No one told us we COULDN’T publish a book in just four weeks. So we did!
It all started with the fortune cookies. And then before you could say Happy Chinese New Year! Jessica and I were working with Hall of Tweets’ Kate Hall to publish a holiday collection of the funniest commentary on parenting ever to fit into 140 characters or less. And we edited, illustrated and published our gift book in an absurdly short period of time. We seriously do not recommend you try this at home. But we are highly trained professionals. At least that’s what it says on our business cards … that Jessica designed for us. So … uh … there you are.
Still, we must’ve done something right because the day after THE BIG BOOK OF PARENTING TWEETS debuted, it hit #5 on Amazon’s Hot New Parenting/Family Humor Releases, alongside our good friend Jill Smokler and her Scary Mommy’s Guide To Surviving the Holidays, Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi’s No Land’s Man, and Adam Mansbach (of the bedtime classic Go The Fuck To Sleep) with his follow-up, You Have To Fucking Eat.
And as long as we’re dropping F-bombs here, let me just say that THAT’S some pretty fucking amazing fortune. How’d we get from fortune cookie to #5 on the hot list ? Sit right back and you’ll hear the tale.
Norine: So, there I was, toiling away on what I thought was going to be our “first book,” Science of Parenthood, coming out next November, when you decided to slip another book in ahead of that one. Seriously, Jess, were you trying to give me a heart attack?
Jessica: [laughing … laughing … hysterically laughing]:
Norine: You were so excited! You texted me early one morning — ridiculously early for you since you’re two hours behind me and I was still in bed. You texted, I’ve got a great idea for a holiday gift book! The next thing I knew, we were signing contracts with Kate and some thirty other contributors to create it. WTF?
Jessica: I was excited! I’d been trying to come up with an idea for an anthology or collection for a while, and nothing I had come up with before this felt really fresh to me.
Norine: You know … that does sort of ring a bell. I do remember shivering on a playground bench when I was out visiting you last year and bouncing anthology ideas around while our kids played on the merry-go-round.
Jessica: You were cold? I thought you might be tweaking from all the coffee and idea talk. But yes, I wanted to do an anthology; something different than just an essay collection. I wanted something that was unique to us and could somehow bring in our illustrations. Then a couple of weeks ago, I was literally lying in bed and Boom! The idea just dropped into my head: What about doing an anthology of parenting tweets? There is so much funny stuff on Twitter. It’s actually the perfect vehicle for humor because sticking to 140-characters forces comedians to distill a joke to its comedy essence. And I thought this would be the perfect gift book to get out before the holidays. Too bad I didn’t have the idea till October. It would have nice if I’d had the idea in, say, June.
Norine: Eh, where’s the fun in that? We’re living on the edge, baby. And for the record, I was freezing my ass off.
Jessica: Of course you were, you weigh ten pounds. I just knew this would be the type of book that would be great as a gift. You can give it to your mom. Teens can give it to their parents. Parents can buy it for other parents they know. Or … as a kind of heads up for parents-to-be. You know, like, Good luck to you!
Norine: They should really hand this book out in Sex-Ed classes.
Jessica: Exactly. And so many people say they don’t “get” Twitter. I totally understand that. At first glance, Twitter looks like a big mess. There are all these Twitter abbreviations and private conversations. To weed through all of that to find what is really top-notch humor is a burden. People are busy. They don’t want to do that. So we did it for them.
Norine: Tell me about the fortune cookie that started the wheels turning. How on earth did we get from fortune cookies to a book?
Jessica: I saw one of Kate Hall’s posts and somehow tweets and fortune cookies were mentioned together in the comments. I can’t remember if it was about tweets in fortune cookies or if I made that leap, but I commented, That’s actually a brilliant idea. I did a little research and found a place that does custom fortune cookies. I texted Kate about that idea that night. I was still thinking about how to market tweets the following morning when the book idea hit me. I instantly thought, Kate’s a Twitter all-star. Let’s get her to do this with us! I messaged you, then messaged Kate.
