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Even Tougher Than Herding Cats – a book of management advice (by an accidental author)

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Herding Cats cover

Ger Mulcahy

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It sounds like a strange admission, but I wrote this book almost by accident. I’m a full-time employee, and I regularly work 14 hours a day. I’m a husband, and father of three girls, all of whom live at home. I’m not the most time-rich person I know. I suspect I’m like a lot of first-time authors.

I’ve mentored individuals and groups for the past 20 years, directly through my role or as part of a mentoring relationship.
I’ve learned a lot through that work, and I hope I’ve been able to help the people I’ve worked with. One of the things that I learned is that certain topics become thematic from one group to the next. I started to build resources to help me prepare for a new mentoring group, and to provide concise information to them. I put together a reading list and some additional pieces of supporting material. And then I thought, why don’t I just write it all down?

I started writing about 18 months ago. I’ve read quite a lot, so I know what I like to read, but I didn’t know how I wanted to write. I didn’t know what “my voice” should be. So I decided to write conversationally because that seemed most authentically me. I didn’t know what the mechanics of writing should be like. I’ve read a bit on writing (Stephen King’s “On Writing” a long time ago, and several others since), but the best advice came from hearing Neil Gaiman interviewed by Tim Ferriss for the latter’s podcast.

Write when you’re writing. Don’t research when the words are going onto paper, physical or virtual. Don’t edit as you go. If you’re in a flow, keep writing. Write often, write badly, if necessary, but write. Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors of fiction, so it seemed like a good piece of advice to take. He also made it clear that when he is in his writing space, he’s not allowed to do anything else. He can’t distract himself with gadgets, or mess about with the innumerable black holes on the Internet – he can only write, or sit there in misery.
With that in mind, I set myself the target of writing one thousand words every time I sat down to write. The only time I have to write is at the weekends, which is time stolen from my family. I set myself a time limit of ninety minutes per session, and I did my best to hit 1,000 words each time. Some days I got one hundred (and they were often drivel). Other days I got 1,400. When I hit the time limit, I left my desk and went back to my family. It wasn’t always fun, but it always felt like progress.

I broke the book down into four sections – Know, Manage, Be and Become. I started with the individual knowing themselves and their motivations and values. I then moved into writing about the practice of management, of oneself and others. Be is a section about behaviour and approach, focussing on curiosity, authenticity, kindness, presence and other topics that new (and often experienced) managers don’t always understand the value of. Finally, Become suggests some aspirational behaviours and practices for managers to adopt.

I deliberately kept it short – it’s a book of advice, and the people it is aimed at are typically very time-poor. At thirty-four thousand words, it is considerably shorter than a novel and shorter than most management books. It is short because I intentionally avoided filler. I put my effort into trying to be concise and providing pointers to other sources of information. I wanted to build a book that would help people avoid some of the painful lessons I’ve learned in my management career. Always, in the back of my head, I kept the idea that it should also provide reminders to more senior managers as well.

I finished writing the bulk of the content in late November 2019 and started playing around with some of my tentative titles. Looking back at them now, I’m glad I picked the one I did. I signed up for 99designs and started a design competition for the cover. And then I did the scariest thing of all and sent the book to my first proof-reader, a senior executive who I have a lot of respect for.

Once I had broken the psychological barrier of sharing my work, it became easier to share it with others. The next two recruits were my brothers, who are both in Sales management for different industries. As with most siblings, they can be pretty direct, so I was reasonably confident they would tell me what they really thought. When the initial reviews came back positive, I started to believe that I had created something of value.

The design competition was an interesting experience. The first submission out of twenty-five or so turned out, with minor alterations, to the winner. People who have seen the book (or who buy a copy, can I get a Hallelujah) like the cover, and I really enjoyed working with the designer. He captured the idea quickly and was very responsive when I needed minor changes. When I decide to go down the writing path again, he will be the first designer I contact.

I decided to self-publish through Amazon (www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B083H3ZRDX). As a first-time author, in a genre that will never produce the next Harry Potter, I knew I was going to struggle to find an agent or a publisher. Despite that realism I did reach out to a couple of agents, but got no response. Amazon publishing turned out to be a trivially easy process to use. I had started with a digital book in mind first, so it was a really pleasant surprise to find that Amazon will print paperback copies of your e-books for you. The Kindle Create tool, which converts Word documents into Kindle format, isn’t the most feature-rich product, but you can get the job done with it.

The most beneficial thing for me is that you have the ability to rapidly change your content if you want to add material or correct a mistake.
While most authors probably dream of having their books in every retail bookshop in the land, Amazon publishing gives authors like myself who have no time to publicise their work a way to reach a wide audience.

The book has been on sale since January 16th and is starting to reach its intended audience. While I have not yet started writing my next book, I am going back to writing blog posts on my personal site – www.amusingmulcahy.com. Please drop by if you want to get a sense of how I write and don’t yet feel like picking up a book of management advice!

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