Wiley, forgive me. (The story of an unconventional book publishing deal)

Like a most rebels I tend to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. So my unauthodox way to get a book deal kind of fits.

It was the winter of 2014 when I decided that I’d write a book. I was freezing cold in my apartment in Soho, New York, it was Friday night and I was trying to keep warm with, and possibly the worse for, a couple of drinks. As a distraction from the mundane task of catching up on the week’s missed emails, writing a book about the employee engagement model that we’d built seemed like a fantastic idea. I knocked up a one page website and tweeted it. What more did I need to do?

I set the publication date as “Fall 2015”. “Fall” sounded suitably American, in keeping with our business focus, and it seemed long, long way away. In my eternal (or terminal) optimism almost anything can be achieved if you have several months and apply yourself. A year seemed like an eternity.

I ended up changing investors in 2015, selling Reward Gateway for the second time in a $220m deal to Great Hill Partners in Boston, so that killed the timescale, but by late 2015 I was kind of back on track. I had met and hired the wonderful Debra Corey who had just published a book on HR communications and we’d started on an outline and had even drafted a few short sections.

Debra and I were both presenting The Engagement Bridge model out on the conference circuit and had presented in it across the UK, Australia and USA, with good reviews. To make things real though there was the small matter of getting a publisher, which I knew nothing about. Debra was certain she didn’t want to user her previous publisher for this book (she never liked the cover) and all I knew was that I wanted “a proper publisher” – whatever that was.

So it was a very pleasant surprise on 8th February 2016, to receive an email from Liz Gildea, an Associate Editor at Wiley who’d read my blog and wondered if I’d ever thought of writing a book? She wanted to know if I’d consider submitting a proposal to their editorial committee and set out the key sections a book proposal should cover? Perfect timing. Of course to me, like I said the eternal optimist, this was tantamount to a signed, sealed and delivered contract so I was delighted to get that off the worry list. I asked Debra to seal the deal with Wiley, her having publishing experience, whilst I got on with planning and thinking about content.

By the summer, whilst Debra was struggling to get our rough and loose ideas into a format that would pass muster with Wiley’s editorial committee I was out hitting the conference circuit hard. By this time, I’d added a slide to the end of my Engagement Bridge presentation plugging our “forthcoming book” and by June I’d added a Wiley logo to the slide, just to try it on for size and see how it felt.

At one of these sessions, the Corporate Communications Magazine conference in London in March 2016 I finished with the now normal Wiley book slide and as the room emptied out, a small group of people joined me to ask questions – very normal. The last one of them was a lady with a big smile who introduced herself as Julia Lampam, Associate Director of Corporate Communications at…., Wiley. She didn’t have a question for me, she just wanted to say how excited she was that Wiley were publishing our book!

Julia : “So delighted we’re working with you Glenn, who is your commissioning editor?”

Me : “err, erm” (panic setting in) “ oh actually I’m not sure, I mean my co-author is dealing with all of that , but we’re just so excited too!”

By the time I’d got back home, there was Twitter notification from Julia on my screen “One more book for my reading list – @glennelliott’s forthcoming book, The Engagement Bridge will be published by @WileyGlobal #CCconf”

Hmm, so I wondered – what is the business etiquette, for a guy who sells honesty and transparency to his employees, when he’s just accidentally tricked a director of a major publishing company to announce a book that her company hasn’t actually signed a contract on? (actually by this stage they hadn’t even seen a publishing proposal)

Well, I never had to answer that question – Debra quickly made headway with the editorial proposal, the committee managed to see good in it and by November 2016 we had a signed contract. With Wiley – the publisher we always wanted. Just over a year later, the book was finished and ready to roll.

(And Julia chose to see the funny side!!)

Build it : A Rebel Playbook for Employee Engagement was (finally) published by Wiley on 23rd February 2018. It’s now available from all major bookstores worldwide. To get the first two chapters for free, head to the book’s website at http://www.rebelplaybook.com.



Glenn Elliott is a technology entrepreneur, investor and advisor, MBA drop-out and recovering CEO with 20 years of experience. His bestselling book Build it: The Rebel Playbook for Employee Engagement is published by Wiley. He writes about people, culture, leadership and the future of work weekly at www.glennelliott.me. 

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