Congrats to Whitney Johnson who’s book Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream launches today! We recently spoke with Whitney on the process of writing and publishing a book. Although Dare, Dream, Do is written, printed, and furiously shipping out to readers as we write this, Whitney reminds us that the work has only begun. She likens publishing a book to launching a business. We’ve laid the groundwork – she’s put her inspiring words down on paper and the publishing proces is coming to a close – now we all have to work together to bring her wisdom to the world.
What inspired you to write a book?
That’s an easy one. We have to go back about seven years to 2005. I’ve left Wall Street, I’ve been a double ranked institutional investor analyst, I’d started as a secretary 15 years earlier, and I was brimming with enthusiasm for the future, sort of thinking I could do anything. I’d gone there, I’d had a dream, I’d achieved it, and I thought, “OK, I’m just a middle–class girl from California, who came to Wall Street as a music major, with no connections, no confidence. If I can do it, then other people can, too.”
For the first time in many years, I finally had time to start talking to people, many of whom were my peers, women in particular, and I was asking them, “What’s your dream?” Sometimes they would say to me, “Well, I don’t have a dream.” Other times they would say to me, “Well, I have a dream, but I actually don’t really think I can achieve it.” And often, there was this unspoken, but underlying sense that they didn’t actually believe it was their privilege to dream. Dreaming was for the men in their lives or for their children, but not for them. And this was disconcerting to me. In part because I wasn’t talking to women who were downtrodden. These were women who were often times very educated, some with master’s degrees, or in many instances mothers of three or four children; the women that really run our communities. So when they started to say to me, “I don’t actually believe it’s my privilege to dream,” that concerned me from a social standpoint. We have these women around who no one quite knows what they’re doing, but they make everything work, so that was part of it.
But really the bigger part of why I started this process, the more personal part, and I guess you could say “the catalyst” for me, was that I was watching these women, who in many ways had embraced this feminine piece of themselves, and I was admiring how they had achieved the art of mothering, if you will. I was learning from them and watching them, and to see themselves not see themselves as I saw them made me really sad. And so I thought, I have to do something. That something was to start blogging. The fact is that I didn’t even know what I really wanted to say, but I knew that blogging had a really low barrier to entry from a business standpoint. I could just put my stake in the ground like a homestead in the wild, wild west and I could start writing. This was late 2006, I started publishing this blog about why it was important for us to dream, why it was our privilege to dream.
About a year and half into it, I started inviting women to share their stories of their dreams, which ended up making the conversation exponentially richer. I wanted to have a voice for myself, but as women began to tell their stories out loud, the very thing that I wanted to accomplish — them seeing how magnificent they were and what I saw in them — began to happen. And I found that I really enjoyed curating those stories and drawing those stories out of women.
So, that began in 2006…blogging, blogging, and blogging…In 2009 a publisher approached me and said, “We’d love it if you’d look into writing a book.” So I started the process of writing a book, but it all started with those initial conversations with women that I dearly, dearly love and care about.
What happened next? How’d you get to Bibliomotion?
As with many dreams, the path is a rocky one. Over the next six months I banged a book out. I’d say that 50% of the content was from my blog, but I still had to put an arc to it and come up with new content. The original publisher was going to publish it in March of 2011. So, it’s December of 2010 and the publisher has taken this to the editorial board, and the board decides that they are not going to publish it without doing major rewrites. It was a religious publisher and they felt like the book wasn’t quite religious enough, if you will. They said to me, “We need you to do major rewrites if we’re going to publish it.” I spent two agonizing weeks deciding what to do and I finally said, “Thank you. I am so grateful to you that you asked me to write this book because you gave me a deadline and I got it done, but I need to go somewhere else because there’s no guarantee that even in three months you’ll be happy with it.” It turned out to be a very amicable parting.
That was my opportunity to start growing. I found an agent, Josh Getzler, whom I found through a friend. Then I found Bibliomotion through Carolyn Monaco, who’s a book manager. She introduced Erika and I at SXSW in 2011, and we started talking. We [Josh and Whitney] put out the book to a lot of different publishers and Bibliomotion was one of the very first that expressed interest. My initial thought was that I wanted to go with a publisher that’s big and everyone knows the name, a household name. Yet, from the very first instant, I knew that Bibliomotion was going to be perfect publisher for my book and for me because of the disruptive business model, because of its agility. And it turned out that in fact, so far (the book hasn’t sold yet), I couldn’t ask for it to be better, frankly. It just feels like we’re working together to actually publish a book, it’s a business that we’re in together.
It was a great compare and contrast since I had worked with the other publisher. In retrospect, thank you so much to this other publisher for saying yes to me, but thank you then for saying no. Having an extra year where I sat on the book and Erika had me edit it down from 100,000 to 70,000 words made it a much tighter book than it would have been otherwise.
What has been your favorite part of the process of publishing a book?
Well, I’m not gonna lie, that one moment when I got the book in my hands, it was like having another baby. I mean, it was pretty fabulous. Just feeling the book in my hands and having the tangible product. But that’s the outcome, it’s not really the process.
I would say that probably the favorite ongoing process has been when someone comes to me and says, “I’d like to guest blog.” And I say, “OK, tell me your story,” and it’s really interesting. Then she puts something on paper and I think, I don’t even recognize this person. This isn’t the interesting you that I met! Then being able to work with her, or have her work with an editor that I work with, and have her pull her story out. And then have her publish it and feel like it captures her magic. From a process standpoint, that’s one of the most exciting parts.
Have their been any unexpected challenges to writing and publishing a book?
On the writing side, not so much. I have to say that the writing piece of it wasn’t actually that painful because I had a lot of stories. I had a really good conceptual editor, Amy Jameson, so when I’d get stuck I’d be like, “Amy, I’m stuck!” She’d be like, “What about this, this, this, this, and this?” and then I would get unstuck. I definitely recommend that everyone have a great conceptual editor because it makes a big difference, especially if you’re a perfectionist, which I am.
The part that I would say is unexpected, well, I don’t want to say unexpected, but certainly difficult, is that when you launch a book you’re launching a business. Your book is a product. It’s like the equivalent of when you have a baby and you think, “OK, I did this really hard part, this baby came out, it’s a newborn infant, and now I’m going to give it to someone else to rear.” Ah, no. You just had a baby and now you have to rear it. It’s kind of the same thing with a book. You just wrote this book, but now it’s your responsibility to reach out to people and make sure they know about it and share it with them. From a business standpoint, you have to wrap a business model around your book. That is something that my business experience has prepared me for, but I can see if I hadn’t had any entrepreneurial experience, it would be utterly overwhelming. Well, even the sheer magnitude of the tasks is still kind of a lot.
If you could start the whole process over again, would you do anything differently?
No, I wouldn’t. Part of it for me is that if I’m trying to dare people to dream, but everything for me is sort of blissful as I’m trying to go through this process, then I have no credibility. I can’t speak from a place of wisdom because I’m telling people to do something and I don’t even know if it’s hard. So I think having it be a struggle is part of the value of the writing.
What’s next for you? Any more books in your future?
Oh, absolutely! I’m doing all this writing, but in tandem with this I’ve been continuing to blog on my Dare, Dream, Do blog and I’ve also been blogging on the Harvard Business Review blog, which is more business-y, but I’m definitely going to write more books. I don’t know what yet exactly, but I definitely want to do more. I like doing it. If I were really honest, I’d say that I can’t imagine not writing books, that’s just part of my future. I will write books. So let’s hope this one sells so that someone will want me to write books!
For more information on Dare, Dream, Do or for purchasing details, click here.
For more information on Whitney Johnson, please visit her website.