Balancing a demanding 9-to-5 job along with a side gig can be a bit harrowing. First, there’s the time thing: How do you fit it all in 24 hours? Second, there’s the fear of not wanting to be “outed.” You know, when you have to hide from your supervisors and colleagues that you have other dreams that don’t quite fall in line with your role at work.
Then there’s the mysterious game of backtracking – making sure you don’t leave anything incriminating in the copier, switching out windows on your computer screen when someone passes your cubicle, and having to hold in good news about your outside-of-work triumphs.
For Sandra L. Richards, none of this applies. She is one of the lucky ones in corporate America who is able to lean on her company leadership and colleagues for support in her off-hours efforts.
During the three years it took her write and publish her children’s book, “Rice and Rocks,” Richards, a Morgan Stanley executive director, head of business development & segment marketing, wealth management, received open arms from the brand’s executive team when she told them what she was working on. After publishing her book last August, she began to collaborate with her employer to promote the project with various Morgan Stanley programs and clients to expose thousands to the book, which was inspired by her young, late nephew. The book teaches children the value of their heritage and the importance of cultural diversity though food. EBONY talks to Richards about her journey.
EBONY: When did you know you wanted to write a book?
Sandra L. Richards: Shortly after my nephew passed away in 2007 — he was 8 years old — I was trying to figure out a way to keep his memory alive. We were very close. It was more like he was my little brother. I could always retell stories about him, when people asked so, I was ready to be a storyteller.
I said, “Hmph, maybe I should do a children’s book.” I didn’t set out to do it, but it kept weighing on me. Maya Angelou has a quote: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story.”
EBONY: How did your current job experience at Morgan Stanley help you in becoming an author?
Richards: I’m work in marketing and business development. I look at who’s the market and how do you get to that targeted demographic. Promoting the book meant I had to create a business plan working in partnership with everyone involved –the same things I apply I apply at Morgan Stanley.
My day job experience – understanding the lack of diversity in certain segments – helped how I wanted to shape things for my project. I also ended up connecting with someone here at Morgan Stanley that introduced me to the book’s illustrator.
EBONY: What was your book-writing process?
Richards: I had the story, then I got an editor. At the same time, an agent pitched it to publishing houses. In terms of the writing process, it took about a year and a half after writing and getting it to place where I was good with the final product. I started doing research on children’s books and understanding all the nuances.
EBONY: Was book writing something you always wanted to do?
Richards: It’s not like I was going to write a children’s picture book. I’d taken classes at Gotham [Writer’s Workshop], but I was only writing for myself or doing short stories – but not for publication and definitely not a children’s book. At one point, I thought about a memoir, but I didn’t really feel connected to it. But this, I did. There was a passion.
EBONY: Are there any more books on the horizon?
Richards: There will be another version of “Rice and Rocks” — I shoudn’t let all of that research go to waste. I think I’m going to stay in the children’s book base. I did a signing at the Harlem School for the Arts and a little girl came up to me and said she’d never met a real life author before. I get that a lot. I’m getting so much from them. This is something so different from my day job. They’re so fun and care free.
EBONY: How did it feel to not have to keep your book on the down low at work?
Richards: They were actually very supportive. My colleagues have kids – we created focus groups and had some of my colleagues’ kids read the book. In terms of Morgan Stanley, this is a place that oss very supportive of what I do and who I am. It’s often said, “you are valued when you bring your authentic self to work.” The fact that I was able to tell them about the book and share meant a lot. They were part of the process. They’re so happy and excited – clients and kids. We’re now weaving the book into our work for communities and clients, giving away books and working with partners across the country in Atlanta and Charleston, South Carolina.
EBONY: What is your advice to people who want to pursue their dream while working?
Richards: It’s a great thing when you’re working at a place that embraces all of you and that will allow you to be yourself, bring all of who you are, whether you’re an author or marathon runner. I’m not saying if you’re not in a position like that to leave, but you’ve got to be comfortable being yourself.
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