Our Interview With the Duo Behind 'Science of Parenthood'

2 years ago

We at BlogHer have long been entertained by the musings of Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, half of the duo behind Science of Parenthood. We caught up with Norine recently to ask her about her book, blogging with the intent of publishing a book and what's up next.

Photo Credit: Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler.

BlogHer: How did you choose what to include the book? Are any of your topics addressed on the blog, as well?

Norine Dworkin-McDaniel: It’s funny, as bloggers we hear so much about books that grow out of blogs. But in our case, our blog actually grew out of our plans for this book. Jessica Ziegler and I started our Science of Parenthood blog just over three years ago. My son (then 7, now 10) had come home from school talking about Newton’s laws of force and motion. As he explained that "an object at rest will remain at rest until acted on by an external force," it hit me that that sounded just like him with his video games. I quickly jotted down -- I actually got up from the dinner table because I didn’t want to forget it -- Newton’s First Law of Parenting: A child at rest will remain at rest until you need your iPad back. Then I posted that on Facebook. It got a giggle from the Facebook hive-mind. The next day, I posted Sleep Geometry Theorem: A child will always sleep perpendicular to any adult sleeping next to him. That got a laugh too.

I’d been reading Justin Halperin’s Sh*t My Dad Says and knew he’d tweeted his way to a book deal. I wondered if I could do the same thing on Facebook. I was having fun writing these snarky, science-y observations about parenting, and I’d stockpiled a bunch of them. I thought they’d make a fun book, maybe for Mother’s Day. But I also knew that if I was going to do a book, I needed pictures. And that’s when I reached out to Jessica to ask if she’d like to partner on a gift book. I’d write; she’d illustrate. The way she tells it, at first it sounded to her like I was asking for a lot of free work, which I totally was. But something about my idea hooked her.

Photo Credit: Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler.

She’d seen what I’d been posting on Facebook, and she told me she immediately saw what the cartoons looked like in her head. That was a lucky break for me! She also realized the potential for our concept to be much bigger than a single book. In that first 90-minute call, we did a name search, and Jessica established our URL and set up Facebook and Twitter. Two weeks later we published our first cartoon on Facebook, "Schrodinger’s Backpack." It’s in the book. A week later we rolled out the blog. So the blog grew out of the plan for book, which was then based on the blog.

Still, we didn’t want to just rehash our blog for the book -- in fact, only a handful of cartoons from the blog made it into the book. The book had to be at least 80 percent new material, and it’s probably more. Plus, the book needed a unifying concept. So we decided to create a snarky textbook of sorts, spanning the four core hard sciences -- biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics.

Once we had the framework, we looked at all the possible parenting topics we could cover and divvied them up into the appropriate sections. Anything pregnancy-related went into our Biology section, along with anything gross like vomit, snot or diaper blowouts. Chemistry deals with food prep and picky eating, but also interpersonal relationships. Math covers all the stuff you need to buy for kids (and replace after they’ve lost or destroyed it). And we drafted complex algebraic equations to help parents determine if they’ll ever have a real social life again or when they’re really "there yet." Physics deals with time and space, but also explosions, so we had some good fun with tantrums in that section. We’re covering the same topics most parenting bloggers cover. It’s our math/science lens that makes us unique.

BlogHer: How different did the book come out than you envisioned it would in your book proposal?

NDM Originally we’d just planned for a book of cartoons -- image on the right, text on the left. But then we realized, that wouldn’t be very interesting. Plus, people could flip through something like that very quickly in a bookstore without buying it. And we certainly didn’t want THAT!

So in addition to the cartoons, we added pie charts, bar graphs, Venn diagrams, flow charts, quizzes, algebraic equations and hefty chunks of satirical writing. Our book is almost completely inspired by our experiences with our sons (now 10 and 11). But instead of doing it memoir-style, like, "Here’s a funny story about the time I tried to get my kid to try mashed potatoes," it’s all satire. We framed that particular exercise in futility as a "research study." Will a preschooler who likes French fries try mashed potatoes?The researcher (a.k.a. Mom) goes through all the trials to get the kid to take just one bite and, of course, the control group (a.k.a. the dog) ends up eating everything.