Norine: So, Kate. We’d been in some Facebook blogging groups together. And we’d shared a suite with you at the BlogU Conference last summer. But you still barely knew us. What did you think when Jessica emailed and said, We want to publish a book in four weeks! Come do this crazy project with us!?
Kate Hall: I loved the idea! I had been thinking (selfishly of course) about doing something with my own tweets.
Norine: Well, your tweets are pretty hilarious.
Kate: Thanks! This book makes a lot more sense though. I immediately had all of these people pop into my head who I wanted to ask to contribute.
Norine: Of course! Because you’ve featured many of the book’s contributors on Hall of Tweets or they’ve made your monthly 10 Funniest Tweets lists. How long have you been doing that?
Kate: Probably 75 percent of our contributors, I’ve either interviewed or they’ve made my list. I started doing the Top 10 Funniest Tweets list on my other blog, Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine? two years ago. Now that it’s been around a while, people look for the list and they enjoy when they make the list. People enjoy reading the lists because the tweets are so funny. I liked doing the lists so much, I built my Hall of Tweets blog around that a few months ago. At this point, I’ve read more than 100,000 tweets. I read 6,000 to 10,000 tweets a month to create my lists. People may wonder if I even have a life outside of Twitter. Haha! I don’t.
Norine: Get out! That’s a crap-ton of tweets! Do you think that makes you a more discerning humor consumer?
Kate: I’m always on the lookout for something that’s creative and unique and said in a different way. Parenting humor is pretty much the same topics over and over, and you tend to see a lot of the same jokes done by different people. But I find I can pick out the tweets that will make my followers laugh. For me to RT something, I’m like, This is relatable. I know people will like this. I’ll RT it, and it’ll do well. But it may not make me laugh because I laughed at it two years ago when I first read it.
So spending so much time reading tweets has done two things: It’s made me more aware of what’s really funny. I’ve definitely gotten better at picking tweets that are really funny. But it’s also kind of deadened my humor. I don’t laugh at what I used to laugh at years ago. I’m like a humor junky, I need more unique and creative humor to make me laugh like a junky needs heroine to get high.
Norine: Maybe that’s why I like the real-kid conversations in our book so much — they’re so unique. And we’ve got so many moms and dads playing straight man to their comic genius kids.
Jessica: The use of pauses in these conversations is really great. There’s the use of ellipses, so you can tell the parents are sort of thinking about something. Or it’s just a blank pause. And you know the kid and the parent are just looking at each other in a moment of standoff.
Norine: Like the dad taking his kid to the library but first the kid has to run and grab his sword. If it were a play, the stage direction would be “[blink blink].”
Jessica: Right! And the parent has to make a split-second decision, I can’t think of a valid reason why not, so let’s do it. When the writers get into using spacing and returns on Twitter, it’s pretty amazing. You can go pretty far with 140 characters.
Norine: We have some smart, clever people who really get into the nut of what it’s like to negotiate situations with kids. Kate, with your three children — two boys and a girl, ages 10, 8 and 5 — you’re smack dab in the middle of the best time to write parenting humor.
Kate: There’s plenty of stuff that they say or situations that can lead to good tweets or blog posts. So many things that all parents can relate to.
Norine: I think my favorite was when your husband asked, Do you love your sister? Your son said, About 4.5. Then your husband said, It’s not on a scale of 1 to 10. And your son was brilliant!
Kate: [laughing] Yeah, that’s on a scale of 1 to 100!
Jessica: I was looking for things that had a strong visual element; something I could see in my head as being draw-able. But I was very thoughtful of not stepping on the joke with the drawing. My dad’s a New Yorker cartoonist, and that is the format for the cartoons in The New Yorker: You have a drawing and you have a caption. They need to work together. You don’t want the drawing to supersede the caption. Or vice versa. So I looked for tweets where the illustration would support the joke but not give it away.
