Thursday, January 09, 2014

The New Year And Book Coaching ...

On Thursday, September 20, 2007, my now-dearly departed friend Jeff Zaslow published this column in the Wall Street Journal.

It didn't take long for the story of Dr. Randy Pausch's last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University to start being bandied about as a book.

The bidding for the publishing rights was fast and furious. Jeff called me every night with the latest news.

And when the deal was done – $6.7 million later – Jeff was about to embark on his highest-profile book project ever.

"Beth," he said, "we need to sell two million copies just to earn back the advance."

I assured him they would.

"How do you know?" he asked, sincerely.

"I just do."

And so, over the course of the next couple weeks, Jeff would call and we would talk about what the book should be. His editor had one take. Jeff had another.

I was on Jeff's side. Our chats helped him clarify his ideas and make his case.

Later, after he had written about half the manuscript, I asked if I could read it. Jeff sent it along. I asked if I could put notes in it, if I happened to notice anything amiss as I read. Jeff agreed.

Jeff was not a precious writer. Some writers are precious. Some writers – I worked with a couple of them at the Chicago Tribune – think they are God's gift to prose and no one – no one – should ever change a word of it.

But Jeff was not a precious writer. Though Jeff also didn't need much editing. His copy just flowed.

So I read, and I made notes, and I sent the file back to him.

He called and he scrolled.

"You're a really good editor," he said.

I had worked for him for two summers at the Chicago Sun-Times when I was a teenager but I was never in charge of editing his work. I was in charge of transmitting his work from Chicago to New York where his syndicate editor would edit his work. So for all the years I had known him, he had never seen my editing.

Until that day.

After he had completed the manuscript, I asked if I could read it again. He sent it along. But added, "You don't have to read the whole thing since you've already read half of it."

"No," I told him (we spent a lot of time on the phone in those days), "I'm going to read it all the way through."

So I did. And I found more things to note. And I sent it back to him.

And a couple months later, in April 2008, it arrived in the world. And the initial run of 200,000 copies sold out almost immediately. (To date, it has been translated into 48 languages and has sold 5 million copies in the U.S. alone.)

The next year, when Jeff was in town to promote The Girls From Ames, which he had been working on but had put on hold to write The Last Lecture, I drove him to the event and then afterward, we had dinner.

Jeff signed both copies of my books that night, copies he had sent to me.

He opened The Last Lecture and wrote. And wrote. He wrote for a long time.

This is what he inscribed:

Beth, I am completely grateful to you for the advice, editing, cheerleading, and creative input you gave for this book. I remember being very unsure of where this was going, and I appreciated your clear-eyed skill at pointing me the right way. This book is better because of you. I am proud to be your friend.

I read what he had written while he sat across from me. I was very touched.

I saw Jeff for another event in 2010. Afterward, we had dinner. Afterward, even though we were parked very near each other, he walked me to my car and hugged me goodbye.

The next year, he was in town for another event but we didn't have time to see each other.

And the following year, he died.

I very much miss my friend.

But recently, while doing dishes, I remembered what he had written inside my book. And I started crying. Because I am a legendary sap.

But also because my friend and colleague Michele Woodward and I had recently discussed my offering book coaching in 2014, and what Jeff wrote that night over dinner registered with me as the testimonial to end all testimonials.

I have helped other people with their book projects but none are so well-known as The Last Lecture.

And I know that Jeff would give his blessing for me to use his words to let the world know about my official foray into book coaching.

So, here we are.

If you need someone to help you get your book project moving in earnest, I'm here. Let’s talk about what’s holding you back. Let’s talk through the areas that you feel aren’t working. Let’s work on an outline and a writing schedule so you can put into the world the things you most want to convey.

You can find more information and contact me about your project here.

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