Advice About Blogging, Building a Platform, and Writing with a Partner: An Interview with authors Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler
November 17, 2015
Note From Rochelle
I’m writing an ebook about how books can attract clients—and I need your help. Whether you’ve written a book that has boosted your business or want to, I invite you to take time to fill out a survey. After I take a look at the survey, I will contact some of you for an interview.
And as my thank you to you, everyone who fills out the survey can enter to win:
+A $50 Gift Certificate from Amazon (Yeah, books!)
+A $10 Starbucks Gift Certificate. (Mmmm. Coffee.) (And, I’m giving away 3 of these!)
Today’s tip offers an inspiring story with plenty of practical advice. Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler, authors of the new book, Science of Parenthood, are here to talk about their book and how it happened! If you’d like to enter to win a copy of the book, please scroll down to the bottom of the article.
Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
Today’s tip might just change the way you approach finding ideas, writing books, building your platform, and blogging. I’m serious. I connected with Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler through an online writer’s group—and I’m glad I did. Not only are their blog and book hilarious, their approach to writing will both inspire and inform you. And if you’d like to enter to win a copy of their new book, you can enter at the blog.
Rochelle: Your Science of Parenthood book and blog are hilarious! How did you happen to start the blog—and what has led to its success?
Norine Dworkin-McDaniel: We love to make people laugh, so thank you. I gotta say, I love telling our How We Started story because it’s so Hey, Kids! Let’s Put On A Show! We dove in without knowing half of what we didn’t even realize we didn’t know. We started after my then-second-grader came home from school talking about Newton’s laws of force and motion. You know … An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by a force. So, as he’s explaining this over dinner, it hits me that Newton’s law is remarkably similar to my kid with his video games. So I posted on Facebook: Newton’s First Law of Parenting: A child at rest will remain at rest … until you want your iPad back. I was coming up with a bunch of these “observations,” like Sleep Geometry Theorem: A child will always sleep perpendicular to any adults sleeping next to them. They were a ton of fun to write. I knew Justin Halpern had tweeted his way to a book deal for Sh*t My Dad Says, and I thought maybe I could do the same with my science-y observations. I thought they’d be great in a gift book. But they really needed visuals. So I called Jessica to ask if she’d like to illustrate a gift book.
Jessica Ziegler: It was New Year’s Eve 2012. I was definitely wary at first. It sounded like a lot of work, on top of working from home and parenting. I spent the first half of the conversation trying to figure out how to gently say, How ‘bout NO. But she sucked (suckered?) me in. I had seen what she had been posting on Facebook and could definitely see how some sort of illustration would make them even better, but it could be even more. It could be a website … and a Facebook page … and Twitter … and ALL THE THINGS. Before we got off the phone, we had secured the domain name, Facebook page and Twitter handle. About three weeks later, we launched the website.
Norine: It was crazy fast! As for the blog’s success, well … you have to start with good content. The parenting niche is very crowded, so you need something to make you stand out from the many other bloggers writing about the adorable/frustrating things their kids are doing. Our parenting spin is unique—no one filters the parenting experience through a snarky math and science lens like we do.
The other thing that’s key for success is a network. Over the three years we’ve been blogging as Science of Parenthood, we’ve built a solid network of parenting bloggers who very generously share our content with their readers. I was a freelance writer for 15 years, and coming out of magazines where the communication was always writer to reader, it took me a while to understand that blogging is a communal media. Unless you’re blogging for a big media company, you need other bloggers to help push your content out into the world. And to help you out when you get completely flummoxed. We’re in several Facebook groups with other bloggers who share tips and strategies and best practices, so we’re not perpetually reinventing the wheel. I will never forget when I was struggling to make a simple meme in PicMonkey (I am NOT the graphics genius in this partnership). The program kept asking me to upload an image, but all I wanted was words on a plain background, and I could not figure it out. I must have posted about my frustration in one of the Facebook groups, because (and I will be forever grateful for this), Ellen Williams of Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms uploaded a plain white square of the correct dimensions that I could use as a template. It was a simple thing, but it speaks volumes about how ready and willing people are to help. I’ve heard Jill Smokler of Scary Mommy and Jen Mann of People I Want To Punch In The Throat say, “When the water rises, all boats rise.” We don’t succeed at the expense of other blogs and bloggers. There’s room for all of us.
Rochelle: What was it like to take your blog and grow it into a book? What are some of the steps you had to take? (And, what would you advise other writers to think about before beginning this process?)
Jessica: Begin building your platform from day one, without question. Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr can be a great testing ground for new ideas. You need to build and learn about your audience. For example, our audience loves memes and graphics (which really shouldn’t have been that surprising to me, and yet…) They don’t care that much about long-form writing, so we don’t spend a lot of time on blog posts these days. The thing that I’ve seen work best in terms of building a huge following is when a writer or cartoonist shares about themselves, what is REAL in their world. Think: Jenny Lawson, Jen Mann, The Oatmeal, Books of Adam.
