Reva Basch (reva) Thu 23 Sep 99 10:43
Amy Berger is a smart and funny woman who's spent years on the battlefield of corporate America and lived to tell about it. Her book, The Twenty Year Itch: Confessions of a Corporate Warrior, has been compared to "Dilbert in prose, from a female point of view."
Reva Basch (reva) Thu 23 Sep 99 10:49
Amy, welcome to the InkWELL. Before we get into the book itself, can you tell us something about the experience of self-publishing? What's that been like for you?
Amy Berger (amyberger) Fri 24 Sep 99 08:11
Most of the time it has been tortuous. The need for attention to detail is great and I'd much rather be writing humor than checking font size, negotiating with printers and/or verifying Library of Congress cataloging requiremnts. (And just when I was trying to retire from being a perfectionist! :-) That said, however, I'm glad I did it. Having my book published, and out there for others to enjoy is a dream come true.
Reva Basch (reva) Fri 24 Sep 99 12:17
But just think -- you have total control over marketing and distribution. (That's kind of a joke, considering that many of us who go with major publishers, expecting that we're going to get major promotional support, end up doing it all ourselves, anyway.) To _The Twenty Year Itch_. You were intentionally, I'm sure, vague about the identities of the specific companies where you worked. Names have been changed to protect the guilty, etc. etc. Don't you fear getting into a "You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again" situation? Do you still have friends "on the inside"?
Amy Berger (amyberger) Mon 27 Sep 99 11:30
What a great question, Reva. Actually I showed a copy of the manuscript to my boss at the time just to get a real world respose from one person who had inspired me to write the book..I was nervous at first to show it to her, but I figured, what's the worst that could happen? Even if she wanted to fire me, she didn't have any proof that she was mentioned since all names are fictitious... As is turns out, she told me she enjoyed the book immensely! Then she sheepishly asked if my experience at the company (where we both worked at the time) had influenced my writing. I said something like "yes, but remember I've worked many places before I arrived here." The book, in essence, is a compilation of bosses and experiences I"ve had over the past two decades, all melded into a few exaggerated characters and incidents. In that way, writing the book was kind of like baking a cake!
Reva Basch (reva) Mon 27 Sep 99 13:50
That was a very diplomatic response; points for thinking on your feet, Amy! But c'mon, I've got to believe that, say, the shy,retiring engineer who showed up at the company Hallowe'en party in a, shall we say, rather revealing costume, wasn't a composite character. A dear friend of mine who's never been sure he fits in anywhere has talked about "being at the party" versus "watching yourself being at the party." Was there a point at which you suddenly realized that you just couldn't take corporate America seriously? Had you been climbing the ladder and playing the game when it struck you that it was all pretty absurd and you'd better go for the humorous angle if you were going to salvage anything from the experience? Or did you feel from the beginning, like my friend, that it was =all= kind of surreal, that you were the outside observer from the day you were hired? Sorry if this sounds like I'm psychoanalyzing you. I promise a softball question next!
Amy Berger (amyberger) Mon 27 Sep 99 15:38
You're right about my engineer friend who wore the blue spandex tights by the way....he was one real human being! And a brave one at that :-)...anyway, to answer your question: for many years I took working in Corporate America very seriously and put alot of energy into being accepted--- which often meant being promoted, from my view. I think the book idea came to me as a coping mechanism...at the time, I was working for a woman who really challenged my ability to stand up for myself. Also my husband and I were trying to conceive and having no luck at it...between both of those challenging experiences I needed a laugh, or two, or three hundred! I needed to rise above my life situations and poking fun at work was the easiest thing to do at the time. I wish I had been able to lighten up about the corporate scene earlier, kind of like your friend; it really wasn't until my third year at my most current job that I saw everything at work as 'material' for the book, funny, and surreal.
Reva Basch (reva) Mon 27 Sep 99 16:26
<scribbled by reva Mon 27 Sep 99 16:27>
Reva Basch (reva) Mon 27 Sep 99 16:29
Embarrassing typo; sorry. So it began as therapy, eh? How about telling us a couple of your favorite (assuming that's the right word) stories from the corporate battlefield.
