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7 Keys to Success for a Great Offsite Retreat Meeting for your Team

Posted on June 8, 2022 at 2:40 PM

After a COVID hiatus, in-person retreat meetings are back with organizations in a big way for a few reasons. 

– First, after a two year absence, there is pent up demand for retreat meetings, which many organizations had on an annual or recurring basis.

– There has been a lot of turnover in team members, so there is a need for team building.

– The challenges in the world (e.g., COVID, inflation, war in Europe, supply chains, staff shortages, etc.) means organizations need to regroup to update or rethink their strategies.

If you are putting together an offsite retreat for your team, here are 7 keys to success.

1 - Clarify Meeting Goals - Retreat meetings can serve several purposes, ranging from team-building to strategy development. It is important to set a clear and reasonable goal for what your offsite retreat meeting will produce. If your goal is strategy development, for example, producing a 50 page strategic planning document by committee is probably not a reasonable goal in a one or two day retreat. Perhaps coming up with a prioritized list of a handful of strategic initiatives for the organization is a more reasonable goal. 


2 - Set Logistics Early - Setting the dates and venue as early as possible for your retreat is key. With added demand and staff shortages this year, meeting venues that are available can be harder to find than before. A long lead time will also be key to ensure that you block out the times on the calendars of the attendees.

3 - Choreograph the Meeting - The attendees of an offsite are often managers who are used to being the leader of their own teams and organizing a lot of their own workdays. When you have a bunch of independent leaders working as a team, it is important to have structure around the “who does what, when, and where” in the meeting. Where do you need to mix in fun and higher energy activities to break up more tedious activities? How do you ensure everyone participates? One key to creating a great agenda is to look at it from the perspective of the meeting attendees, not just from the perspective of the meeting organizer. 

4 - Have Ground Rules - The most valuable, and scarce, resource in offsite retreat meetings is time. Retreat meetings are often only a day or few because the attendees cannot be away from their regular responsibilities for long. In addition to the short time, the attendees may not be used to working so closely with each other. Having effective ground rules can be a way to shorten the team forming/storming/norming phase to ensure the time together is efficient. The best ground rules are ones that the team comes up with themselves and are also fun and easy to enforce.

5 - Get Help - Offsite retreat meetings can be big investments of time for the attendees and expenses for the organization. That means the stakes are high for the meeting organizers. Since meeting organizers probably don’t organize meetings full time, it can make sense to bring in expert help from elsewhere to make sure the meeting is a success. Hiring an external facilitator can be a wise investment. They will have learned how to avoid common retreat meeting derailers. Having an independent newcomer in a facilitator role can also break the mold of typical day-to-day meetings of the organization and get the meeting attendees in a new attitude.

6 - Build Skills - Team-building is often a goal for offsite retreats. Smart meeting organizers often insert a training module into a retreat as an activity that builds skills while also providing team-building. Find a common individual skill that all the team members could benefit from learning and make it a module. Leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills are common training components to add to a retreat.  

7 - Share Results - The true measure of success for a retreat is the output from the meeting. Having a before versus after survey of attendees´s assessment about topics ​can be a useful way to show attendees how the meeting had an impact. Creating a high level document of the output from the meeting that can be shared with others in the organization can be a clear way to coalesce around an output too.

When managed well, offsite retreats can be a powerful way to build teamwork and direction for an organization. When done poorly, they can be viewed by senior management as big time wasters that reflect poorly on the retreat organizers. Following these 7 rules can make sure your offsite retreat goes well and not off the rails.

7 Communication Lessons from Steve Jobs iPhone Launch

Posted on May 26, 2022 at 9:50 AM

On January 9th, 2007, Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computers, announced a new product that he believed would change his company and industry - the iPhone. The iPhone, and the knockoff competitors it inspired, have changed the world. They have connected people in new ways - e.g., face-to-face video calls, mobile internet browsing, enabling uncensored witness videos to be immediately shared worldwide. They have also fueled the development and growth of countless social media and other new applications. 

Jobs had long earned a reputation as a master communicator. His first public communication about the iPhone was no different. Jobs announced the iPhone at the end of a two-hour speech and product demonstration at the annual MacWorld conference in 2007. Here are seven highlights from his talk that demonstrate his skills and techniques in leadership communication.

1 - Open with a Reason for the Audience to Listen - Jobs started his talk with a simple, yet bold, statement - “Thank you for coming. We’re going to make some history together today.” He wanted everyone to know why they should listen to him. He told them that this meeting was going to be part of history. He was letting them know they would want to remember it, so they should pay attention. 

LEADERSHIP LESSON => Tell your audience why they should want to listen carefully to what you are about to tell them. Tell them what is in it for them. 

2 - Establish Credibility After opening with such a bold assertion, even Jobs had to back it up with some evidence. So he said this - “It was just a year ago that I was up here and announced that we were going to switch to Intel processors. A huge, heart transplant to Intel microprocessors. And I said that we would do it over the coming 12 months. We did it in seven months, and it was the - it’s been the smoothest and most successful transition that we’ve ever seen in the history of our industry.”

LEADERSHIP LESSON => Give your audience a reason to believe your claim that they will want to pay attention to what you are about to say. Point to other times your words have mattered to them.

3 - Save the Best for Last - Once Jobs had his audience’s attention, he pushed the information that he needed to share, not that they most wanted to hear. He knew people would be closely tuned in to hear when he started talking about the history-making thing he teased at the beginning. He used this audience attention to push a lot of information about the performance of his company’s activities in other product lines - computers, music, video, and even the most recent TV ads - that he needed stockholders and other stakeholders to hear. Jobs did this so often that audiences started to wait to hear him say something like “wait, there is one more thing” at the end of his talks. 

LEADERSHIP LESSON => Once you have the audience’s attention, you may want to take advantage to push some other information you need them to hear but that may not have enticed them to attend. If done right, you will both get important information across while building anticipation for the big news at the end. If done poorly, you may lose your audience or train them to ignore your communications until the end. 

4 - Give Perspective - Because Jobs was ahead of his audience, he had to give them context to understand what he was talking about. He had to give them something to connect themselves to the bold news he was going to tell them. He did it this way that day: “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been - well, first of all, one’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. 1984, introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple. It changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well today we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class… An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator. These are not three separate devices, this is one device and we are calling it the iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone…”

LEADERSHIP LESSON => Stories from history can be helpful to connect an audience to new concepts. Analogies can also be helpful in simplifying complex concepts. 

5 - Define Problems that Need to be Solved - Jobs did not introduce the iPhone by describing all the innovative technologies it contained. Instead, he started by describing why the current state of phones was a problem that needed to be solved: “The most advanced phones are called smart phones, so they say. And they typically combine a phone plus some email capability, plus they say its the internet. It’s sort of the baby internet, into one device, and they all have these little plastic keyboards on them… Now why do we need a revolutionary user interface? Here’s four smart phones, right. Motorola Q, the BlackBerry, Palm Treo, Nokia E62 - the usual suspects. And what’s wrong with their user interfaces?… They all have these keyboards that are there whether or not you need them to be there. And they all have these control buttons that are fixed in plastic and are the same for every application. Well, every application wants a slightly different user interface, a slightly optimized set of buttons, just for it. And what happens if you think of a great idea six months from now? You can’t run around and add a button to these things. They’re already shipped.”

LEADERSHIP LESSON => Focus your communication on the problems that your audience cares about. In this case, Jobs knew he was talking to techies instead of end users, so he focused on why the iPhone solved problems for technology developers. If he was talking to end users, he may have focused on showing how the compact iPhone would have replaced the need to carry a separate phone, camera, music player, and internet browser. 

6 - Make Solutions Seem Obvious - After he had demonstrated the problem, Jobs made the solution seem obvious by saying it was actually an old problem in a new guise: “Well how do you solve this? It turns out we have solved it. We solved it in computers 20 years ago…. We solved it with the mouse… So how are we going to take this to a mobile device? What we’re going to do is get rid of all these buttons and just make a giant screen… We don’t want to carry around a mouse, right?… Nobody wants a stylus… We’re going to use a pointing device that we’re all born with - born with ten of them. We’re going to use our fingers… So we have been very lucky to have brought a few revolutionary user interfaces to the market in our time. First was the mouse. The second was the click wheel. And now, were going to bring multi-touch to the market.”

LEADERSHIP LESSON => If you make a solution sound obvious enough for the audience to explain to others, they probably will. And every time they explain the problem and solution to others, they will take more interest — and maybe even a sense of ownership — in the problem and solution as you have outlined.

7 - End by Looking Forward - After Jobs did a thorough demo of the capabilities of the new iPhone, he closed his message by looking forward. He set a goal for how many iPhones they could sell this way: “Let’s take a look at the market and how big it is… Mobile phones, just about a billion last year, worldwide… 1 percent market share equals 10 million units. This is a giant market…. One percent market share, you’re going to sell 10 million phones. And this is exactly what we’re going to try to do in 2008 - our first full year in the market.” Then he set his sights even higher by saying that his aspirations for his company would no longer be bound by traditional boundaries: “So, today, we’ve added to the Mac and the iPod. We’ve added Apple TV and now iPhone. And you know, the Mac is really the only one that you think of as a computer… So we’re announcing today we’re dropping the computer from our name, and from this day forward, we’re going to be known as Apple Inc. to reflect the product mix that we have today.” Jobs closed by sharing a quote that he thought could best communicate the mission of his company going forward: “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very, very beginning. And we always will. So thank you very very much for being a part of this.”