Jessica: I had to pull up pictures of Keith Richards to see what exactly he looks like, and I had to think about how to turn this craggy almost-70-year-old dude into a 6-year-old and make that connection work. You look at the cartoon, and you’re wondering, Why the hell does this child look so awful? Then you read the joke and you’re like, Oh, there it is.
Norine: Start-to-finish, concept-to-copies-for-sale, this book came together in four weeks. That’s stupid fast!
Jessica: It should have been impossible. Luckily, I had put books together before so I didn’t have a learning curve in terms of the technology and the tools I would need to get it done. I’d done the self-publishing process several times with my custom children’s book for Story Tots. That was a huge shortcut right there. Plus, curating the editorial was relatively easy. We asked for tweets people had already written, so they didn’t have to write anything new, just gather up some of their favorites and send them in. We gave them a week and they delivered. And then we went through the voting process.
Norine: Blind voting. We didn’t want to be influenced because we know many of the contributors. The tweets were judged strictly by their LOL-ness — which I heard is now a new metric.
Jessica: And some of the things that didn’t make it into the book weren’t necessarily cut because they weren’t good, but because we already had something with that same joke structure already. We really strove for balance and making sure each tweet stood on its own. And that we weren’t repeating phrasing or concepts. Because, as Kate mentioned earlier, we’re all going through the same stuff. People are going to have very similar jokes about certain things.
Norine: Think of where the best humor comes from: the stuff that drives us batshit crazy or challenges us. And that’s going to be the same kinds of things for every parent: Toddler stubbornness, diaper blowouts, potty training, picky eating, refusing to go to sleep, endless video games, projectile vomiting. We’re all fishing in the same pond. I was not surprised that we had a couple of duplicate jokes.
Jessica: I’m surprised that we didn’t have more. Because we asked these tweeters to send in upwards of 20 tweets. It was kind of amazing that we didn’t see more of the same sorts of jokes. And I love that we got so many dads.
Jessica: Dads have a very unique voice. At least the dads we’ve got in our book. They’re approaching parenting from a different angle. Even if they’re staying at home. They still have a different sensibility.
Norine: True. I think my favorite Dad tweet was this conversation from Exploding Unicorn:
My wife: “That’s not the shirt I sent her to daycare in.”
Me: “But it’s the right kid?”
Me: “Awesome. I’m going to play Xbox.”
That sums up the differences between mom humor and dad humor so perfectly. Does dad humor seem sharper or edgier to you?
Kate: Nah, I’ve never really thought of dad humor being edgier than mom humor. I think it depends on the person/writer. There are some edgy women out there and some not-so-edgy men. On Twitter you have the entire spectrum.
Jessica: I think dad humor may stand out because it’s just a different voice. We’re so used to hearing women’s voices in our circles. And right or wrong, there’s a different expectation for dads. Like when you hear about a dad taking the kids to the grocery store. He’s a hero. But, of course, Mom does that all the time, and it’s no big deal.
Norine: Classic. So, can you believe that on our second day out, we hit #5 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for parenting/family humor?
Jessica: I am stunned and thrilled. Last night I was saying that I feel like one of the X-Men. Like we shot all of the powers we’ve amassed over the past almost-two years at this book launch and it just exploded. It definitely goes to show the massive effect that being a part of a solid blogging community can have. I mean, you still have to have an appealing product, but WOW.
Kate: It’s incredible. So many people came together to support us by getting the word out. And I think the combination of good reviews, a fantastic and professional cover and hilarious contributors made this book something people want to read. They knew it would be good.
Norine: Now, you sort of took me by surprise with The Big Book of Parenting Tweets. Are you planning on springing Book Two on me any time soon?
Jessica: [laughing] Of course, I am! The wheels are already turning. I’m trying to figure out when we can fit it in. Meanwhile, I’ve told our comedy troupe to start gathering their tweets. So we can be ready for the next book.
Norine: You heard it here first, parents! Book Two already in development.