Tracy Beckerman sang her last telegram, stripped off the sweaty gorilla suit, and went to work in the medium for which she went to college. She rose from creating on air promotions for Lifetime Television, which she joined in 1987, “a perfect job for somebody with a really short attention span,” to the number two promo slot at WCBS-TV New York. She was powerful, ambitious, and focused. So sure was she of continuing on her path, that when she became pregnant with her first child, Tracy suggested her husband build a pulley to hoist her up through the window of their prized rent-stabilized Upper West Side duplex walk-up, rather than move to accommodate either pregnancy or a new baby.
They moved to a junior four. Like any career woman, Tracy had her baby, hired a nanny, and went back to work. “Every day she would call to tell me some amazing thing my son did…when he was five months old, I found myself sitting at the dining table bawling my eyes out.” With her husband’s encouragement, Tracy quit to stay home with her child. Unfortunately, he was just starting a new business. The loss of her salary necessitated a move to suburbia (New Jersey) where she struggled to feel like she fit in. A year later, she had her daughter. The career seemed like a distant memory. Tracy was committed to being a full-time stay at home mom, although she was starting to think about what she could do part time to contribute to the family financially and also exercise her creativity.
The week before Valentine’s Day when her son was in kindergarten, he told her he wanted to give a card to everyone in the class. Tracy panicked—what if he didn’t receive any Valentine’s cards in return?! “I was worried he’d end up in therapy as an adult because of it!” When she contacted his teacher, she was told all the kids were instructed to bring cards for everyone. Tracy laughed at herself, friends enjoyed the story; she wrote it up and sent it to a local paper—where it was printed. A second funny incident elicited a second article. The response was good enough that the paper requested a bi-monthly column for which she would be paid $40. “Woo hoo! I can pay a babysitter for three hours!” she recalled thinking. (Read one of Tracy’s columns in Laughing Around).
Within two years the column was running weekly in four papers of the same chain. Tracy decided it was time to parlay what she was doing into the kind of business that would allow her “to be home till eight am and finished by three pm.” She registered for The Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Conference in Dayton, Ohio: “Four hundred Erma Bombeck wanna-bes honing their craft, learning about web sites, syndication, agents…”
The conference “energized” Tracy. It’s a little difficult to imagine Beckerman any more energized than the woman who sat before me detailing an output worthy of six creative writers—not one; speaking in lengthy, perfectly articulated paragraphs at a speed that would daunt the battery bunny. She created an illustrated web site including sample columns, a list of previous writing awards, a short bio, an analysis of the market “like a portfolio.” Focusing on the heads of suburban newspaper groups, she sent out a computer mailing with links to her site. North Jersey Media Group (fifty papers) was the second chain to pick up the column. Tracy herself negotiated a flat rate—no agent was involved. Beckerman still has no agent and uses an intellectual property lawyer on a need-to basis.
At this point, Tracy put together a book of her columns called Rebel Without a Minivan, including provocative chapters such as “Cinema Suburbisimo,”” I Have Lipstick in My Pocket and I’m Not Afraid to Use It,” and “How Much Dog Can A Woodchuck Chuck?” Prospective agents admonished her: people don’t buy humor books or column collections from unknown authors. “By then, I had 800,000 readers and thought this very short-sighted.” She decided to self-publish and found a print-on-demand service. Midway through the process, the company went out of business. Undaunted, the ever savvy Beckerman became an independent publisher herself in order to deal directly with the resource who printed, cataloged and distributed the book. This raised her royalty by 30 percent.
Without resting a minute on her snug suburban couch, Tracy went out to promote the volume. Not since Jacqueline Susann and her husband hit the road with cartons of her first novel filling the back seat and trunk of the family car, has a new author been so independently aggressive and thorough on her own behalf. She contacted bookstores in towns where her column was being run and was well received. A producer from The Today Show saw Tracy’s photo plastered all over an especially enthusiastic bookstore and asked her to appear. Then the The Early Show came calling. Tracy now has a publicist in order to increase her media visibility. But still no agent. “I’m a fast writer, but you know, it’s not enough to be really creative. You have to have a certain business sense.”
No kidding. Beckerman has always seen to it she owns her intellectual property. She set up a Twitter account and Facebook page, strictly for Lost In Suburbia—no family pictures; few old school ties. Currently over seven hundred “friends” receive alerts as to her column contents, as do those who receive her tweets. Tracy Beckerman is now syndicated in over four hundred newspapers in 25 states. Yet even with her writing career growing by the minute, she hesitates when filling out a form that asks her occupation. “Women who have full-time careers don’t write ‘Working Mom,’ but ‘Stay at Home Mom’ doesn’t feel right, and `Woman Who Folds the Socks’ lacks that certain je ne sais quoi … and doesn’t cover the half of it anyway.”
She has three linked web sites which are G rated and don’t accept advertising at all. “I want to stay pure with this.” It should be noted the immediate family is given opportunity to review anything written about them, though she says the kids are only interested in reading about the dog these days. She writes twice weekly for The New Jersey Mom’s Blog “in hopes of bringing them over to my side, the dark side,” and once a month for a family niche magazine owned by Gatehouse Media, in addition to her weekly column. Come March, an additional column will begin appearing in the Family Playground insert of The New York Observer. (When columns reach her own web site, they’re a week old in deference to journalism contracts) She’s shopping her first book to established publishers for a second printing and has begun work on her second book. And she’s co-developing a web series with the wealth of material from her now five hundred columns “I’ve already written five spec scripts and am looking for a corporate sponsor.”
“What I’ve found is most suburban moms don’t feel they belong in the suburbs either. Anyway, it’s not specifically a mom column. I write about my life: pets, husband children; the day I’m driving the kids to school in my bathrobe and get pulled over for making an illegal left turn. What happens when the kids move out? I’ll get more pets? Write about my grandchildren? I don’t know. There’s always something. I’m just really having fun.”
Superwomen are self-invented. Tracy Beckerman has built a life she conceived, the one she wanted to live. That she’s managed this while putting her family first and maintaining her sense of humor is, in this writer’s opinion, extraordinary.
For more LOST IN SUBURBIA, visit Tracy’s blog at www.lostinsuburbia.net
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Josie’s (they have this amazing spread they put on the table with some focaccia when you sit down. Yum!)
Favorite Place to Shop: I still love Reiss for clothes ever since it was a single store down in Soho. Just recently got turned onto Muji for housewares. Great Minimalist design!
Favorite New York Sight: The view of the Metropolitan Opera House from Lincoln Center Plaza. When the windows are illuminated and you can see inside to the twin Chagall paintings, it is breathtaking!
Favorite New York Moment: I happened to catch one of those Improve Everywhere sights (the No Pants Subway Ride) and thought is was HILARIOUS!
What You Love About New York: The energy and the people watching!
What You Hate About New York: The noise. Although the suburbs are not much better with all the construction and lawn mowers