As part of an ongoing series, Fabulous Blogging offers any 1st year blogger the chance to guest post about the trials, tribulations, and joys of blogging. Norine and Jessica- the gals behind the Science of Parenthood- are here today to share the unique perspective of two owners, one blog. Enjoy!
Why should you share the success and accolades that come with creating a fabulous blog that will surely make you rich and famous … and did we mention rich? Because on the way to all that glory, when you have a partner, you also have someone to share the work, the angst, the agita and the creative process. When it comes to “blogging math,” blogger duos are way more than the sum of their parts. Here, Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler, the team behind Science Of Parenthood, share the reasons and the how-tos for their successful blogging partnership.
1. There is safety-and a helluva lot less pressure-in numbers.
Jessica: We come at our blog from two different angles, so that helps broaden our creative viewpoint. I tend to see things visually and want to find words to suit. Norine is the opposite. The beauty is that she doesn’t have to come up with the visual, she can shoot the words over to me and know I’ll come up with the illustrations. I don’t have to find the perfect words, but I know they will magically appear.
Norine: HeHeHe! Some days I WISH I could just wave a wand and make the words appear. But no question, creatively, two bloggin’ noggin’s are just better than one. Let’s face it, as creative and talented as we all may be, absolutely no one spins golden prose all the time. Even Shakespeare had his off days. Does anyone even remember that he wrote Pericles … or King John? ‘Nuff said.
With a partner you also have a built-in (and oh-so-essential) sounding board to A) tell you that your idea is Meh … and more importantly B) help you make it a whole lot better. Some of my most favorite illustrations, like Mealtime Apathy Ratio or Sing-A-Long Shakes, started with one of us having a good idea that then then got a whole lot funnier as we polished it together.
Better still: Sometimes one of us sees something in the zeitgeist that other doesn’t. Remember the Miley Cyrus fiasco? (Eyes still burning??) Fortunately, as in the ark-opening scene from Raiders Of The Lost Ark, I opted not to look and ignored the VMAs completely. But Jessica quickly saw a train wreck in the making and posted the Dance, Dance Recognition illustration she’d done months ago with a reference to “twerking.” Before you could snap your foam fingers, we had an instant hit on our hands.
Jessica: What’s also great, especially in the early days, is to have another person in your corner rooting—desperately—for your success. Norine is much better at promotion than I am. I’m not sure if that is just her nature or the fact that she has been a freelance magazine writer for more than 20 years and therefore is simply used to relentless pitching. It would have been very easy for me to see that things weren’t taking off within the first 30 days and decide, Well I guess no one likes it! NEXT! But she was the angel on my shoulder (or maybe the little devil) whispering, People love the illustrations!
Norine: Well, that’s no exaggeration—people do love the illustrations. And when another blogger practically tackled Jessica at BlogHer ‘13, yelling I love your illustrations! she finally believed me! But, yes, I have become a promotion machine. These days I don’t even leave my house without putting on a Science Of Parenthood T-shirt (designed by Jessica, I might add). But I will say that I am definitely a lot braver and more confident in putting myself out there and talking up our blog, knowing Jessica has my back. It really is a lot easier to say We than I, whether that’s speaking up at a blogging conference or negotiating with our agent, chatting up a CNN reporter or even just approaching more established bloggers. Perhaps that’s why the Queen uses the royal We. United WE stand. Plus, when there’s two of you, you can always play good cop/bad cop in sticky situations. Being one half of a dynamic duo means never having to commit to anything without “checking with my partner first.” It’s a very useful out!
Jessica: It’s the perfect “let me ask my wife” excuse.
2. Having complementary skills sets saves time, energy and sanity.
Norine: Truly, if it were up to me to build the blog and then get all the gizmos into it that make a blog truly functional—let alone tweet-able, pin-able and +1-able—I’d still be at square one, wondering what a plug-in was and how to actually, you know, plug it in. Because Jessica is a web designer and social media expert, I don’t have to tear my own hair out over how to make a blog button or install CommentLuv or get the Viagra ads off our banner. I tear my hair out plenty, but it’s not over blog architecture things that Jessica can do in two minutes without breaking a sweat—or going bald. In addition, with Jessica’s design know-how, she makes sure that our design elements carry through our entire enterprise. You can always recognize a Science Of Parenthood design, whether you’re looking at our illustrations on Google+, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest or if you pick up any of the new products (magnets, mugs, T-shirts or calendars) in our online store. One reason I’m not in charge of blog buttons is because even if I did know how to make them, they’d be all over the place in terms of font, color, sizing, photos. Jessica ensures our design is consistent.
