Jan Nieman – Going to the Dogs: Confessions of a Mobile Pet Groomer

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Going to the Dogs: Confessions of a Mobile Pet Groomer is the quirky, humorous, creative non-fiction story of my twenty-one years operating one of Maryland’s largest mobile pet grooming operations. I found myself in mid-life combining two things I knew nothing about, dogs and business, into Career Number 8 and what a wild ride it was. I dealt with frisky dogs, feisty cats (some of whom matched their owners), terrifying wolves, quirky groomers and those darn vans which always broke down on the other side of Baltimore. What, in real life was aggravating, became funny when I began writing about it. Think James Herriot meets Erma Bombeck.

Tell us something about yourself.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I graduated from Towson University, Maryland. I taught second grade, reared five children and became a branch-office supervisor for the Social Security Administration. Losing my hair from stress, I chucked bureaucracy for entrepreneurship and launched Canine Clippers Mobile Pet Groomers. I continue to write stories and profiles for various magazines and am a member of the National Dog Groomers Association of America. In 2010 and 2011 I was the first prize winner in fiction and non-fiction in the Gulf Coast Writers Association’s contest. I retired to Ft. Myers, FL along with my husband Niel and rescue dog, Sasha and currently speak at events and book signings.

What inspired you to write this book?

I thought I’d left the grooming world behind when I retired, but disturbing dreams about biting dogs and crippled vans invaded my sleep. I decided to write about those incidents and what were miserable real-life episodes, became humorous when I transferred them to paper. In fact, they were downright funny. A chapter on keeping those antique vans on the road led to one where I groomed a kitty hanging from all fours from the roof vent (“I’m not leaving here without money!”). When my spouse overheard me giggling at my own material, he remarked, “I didn’t know we had such a good time with that business.” Soon I had a manuscript and the rest is history.

How did you choose the title?

How could I not? I literally did travel the streets of Baltimore ”going to the dogs.” All pet groomers encounter difficult pets, owners and employees, but seldom divulge horrific events where they injured an animal, say something stupid to an owner, act rashly, or vice-versa. And that became the second part of the title: “confessions of a mobile pet groomer.”

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

It’s almost embarrassing to tell how easy it was to publish GTTDs. My manuscript was ready to roll, and since that “wonderful” mobile business gobbles all our savings, self-publish a book was questionable. But, one of Gulf Coast Writers speakers, an editor, offered to take a look-see at member’s manuscripts after the meeting. I immediately sent my raw material and a few shuffles back and forth produced those words every writer prays for, “I’d like to talk to you.”

The real angst developed when I had to decide whether to sign the agreement, or fall back into my lazy, but hard-fought retirement. An intellectual property attorney reviewed the contract, and after understanding the implications of plunging into Career Number 9, I signed it. My editor and publisher helped every step of the way, whether editing, promoting, counseling, informing, advising or encouraging.

I had no obstacles to overcome throughout the entire process. But I know how blessed I am to be the exception (not querying a single agent or editor) and not the rule.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

Throughout the years I was married and rearing children, I wrote short pieces for church, school and neighborhood newsletters – nothing big, just enjoyable. However, after retiring to a large manufactured home village, I offered to write resident profiles called “Meet Your Neighbor.” What fun. But, when the nightmares about the grooming business became serious, I turned to capturing them on paper and joined a writing club where I absorbed advice about what makes a great book. I figured I lopped off 6 years of making mistakes and instead found out what works and sells.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Nope. I grab an hour here, there, two a.m., in church if the sermon is boring, waiting in doctor’s offices, or scribbling on restaurant napkins when a terrific idea hits me.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

Since my book is non-fiction, I don’t fancy ex-employees, clients or dogs and cats suing me. Therefore, I change names, but usually keep the first initial the same. If I’m working in fiction, the character’s personality or physical appearance suggest a name – works for me.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned I’m a “natural” writer. Writer’s block is unknown to me. I discovered that marketing GTTDs is a whole other learning experience and I absolutely hate trying to keep up Facebook, my Blog, or creating a website – remember I’m still doing this on a pittance and everything has to cost little or nothing. And yet, the reviews are excellent, not a bad one yet. Interviewers are contacting me, newspaper columnists respond to my queries, and when a friend phones me with, “Hey, Jan “Florida Book Page” is reviewing your book on radio right now! Turn it on,” I’m astonished. When a reader says, “I laughed out loud when I read your book. You write just like you talk,” I’m not sure of they’re complimenting me or not, but relish their chuckles.

I discovered I’m a fair comic when I speak. Audiences laugh at the right spots and I wonder if I should have gone into show-biz instead of my previous seven careers. Who knew I’d be so entertaining? Not me! But there it is and what fun I’m having – certainly more than dog grooming.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I’d purchase a more expensive printer that guzzled less expensive ink!

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I like books with humor, happy endings, spy thrillers, historical fiction and non-fiction, stories with a moral issue and well-written Christian books. I don’t like books with unresolved endings requiring the reader to come up with their own. Favorite authors are Anne River Siddons, David Baldacci, Jodi Picoult and Max Lucado.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I constantly write about events that tickle me, phrases that catch my attention, outlandish actions – anything that lends itself to a short story or article. Incidents from my youth, such as Transitions, my winning entry to Gulf Coast Writers Association, find their way into my computer. Currently I’m working on promoting articles to magazines and newspapers, such as: “Will Your Pet Become a Weather-Related Disaster Victim?” I’ve jotted down my marketing experiences, especially the ones that bombed, were outrageous or less than desirable – now humorous. If a story or article becomes the impetus for a book, we’ll have to wait and see.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

My best advice for writers is to be prepared for bumps and unexpected expenses along the way. Even though you snagged a publisher and didn’t self-publish, be aware that you will lay out more money in a marketing campaign than you originally thought. You will be amazed at how quickly you run through ink-cartridges and how pricey they are. You will also be astonished when high-priced vendor fees outmatch the sum of books sold.

I was unprepared for the amount of computer savvy required to design a bookmark, tri-fold pamphlet, spread sheet, blog, Facebook and website. Huge amounts of your time will be spent on, not only designing them, but keeping them current and attractive.

If you are a shy person, you’re in for a shock. If you think you’ll sit behind a table and readers will flock to purchase your book, think again. They know nothing about you and you’ll have to entice them into conversation to get their attention, “Wow, I see you’re wearing a Woodstock T-shirt. Where you really there?” and segue into the most exciting event in your life – your book. You will sell one book for every hour you’re book signing – if you’re lucky and aggressive!

If you plan to speak about your book, you will experience enthusiastic audiences resulting in sales, and you will bomb with others. Just as the writing process taught you not to fall in love with your written words, speaking programs will force you to adjust your spoken words when you sense you’re losing listener’s attention. The plus of organizing speaking events is that you’ll sell more books in a shorter time, but you better develop an outstanding program with proper English and drop the “so, umm, like, uhh, you know” and similar speech crutches. It doesn’t hurt to join a local Toastmasters, either.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

I discovered my reader was not a pet owners (although 50% of Americans do own a pet), but are women and men my age, who relate to my mid-life, pioneer, career, are engaged by me and react to my sense of humor. I found they read GTTDs first and then re-gift it to their children, grandchildren, groomer and veterinarian.

Where can readers learn more about me and my book?

At present my blog, www.authorjannieman.blogspot.com, is my website and contains my bio, reviews, interviews, photos, events and the Introduction to GTTDs. Readers can also find GTTDs on Facebook. In addition, the reviews on Amazon.com are noteworthy and reveal considerable information about Going to the Dogs: Confessions of a Mobile Pet Groomer.