Category: Clients Crushin’ It

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Owning Labels: If You Write, You’re A Writer

Inkhouse, an integrated PR agency, just released its third collection of employee-authored stories with the coaching and assistance of Book Architecture. A Tiny Break in the Clouds centers around the theme of introspection seen through three separate lenses: mistakes, adaptation/starting over, and joy.

This was the fifth content project put on by Inkhouse that Book Architecture helped to facilitate. Between company founder and CEO Beth Monaghan’s motivations for launching such projects and the time, energy, and vulnerability put in by participating employees, we’re constantly looking for ways to make this a better experience for all involved that will yield the strongest possible product.

Working with people through writing personal essays in a corporate setting helps them get used to the creative process in general, which is both an internal and an external experience. This time around, we redesigned the process so there’s more support than ever.

Inkhouse writers who opted into the project worked with a professional coach on the first draft, mentor groups helped crowdsource input for the second draft, and professional editors worked on the third draft. Essentially, it’s the three draft Book Architecture model in miniature: the first pass is about putting the material down on the page; the second draft is about making sense; the final draft is about putting it all together and making it good.

You might be thinking—I know some of the writers we worked with were thinking—”Okay, great. That’s a lot of support. But how in the world do I know where to start? How do I decide what to write about?”

The great news for them, for you, is that you don’t need to know. Showing up to the first one-on-one with the writing coach with nothing more than a vague “I think I want to write about…” or “I have this one idea…” is all that you need. From there, you can let your intuition rise and direct your next steps. As long as you’re then willing to put the necessary time in (and we all have 100 excuses as to why we can’t, that we’re just going to go ahead and toss out now) your work will get where it’s meant to go.

We tell the Inkhouse employees something I think many of us would benefit from hearing: if you write, you’re a writer. You don’t have to worry about being good. You just have to worry about showing up and being you.

If you don’t go through the process, you’re guaranteed to stall. If you do go through the process, it’s nerve wracking. But then you take the leap and when you put in the time, your work will get better and the excitement takes hold. All writers go through the same thing.

Whether a super senior member of the team or someone who is brand new, it’s a joy to witness the wonder on an Inkhouse writer’s face as they realize their slight spark of an idea has caught fire and suddenly, wham! It’s there, in their hands, in its pristine final form, in a beautifully assembled book.

By allowing themselves to own the mantle of writer, they created art that will last (as we all can).



Clients Crushin’ It: Jimi Simmons

Madison Utley speaks to author Jimi Simmons about writing the first volume of Demon Motors: Run What You Brung, starting in on volume two, and the important balance of finding your own way as a writer while remaining open to the right kind of support. 


Q: Talk to me about your writing past. What kind of experience did you have before working on this book? 

A: My whole career has been in the film industry. Everybody I know writes a screenplay at some point. I hadn’t done any organized writing before, but I’ve always jotted down stories and things that happened that could be good to use later. But when I finally really sat down to write, the screenplay format felt like it was holding me back. I kept finding myself focusing on: “Where’s the camera? What location would this be shot in?” I was preoccupied with all the periphery stuff instead of character development.

Once I switched to a novel format, the storyline stopped feeling secondary. I wrote the majority of the book in two months. I locked myself in and really went for it. The characters are really an amalgamation of personality types I’ve known throughout my life, so I felt like I knew them and could work with them really well. I’d create a scenario and throw them into it and sort of write down their response. It flowed really easily. On the surface, Demon Motors is about the street racing scene in San Francisco, but lest that alienate readers thinking it’s just some gearhead talking about cars, I made sure the interpersonal part of it is really compelling too. 

Q: Tell me the inception of the story. 

A: This book started as a writing practice I used to get deeper into myself, really as a therapeutic thing. I was going through a pretty crazy time personally and I knew from past experience that nothing was going to change or stabilize until I turned inside and figured out the reasons for what was happening and changed it at the core level. So, in the beginning, it was quite a selfish thing. I was determined to get through the parts I needed to work on emotionally and if the story came out, the story came out. If it didn’t, it didn’t. I really did most of the work for myself. But then suddenly, what seemed like random stories and snippets and experiences began to look like they could be tied together. I just wasn’t exactly sure how though. 

Q: What did you do at that point?

A: It was really important to me that the book be true to my vision and so I was hoping to find someone who could guide me and show me the way, while respecting that. I went to a few book fairs and met a bunch of people but it was just this sort of rote: “Well here’s what you need to do if you want to be an author.” Nothing was clicking. I tried tapping all resources available, but unfortunately none of them seemed to fit my style, my voice, or the story I wanted to tell. 

