A reporter asked me last night what the process was for writing Behind the Drive. I can’t really remember what I told her because a million things were going on, but I feel like my answer sucked, so here’s a kind of OCD, overly-detailed breakdown of how I wrote the thing.
Oct. 28, 2013.
Talk with Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes & Fries COO Neal Dennis about possibly writing a book about/with Hwy 55 founder and president Kenney Moore. He says Kenney had read my first book, The Edge of Legend, and liked it, so he’d like to meet with me about doing his book.
All I know are two things. One, I love Hwy 55 and have been eating it almost weekly, ever since I was 9 years old and the joint was called Andy’s. Two, Kenney is a former college baseball player, like me, who has grown the company from one store to well over 100, and soon to be international, built on servant leadership principles.
(Remarkably, by the time I finish writing the book, Hwy 55 will have sold the rights to more than 1,000 stores around the world, meaning it will soon be one of the largest fast-casual restaurant chains in the world.)
Set up a meeting with Kenney for the following day.
Oct. 29, 2013.
Meet with Kenney at Hwy 55 corporate office in Mount Olive, N.C., about 1 hour 15 minutes from my home in Greenville. Jittery with excitement and nerves. Put on my nice jeans, white button-down shirt with silver-gray tie, black sweater. Very professional.
When I meet with him, he’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt. We have a good laugh. Hit it off. Talk for a while. It’s clear we’ll work great together.
Ask him what sort of process he has in mind. He wants to collaborate on the book. We talk options. I say I can write a proposal with him first and see what publishers say about it, but that will take a long time because publishing doesn’t move very quickly. He says he definitely wants the book written, and we can figure out publishing later. Asks how I got Edge published. I tell him the crazy story:
I started writing Edge during final semester of college in spring 2009. Found small traditional publisher who would publish it by September 2010. Decided could probably use it to build journalism career. But then original publisher dropped Edge because of financial struggles in December 2009.
I didn’t want to wait the year or two longer it would take to find another traditional publisher and publish with them, and also I thought the self-publishing options available weren’t very good, so my wife Katie and I formed our own little publishing company. Gathered all resources any Big 5 publisher would have, put Edge out in September 2010, had moderate success.
He says maybe he’d like us to do that with his book. We’ll figure all that out later.
He asks how I think we should go about writing the book. I ask what kind of time he has and what he has in mind. He says he’s way too busy to do the writing, asks what I think we should do. I say if I have my choice, I write it as I write any journalism project, interviewing him and many others involved in his story, and put together the manuscript based on what I learn, and he can review and request edits once I have a rough draft ready. He says that sounds perfect.
Shake hands, leave with good feelings.
Oct. 30, 2013.
Kenney calls to say he would like to work with me.
Celebrate with Katie, The Wife. Get dressed up to go out to nice dinner.
She’s been feeling funny so she takes preggo test. She preggo. Whoa. Not a bad day.
Work out contract details, sign contract, make plans to meet again and get started on Jan. 2, 2014.
Jan. 2, 2014.
Meet with Kenney, meet everyone at Hwy 55. Discuss strategy. We decide to just surge ahead with writing the book and figure out publishing once I’ve gathered enough material to have an idea of how well the book could do with publishers.
We talk a lot about honesty. I tell him that he’s my employer, so the final calls are up to him, but I believe in honesty in storytelling and I’d really prefer this not be a whitewashed public relations piece — but I’m okay with that if that’s all he wants, and I can do that. I tell him the best books are the ones that tell compelling stories, and that the best stories usually include the good, the bad, and the ugly.
He says that’s definitely what he wants, too.
I know this is gonna be great.
January, February, March 2014.
Mostly research. Meet with Kenney in Mount Olive every Thursday morning. Talk for hours. Kenney is stunningly honest. (Will spend countless hundreds if not more than a thousand hours talking with Kenney over the course of the year.)
Discover that this is an even better story than I thought after first meeting with Kenney. Unbelievably better. Goosebumps better.
Everyone who works with him is kind and generous with their time. They have a great culture there. Very loving people.
Love that I can wear just jeans and a t-shirt with a sport coat, my signature look.
