Monday, March 25, 2019

Behind the Scenes with The Thesauri Queens: An Interview with Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Puglisi

Congratulations to Sandra Warren who won the 15 minute Zoom Author Interview with Marsha Diane Arnold from last week's blog. She donated it to West Marion Elementary School in Marion, NC.


Many of you have heard me extol the virtues of ONE STOP FOR WRITERS a rich, on-line writing tool. I've also frequently mentioned the creators of the site, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, who have co-written and published seven ThesauriI teased them that they are the Thesauri Queens--but you probably know them as two smart, generous women who are being exactly what their website proclaims: Writers Helping Writers.

I bet many of you have used their resources and that's why you're here today--because like me, you're a nosey writer and want to hear how these two women have successfully collaborated for fifteen years.

But first, if you don't know about how Angela and Becca met online, please see Natalie Aguirre's interview. You'll also find out how they developed their unique brand. 

This was taken the first time Angela and Becca met in Disney World!

Now, without further ado-- let's get this interview going!

CAROL: What was it like when you met in person three years after only knowing each other online? 

ANGELA: Because we live in different countries, 99% of our communication is online. However, many years ago I took my family to Disney World, and as Becca lived close by, she agreed to meet us at the Magic Kingdom for the day, just outside Cinderella’s castle. We had traded pictures of one another of course, but as we pulled into the parking lot that day it hit me that a) I’d forgotten my phone at the hotel, and b) MK was huge, and c) 32,000 people entered the park every day that time of year. As this was my debut visit to the park, I began imagining scenarios where Becca would be at one part of the castle and I’d be at another, endlessly waiting for the other to arrive. So, I did what any desperate person might do…I made a sign with her name on it. 

Ironically, I never needed to use it. Somehow despite Magic Kingdom having several ferries and a sky train that transported people to and from the park, Becca and I ended up on the same packed ferry about ten feet from one another. This type of crazy coincidence was only the first of many for us; Becca and I are convinced the universe wants us to be together!

BECCA: One of the things I liked best about this day was the absence of the expected awkwardness that comes when you finally meet an online friend in person. (Well, except for that moment when I realized my car key had fallen out of my pocket on Space Mountain, and I thought we might be spending a huge portion of the day in the parking lot. Luckily, my key was sitting there in the seat, not wedged into a coaster track somewhere, so that was good.) We just picked things right up and enjoyed our day. It was a really good feeling to meet in person and confirm that she was the wonderful, kind, generous, and freaky person I’d always thought she was.

CAROL: How do you work together as a team? How do you figure out who does what?

ANGELA: Luckily Becca and I have writing styles that mesh quite well, but we have different strengths when it comes to business skills. She’s terrific at organization and tracking the million little things that keep us up and running as a business, like knowing book production processes, managing our accounts, making sure bills are paid, and working with third parties (formatters, designers, distributors, etc.). I handle the marketing side of things, our outreach, and steer business strategy. I think our partnership works so well because we trust each other’s knowledge in areas where we are not subject matter experts, and whenever we need to come to a consensus on something, we can talk it through.

BECCA: We assign duties based on individual strengths, which is a pretty simple process because we’re very compatible in our giftedness (or lack thereof). And the rest of it, we just divvy up between us. It’s a simple system, but because we’re each able to look at ourselves realistically and put the ego aside, it’s easy to say, You’re better at this, why don’t you handle it? or You’ve got a ton going on, so I’ll do this one.

CAROL: What have been the bumps in the road to successful collaboration? Do you have advice to other writers who are considering collaborating on a book or project? 

ANGELA: I won’t lie, there are some things we disagree on. For example, Becca hates pickle chips. It’s hard for me to overlook this horrifying flaw, but that’s what you have to do sometimes to keep the peace. Okay, that’s frivolous…but it illustrates the nature of most of the friction between us: superficial. 

However, we have different backgrounds, life views, and comfort zones, so we aren’t twins. Certain content we’re not comfortable writing about might be a sticky point and when this happens, we talk it through and come to a consensus. Another way we differ is that Becca and I have different comfort zones when it comes to risk. But again, it’s fine because we discuss it and challenge the other to convey their point of view better so we can reach an understanding. I love this because it means we always move ahead on the same page, or “on the same page for now,” leaving things open for reassessment down the road. 

