Alex Gill – AIM

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

A.I.M.: The Powerful 10-Step Personal and Career Success Program is a book that takes the proven methodologies used by hundreds of CEOs and executives from top corporations around the world and breaks it down into a simple, step-by-step process that anyone can use. AIM stands for “Achieve, Inspire Make a difference”. Unlike other books in this area, the ultimate goal of AIM is to allow people to reach a point in their lives where they are successful enough to give back to others, able to help others with their own journeys. It tells the real-life stories of dozens of executives coached by my co-author, Jim Carlisle, to illustrate the challenges that everyone will face.

Tell us something about yourself.

I grew up in a large family (ten kids) in rural Newfoundland. We weren’t that well-off, but we always had books in the house, shelves and shelves of books and magazines and the like. My mother was a Scottish Presbyterian who was big fan of reading, so it was drummed into us at an early age. That is where I got my love of writing – I think you have to read a lot of what other people write before you can write yourself and find your own voice.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wrote this book with my co-author Jim because he was the first executive coach I ever had. I was the communications director for an large nonprofit when Jim began coaching me ten years ago and, while on the surface I was very successful, I wasn’t happy. By using his method, I was able to move forward and discovered my own way in the world. I now run a successful business where I work with charities, nonprofits and social activists around the world – and I love what I do. Jim’s method helped me make this happen – it freed me to figure out what I really wanted to do and gave me the tips and technique to get me there.

Jim and I kept in touch in the years after he stopped being my coach. Every time I would see him, I would ask him “when are you going to write a book about your method?” And he finally turned the tables on me and said one day “I’ll write it if you write it with me.” So we began working together on the book and it went remarkably well. Jim lives his coaching method, but he had never sat down and figured out how it worked, step by step. So in a sense, I became his “coach” and built a method around what he does every day. As we worked through the process, it became clear that the end goal of the method was not going to be more money, or a better job, or a bigger house. What was very close to my heart was the idea that people reach their highest point when they are able to become more altruistic and begin to give back to others. So I take particular pride in those last few few pieces of the AIM method where people can begin to give back,

How did you choose the title?

We bandied around several titles over the year it took to write the book. We came up with many titles were we said “wow – that’s a great one!” only to find out that someone else had already written a book with that title. We landed on “AIM” when our editor at Wiley, Don Loney, said “this is really about achieving, inspiring and making a difference.” We all looked at each other and said “wait a minute, that’s not bad…”

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

We were lucky, in that the first publisher we approached bought the idea almost right away. We had done enough research before writing the book to know there was a gap in the market in this space and the only real challenge we had was that, at one point, the publisher thought we should target the book solely at CEOs and senior executives. We firmly believed that the book should be accessible to everyone, and in the end that’s how we wrote it.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I have always written. I wrote comic strips in primary school, film scripts in elementary school, poetry and prose in high school. When I left university, I worked in communications for several years and pretty much wrote everything you could think of – press releases, reports, op-ed pieces and magazine articles. When it came to writing a book, I didn’t really have a crisis of confidence about whether I could write it, but I did wonder whether the topic was a right fit and if we could get a publisher interested in it. Luckily, we did.

Do you have any writing rituals?

At the peak of working on the book, I was writing up to 5,000 words a day. I joked with our editor that, at this rate, we could write War and Peace in a few months. My “ritual” was that I would send my co-author Jim a bunch of questions about the content for a specific chapter. He would then send me a reply, usually a few point form pages, and I would then turn those pages into a thirty or forty page chapter. I find I write best first thing in the morning. In the summer of 2009, I spent a few weeks at my sister’s place on the shores of the Bay of Exploits in Newfoundland. Each morning, I would lock myself in her sun room that overlooked the Bay and write until noon, then take the rest of the day off. The bulk of the book was written in those two weeks.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I found that writing was both more difficult and much easier than I thought it would be. There were points in the process where I thought “we are never going to get this done’ – but then, suddenly, I was writing the last chapter. Then you look back and say “that wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.”

We also learned that unless you are publishing a blockbuster, the support you can expect from even a major publisher is pretty modest. There was no phalanx of publicity people who could place us on morning TV shows – we had to do that all on our own. It was the same thing organizing our book tours and appearances – that came out of our own

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

Generally, it was a great process and I wouldn’t change anything. The only thing I might have done was more planning around how we launched the book and sustained the marketing momentum in the months that followed. I think we thought “great, we’ve delivered the manuscript, the work is over.” But, in reality, there was still a lot of work left to do in ensuring that people actually bought it and read it.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

I like reading three different types of books. I love reading poetry because I am in awe of the discipline that poets must have to convey a very complex series of ideas in just a few very powerful phrases. Leonard Cohen can say in one phrase what I would need 10.000 words to even attempt. I love reading nonfiction that explains why things are the way they are. Authors such as Mark Kurlansky, Malcolm Gladwell and Niall Ferguson are all just amazing at what they do. Finally, I love fiction that turns your brain off and just sucks you into a narrative that you can’t get out of your head. Ken Follett or the newer Stieg Larsson trilogy are a great way to just lose yourself in a good story.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

My co-author Jim is already talking about extending the AIM series to new markets – AIM for the new retireee, for example. I am also talking with our publisher about a few titles specifically for social activists and the nonprofit market. I think we are about to see a tremendous global growth in civil society and that is something we do very well in North America. I think there is a definite need for books that explain how to run a successful nonprofit organization, about how to turn a good idea for changing the world into a practical reality. My next book will allow people to do that.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Planning and discipline at the start of the process will save you considerable grief over the course of writing the book itself. I find many authors are creative people who just want to let the words pour out of them, but that can bog down quickly if you don’t have a framework into which you can pour those words. So I would recommend spending a good amount of time at the start blocking the meta-narrative, determining what your chapter outline looks like and thinking through exactly where you want the book to go. Then sit down and make it happen.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

AIM is a book for people who are unhappy with their career or life but don’t know where to start if they want to change things. Changing your life is a daunting thing and people can rapidly become discouraged if they try to do so without a method or a plan. AIM helps those people focus by giving them a technique that hundreds of very successful people have already used.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

We are big fans of Facebook and regularly update our page. People who become a fan of “AIM: Achieve, Inspire, Make a difference” can access extra content, hear about our book signing events and watch a video serial where we coach a young woman through parts of the process.