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Adam & Bob: Two Writers, One Voice

Adam Putterman and Bob Manfreda worked together a couple of years ago before they each went their own way to a different graduate school. 

Adam now lives in Houston and co-founded a premarital counselling brand called Actually. He can enjoy a high-quality coffee but he’ll take whatever’s available. The same is true for Bob from San José. Bob works as a consultant but at the time of the podcast, he was on paternity leave to spend time with his seven-month-old son Jackson. 

Shortly after starting grad school, they got back in touch and later, they played with the idea of building a company together. But before that, they wanted to test what it’s like to actually work together. The project needed to be remote and it had to be something that could easily be stopped or put on pause for a few weeks.

So they ended up with the idea of writing a book.

But first, they decided to write a couple of posts on Reddit together. This was around the start of 2020. 

Niching down

The first thing Adam and Bob had to figure out was a topic. Two elements were essential:

  1. What do we have a unique opinion on?
  2. For what do we have visible credibility?

Since they had both gone to graduate school, that seemed like the perfect topic.

So Adam and Bob started with a range of ideas about MBAs but they soon realised that the market is pretty saturated. Almost everyone writes for the MBA applicant and the “decider”, the person doubting whether to apply or not.

But very few people talk about the coffee chats. So after a few months, they niched down to this. 

“Once you’re known as the XYZ person, you’ll start to get flooded with connections, support and information.”

MBA Coffee Chats

After their initial success on Reddit, they took their audience to their newsletter and wrote a couple of blog posts.

By the end of 2020, they started drafting the book.

During the entire process, they received help from Rob Fitzpatrick and his team. Being part of his community for writers, helped them with accountability. But his team was also essential in taking care of the administrative stuff related to book publishing.

In the summer of 2021, they completed MBA Coffee Chats

Dividing the work

Adam and Bob didn’t divide the work much. In general, the lines were pretty blurry. Both worked on everything. And they also tried to alternate roles like Jamie and Ash did.

There were a few aspects, however, where they were complimentary. Bob, for example, focused more on the newsletter while Adam prioritised the website.

Additionally, they challenged each other in different ways. Adam’s the one who always came up with new ideas—some better than others. Bob, on the other hand, is a grinder. He stuck to what they were doing and made sure the basics were always taken care of. When Adam enthusiastically announced a new idea to promote the book, he’d often say: “And what if we just write another newsletter first?”

Bob and Adam truly appreciated each other’s support while writing this book and based on the interview, I dare say it even made their friendship stronger. In the end, Bob also admitted that none of this would have been possible without Adam. And also in his other side-projects, he attributes a lot of importance to teamwork. 

Especially during the early writing stage, teamwork made the dream work.

Working together on a draft made it much better. This is how it went: someone came up with an idea and wrote the first draft. Then, the other one read, gave intense feedback and added more ideas. After that, they went back and forth and continued making changes. Fortunately, after a while, this became easier and they became more aligned until, at one stage, they only needed minor changes after the first draft.

Working together like Adam and Bob doesn’t even have to be difficult. They did about 90% of the writing asynchronously as well as many other tasks. And for high-level tasks, they often had unplanned phone calls. Maybe a few too many as all of Bob’s relatives suspected him to be talking to Adam whenever he was on the phone.

Finally, great feedback is key. Giving and receiving feedback in a non-problematic manner is one of the main skills from the MBA that they applied to this book writing process.  

Creating a mutual voice

When you write a book together, you need to sound as one. For Adam and Bob, this happened organically. They never wrote down any rules, they talked a bit about it over the phone, but it mainly found its shape through the Reddit posts they wrote together. 

Feedback was also essential to strengthen that voice. By posting on Reddit and sharing with friends, it quickly became clear what didn’t work. 

Thanks to lots of practice and feedback, they settled for a non-authoritative voice. Something light and funny. Casual and informal, yet knowledgeable.

They always imagined it like talking to a sibling: authentic, opinionated but accommodating. They wouldn’t explicitly tell them what to do, but rather what they should consider. 

Lessons learned

For MBA Coffee Chats, they rarely planned further than four weeks ahead. And they liked this approach.

The next time, however, they would make three changes.

First, they’d look at an audience with more potential to grow. MBA Coffee Chats is written for a very niche audience, and besides the yearly new MBA students, there isn’t much room for growth. So perhaps, they’d look at a skill they’re passionate about and spend more time growing the audience while writing.

Secondly, and closely related, they would do more promoting. Instead of writing one essay and promoting it just once, they’d try to promote it at least in ten different ways by repackaging the idea.

Finally, they underestimated everything related to actually publishing it. They were thankful for Rob and his team. But they also wonder if they overthought the title, subtitle, cover, book categories and such. 

Writing Tips from Adam and Bob

To write MBA Coffee Chats, Adam and Bob had mixed feelings about two tools. Adam was adamant about Google Workspace (G Suite) while Bob had his doubts. 

They had opposite feelings about the Hemingway Editor too. Because Bob prefers to make writing short, he loves the tool. Adam, however, feels that it can harm your voice, so you need to be careful with the suggestions the tool offers. 

Tools aside, here are their five writing tips:

  1. Know your audience and what they need. For example, by going through the experience yourself.
  2. Simple is always better. Adverbs are stupid. Use a better verb.
  3. Don’t tell people how to feel. Eg. don’t say “it’s smart and interesting”. Don’t say things that are up to the reader to decide.
  4. Dump thoughts into categorised docs in a non-structured form. Keep adding for a while until you have many bullets. When you go back, you already have the material to write about.
  5. Be something to someone instead of anything to no one. Be willing to say no to 99% to make something that is an incredible yes to the 1%.

And finally, Adam and Bob encourage you to try writing with a partner. It will allow you to let go of all inhibitions because you know someone is going to read it before it goes live. And if you can’t find a partner, become your own one, by leaving time in between writing and editing. 

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