After 12 years working together in corporate America, Mike Voss of Plymouth and Jennifer Rock of Eden Prairie found they had enough material to write a book.
“B.S., Incorporated” is a work of fiction that humorously draws from the authors’ experiences working for corporations, which includes leading the communications department at Best Buy headquarters.
“We had the great fortune of having all-access passes from the executive offices to the warehouses,” Rock said of her longtime coworker.
With both having demanding, high-pressure jobs, the two gathered on a bar patio after “one particularly rough day,” Rock said, noting that Voss off-handedly said they could write a book with everything they’ve seen and heard.
“The more we talked about it, the more we wanted to tell a great workplace story – a book that anyone who’s ever worked the 9-to-5 grind would find funny, true and ultimately hopeful,” she said.
“B.S., Incorporated” follows the corporate lives of Will Evans and Anna Reed as they work for Business Solutions, Inc. (BSI), which happens to be in a state of chaos. While some BSI employees spend their time rendezvousing in the stairwells, the CEOs are running their business into the ground through the use of shady consultants.
Will Evans, who goes from working in the warehouse to a white-collar employee, is put in charge of implementing the consultants’ plans.
“Here he finds himself thrust into a muddle of absurdity and responsibility that he never expected,” according to the book’s synopsis. “When the plans push BSI to the brink of bankruptcy, Will teams up with Anna Reed, a consummate job jumper and corporate mercenary with heels as high as her ambition. He needs her cunning and courage to pull off his covert plan to save the company.”
“I had always wanted to write a novel,” Voss said, in which Rock casually agreed. “We shared a similar outlook on the humor and humanity of the corporate experience, and we reached a point where we had so many great anecdotes that it only made sense to spin them into an entertaining, heartfelt novel.”
Writing a book with another author isn’t something that comes easily.
“It took us at least a year to figure out how to write together,” Voss said “We began by alternating chapters, then each of us would go back and edit the other’s work. Eventually we reached a point where we would look at certain parts of the book and realize, ‘This is what the whole book needs to sound like.’ And that’s how we landed on a consistent voice.”
Working together for so many years also helped them blend their writing styles, however, they still argued over characters and plot development, Rock explained, not a strong fight the two had over how to end the novel. “But that’s the beauty of working with a coauthor: We challenge each other, and that ultimately makes our writing better,” she said.
As far as the character development, Voss relates to Will, and Rock to Anna.
“Like Will, I enjoy working on important projects, but I prefer to be somewhat in the background. And I care deeply about whatever I’m working on,” Voss said, noting those were two traits they purposefully instilled in Will. “That’s why we see him working so hard to influence the CEOs to say and do the right thing. He doesn’t want the credit for himself – he wants the company to succeed for all of the people who depend on it,” Voss said.
“Anna and I definitely share some DNA. The ambition. The sarcasm. The shoes,” Rock said. “Early in my career, I also shared her misconception that you have to have a certain attitude – a sometimes selfish and almost robotic drive – to get ahead,” Rocks said, noting that a trap many people fall into is hiding a part of oneself in the workplace so not to seem vulnerable or weak. “Luckily for me (and Anna), I had amazing colleagues who taught me you can be kind and caring – and still be a respected, strong leader.”
Although the book is fiction, people will ask them how much of “B.S., Incorporated” is a true story. “Less than you might hope, but certainly more than you might think,” Rock said.
“In this book, I put some measure of every work experience I ever had across companies and industries – the good, the bad and the very ugly,” she said. “We loved writing about the best of our work experiences – when we worked with outstanding teams who played together just as hard as we worked together,” she said. “Some past experiences were painful to dredge up, but needed to be told, like the feeling of being part of a mass layoff.”
Voss explained the many humorous and absurd situations that occur in the workplace.
“So that was a natural area for us to start,” he said. The more they wrote and mapped out the story, Voss said, they began to realize how important it was to highlight the relationships they both developed on the job.
“We developed lifelong friendships during our time at Best Buy, and we wanted to honor that in the story,” Voss said.
As far as the name, the authors kicked around several potential titles before arriving at “B.S., Incorporated.”
“We always loved the idea of having a title that played two roles for the story,” Rock said. “It’s a play on the name of our most important character in the book (the company itself), while also conveying to readers this isn’t a story that takes itself too seriously.”
“I loved it because it worked on so many levels,” Voss said. “Every job comes with a certain amount of B.S.; all corporate communicators have to spin some B.S. for their audiences from time to time; and it also refers to the name of the company in a way that communicates the absurdity of working there.”
Their goal from the beginning, was to write a book that people would enjoy and could relate to.
“We set out to tell a workplace story that would make readers feel equal parts of ‘I can’t believe companies like this exist’ and ‘I kind of wish I worked there,’” Rock said.
“We wanted people to read this story, to enjoy it and to feel like there are other people out there who know exactly what their jobs feel like every day,” Voss said.
Contact Kristen Miller at [email protected]