Episode 167: The Serial Relauncher: From Strategy Consultant to Published Author, with Lori Banov Kaufmann
As someone who, to quote Lori “has had about six careers," culminating as a published author with her first young adult historical fiction novel coming out February 2021, Lori Banov Kaufmann talks about her serial relaunching, including co-founding and running a tech strategy consulting firm, a corporate relaunch with Sesame Street, an exciting entrepreneurial venture involving a lice removal device, and now, her soon to be published book Rebel Daughter, through Random House. There were lots of starts and stops along the way and Lori will talk about how her career path ebbed and flowed with each successive relaunch. We will also discuss how she got the idea for Rebel Daughter, how she got her book contract, and what's next as she approaches her book publication date. Lori is talking to us from Tel Aviv, Israel, where she has lived for over 30 years. She is married and has four adult children.
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Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chairman and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Today, we welcome Lori Banov Kaufmann. As someone who, to quote Lori, "has had about six careers," culminating as a published author with her first young adult historical fiction novel coming out in February, 2021, and you can pre-order now and we'll talk about that. Lori will talk about her serial relaunching, including launching and running a tech strategy consulting firm, a corporate relaunch with Sesame Street, an exciting entrepreneurial venture involving a lice removal device, and now her book contract with Random House.
here were lots of starts and stops along the way, and Lori will talk about how her career path ebbed and flowed with each successive relaunch. We will also discuss exactly how she got her idea for her upcoming book, Rebel Daughter, how she got her book contract, and what's next, as she approaches her book publication date. Lori is talking to us from Tel Aviv, Israel, where she has lived for over 30 years. She's married and has four adult children. Lori, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Thanks, Carol. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Lori, we're calling you the serial relauncher and you yourself have described yourself as someone who has had about six careers. Can you please take us through your career progression over the years?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Sure. So after business school in 1985, I moved to Israel and we had a new baby. So my options were pretty limited. I got my first job as an economist in Israel Chemicals, which was a chemical company. I was there for two years and when I was on maternity leave with my third child. No. Sorry. Yes, third child was then, I forgot that it was with Danya. I started doing consulting projects. I wrote a business plan for a startup company and then more people were asking for separate projects, and that actually turned into a consulting firm. I decided not to go back to Israel Chemicals and instead to start my own consulting company and turn this project-based work into something a little more official.
We provided strategy and marketing advice to high-tech companies. Our specialty was advising military companies on commercializing their technology for the civilian market, and that was a very exciting time. I had a partner, a female partner, we eventually grew to over 20 consultants.
And one day as I was at my desk, looking out of my office and my office window, I looked out at a community center pool, and I saw all the mothers and their kids sitting outside while I was stuck inside. And I thought, "Something's not right." I am working so hard to pay the rent and to pay everybody's salaries, and I was missing a lot of the individual client contact that I had on the earlier projects and doing more managing.
And I decided to leave, the company went on, I left and for a while just took individual projects, one of which was for Sesame Street that was starting to broadcast. They had been broadcasting for a while, but they wanted to increase their footprint in Israel. It started as a consulting project and it turned into a job and I became the Director of Israel Operations. It had a lot more fun factor than working with military companies, for sure.The primary purpose of my job was to help fundraise the operations here. So that was a little bit, I wasn't really hanging out with Big Bird and the puppets, but it was fun to get the swag and my daughter loved it.
There were definitely some fun perks, but at the end of the day, it was a fundraising project. So that was a lot less, it was a lot less fun than it that it seemed, but the people were wonderful and it was a completely different world for me. So that was very exciting. And then when that kind of ran its course, because there was a limit to how much I could do being on the business side and not on the creative side, I started an entrepreneurial venture that was based on technology that I had been exposed to in my consulting firm. The technology was based on military optics actually for finding defects in bullets. And since I had young kids at home and was dealing with the lice problem that all mothers know about, I wondered why light couldn't find and kill lice. And it turns out that it could, so that turned into an entrepreneurial venture to develop a device that would kill lice with light.
