I’ve been writing and publishing my own business books for 12 years. I’ve helped numerous colleagues with their book proposals. I’ve had more “informational interviews” about publishing than I can count. And yet, it didn’t occur to me that I could help someone else write a book until I met Karyn Schoenbart.
Schoenbart, who is CEO of global market research firm the NPD Group, invited me to speak on generational differences at a women’s conference. Schoenbart and her 20-something advertising-executive daughter, Danielle, shared story after story about how Schoenbart’s 30 years of business experience had shaped Danielle’s development as a leader. They called it the mom.B.A. program.
Schoenbart had a strong writing voice, but what she didn’t have was experience planning and structuring a 60,000-word book. A busy CEO, she also didn’t have the time to refine and edit copy, add supplementary interviews and research, and work with a publisher and agencies on production, design, marketing, and publicity plans.
I did have these things, and I thought that a book of mom.B.A.-related advice could compete with the best of them. After all, what young professional doesn’t wish for a CEO for a mother?
So Schoenbart and I decided to work together on Mom.B.A.: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next. I tapped a few of my ghostwriter friends for advice and learned that the typical model involved agreeing on an outline and the ghostwriter delivering a complete manuscript for review several months later. But Schoenbart wanted her book to be in her own voice, so we forged our own path, in which she created initial drafts of anecdotes and advice.
Schoenbart and I—as a baby boomer and a late Gen X-er, respectively, with complementary skill sets—were ideal candidates for a reciprocal mentorship, which in corporate America refers to a mutually beneficial relationship in which the participants take turns being the mentor and mentee. During the many times we met, I poured my accumulated book knowledge into her cup and she poured her accumulated business-world knowledge into mine. She taught me tricks for remembering people’s names; I taught her how to write an acknowledgments page. She coached me in negotiating higher speaking fees; I taught her about royalties. Schoenbart showed me why handwritten notes still make an impression, and I explained the mystery of Twitter’s appeal.
During the 18-month process, we developed a deep friendship built on respect, trust, and honesty. (Schoenbart: “That line doesn’t sound like me at all.” Me: “I think we’re talking too much about your kids here.”).
The book, Mom.B.A., was published by Motivational Press in September 2017 and became an 800-CEO-READ bestseller that month and the month after. Schoenbart entered a new phase of life as an author CEO, traveling to speaking engagements and book signings. I’ve stayed involved in the promotion, to help Schoenbart but also because I’m as proud of this book as I am of any of my solo efforts.
Participants can reap a range of unexpected benefits from book collaboration, from knowledge transfer and innovation to networking and stronger intergenerational communication. Thanks to our willingness to experiment with our partnership and find the best arrangement, Schoenbart and I now have a relationship that has transcended a limited-time engagement. I expect to have not only a professional relationship going forward but also a personal one. You could say that I got my own mom.B.A.
Of course, a mentorship-oriented approach to book collaboration relies heavily on personal chemistry, clearly defined expectations, and the anticipation of value on both sides. There’s no substitute for genuinely liking your partner and outlining up front who will do what and when. The specifics will look different for every pair, but once collaborators have these components in place, they have more freedom than ever to push the boundaries of the process so that it’s more rewarding for all involved.
Alexandra Levit is the author of several business books, including They Don’t Teach Corporate in College (Career). A former nationally syndicated writer for the Wall Street Journal, she speaks on issues facing modern employees.