Category: Clients Crushin’ It

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Clients Crushin’ It: Windy Lynn Harris

Madison Utley speaks to author, editor, and Stuart’s “critique partner for life” Windy Lynn Harris upon the fourth anniversary of the publication of her book Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published

 

Q: Talk to me about the conception of this project. 

A: The idea actually came from my friendship with Stuart—which, believe it or not, began on LinkedIn. I had read a copy of Blueprint Your Bestseller, his first book, and thought: “Wow, this is really useful.” So when his name popped up as a suggested connection on LinkedIn, I sent him a note that said: “Hey, I just read your book and it was great.” He wrote me back saying, “That’s very nice for you to say. Would you be willing to fill out a survey about it? I’m actually working on book two now and I’d appreciate your insight.” Little did I know that Stuart and I would go on to become critique partners for life. 

But at some point in there, Stuart said to me, “You help people get published all the time. You’ve done so many talks on this. It feels like a big enough idea to be a book.” I wasn’t sure, but he pushed me to write down a table of contents to see if I had enough material. I came up with an outline that was 30 pages long. When I sent it over, he was like, “So yeah, this is a book.” Stuart said he would help me figure it out, and that my next assignment was to actually write some chapters. 

Q: Once you decided to go for it, what did the writing and publishing process look like?

Stuart essentially walked me through the entire process I had read about in Blueprint Your Bestseller to figure out what I was really talking about and what order it should go in. When I was finished with the material, Stuart told me he had a relationship with a certain publisher and asked if I wanted him to make a connection for me. I was like, “Of course!” He did that, and I sold the book. I didn’t have to show it to anyone else. I didn’t have to get an agent. So I think part of success can just be that you’ve got to be in the room. Be a literary citizen. Make connections. When you have a question, ask it. 

As writers, I think we need to be able to recognize when we meet somebody we click with and say, “I understand you’re looking at the world of writing or stories in the same way as me. I think we have something in common. I could use your help and you could use mine.” You have to find your tribe in that way. You need trusted readers to give you the honest feedback that you need to hear. 

Q: Did you think about giving up at any point during this time? 

A: Absolutelyand that came out of fear. It wasn’t because I didn’t have enough material. I worried, “There’s not a lot of value to this. Anybody could figure out how to do it if they took 20 hours of research time. Why would they pay me to consolidate it?” I had to come around and say, “Because they don’t want to take that time. They want to go to one resource and find out exactly how you do this.” It took a while to realize I had a new package to offer that wasn’t somewhere else on the shelf out there, and that it was going to save writers’ time. 

Q: What kinds of responses have you gotten over the past four years? 

A: The response has largely been, “I didn’t realize how easy it was to get my work out there.” It’s really surprising how quickly writers get published once they have the path opened to them. Truly, we can all find the right place for our work. Getting a book published can be like a salmon swimming upstream, yes, but the world of writing short stories and poems and personal essays is completely different. With shorter works, we handle our own projects. And if you market your polished work, you can get it published. It’s just that simple. 

 

Q: What has the publication of this book done for your career?

A: Immediately, it gave me a fantastic platform to meet more people. The credibility of having a published book beside me made it easier to market myself and suddenly doors opened without me even having to ask. It was a complete 180 from me raising my hand above my head to having to turn opportunities down because I was all booked up. 

Q: How do you see your business evolving into the future?

A: My business model is currently changing a bit; I’m doing less traveling and more editing, which is exactly what I eventually wanted to happen. I’m making less time for speaking engagements because my favorite thing to do is the editing work with short story and essay writers, and I have a waitlist of those clients. It seems there are enough of my books out there in the world that people are finding me organically and through word of mouth. 