That was a really fun, exciting project working with scientists and a lot of different partners, but at a certain point with that venture I realized I either had to sort of change my lifestyle constraints, in other words, I had to work a lot more and travel and fundraise to take it to another level. And I had to decide also about my writing career, because while I had started this lice business, I also began working on this historical novel. And at some point I just had to choose, and I chose to become a writer. And then 10 years later, I have a book. So I didn't think at all that it was going to take so long.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wait, Lori, I just want to jump in here and get a little sense about the timeframe. So I know you're saying like the book, it took 10 years and we'll talk about that in a minute, but for example, between the Sesame Street winding up and the lice entrepreneurial venture really taking shape, was there a time there and actually, and the writing piece, it sounds like you were always doing something, like one would flow right into the other, or were there breaks or, how did that work?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: I always was doing something or planning to do something. Looking back on it, I think I shouldn't have been worried about having this professional identity. I've never been comfortable telling people I'm at home with my kids and I look back on that and I wish that I had been willing to own that because I think I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to justify myself as a career woman, a serious professional and now, I don't really know why that was so important.
I think we've all felt when you're at a party, a cocktail party situation, and someone says, “What are you doing?” And if you say, “I'm at home with my kids,” you see the person's eyes glaze over, they're starting to look around for someone else more interesting to talk to. And I think I was in there and I think I did not have the confidence or the, I don't know what, but I think I felt very uncomfortable and I always felt a need to have an answer, have something that I could talk about that I was doing other than just being at home.
And, that's not the reason that I started writing, but it did give me something to say that would lead us to a more interesting topic other than, “Where are your kids in school?" I always did have something cooking on the side, but again, looking back, I don't know if it was because I really always needed something or because that's just the timing how it all worked out.
Carol Fishman Cohen: It's always interesting to look at these career paths or your own career path in retrospect, and this commentary that you have, essentially, "I had to have an elevator pitch about my professional life," and that was something that had a priority.
And now you're looking back on it and thinking, "I wonder why that was so important and why I had to have that all the time." But I can totally relate to it myself, and I was completely in those situations where during my career break, because I did have an extended 11 year period where I was not doing something, and I was in plenty of social situations where I found that people weren't that interested in talking to me.
And then I had the complete opposite experience when I went back to work. I went back to Bain Capital in 2001, as soon as that happened, it was like a light switch, all of a sudden I'd walk into the same social events and people who really didn't want to give me the time of day were all over me in terms of what's going on and talk to me about the bond market.And I just could not even believe it. Yeah, I've been in the middle of that.
Lori, you've done so many different kinds of things. Were there some things when you're doing the entrepreneurial venture or you're a part of the company, the strategy consulting, the writing, is there one that's jumped out at you that was your favorite or was there something that you picked up and learned from each one that you brought to another one? Or are they discreet experiences, are they somehow, did they get somehow linked in one way or another?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: That's a good question. I look back on all the things I've done and I don't think that they tell a very, they don't tell a straight story. It's not a linear career where I can say, "I did this and then my next position had greater responsibility and a bigger title. And this led to this and led to this." I look at it as a lot of different puzzle pieces that are just scattered on the floor and, I can put it together to tell a story, but I don't think that my career fits together in a way that we all want our career to fit together.
It's just, it's like, "What? You did Sesame Street and you worked with bullet manufacturers. And now you're writing and what are you good at? What did you want to be when you grow up?" I got something out of each one of my jobs and my career. It's hard to define it all as a career in the typical way. When you think of a career as being one thing, if you look at a career as an outside label, like I was in finance or I was a banker. But if I look at my career internally and I say, "I've been able to do interesting, challenging things with the financial reward and grew professionally." Some jobs were more, I had to stretch myself more creatively. Some jobs were, or some positions I had to stretch myself as a manager, other ones I had to speak in Hebrew, which is not my native language, and make presentations. So I do feel like for me, if I look at it, if I'm telling my own story to myself, I do see that there was a progression.
I was trying different things and yeah, a lot of it was a lot of the things I fell into, or I turned to because of constraints at home or the way things unfold in life as we all know, as we get older. You can plan as much as you want, but at the end of the day, you're going to get this job because you happen to say, speak to one person here who spoke to one person there.
And, as much as you plan and plan, a lot of things just happen career-wise. I think a lot of my career just happened, but I was able to learn from most of the experiences and it does tell a coherent story to myself, but I think to the outside world it's much harder to see it.
