Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks started the blog Go Fug Yourself in 2004, as a side-line to their day jobs as reality TV producers. Inspired by “glaringly ugly” celebrity styling, it grew from an inside joke to word-of-mouth phenomenon thanks to Heather and Jessica’s distinctive, wryly funny writing. Two years later they sold a proposal for the book which became The Fug Awards and quit television to become full time writers. In our interview, Jessica talks about the transition from blogging to books, keeping the audience satisfed, and why they sympathise with celebrities.
Did you start Go Fug Yourself for the hell of it, or did you see a niche in the market and think: “Ah-ha, this is our route to infamy and fortune”?
We started it for the hell of it. Really, it was an inside joke that we brought to life just for kicks, which we never thought anyone outside our immediate circle would read. I don’t even know if we thought we’d do it for very long. But then it turned out to be fun, and readers came, and THEN we realized we’d accidentally filled a niche.
How did you publicise it initially?
We haven’t, and didn’t. We got lucky because we were already part of a blogging community. We and they’d throw links to our site into their recaps, and it blossomed from there.
What were the first steps you took towards commercialising it?
We started selling ads to help fund the rights to photographs, and doing THAT meant we could update more often. And we would try to tweak the layout so that it looked cleaner, and/or offered more fun features.
How long did it take to become the day job?
It was getting that book advance that gave us the psychological cushion to quit our day jobs and do the blog full-time. Once that advance came in, just knowing we had a little nest egg gave us the kick in the pants we needed. So we both ended up quitting our day jobs around July/August 2006.
How has your approach to blogging changed as GFY has grown?
In the beginning we cared a lot less about what we were writing. We wanted it to be funny, but we didn’t stress out about whether we were making racy jokes or whatnot. But then — and this is true — once we did well enough that we were getting invited to do TV appearances, we told our parents about the blog, and I think knowing they were reading made us clean up our acts a bit. We’ve ridden enough highs and lows with enough celebs that we start to root for people to pull it together. We’re a bit more supportive of the celebs than we were at the beginning. It was never a transition we made on purpose; it just came out of us maturing as people and as writers.
Whose idea was the book?
We love to write, obviously, and were always curious about publishing, so it seemed like a great way to get our feet wet and then maybe see what other things we could write. Our agent thought we should strike while the iron was hot with a blog book, and then start pitching fiction, because editors he knew who read GFY were responding to our tone and humor and thought it would mesh well for the YA audience. And indeed, we have our young adult debut coming out in June 2011, and we’re writing the sequel now.
Did you pitch the book or did a publisher approach you?
We came up with the pitch for the book, alongside our agent, and he shopped it to publishers.
What considerations are there in writing a book as opposed to writing a blog?
Blogs don’t have to have the shelf life a book does. In trying to conceive a book proposal, we had to come up with a format that wouldn’t date so much. We came up with a fake-awards format. It felt a little more lasting and we could dip into archival stuff and make it more of an ode to an era.
What is different in terms of getting permissions, photo rights and legal clearance for a book versus a blog?
You have to worry about things like print run and whether it’s international or just domestic. They also charge per photo, whereas our deal for the site itself is a monthly fee for a flat number of downloads. The agency worked to get us a good deal, though, since we were buying so many photos and we’re good customers.
Was the public response to the book what you expected?
We were so proud of the book — it came out beautifully, design-wise and otherwise. We worked hard to make it fresh and fun, so our readers wouldn’t resent supporting us by buying it. We had a feeling that we’d done a good job and every single e-mail we got was positive. Seriously, our haters are not shy about writing us to tell us when they’re mad, and we did not get a single note of disappointment from anyone. Our audience loved it so we felt like we did our job.
Does your publisher or agent work specifically with bloggers?
Are you planning another book?
Not based on the blog. We’re delving into young adult fiction.
Do you feel as if you’re taken more seriously now you’re “proper” authors?
No, because people’s perceptions of writing have changed thanks to blogs. People already saw us as proper writers. I don’t think having a published book changed that. We publish a book’s worth of prose every MONTH on the site.