Amy Berger (amyberger) Mon 27 Sep 99 22:17
Amy Berger (amyberger) Mon 27 Sep 99 22:19
Two of my favorites: the time I wore very nice sandals (with socks underneath for warmth) to work on what became a very rainy day. Being the clever former Girl Scout I am, I decided to take my drenched socks and try to get them dry...rather than suffer for four hours with soggy, cold feet. I had just received a cool new space heater for my cube; I thought since it was tucked away in a corner I could get away with drying the socks on the heater, unnoticed. After I placed them gently over my new fadangled heating device I went to the Ladies room. When I returned, 6 of my colleagues--and my boss--were gathered around my cube, pointing to the sock/heater setup and laughing hysterically. I coped very well I must admit, with real elegance.....so much for trying to remain incognito. The other story: After being advised by my boss that I didn't 'fit in' at a particular job, I was given seven weeks to look elsewhere for employment while on the payroll---either at home or from the office. After three long days of sending resumes from my home office I decided to go into work and do some cube-cleaning. When I arrived, my name had already been removed from the department wall roster and my very nice, ergonomically correct chair was GONE! This after only three days! I immediately contacted my boss and HIS boss to ask, in the most innocent, coquettish way, what had happened to my name on the board and my lovely chair? I explained that there must have been some miscommunication between OTHER parties while I was out of the office. Yes, there I was playing the corporate game until the bitter end...they never did put my name back up but I got to use my chair up until the 11th hour! And, just to prove the old never burn bridges theory, my boss' boss has been a very reliable job reference for me several times since I left that position.
Reva Basch (reva) Tue 28 Sep 99 13:12
I've hidden #9, since it looks like an inadvertent duplicate of #10. Office chairs are such a loaded subject! I've personally witnessed people go ballistic when they discover, or suspect, that someone has swapped chairs with them. Apparently there are intranets -- corporate-wide private web sites -- with entire discussion areas labeled something like "Hey! You Stole My Chair!" Your book is full of personal outrages and embarrassments (hey, where did they EXPECT you to dry your socks, anyway? On a clothesline strung from one corner of your cube to the other? Wet socks dripping on your desk? Yeah, right.). Can you identify any what-you-might-call universal hot buttons in corporate life? You know, practices or whatever that seem to piss EVERYBODY off?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 28 Sep 99 14:14
The two things I've done in offices that most appear to wig people out is to work only from the light from the window, turning off all the fluorescents, and to go around barefoot. Spawned a whole office memo about that one.
Ron Hogan (grifter) Tue 28 Sep 99 15:20
Heh. Just about everybody on the outer perimeter of my floor, that is to say the people with windows, work by natural light. I have no windows, so overheads for me it is.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 28 Sep 99 18:01
These experiences are great, and the book sounds very interesting, but I can't quite tell, yet whether it's a novel, or essays, or a collection of experiences you've had, or...?
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 29 Sep 99 08:34
(I had a phone message from Amy last night -- her cable modem has been down, and she hasn't been able to get online. With any luck, it should be fixed very shortly.)
be a straw (dwaite) Wed 29 Sep 99 10:09
Hello Amy! Several of my friends run around barefoot in silicon valley, out here in chicago, I tried the same thing and the expirement was quickly stopped with intervention from my bosses boss. He even said, 'This isn't San Jose, this is chicago' Where can we order your book. I hyave one copy and I need to get a couple more for gifts...
an alternative mike in the theatre of the mind (jberger) Wed 29 Sep 99 10:49
It's can be ordered from just about any bookstore with the ISBN number, which is 096659150X . It can also be ordered online from barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com; signed and personalized copies are available through www.amyberger.com.
