Today’s the big day that I announce my book. It’s not out yet. Not until May 22. But today is the day I put the photo of the book cover on the blog and tell you that you should pre-order the book. Yes. Please do that.

But what I’m really going to do today is tell you about career change. Because that’s what I did when I wrote this book. It wasn’t the kind of career change where I was a ballerina one day and a construction worker the next. I mean, I had been writing a weekly column for five years. So writing a book shouldn’t be a stretch after that.

But in fact it was a big stretch. Writing a book is very different from writing a column, and that was a problem.

After five years as a columnist, I was pretty confident in my ability to turn out a career tip in 600 words. So I waited until a month before the book was due, locked myself in a room, and threw together a book. Then I danced around my New York City apartment crowing about my brilliant authorship. For about four days. Until my editor got back to me with a hand-delivered letter that said, basically: This manuscript sucks.

So, maybe you think if you got that letter, you would immediately hunker down and fix things. But that’s was not so easy to do. I was used to my editors telling me how great my column is. How popular it is. How funny I am. You get used to being really good at something and you don’t really want to hear anything else. It’s hard to start over at something and be just a beginner.

So I spent about four months whining to my agent and saying I write how I write and I’m not changing it to pander to some editor and I think I’m just going to get a corporate job. I said that a lot – like, maybe twenty times.

This is what change looks like: kicking and screaming. Because change when everything is terrible looks like a great idea. But when things are going pretty well, change looks too hard.

The thing is that every time I imagined myself not writing this book, and going back to a corporate job, I got sad. I love writing so much, and I feel so lucky to be able to do this for my work. So, one day, when I was whining and complaining, my agent told me that if I didn’t write the book the way the publisher wanted they were going to dump me.

That was sobering. I did not want to be dumped. I didn’t want to go down in the book world because I was stubborn and difficult to work with. So I decided to write the book the way my editor wanted.

My editor, Diana Baroni, is good. She realized that I was being stubborn because I was scared to have to learn how to do something new. She was patient with me, and she even gave me an extra year to write the book.

Yep. You read that right. My book was a year late because that’s how much extra time I took to decide that I was going to learn to do something new. But it will come as no surprise to you that it was a great learning experience.

One of the biggest differences between writing a book and writing a column is that a book has to have a Big Idea. So the big idea for my book is that the new generation has ushered in a new workplace, and the old rules don’t apply. If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you’ll know that I write about this all the time. But in the book, it’s very organized.

Before I got my book contract, I didn’t really write about big ideas. The process of writing the book taught me how to think bigger. And, of course, Diana was very good at keeping me from writing a lot that is just about my life and only tangentially giving career advice. (Like this post, for example.)

So look, next time someone wants you to change what you’re doing, and you think it’s just a bunch of extra work because what you’re doing is fine, think about my book. How much it taught me about how to think bigger, and differently, and broaden the range of hurdles I can approach. You can do the same. If you can be humble enough to be a beginner again.

26 replies
  1. John R. Ingrisano
    John R. Ingrisano says:

    Dear Penelope:

    Great info and advice. I am about six months to a year behind you on the book track. A long-time biz columnist and writer ab out money management, I had the same type of false start on my book: “Men & Women & Money! Oh My! A Couples Guide to Financial Peace.” I thought all I had to do was dip deeply into my past experices and paste article copy under chapter heads. Wrong!

    Fortunately, an old friend is a writing prof and author of 50 books, so he is mentoring me on the creating and marketing of longer works.

    Most of all, good luck with your book. May it be a smash best-seller!

    John R. Ingrisano
    http://www.thefreestyleentrepreneur.com

    de

  2. Emily
    Emily says:

    Beautiful – I love the way your experience with the book becomes yet another career learning opportunity.

    Very much looking forward to reading it, Penelope. Best of luck!

  3. michael gibbons
    michael gibbons says:

    Penelope, you are going to get lot of praise and KUDOS on this — know why? Because you are humble, smart and genuine an increasingly rare mashup in this world — I look forward to reading the new rules! michael

  4. Steven Grant
    Steven Grant says:

    I will pre-order, but how do I get it signed? Will there be a tour? Will the tour have tee shirts?

    * * * * * *

    Steve,

    Tee shirts is a great idea. Thanks. I emailed my publisher as soon as I read your comment. Stay tuned for that.

    Tour info to come. I wish I could tell you I have a grand scheme. Mostly, though, I think the publisher just sends me to whatever place can guarantee 200 books sold.

