Apr 21 2021

Behind the Scenes: Writing “The New Builders”

Many readers likely already know that I’ve been working on a book for the last several years – The New Builders: Face to Face with the True Future of Business. It’s due out in a few weeks and I’m really excited about it. Writing a book was challenging but in many ways, it was an unexpected pleasure. I thought it would be fun (and interesting) to post about the process a bit. Especially as we’re about 10 days away from its release on May 4th.

I have long been interested in looking at ways that we can support diverse entrepreneurs and connected with my co-author and friend, Elizabeth MacBride, around this topic some years ago. Main Street businesses – the ones that truly hold the fabric of their communities together – rarely make news headlines. But they are incredibly important to our economy and to their communities.  We both believed this passionately but wanted to uncover the stories and data behind those main street entrepreneurs. That led on a roughly year-long journey of researching and interviewing entrepreneurs throughout the country to find out their stories, where their struggles stemmed from, and what they needed to thrive. We had a chance to talk to a number of people supporting these entrepreneurs as well as researchers working on understanding the details and key trends in these industries. It was a whirlwind of information (and became quite a compilation of notes, documents, and research reports in an increasingly large Google Drive).

From there came the actual writing. Setting a goal of 5,000 words per week, I blocked off parts of 2 days in my calendar, all summer, to write. Some days, the words just flowed, while on others, I needed to muscle through. Interestingly, I could never tell when sitting down to write which kind of day it was going to be. Often it took me an hour or more to get into the writing flow and to determine which kind of day it was going to be (flowy and quick or a slog). Through this process, I found that I’m a pretty linear writer – I start in one place and keep going; typically writing a chapter in its final order. I loved writing with a partner and the contrast in styles was a particularly interesting facet of our collaboration. While my style was a little dry and very much writing in a straight line, Elizabeth wrote more in concentric circles. She not only taught me how to weave stories in and out of chapters, she wrote almost as if she was painting, laying down the foundation across a chapter she was working on, then layering in some of the key features, and finally coming back to fill in the details. Those chapters almost emerged from the mist, often coming to full form in a way that was somewhat surprising (I would be thinking we were weeks away from finishing, only to have her do a final pass, add some key details, smooth out the edges, and – voila – it was ready for editing!) I learned a lot through our collaboration. I also really enjoyed the process of editing her work and having her edit mine. I believe it added balance to the final product, even if it was sometimes a little hard to keep to a single voice across the book (typically, we would each be responsible for a full chapter at a time, although there are several that were much more collaborative where we each wrote pieces – I wonder if readers will be able to pick up on which ones those are).

Not long after Covid hit, we realized that this was a story that was crucial to tell now. In light of the disproportionate effect the pandemic was having on smaller businesses – particularly ones owned by Black, brown, and female entrepreneurs – we accelerated our writing pace.  What started two summers ago as a year of research and potentially 18 months or more of writing, editing, and reviewing turned into a frenetic 6 months of writing, followed by 3 months of development and copy editing. Those later processes were completely new to me and I was thrilled to have our publisher, Wiley, provide not just a copy editor but also someone to read the manuscript for a more thorough development edit first in order to make sure that the key concepts came through in our writing. That process resulted in rearranging some of the chapters and rewriting sections that were either unclear or where our point was lost in the text. At this stage we had a few close friends take a look at the draft as well – which for me included asking my partner, Brad to take a look. Feedback at this stage was extremely helpful. The copy edit process was easier (in part because we had already made heavy use of Grammarly), but laborious.

I was amazed at how quickly things progressed from there (Wiley fast-tracked the book, which made a huge difference). A few weeks after copyediting, we had the final proofs. That was actually the first time I printed out the book to read cover to cover. There were a surprising number of edits at this stage – some because we had just missed things, but many because it was the first time either Elizabeth or I had taken a step back from the book for more than a few days since we started writing (in this case it had been more than 2 weeks since we had last read any of it). And the nature of drafting a book isn’t a start-to-finish process, so we had often been reading and working on chapters in random order. Now we were reading the entire book from beginning to end, which gave us a different perspective. There were actually 2 rounds of this “final” proof stage before we had it nailed, but I’m glad we took the time to get it right. We also worked on a photo insert section at this stage – something that I hope will set the book apart and give readers a real flavor for the New Builders that we write about (in the fall and early winter, we hired several photographers to go out and take pictures of many of the people we wrote about; not an easy thing to accomplish during Covid, but the results were fantastic – you can see some of their pictures featured on our website already.

Marketing the book has been an entirely new experience and one we’re just beginning. Emails to friends; requests to blog or write about the book; podcasts galore; some great media hits (including a spot on NPR’s All Things Considered); a few OpEds in the works; events and readings; etc. – all to try to get the word out as much as possible.

The work of The New Builders was born out of a true passion for the importance of recognizing the breadth and depth of entrepreneurship across the US. I’m proud of how it came out.

Also published on Medium.