Amy Berger (amyberger) Wed 29 Sep 99 14:01
Hello Reva, Fellow Corporate Warriors and other Dear Ones! I'm back in cyberspace...Thanks for your fabulous input--great stories about going barefoot :-) In response to the question about the structure of the book: it has seventeen chapters: each one is a compilation of funny incidences grouped under one theme (ie. dress code, office decor, biz travel,etc.). Intro and last chapter are philosophy and summary,respectively, each with a humorous twist. The table of contents can be viewed at barnesandnoble.com or Amazon.com and an excerpt is there also. In terms of other hot-buttons in corporate life: Who pays for what. For example, I once scheduled a lunch meeting with a product manager, (in from out of town), my boss and myself. I had attended many lunches of this kind before, and my boss ALWAYS insisted on picking up the tab. At this particular lunch, however, I decided to get bold and whip out my credit card when the check was delivered to our table. Casually asking my boss, 'hey, why don't I pay for us this time, Barb? (not her real name), I made a motion to gather up the bill. Before I could blink, my boss reached over and GRABBED it from me barely knocking me off my chair...then glared at me and bellowed, "This is on Company X (ours) of course!" as she proceeded to place down her plastic. Because she was Assistant VP and I was 'only' a manager I didn't have a chance. I insulted her rank, I guess. Bottom line: the issues of hierarchy and money are highly interrelated. And also absurb. At one company I worked at years ago, I knew a man who was in charge of selecting hundreds of thousands dollars worth of telecom equipment for purchase. But, because he didn't have the 'right' rank/title he wasn't allowed to sign the purchase order. Ridiculous! Reva, by the way, I'd like to return briefly to the subject of self-publishing. I fear that I painted a rather negative picture of it earlier in our conversation. As you can imagine, self-publishing wasn't my first choice for The Twenty Year Itch. But, after many rejection letters from agents/publishers I decided to simply finish what I started by publishing the book myself. I knew in my heart that there was a target market for it and believed strongly (I still do) that we need more healthy humor books on the shelf out there. I was really dogged about publishing the book...so from that perspective it was an exciting challenge for me. Because I"ve done market research and number crunching (data analysis)for a living, it was relatively easy for me to find the correct resource people for the project and negotiate for services with them ie. graphic artist, illustrator, art director,printer, etc. Bringing together all these folks with a similar vision...and as a team making our vision a reality...was exhilarating! Ninety five percent of the people I tell that the book is self-published are very impressed...a wonderful reaction that was unanticipated. Traditional journalists are the ones that seem to be somewhat concerned about the self-publshed nature of the book, but I've still been blessed with excellent newspaper coverage so far. There are so many independent presses out there today that self-publishing is becoming more and more common it seems. I didn't know ANY of this when I dove into the process. AND...the good news is that I am so excited about the book...(and I'm fueled by the wonderful email reviews I receive from my readers) that its fun promoting the book myself, like you cited earlier. All promotion, marketing and sales is on MY head (with the help of my terrific husband). When I talk to journalists, bookstore owners,corporate sponsors, audiences, etc. about it...I'm told that my passion shines through. That's the best part about being the author AND publisher of the book.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 29 Sep 99 14:26
how did you go about finding out how to publish your own book? where did you start?
Reva Basch (reva) Thu 30 Sep 99 11:03
And, while I think of it: Folks might want to check out Amy's own website at www.amyberger.com. If you're reading this interview and don't have a WELL account, you can submit comments and questions via email to inkwell- firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll pass them along to our guest.
Reva Basch (reva) Thu 30 Sep 99 11:07
Also, Amy, I'd be interested in anything you might want to say for the record about the whole issue of gender relative to the appeal of your book. I can think of lots of reasons why women in particular would identify with the incidents you describe. But I wonder if there's something intrinsic to cube living, or to the way women vs. men cope with it...?
an alternative mike in the theatre of the mind (jberger) Thu 30 Sep 99 12:07
(due to a hard disk problem, Amy will be responding later from the library computers -- as for me, I get to fix the hard disk tonight...)
Amy Berger (amyberger) Thu 30 Sep 99 13:09
Yes, it's your fearless author here reporting from the lovely City of Fremont's library! First, in answer to Gail's question about the process of self-publishing: I knew a few folks who recently self-published their tomes from my affiliation with the National Speakers Association. I am also a member of a women writers' support group (newcomers welcome by the way) in which one member was self-publishing at the time I started the process. I asked a zillion questions of all these kind people and took copious notes. Then I bought a copy of Writers Digest magazine and found 3 possible 'book manufacturers' (otherwise known as printers). I chose one with the right price and personality fit for me. The computer guy there (at the printer), plus the sales gal both helped me greatly. They explained everything I needed to do and in what order. Another great resource is the Dan Poynter book on self-publishing. Anything by him on the topic is great. Just remember to ask alot of questions....there's no time to be shy when you're self-publshing your masterpiece :-). Regarding Reva's question about reactions to