    -Penelope

  5. Dale
    Dale says:

    Penny,

    I just pre-ordered you book. All I can say is FINALLY:) I’ve been waiting on it for the last year + when you said that it was almost ready.
    Ditto on Steven Grant’s comment above, “. . . how do I get it signed? Will there be a tour? Will the tour have tee shirts?” I love tee shirts;)

    Incidentally, I have been addressing you as Penny for the longest, now that Penelope is your real name, should I stop? No hurt feelings. I really do not want to be presumptuous or forward as we are not buddies etc. Just the old fashioned island upbringing.

    Congratulations!!!!

  6. Laura Vanderkam
    Laura Vanderkam says:

    Congrats on getting the book finished! Did you read Po Bronson’s story in New York magazine recently on the topic of praising your kids for effort v. ability? Your post reminded me of the grown-up ramifications of that. Bronson wrote about research showing that when kids are praised for how hard they work at something, they work harder, and take failure in stride, trying to learn from it. When they’re praised as just being smart — a state of being, just like being witty or funny or a great columnist or whatever — they don’t want to deviate from that state of being. So they become risk averse, refuse to try new things, say they are “misunderstood,” etc. I have a feeling we adults react the exact same way.

    * * * * * *

    Laura, that’s so true. Of course, I read the article I love New York magazine! and of course it never occurred to me that the research applies to me. It was a good article, though. Wait. I am finding a link…  How Not to Talk to Your Kids

    and also, good moment to tell everyone that Laura has a book that just came out that seems almost tailor-made for this blog: Grindhopping: Building a Rewarding Career Without Paying Your Dues.

    –Penelope

  7. davey
    davey says:

    OK, Penelope, now I get it. You are late-20-early 30-something, and that explains where you are coming from.

    So, you actually and naively thought that book publishers would accept your material as is, in other words, having them fit your standards – or lack of them, as opposed to fitting their standards. And your tantrums about not wanting to conform? Are you for real, or do you think that your gig with the Globe makes you a sacred cow? I guess that’s what the world of YouTube and other elements of self-gratification bring.

    I’m not just picking up on your immature rants as someone with a grudge, I am a published author and have had my work rejected in the past, not because of its content, but mostly because my Acquisitions Editor was a NY elitist snob who remneged on her word to help me out. I have since gone on to be published here and abroad and continue to write for folks who appreciate what I have to offer – because I write from experience, not fluff like you do..You have a lot of growing up to do, kid!

  8. Lewis Green
    Lewis Green says:

    Penelope,

    Congratulations! My fifth book comes out in a few months, so I understand your pain. Enjoy the pub date because you have lots of work ahead in marketing the book.

    Maybe I can help. I am the IMCNE Newsletter editor and also review books on my blog. If you’ll send me a copy (or an MS), I’ll review it. If you want a copy of my next book, just ask. I don’t want to use your blog for self-promotion, so feel free to send me an e-mail.

    * * * * * *
    Hey, Lewis. Thanks for the offer. I have tons of review copies to send out. So your offer is perfectly timed.

    –Penelope

  9. Bruce Tulgan
    Bruce Tulgan says:

    Penelope,
    Your book is a gift to anyone out there trying to survive and succeed. Of course, I am preordering. Not only that, I’m going to make it a gift to every upstart I know and I’m going to start recommending it everywhere I go. You rock!!

    By the way, you really, really, really do need to do t-shirts, given the book cover.

  10. mswj
    mswj says:

    Penelope,

    RE: Brazen Careerists

    You are clearly correct. Some folks look at young people and assume ignorance. I have met many amazing young people with drive, focus, and exceptional abilities. The only thing they lack is the wisdom of life experience. I too thought that was a myth when I was younger. You can be very grateful that you had the job interview where the person with whom you were speaking apparently assumed you were lacking. I suggest you consider the other side.

    It is true that when I was in college pocket calculators first became available at a price that exceeded a semester’s tuition and fees. When we used computers it was punching cards to enter the program, and it took hours, often 24, to get a program run. The PC wasn’t available until a decade after graduation. And young people today, often in HR positions, assume anyone over 35 is clueless, hopeless, and technologically deficient.

    I have a lot of experience. My desire to maintain my integrity has led me away from a few positions where management was more concerned with profits than honesty or the clients. So, over the last seven years I have applied, on line, for many positions for which I am a perfect match. The online applications require certain material that effectively provides the applicant’s age to a potential employer. While my qualifications are a perfect match, I get no calls for interviews. Studies have shown that older workers are more stable and often more productive than younger workers. Older workers don’t quit for a 25 cent/hr increase in pay. My generation grew up expecting to stay at one job for 30 years or more. Your generation grew up knowing you would have seven or more jobs over your working lives by watching us run that gauntlet unprepared.