LEADERSHIP LESSON => Leave the audience motivated and pointed in the right direction to use the energy you have built in them. End with a description of how your message fits into your organization’s broader mission and vision. 

Steve Jobs was a rare leader who led his teams to multiple industry-changing innovations. Few, if any of us, can replicate even parts of his vision and force of personality. Hopefully, we can learn from a few of his communications techniques.

Photo Source:, Matthew Yohe,, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

7 Keys to Find the Best Executive Coach for You

Posted on April 14, 2022 at 3:55 AM

If you have thought about getting help from an executive coach, you are not alone. According to a 2013 survey by Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, 51 percent of senior executives reported they "receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches." 

There are many situations that lead people to get an executive coach. A new job, a new boss, a new challenge, a desire to build skills or fill gaps. Whatever the reason, finding the right coach is essential because the quality and style of coaches vary widely. Here are 7 keys to selecting the best executive coach for you. 

1 - Review Client Recommendations on LinkedIn - Customer testimonials and reviews are helpful, but how do you know if they are true and not fake? The professional networking site LinkedIn is very helpful here because the authors of reviews and endorsements are identified by their LinkedIn profile. It is easy to click through to see if the authors are real. The brief description of them that shows up in each recommendation can also let you compare the recommenders background to your own.

2 - Look for Expertise in your Industry/Profession - The industry or profession you work in has its own unique characteristics that have an impact on the coaching you need. The coach you choose should understand the unique things in your field. It took you years of hard work to build that expertise. Find a coach that has that same expertise so you do not end up spending your valuable coaching time training them.

3 - Seek Leadership Experience - Much of coaching centers on helping people work with or lead other people in the workplace. A coach who has been a leader of teams brings valuable lessons learned from their own experience that can help you work through similar challenges. The more people they have led, the more lessons a coach has learned about working with challenging people and situations. 

4 - Check Coaching Certifications - Some people market themselves as a coach even though they have no training as such. Look for coaches who have been certified by one of the respected organizations in the field, such as the International Coaching Federation and the Board Certified Coach credentialing organization. These credentials not only signify that a coach has training. They also require coaches to practice a set of professional standards, such as protecting clients private information. 

5 - Have a Test Conversation - Once you find a coach that meets the above criteria, the best way to test them is to have a conversation with them. Instead of having them describe what they do, ask them if they will coach you maybe 15-30 minutes through a through a real issue you are facing. That will give you a sense of what you would get if you hire them. A confident coach should be willing to have a complimentary chat for 15-30 minutes with a serious potential client.

6 - Sign a Written Agreement - A professional coach will structure a coaching engagement by giving you a written agreement or proposal to define the terms by which you will work together. The agreement should clearly define expectations for both the client and coach, including fees, length of time, cancellation policies, privacy, etc.. 

7 - Seek Performance Guarantees - Things like a money back guarantee for coaching can be tricky to work. Coaches will typically want some or all of their fees paid up front. You should be able to pay the fees in installments to manage your own risk. Perhaps the best way to make sure that the coach you work with will provide the services offered is to look for one with a good reputation that they will want to protect. Even better, find a coach with a public reputation, perhaps as an author or speaker.

Hiring an executive coach can be a smart investment in your own professional development and happiness. Making the effort to pick the right coach is a great way to get the most out of that investment. 

About the Author of this Article: Victor Prince is the #1 executive coach for financial services executives. He is also an Amazon Top 20 best-selling leadership author who helps organizations build leadership, strategy, communications, and critical thinking skills. Follow Victor on LinkedIN to access his 100+ articles on leadership, strategy, learning & development, and more.

The Journey of a First Time Author - How Book Publishing Works (Part 1 of 4)

Posted on June 24, 2021 at 10:45 AM

I decided to try to publish my first book in 2014. That book, Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide their Teams to Exceptional Results (Career Press, 2015), has done quite well, including:


  • hitting the Top 20 bestseller list in three categories - Leadership, Management, and Teams - in the Amazon Kindle store in 2020
  • gone on to be a Top 10 all-time bestseller for its publisher, 
  • been released in English, Chinese, and Korean versions, and 
  • is stocked in public libraries across the US and around the world in every continent except Antarctica. 


The journey to get there was quite long and arduous. I kept a journal of my experience as a first-time author in real time. I am republishig that journal here now to help other first time, wannabe authors.

Why I am Starting this Blog (Jan. 3, 2014)

I've got to fess up to a serious addiction - I am totally hooked on conquering long-distance hiking and biking trails. I've bicycled from Pittsburgh to Washington DC, from Montreal to Quebec, across the state of New York along the Erie Canal, and across most of Europe along the Danube River. Last summer that addiction began to spread to hiking with a month long month long hike across Spain along the Camino de Santiago. My adventures keep getting longer and a bit crazier.

Now, to feed my adventure addiction, I am doing something much, much more terrifying and difficult: I'm writing my first book. It's a non-fiction business book I have been kicking around for a while and finally decided I had to get it out of my head. Don't worry, it's not a memoir or anything like that - I don't think even I would find it interesting enough to buy. It's about a leadership style I have learned over the years that has worked pretty well for me. I'm told the journey for a first time author is as long and hard as the chances of success are remote. It will make the physical challenges of hiking and biking hundreds of miles seem relaxing I think.

When I did my hike and bike across Europe last year, I Facebook blogged everyday to my friends and many seemed to enjoy it. I know the feedback they gave me every day helped push me on through the sore muscles, twisted ankle, and blisters.

So I figure I need all the help I can get with this first time author journey, so I am going to live blog this as well. Hopefully I get some luck and make it to the finish line. Come join me!

Sharing the Book Idea for the First Time (Jan. 11, 2014)

My career has centered on doing two basic activities (1) analyzing things and (2) leading people. Over time, the two have blended in with each other. As I had more and more experience leading people, my analyst self looked for patterns and root causes in the situations I found myself facing as a leader. My inner voice started a conversation with itself: "This difficult situation I am facing with leading Joe right now reminds me of a situation I faced with leading Jane two years ago. If I apply the lessons I learned in leading Jane to this difficult situation with Joe, that would be a lot better than starting from scratch." "And if I can figure out what makes these two situations so similar, I can more easily identify similar situations like that in the future so I could apply the right lessons learned." "And if I could identify what these root causes are and look for those in other team members, I could probably anticipate problems and apply those lessons learned ahead of time."

So I set about to identifying these common root causes and organizing them into a framework. I started with a simple picture that soon found its way into PowerPoint. Then the PowerPoint turned into a Word document to fit all the words around the picture describing the concept. By the time the Word document turned into ten pages or so, I figured I might actually have an outline of a book. Wow, how did that happen?

Just one problem - I had no idea what a book idea looks like or how you turn it into an actual book. But luckily I had a trusted friend and colleague who did by the name of Mike. Mike had published his first book a couple of years ago and had found quite a bit of success and learned a lot of lessons along the way. I sent him the outline with an introduction along the lines of "this is probably nothing, but do you think there is a book here and, if so, want to help me?" That was three days ago, and now I just got back the reply I was hoping to hear -- "Yes and yes."

So a journey begins. Hopefully both a book and I emerge on the other side.

Learning How Book Publishing Works (Jan. 15, 2014)

Mike and I found some time to chat about the book today. My starting question was "how does this work?" He told me to buckle in for a few minutes while he walked through the whole experience. Here is what I caught from the fire hose of information that followed through the phone.

(1) The process starts with a literary agent. There are a relatively small set (maybe a dozen or so) of literary agents in this niche of the business book world that hold the keys to the publishing kingdom. They have become experts at knowing what the publishers are looking for and being able to quickly tell if they see it. Because they have built a reputation for doing just that, publishers rely on them as gatekeepers between them and aspiring authors. If you can't get an agent interested in your concept, it will never even get in front of a publisher. For that service, agents typically take 15% of the money an author gets.

(2) The pitch to publishers comes in the form of a Proposal, which has several parts.

(3) First is the Precis, a word so new to me I can't even figure out how to type the foreign symbol on one of its letters. The Precis is a fancy name for a very short summary (one page) of the core concept of the book and why it is useful. The next part is a description of the author and the platform they can use to market the book once it does get printed. Could the author prove to readers that they know what they are writing about? And can the author advertise the book to a lot of people to help drive sales? Basically, their way of saying ?I need to know that you can both chop down the tree and there will be people there to hear it fall before I give your lumberjack-wannabe butt a lift to the forest.?

(4) The next part is the chapter outline. You number and title each chapter and write a brief description of what they contain. This is the bulk of the work because you not only have to have your concept fully developed but you have to get the flow of the story right too in smaller pieces.

