Behind the Parent Hacks Book: Writing the manuscript


You’d think, since I’d been running the Parent Hacks blog for 10+ years that writing Parent Hacks would be a piece of cake.

The thing I didn’t expect was that baking a really good cake is really hard.

Writing Parent Hacks was much bigger challenge than I’d expected, and so holding the finished product in my hands — the result of so many peoples’ efforts — is even sweeter than I expected.

The Manuscript (Summer/Fall 2014)

The Parent Hacks blog contains over 4000 posts and over 30,000 comments. The first step in writing the manuscript was to decide which hacks to feature in the book.

Given that I started the Parent Hacks blog on a whim during a holiday break, and its growth was organic, there was no way to do a quick survey of what was inside. We just had to dig through the archives post-by-post and comment-by-comment. It brought back so many fantastic ideas and conversations, but it was also a lot of information to sort through.

Thankfully, I had help. I worked with two talented people during this part of the process: Kris-Ann Race and Adrienne Jones (Baby Toolkit, Great Big Table).

The initial sweep

Kris-Ann did the initial sweep (which still topped out at over 1500 hacks) + additional Web research to confirm and expand upon some of the hacks. I pored over the most monster spreadsheet I’d ever seen, sifting through each hack to decide if it was useful enough to merit inclusion.

Choosing which hacks to include wasn’t the only task — I also had to figure out how best to present them. Some hacks stood on their own, but others worked better grouped in a list or graphic collection. (So despite what the subtitle says, there are more than 134 hacks in the book.)

I also had to decide how to organize the chosen hacks into chapters, which was less straightforward than it seems. Should breast feeding hacks go in the newborn chapter or the feeding chapter? What about car-related hacks, some of which apply to road trips (Travel chapter) while others apply to everyday errands (Errands & Outings chapter)?

The fine-tuning

This is where Adrienne came to the rescue. Adrienne was an active part of the Parent Hacks community since practically the beginning. She knows Parent Hacks inside and out, and her insight was invaluable because I was too close to it all. Plus that spreadsheet scrambled my brain, especially when I peered at it on my 11-inch Macbook Air screen.

Adrienne gave her input on which hacks she considered the strongest, how to organize them, and even came up with a few new hacks while we were doing the work! We talked about what was useful, what was dated (i.e., life choices before smartphones), and which hacks just HAD to be included because they typified the conversation that happened on the blog.

I’m incredibly grateful to Kris-Ann and Adrienne for helping me through what was the most overwhelming part of writing the first draft of the manuscript. The book you see has their work on every page.

The Editing (Spring-Fall 2015)

Once I turned in the manuscript, it was time for editing. I love editing! Removing, organizing, tightening, clarifying till the book becomes the best version of itself. And I had a wonderful editor by my side. Megan Nicolay is not only a book editor, she’s an author (Generation T, Generation T: Beyond Fashion) and she understands both sides of the table well.

I knew from the get-go I was in good hands at Workman Publishing — the great, independent publisher behind some of the bestsellers we all know: the What To Expect books, The Silver Palate Cookbook, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and many more.

Megan and I went back and forth, taking hacks out, adding new ones in, rewriting them, and getting everything organized and locked-down enough to pass onto the illustrator, Craighton Berman (my next “Behind the Book” post will be all about him).

It was a long process. Once we were working with illustrations, the manuscript (words) turned into designed pages (pictures), and for the first time I got to see what the actual book pages would look like. My edits moved from the computer to a pile of paper spread out on my dining room table.

Megan not only edited the text, she did painstaking layout work with designer Jean-Marc Troadec…changing text so a list would look just right, choosing colors and formats, and turning a pile of words and pictures into a beautiful visual object.

Start to finish, writing and editing Parent Hacks took about a year-and-a-half, and I haven’t even listed every person involved. It was a challenging process in the best way, and we created something I never could have created myself…something I believe represents the smart, thoughtful, encouraging conversation that happened on the Parent Hacks blog for ten years.

Read the entire Behind the Book series.