Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rebecca Waters: Undercover Boss

Ah, the things you learn on cable TV. I haven’t had cable for several years. A couple of months ago, I discovered I could get better internet service and phone service by bundling those with cable television. I still turn the set on mostly for noise, but now I have a wider range of choices for the voices filling my living room.

Recently, I discovered a program called “Undercover Boss.” Apparently the show has been on for some time. The premise of the reality show is that the president or CEO of a company takes on a disguise and acts as a new employee of the business. Those he works with (I’ve only seen male bosses so far) are told the newbie is part of a reality show highlighting people changing careers or something. Hence the cameras following the disguised CEO around. By acting as a new trainee, the CEO learns how the company is functioning internally. The CEO often has a question in the back of his mind, “How can we improve…” You can fill in the blank. Improve our productivity…Improve our customer service….Improve our sales, etc. At the end of the show the CEO reveals himself to the employees rewarding good workers and admonishes those not doing their best.

I imagine the show appeals to me in part because of my background in educational ethnography. To conduct such research, an anthropologist often goes into the setting to be studied and acts as a participant. He or she taps into the knowledge of the culture by interviewing participants and collecting data through first hand observation. Yep, what takes a researcher months to complete, “Undercover Boss” accomplishes in a week. Sort of. 

Okay. My blog is about writing. What does any of this have to do with writing? I see my writing as my business. (See Getting Those Crazy Ducks in a Row for a brief view of my business plan. Book to follow.) I am president, CEO, writer, manager, and everything else in my little company.

Taking a cue from “Undercover Boss,” and maybe because it sounded like a fun post, I went undercover at to see how I might improve my productivity and sales.

The Set-Up
The first task at hand was to find a suitable disguise and assume a new identity. I’ve actually never seen a show where a woman went undercover, so I had to take my cues from the programs I viewed. They almost always have a moustache and glasses and some way to change their hair or wear a hat. Here’s what I came up with…what’d you think? I don’t recognize me!

I decided on the name Maggie Sloddguts. My first stop is to touch base with Rebecca Waters, author of Breathing on Her Own. She thinks I’m coming to job shadow her because I have an idea for a best seller I’d like to write. What I really want to do is find out how I can help her become more productive.

Maggie: Hi there! I’m Maggie. Would you by chance be Rebecca Waters?

Rebecca: [extends her hand] Nice to meet you. I understand you want to be a writer.

Maggie: I have a great idea for a best seller. I had a very dysfunctional family and I know everyone would love to read about them.

Rebecca: Uh, okay. Well, let’s get you started. I have some pages here that need to be edited. I’m going to let you go through those and take this pen to make notes. Circle trouble areas and write any questions you have in the margins.

Maggie: I don’t want to be an editor. I want to be a writer. Maybe they’ll make a movie out of my book. I mean, it’s that good.

Rebecca: Great. In the meantime, you need to learn how to edit your own work. Writers have to do a lot of editing and rewriting. So have a seat here at the kitchen table and let’s see what you can do.

[While Maggie settles into her assigned task, let’s get Rebecca’s first impression of our Undercover Boss.]

Rebecca: I’m not sure Maggie will make it as a novelist. She doesn’t seem to have a clear picture of all that’s involved. Writing is hard work. And I hate to say it, but that girl needs some serious waxing.

[Rebecca returns to her protégée. Back at the kitchen table.]

Maggie: So you print all this out and go through this with a pen all the time?

Rebecca: It depends on the project. I’m learning to use a program called Scrivener and think that will help a lot. I’ll be able to do my revising on the computer and save earlier drafts and so forth. It is a lot less cumbersome. I just need to learn all of the details.

Maggie: Do you take classes for that or something?

Rebecca: I’ve gone through the tutorial and then JessicaWhite, an author/blogger of Christian Fiction (transformational fiction), put together a great chat to go through some of the basics. It takes a lot of time to learn new tools. For example, I can write 1000-1500 words every day without a lot of difficulty, but I’d like to double that. I have the Dragon Word Recognition program I’ve never used. Just need to figure that out, too.

[Outside the house with “Maggie”]

Maggie: Rebecca has a good handle on the work involved in writing a book but she knows it could be better by implementing a few tools. Also, I noticed that working at the kitchen table wasn’t as comfortable as working at an ergonomically designed space. And it’s distracting. I was trying to do a bit of editing while the television was on and found myself making the same mistake over and over.

[Moving on to the next job.] I’m now going to go visit Becky Waters. She works behind the scenes. She manages a weekly blog and handles all the marketing needs for Breathing on Her Own. I want to see how that is going for her and how I might be able to help her.

Maggie:[Entering room and shaking hands with Becky ] I’m Maggie.

Becky: Good to meet you, Maggie. You’re here to learn about blogging?

Maggie: I want to learn everything I can about blogging and marketing and all the other behind the scenes jobs connected to writing.

Becky: I’m happy to share what I know. The blog I write here at Waters Words is called A Novel Creation. How are your computer skills?

Maggie: Oh, fair.

Becky: You’ll learn. I've had to learn by doing or beg for help! First, I’m going to have you work on a marketing piece. I need you to design some business cards and bookmarks. I’ll draft a blog post while you work.

Maggie: Is that hard? Drafting blog posts? I mean you have to write so many of them, how do you find time to do it?

Becky:  I keep a schedule for my blog. I post once a week and have done so for over two years now. It’s usually fun. I try to share what Rebecca is experiencing in her current writing journey –you know, what she’s learning along the way. And I try to have several posts drafted or ready ahead of time. I also feature guests posts from other writers.

[Let’s interview Maggie outside to see what she thinks.]

Maggie: Becky is in way over her head. She manages the blog fine and after reading many of her posts, I know that part of what she does is going well. It’s the marketing end. Breathing on Her Own is doing well, but only because Becky’s been able to recruit people like me to come in and try to design things for her. She needs more confidence and better computer skills. One of her daughters designed her first business cards, a couple of her daughters put the book trailer together, and I know she calls on them for assistance all the time. I know she appreciates her daughters, but they would probably appreciate some help. She really needs to find a professional designer for her website, cards, bookmarks, everything. But of course that all costs money.

Me, Myself, and I

Yes, it’s me. Rebecca, first, I want to tell you I think it’s good you are looking for new ways to be productive. I understand the draw of being able to “write in your jammies” but you are more productive when you get up and get dressed in the morning. Sometimes you do better when you get out of the house. I want to help you. I’m giving you these gift cards to do a little shopping. Buy some work clothes and take yourself out to Starbucks for a change of pace. I also want to see you build in some time each week to learn some of those tools you want to use. If you don’t schedule time for it, it won’t get done.

[You can’t see her, but Rebecca is wowed!]

And let’s take a look at getting your work environment working for you. The kitchen table and the sofa are not ergonomically great places for you to spend long hours writing and they are in the most distracting areas of your home. Let’s take a look at putting your office together in a way that serves you. I’m giving you permission to take three days off of writing to do whatever you need to do that.

Becky, I like the way you’ve set up a schedule for yourself. You seem to have a good handle on the types of things that distract you. I know you stress over the items you need to market the book. I’m earmarking $200 to get more business cards and bookmarks and supplies for marketing.

[Becky hugs herself with glee.]

So what do you think? Ready to go undercover? What do you think you would discover about your writing business? Thanks for visiting. Be sure to take a moment to leave a comment and share the post with your friends.


  1. You are so funny! And clever! This post is fun to read as well as educational. Thanks for the great advise.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it and also found it helpful! Thanks for the comment.

  2. Such a fun and interesting post, I love it!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Suze! Thanks for dropping in!


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