By John Sonmez December 15, 2014

How I got Robert (Uncle Bob) Martin to Write a Foreword For My Book

Last week my publisher, Manning, gave me a little surprise.

They told me that my new book, Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual was going to publish early; that anyone who ordered before December 14th would be able to get the print version in their hands by Christmas (barring any unforeseen circumstances.)

This was very exciting, until I realized two things:

  1. I didn't have any of the front matter written, so I needed to write that
  2. I hadn't asked anyone to write a foreword for my book yet–I was holding off until I had a near final manuscript.

No problem, I thought, I have until the end of the month.

Well… turns out I was wrong. Manning informed me that I needed to write the front matter for the book (you know the acknowledgements, the dedication, etc) by that weekend. I had basically one day.

More importantly though, they said that I didn't have time to get a foreword for the book, because it would have to be written by Monday (which was basically three days away.)

Would Soft Skills go to print without a foreword?

Crap! There was no way I could get someone to write a foreword for my book in three days…

… or was there?

Frantically, I asked my publisher if I somehow was able to get a foreword written by Monday, if they could include it in the book.

They practically laughed at me when I told them I was going to ask Scott Hanselman and Bob Martin to write the foreword for the book over the weekend.

But, they said I could try…

… so try I did.

A desperate attempt

Desperate

I frantically typed out an email to Uncle Bob asking him if there was any way he could write a foreword for my book–oh, and that the deadline was Monday (three days.)

I apologized profusely for being so rude.

I offered to pay him out of my pocket.

I explained to him that he was one of most influential software developers in my life and who I owe my whole career's success to. (Which I meant sincerely.)

I attached a review copy of the book, which was 70+ separate Word documents—it was all I had—and clicked send on the email, holding my breath.

Almost immediately after I clicked send, I happened to see my Skype window notifying me of something important. I glanced at the screen, and there I saw it:

“Today is Robert Martin's Birthday.”

Dammit! What an idiot I was. I just sent Bob a request to write a foreword for my book over his birthday weekend and I didn't even say “Happy Birthday.”

I thought about what to do for a second, then I replied to my own email and sent Bob another email saying “Also, I just realized it is your birthday today. So, Happy Birthday as well!”

Not exactly slick, but better than nothing I guess.

I knew this email had a very low probability of success—especially with it being Bob's Birthday–but, I had to try anyway.

Unsolicited pears…

unsolicited-pears

Perhaps there was something else I could do.

Then, I had an idea!

What if I sent him a nice gift basket with a card asking him again to write the foreword for my book and wishing him a Happy Birthday.

I went online and ordered a nice gift basket from Harry and David's and paid the ridiculous cost to have it shipped out overnight.

I added a card to the order and included this message:

Dear Bob,

Please, please write the foreword for my book.
Also, I hope you have a great Birthday.

P.S. — The publisher needs it by Monday :)

I figured if anything had a chance of working, this did, but I still knew that my chances were very slim.

I waited and waited for a reply… nothing.

I wasn't even sure I had the right mailing address to ship the gift basket to. I found an email contact for his daughter Angela, who happens to be his assistant at his company, and told her that I was hoping Bob would write the foreword for my book and I wanted to get the proper address to send a gift basket to.

No reply from Angela, no reply from Bob. I hoped I sent this expensive gift basket to the right address.

The first response

Later that evening, my phone buzzed while I was driving to dinner.

I reached to pick up my phone, but my wife slapped my hand and said, “I'll check it for you.”

She said, “There is an email from Bob. Do you want me to read it?”

No, I thought–I can't bear to hear the answer–but, I told her to read it anyway.

His response was short:

John,
The problem is not that I’m unwilling; it’s that I don’t have the time before Monday.  I leave tomorrow for London; and have a full plate until then.
So I can’t promise anything.
If, by chance, I find a bit of time before Monday, either on the plane, or in my hotel in London on Sunday, I’ll see what I can do.  But you should be prepared for me to have done nothing, because that’s the most likely scenario.

Doh. I know what that means. I've written emails like that myself. He is not going to do it.

Asking for more time

What could I do? What could I do? I needed a foreword for this book. I really wanted Bob Martin to do it.

I had emailed Scott Hanselman as well, but I hadn't heard anything back from him yet, so I had to figure out if there was some way I could increase the chances that Uncle Bob would write my foreword.

He said he didn't have enough time, so could I get him more time?

Perhaps if I gave him more time, he'd do it. He said that it wasn't that he was “unwilling”, but he just didn't have time before Monday.

I dashed off an email to my publisher:despair concept praying begging

Can we give Uncle Bob more time?
What is the max amount of time we can give him?

It didn't take long for a reply to come back: one day.

The book was literally going to the printing press on Wednesday.

I emailed Bob again letting him know that he had one more day and that was all the time they could give him, because the book was going to press to get there by Christmas. I apologized again for being so rude and took full responsibility for all this happening at the last minute.

I offered that it only had to be 300 words.

I offered to pay whatever his hourly rate is for the time it takes him to write it.

I ended the email by saying:

Again, though, totally understand your situation. This is completely my fault.
But, I've learned in life to try your hardest before you give up, so that is what I am doing.

I sent the email and thought about what else I could do.

Was there any other way I could make this easier for him or make him more likely to write the foreword?

Making things easier

That bunch of Word documents I sent him would be a pain for him to open… perhaps I could get a full version of the book, in one PDF, now that it was getting ready for press.

I asked the publisher and was able to get one.

I sent yet another email with the attached PDF and told him that if he did get a chance to write the foreword, this one PDF would be easier than dealing with a bunch of little files.

I had done all I could, it was up to fate now. All I could do was wait.

Saturday and Sunday passed… nothing.