BlogHer: Which was your favorite chapter?

NDM: Ha! That’s like asking, Which is your favorite child?! I love them all. But if I had to single out something that I’m especially fond of, or proud of, I’d have to say the piece, "Leaving The House With Your Toddler: The Five Stages of Grief." That’s in our Physics section and, of course, it riffs on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. It’s about a working mom trying to get her child dressed and out the door in the morning so she can get to work. I wrote two conversations—what she’s saying to her daughter to keep her moving and the panicked, rage-y inner monologue going on in her head. Anyone who’s ever tried to hurry a dawdling child along knows that that just makes them move even slower. This piece was the first I wrote for the book and it was especially fun to write.

BlogHer: What was your biggest challenge in working with a co-author?

NDM: Jessica developed a habit of surprising me with additional book projects while we were working on Science of Parenthood. She illustrates faster than I write, and she must've had too much time on her hands because just as I was hitting my writing stride and aiming for a February deadline, she phoned me one October morning and said, We’re gonna do another book and get it out before Thanksgiving! That was our Big Book of Parenting Tweets, and we did get it out before Thanksgiving 2015.

Six months later, we followed up with the Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets. (With Science of Parenthood, that makes three books we published in 12 months.) I can’t decide if she’s trying to kill me with these sneak book attacks, but I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and just roll with it because Jessica’s ideas are usually good ones. But we’ve had no serious challenges. Jessica and I were great friends before we became business partners and if anything, running Science of Parenthood together has brought us, and our families, closer together. She’s probably my closest friend. And we are perfectly balanced in our partnership. We are both very good at what we do and our skill sets and neuroses dovetail exceptionally well. Science of Parenthood really is way more than the sum of its parts.

BlogHer: Any advice for aspiring authors?

NDM: I’d have to say that building your author platform is just as important as writing the book, and new/aspiring authors should be doing both simultaneously. You really don’t want to get up against your pub date and then decide you need to create a website, start your blog and set up a Facebook page.

We built our platform over three years before Science of Parenthood was published. We developed a reputation for pitch-perfect, erudite humor and cultivated a network of other parenting humor writers whose books we supported when they came out. When it was our turn to ask for cover blurbs and promotion support, we had a really wonderful group of people we could rely on. We also participate in numerous blogger Facebook groups, and so when we put out the call for bloggers to join our blog tour, 110 bloggers queued up to participate. We were kind of blown away by the response actually. Writing may be solitary but publishing’s a communal venture and you need your village around you to help promote your masterpiece.

The other thing I’d add is that promotion efforts start a lot earlier than new authors may realize. And sometimes that’s learned the hard way. I’ve talked with two indie authors recently whose books came out and they had no marketing or promotion plan, and by then it was really too late.

So how early do you start? Here’s an example: I wanted Dr. Oz to give us a blurb for the book, and he did. He called our book The perfect field manual for all the parents out there who can do nothing else with their day but laugh. It’s a great quote. It’s right on our cover, and we use it in all of our marketing and promotion materials. I started working on getting that quote two years before the book was even out.

Here’s another example, while we were in New York for BlogHer ’15 over the summer, Jessica and I met with an editor at All You magazine to talk about editorial support for out book. Over breakfast, we decided that I’d write an essay for the back page of their December issue, which would come out right around our pub date in mid-November. These things take time and planning. You can’t wait till the book is out to start thinking about how to promote it. As soon as you’ve got the idea for the book, that’s when you need to start brainstorming about how you’re going to get it in front of people so they know about it and can buy it.

BlogHer: Is there another book in the planning?

NDM: There is always another book.

Norine Dworkin-McDaniel is co-author of Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations, published in November by She Writes Press. It’s available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Follow Science of Parenthood on their blog, Facebook and Twitter



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