Norine: What Jessica said, absolutely. We also used the blog to build our network and establish our street cred. I started my writing career as a newspaper entertainment writer so I know how to craft a good interview. Many of the bloggers we looked up to, like Honest Toddler, Nicole Knepper, Jen Mann, Jill Smokler, Jason Good, had hilarious parenting books coming out, so we used author Q&As on our blog as a way to introduce ourselves to people with larger audiences. They got good publicity for their books and we could demonstrate that we were good content creators too. People are more approachable than you might imagine. No one ever turned us down when we asked for an interview. And our author interviews are among the most popular posts on our blog.
The other thing I’d add about growing a book from your blog is that the book really needs to stand on its own as new content. It can’t simply be your favorite blog posts bound as a book. Why would readers buy what they can read for free on your blog? According to our publisher, the rule of thumb is that a book should be about 80 percent new material. Our book, Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations, covers many of the same themes that you’ll find on our blog—sleepless nights, picky eating, tantrums, sickness, diaper blowouts, family vacations, homework, toy clutter, anxiety that you’re doing everything wrong. Essentially the nuts and bolts of any parenting blog. Then we took those ideas and drilled deeper and ran farther with them. We have flow charts and bar graphs and Venn diagrams, which we’d never done on the blog before. We have satire and science experiments, algebraic equations and quizzes. And, of course, our signature cartoons. The book will feel familiar to those who already know us, but not repetitive. Only a handful of our very favorite cartoons from the blog made it into the book. So there’s a lot to entice new readers who’ve never heard of us as well as fans who’ve followed us from the first cartoon. There’s plenty in the book that’s brand spanking new.
Rochelle: Your book had me laughing out loud. What was working together on this project like? And what helped you work well together?
Jessica: It was a lot of fun! It was hard at points, just trying to get SO MUCH DONE on a deadline, while continuing to work and have a life. But that’s what great about working on a humor project, it keeps you laughing! We work well together because we can divide and conquer, that works for the blog as well as the book. Two people working on different parts can get a LOT done.
Norine: Our skill sets dovetail so nicely, we’re never duplicating efforts. Because I live in Orlando and Jessica lives in Denver, we text and phone and Skype a lot. We put files in Google Docs so we’re always sure we’re working on the latest version of something, and sometimes we write together in Google Docs. Our work just seems to divide along our individual strengths. Jessica does all of the visuals while I do more of the writing—although one of Jessica’s hilarious essays for In The Powder Room won a Voice of the Year award this year from BlogHer/SheKnows Media, which is a really big deal. Plus, we’ve been friends for more than 10 years. We know what’s going to make the other one laugh. And, really important—we check our egos at the door and focus on what serves the blog and book. We both get that not every idea is golden and we’re both comfortable saying, “Yeah … No.” In three years, we haven’t had a significant disagreement (*knocks wood, spits, tosses salt over shoulder*).
Rochelle: I published my first book AFTER I had my first baby. But, writing and parenting don’t always go together. (Yes, our son puked on the night of our first book signing AND we had to scramble when the babysitter refused to come over and sit for a puker.) How do you juggle parenting and writing?
Jessica: Have older kids, and only one of them? Seriously, it gets so much easier once they are in school all day. Getting up earlier than they do helps, too. I’m not productive at night, I’m at my best first thing in the morning. Of course if the kids catch on that you are up at the crack of dawn, they will likely join you, and then you’re screwed.
Norine: All I’ll say is I’m extremely grateful for Minecraft and the Disney Channel.
Rochelle: Any other advice you’d give to writers who parent or parents who want to write?
Jessica: Just do it. I mean if you really want to, then do it. Don’t let some sort of idea of what that should look like stand in your way.
Norine: Exactly. Give yourself permission to make the time and do it. Ask your husband or partner to keep the kids alive so you can have a few hours peace. Or, if you have the resources, hire a babysitter a few hours a week. I’ve talked to so many women in the blogging community who feel like they’re not entitled to make their writing a priority or who feel guilty for taking time for themselves to write uninterrupted or to take a writing class or go to a conference to network or pick up new skills. Writing is my job and when I freelanced regularly, it represented half of our household income, so not writing was never really an option for me. But I certainly get that it can be challenging with a little one around. Some days, just holding a sentence in your head is a major win. But even though I’m not yet generating the income I did as a full-time magazine writer, my writing is still a top priority. And I’m quite fierce about protecting that time. My son is 9 now, and he knows that when I’m working and I hold up my Just-One-Minute Finger, unless there’s blood, fire or he’s lost an appendage, whatever he needs me for is just going to have to wait a few minutes until I’ve finished whatever I’m writing. And I’m okay with that.
About the authors: Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler are co-authors of the new book, Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations, published this month by She Writes Press. Find it wherever books are sold. You can follow Norine and Jessica on their blog Science of Parenthood and on Facebook and Twitter.
Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander is an author, a certified professional coach, and a popular speaker. Melander has written ten books including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It). As the Write Now! Coach, she teaches professionals how to write books fast, get published, and connect with readers through social media. Get your free subscription to her Write Now! Tips Ezine at https://www.writenowcoach.com.