Then I heard Stuart speak at a book fair in Boston and I was like, “I know this guy. This is one of my tribe.” We met up and he was just so supportive. His book, Blueprint Your Bestseller, was incredibly helpful because I had all of these half chapters and paragraphs and content that was related but scattered. Stuart showed me how I could put all of those pieces together into a story that made sense. But the thing I’m most proud of is that when people read this book, they say, “I can hear your voice through the whole thing. It sounds like you’re telling the story.” For me, that’s a huge compliment. That’s what I wanted. It brought the joy back into the process. There’s definitely going to be a Volume Two, which takes place about six years later. I’m a few chapters in and having a lot of fun with it. 

Q: What advice would you give to a writer embarking on their first book project? 

A: I explored almost every resource available to authors and at every turn, there was someone wanting to charge me money to show me how to be like everyone else. Maybe it was because of my age or my experience, but it was easy for me to say, “No, that might be the way it’s ‘supposed to be done,’ but my priority is telling my story my way.” So I’d say don’t wholly accept just anybody’s advice–mine included. Don’t think you need to do it the same way someone else did. Listen to what you know you need to do. Trust your gut and if something doesn’t feel right to you, then find another way to do it. 

That said, at some point you’re going to need help or advice from someone you can trust. It can be hard to find that other voice that A, believes in you; B, has the experience necessary to give good advice; and C, can hear you and you can hear them. But it matters. Whether it’s a writing partner, somebody like Stuart, or a publisher, you need an advocate, that person on your side who will push you to be better while also reminding you: “This is good and this will work.” 

Clients Crushin’ It: Michael Witt

Madison Utley speaks to Michael Witt about his more than two decades of fiction writing, his passion for his ancestral homeland, and how it feels to have his art out in the world upon the publication of his debut novel, I Am Germany


Q: I’d love to hear about how you landed on historical fiction as a genre and, more specifically, why you decided to tell the story you did. 

A: My grandfather was a German immigrant and I have a lot of German blood, so I’ve always been interested in German art and culture in a broad sense. Because of that, I have also always wondered how such a rich cultural nation could fall into the depths of Nazism. I did a lot of reading around that question over the years and never found an adequate answer; honestly, I don’t know that there is one. But it was an idea I wanted to explore further. 

My book addresses that question on a very high level. It explores how Nazism came about, why the German people allowed it to come about, and how it affected the country’s culture. We can’t shy away from that part of the equation, but at the same time I also wanted to highlight how the culture survived and flourished after the war. Germany has been producing great art, literature, and music for centuries–and it still is. There’s something there that’s timeless and indestructible, and I think there’s great beauty in that. 


Q: What was the process of finding a publisher like? 

I started by writing to a number of agents who work on a traditional contract basis. Being a first-time author, I can tell you it is almost impossible to break through. After about three months of doing that and reaching out to over 100 of them, I ended up Googling: publishers who don’t require agents. Köehler Books was on the list that came up. I sent the manuscript over and it was read by Greg Fields who called me to say he loved it and wanted to take it on. 

An added benefit of pivoting from searching for an agent to going straight to a publisher is that once Köehler was on board, they told me we could get the book out in eight to nine months. If I found an agent, I would need to go through months of work with them, and then the agent would need to find a publisher, and then I would need to go through the editing process with that publisher. On that path, it could have been over two years before my book hit the bookstores and I didn’t want that. 


Q: How does it feel to know that your book is, as of September 27, out in the world? 

A: Getting that call from Greg was the culmination of years of dreaming. I can’t tell you how happy I was. I’m so grateful for Stuart. He did some really strong edits on my book and I know I couldn’t have gotten it into the shape it’s in, or gotten to this point of publication, without his help. He’s a stellar gentleman and I’m so glad I got connected to him and Book Architecture.

Clients Crushin’ It: Kathy Kleiman

Madison Utley speaks to Kathy Kleiman following the release of her first book, Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer, a detailed history–and, perhaps more importantly, a celebration–of the female pioneers who triumphed against sexism and technical challenges to invent computer programming.


Q: I understand that Proving Ground is the first writing project of this scale you’ve undertaken, so can you tell me a bit about what motivated you to write this book?

I am a public interest internet lawyer and a professor of intellectual property and internet governance. Normally I write legal things: comments, articles, advocacy pieces. Writing books is not my forte, so a full-length narrative story was quite the challenge. 