(5) Finally, the last part is the writing sample. This is typically one full chapter of the book to show that you can actually write well.

(6) Once your literary agent has a complete proposal, they present it around to the publishing houses they know are most likely interested in your topic. In the ideal world, one or more come back with an offer to pick it up that includes an advance on royalties, deadlines and other financial terms.

(7) Financial terms center on royalty rates, which are set on wholesale, not list, price and are typically tiered based on volume. The first 5000 copies earn the author 15% of wholesale price, the next 5000 copies 17% and runs above that pay out 20%. You should note that your agent?s 15% cut comes out of all of those, so author?s net take is 12.75%, 14.45%, and 17%, respectively. And remember that the advance you get, maybe $10-20K or so is called an advance because it is just pre-payment of royalties you earn. If you don?t sell enough books, you won?t see any more. To sum up ? don?t quit your day job.

Once you sign an agreement, the real writing work actually begins and you will be on deadline. A whole new slew of people will be ripping apart your work ? the acquiring editor, the copy editor and at least one other type of editor whose label I cant read from my notes because Mike was talking so fast. This whole process took about 14 months for Mike with his book, which is pretty fast, and he signed with an elite publishing house.

It took me a moment to notice that the fire hose of information had finally stopped. My hand was cramped from writing and my head was spinning. What exactly am I signing up for? Am I really up for this? Do you have to be crazy to do this? "Hello. You still there?" Mike's voice on the other end of the phone snapped me out of my stupor. I hesitated a moment and replied, "Well, we better get started."

The Journey of a First Time Author - How Book Publishing Works (Part 2 of 4)

Posted on June 23, 2021 at 12:35 AM


Enter: The Agent (Jan. 22, 2014)


"Sideways" is one of my all-time favorite movies. The scene where Paul Giamatti's character goes beserk and sloppily chugs the spit bucket of red wine at the tasting room of a winery is a classic.


Do you remember what caused him to go beserk? It was talking to his literary agent.


Today, I communicated with a literary agent for the first time. No wine buckets were spilled in the process, but I am going to refer our agent as Miles going forward in homage to my favorite fictional author. Miles represented Mike for his book and was key to getting it published. So when Mike suggested we see if Miles thought we had a good book concept, I instantly agreed. Mike and I spent the next several days polishing up the simple outline I had so we could get Miles something to react to. Mike emailed it to Miles under the subject line "Next book" last Friday. Miles replied surprisingly quickly with a "I'll get back to you next week. Have a good weekend." I wonder how quickly - or even if - Miles would have responded if I had sent the email cold to him.


I checked my email inbox about 100 times a day for the next several days. Today, we finally got a reply from Miles - "I like this quite a bit, and think it is definitely worth developing... Let's discuss."


I'm not sure what I was hoping or expecting to hear, but this sounded pretty good. I don't think I will be chugging a spit bucket of red wine ... at least not today.


Agent Feedback (Jan. 23, 2014)


Mike and I just got off of a conference call with Miles the agent. It was great to hear he liked the outline and said it had good potential worth pushing. He gave some very helpful feedback too.


First, he said we have to decide what our "voice" would be in our writing. Are we going to use "we" or be non-personal. Whichever way, we had to be consistent. Then he pointed out the part he thought was the weakest part. It was exactly the place that Mike and I thought he would. He reacted to our working titles and gave us some tips on what makes a good title and subtitle. We left the call with a bunch of "to do's" and an agreement to get something back to Miles soon.


More Agent Feedback (Jan. 26, 2014)


The phone call with Miles sparked a new email conversation between Mike and Miles on Mike's first book sales update. When the conversation touched on our book, Mike looped me in. (Seeing the earlier part of the email conversation about tracking sales of Mike's first book via a portal for agents to check retail sailes was an interesting peek behind the curtain for me.) Miles reaffirms that he likes our concept with an "I like this idea a lot" which brings a big smile to my face. My logical self knows that tossing out positive affirmation to aspiring authors must be a regular task for agents - like what lawn sprinklers do with water. That said, it still makes me smile.


Their conversation goes to ideas to further monetize the concept. (Ok, maybe Miles really does see something here if he is already thinking of that.) Could we offer additional training on the concept in a mass market way? Miles throws out a couple examples we should think about as ideas to emulate. One is a new one I have never heard of. The other book is a household name that I still see in every airport bookstore. Now this is getting interesting. If only this book could write itself...


Formalizing our Co-Author Agreement (Jan. 27, 2014) 


Mike and I decide that we should probably formalize our partnership terms on the book to avoid any confusion down the road. We are both on the same page about what partnership means, but it sounds like a good idea anyway.


Jointly creating intellectual property does create some unique questions worth answering (e.g., what happens to the intellectual property rights if one partner drops out part way and the other wants to continue). Besides he has an old coauthorship agreement draft he did for a past project that can be an easy starting point. He will mark that up and get it to me.


From the first time I shared the idea with him, I said I wanted to be true partners - 50/50 on everything. Sure, the original idea is mine but I know that Mike brings a lot to the table that I lack that complements the idea. Mike's experience successfully publishing a book opens doors and helps us avoid rookie author mistakes. He also has built a great marketing platform with his thousands of readers of his book and business blog. He is a prolific writer how has learned to communicate business topics in a compelling way. Finally, he is a great and smart guy I have been partnering with on other things and really enjoy working with. Overall, a no-brainer.


I do have exactly one thing I would like to not split right down the middle and I'm a bit uncomfortable saying so. One of our names has to go first in the author line and, for some reason, it would mean a lot for me to be first. Before I even ask, Mike has already taken care of that in the draft agreement, noting me as "author" and him as "coauthor" with my name going first. Everything else seems pretty common sense and I send it off to an attorney specializing in copyright law to give me an expert read. (I use to bid out my legal projects and have been very happy with the service.) We agree to finalize any tweaks after incorporating any changes from the attorneys. I'm not 100% sure this book will ever produce a penny of revenue, but now it is incurring some real expenses. This is getting real.


Work Intrudes (Feb. 14, 2014) 


It's been over two weeks since our flurry of activity pushing the book and connecting with Miles. We haven't made as much progress in these two weeks as we did during the last two days of that flurry. It's for a good reason though ... other work has popped up that has distracted both Mike and me. We both have our own management consulting and training businesses and we partner together frequently. In the last two weeks, we have had several new potential client leads come in all at once and putting together proposals to respond takes some time. Prospective clients are always a priority, so the book has taken a back seat. It is a good problem to have, but hopefully we can find some time to continue pushing forward to a proposal Miles can start marketing. Oh, and also Miles emailed today to ask for an ETA for the updated proposal. It is a good reminder ... and a nice validation that he must think there is some good potential here.


Proposal 0.0 (Feb. 17, 2014) 


The gentle nudge from Miles has spurred us to finish up our edits to the outline and get it back to him for his thoughts. Miles gives us a few suggestions and tells us we need to start translating the outline to a more formal proposal. Mike sends a copy of his final proposal from his first book and we decide to use that as a starting point. We need to translate the 5-10 page outline into a 30-50 page proposal. We have our work cut out for us. Kind of intimidating.


Good Distractions, but Distractions (Feb. 28, 2014) 


We've had more good distractions. A couple of other potential clients needing proposals. Some family and vacation. Excuses, excuses. Bottom line is we haven't made a ton of progress in building out the big proposal format. Most of the progress we have made in the last couple of weeks has been around setting up the process through which we will work together. Mike set up a Dropbox folder for us. First time I am using it and it is very useful. We also set up a weekly meeting to check in, although we have skipped the last few because of competing priorities.


Mike: Slammed (March 15, 2014)


I finally got back to working on the proposal and check in with Mike. His reply back - "Slammed. Will review/revert soon. Sorry for the delay." The terseness of his message reinforces the content. Mike is a workaholic (he would admit so) so I don't doubt for a second that he is slammed on other valuable things. I just find that pushing the ball alone takes a little wind out of my sails. I feel like I am playing tennis with a wall - the only thing I get out is what I put in. The adrenaline I felt in January is kind of running low. I start to wonder if this was a crazy idea after all. No hard feelings, just more like a check back into reality that feels like an adrenaline hangover.


Victor: Slammed (April 3, 2014)


I am not sure what happened to the second half of March. A freak cold snap in DC froze my pipes, which meant I started a new job of babysitting plumbers in my house. My parents' 50th wedding anniversary and an impromptu family reunion in DC meant I was hosting a big party. More client requests came in. Spring and Cherry Blossoms. Nationals baseball season opening. A mayoral race to help with. Whatever it was, the last couple of weeks were quite event filled, but did not translate to a lot of progress on the book.


Restart (May 5, 2014) 


The book proposal has moved exactly zero inches forward over the last several weeks. Lots of excuses, none of them great. I was overseas on a hiking trip for a couple of weeks. Mike continued to be slammed with work. Etc. So I reached back out to Mike today and asked if we should restart the book or should we take our lack of progress as a sign that maybe it wasn't meant to be. We both decided to get back to it and schedule a call to get us going again.


