A Handshake on a Bus (WIWDD #8)

Posted by jlubans on December 18, 2020

Caption: Waiting Convention Center Buses.

One of my first books was something of a” phenom”.
It sold exceedingly well with over 6000 international sales, approximately twenty times what one might reasonably expect for a scholarly book.
First the handshake.
I was at an annual professional conference. My seat mate on one of the convention buses was a young man of my own age. We chatted and I gathered from his name tag that
he was an editor for a well-known publisher.
We got to talking about book ideas. I told him how a small group of peers and I had put on a very well attended one-day conference in upstate NY. Afterwards we’d sold out, unexpectedly, the printed proceedings.
I ventured that an anthology of original writing on the topic just might take off. He said, “Why don’t you write that book for me?”
While professionally I was a wee bairn - a young guy who knew little about what he was getting into - I thought “Why not?”
I agreed right then and there and we shook on it.
This episode foretold of my leadership style. Call it intuitive or spontaneous, but I did not list out the reasons NOT to do this.
Instead, I went full bore with my personal belief that this was a good thing.
My audacity in this and other endeavors would give permission to others to experiment, to try out ideas. I imagine some thought, “Hell, if this guy can do this, I can do it better!”
Once back at my workplace, I sent the editor an outline for the proposed book.
A contract shortly followed.
It was to be a cloth covered book (mauve, as it turned out!) with a matching book jacket!
I wrote 40% of it and the rest were chapters from a variety of contributors, some well-known, others less so. It ran to 435 pages
An intended vade mecum (hand book) it literally became that for many. A colleague told me of going to a conference and many of the attendees were carrying the book!
It brought about or reinvigorated a vast array of service initiatives and experimentation. It energized and confirmed for the like-minded the importance of what we were doing.
So, what would I do differently?
Not much. How can you argue with success?
Probably, to make the book less ephemeral, there should have been a well thought out rationale (a thesis) for what the book was about, why it mattered now more to the profession than in previous decades.
In other words, a more philosophical underpinning.
One critic called it an enthusiastic but uneven work.
He excused the unevenness because of the number of contributors.
No doubt, I could have done better in editing their work and, more importantly, I could have been more selective in choosing authors.
I forget how I found several of them; I probably would have benefited by seeking suggestions from a few trusted people.
Most book reviews were highly supportive; but reviews matter little when readers buy and read a book regardless of its unevenness or any other flaw.
I could claim that my timing was brilliant but in truth it was all serendipitous – many people were reaching the same conclusions my little team of like-minded practitioners had reached in upstate NY.
The book inspired many practitioners; they were ready to be inspired.
You could see from other indicators, like standing room only crowds at conferences, that people were hungry for ideas, best practices, and looking to share their experiences and seeking answers to what they were facing on the job.
The book’s underlying idea was not new, but it had been largely muted in previous decades.
Now the environment had changed – the client base was booming along with increased staffing and budgets. It was a time of unprecedented ferment and transition in higher education.
One could say the book capitalized on the transition; if a wave, the book rode it well.
All in all, it turned out to be the right book for the right readers at the right time.
The most obvious lesson for me from this book’s success was that your topic has to be of interest to more than a few people.
Your readers have to want the book.
If you, the author, are the only one interested, then it is unlikely you will have many readers.
One last item. I’d clarify that, while I was the major author, the book included several other authors.
A contributor to the book (and longtime friend) has never forgiven me for the title page implying I was the author rather than the editor!
He pokes me about it whenever we get together, now going on 50 years!

Black Friday Everyday!!!
The perfect stocking stuffer ONLY a click away, now 40% off until Christmas at BookBaby:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

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