As if writing essays for classes wasn’t enough, three Duke students spent a year of their undergraduate careers writing books.
These student authors participated in the Creator Institute, a program run by Georgetown professor Eric Koester that helps to structure the book-writing process for budding authors of all ages. Koester’s LinkedIn profile states that his “mission is to create 10,000 new authors in the next 10 years.”
Junior Joy Reeves’ book, “Growing Up in the Grassroots: Finding Unity in Climate Activism Across Generations,” was published in July 2020. Reeves described the book as a “story of how activists from all different generations can find commonalities through environmental activism, rather than finding points that separate and divide us.”
Reeves has been pondering many of the ideas in her book for years, but the opportunity to write a book came as a surprise. When Koester messaged Reeves on LinkedIn to ask whether she’d be interested in the Creator Institute, she took it as a sign.
Junior Joy Reeves’ book, “Growing Up in the Grassroots: Finding Unity in Climate Activism Across Generations,” was published in July 2020.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I decided that writing was something I really wanted to pursue for a while,” Reeves said.
Senior Barbara Euripides’ book, “Brains, Beauty, Boss: The Ultimate Guide for Women in the Workplace,” was published December 2020. The book, which is focused on female empowerment in the workplace, features interviews with more than 20 women who have appeared on the Forbes 30 under 30 list.
Euripides never imagined that she’d become a published author. She had just arrived home from a semester abroad when Koester messaged her on LinkedIn to tell her about the Creator Institute. At first, Euripides thought she’d be far too busy to write a book, but a call with Koester convinced her to give the project a try.
Unlike Reeves and Euripides, junior Rohin Shahi wrote his first book the summer before he started high school. While it didn’t ultimately get published, the fantasy coming-of-age novel was the beginning of Shahi’s journey as a book author.
Shahi got the idea for his recent book, “The Z Factor: How to Lead Gen Z to Workplace Success,” during a conversation with a professor who commented on how much students had changed in the past several years. The book, which was published December 2019, is focused on providing insight into Generation Z’s habits and skills in the workplace to older generations.
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While Euripides, Reeves and Shahi all agreed that it was sometimes difficult to balance research and writing with their academic schedules, they said that the structure of the Creator Institute program helped to break up tasks and make the whole undertaking much less daunting.
Euripides said that she benefited from scheduled Zoom meetings in which participants in the Creator Institute program “would just sit in Zoom rooms, cameras off, and write.”
“The program was structured extremely well. It felt so good knowing there were other people who were there writing with you,” Euripides said.
Reeves said that while the majority of the project was a lot of fun, she sometimes struggled to balance writing with course assignments, especially towards the end of the process.
“There were some very stressful nights, some very tight deadlines towards the end,” Reeves said.
Shahi said that he was able to get most of his rough draft done in a few weeks of hard work, but the majority of his time was spent conducting research and interviews to make sure his claims were grounded in reality.
Heavy workload aside, all three authors said that they found the writing process very meaningful and fulfilling.
Reeves said that her favorite part of the writing process was interviewing scholars, activists and experts about their journeys. Because Reeves did the majority of her research before the pandemic struck, she was able to travel, attend rallies and speak to some of her interview subjects face to face.
Euripides echoed Reeves, saying that one of her favorite parts of the process was interviewing women from the Forbes 30 under 30 list. She was surprised and inspired by how quickly and readily the women she reached out to agreed to be interviewed for her book.
“These are strong successful women that want to help other women become successful. It really showed me that this community is powerful and inclusive,” she said.
The Creator Institute program works with New Degree Press, which operates under a hybrid publishing model, Reeves explained. Under the model, writers retain full ownership of their books and use a crowdsourcing platform to raise enough money to pay for the production of the book, which includes bookbinding and cover design.
Shahi said that he appreciated the program’s publishing process because it allowed him to focus more on his writing than on logistical issues.
“I was provided an editor, a copy editor and someone to help with the book jacket design, which really helped guide me through the process so I could focus more on the writing than on all of the other things,” Shahi said.
Two weeks after Euripides’ book was published and released on Amazon, where it became the number one seller in the college guides category, she received a box of hard copies of the book at her house.
“It was one of the best moments of my entire life. I realized, ‘Wow, all of the late nights that I was writing, fitting it into my schedule in the middle of the global pandemic, were worth it,’” Euripides said. “It shows you how big of a community you have supporting you, and how many people were there to help in the process. It was a euphoric feeling.”
Shahi, on the other hand, said that receiving copies of his finished book was a “very bittersweet feeling.”
“I’m going to be completely honest here, I felt like the actual pursuit of writing the book was more fun than actually having it in my hands. Yes, I was very happy to have it done, but it was just equal parts relief and ‘Now what?’” Shahi said.
For each of the three authors, getting a book published wasn’t the end of the journey. Reeves works with a Duke professor to teach small seminars on science communication, which is the focus of one section of her book. Euripides has spoken virtually to women in business organizations at multiple universities.
”I absolutely love the whole follow-up process of the book, because I get to talk about some of my biggest takeaways from the women I interviewed,” Euripides said. She explained that one of her favorite parts of these events is receiving feedback from participants who have experienced some of the challenges Euripides describes in her book.
“Like I say at the very end of my book, if one person reads this book and becomes a better version of themself or becomes more confident, that’s all I want,” she said.
Since publishing his book, Shahi has done speaking gigs, podcast interviews and small-scale pro bono consulting work for various companies.
Going forward, he hopes to write follow-up articles and newsletters in order to continue engaging with his community of readers. Since his book was written and published before COVID-19 struck, he is particularly interested in writing about Generation Z’s work habits and skillsets during the pandemic.
“A lot of people assume, because we grew up with technology, that Gen Z wants this technology to be front and center in the work we do. And that’s true to some degree. But something that’s really interesting is, Gen Z, more than other generations in the past, prefers face-to-face communication in the workplace,” Shahi said.
He noted that this has created issues for a lot of members of the generation during the pandemic, with many employers and educators moving operations to an entirely virtual format.
The three students agreed that they grew significantly as authors and as people during the process of writing their books.
“Before writing this book, I didn’t have the confidence to believe that my ideas were good enough to share on a scale like this,” Reeves said. “So after the strenuous writing process and the really fulfilling interview process, and all the support that I got along the way, I think all of that helped me become really confident in the work that I can produce, even in its imperfections... I feel like this is just the beginning of my creative career, and I’m super grateful for that.”