Sometimes a Break Can Be Good (May 22, 2014) 


We have made some nice progress over the last couple of weeks. In fact, setting it aside seems to have had some big benefits. First, re-reading it confirmed for me that there was a good concept here worth completing. Second, it made it much clearer what should be changed and gave some fresh ideas on how to restructure. We have cranked quite a bit on it. The proposal is up to almost 40 pages and it is getting much tighter. Much tighter. I am officially excited again and getting eager to get it to the next step.


Coffee with an Author (May 28, 2014)


I had coffee today with a neighbor of mine who just published his first book. The whole time I was meeting with him I was thinking to myself "when can I call myself an 'author'?". He cracked the top 10 of the Washington Post's non-fiction best seller list. It was interesting to hear about his experience. When he asked about where we were and when we started, I felt a little embarrassed about our big delay over the previous couple of months. I told him we started at the New Year, secured an agent who wanted to represent us, and have our proposal up to about 40 pages. His reply - "Wow, that is really fast." That was a surprise. It was a nice reminder about how picking the right partner so early was a very smart move.


Finally Hitting 'Send" Again (June 2, 2014) 


I love the book. I hate the book. Well, to clarify, I am really happy with where we are with the proposal draft. We seem to be accelerating in finding ways to tighten it every time we exchange edits. I am starting to think people actually might want to buy this book when it gets printed. Yes, I said "when" as I am now getting very eager to get to the next stage with it.


At the same time, I am hating the book a bit because I am now at the point where I have read it so many times I am having a hard time letting it go back to Miles (remember, he is the agent) for his feedback. I keep thinking "what if we added this or changed that" but then realize that at some point you just need to sew up the patient up. We set a goal to send it to Miles by the end of last week. It was ready, but we decide to sleep on it over the weekend.


So today was the day to send it off. I sent Miles a heads up on Saturday that we would be getting something to him in the next few days. My purpose with that was to (a) remind him who I was after such a long gap so my email didn't get lost in his inbox, (b) let him know to set some time aside because going through the 40 page document does take some time, and (c) to commit myself to getting it out. I reread the proposal one more time. I found no type-os and changed exactly one word. I resaved and then attached it to an email. My temptation was to write a long explanation of what changed since last time, what we think is good, what we know we need to work on, etc. etc.. But I resisted that temptation and simply said "As mentioned. We are eager to get your feedback." under the subject line "Revised Book Proposal".


For the first time in months, I feel like the ball is out of my court and it feels good. The bad part is that I am now playing a waiting game. The proposal has grown a lot since Miles last saw it. Would he still think it is a good idea or has he since come to his senses? What if all the work to date was for naught? Was I crazy to think I could write a book? And I wait...

The Journey of a First Time Author - How Book Publishing Works (Part 3 of 4)

Posted on June 22, 2021 at 12:40 AM

The Agent Responds (June 3, 2014)

I have checked my email inbox approximately 600 times in the 26 hours since I sent the proposal to Miles. Is my inbox working? Am I going to be crushed or elated when he does respond? Mercifully, the waiting game ended at 1:41pm today with his reply calling this "a very strong proposal" and asking for a conference call to go over feedback. The three of us find a time to conference call on Thursday afternoon. So I will go with "cautiously elated" instead of "crushed" for the next two days.


Monday is Going to Be A Big Day (June 5, 2014)


Mike and I just got off of a conference call with our literary agent (Miles). It had been a few months since we last chatted on the phone with him about the book. Miles started off with some nice comments such as "this is really quite good" and "reading this proposal, I would feel confident you know the book you are going to write." Nice to hear. Nice to hear.


Miles had a couple of tweaks for the title and asked us to add a "Market" section to the proposal. That basically points out that the intended target audience for the book are current managers and people aspiring to be managers and looking for things to learn to help them get there.


The biggest surprise for me was that the publisher who published Mike's first book has a right of first refusal on his next book, and that covers a coauthored book too. They get 60 days to make an offer before, although they probably won't take that long. I am viewing this as a pleasant surprise, as the publisher in question is a very well-regarded one. And because they published Mike's first book, we don't need to include a whole chapter as a writing sample. Nice to hear. Nice to hear.


We set a goal to make the final edits and send it in to that publisher on Monday. T minus 4 days until we get to a whole new step. This is feeling a lot more real now.


Final(?) Proposal in Agent's Hands (June 9, 2014)


Spent a few hours -- ok, all day -- today writing the missing 'Market and Competition' section of the proposal. Most of that time was spent browsing for all the books that touch on our leadership/team management topic. Turns out "browsing" is a synonym for "wandering like Charlie through a Willy Wonka factory of leadership/team management books." It is amazing how many people have been able to translate their thoughts into books. Having come this far, I have a new appreciation for all their efforts. Looking over all those titles doubles down on my thought that there is a market for helpful leadership books. It also makes me feel like we have a fresh approach that is more grounded in experience than theory. Blah, blah, blah. I send it to Mike to get his thoughts on my crackerjack Market and Competiion summary:. "Looks great... Send? You?ve got the honors sir"," I hit "Send" to Miles. If he likes our "Market and Competition" analysis summary, the whole proposal goes to the publisher. If he doesn't, we have some work to do. Stay tuned.


Agent Submits, Now I Wait (June 10, 2014)


Miles, the agent, replies to update to the proposal "Looks right ... will send to publisher today." Now, to quote the great Tom Petty, "The waiting is the hardest part..." The publisher has up to 60 days to reply with their right of first refusal. One thing that makes this different (harder? easier?) than the typical author submission is that I know that the right people will see this proposal. Between having a great agent and a great, proven co-author, it will get in the right hands. That is wonderful but has a downside. If it gets no interest, I won't have the excuse to tell myself that my work is great but just undiscovered. Maybe unappreciated, but not undiscovered. Weirdly makes me feel more exposed than if I were coming in cold as an aspiring first time author.


Publisher Responds (June 19, 2014)


After a week of waiting, we finally got a response from the publisher today: an editor wants to chat on the phone. I am taking that as a good sign, as they probably don't waste their time on the phone to let people know what a waste of time it was to read their proposal . We are scheduled for next Wednesday afternoon. Another week of waiting, but now I can at least feel the words of the great Lloyd Christmas(*) as wind in my sails: "So you're telling me there's a chance." (*) Christmas is one of two lead protagonists in the classic Greek tragedy "Dumb and Dumber".


Just Finished Writing... the Coauthorship Agreement (June 24, 2014)


Mike and I wanted to avoid any problems down the road by formalizing our coauthor partnership structure for this book. The easy part is we are completely on the same page that we are 50/50 equals and we have built a great working relationship on other things in the past. The only small difference that I vainly wanted was that my name would appear first in the author credit line. That was the easy part, but the devil is certainly in the details on things. There are a bunch of scenarios to plan for and agree to how we handle them up front. Some are nice to think about: What if the market begs us to write sequel after sequel? What if we sell a lot of training and speaking engagements based on the work? What if George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Frances Ford Coppola beg us to let them turn it into the next film blockbuster? I can already hear that deep movie preview voice introducing our film ... "In a world starving for a new 'leadership in the workplace' book...". I wonder if Brad Pitt is available to play me. Should I have them remove all the green M&Ms from my trailer? ...


OK, got carried away a bit there, but you get the picture. The wild part is thinking about some other scenarios that are not quite as fun to think about but smart to plan for. What if one of us can't hit our deadlines? What if one of us just goes AWOL? Very unlikely but worth covering. Good thing is that Mike had an agreement he had drafted by an attorney for a previous effort that we could use as a starting point. After my attorney reviews and we make some minor tweaks over several review cycles, we finally got it finalized. Today.


Now I am ready to start writing and editing prose aimed at real people, not attorneys. "Herein, we shall make all reasonable efforts to never use the word "Herein", in electronic or hard copy format, in The Work..." OK, now back to being nervously excited about our first live call with a potential publisher tomorrow afternoon.


Today's Call with a Publisher (June 25, 2014)


I just got off a conference call with a Senior Editor at the publisher we submitted the proposal to. In keeping with the Sideways movie theme, I will call her Maya. While nothing definitive came out of the call, it does sound like she is interested in pursuing it further. Maya started the conversation by saying she "greatly enjoyed" reading our proposal. Then she asked a bunch of questions about how we came up with it, how long it would take us to write, and how we would help push sales. Interestingly, she didn't have any big suggestions for changes. She did ask us how wedded we are to the working title and we went back and forth on that a bit. After about 40 minutes, Maya wound up the conversation with two things that I take as a nice sign. First, she said the proposal passed the "is the content worthy and is the message fresh?" test she uses to review proposals. (Nice to hear, nice to hear.) And second, she asked us to get her one additional piece of information ... by Friday. (Very nice to hear. Very nice to hear.) I really like the fact that she had a quick deadline, which suggests she has some specific next steps in mind. So all in all, my first conversation with a real live publisher has me smiling. We didn't leave with any definitive next steps or timing, but it seems like we just got over another hurdle. Stay tuned.