One of the things that I just would like to say, I don't know if this is the right time, but a lot of it involved building confidence. And I think that I've needed the most confidence to do, to become, to say I'm a writer. It was something I always wanted to write, and I didn't do it because I didn't know if I'd be good at it. And it's not something I could own the same way I could say I'm a technology consultant, and I think a lot of it had to do with confidence. I did grow in confidence with each position.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That is so interesting. Your comments about not having a plan, I distinctly remember Sheryl Sandberg talking about this in Lean In where she said, "I was always a planner. I had a five-year plan." And when she moved out to the west coast, it was the first time I think she didn't have a five-year plan.
And she said, "If I had stuck to it, I never would have taken my first job at Google, because it was not in the plan. And I had to allow myself not to have a plan in order to be open to those kinds of possibilities." And it sounds like you did that in the extreme and it led to a multidimensional, really interesting career journey, even though as you're saying, it doesn't all fall under a category of a particular kind of work. The pieces of it made sense for you to be doing at whatever time you did them.
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Yeah. And I think also that it's very hard to plan when you have children. You don't know if you're going to have to deal with issues that come up when you have children, I have four children and my husband had some health challenges that took up a lot of my time.
If you have a family life, you're going to have things that come up and there's some times where you are going to need greater flexibility in your job and you won't be able to travel or you'll have to spend time with aging parents.There's so many things that come up that I think you can have a very macro big picture plan, but you can't beat yourself up when life doesn't follow it, that's for sure.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. And actually that leads into the next question I wanted to ask you about, what did things look like on the personal side, when you're going through all of this transition and you had these different opportunities and you did so many different kinds of things, did you feel on some level that whatever came next in your progression somehow coincided with what was right for your life stage at that moment in terms of how old your kids were or some other factor?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Definitely. Definitely. I would never have taken the Sesame Street job, for example, if I didn't have little kids, I think I just wanted to impress them.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And did that impress them?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: That was the one job they were very impressed with. And I know that if my kids were older, I probably wouldn't have thought, "Oh, I have to take this job because then I can take them to the set," so, that was fun. But, I think that all the pieces of your life have to fit together, and I don't know many women where your career and your job is the only piece.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, and men too. In our relauncher community, we have women and men and people who take career breaks for a whole range of reasons, some childcare, some elder care sometimes, reasons that have nothing to do with caregiving. I think what you're saying is really relevant for people in this whole range of situations.
Lori Banov Kaufmann: True. And I think it's important to be open to possibilities to things you never would think that it would be what you were trained to do, what you learned, what you studied, but, opportunities present themselves, and sometimes I think flexibility is a good thing and it can lead to some unexpected, wonderful opportunities.
Carol Fishman Cohen: As we start to talk, I want to talk more about Rebel Daughter and your book contract. But your comment about this was a 10 year journey, and the writing was a side gig really reflects reality because there are people who have writing careers and, we're actually doing a series of interviews with people who have writing careers. Sometimes they say it has to start out as a side gig and you have a day job and you're doing something else. You don't just start out on day one drawing income from a writing career. So when did you write the first thing that you wrote? Were you writing articles before? Did you have this idea for the book right from the get-go and what was the progression there?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: I've always wanted to write and I had co-authored some how-to books with my husband, more as a hobby, a fun project that we had done many years before. So I was a little bit familiar with writing, but I never thought that it would turn into something that I would spend so much time on. And frankly I started writing only when I turned 50. So I knew that this was not going to be something that was going to, it was only something I could do when I had the financial security to do it. I think it's a luxury to be able to obviously take 10 years to write a novel, even though I was working at the same time for most of that.
But very few people can make a living as, certainly as fiction writers, most fiction, even very successful fiction writers have to teach. It's just a very tough industry. On the other hand, I think it is something that can be combined with other real life jobs.
So, there were days when I would write two words and erase one, but I still felt like even if I could sit down for 10 minutes a day, I'm making progress. I'm walking towards that goal, and eventually I've got to get there. So, between the laundry and the carpools and work, I would just try to squeeze in some writing time.And that's how it is. The hardest thing about writing for me was carving out the time and just sticking with it for that long.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And was that sometimes at midnight when everyone was in bed or did you get up at five o'clock in the morning or and, did you say to yourself, I'm going to devote X number of hours a day in order to keep moving forward or was it in bursts sometimes, at a random time, all of a sudden you sit down and write a significant piece? How did that process work?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: I'm not one of these super disciplined, wake up at 5:00AM and right after I've gone for a five mile jog. No, that was definitely not me. It was more stolen moments here and there whenever I could. And there were plenty of weeks where I didn't touch it. But I just kept going. And I think if you just keep going, eventually, you're going to get somewhere. And there are some people that sprint to the finish line and some people arrive limping and bloodied and bandaged. And that was me, but it doesn't matter because you eventually get there.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you just give us a synopsis about what Rebel Daughter is about and how you got fascinated with the story?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Okay. Rebel Daughter is a historical novel set in the first century about a young aristocratic woman who is taken captive after the fall of Jerusalem.