The Twenty Year Itch by men vs. women: When I wrote the book I thought it would be of equal appeal to both sexes. That assumption was based on the fact I had completed several motivational talks for mixed-gender audiences on the topic of career changing, work empowerment and keeping ones sense of humor on the job. That turned out to be an incorrect assumption. When I speak to audiences I relate differently than when I write. My writing is much more tongue-and-cheek and lovingly self-deprecating/sarcastic. In my talks I'm NEVER that way;rather, I'm much 'softer' and empathetic. As it turns out, women relate much more closely to my book than men. Because it is written in my own voice--a female voice---it makes sense that female readers relate. There are specific incidences that women can relate to. (ie. the time the back seam on my skirt ripped wide open and, not knowing it, I proceeded to strut down the hall to the copier like on any given day---of course, it was the day I wearing hot pink panties! Luckily my colleague Michelle quickly took me aside and explained the full view I was offering my cube-mates that morning...etc. etc. Well, most women would be able to laugh at that more easily than guys. They might have actually (God forbid)experienced something like that! The other thing about the book is that my anger at the corporate 'establishment' sometimes is felt by my readers via my sarcasm about the 'old boys' network.' Clearly men readers aren't going to empathize with me as much as my female readers on this topic...... they may feel as frustrated as I have, about not getting promoted but they won't readily 'blame' the male-dominated corporate structure for their troubles. Of course, men often get ripped off by the corporate powers that be, too...but they are more likely to react differently than women when they're angry or frustrated.(That's true in life, too) Another important thing is that I wrote the book because I felt that Dilbert, while fun and MUCH needed, really reflects the MALE perspective on the corporate jungle. The male-engineer perspective in particular. As much as I love Dilbert, I don't laugh at ALL of the Dilbert cartoons....some of the cartoons reflect a guy's perspective so I can't relate to that. I found it interesting that my 11 year old nephew thinks Dilbert is hilarious....that also tells me something. Anyway, I thought it would be fun ---and important--- to add to Scott Adams' theme by writing a humor book about corporate life from a female managers' perspective...also from someone who has worked in marketing/sales rather than engineering, as well. (BTW I've written Scott Adams and offered to send him a copy of The Twenty Year Itch as a thank you for paving the way for me....he has yet to respond.) The entire topic of what men vs. women think is funny, really fascinates me, though and I still don't have all the answers I'd like to have on the subject.
Reva Basch (reva) Thu 30 Sep 99 15:14
I still find myself identifying with the woman in Dilbert who's, I think, a tech writer. Been there, done that very job. Isn't the Fremont library that lovely, newish building? If so, not a bad place to work, I'd imagine, though I'd rather have my own system back in perfect working order, thank you very much. So there are printers that specialize in doing the whole book packaging deal for self-publishing authors? Cool. I had no idea.
Amy Berger (amyberger) Fri 1 Oct 99 12:26
Yes, that's the building...it is very comfortable as libraries go. Luckily, however, I'm back home working comfortably in my flannel pajamas! There ARE many book manufacturers out there, Reva,as well as an entire enclave of folks that cater to self-publishers. Two other good books out there for self-publishers are John Kremer's 1001 Ways to Market Your Books AND Jump Start Your Book Sales by Marilyn and Tom Ross. There are also associations of independent publishers that are thriving, right here in the Bay Area. Someone once asked me whether I relate to the gal in Dilbert's cartoon...Alice, I think. While I think she's great (and it doesn't hurt that she has curly hair, like me) I don't really relate to her, like you may, Reva. That's because I've been in the marketing department mostly, I guess. How nice for you, though,and other technical women professionals to have Alice there to commiserate with! I'd like to jump back to the topic of corporate life....and some survival techniques. The day I realized that Corporate life was all about CONFORMITY I was a very happy woman! I see the corporate organization like a balloon. Each breath it takes to inflate the balloon is another employee. Ultimately all the employees must "fit together" like the molecules of air that fill up a balloon. But if you get someone (or several folks) whose shape/molecule is very unique and doesn't fit, that could make the whole balloon explode or deflate....too dangerous! Corporate organizations (probably organizations of all kinds) need that delicate balance of talented individuals who aren't well, "too" unique. That's where the discomfort for many of us comes in. When we try to be creative, independent thinking, aggressive, whatever----when we try to be our true, heart-felt selves, the balloon becomes imbalanced and we are often, quickly, expelled! We each have so many lovely gifts that we can offer, but the ORGANIZATION can only accommodate so much. That's why many of us who figure out this corporate 'mystery' can hold down 9 to 5 jobs and still have creative energy to pursue other interests. That is, of course, unless we're busy putting in many hours, in the hopes of getting a promotion, which does happen. It likely happens, however, to folks who LIKE being part of an organization....a group personality, if you will. It's an interesting mix of energy, goals and creativity that I'm talking about. The more you understand the dynamics of your organization, the politics, the realities of who makes what decisions, it is easier to determine where to put your creative energy.
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