Can I Take 'Pocket Veto' for $100, Alex? (August 15, 2014)


The waiting game with the publisher ended on Wednesday. Emphasis on THE publisher. My agent Miles emailed me on Monday to say that the 60 day "right of first refusal" window for Publisher A ended at midnight. The weird part was that it didn't end with either an offer or a refusal ... it just ended. Despite such a good initial response from the buyer at the publisher, they didn't come through with an offer. Miles gave them a friendly reminder that the window was closing, but even that didn't elicit a reply. Miles said he has never seen this before and he has worked with them for a while. He has seen them make offers or give polite "thanks, but no thanks" but he has never seen them let a window go by without one of those replies. He was pretty perplexed. He suspected something must be going on there behind the scenes and our book proposal is caught in it.


Hmm... Well, at least I avoided a potential "it's not you, it's me" conversation with the publisher. So, to recap, it looks like my proposal was so bad it broke book publishing.


OK, enough feeling bad. You know how the saying goes - when one door closes ... or doesn't close ... or stays slightly ajar ... or disappears ... another door opens. More accurately, several other doors open. One reason Miles was so eager to talk was that he wants to pitch the book to the handful of other big publishers. Despite the pocket veto from Publisher A, he is still quite excited about our proposal. In fact, my co-author who published a book through Miles a couple of years ago told me that Miles seemed a lot more excited by our book proposal than his first one that did get published. That was nice to hear.


So we have a clear next step -- we shop our proposal around to the other handful of big publishers. Hopefully we get an offer, but at this point, I would be happy to at least get a ding ("no thanks" letter to let me know this is really happening. Because late August is exactly the worst time to shop a proposal, Miles said we wait until right after Labor Day, which is a great time. When I asked if we needed to rework the proposal in light of our first non-bite, Miles replied with a quick "no", which was a nice thing to hear to reaffirm that he still likes our chances. Stay tuned?


A New Nibble for 60,000 Words (September 10, 2014)


As promised, Miles sent out our 40 page book proposal to the other leading publishing houses a few days after Labor Day. We got our first new bite on Monday from another big, well-known publisher. They asked for our targeted word count and delivery day for a complete draft. Using our best guess from Mike's first book, we said 60,000 thousand words. (Do you remember when our high school assignments of 500 words seemed daunting?) We said end of January as our deadline to finish the draft, as we both have a lot going on between now and the end of the year and want to give ourselves some breathing room. It will be interesting to see if they come back with an offer. It would be another nice confirmation that there is potential here. It might also be a nice way to get our first publisher to come through with an offer. Stay tuned and wish us luck.


Hoping Three is my Lucky Number (September 11, 2014)


We just got interest from another big, household name, publisher. That now makes three. And three is my lucky number. The buyer at the publishing house wants to talk with us on the phone tomorrow. He told Miles that he plans to pitch it internally next week and just wanted to get to know us a bit before doing that. Interestingly enough, this same buyer made an offer for Mike's first book a few years ago, so hopefully that is a good sign. Stay tuned...


You Had Me at 'Singapore' (September 13, 2014)


I just got off our conference call with a senior editor at a very well-known publishing house. (If I recall correctly, I think their name is on a skyscraper in NYC.) The senior editor - I'll call him "Ford" - was a very nice guy who had worked with Mike and Miles before. Ford started the conversation by saying our proposal was "really well put together" and our "approach is really unique" and he is planning to present it to his Editorial Board next Wednesday. The Editorial Board is the group made up of the Publisher and Associate Publisher and representatives from Marketing, Sales, International, etc.. They are the governance body that can authorize him to make us an offer. He walked us through the process that it would go through after we finish the manuscript - he edits, copy editor edits, typesetting, then production. If we finish manuscript by end of January, it should hit bookshelves in October, which is a prime time for marketing new books. He said they would do a global launch through their operations in Singapore, London, Canada and Australia. He said foreign translations could work too if demand merits.


Wait a second... did he say Singapore?


OK, now I am totally getting ahead of myself and, when none of that actually happens, I am setting myself up for some serious disappointment. And some serious embarrasment as well, since I decided to share news real-time on this blog for some crazy reason. The only question I had for Ford was whether he liked our working title or not. His reply: "Ninety percent of the time, I ask the author for a new title before I take it to the Editorial Board. I think your title is strong and I'm keeping it as is."


Oh well, after we got off of the call, Miles let us know the other big publisher who expressed interest is pushing it up their management chain and we should hear something back from them next week as well. So this week ends with a big smile on my face. I hope I have a reason (or maybe even two reasons) to smile next Friday. If not, my smile might be upside down.


"I'm gonna write a book someday" (October 9, 2014)


I've been pretty quiet on this blog for the last few weeks. It wasn't because nothing was happening with my book proposal; it was actually quite the opposite.


Long story short - I just became a professional author today by signing a book deal - hopefully my first book deal.


The long story of what happened over the last few weeks to get to today was pretty interesting though, so here goes. I think my last posting was that another very big publishing house was about to make us an offer for the book.


The good news was that they did. The editorial guy there (I think I pseudo-named him "Ford' in my last post) successfully pitched it to his editorial board.


The bad news was that the darn MBAs then got involved. "Finance is telling me I need to add in a buyback for them to sign off," Ford emailed us, "could you guys do (insert number here)?" What the heck is a buyback I thought? Wasn't there a movie called Buyback Mountain? Or maybe it was the Buyback of Notre Dame. Is that what that Chili's commercial about its ribs says ? "I want my buyback, buyback, buyback, buyback? I want my buyback, buyback, buyback, buyback?"


Well, the definition "buyback" is more akin to a horror movie than delicious barbeque. It basically means the author agrees to buy a set number of the book copies and sell them himself. If the author doesn't sell them, he ends up with his advance and royalties kaput and his basement looking like the Texas School Book Depository. In short, it shifts part of the financial risk that publishers traditionally take in signing a new author and paying him an advance as well as incurring all the editorial, printing, and marketing costs it takes to get books published. Publishers typically say their costs are in the six figures to get a book into stores, so I get why they would want to offload any of that risk they could. (I have one of those darn MBAs myself, after all.)


"Don't do it," Miles (our agent) told us on the conference call we set up that day to discuss this turn of events. "That's a bad road to go down. I steer all my clients away from those. It is my job as an agent to convince the publisher to take all the risk and not push any on the authors. Authors work in Word, not Excel."


Just then I once again loved having a great literary agent. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but since Miles gets a cut of whatever revenue we get, it may have been in his self-interest to have us do the deal.


We stitched together a brilliant Plan B that was inspired by the strategic mind game that goes on in high school cafeterias every homecoming season. (Run on sentence to follow - imagine the voice of a teenage girl reading it.) We would call back the first publisher who almost asked us to the dance but didn't come through and tell them that we now had another publisher on hold on the other line who is asking us if we are free that night. Oh, snap!


The wild part is that it worked. The editorial buyer at the first big publishing house (I named her Maya in the earlier post) asked for another call with us. I have to admit feeling pretty pleased with myself as I got on the conference call with Maya and Mike (my co-author) the next day.


After a bunch of pleasantries to reconnect since our last call with her months ago we got down to business. "Yes, we still like your book and are still interested in publishing your book, but we are going to need a buyback." Maya said.


"*$%@!" Yada, yada, yada ...


Miles sent our proposal on to a smaller publisher he thought highly of from previous dealings and they came back to us in two days with a written offer. No buyback, fair advance and royalty rates. Actually, I just wanted to use the Seinfeld 'yada' reference.


I researched the new publishing house when Miles mentioned them. I really liked what I saw. Lots of interesting titles and authors in their catalog. The only real difference is that they only publish in paperback form. The other publishers were going to print us in hard cover ("cloth" is the fancy term they use for that, paperbacks are called "trade";).


Hardcover is nice and all, but it does jack the retail price of the book up quite a bit. I actually like the idea of ours being more in the $15-ish price range than the $30-ish the other companies were going to price it at. After all, I did learn something about the relationship between demand and price when I got my own darn MBA. I want this one to sell more like beer at a ballgame than fine wine at a playhouse intermission. (That analogy looks a lot less clear now that I see it in words - I just mean I want to sell a ton of books.)


All right, wrap this up VP. Got to save some writing for the 50,000 words you are now on deadline to produce. Stay tuned for a whole new phase of this journey!


Maybe You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover (October 18, 2014)


The book just got a lot more real in the last few days as the publisher came up with a couple of designs for the book. I posted both options on my Facebook page asking people which one they liked better. The response was great - about 50 votes and comments from across the USA and from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. It was a clear vote of about 2 to 1 for this design. We had them do some tweaks to make the font a bit less comic sans looking. I like this design for a lot of reasons. The wood box and shadowing gives it depth and a 3D quality. It also focuses people to read the small print subtitle. I like the ironic twist it adds too by having the main title "Lead Inside the Box" sit outside the box. Just like how our main title is a twist on the "think outside the box" common expression, having the title outside the box is a nice twist.