There was, the Jews rebelled against Rome and were defeated and the survivors were taken as slaves to Rome. And, the woman was bought and her master fell in love with her and eventually freed her. This is a true story, and when I heard this story, a friend of mine who is a very well-known historian told me this story.
And I said, "Oh my God, this is incredible." Her gravestone was found in Naples and the archeologists and researchers were very excited by this discovery because it proved the Jewish presence in Rome in the first century, and it had a lot of archeological significance.
But I heard the story and I thought, "Wow, that's a really great story." And almost as a joke, I said to my friend, "Will you do the history, and I'll do the love story?" This is great. And since he's a professor, he's the chairman of the History and Classics Department at Tel Aviv University and was very involved in the book as well, so he sent me books to read. And I started reading about this time period, a time period I had absolutely no interest in or knowledge and all of a sudden I was just hooked. So Rebel Daughter is about a strong, resilient heroine who shows unimaginable strength in the face of trauma, basically. And it explores the role of faith and family obligation.
It's for readers of historical fiction and it offers a very detailed and accurate depiction of the historical events of the first century, which is a very interesting time period, at least I think it is.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So you hear this story, you're talking to this historian, get really interested in the period and specifically in what happened with this particular person or group of people. And then how did you, do you remember the day when you wrote the first words?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Yeah, that's a great question. I actually do remember that I was just trying to imagine what it would be like to be taken away from the city where you were born and you had lived in your whole life. My character Esther was born in and lived in Jerusalem and taken off in chains to Rome. What would that be like and what, if you want to take something with you, and I remember writing that paragraph, like what it would be like and looking around and picking up just a stone to take with her, so she would have something from Jerusalem.
So it didn't end up in the final book, but I do remember having this burst of, I don't know, passion or feeling for her and being able to inhabit her, even though it was only for a few seconds, but there's something magical that happens when you can finally put yourself fully into the character you're creating. And then it was that feeling was something I wanted to recreate again. So I did.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. And did you study how books are written, and the use of narrative, and whether you get inside the character and sort of experience and write from the first person based on being an observer versus being an observer, like, how did you think about that part of the writing process?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Yes, I did read many books about how to write and craft and what makes a bestseller. Not that, I'm hoping this is a bestseller, but I'm not counting on it. But, part of my background in business and in market research is I really wanted to know best practices, and I wanted to know what worked for people. I took courses and I took online courses and in-person courses. Of course I read a lot and I learned about character and plot and narrative, voice, and all of those tools. Yeah, I actually did read a lot of books about that. And I had an editor who helped me at one point.
So it's not as if I just sat down and it all flowed smoothly. I had to really work on it. And I think writing is something that you can work on and it is, it's not just innate talent, or I think that it's something that you can definitely improve and you can learn.
Carol Fishman Cohen: So, it's a craft, and you can get better at it and you can be a student of it.
Lori Banov Kaufmann: For sure. For sure. I think people feel that so much of anything creative feels like you're either born with it, it's an innate talent or it's not. And while there certainly is creativity, and you're putting a lot of yourself into it in a way that maybe there's some parts of it that can't be taught, but I think that there's a lot that you can learn if you're willing to work at it.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you tell us a little bit about, I think there's this mystery around, how do you get a book contract? And you've got a book contract with Random House, one of the most elite publishers in the world. Did you have an agent, did you know someone, what was that process? How do you get a book contract? Do you have to write a proposal? Do you have to have the whole thing written in advance?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: For fiction works, you do have to have the whole thing written. Nonfiction, you can sell it based on a proposal. A proposal would be laying out all the things you would do in any business you want to, they want to know who's the target market and why you have the expertise to talk about this topic and maybe a sample writing, a writing sample of yours. So that's something that, it can definitely be sold let's say on spec. Another thing today that publishers look at is, what's your online media presence. If you have a lot of followers, that's something that really goes into the mix. I think that fiction is very different and it's, and it is tougher.