My advice for collaborating is to make sure each person is in alignment before jumping into a project. Not only does there need to be a huge amount of trust and respect, collaborators should have complementary communication styles, the same vision and goals, and a strong work ethic. 

BECCA: Yes, to all of this, except the bit about my dislike of pickle chips being a flaw. That’s just a result of having functional taste buds. I would add that potential partners should go into the collaboration with eyes wide open, knowing that, no matter how well you get along, there will be conflict and disagreements. Ironically, this becomes more pronounced if you find success, because success leads to increased complexity, requiring the business to grow and change. Recognizing that choppy waters are ahead can be really helpful in navigating them.

CAROL: What have been the high points of your collaborative work? 

ANGELA: Honestly the best part for me is our friendship; Becca is my better half. I have such tremendous love and respect for her and am eternally grateful for how she helps me grow as a writer and a human being. She’s an advocate for me and everything I do (and I for her), and that’s pretty powerful stuff! 

Another high for me is how we took an idea on how to help writers in a more practical way and helped shape the industry’s ideas of what a writing guide is and isn’t, and what a thesaurus is and is not. This, I believe, has opened the box a bit for all creators as now there are many books-slash-tools called thesauruses (or something similar) that incorporate lists to help writers in some way. Another thing I love is how Becca and I continually innovate, even to the point where we think beyond a book format. Creating One Stop for Writers with Becca and Lee is one of the coolest, most rewarding things I’ve done. In many ways I feel we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do there, and that’s exciting. Our ability to be more open-minded about what is possible is a direct result of hearing from readers about the impact our books have made. Knowing we’re making a difference is a feeling that can’t be beat. 

BECCA: My gosh, there are so many high points. There’s this exponential thing that happens when we put our heads together; the results are typically way bigger than we originally planned. For instance, I came up with a very basic version of the Emotion Thesaurus back when we were critique partners, but it was Angela’s idea to turn it into blog material. And of course, that ended up becoming such a successful book. We’ve achieved so much more together than I believe either of us would have on our own. There are many, many examples of this throughout our journey together. It’s a beautiful thing.

CAROL: Have you always had the same vision? Do you invest equal amounts of time and energy as the Thesauri Queens? 

ANGELA: I think so--mostly? I’ll have to wait for Becca’s answer to know for sure, haha! I guess maybe a better way to phrase my answer is to say that we each have a huge desire to help others and it drives us. We may have our own ideas on how to best accomplish this but the magic between us is we are very good communicators. Because we discuss everything and make it a practice to incorporate the other’s insight before moving forward, we become flexible thinkers. This helps us choose a path that feels right for us both, one that means we’re helping writers and running a sustainable business. And when we don’t quite agree, if it’s important to the other, we compromise because we have such a strong bond of trust. Resentment or negativity is not part of our relationship.  

BECCA: I think it’s truthful to say that we want the same things and we each give as much as we can in pursuit of those goals. It helps that we also see ourselves with a certain duality: we are individuals with many and varying responsibilities outside of work, and we’re also two parts to a professional whole. Real life happens, and there are times when we each have personal stuff going on. In those moments, the other person steps in to fill the gap. I know that Angela has my back, and she knows that I have hers—both personally and professionally. I thank God regularly for bringing the two of us together.

CAROL: Thank you so much, ladies, for sharing your working relationship and your encouragement to all of the men and women who are becoming more skilled writers because of you!

For those of you who haven't used any of Angela's or Becca's Thesauri, you can begin by reading my blog about their latest book, The  Emotional Thesaurus, Second Edition

No matter what genre you are writing or if you write for adults, children, or young adults, ONE STOP FOR WRITERS is the writing resource you need. It's the first place I go when I'm stuck writing a scene. I haven't begun to plummet the depth of writing helps that are included. By the way, their Pinterest board is pretty amazing too!


Helena George said...

This is so cool! I co-write with my sister, so it's fun to see others do it (and be very successful at it)! I've been wanting to pick up a copy of TET, and I think this is the right encouragement to pick that book as my treat for reaching my March Goals. :)

Theresa Milstein said...