I Bought A Book I Haven't Even Written (October 29, 2014)


I'm driving around running some errands yesterday when my cell phone rings. I see it is Mike on the screen, but I am driving so I keep my eyes on the road and let him go to voicemail. He does.


Then he calls right again. Hmm. This could be interesting. I wait until I park and call him back instead of checking voicemail.


"Hey. Amazon just posted our book for pre-order sale," Mike jumped right in. "You gotta do some stuff pronto."


One thing I am very much looking forward to doing as a first time author is to wander into a brick and mortar Barnes and Noble store and finding my book on the shelf. Since that won't happen until the book is actually done, that is a summer 2015 thing.


What I didn't think about is that online bookstores can ... and apparently do ... post the book for pre-orders as soon as they get the catalog of upcoming book releases from publishers. Apparently that quick turnaround homework that the publisher gave us right after we signed was to do the short description of the book. I really didn't think that the words I jotted down on my Mac would be up on Amazon a week or two later. This thing just got even more real.


"They have an author bio page up for you but it is blank," Mike continued. "You need to post a bio and picture asap. You also need to get set up as an Amazon affiliate so you get links to that page that have a referral code embedded so you get a commission for any sales that come from your links to the book. It actually ends up being a nice little income stream, because if someone buys a copy of your book from your link and then they buy a big ticket item in that same session, you get a commission for all of it."


He also told me that pre-order sales are especially important because they all roll up to count as your first week's sales, which is what can get you on bestseller lists. So if you are interested in my book, may I suggest a pre-order and maybe some jewelry to go along with it?


Bookwriting: 95% Authorship, 5% OtherShip (October 29, 2014)


Yesterday's surprise posting of our book on a large internet retailer (I will henceforth refer to as was fun. My scurry to learn how to become a Rubicon affiliate to promote the book was kind of a fun challenge, albeit a total urgent distraction. It's not like I am going to get rich off of Rubicon's commision rates for referrals, but I really look forward to getting the daily data back on how many sales my book is getting.


So imagine my surprise when I get an email tonight from Rubicon telling me my application to become an affiliate had been denied but giving no reason. They were nice enough to include a link to their Affiliate Operating Agreement for my reference. I never never never click on links from emails I am not expecting. But I was so surprised, I did.


Good news is that it did take me to the Rubicon Affilate Operating Agreement at a legitimate Rubicon URL. But then I realized I broke my rule of never clicking on a URL from an unexpected email. I went back to the email and, being the newly minted professional writer that I am, noticed that it said "weve" when they meant "we've" and "youll" when they meant "you'll". Seemed kind of phishy for me for a multi-billion dollar corporation to not be 100% buttoned up in their English usage. (As I write this, I am pretty sure I should have put the period inside the parentheses mark and should have used 'percent' instead of '%', but Strunk and White don't rule me!)


I freaked out a bit. Should I change every password on every financial site I have on every computer, alive and completely dead, in my house right now? Should I put this one in the microwave? Should I move to Paraguay and change my name?


I collected my thoughts and did the right thing when you feel like you might have just exposed yourself to a high tech attack ... get very low tech. I looked up Rubicon's phone number for their Affilate program and called them. I was surprised to get throught to a human pretty quickly. (I'll call him Julius, as I completely forgot his name already). I asked Julius if Rubicon really sent that email. He read it back to me and said it was from them, so I pulled my laptop out of the microwave and exhaled. Getting turned down to be a Rubicon affiliate is a much better problem to deal with than figuring out what to pack for a new life in Paraguay.


I'm on that and I like my chances to get that fixed, since I used to manage affiliate marketing for a big company myself way back in the day when it was kind of cool. My larger point in telling this story is to give an example of why I titled this blog entry the way I did. If you want to be an author, there is a LOT more stuff outside of actually writing the great American novel/leadership book/cookbook that you have to do. You are crossing a bright line between being a private person to a public figure. (What was the name of the river Julius Caeser famously decided to cross?) I have had to think about things in the last few weeks that I never even knew existed (e.g., hacker insurance, speaker bureaus). I haven't found any of it to be particularly impossible, but it is surprising... and it is work. Tonight's story was just one small example of many sure to come.


Getting Reviews for an Unwritten Book (November 19, 2014)


A big part of an author's job is to promote their book to boost sales. One way to do that is to get testimonials, or reviews of the book, by people with impressive names or titles that will make other people intrigued enough to buy it.


So that is what I am doing now. I am going through my network of LinkedIn and Facebook connections and getting a list of people who would be good names and titles to have on the book cover, the website, etc.. It is actually a fun excuse to go through my networks to see what people are up to. That said, I hate asking friends for favors, so I need to get a bit better with that.


Mike is gathering testimonials as well and he is much better at it than me. In fact, for his first book, he took a shot in the dark and asked Duke's legendary basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski for a review. It wasn't totally a shot in the dark, as Mike was a fellow West Point grad and Duke professor, but I was still impressed that Coach K responded quite quickly with a well-thought out review of his outline. I better get on it.


"Writers write." (December 19, 2014)


I was listening to a sports talkshow podcast a few months ago and a caller identified himself as an aspiring writer. The show host, ESPN's Matthew Berry, asked the caller if he had a website where he could check out his work while they chatted on the phone. Berry, who is a prolific writer as well as on-air personality, strikes me as a great example of a professional writer. He cranks out words by the metric ton in his regular columns and he has a book out as well. He is a writer's writer. So when Berry saw that the caller's website had very little content and had not been updated in weeks he challenged the guy. Not in a mean way, but more in a constructive way to help motivate the guy. Despite Berry's typical verbose style, he summed up his advice to this aspiring writer in just two words: "Writers write."


With my deadline to get the finished manuscript to the publisher now just 43 days away, I get how profound that simple piece of advice was. Writing is hard work. Very hard work. I can feel my brain burning calories when I do it. It is easy to find excuses to not start. "Gotta just do this one thing before I sit down and start..." After I start writing, it is very easy to get distracted, with the InterWebsBook a seductive siren that never stops and is just a click away. I note the irony that the computers that make writing so much easier than typewriters of old are a double-edged sword that way.


The good news is that I think I have found a good system to keep the word pump that is "my finger bones connected to my brain bones" going. I found the schedule that works best for me. (I have a someone who has helped me figure that out, but I will save the story about my writing muse/coach/good siren later.) Workout first thing in morning and then I can focus on writing the whole day without worrying about that. Get started and make a nice dent before lunch. Go out for lunch out and then set up office and write in the local coffee shop. Set a goal of at least 1000 new words before I can call it a day. Make an entry on a spreadsheet that lists new words per day and how many left to the requirement in the publishing contract.


So, as of this morning, we are at just about 20,000 words, with 30,000 to go. If I remember my arithmetic, we are nearing the halfway point. With two of us writing away, that makes 15,000 words each over the next 43 days. I better get going...


The Mechanics of Writing a Book (January 26, 2015)


It's been a while since I posted. Not because I have been in a writing drought. Quite the opposite.


In the movies, an author sits down in front of a typewriter, stares at a blank sheet for a while, and then starts to type. A blink later, there are hundreds of typed pages in a nice bundle on the desk representing the next great novel.


Well, the real world is not quite like that ... at least for me and for writing a business book. Mike and I (OK, mostly Mike) have set up quite an elaborate system to make sure we finish our 50,000+ word manuscript by our February 1, 2015 deadline.


First, we split up our 40 page proposal into four sections of the book. The proposal had to include a page or two describing each chapter, so we had a good start for the full book. We decided that I would be responsible for doing the first draft of the middle of the book, sections 2 and 3 and Mike would lead on sections 1 and 4. We called it our sandwich approach, with me doing the "meat" in the middle and Mike doing the bread on top and bottom. I wanted to do the meat, as it was the most important part. It was also going to be the easier part too, as it was quite well spelled out in the outline. Mike got the hardest part, which was the end piece of describing how to apply the framework of the book at work.


We use Dropbox to store all of our files so we can both work on them. We "check out" a file when we are working on it by deleting it from Dropbox. This makes sure we are not both working on the same file at the same time, which causes synching nightmares.


We (ok, Mike) also created an Excel based tracker to show where we stand versus the 50,000 word minimum we promised to deliver to thepublisher in the draft. That turned out to be a great motivator, as I set a goal of at least 1000 words a day. My days became either good days (1000+ words written) or bad days (less than 1000 words written). It is great to have such a clear, black and white goal for work.


After we are done adding to a file, we check it back into Dropbox and we review each other's work in Word using the review feature. That way, we can make changes that only get incorporated when the other person accepts the changes.


We set a goal of having a complete first draft by January 19 and spending the last two weeks just editing and improving on it. So far so good. Stay tuned.


Have Laptop, Have Office (January 27, 2015)


One of the best things about being a writer is the ability to pack up and write anywhere. If you have a laptop and a power outlet, you can basically write anywhere. WiFi is an added bonus, to be able to save stuff to the cloud as backup and to collaborate with a co-author.