I’ve also partnered with my author friend Susan Pohlman to host an annual writing retreat. We did our very first last month and it was absolutely wonderful; that’s going to become a focus in the future. We had 14 short story, essay, memoir, and novel writers all together at a lakehouse in Pennsylvania. The retreat provides a getaway for writers to have some relaxation and writing time, but it also facilitates extensive craft discussion and practice, like an MFA course crammed into a long weekend. With our combined experience, Susan and I feel sure we can figure out how to get any project published no matter what it is. And if we don’t know an answer, we’re confident we know somebody who does. And finally, the retreat is a chance to connect with other writers. Like I’ve said from the start of our talk, cultivating community and finding appropriate critique partners is just so important.

Clients Crushin’ It: Beth Monaghan & InkHouse

Madison Utley speaks to InkHouse PR founder & CEO Beth Monaghan following the release of Aren’t We Lucky? — the company’s second collection of employee-authored stories, and fourth content project supported by Book Architecture. 

Q: How did you arrive at the idea of creating a company book, and why did it seem like the most fitting way to deepen the culture you’ve been cultivating at InkHouse?

A: The books evolved out of the Inkies, a Moth or TED Talk style event we used to do with Book Architecture. We wanted to design a creative outlet for our people to hone their skills in storytelling, writing, and presenting — things we do for a living. But at the first Inkies at the Old South Church in Boston, something magical happened: we all felt so much more deeply connected, including the people who didn’t present. 

My sole regret was that we only got to hear five or so people’s stories. A live event naturally constrains the number of participants. Plus, there’s that heart-stopping fear of spilling your guts in front of coworkers with no notes to guide you. So the first book of essays was hatched. I was expecting ten to fifteen essay submissions, but we got 44! 

Q: What about the experience of creating the first collection of essays, Hindsight 2020, encouraged you to produce Aren’t We Lucky?

I watched Hindsight 2020 change our people, and it also changed me. Who doesn’t want to do that again? In the fall of 2019, I set aside three days to read all of the Hindsight 2020 submissions. Candidly, I was expecting to have to haul myself through them, but as I read, I was swept up. 

Those essays shed my previously unconscious belief that the best stories are at the library or at the bookstore. They’re not. You just need to ask the person sitting next to you, but we rarely do. And I thought — this is how we get to understand each other and draw nearer. This is how community forms. It also helped that so many InkHouse people told me it was their favorite event of the year.

Q: On the employee side, writing a personal essay knowing it will be disseminated to your coworkers and beyond requires emotional vulnerability and, frankly, a specific kind of hard work. Yet it seems that the InkHouse team has been thrilled to embrace the challenge many times over. Why do you think that is?

I believe that each of us have a few stories we’ve been burning to tell. The telling gives us a chance to be seen in an environment that’s rooting for you. But it’s freaking terrifying. I can feel the presenters’ nerves each time. Hell, I’m nervous! Then I see them become their whole selves as they read their work. And then their co-workers are crying or laughing and clapping. The look of pride on their faces is something I will always carry with me.

Q: From the leadership side, it seems that significant company resources must go into large-scale culture building initiatives such as these books. Why is that worth it?

A: When people ask me what I like most about my job, I always say it’s these projects. I feel slightly embarrassed every time—I should say PR because that’s what pays the bills. But these efforts are part of how we build understanding and community. Without both of those things, the PR work doesn’t get done well. 

We have more than 130 people who work here and it’s so hard for me to get to know each one individually. Projects such as these allow me to get to know so many of our people in a way no work assignment can. It helps me understand them as human beings, which helps me better know what our workplace needs. 

Q: Beyond the baseline benefit of making employees’ day to day lives tolerable, why does investing in a workplace culture that allows people to be their best and truest selves matter? And what is the value of capturing that in book form? 

A: I’ve spent many years fighting for social justice around gender and race. The problems are so big that it can feel like nothing we do is enough to solve them. And it’s not. However, if we do the thing that’s right in front of us, and then the next thing, and then the next, we can collectively begin to make change.

As I see it, part of my responsibility to that change is creating a workplace that values differences in the creative process at work. This requires us to welcome employees as they are. We can’t do that if we don’t understand each other. We have to actually talk. Our books are the most important way we do that at InkHouse. 