    While you may be running smack into people who don’t consider you as competent as you are, thousands of us in our 50s are finding that our competence is irrelevant. Considering my experience with the job market – I’m currenlty self employed so I’m not starving – I must make some assumptions as to what is going on. It is possible that seeing my experience the screener is making assumptions about how happy I might be doing a job for which I am a perfect fit. S/he may be making an assumption about whether the salary is adequate for me. It could be that the employer has a particular person in mind to move into the position. (with one employer this is unlikely as I have applied for similar/related positions at least 20 times over the last couple years.) And it is clearly possible that when seeing my experience and adding up the time required to obtain it, they consider me too old for the job. It is virtually impossible to prove age discrimination with a system where an individual never gets in front of an employee of a company.

    In your situation, you have a severe handicap when applying for employment. Your history. You have started two companies. You are an entrepreneur, you ran the show. Employers don’t much like people coming in to take over unless they are hired as the CEO. Entrepreneurs are often lousy when not at the top of the chain of command. They can be disruptive when the company goes in a direction they don’t prefer. Working in the corporate world as an employee is very different from being in charge, as you well know. Being able to move between the two is part of what comes with the wisdom of life experience.

  11. Dale
    Dale says:

    Penny,

    Who on earth is “davey” and why does he feel compelled to pee in your Wheaties?

    He must be a baby boomer, like myself, but with an axe to grind because the world is changing and he missed the orientation session.
    I guess the real story here is that no matter who you are and what you say, you are not going to please everyone. Keep on being true to yourself and in so doing helping others to learn a bit more about what we may consider modern, “contrarian”, otherly viewpoints. (I know that otherly is not a word but you get my drift)

    I’m surprised he didn’t call you sweetie:)

  12. Alexandra Levit
    Alexandra Levit says:

    Hey Penelope, congratulations! I hope you are doing something special to celebrate, and if there’s any way I can help support the book’s launch, just let me know.

  13. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    I can just imagine Susan calling you up to tell you to get your ass in gear….

    As for Davey and his ilk, just be glad that he thinks you’re a 20-something. I’d consider that praise, considering the source.

    * * * * * *

    Yeah. Twentysomething. I love that.

  14. Humaira
    Humaira says:

    Hi Penelope,

    This is my first comment, I’ve been lurking for a while and read all your entries, which have really helped me to prepare for looking for work.

    Congratulations on the book! I’ve pre-ordered it! Is it different to your blog?

    Also want to say, I utilised your advice yesterday during my first ever interview for a grad job, and it came in useful! Thanks for sharing and keep up the great work!

  15. Michael Holley Smith
    Michael Holley Smith says:

    The first one’s the hardest. I typed out my first book in 1977 on an old Underwood typewriter. I just signed up for yours and look forward to it. A writer once told me that “you have to know what you’re talking about if you expect the reader to believe you.” I believe you.
    Hope you break the charts!

  16. Working Girl
    Working Girl says:

    Yay on your new book! Super and exciting news. Will your tour bring you to Seattle?

    * * * * * * *

    Thanks, Working Girl. I hope I go to Seattle.

    I have to confess that  a lot of the book promotion stuff is still a little mysterious and seems to be a little bit last-minute, which is so not how I operate. So I’m trying to adjust…

    -Penelope

  17. Mike Hobart
    Mike Hobart says:

    I remember the Australian columnist of the 1950s and 1960s Ross Campbell once wrote a piece about how being a columnist trained you to write in chunks of 600 words.

    The article was, of course, 600 words long.

  18. CraigM
    CraigM says:

    Here’s a question… Why write a book?

    Aren’t books 20th century?

    Who is the audience? Baby boomers? Gen X? Gen Y?

    What about an e-book? audio book? pod-book? podcast audio chapters…

    Your writing is about the new way of developing careers. I find it interesting that printed books are part of that career development. :-)

    I admit, I must be old school because I’m looking forward to reading your book!

    Cheers, -CraigM-

  19. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Penelope,

    Yeah! The book is (almost) out. I’m ordering it today.

    I’m one of those Baby Boomers who just won’t go away — in the workplace or pop culture (yup, we’re responsible for all of those ‘hip’ Ensure and Depends commercials :>) ). I always find value, usefulness, and humor from reading Penelope’s columns which I didn’t know until recently were specifically targeted at Generations X, Y, Z!

    Barbara

  20. David Perry
    David Perry says:

    Penelope,

    I just ordered the book and I am so looking forward to reading it again.

    The manuscript was superb. Your style is witty and insightful. You have an amazing way of letting your reader live through your experiences.

    I really appreciate [actually I’m jealous] your ability to look at work from so many angles: employee, CEO and now as a new parent. I trust this is just the first of many.

    You Rock! My teenage daughter says so!

    David Perry
    Raving Fan

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