Back in 2007, Lori Otto just wasn’t feeling it. She had spent the past 10 years writing exclusively for advertising, sales and marketing, and she’d lost her passion for it.
Lori always knew she’d be a writer, discovering the joy of creative writing in elementary school. Later, she landed her dream job after majoring in communications with a focus in journalism at the University of Texas at Arlington. But, a decade in advertising left Lori burned out and questioning what to do next. In a leap of faith, she quit her job and switched to retail. Working as Lead Genius at her local Apple Store, she could make more time to rediscover the thrill of writing.
That seemingly risky decision led Lori into not one but two successful careers—she’s now a Senior Technical Writer on CBRE’s Digital & Technology team and a published author of 15 books. We spoke with her to learn more about her career path and the insight she’s gained along the way:
Tell us about those early days and how you began writing fiction.
Well, not long after I started at Apple, a friend and I read a hugely popular fiction series that, in our opinion, was very poorly written. So, we decided to collaborate on a writing project. That project inspired a story idea and reignited my passion for writing. In less than a year, I wrote over 300,000 words, enough for three books! My Emi Lost & Found series was well under way.
I also began searching for an agent. They all told me that conventional publishers would consider the major plot twist in my first book too risky. I realized that if I wanted my series to go to market in the unconventional way I wrote it, I’d have to self-publish. So, I did! I gave away the first book for free and then quickly released the other two with a price attached, aggressively promoting them on social media and “indie author” networks.
Some prominent bloggers discovered Emi and posted an unsolicited, positive review that really helped my books gain traction, and I was off! Eight years later, I’ve written 15 books and have ideas for five more—including one that is very different from my other books. It’s just not the right time for it. Yet.
What do you think makes you so prolific?
I just believe in my ability and my ideas. Once I make the decision to write something, I start and don’t look back. In both my careers, I’m determined, focused and goal-oriented.
That drive seems particularly important, given how risky it must have felt to change course from your original career path.
That’s true—and probably why I’m so open to plot twists and subplots in my writing. If I can handle it, then so can my characters.
How did you begin working for CBRE?
As my writing progressed, so did my tech career. I moved from Apple to the IT group at Fossil, where I first worked with Michael Wilkins. After Mike joined CBRE to head the Global Service Desk, he needed a technical writer and recruited me for his team. Now, my job is an excellent blend of my skills and interests.
Can you explain the role of a technical writer?
My main role is to send communications on behalf of our different Digital & Technology teams, reviewing grammar and CBRE style usage before they go out. I also assist D&T teams with documentation, including editing their process and procedure documents or working on end-user tip sheets that guide employees through a technical process. I'll take screen shots, verify steps and write them in a user-friendly way that's easily understood. Additionally, I'm in charge of our Service-Now knowledge base, which assists our service desk in resolving issues. After a document goes through management approval, I'll give it a final scrub for grammar and formatting before we publish it.
“We all have the same goal:
to represent CBRE and ourselves in the best possible light.”
Even though both your careers involve writing, the subject matter couldn’t be more different. Do you still find consistencies in your work method, despite the dissimilar topics?
Absolutely. I see many parallels in how I write my books and my work here at CBRE. For example, finding a quiet space really helps me concentrate. When I’ve got a deadline looming for Mike, sometimes I reserve a conference room so that I can focus better when distractions around the office are running high. I also set pre-deadlines before my actual deadlines. That gives me breathing room for unexpected issues and time to review my work before it’s submitted. And, I always double-check my research, tracking my sources in case I need to provide or review them later in the publishing process.
Plus, as part of my editing process, I get feedback from my team members. Sometimes their critiques are hard to hear, but we all have the same goal: to represent CBRE and ourselves in the best possible light.
Those tips seem useful for everyone at CBRE, whether they are writers or have other functions. Anything else you’d like to add?
That last idea about seeking feedback is particularly important for me, but I’d take it one step further in the context of sharing “advice” or something I’ve learned… We all want to be confident at work and proud of what we do, and sometimes that means leveraging our unique personal expertise. But, in my experience, we frequently perform better through collaboration. If we’re receptive to other people’s ideas, we can always find ways to fine tune and improve our work. Then, we’re remembered not just for the high-quality projects we complete, but also for the partnerships we build along the way.