Clients Crushin’ It: Elizabeth de Veer

Madison Utley speaks to Elizabeth de Veer ahead of the release of her first published novel, The Ocean in Winter, about the power of persistence and —perhaps, more importantly— how she refused to let the tumult of finding an agent or publisher put a dent in her love of writing.

 

Q: When did writing start to become a more significant part of your life?

A: In 2003, I decided to start taking writing seriously. Until then, I had jobs that weren’t just full-time jobs, but were all-the-time jobs. I’d be in the office until 9 or 10 o’clock five days a week, and come in on the weekends as well. I knew I needed a job with less responsibility, where they respected that I’d get the job done, but also that I had this other role in my life as a writer. I ended up in a great situation where I worked full-time a few days a week, and then had a few days I could just write. That’s how I got through my first novel, which is about the Dust Bowl. That’s where the journey began.

Q: Tell me about that journey. 

A: By the time I finished my second novel, I had been looking for an agent for years. Many agents were interested and wanted to see the full manuscript, but nobody was ready to go forward. At some point during that period, I had posted my first novel in its entirety on this website where other writers could read it and leave feedback and many left really encouraging comments. My husband saw them and he was amazed at how many people liked my book. He took to the Internet and ended up finding a new agent who agreed to read my manuscript. One thing led to another and I ended up signing with him, which was really exciting.

Q: Did that feel like a turning point?

A: Absolutely. It was great having someone in my life who believed in me as a writer. Unfortunately, though, we didn’t find a publisher for my first and second novels. Then, I went back to a project I had been working on before my daughter was born. I looked at the first couple of pages and realized I needed to start over. It takes courage to say, “Don’t try to fix this. Think about what you love here, and take those pieces and use them to plant a new garden.” So, I started afresh. My daughter was in preschool twice a week then, so I’d go to a cafe to write those two days. But so much time passed between those writing sessions, I’d spend most of my time flipping through what I had written before. I’d end up spending these incredibly precious, brief periods of time trying to remember basic things like my character’s names. After a while, I realized writing every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes, helps you remember what your ideas were yesterday and then when you do have more time, you know what your intention is. That way, you get to sink your teeth into the questions that mean more.

Q: When did Stuart enter into this process?

A: I finally got that third manuscript done and I gave it to my agent; he shopped it around but it still wasn’t quite there. That’s when I worked with Stuart. He got me thinking about things on such a different level. It’s incredible, the power of having somebody smart read something, somebody who gets what you’re trying to do and understands the impact you’re trying to have. The feedback he gave was so helpful. He was able to explain things to me and bring certain ideas forward in my consciousness.

Q: From there, how did things come together with Blackstone Publishing?

A: Someone said yes! I have been really thrilled to work with the great team at Blackstone. And now I am very excited that my book will be coming out this summer.

Q: What pushed you to keep writing through the years, even when you weren’t finding the traction you were looking for with your completed manuscripts?

A: I truly love writing. My advice? Even if you do get published, it still has to be about love. You have to be ready to write your truth, whatever form that comes in. Even if it doesn’t make sense to anybody else, you have to be willing to put yourself and your writing out there. You have to be brave about being creative and brave about being self-critical. And to know when one is needed and when the other should take a back seat. I felt a tremendous amount of freedom, and still do, with having a day job so my writing doesn’t have the responsibility of paying the mortgage. My writing can be whatever I need it to be. Sometimes it’s frustrating because time is an issue. But writing is the thing that makes me feel like I am the person I am. If you find the thing that makes you feel that way, it only makes sense to organize your life around it.

Q: What is your main takeaway from having been writing in earnest for nearly 20 years now?

A: Writing in any form, even if you’re not focusing on one project, should make you feel like you’re five years old, playing in the sandbox. You know how you could spend hours pouring the sand through your fingers, sitting in the moment and daydreaming about the world? It’s magical that when the sand is dry it’s one way and when it’s wet you can build castles out of it. And then you can smoosh those castles and start over. That’s how you should feel when you’re writing. Of course, it isn’t always like that. Sometimes it can be so discouraging after you’ve had another rejection, but creativity should bring you joy. I want everybody to find a way to feel that way: climb into the sandbox, play with the sand, have fun, and find that joy. Isn’t that what it’s all about? 