I have a copy of Emotion Thesaurus in my classroom.

I was at Whispering Pines retreat last weekend, and someone recommended Emotion Thesaurus to the presenter.

Carol Baldwin said...

Helena--you definitely need to treat yourself to their books. Better yet, get your family to pitch in for a subscription to ONE STOP. You'd love it! Theresa, I'm sure Becca and Angela will glad to hear how you are using their book!

Unknown said...

This was such a great look down memory lane--thank you, Carol! Becca is one of the best things that ever happened to me, so I am so glad the universe brought us together. When you asked for info on when we met and I did the math, I almost fell out of my seat. It's been a long time and once again I am so grateful to the forces that brought us together. :)

Angela Ackerman said...

And thank you everyone for all the nice things you've said about our books and One Stop for Writers. This is why we do so much together--Becca and I collaborate so well and we're proud to be able to help others when we can. You guys rock! <3

Vijaya said...

I love seeing how they've grown! And become so famous!!!

Carol Baldwin said...

My pleasure, Angela! Glad you enjoyed the blog, Vijaya!

Rosi said...

Fun interview with a couple of fun ladies. Thanks.

Cat Michaels said...

I was especially interested in this collaboration journey (How cool is that to meet in person in the Magic Kingdom!). I’m co-writing a MG tale with a cyber author colleague I also met just once in person during her family vacation at Wrightsville Beach. I see many paralells in our partnership with the blending of skill sets mentioned in your blog. Appreciate the good information -:D

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Cat. Your partnership sounds cool too! Someday maybe I'll be blogging about you!!

Sandra Warren said...

It was fascinating to read about Angela & Becca's background and to learn that they collaborate from afar and had only met recently. I had no idea.

Their books are amazing resources for writers! I have five of them sitting a few feet from me at the moment. From now on when I use the books, I'll smile thinking about how they worked together for the benefit of all writers.

Thanks Carol for another really great blog.


Carol Baldwin said...

Glad you enjoyed the blog, Sandra!

Rosie Russell said...

Hi Carolin, Angela, and Becca,
Thanks for sharing this awesome interview. I looked up your books and they sound very helpful.
I too, have joined an author friend that I met online five years ago. We had the joy of meeting for lunch in N.C. a few years back and it was amazing.
We just decided a few months ago to co-author a MG tale. Getting the details of the business part down was our first and most important part of the process. I believe we are getting very close to starting our story soon. Living states away from each other is not easy, but our connections online, phone calls, and working through Google Docs has saved us through this journey so far.
I'm looking forward to learning more from you both.
Thank you all again for this wonderful interview.

Carol Baldwin said...


So glad you found this post inspiring! I think that's what Angela and Becca are all about--Writers Helping Writers!

Angela Ackerman said...

Cat, I hope your collaboration is awesome! I was very lucky to find Becca. She makes me a better person and a better writer. :)

Sandra, it is funny--we've only ever met 3 times in person. 2 businesses, 7 books, and we've spent probably a total of 72 hours together...if that!

Rosie, I hope you have a great time collaborating. I would love to write fiction with Becca one day, too. That would be so much fun!

Carol Baldwin said...

Angela, you and Becca would write a FANTASTIC book together. You MUST do it!!

Gretchen said...

How interesting, especially since I used their Negative Trait Thesaurus just this week. Nice to get a glimpse into how they work as a team.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Gretchen. Now you get to see the people behind the book on your shelf!

Unknown said...

So many nice comments here! It's nice to see people branching out into collaboration. Co-authoring a fiction book sounds very different to me than collaborating on a non-fiction work. But maybe I would be surprised to find they're not as different as I thought. Thanks again for the interview, Carol!

Carol Baldwin said...

When you start that fiction book, Becca, remember my blog. I'll make it a part of my, "You Heard it Here First" series!!

sheri levy said...

Thanks, Carol, for interviewing Becca and Angela. It was fun to read about their friendship and collaboration. Their Emotion Thesaurus has sat next to my computer for years. What a great helper for me when I'm writing

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