People say publishing a book is like having a baby. This is true in the sense that both take a long time, you care a lot about them and you want other people to like them. Books are quieter, though, and they rarely poop on you, so it’s not a perfect analogy. But there is an anticipation that I, at least, have felt both before book publishing and before my kids. That something will change — maybe a little, maybe a lot — and that’s both exiting and scary.
I have that feeling now, with The Family Firm coming out Tuesday. If you haven’t preordered, here’s a button for you to do so…
If you want a little taste, the New York Times published an excerpt this weekend and on Tuesday I’ll publish an bit more here, on the question of kindergarten redshirting. Today, though, I wanted to write a little bit about how I got here, and why I’m so excited about this book.
I had not intended to be a writer of books. I wrote Expecting Better out of a sense of frustration and urgency, a feeling that somehow people needed this information, that with it they could have a better understanding of their pregnancy. After Expecting Better came out, I went back to my regular job as a professor. Some people bought the book, but honestly not that many.
I wrote more papers. I did more teaching. I tried to get tenure at my job, and failed. I got tenure at another place. I moved. I did different teaching. I had another kid. I got promoted again. I wrote a few more papers. Basically, I was a professor who one time did this weird thing and wrote a book for pregnant people.
But I was lucky. Some people liked the book. And they told their friends. And some of their friends liked it. And they told their friends. And rather than fading into the background, Expecting Better sold more than it had at first. One day, the opportunity came up to write Cribsheet, to take these same data tools to early childhood. It came at a moment I felt ready to do it, when the younger of my kids was just aging out of the relevant age range.
Cribsheet was a natural extension of Expecting Better. Both books have a strong data-forward focus. There is an underlying point that the data can’t make your decisions for you, that your family preferences matter, but for many decisions, the data really, really helps.
After Cribsheet I insisted I wasn’t going to do a book about older kids. As I explained to various people who asked: older kids are more variable (I used the word “heterogenous”). The problems families face are really different. Each kid requires a different answer. And, the data isn’t usually enough. I had determined that this third book wasn’t really in the cards.
The existence of The Family Firm, then, is largely a result of my agent and editor, who got together (behind my back!) to discuss.
“Isn’t there ANY interesting data?,” they asked. “Couldn’t you craft a book around what we do have?”
So I looked into it. There was some data — some of it really fascinating. I will not spoil it for you, but perhaps my favorite part of the new book is the evidence on how kids learn to read.
As I read the data, and thought, and reflected, the book came into focus. Yes, there was data, but there was more wrapping needed. I thought about how our family uses data like this to make decisions, about the decision processes and structures we layer on top of it. In the end, The Family Firm is really (I think) two books. It’s a book on data for older kids, much of it quite interesting. And it’s a book on how to structure your family decision-making to make everything run more smoothly, to make you happier. This first part is, really, a business book. Where the business is parenting.
This book was much harder to write, to organize, than the other two. But I love it, and I hope you will too.
A final note. I have realized that a lot of this book is a love letter to Jesse. It is a tremendous privilege to fall in love with someone at 20, to build a life with them, and to be able to count on them to toast with you when things are good, and to hold you up when they are hard. The last couple of years have brought a lot of challenges, some of which go well beyond COVID, and Jesse simply never wavers. The decision-making tools in this book were all built together. In fairness, he probably deserves half the royalties. But since we keep separate bank accounts, I’m just going to buy him a fancy bottle of rye and call it a day.
Two Fun Things Before You Go!
On Thursday of next week, the newsletter will be replaced by a Substack discussion thread — 11am to noon. If you want to get into a live chat with me (and hopefully others) about family decision making, the book and, presumably, COVID — plan to join me then! I’ll email out a link at the time, or you can jump on emilyoster.substack.com to join.