They always told me ‘You can be anything.’ I don’t know if I’ve done enough, but I’ve always done what I felt was right and what really called to me.”
Heather Sands Fargis, Andi’s bookish blogger colleague and friend, confirms that Andi’s consistent, hard work over the years has laid a foundation for book bloggers everywhere who aspire to follow in her footsteps.
“I’ve known Andi for about 16 years now. We organize Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon together. Dewey’s is a worldwide semi-annual event where readers read and socialize online for 24 hours straight. The woman is a powerhouse. I know without a doubt that the book internet community would not be what it is without her.”