You have to have an agent if you're going for one of the traditional, say big five publishers. If you're going to self publish it, it's different. And that's a great option for a lot of people because there's so many opportunities now to get your book into the hands of readers by yourself. So you're not really dependent on the big publishers anymore. But for the traditional publishers, you do need an agent. And I did a lot of research about how to find agents and it does help to have a personal connection, but you can get a personal connection in a lot of ways by going to conferences and there's pitch fairs.
There's a lot of opportunities to meet agents. They want to be exposed to new authors. They're looking for things. So you have to find a way to get to them. So I had a friend who had a book published and he introduced me to his agent and it went from there and it was very fast for me, but I, but it was very long to write the book. So I guess it evened out. I think a lot depends also not just on how compelling the story is and how well-written, but what the publisher is looking for at that time. Originally I wrote the book as adult fiction. My agent thought that it was a YA story and it turns out…
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wait, what's YA?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: YA is young adult fiction, often abbreviated as YA, marketed to adolescents and young adults, roughly ages 13 to 18. Interestingly, those statistics show that more than half of all YA books are bought by adults. Usually, in YA books the protagonists are teenagers or young adults. And adults love those books anyway, because everybody remembers that time. Sometimes they're coming of age stories, but not always, usually the genre is not explicit in terms of sex and violence scenes, and that's something that also appeals to to some adults. What's interesting about YA is that it's a very robust market segment and books have a longer shelf life than say adult fiction, especially if they get into the schools and into libraries. So it's an attractive market segment if your story has a teenage protagonist or a young adult. It's something to think about.
For example, when I was growing up, it was Catcher in the Rye or The Outsiders. Now people are familiar with The Hunger Games, even though The Book Thief was an international bestseller that came out as a YA book. John Green's books, The Fault in our Stars, I think people today realize that it's a viable outlet for a lot of fiction.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And so what happens now? I know the book's supposed to come out in February, 2021. We're in the pre-order stage. Do pre-orders impact the sale of the book, and what does that mean to be in pre-order?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Yes, it does. The advantage of pre-orders is that if you can have a lot of sales in your first week, you'll make some of the bestseller lists.
So to be considered a bestselling author from the New York Times or USA Today, or one of the other lists, you have to have a certain number of sales in one week. So that's why the publishers put a lot into the pre-orders.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, I get it. So if the pre-orders are waiting, then they all happen the day the book goes on sale?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Right.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. I never put that together before. Now, the light has come on for me. Okay, I understand now how those are linked. Lori, we are so excited for you and want to wrap up by asking you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience even if it's something that we've already talked about today?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: I think that you need to be kind to yourself when life doesn't go according to plan and you need to be open to having a career that doesn't tell a coherent linear story. Be open to different opportunities, even if you don't think they're leading to the place you imagined you were going to get to, because you will learn from all of your opportunities and you have to be open to all the coincidences and the things that fall into your lap. And I guess my next piece of advice is if you do feel like you would like to write something, don't wait until you're 50 to start and don't give up, keep going. And if you keep going, you eventually will get there. Yeah.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And, I really loved also what you said about feeling comfortable with the disjointed career that, it doesn't follow a progression or tell this neat story that's all kind of tied up in a bow, but there's something significant about each experience that's meaningful for you as the individual and to own that.
Lori Banov Kaufmann: I agree.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. So Lori, can you tell our audience how they can find out more information about Rebel Daughter and how they can pre-order?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Thank you. That would be wonderful. I have a website that's LoriKaufmann.com.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you spell that please?
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Sure. It's L O R I K A U F M A N N, two n's, LoriKaufmann.com, has order forms and more information about the book and an excerpt. And you can always look on Amazon under Rebel Daughter which also has all the information.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful, best of luck with that, Lori. And thank you so much for joining us.
Lori Banov Kaufmann: Thank you. Thank you so much, Carol. It's been a pleasure, very fun conversation.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Thanks for listening to 3,2,1, iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break.
I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on our iRelaunch conferences and events, to sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources, go to iRelaunch.com. And if you liked this podcast, be sure to rate it on Apple podcasts and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.
Thanks for joining us.