Exec on the Desk

From Blank Page to Published Book in 57 Days

You can now speed run from blank page to fully illustrated book, published on Amazon, in 57 days (or less).

How do I know? Because I did it. And even taking nearly two months—and even having never self-published a book before—I estimate it only took around 80 hours of work to do. That’s writing, illustration, and publication with zero outside help (apart from friends and family feedback). I also built a website and social media in this 57 days.


What did it take to get this done?

I had a solid idea—i.e. the concept “Elf on the Shelf meets corporate America.” Mix it up with a backstory involving a magical consultant, the remote work vs. return to office dilemma, and all the typical absurdities of modern work …

The story practically wrote itself. I suppose that’s how the muse is, right?

The magic, for me, was in using AI + easy-to-use software + YouTube to provide the illustrations, the compositional power, and the self-publishing know-how to go from words to fully illustrated, laid out book across three formats.

The details

I have never authored and self-published a book before. But! I’m a creator with 30+ years creating under my belt—going all the way back to my childhood as an “artist.” I was early in the “content” and web publishing game too. I’ve built websites to facilitate content creation for nearly 20 years now. Professionally, I make content for B2B SaaS companies, from blogs to ebooks to microsites and more.

That I could use generative AI (around 1500ish Midjourney prompts) to source my illustrative raw material.

Or that an easy-to-use tool like Canva would make it possible to create near-final layouts I could use for my hardcover (with finalization on Adobe InDesign,

Now I’ve created all kinds of content in the last 20 years. I could not have imagined this was possible a year ago or even 6 months ago.

But here we are. With readily available software (and YouTube for the blind spots) Exec on the Desk is out in the world (Get the book here).


Story … I can do this (3 days)

June 27 — Begin a Google Doc and write the ~450 word story in 4 hours. Try Google Bard for ad hoc “rhymes with” help, as needed.

June 30 — 10 hours in, have rough layouts, having created illustrations using Midjourney for the first 7 pages of the book.

Start thinking, “I can create this entire book using AI in about 20 hours.”

Rapidly illustrating a book with AI (12 days)

July 1–12 — Learn that consistent characters for multiple illustrations require patience and lots of tinkering. 😅

Persevere with Midjourney to conjure up McKinsley and then a few dozen Execs.

In total, run between 1200–1500 Midjourney prompts (mostly remixes) to brute-force the creation of raw illustrations to further edit and compose into book layouts. Often do this “on the go”—i.e. running a prompt, walking away, coming back and remixing it, etc.

Note: Midjourney does not like to imagine a single banana. There are ways. 🍌

  • Use Canva to compose illustrations and copy, laying out all the pages.
  • Use Figma too for a plugin that helps with transparency, as needed.

Feedback + vacation (18 days)

July 13 — Share a draft of near-final book to friends+family for feedback. Based on feedback, revise and improve certain illustrations and compositions. Lots of revisions as perfectionist brain kicks in.

The publishing process (24 days)

July 31 — Begin creating print-ready book for self-publishing on Amazon KDP + IngramSpark.

Make lots of mistakes learning the details of layouts and bleed. Also learn and apply the basics with Adobe InDesign. Thankful for YouTube.

August 7 — Submit proof to IngramSpark. 9 days later receive physical proof of hardback book from IngramSpark to review. 🙌 Had one major layout improvement to make, which added 2-3 days to revise and approve a new proof—but I didn’t even bother with a new physical hardcover proof.

August 18 — Create ebook and paperback for Amazon KDP, order paperback proof.

August 22 — All books confirmed live on Amazon

August 23 — Launch day 🎉

Exec on the Desk

The Story Behind Exec on the Desk

They keep saying if you want serendipity, you have to go to the office. Maybe all it takes is having a little fun with friends.

Exec on the Desk all started with a Slack message. A group of former, mostly marketing co-workers all regularly keep up with each other over a shared Slack instance.

One morning I shared a screenshot of a job posting from an Atlanta-based company that, while little known, makes a remarkably well-known Christmas product — i.e. magical, shelf-sitting elves that keep an eye on little boys and girls for Santa. These elves get up to all sorts of hijinks around the house, which kids love, and some parents love and others hate. (If you know you know.)

I shared this job posting over Slack, and a friend quickly responded with what he imagined it’d be like to work there:

“They will install an elf in your home office to report back your daily deeds to their Purity Board of Appropriate Behaviors”

That’s when an absurd idea was born, the “Exec on the Desk”—a micro manager for knowledge workers everywhere, loyal to companies, always there to keep you productive and on task, in or out of the office. 😳

Next thing, another friend creatively mocked up a “manager doll” in Midjourney.

The synapses were firing. The muse was at work. That’s serendipity.

From these humble but quick beginnings, Exec on the Desk was born. By midmorning, we’d joked about how the little Execs would work:

👉 “Add that extra ‘fun’ to work-from-home with a mini boss permanently scrutinizing your every action. Complete with the typical furrowed brow and canned corporate phrases.”

👉 “Can’t get time to talk over a tricky problem with your manager? Just tell the Exec on the Desk! Raise issues—complain all day long!—the Exec on the Desk will listen to it all and not do a damn thing about it!”

Soon I’d grabbed domains, imagining how to play out this silly little idea. All of this happened 90 days ago now. And truth be told, I didn’t have the chance to do much of anything after that first day, being the last day of school and the beginning of summer break … until a month later.

And that’s when I drafted the story, putting words to digital paper, going from idea to publication of a book in less than 90 days—with the bulk of that done in 57.