Thursday, March 15, 2012

See How They Grow

Everyone said NOT to do it.

    “It never works out when friends work together.”

    “It’ll be the end of the friendship…”

    “I wouldn’t risk it.”

    “Well, you can kiss that friendship goodbye!”  

were some of the things people said to me, trying to be helpful, but I couldn't imagine that Barbara and I couldn’t work together.  In many ways we were opposite in terms of skillset:
  • She was detailed-oriented and while I certainly cared about the details, I wanted to worry about the big picture. 
  • She was methodical, organized and extremely self-disciplined; I was scattered and would hopscotch my way through tasks. 
  • She was level and controlled while I was an emotional roller coaster.
We seemed a perfect match.
I was tackling a huge project I’d never done before, creating a textbook from scratch and though the concept, editorial plan and table of contents were all created and approved by experts in the field, still it was going to be almost two years from plan to product.  I’d been bold in fighting to create and control this product; didn't want to be saddled with an outside company (again) that I couldn't control and would spend more time cleaning up after than I would developing. And my concept had been well-received  by the outside team of authorities they’d brought in to be questioned for two days by a market-research team the division had hired.  I’d only been in the company for 18 months and it was only the second textbook they were attempting.  So while I’d convinced the higher-ups, now that push was coming to shove, I was scared.  Barbara was a known quantity; she made me feel secure and most important, I couldn't imagine anyone I could trust more to follow-through and get the job done.  

I couldn't find a logo since
the company is now defunct
It was the first time anyone was attempting a managed textbook in the high school child development market. Normally textbooks were written by one author, someone who was a known expert in the field. But a managed text was one where you created the book through market research (What were the up and coming trends? New topics?) and a competitive analysis (How were the existing books weak?  What did the book have to have to beat the competition? ) and then you hired writers to write the copy. Not the “experts” because while they might be expert in the field, it didn't mean they were great writers, had the time to write an entire book, or had a sense of how to write a book with national appeal.  Our book was going to have consulting editors  known names in the field who would review the manuscript for accuracy  but they wouldn't write a word.  That was up to us.

We dove in full steam ahead.  Barbara made lists of everyone we’d need to hire freelance, wrote job descriptions, interviewed and reviewed writing samples of the writers.  We interviewed designer after designer until we found Leon, a guy older than we were who seemed like a good fit.  She plotted out timelines with delivery dates and deadlines from manuscript to galleys to proofs to finished product. Her meticulously hand-drawn color-coded charts on graph paper were taped around her office like an eye=level border of geometric wallpaper.  She drove me and the team of 21 by those charts.

There were glitches of course. One night we had to get hundreds of pages of manuscript out to readers and the copier wouldn't work; it was after 5 pm and no hope of getting it repaired until morning. I went riding the elevator until I found someone going up to their office and begged to use their copy machine  the guy laughed, let me in, and we met our deadline.  

A more serious glitch came earlier when we started getting copy from the team of writers and realized that the different chapters didn’t sound as if they were written by the same person  and of course they weren't! While we’d carefully chosen our team of writers based on the samples they’d submitted, we never thought to test them by asking them to rewrite their material to the style we'd finally settled on.  It was a mistake of huge proportions.  The entire timeline of the book was in jeopardy.  From every wall in Barbara’s office, those multicolored charts with their carefully drawn lines stared down at us disapprovingly.

We solved the terrible problem by hiring a master copyeditor, Kendra Crossen, who  in addition to copyediting (checking the grammar, spelling, consistency of formatting), had to rewrite the copy to make it flow as if from one voice. And she did.

During that year and a half, we did have one huge fight. I don’t remember what it was about but to Barbara’s credit, she insisted we face the conflict head on until it was resolved.  That was another great thing about her personal style and how she conducted herself in business  she never let anything fester.

When it came time to find a title we were up against a host of books that had been in the market for decades; in fact they were so popular that teachers referred to them not by the title, but by the author's name:  “I use the Hurlock.” or “We use Draper and Draper.”

But all the titles: Understanding Child Growth and Development, Caring for Children, Child Development, Understanding and Guiding Young Children   sounded alike and boring.

It was Barbara who said, “What about See How They Grow?” and her words sailed into the room like a breath of fresh air.

The marketing and sales folks argued vociferously against it. The title didn't say what the book was about and it didn’t sound like anything else on the market  but that was precisely what made it perfect.  We weren't a text like any other at the time: our book went beyond the school-age child (8-12) to include adolescent development (the age of the audience who would be reading it); our book coupled the typical ages and stages of growth & development with caregiving  not just the physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development of the child but what was it like to take care of a two-year old who was fighting, biting and saying “no.”  We had parenting pages which made the reader think about caring for, guiding, and disciplining a child  not an easy job as any parent knows.  We were going into a market where everybody already had the product and we didn't have "name" authors!  It would take a lot to get educators to buy this book. Standing out, sounding different was exactly what was needed.

We added a subtitle: Concepts in Child Development and ParentingWhen the book finally was published, two years after its start, seeing that book was exhilarating. Against all odds, with no actual experience in producing a book from concept to finish, together we’d done it. But management in the company had changed and I was on the way out, of the company and eventually educational publishing.

After moving south I returned to K-12 education and was in someone’s office at the state Department of Public Instruction when I saw our book on the shelf. With a big grin erupting on my face I reached for that smooth white volume, loving the feel of it in my hands. In the passing years, See How They Grow had been bought and sold from one now-defunct company to another. As I leafed through to the copyright page I saw that our names were gone.  Even though we’d given birth (to what always felt like my first child), we were no longer identified.

Never earning a penny in royalties, in some ways I felt rich. Thirty-one years after See How They Grow made its presence in the world, we not only had tangible evidence of what we'd created together, mother and midwife Barbara are still great and loving friends. [Happy Birthday Barbara!]


  1. would you consider a book on conservtive values?

    1. I would leave a book like that to experts like YOU!

  2. Although I have not added comments to any of your other posts, you know from my calls and emails that I’ve read each and every one of them! Your stories, many of which I’d heard before (and many of which I’d been there for!), come alive because of the incredible way you weave life, emotion, and honesty into your writing. THIS POST, my dear friend, is my favorite … not just because it’s about you and me, but also because it speaks to the power of friendship, teamwork, and a we’ll-figure-it-out-and-get-it-done attitude. Thank you for this amazing birthday gift:-)

    1. Absolutely my pleasure..I am so happy you liked it honey!