Clients Crushin’ It: Dominique Mielle

Madison Utley interviews Dominique Mielle financial phenom, self-identified daredevil, proud Franco-American ahead of the release of her first book Damsel in Distressed: My Life in the Golden Age of Hedge Funds

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Speaking to me now, in March 2021, just months before her memoir is set to be published by Simon & Schuster, debut author Dominique Mielle admits: “Was I confident we were going to pull this thing off? No. I certainly had my doubts.” 

Long pause.

“But not in myself.”

This. This is Dominique Mielle: a woman with a straightforward commitment to hard work, to staying true to herself, to surrounding herself with excellence. It’s not a matter of conceit, it’s a matter of fact. 

 

 

The confidence is certainly warranted when you consider who Dominique is; she joined a little-known hedge fund in the ‘90s, and stood decades later as the only female partner and senior portfolio manager running what had swelled to become one of the largest hedge funds in the U.S. 

At the end of this impressive career in the “golden age of hedge funds,” Dominique retired; but, rather than coast (if it’s not yet clear, this isn’t a woman we should ever expect to coast), she circled back to her early aspirations of becoming a journalist. She thought of her recurring column for Forbes. She thought of her contributions spanning just about every publication in the financial sphere. She thought of writing a book; and so, that’s what she set out to do. 

Dominique was sure that her voice – breezy but intense, bright but unapologetic – would add much-needed depth to the male-driven narrative dominating the hedge fund industry; she describes her tone as being loosely-inspired by Sex and The City and has been known to quote Samantha Jones on occasion (“I love you, but I love me more”). 

“I knew I had developed a distinct voice,” Dominique explains. “I knew I could nail a 1,000-word piece, but I didn’t know how to carry that into a 60,000-word book. It was clear to me the first step was finding excellent help.”

True to form, Dominique would accept nothing but top-shelf guidance in making her book a reality. She found it in the second writer she reached out to. Enter: Stuart. 

“Contacting just two writers is really not a lot. But with Stuart, we connected from the beginning. And that was it,” Dominique says. 

“This is a relationship that matters. You’re spending a lot of time with and energy on this person. I even just remember thinking, ‘This is someone who will laugh at the same jokes as me.’  Building trust matters. This is a person you’re entrusting with your story.” 

The wisp of a reservation Dominique harbored upon partnering with Stuart at the start of the project what she describes as her “natural skepticism” sure to arise when allowing an unknown quantity into her process was dashed in the earliest stages of working together. The moment of certainty came in receiving the first draft of the manuscript; then and there, Dominique remembers realizing, “Stuart is someone excellent.” 

Rather than the external help tainting or suppressing the integrity of her story, each stage of the Book Architecture method was crafted to capture the best of what Dominique had to say, helping her voice carry true and strong throughout the manuscript a dynamic clearly exhibited in one of my favorite excerpts from the upcoming book:

Lehman filed for bankruptcy on September 15, 2008 and was eventually liquidated. Christine Lagarde, who was Finance Minister of France at the time (the first woman to hold such a position in a G-7 country), and went on to become the Chairman of the International Monetary Fund (the first woman head) said the following…. 

And I am not citing her because I admire her sense of fashion, although I do, or because she is French, although she is, or even because she was a synchronized swimmer as a child, and I have a weak spot for incongruous amusements. 

I quote her because she might be right: ‘If it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look different today.’”

While Dominique initially considered the writing process to likely be the primary takeaway from her book project, the refinement achieved through each draft made getting her manuscript published feel increasingly achievable. And, here we are. 

Damsel in Distressed is the first hedge fund memoir written by a woman. In it, Dominique’s inimitable blend of intelligence and humor is used not only to provide insight about what it’s like being a female hedge fund manager in a business dominated by men, but to make clear she is “unwilling to be minimized by genderism.”

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Pre-order Dominique’s book here, ahead of its August 24th release.