That said, I knew this story–the story of the programming pioneers who worked on a secret Army project during WWII–had to be told. These six women programmed the ENIAC, the world’s first general-purpose, programmable, all-electronic computer, which is the grandfather (or, dare I say, grandmother) of today’s laptops and smartphones.

I had known for many years I was sitting on a great story that contradicted the one I was taught in my computer science courses. The truth is the history of early computing, and the ENIAC project at the University of Pennsylvania during WWII, was quite diverse. The team included women and men, new immigrants, and people with diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. That diversity was key to the team’s success in creating a new technology and ushering in the Information Age.

Whenever I hit a snag while writing, and I encountered many, I thought about my students and my desire to attract the next generation of young women and young men to STEM and STEM policy work. There is so much opportunity in these fields, with many jobs open today and millions more projected to open in the next few decades. This history inspired me to seek my career and I hope Proving Ground will inspire others to explore this space too.

Q: Can you talk about how the research process unfolded?

My undergraduate thesis at Harvard centered around the women at the heart of Proving Ground, the ENIAC Programmers. But 10 years after that, I found out most of those women hadn’t even been invited to the 50th anniversary of ENIAC because no one other than the original generation they worked with knew their story. As I saw it, that was a big problem. 

In 1997, I got a grant to continue my research. I spent six months in the Library of Congress, among other archives, researching materials. I then interviewed four of the original six ENIAC Programmers, resulting in 20 hours of broadcast quality oral histories. I wanted to turn the cameras on them and let them tell their own stories. They did it wonderfully, beautifully, creatively. They’re funny. They’re brilliant. They were in their late 70s and early 80s at that point in the late ‘90s. They really became my mentors and role models. It’s their voices that I try to bring out in the book.

These interviews resulted in my co-producing the documentary, The Computers: The Remarkable Story of the ENIAC Programmers. We premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival and then won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Short from the United Nations Association Film Festival.

The demographic of a typical audience for a PBS documentary is 50+ year old, well-educated, white people but I explained, “No, we’re making this for everyone 12 and up.” So in telling the story, we didn’t assume any prior knowledge about the war, and we didn’t assume any technical knowledge either. We really wanted the film to be accessible to everyone, and that was something we tried to carry into the book as well. 

It was an honor to watch the surviving programmers finally get some of the recognition they deserved, to watch them light up, to watch the audience at the screenings light up, and to watch the young women converge around them after, laughing and crying at the same time, wondering how they had never known this history.

Q: How did the process look different as you then prepared to tell the story through the medium of a book? 

I had thousands of pages of research in my house, much of it in paper form. And while it may have been challenging to organize, thank goodness for that, because during COVID the libraries and archives were closed. I took over the den. The floor space became my filing space. I had piles of papers sorted by chapter spread across the room, that I was trying to arrange into a sequential story; at the same time, once I got into the later, technical chapters, I was really trying to break down a rather obscure method of direct programming which is both modern and esoteric at the same time. I was writing for a general audience, so I knew I had to make it accessible and I couldn’t “talk tech.”

Q: What role did Stuart play in getting Proving Ground out into the world? 

Stuart was many things. He was an editor, but he was also the audience. He is someone who was incredibly well prepared to read this book on its different levels–the technology, the history, the law–and help make it accessible. He could answer: Did I get it right? Was I explaining this all well? 

Stuart was also a sounding board; he was an encourager–Encourager, capital E; he was an architect. A lot of times, I felt like I was writing for him as I shared these stories. Then we’d get together and discuss if I had hit the marks and he would help me make sure we got it even better. We were working on a fast timeframe and he was turning things around very quickly, which I appreciated. 

But perhaps most importantly, Stuart encouraged me to say what I wanted to say. With so many historians pushing against this story for so many years, telling me not to say what I wanted to say, it was powerful for me to hear, “Go ahead and say it. We’ll massage it into the right words after. For now, just say what you need to say.”

Q: Your book came out a month ago now. How does it feel to have it circulating in the world, and what kind of feedback have you been getting?

It’s very exciting. Publisher’s Weekly was the first to come back and say nice things about it. They loved it. Across the board, people seem to really be diving into this book and they’re seeing what I saw–that this is an inspirational story. My book has also made it onto some ‘Hot Summer Reads’ lists which I could have never have conceived happening, seeing as it’s a story about six techy women programming a 30-ton computer nearly 80 years ago. But it’s great.

I’m also getting a lot of fan mail, including from men. Many are telling me how moved they are by this history and others are asking questions, but my favorite are those who have been inspired by the book to tell me the stories of their own mothers, grandmothers, or great aunts–the women they know in tech who encouraged them to go into the field.