Jessica: We are extremely fortunate that our skills dovetail so nicely. The reason we were immediately on social platforms, had a website and were thinking about different products we might offer is because when Norine pitched me the original idea for an illustrated gift book—remember, ABP: Always Be Pitching!—I saw a much bigger picture because of what I do on a daily basis. I’ve been doing web design/development for 14 years. I’ve also done magazine illustration and written and illustrated five children’s books. Prior to going freelance in 2004, I worked at a large company where I was in charge of our promotional products—designing them and finding vendors. I could immediately see the possibilities for growing Science Of Parenthood well beyond a single gift book.
Norine: And while Jessica is working all her voodoo, I do a large chunk of the actual writing and the conceptualizing of the funny “math” and “science” principles that Jessica then illustrates. It was largely my traditional media know-how that connected us with our agent and led to a guest spot on Scary Mommy and features on Lifescript. And when it came time to put together our proposal for that original gift book, I wrote that as well.
Jessica: Don’t forget that you do the lion’s share of the social media posting and management! That is a HUGE job. I may have gotten the ball rolling on Facebook and Twitter, but you took over and starting making those personal relationships that are so vital to any blogger’s success. You’re our little pitch-machine!
Norine: We can move fast because we divide and conquer; we don’t duplicate efforts. And neither one of us gets bogged down in things that we don’t know how to do if the other can do it better and faster. This kind of synergy doesn’t always happen with blog partnerships, but it’s a key reason that we’ve been able to grow our blog and our audience so quickly in the nine months we’ve been in business together.
Jessica: When you put all of our pieces together—writing, promotion, web design, product development—we can cover a lot of ground. It’s worth taking the time to really outline your goals to figure out the best way to achieve them. If you want to create a blog with the end goal of having loads of advertisers, you’ll need to work a certain angle to make that happen. If you are attempting to develop an online community, or get an agent/book deal, you’ll need to work different angles. You absolutely don’t want to waste time duplicating effort.
3. You MUST have trust.
Norine: This is essential. If you cannot trust your partner, or have misgivings about the relationship, then don’t blog together. I remember very early on in our partnership, when I hadn’t gotten my “blog legs” yet and was pretty awed by Jessica’s incredible web and social media skills, I started to wonder if she “really” needed my participation at all. But we talked about it openly and honestly during a working vacation, and it’s never been an issue—especially since I also worked hard to bring myself up to speed on skills I felt I lacked, but needed to have. But we absolutely work together. We already had a solid foundation of friendship to build on—we’ve been friends since 2002 or 2003 when we were both living in Las Vegas. Jess was at my wedding; I was at her baby shower. But just to make sure, we’re sealing our business deal with a partnership agreement. It’s like we’re married. At least in 12 states.
Jessica: I remember that conversation so clearly. Number one, Science Of Parenthood was your idea! And as I said that day, even if I could do it on my own—that’s a Big IF—I wouldn’t. Knowing yourself is another important piece. When I was younger, I was much more cavalier about taking on ridiculously gigantic projects and assuming I’d figure it out as I went along, and I usually did, BUT the massive effort involved in sustaining those projects was too much. This time, for me, there was no question of whether or not to trust Norine’s instincts, look at her resume! I knew she had the chops. I’d also been managing her personal blog for several years so I knew the direction she was taking her humor writing. The Science of Parenthood idea fit with what she had been building toward. This wasn’t some random, over-drinks idea. But her tenacity was a surprise added bonus. I love the initial huge push involved in getting something off the ground, but then I tend to wander off. Having the responsibility of a partner and not letting her down keeps my head in the game. I definitely have moments (or weeks, as this past summer when my kiddo was home proved) where I have to focus elsewhere for a time. But I now know that I will circle back if the project/goal is compelling enough. AND I come back refreshed.
Norine: That’s right! We both have paying jobs and families that require our attention … and dinner … at least sometimes. Thus far we’ve been lucky that when one of us is gets pulled in another direction for a while, the other can focus on the blog, so we don’t lose momentum. That’s another plus: someone is always minding the store.
