As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

My (book) baby is launched!

Cover of "How We Make Stuff Now"

Photo by Timothy Renzi

Releasing a book is often compared to a birth.  Well if 19 months’ gestation counts for anything, then this book is one big baby.

People ask why I wrote the book. There are two simple reasons: 1) to help the next generation of Makers learn from the last, and 2) to claim the expertise and authority that we have worked hard to assemble at Grommet.  There literally is no book like this on the market–not even close.

So, the book is based on almost eleven years of hard-won knowledge and learnings from seeing 300 products a week and launching over 3,000 of them.  I.e. we earned our credibility the old-fashioned way.

I found creating a book easier than expected, though it meaningfully increased my workload.  My relatively unruffled state is partly because I had pro assists from The Grommet Director of Communications Charlie McEnerney, in that he partnered with me on the first three steps below. The whole process went like this:

  1. Write a proposal. The basics of this are: 1) a general description of the book and its intended audience and 2) relevant competition/market gaps. It includes an outline of the chapters and possibly a sample chapter.  It suggests what marketing contributions the author can make and provides her bio.
  2. Get an agent. Since my friend George Gendron, the former editor of Inc. magazine, had just gone through this process, I asked him for advice.  This ultimately led to my being picked up by Daniel Greenberg of Levine-Greenberg-Rostan.
  3. Get a publisher.  Daniel pitched the book around and we ended up striking a deal with the editor Casey Ebro of McGraw-Hill Business.  She buys one or two books a year so this is a big deal.  The contract included an advance and we worked out all the key deadlines that triggered the relevant payments.
  4. Hire a researcher. I did the writing but I really needed a researcher to assemble the case studies, which are a core part of the book. Journalist/friend Scott Kirsner recommended Bridget Samburg. I hired her.
  5. Write the book.  Here is what I did:
    1. From October 2017 to the deadline in May of 2018, I set aside every Wednesday I could.  I wrote a chapter a week.  I worked from 6AM to about 7PM each day and spent half of those hours still doing my “day job.” I.e. I did not have the luxury to just focus on the book.  Plenty of necessary writing/polishing slipped into the weekends and I did one kamikaze blitz of writing to finish the book when I was away on a business trip.
    2. I captured relevant snippets and stats all along during those months, to include in the book
    3. I asked various Grommet people to edit the chapter or two where they have more expertise than me.
  6. Argue with your editor (respectfully) over the cover. You can learn more about this here.
  7. Submit the manuscript (May 2018) and then go through a cycle of four edits. The first edit back from Casey in July of 2018 was substantive but not too painful–Casey gave me great guidance.  The subsequent edits over the fall/winter  time period were more about copy editing and fact checking–the smaller but critical stuff.   McGraw-Hill outsourced this work to a production team who had very strict deadlines. During this time period I had a paperback galleys copy of the book that was helpful for both editing but also for sending out to potential endorsers and long lead publications/journalists.
  8. Solicit endorsements. I did this directly with people in my network.  Everyone said yes!
  9. Work with the editor on the interior design of the book. McGraw-Hill’s designer knocked it out of the park on the first try, so I had no edits.
  10. Wait.
  11. Shoot an author photo.  I don’t know why I am always fascinated with author photos but they seem so important to me. It’s the only time I ever really paused to think about what do I want to convey with a portrait of myself?  In the end I guess I went for “friendly.”  Since I was in a hideous and unmanageable stage of growing out a short haircut, there was no possibility of going for glamour.
  12. Hire a publicist and work on marketing plans. Charlie kicked into high gear again at this stage, reviewing many publicists and selecting Fortier, out of New York. Frankly this part of the project is the most challenging to me, possibly because I am still in the middle of it.  I knew from the start that publishers lean hard on authors to promote their own book. I knew we have a great platform at Grommet. But the art of driving pre-orders and bulk sales, securing speaking gigs, and creating press attention is both very quantitative yet also a very shapeless amoeba. I don’t exactly understand what drives the book up on best seller lists.  It’s been bouncing up and down on Amazon rankings–even before launch.  I just know I am asking everyone I ever met to buy a copy and trying hard to get some big bulk sales in exchange for speaking.

Instagram post–screen capture from Amazon before launch. I really have no idea how these rankings get determined.

“Backup” author photo by Timothy Renzi

Here are the things that surprised me:

  • My editor’s expectations. When I met Casey Ebro for a kickoff lunch she spent a lot of time kibitzing and I was wondering when we would get down to brass tacks. Finally I asked, “OK tell me what’s next. How does this work? Do I send you a few chapters a month? One a week?”  She replied, “Send the manuscript to me when it is done.”  I was floored and refused to accept that plan.  It was too risky. Fortunately Casey agreed it would be fine to send a couple chapters to her at the start. I did, and it was super reassuring to be told I was competent and meeting her expectations.
  • Getting in flow. When I was writing on Wednesdays I would sometimes get right in the groove and knock out the bones of a chapter before noon.  More often I procrastinated while I got my head in gear on  the assignment. For example, I edited older chapters, did laundry, handled email and generally circled the topic until I had a good starting point in my head. But then I really did achieve a state of flow where I wrote rapidly and with great concentration.  So much so that I often forgot where I was and even in my own home would pick my head up and think, “Now just where is the bathroom in this place?”
  • Copy editing is pretty tedious. Near the end of that cycle I could no longer see the book or its mistakes and I had to ask a few Grommet employees to read the galleys copies to get some fresh eyes on the work.
  • My middle son’s reaction. There was a special Boston preview event last weekend to launch the book.  We had secured some early copies so I signed them in a classic “author at a table” fashion, which my son described as “That was surreal. You are just my mom.”  He also let the crowd know he was there during the interactive Q and A.  See below.

    Callum Borchers, the innovation reporter from WBUR, interviews me and Frank McGillin of Quell (out of frame), Marlie Kass of Smart Girls Jewelry, and George Peters of Kettle Pizza.

Anyway, I’m in the early throes of spreading the word about “How We Make Stuff Now.”  You can see where to buy it, and some of my speaking appearances on the book website.  I am looking for opportunities for bulk orders, media coverage and speaking engagements. All help and suggestions are welcome.

The closest I will ever come to a Margaret Hamilton moment. Photo by Timothy Renzi.

2 Responses to “My (book) baby is launched!”

  1. wayneleong786

    Hey Jules!

    Congrats on finally completing this book.

    Also, I have a few suggestions (just as you asked).

    Would you mind if we talked over email?

  2. Brenda Stansfield

    Congratulations Jules! The book is such a great ‘blueprint’ for makers new and ‘seasoned’. Proud to be a tiny part of it too. When I got my copy the first thing I did is turn to the areas where Clear My Head is struggling and I found great wisdom and resources there to get to the next step. It’s so easy to digest a chapter or two when you need it – and a pleasurable read as well.

    I appreciate you and your team for helping us succeed and grow. This book will be invaluable to the next generation of makers! I wish you and The Grommet continued success!


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