I have found a rhythm with several different options. At home, I go back to my office and close the doors so my dogs don't distract me. When I want a change, I head to the local coffee shop and grab one of the comfy chairs in the window and type away. The window is kind of a fishbowl where I can see everyone who goes by and everyone can see me. It is a nice way to bump into neighbors I haven't seen in a while.


My favorite office, and my most productive one, is pictured above. It is in Sweden, and through a combination of cheap airfares and great people to visit, I have spent a few weeks there writing. I have a feeling I may have to go back there to start my next book. Wait... NEXT book! What next book? Let's get this one all done first.


My First Royalty Check (January 29, 2015)


I got my first installment on my royalty advance for the book today. This thing continues to feel more realy. I guess I can officially call myself a professional writer now that I have gotten paid. Interestingly, the check is paid by my agent and not the publisher. The publisher pays him and then he takes his commission, splits the rest between Mike and me and sends it to us.


Manuscript Off to Publisher? Now What (January 30, 2015)


One year ago, I started jotting down an idea I had that I thought could make an interesting blog series, an article, or maybe even a book.


Today I just mailed in a finished 170 page, 52,221 word book manuscript to my publisher.


How does that make me feel, you may ask. In a weird way, I feel like I can understand a bit of what mothers feel when they deliver a baby. I am thrilled to have seen my idea come all the way to fruition in a manuscript. I am pretty darn pleased with how it came out too. At the same time, I am going to miss the experience of working on the manuscript. For the last 9+ months, this book has been at the top of my mind every morning. Going through the ups and downs of negotiating with potential publishers. Parking at my local coffee shop every day to write. Talking through the latest thoughts and edits with my co-author Mike as we both did the hard work of turning an outline into a book. Answering the "how's the book coming along" questions from friends and family.


Through it all, I figured something out ... I really love writing. Or, more accurately said, I love being a writer. The journey is its own reward in many ways. So Monday, I expect the post-manuscriptum depression to set in. Do I really need to haul myself to my cozy corner of the coffee shop that I have called my office for the last months? What do I do when I get another idea for a tweak or addition to the content that I want to put in the manuscript.


Obviously, the hard work is far from over between now and the scheduled July release date, but it has taken a real turn. The words in the publisher's submission kit kind of captures it well - "Important: your submitted manuscript is considered final. All changes after that point are made at the behest of your editor or not at all. Unless we request otherwise, we can't accept revised portions of a manuscript once it has been submitted; this prevents duplicated efforts and wasted time (both yours and ours). Multiple revisions and rewrites after submission create a space for error and confusion. Essentially, once you submit your manuscript the baton has been passed. We realize you will likely be revising and polishing right up until your submission due date, so make the most of that time!"


So, this weekend I celebrate getting the manuscript in a day ahead of deadline. Let's see what Monday brings...


The Journey of a First Time Author - How Book Publishing Works (Part 4 of 4)

Posted on June 21, 2021 at 12:45 AM


What to Expect When You're Expecting a Book (February 9, 2015)



I got a nice email from the editor at the publishing house who is going to be working on the manuscript. I'll call her Emma. In addition to a nice "hello" she also shared a document that describes the process that the manuscript will go through. I found it to be a nice overview of the different steps that I will share here.



(1) Submission: By the due date, an author submits "a good and clean publishable manuscript, as free from errors as possible." I had to send both a printed copy and electronic copy on disks. "Please note that once you submit the manuscript, we consider your submission 'final'."



(2) Macro Edit: The developmental editor (DE) reviews what I submitted - a check called the "macro edit." The DE's job is to check to see that we have fulfilled all the obligations we had in our contract. The DE is also screening for RBTs - Really Bad Things - like plagiarism, libel and secretly encoded messages that turn people into zombies when read backwards. OK, maybe mostly for just the first two things.



(3) Transmission to Line Editor: If the manuscript passes the Macro edit, the DE sends it to the Line Editor and includes a summary of what was found in Macro Edit in a memo called the "state of the manuscript" memo. (I find the label 'Macro Edit" to be a better description of a bunch of the editing Mike and I already did to get rid of throwaway words like "very" and such.)



(4). Line edit: LIne editor reviews the manuscript for the 5 C's - consistency, clarity, cogency, conciseness, and coherence. Line editing gets into everything from grammar and spelling to organization and factual accuracy. Every time the LE has a question, the author is supposed to get back to the LE within a day. The process is done via emails instead of my sharing a redline copy in Word.



(5) Format and design: Once the line edit is complete, the interior of the book gets designed and formatted - subheads, fonts, design elements, chapter starts, running heads, etc..



(6) Proof and index: A separate proofreader proofreads the files and creates the index.



(7) Author read: I get a copy of the resulting files called the "author read" or "galley proof." It will either be a PDF or a hard copy. I get about 3-5 days to read and verify that to keep on production schedule. The only things I can ask to be changed are type-os, grammatical errors and mistakes. I have to resist making any changes other than that. I also have to double secret pinky swear not to share it with anyone because copyright has not yet been registered..



(8) Final review: Any changes I have are given final OK by the Editorial Director and then it goes off to the printer.



And here I was thinking all the hard work was done...



Hurry Up and Wait (March 12, 2015)



Forty days and forty nights. That is how long it has been since I sent in the final manuscript to the publisher a day ahead of our deadline. The months leading up to that day were like a series of daily sprints. Each day had a goal to chip away at the 50,000 words we were on the hook to produce for the publisher. If I had a 1000 word day, I felt great. Anything less than that, I felt like I fell short. I don't think I have had that clear of a daily goal since I cut grass in a summer job. Since then, the pace has been exactly the opposite. We just wait for the publisher to get back to us and we can't even touch the master copy, as they now own any and all edits. They did a very nice job of explaining that and setting expectations when we submitted the manuscript. Still, it is a weird transition to go from having the book be all consuming to radio silence. I would like to think that our draft was so perfectly designed and worded that the editors are struggling to find a single word to change, and that is what is taking so long. More realistically, I know from the overview of the process that they gave us that this is how it works. Oh well, stay tuned.



Promotion in Motion (April 25, 2015)



The downtime waiting for the heavy editing of the manuscript has been filled by a lot of promotion work in advance of our July 20th release date. We have been quite busy on several fronts.



First, our publisher just informed us that they hired a public relations agent to work with us on the book. The great news about this is the PR agent they got for us is one of the best in the business. I'll call her Peggy. Mike met several PR agents on his last book, and he said Peggy was the PR agent he wished we could get to help us on this book. I'm not sure if it is a coincidence or a small world in the book PR agent space in our niche, but our publisher just told us this week that Peggy was going to be our PR agent. Mike called me as soon as he heard to let us know how lucky we were. She won't be officially on retainer to work with us until we get a bit closer to the book release, but it is great to know she is there.

The second main effort has been around getting the endorsements from people to put on the book jacket and our book website to say the book is worth reading. Early endorsements are a way to prove that an author has the authority to publish a book on the topic. You do that by getting people with the most impressive job title's or other brands that you can to say that. You cajole, you beg. You call in every favor to get people to agree to do it. Then you have to remind, remind, remind. I really, really hate asking my personal friends for professional favors, but this was one time I decided I would have to do it. I never try to sell my consulting and training services to my friends, since I don't want them to be uncomfortable ignoring or turning me down me like they might any other salesperson. But because my book is such a personal experience to me, I decided to make an exception. The publisher gave us an April 15 deadline to get all of our endorsements in, and my last ones -- two of my biggest ones -- got in in the last day or two before that deadline. Now that I look back, I am quite impressed at the list of endorsers Mike and I somehow got for the book. A Harvard Business School professor. A CEO of a household name national retail chain. The head of a HUGE federal government agency. A #1 New York Times best selling author. I could go on, but I will summarize by saying everyone on our list is someone that is a rock star in their field.

The shelves in the Business Leadership aisle at your local Barnes & Noble are full of books. If you pull down five titles, maybe one or two will have one name of an endorser that you will give a silent "Huh - maybe this is worth reading if they endorse it" moment. We have fistfuls of those "Huh" endorsements. I am starting to think I would preorder this book even if I didn't write it.

The other big thing we have been doing to promote the book is a mass reach-out to all the prominent bloggers in the same "leadership of people at work" space as our book is. Mike, being the machine he is, has set up a systematic plan of attack to do so. He has created a spreadsheet listing all the people he has worked with or that have been listed in Top 500 or 100 most trafficked bloggers in the space. (Mike is typically in the top 10-20 of these lists, by the way.) Across all these lists, the spreadsheet now totals 700+ rows. My contribution has been the effort to find the email addresses or other contact information of the folks Mike doesn't already know. That has taken me a few days of searching through hundreds of leadership blog websites looking for contact information. That exercise has been quite interesting on its own to get a sense of the people who have built large followings in the same leadership writing space into which I am about to publish a book. I also got a few good ideas for my own business website.

Now that we have gathered most of the emails, Mike and I have divided up the list and we are starting to reach out to each person asking them if they can help us with our book release by letting us do a guest blog on their site, by interviewing us, or by reviewing our book. So far I am getting maybe 10% of people to reply back with a "congratulations and yes, I would love to help" reply. It is nice to see that there is some camaraderie in this space. We will be replying back and scheduling guest posts and interviews and such for the next week or few. Then we actually have to start creating the content to go on those posts.

