Joni Wickham’s blunt new book — “The Thin Line Between Cupcake and Bitch” — isn’t intended to spark controversy, the Kansas City author said of her collection of experiences forged as a woman in leadership and politics.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people tried to convince me to change the title of the book, and I’m so glad that I didn’t,” Wickham laughed, noting the attention-grabbing title has served as a unifying phrase for women who can relate to the sentiment in profoundly specific ways.
“Every time I talk to a woman about this book and I tell her the title, she chuckles a little bit and then she says, ‘Yeah, I know exactly what you mean,’” she continued.
Click here to buy “The Thin Line Between Cupcake and Bitch.” The book is also available at Barnes & Noble.
Wickham herself has been navigating the high-profile leadership arena since she was 19.
The bestseller details her role as chief of staff to now-former Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Sly James, a career as a political and communications expert, and co-founder of Wickham James Strategy Solutions.
“Honest to God, it’s just my life. It’s the story that I lived,” she added. “You’re too nice for some people or too bitchy for other people. This is not hyperbole when I say this, but almost every woman I know has dealt with that at some point.”
Click here to read more about Wickham’s role as an entrepreneur.
From tobacco fields to the top
Communication styles, navigating imposter syndrome, and appreciation for different approaches to leadership are just a few of the lessons within the pages of Wickham’s book, which reached No. 1 in the Women in Politics category of the Amazon bestsellers list before its release July 3.
“It’s just been unreal, this reaction. Never in a million years — and maybe it’s my own imposter syndrome — but never in a million years did I think this book would be on the bestsellers list,” she said, equal parts amazed and grateful for the love she’s received as a first-time author.
“I think it just goes to show you that there’s a real thirst out there for a book that’s based on an honest interpretation of what real life is like in leadership when you’re a woman.”
The book also leads with heart and a real assessment of what it takes to change life circumstances and embrace a person’s roots, Wickham noted.
“My mom found out she was pregnant with me when she was 14. I lived in a teeny-tiny town surrounded by tobacco fields,” she said, her slight Southern accent tempered by years in Kansas City and Missouri. “[We] didn’t have a stoplight or anything like that. It still doesn’t have a fast food restaurant to this day! My grandparents never learned to read or write.”
“I don’t come from a very traditional background and a lot of people in politics and government — when you interact with political staffers or elected officials — a lot of them have a long family history in politics and I certainly didn’t have anything like that,” she continued.
What Wickham lacked in family advantages was made up for in tobacco field tenacity, she said of the way her upbringing shaped her career trajectory and set her up for success when she landed a job in the Missouri State House in Jefferson City.
“I was working for [former] Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, and I credit her with really showing me how a high-profile, woman leader really navigates the thin line between cupcake and bitch and how you can successfully be a women leader, get results, and not let it affect you,” she said of the opportunity, which eventually led her to Kansas City.
“She was the first woman who I worked for who was a female elected official and I really was grateful for the opportunity to watch her be herself in the halls of the Capitol.”
Wickham is hopeful readers will find similar inspiration in her story, she said, specifically noting her 7-year-old daughter, Vivianne, as one who might someday turn its pages in search of inspiration.
“I want her — and frankly, every woman who reads this book — to see that anything is possible. I don’t want women to think just because they were born to a teen mom and lived in a trailer, surrounded by tobacco fields, that it means that they have to settle for anything,” Wickham said.
“It certainly means that their path is going to look differently than some of their other peers, but I want women to read this book and know that they can accomplish anything and that their past doesn’t have to determine their future.”
Why this chapter? Why now?
With Sly James no longer mayor — having vacated the term-limited office in August 2019 — former Chief of Staff Wickham wasn’t ready to retire her community voice nor her leadership brain (even if the current state of the world doesn’t have her missing politics much), she said.
“[James] is the reason I wrote the book,” Wickham revealed. “I, like a lot of women, can find any excuse in the world to spend time doing something for somebody else other than myself. One day I was talking about how I wanted to write this book, and what if I did that, and he said, ‘Just do it,’ in a very Sly James way.”
While inspiration from James served as necessary reassurance and catalyst, there’s no denying the idea was an inevitable milestone on Wickham’s path, she said.
“I have always wanted to write a book about my personal journey, about leadership — about being a woman in leadership,” she said of her shift from City Hall to bookstore shelves, which included a crash course in the complex world of publishing.
“One of the things that I really wanted to do in this new chapter of my life was make time to tell my story in a way that gives women — and men — things to think about.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.