I figured if he was going to do it, I'd probably hear something on Monday.

I checked my email every few minutes… nothing.

Dang, I thought. I had tried my best, but there was nothing I could do at this point.

Finally, I got an email late Monday night, but it was from his daughter, Angela, asking me if I got the address.

Then, something amazing happened…

What is this in my inbox? Could it be?

Girl-with-laptop-at-sunset-on-the-beach

Tuesday morning when I was sitting at my desk, getting ready to tell the publisher that I had failed, I got the email.

It started with the words: “Foreword for Soft Skills by John Sonmez.”

Rather than try and rehash what he said, I'll just include it here verbatim:

Late in the evening of Friday, December 5, 2014 (My 62nd Birthday) I received an email from John Sonmez, the author of this book.  He wrote to me in a panic, asking me to please, please write a foreword for his book by Monday the 8th.

I was not pleased to get such a request.  My wife had just had double knee replacements on Tuesday and was in rehab.  I had a flying lesson scheduled for Saturday morning, and planned to spend the rest of the day visiting with my wife in rehab. I was scheduled to board a plane to London on Saturday evening and then teach a Clean Code course Monday through Wednesday, and a TDD course Thursday through Friday.

So there was no way, not by Monday.

In his email was a zip file full of several dozen MSWord files.  I hate MSWord, and I found this presentation to be both annoying and inconvenient.  I was not going to flip back and forth through a bunch of independent chapter files in MS Word, and I didn’t have time to generate a more convenient PDF of the whole book.  Ugh.

So, I couldn't see a way to write this foreword.  He hadn’t given me enough time.  And I told him so.

On Saturday afternoon, just before driving to the Airport, I found that John had sent me a nice little Christmas package of cheeses and Ham.  It included a nice card, thanking me for even considering the foreword.

Also on Saturday I found an email that told me he had begged his publisher for another day, and so he could give me until Tuesday to write the foreword.  He sent me several other imploring obsequious emails begging me to write this foreword.  He even offered to pay me.

I told him that there was no reasonable chance, and that he should expect nothing from me.

I drove to the airport, boarded the plane, and slept through the flight. I rode the Heathrow Express to Paddington, and took a London Taxi to my favorite London Hotel (The County Hall Marriott).  I was wiped out by the travel and played Minecraft in a stupor until I finally crashed at 10PM.

Monday I taught a full day, and then had to do some work the SMC Compiler for Episode 30 of my Clean Code video series on cleancoders.com.  When my brain stopped working I played Minecraft again until I crashed at midnight.

Today is Tuesday, December 9th. It’s the second day of the Clean Code class, and I just started my 42 students working on a 2 hour exercise.  I checked my email and found that John had sent me another message with a simple PDF of the whole book. OK that would make things easier.  I could just open that file with Preview and scroll my way up and down the book.  Nice.

Note, what I am telling you.  John did was was necessary.  He thought about what I might need and want.  He followed the (OK, I’ll say it) rudeness (there, I said it) of his original request with inducements and helpful aids.  He clearly spent a lot of time and effort working to make my job easier; on the off chance that it would make it possible for me to write this foreword.

Even after I declined, and told him it was almost certainly impossible, he continued to find way to induce and aid me.  He did not give up.  He did not back down.  As long as there was a chance, he continued to search for a way.

And that is what this book is all about.  It’s about getting to success.  It’s about the habits and strategies and procedures and mindsets, and tricks, and hacks that you can use to push yourself ever closer to your goals of success; whatever they might be.  John’s actions toward me, after the (OK, I’ll say it again) rudeness of his original request, are an example, and he is an exemplar, of what he has written in this book.

So, anyway, with two hours to kill, while the students did their exercise, I cracked the PDF open and began to read.

Woah!  Look at the topics!  Yikes!  He talks about physical fitness!  He talks about options trading.  He talks about Real Estate.  He talks about spiritual balance.  He talks about quitting your job, staring a consulting business, joining a startup, building a product, climbing the corporate ladder, marketing yourself.   The list goes on…   My reaction:  WTF!!??!!

But I continued to read.  Knowing I’d never be able to read it all in the two hours I had, and that I was not going to write the foreword anyway.  I read and skimmed, read and skimmed, read and skimmed.  But as I did, I started to get the feel that this guy had a message to tell; and that it was a good message!  It was a holistic message.  It was a message that every software developer (and everybody else for that matter) ought to hear.

Do you know how to write a resume?  Do you know how to negotiate your salary?  Do you know how to set your rates as an independent consultant?  Do you know how to weight the risks of quitting your job to become a contractor?  Do you understand how to get funding for a startup?  Do you understand the cost of watching TV?  (Yes, you read that right).

These are thing this book talks about, and can teach you.  They are things you very likely need to read.

Now look.  I haven’t read the whole book.  I’ve read in the book, and skimmed a lot of it.  But that was enough, because here I am writing this foreword.

My conclusion is that if you are a young software developer trying to find your way in this complex industry, then you are holding a book that can give you a lot of insight and good advice.

And, notice, John figured out a way to get me to write this foreword, despite the bad beginning, and the difficulty of the situation.  He applied the principles that he wrote about in this book and, once again, gained success.

Robert C. Martin (Uncle Bob)

I couldn't have asked for a better endorsement of my book than that.

Sometimes persistence pays off.

(Also, a big, huge thank you to both Uncle Bob and Scott Hanselman for writing forewords for my book on such short notice. Despite the effort I put forth in getting their help, it was ultimately their generosity that was the primary factor in having two great forewords for Soft Skills. I am truly, deeply grateful and humbled to have two of the most amazing, brilliant teachers and pillars of the software development community endorsing my book.)

By the way, if you want to check out a sample chapter of the book, You can get it for free here.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."