We never thought about what it would be like to work on a book together until we started doing it. Now that we’ve done it, we wanted to share the lessons learned that could be helpful to others who are considering collaborations.
“…lots of cooks in the kitchen often made it more difficult to meet deadlines…”
When Margery told me she had multiple ideas for books, but no time to do it, I encouraged her to forge ahead. She has an incredible story of personal and business success, and I volunteered to help her tell it. I felt that my experience publishing two novels and my more than thirty years experience in corporate communications would be helpful.
Margery created her company, APCO Worldwide, thirty-five years ago and built it to $150 million in revenues with offices around the world. At the same time she was building her company, she was raising three children with her husband, Steve. They have been married for more than fifty years and have nine grandchildren. Margery travels constantly for her business, so she is expert at balancing work and family.
With her schedule, we knew right away that our collaboration would be done electronically, over the miles. We met in person once and talked on the phone only a few times while writing the book.
I live primarily in California and Margery’s base is in Washington D.C., so we were rarely ever in the same time zone. I also spend a lot of time in the U.K. and Europe, so coordinating schedules was a challenge. We quickly established our distinct roles. Margery’s job was to tell her inspiring story; mine was to organize the book and create a structure in which she could provide the detail. I also handled the majority of the communication with the publisher.
The first thing we did was have a long phone conversation to establish the themes of the book—balancing and integrating work and family, career development, and doing the right thing in life and work.
We also needed to establish a title based off this conversation: Roots and Wings: The Ten Lessons of Motherhood that Helped Me Create and Run a Company. As an avid amateur photographer, Margery has a vast collection of photographs, so we knew from the start that her personal and work life photos would be an important part of the book.
I knew a lot about Margery, but did more research online to fill out the lessons we detailed in the book. I also interviewed her three children, two of whom work within her company, and a number of people at APCO. She appointed a coordinator from her company who worked with me on getting information I needed throughout the process, and he was invaluable.
After we finalized the ten lessons, we starting to drop in more content for each chapter and added quotes from staff and family throughout. I emailed drafts to Margery and then she added the stories from her life as she was traveling around the world. It was fun to see that story fill out over time. Our independent editor encouraged us to include the challenges as well as the triumphs.
Margery has a very busy work life, so early on in the process the book wasn’t the priority. Many times, progress would stall. This was frustrating—but not unpredictable. We just kept plugging away. The book was written and approved almost “by committee” as her children and people helping from APCO were involved in the process. But lots of cooks in the kitchen often made it more difficult to meet deadlines, and I am sure the publisher was frustrated more than once as approvals involved multiple people. Margery and I did our best to keep things moving along, and her daughter, Mara, was key in making sure the content was accurate.
The thing I enjoyed most about the process was learning more about Margery’s incredible life, the story of her family’s immigrant roots in the U.S., and how she instilled her values in her company, including creating innovative programs to support women around the world. I also came away with a greater understanding of what it is like to be an effective leader in business today while nurturing a fantastic family. I had a long corporate career with many lessons learned, but I gleaned much from Margery and her calm and decisive leadership style.
“…having a partner who has been through the process is indispensable, especially if you have a “day job” and an unpredictable schedule.”
One thing is for sure. This book would not have come to fruition without Phyllis. She was a total inspiration to me—so I had to go forward because I didn’t want to let her down!
Lots of people have said I should tell my story about building APCO ,but I was not and still am not ready to “tell all.” Perhaps someday. But what I was interested in and excited to do was to share some of my experiences I thought could be useful to others. I also think that often women in business are not supposed to talk a lot about family and their other pursuits. I think this gives a false impression to young people that you must make a choice between business and family, which is absolutely not the case. So when I mentioned the idea of this book to Phyllis, she insisted and persisted that I should write this book.
Working with Phyllis has been a joy. Given my schedule, she had the right mix of patience, experience, and discipline. I had none of the above—just a clear idea of what I wanted to say. Telling the story was easy and natural for me. Phyllis made it easy because she took all the hard work out of the process for me: dealing with the publisher, filling out the forms, editing my copy, keeping us on track. She was also well-known and liked by the team at APCO (as a former client) so it was a seamless process to have her work with my daughter and our APCO coordinator. I simply could not have had a better partner.
I learned that it is really important to understand the totality of the process, such as the kinds of decisions that had to be made along the way, and the level of detail required to work with a publisher to finalize the book itself. If you are a novice like I was, having a partner who has been through the process is indispensable, especially if you have a “day job” and an unpredictable schedule. I also think that having a firm calendar would have been useful. When I started, I had this project on the back burner but once we had real deadlines, I became more focused and serious about delivering what I needed to by the deadlines.
By the end of the process, I think we developed a good flow. I will forever be grateful for the experience of putting this book together and Phyllis’ unique contribution. More than the technical assistance, she was “all in” and interested in the story, my story, which made me feel that maybe there would be something interesting to others. Most of all, I believe we developed even more mutual respect for each other.
We wrote this book in many countries across a number of time zones. It wasn’t easy, but we did it. The big lessons we learned during this process: have an interesting story to tell, define roles, and pick the right person to write with!
Margery Kraus is founder and executive chairman of APCO Worldwide, a global advisory and advocacy communications consultancy headquartered in Washington, D.C., specializing in public affairs, communication, and business consulting for multinationals. Phyllis Piano spent more than thirty years as an award-winning communications expert for some of the world’s largest companies, and is the author of two novels.