4. Put the blog before your egos.
Norine: Remember when I mentioned that not everything you do or write will be spun golden prose? Well, if you’ve got a partner worth her salt, she’s going to have the brass ones to able to say, “You know, that idea totally … well, it’s okay, but we might be able to make it better.” Notice I didn’t say THAT SUCKS! IT’S TERRIBLE! The idea is to insist on quality but still be constructive and kind. We are always kind in our criticism. In our blog, Jessica has edited copy in the illustrations; I’ve asked for different designs. We solicit feedback from each other on longer blog posts—like this one, which we worked on together in Google Docs. Jessica’s learned my catch phrase: Mind if I noodle this? Which means, This post is on the right track; it just need some polish. Which is a lot nicer sounding than This sucks, I’m going to rewrite it. Which it never does, for the record.
Jessica: You’re too kind. Often I have an idea, and it’s really not fully formed, but I know there is something good there, so I lob it into Norine’s court happily. It’s really nice to be able to get an idea out and have someone else make it better.
Of course, there are times—usually at the end of a long day—when I don’t want to hear that an illustration needs a bit more work. I’ve learned to set it aside and look again in the morning. She is always right, and is usually saying something I’ve already said to myself. I’m MUCH more open to making the changes when I’m fresh. That’s simply a self-management technique. So if you know your pain-in-the-ass, non-compliant self is going to be much more amenable the next morning, just shelve it for the night.
Norine: Really, I can’t emphasize the speaking-up part enough. There was a moment, again, in the very early blog days, when I got this looooong email from Jessica with about five paragraphs of “If you don’t want to hear this criticism I heard from a friend, stop reading now!” Her friend Becky, who reads a lot of blogs and whose opinion Jessica values, took real issue with one of my early posts about a play-date from hell. She felt I was sanctimonious, not funny. At first, my hackles went up. Of course. And my initial reaction was, Hey, you can’t please everyone all the time. But then I re-read the post and thought about what Becky said, and realized she was right. And Jessica was absolutely right to pass along the criticism. You have to share everything—the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m not saying I’d change everything a reader disagreed with—and we’ve gotten some reader mail that disagreed with things we’ve said that we haven’t changed. But in this case, the reader had a point. Now when I write something that I worry might be a bit too sarcastic, I ask if it passes the Becky Test.
5. Be clear about what you want.
Norine: You know how you ask your husband, “Are you hungry?” when it’s you who wants to go out to eat? Women often dance around what they want, hoping they’ll be understood, instead of stating EXACTLY what they want. One of the key things that makes our partnership work is that we communicate clearly about what each of us wants. This way we don’t have resentments building up because one of us gets disappointed that their expectations weren’t being met.
I remember in early spring when we first started talking about putting together a calendar for 2014. I was musing aloud about how cool it would be to have one of those daily illustration calendars. And then I saw Jessica’s face! You looked like you were going to have a stroke at the thought of coming up with 365 new illustrations! We ended up going with a 12-month calendar that came out absolutely amazing! We’re really proud of it.
Jessica: Very true. My IMMEDIATE thought was “Daily equals 365.” Ain’t nobody got time for that!
It’s worth mentioning that you need to be clear and honest about how much you can realistically do. Your partnership may not be 50/50, maybe it’s 70/30 because your partner has five kids and a full-time job. If everyone is aware of, and agrees to this division of work, resentments don’t have the opportunity to fester. And sometimes it’s helpful that we live 2,000 miles apart. It’s easier to say No Way! to an idea by email or over the phone than it is face-to-face when everyone is jacked up on a pot of coffee. EVERYTHING is a fantastic idea after a pot of coffee! At the same time when we do get together, the ideas really flow.
Norine: I’ll say! On a working vacay, we knocked out three months’ worth of illustration ideas! And still had time to take the kids to Legoland. Which is another unsung benefit of the buddy system, particularly for parenting bloggers. Having a partner—and we strongly urge people to put this into their partnership agreements—means never having to brave the hellacious theme parks alone. With a partner by your side, you’ll always have someone to roll your eyes with.
Jessica: And as long as you are rolling your eyes together, you’re golden!