Oh well, enough for today. I just got an email from the editor at the publisher who will be doing final edits. She introduced herself and told us it will be pretty intense for the next few weeks leading up to the June 3 printing date. Stay tuned.


Leadership Lessons from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on its 157th Anniversary

Posted on December 16, 2020 at 6:00 PM

On November 19, 1863, United States' President Abraham Lincoln addressed a crowd gathered to dedicate the cemetery for the soldiers killed at the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg four months earlier. At just 271 words, Lincoln's speech was much shorter than the two-hour, 13,000 word speech that the event's main speaker, former Governor and Senator Edward Everett, delivered before Lincoln. Lincoln's words that day stand as one of the greatest political speeches in world history. It continues to provide communications lessons for leaders today. Assessing each part of the speech shines a light on the brilliance behind it.


"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."


Even though his country was consumed by civil war, Lincoln starts by bringing his audience back to the founding of the United States and reminding his fellow Americans what they agreed upon then. In many ways, Lincoln is capturing the values and mission statement for the United States in one elegant sentence. To call attention to it, he even starts the sentence with a flourish - saying "four score and seven" instead of "eighty-seven."


LESSON -> Starting a speech by revisiting shared goals can be a useful approach for speakers today. Starting on a positive note also gets people people agreeing with you and may break them out of skepticism coming in.


"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."


Lincoln uses the next part of his speech to connect his speech and his audience to those original principles. He is attempting to elevate the context of why they are gathered. It is not just about a battle in the war, or about the war itself. It is about those original principles that the war is being fought to hold up.


LESSON -> Recast issues in the context of your organization's values and mission. People still might disagree with your plan, but at least you will be reminding them of the goals and values you share.


"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."


Lincoln now brings an emotional note to his speech to connect with his audience on a deeper level. He links the ultimate sacrifice of the soldiers killed there to the purpose of the war that he outlined in the sentences above. Lincoln uses this last sentence to build a personal connection with with his audience by using "we" and saying that his words, even as President of the United States, do not compare to the sacrifice of the soldiers in the cemetery.


LESSON -> Speakers need to remember to focus not just on how they are delivering their message, but on how their recipients are receiving it. Speakers needs to build a personal connection with their audiences so their message is welcomed like a guest and not pushed away like an intruder.


"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."


Lincoln ends by tying the themes above into a clear call to action for his audience. He does not just want them to feel emotional or inspired, he wants them to act through "increased devotion to that cause." He connects his audience to the fallen soldiers they are memorializing by saying the soldier's "unfinished work" is now "the great task remaining before us." It is almost like he wants each member of the audience to see a baton being passed to them from a soldier resting in his grave. Lincoln closes on the highest, most aspirational note possible, by tying their task - the victory of the cause he leads - not just to American history, but to world history. Having no higher place to go, Lincoln stops there to let his words stand on their own and sink in for eternity.


LESSON -> Even if a leader is great at connecting and communication a message, their efforts will be futile if the audience does not do something with that message. Leaders need to leave their audience with a clear call to action - an understanding of one or two specific actions they can take to follow up on the message they just received.


I get chills reading these words so many years later. Lincoln's speech became timeless because he stripped it down the essential message he wanted to deliver and put it in the broadest context possible. It provides an aspirational roadmap for leaders today seeking to inspire others.

5 Leadership Lessons from the Chilean Miner Rescue in 2010

Posted on November 18, 2020 at 7:40 AM

Ten years ago, 33 miners were rescued after enduring 69 days trapped 700 meters (2300 feet) below ground after a cave-in of their copper-gold mine in Chile. The world waited for 17 days before the miners were able to communicate that they were still alive. The miners survived the ordeal through exceptional effort and leadership. Here are 5 leadership lessons from their experience.


1 - A Leader Steps Up - Luis Urzúa was the designated supervisor for the shift working at the time of the collapse. After the cave-in, the 54 year old Urzúa realized the seriousness of the situation and stepped up to provide the leadership he knew they would need. When the miners were finally rescued, one by one, Urzúa was the last one to be rescued, twenty hours after the first person was rescued. Urzúa led by example all the way to the end.


2 - Have a Plan - After the cave-in, Urzúa immediately gathered his men and started planning. He gathered their food and other resources to have a plan on allocating them. He sent out a scouting party to assess the situation and search for escape routes. By quickly organizing the men around a plan, Urzúa filled a potential leadership vacuum that could have led the group to devolve into chaos.


3 - Assign Roles - The men organized themselves into a team, each with distinct roles. One was the medic. One was the communications specialist. Others focused on providing spiritual and psychological support. By assigning roles, the team ensured that all the important tasks were covered and that people were not stepping all over each other. Each team member felt like they controlled something in their very difficult environment.


4 - Commit to Teamwork - The men knew that teamwork would be essential to their survival. One of the miners explained it this way after being rescued: "All 33 trapped miners, practicing a one-man, one-vote, worked together to maintain the mine, look for escape routes and keep up morale. We knew that if society broke down we would all be doomed. Each day a different person took a bad turn. Every time that happened, we worked as a team to try to keep the morale up."


5 - Have Backup Plans - Rescuers above-ground drilled down to reach and free the trapped miners. They drilled three separate holes using three different types of equipment and three different types of approaches. By doing so, they were managing the risk that any one approach would fail. That likely built confidence among the miners that rescuers were making the maximum effort to save them.


Extraordinary circumstances can bring out extraordinary examples of teamwork and leadership. Being stuck for three months in the dark below hundreds of feet of rock was an extraordinary experience for these 33 miners. Their lessons can help leaders and teams today in much more mundane circumstances.


Source: Facts and history referred in this article were gathered from Wikipedia.



5 Team Leadership Lessons from The Beatles

Posted on October 9, 2020 at 8:35 AM

October 9th, 2020 would have been John Lennon's 80th birthday. Lennon was one of the most successful music artists in human history. And he was taken away way too soon. He was also a founder of a band - The Beatles - that created billions of dollars of commercial success. The Beatles success arose from their talent as creative artists and performers. They were also successful because they were able to stay together as a highly-productive team for 10 years. While many fans wished they stayed together longer, The Beatles did produce an astounding 13 albums during that time. Here are 7 team leadership lessons from The Beatles.


1 - Found the Right Team - John Lennon was in a band and invited Paul McCartney. McCartney invited his friend George Harrison to join. Those three would peel off and become the Beatles in 1960. There were five other members of the Beatles in the first two years of the band. Some of those members left on their own, but the core three did not settle until they found what they were looking for. They dismissed drummer, Pete Best, so they could plug in Ringo Starr in 1962. The "Fab Four" was now complete and would stay together until the end of the bad in 1970.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Dismissing the weakest performers on a team is painful, but it can be essential for teams to reach their full potential.


2- Share Credit - John and Paul were the main songwriters at the beginning. They would collaborate on songs, with each taking the lead on some and playing a secondary role on others. Instead of quibbling over who would be listed as lead versus support on each song, they decided to just list themselves as co-writers on everything they did together. They even wanted to give everyone in the band a chance to be a singer, so they wrote songs that Ringo could since with his limited vocal range - e.g., Yellow Submarine.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> The Beatles viewed themselves as a unit of equals who brought different, important skills to the team. That helped them stay together through 10 years of huge change, from anonymity in their late teens / early 20s to worldwide celebrity and marriage and fatherhood by 1970.


3 - Cross-Training - The Beatles learned new skills so they could complement and fill in for each other. In the early days when they lost their bassist, Paul dropped the guitar and learned bass to take over that role. George emerged as a songwriter to complement John and Paul. Harrison helped Ringo write a few songs too.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Learning the skills of other team members is valuable. It provides an ability for the team to keep working through absences. It also helps team members appreciate what other team members do.


4 - Looked for Best Practices - Even when they were on top of the world, The Beatles kept looking for inspiration from other bands and forms of music. The revolutionary album Pet Sounds by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, for example, was said to have had a big impact on The Beatles. They also appreciated contemporaries like Bob Dylan, The Who, The Rolling Stones and others. They even found inspiration from classical music, adding orchestras to some of their later music.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Smart teams keep an eye on the competition to see what they need to do to stay on top.


5 - Embraced Change - Success can breed complacency. The Beatles did not let their success make them complacent. When their success got big, they decided to start making films too as a new way to cash in. When their fame got too big to do small arenas, they started playing outdoor stadiums. When they got too big for that, they became a studio-only band. When the music world evolved from catchy, teen-friendly tunes in the early 1960s to more socially-conscious music shaped by anti-war feelings in the late 1960s, The Beatles evolved there as well.


LEADERSHIP LESSON -> Smart teams learn to sense and adapt to changes in their environment so they do not get left behind.


The Beatles were more than just a band - they were a team that stayed together for a decade through remarkable change and success. They weren't just talented artists - they were great team members. Teams today in any field can learn from their experience as a a high-functioning team.