Crazy: Interview with Dr. Rob
by Alex Shippee in Labels: , , , , ,

Over the last couple of days, I've been emailing with Dr. Rob Dobrenski (Dr. Rob) and he was nice enough to agree to do an informal email interview. For those of you who don't know, Dr. Rob is a practicing psychologist turned author who writes on He explores what the life of a psychologist is like whether he's interacting with his patients, his peers, or even his mother. It's a frequently funny and a very honest look into his profession.

That began in 2007. In May 2010, after 3+ years of steady blogging he had gotten a book deal and took that leap to published author. In the interview below, we talk about what that process looked like and what helped him along the way.

Definitely check out his website (start here) and, if you like it, don't forget to take a look at his book, Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch
1. You started your blog in 2007 with a completed manuscript already in hand. How did it feel bringing your content to the web for the first time?

Back then, I wasn't all that internet savvy (I actually just deleted my AOL account last year) so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I knew that the Rudius Media network which was launching my material was high traffic, but I wasn't clear on exactly who was reading that network and what would be expected of me. This probably helped a lot, because the ignorance allowed me to just write what I wanted, as opposed to shoehorning the material for a specific group.

2. When ShrinkTalk.Net first launched, it was part of the Rudius Media network, including high traffic sites like TuckerMax, GaijinSmash, and Mark Ebner. Did the association with those sites help you attract an initial audience?

Incredibly so. Just being connected to them allowed for great exposure, and I received a lot of emails from people saying "I just found you from reading ______'s site."

3. You've interviewed a number of my favorite writers, including Ryan Holiday, Erin Tyler, and Philalawyer. How did that process differ from writing more anecdotal pieces?

My lazy self loves doing it because I get a new blog entry without having to write all that much. But, more importantly, it's a great way to learn about other writers and how they think. All of those people you mentioned are massively talented, so it's fun and educational to talk to them. So you ask questions, let them do their thing and bam: you've got a blog entry, a great interview and hopefully new exposure for both you and the person you interviewed. 

4. At one point, you wrote that, "I print out each one[comment] to show the family I’ll never have and I attempt to contact every reader (with or without a pole) who has reached out. If I’ve failed at any point, please contact me again." Has that been difficult to maintain as your number of fans started to grow?

For the most part, it's pretty easy, because you're often just writing back a polite thank you to that person for taking the time to read your material. Sometimes, however, people with some pretty hard-core problems will write in looking for advice or guidance. Both legally and ethically I'm not allowed to delve into that stuff, so I try to direct to places that might help. But no matter how you try to spin it, you're rejecting someone who is in need, which feels awful. 

5. Was being able to point to your blog traffic, active commenters, fan mail, etc. helpful  in convincing publishers to take a risk on a first time author?

I'm still not entirely convinced traditional publishers fully grasp how internet traffic effect book sales. Most publishers were at least somewhat interested in knowing the pure numbers, but my agent asked me to specifically take the data and analyze it for them. In other words, if you have an Alexa rank of 100K, what does that mean in the bigger picture? I don't know if publishers have dedicated their resources to understanding those numbers.

6. How did it feel to get a good review from Dr. Robin Baker?

It doesn't get much better than that. He's a huge name in his field and he, like many other big time writers, could have simply passed on reading my stuff. He didn't know me or my work, but he said that after his wife chased him around the house, quoting passages from Crazy, he definitely knew he was going to like it. Crazy has been really well-received, but a lot of other psychologists/psychiatrists didn't like the casual tone. To have a scientist of Dr. Baker's magnitude give it a thumbs up was really validating.

7. How have social media channels like your Twitter and Facebook Fan Page helped you promote your book?

The Facebook page came pretty late in the game so it's a little tough to comment on it. I think Twitter helps a lot. When you tweet something that gets a lot of replies and RT's, you can see your Amazon rank jump up soon after, suggesting that people picked up a copy of your book. For those considering this, I'd recommend having a direct link to your book on your Twitter profile so that people can easily access it. I learned this from Philalawyer and basically everything he's taught me has been spot on.

8. I know this is still semi-recent, but could you talk a little about your writing position at Yahoo! Health? It seems like you were suggesting ideas that had a very clear voice and might have been too controversial for their liking.

I'd love to have some controversial, juicy dramatic story here for you, but it just doesn't exist. It was just a difference in philosophy. If you read ShrinkTalk, you know that I tend to write a lot of narrative with some psychology weaved into the piece. Yahoo was more of a "get to the point and have lots of 'take away' information" site. It was just hard for us to find a middle ground.

9. Lastly, was the decision to write a second book a difficult one?

In all honesty, I've been flip-flopping on this for a few months. There's a difference between writing a book because you really have something to say and because you can. While Crazy is not a book for everyone, I think it's fair to say that it's pretty unique with a good message.  It took a long time to write that book and my worst fear is to recycle the same message for the sake of being able to say that I wrote two books. I'm tinkering with a specific idea right now, in the self-help genre, but I only want to do it if I can bring something really new to the table. That could mean completely new ideas or possibly just a different voice, but since there are countless self-help books already out there, I want mine to be unique in its own way. Until I'm sure I can do that, I'm going to sit for a bit and let the ideas develop in my head.