Gather boxes upon boxes full of archive photos, articles, meeting notes, etc. from Hwy 55 offices.
Countless hours spent calling and interviewing first 100 or so of what will eventually be 300 people. Travel around. Drive my 2009 Camry up the mountains near Galax, VA, until my cell phone stops working and there’s no more road but just dirt path, to meet with Kenney’s parents.
In short: Research research research, until …
Can’t stand it any longer. Have to start writing. Outline a lot, then just start writing the super-rough draft.
Still doing research and interviews along the way. Also still meeting with Kenney every week.
Much flailing and outlining and writing and rewriting. Just chaos in the brain trying to find best way to piece the whole story together.
Finish super-rough draft. Clocking in at 100,000 words, predictably, it sucks. But so do all first drafts, you tell yourself.
Still meet with Kenney occasionally, though not weekly.
Revise revise revise, which most of the time means rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Also continue doing research and interviews.
July 3, 2014.
Seven drafts later, time for Kenney to read rough draft, still around 100,000 words, and badly in need of a good editor, but at least it’s readable.
Discuss book with agent. He says a big publisher would probably pick it up, but not for a substantial advance, plus the whole process would take a long time, and then it would take a long time after the book was even finished before the book would be for sale.
Talk this over with Kenney. He wants book out sooner than later. Goal right now is by January 2015 if possible. We discuss publishing with our company, he says he’d like to do that, and we can work out details later.
July 22, 2014.
Have a baby!
What did I used to do before having a kid other than Be Dad and work? I have no idea.
July 30, 2014.
After getting notes from Kenney and some others in his office, begin working on rewrites. More research. Also more flailing and rewriting and also rewriting.
Aug. 29, 2014.
Six more drafts later, reach point where feel book is close to finished. Time for editor to read. Send to editor. He’s a smart man with many books both written and edited under his belt.
Oct. 6, 2014.
Talk with editor, who has ideas on how to make narrative better.
Until now, structure of book has been virtually from start to present of Kenney’s life. But there is high drama that occurs in latter fourth of book, drama with his bank, which after many unfortunate dominos fall ends up trying to take Kenney’s company away from him.
Talk with Kenney. Decide to rewrite, building book around that drama.
We think this will turn the book from a standard biography into something unique — and something wildly entertaining, like a good thriller, and with all kinds of heart behind it.
Push back publishing plans. Set new goal of having book out by March 2015. To do so, must have manuscript completed by Jan. 15, 2015, in order to move forward with book production.
Rewrite, very uncertain if it will actually work, which is nerve-racking and stressful and downright scary for a little while. Much discussion with editor to figure it out.
But after three drafts, it ends up working, working beautifully. Sweet, glorious relief.
Bonus: Cuts word count down to 85,000. Shorter almost always better.
Continue revising from there.
Nov. 14, 2014.
Send rewritten draft to Kenney and to editor.
Nov. 18, 2014.
Kenney sends notes on new draft. Likes it much.
Nov. 27, 2014.
Get notes from editor. He agrees: new version actually is working. Sweet hallelujah.
Get to work. Polish polish polish.
Dec. 16, 2014.
Three more drafts later.
Send manuscript to Kenney, editor, beta readers, blurbers.
Kenney sends manuscript to several people named in book to make sure they’re okay with how they are portrayed. Also sends to lawyers, one, because his lawyer has a starring role in the book, and two, to make sure we can’t get sued.
Get notes from Kenney, editor, beta readers, people featured in book, lawyers.
I negotiate changes with people featured in book and lawyers. Mostly it’s just clarifying details, etc., but some bigger changes, I hold firm if they are integral to the overall story, which most of them are at this point.
Revise revise revise.
Send out manuscript to more potential blurbers.
Almost done. Almost.
Blurbs start coming in.
Yet three more drafts later, and after consulting yet again with the editor … the book is finished.
(Or so I think. Things will get dicey in a few weeks heading into the 11th hour of publishing … but we’ll get there.)
Manuscript sent to proofreaders.
March 14, 2015
March 15 – Forever
Behind the Drive will also be in select bookstores, and every Hwy 55 in the country, by April 1. It will be in bookstores everywhere not long after that.