A Difficult Read: Who's Responsible for How a Story Makes A Reader Feel?

An author with whom I've been working on a YA novel due to publish in the fall heard from a reader who essentially was asking the author to explain whether and how the teen protagonist in his story is reconciled in any significant way with the horrific antagonist figures in the story. The reader wanted to know this in order to understand in advance how "difficult" this book would be for her to read.

This situation raises the question of who, ultimately, is responsible for how a story effects a reader. In my opinion an author is obligated only to tell a story that is whole, to tell a story that is true to the characters in that story. But an author is not obligated to give readers a comfortable or happy experience, nor is an author obligated to give readers an uncomfortable or difficult experience. An author is obligated to offer readers an experience, yes, but what that experience is going to be for a reader is not something an author can know. Whether the author's story is difficult or easy, comfortable or uncomfortable, how that story makes a reader feel is controlled solely by the reader. Every reader experiences a story differently.

What one reader may find beautiful, another reader may find strange. What one reader may find emotional, another reader may find bland. What one reader may find difficult, another reader may find run-of-the-mill. Putting the responsibility for the reader's emotional reaction to a story in the hands (and hearts) of the reader is exactly what a good storyteller does.

And if a story ignites emotional response in a reader at levels that reach "difficult" or "painful" or "beautiful" or "unforgettable" proportions? If a story makes a reader cry or laugh or anger or wonder? if a story, in fact, makes a reader uncomfortable? Then the storyteller has done their job. They've provided a reader with an experience that makes a reader feel something. And the more a reader feels--even if it's discomfort--the deeper and stronger that story probably is, the closer that story is probably coming to expressing some universal truths about humanity in all its forms--the beautiful and the comfortable, the ugly and the difficult.

If emotions are getting too high, if discomfort levels are getting too intense, a reader can stop reading the story that's causing such feelings. But the brilliant secret about great stories, of course, is that sometimes they're impossible to put down no matter how much we want to put them down. And why? Because most of us want to have deeply emotional experiences when we're immersed in a story, most of us want to feel a whole array of feelings when we're in the world of a story, even if that means we're knowingly being taken out of our comfort zones, knowingly being faced with things we would rather not face. 

The thrill of story can be the thrill of the amusement park ride: Sometimes we love the ride and detest the ride at the same time, but we love that juxtaposition of extreme feelings the ride raises in us and we buy our ticket knowing that's the experience we're going to have. We have no choice but to ride it out to the end (face it, we can put a story down if we need a break; no such luxury with an amusement park ride!) because we also love how we feel when it's over—alive! Even if we are shaky and mad and swear we'll never do it again!

We all tend to take stories personally. And when a story has moved us in any sort of extreme way, it's may be easier for us to blame an author for surprising us, or angering us, or melting our hearts, or making us uncomfortable rather than looking at something in our own lives and experiences to figure out why a story has had such a significant effect on us and has left us reeling with feelings hard to control or manage. Experiencing story can be messy; and when we're experiencing stories that touch our humanity in good or bad ways, experiencing story can be as messy as life itself. That's a mess some of us would rather avoid at all costs. But we can't avoid it in real life, and rather than avoid it in stories, I suggest we allow ourselves to experience the mess by means of the very best guides we have to get us safely through: Authors. The people who pour all of life into stories that in turn give us what we need to feel wholly and deeply.

The novel referenced in this post is BREATH TO BREATH by Craig Lew, to be published in November by Little Pickle Press. And I won't lie—the story is a graphic and tough one. It is also whole and true to the characters in the story. I have no doubt readers are going to feel something as they engage in the story experience Lew is offering. Some will find it difficult, some will find it sad, some will find it angering, some will find it positive. Whatever a reader feels as they read and experience this story is the right feeling for that reader to feel--and the depth and range of feelings felt by readers will be testament to a story well told by an author whose only obligation has been to move readers by sharing one story that touches a side of our shared humanity.

(BREATH TO BREATH can be pre-ordered: https://pubslush.com/project/6751)

(c) drydenbks LLC 2015


Times of Change, Times to Breathe

I've been interested in yoga for a long time. I've had opportunities over the years to join a class here and there and each time I do, I've gotten something wonderful out of the experience and I've promised myself to do more yoga. And then I break that promise to myself. . .until the next opportunity arises to join a class, get something wonderful out of the experience, and promise myself to do more yoga. How often do we make a promise to ourselves. . .and then break that promise? A promise to take better care is not the same thing as taking better care—of oneself, of a loved one, of one's creativity, of one's art, of one's soul, of anything. The only way to take better care is to take better care, and to do so requires some, if not a lot of, change.

Earlier this spring, after a long hiatus (aka procrastination), I got myself back into the gym, and to assist myself in changing my routine from no exercise to a routine of exercise, I work with a trainer (someone to whom I feel accountable and someone with infinite patience!). Every week, Jay encourages me to push myself a little deeper, a little farther, a little longer--and I have to admit, I seem to be getting stronger, I'm more confident, and I'm becoming more disciplined.

Change of any kind is profound. It can be great. It can be gratifying. And it can be hard. Really hard. The change from apathy to exercise--the change from promising myself to take better care to actually taking better care--has been profound both physically and mentally. It's been great. It's been gratifying. And it's been hard. Really hard. 

So, I'm going to the gym. And then a few weeks ago something unexpected happened. I woke up very early my first morning in Taos, New Mexico, where I was attending a creative retreat, took a walk in my gym clothes (the hotel had no fitness facility), and found myself in front of a yoga studio. The flyer said a class, suitable for beginners, would be starting in ten minutes, drop-ins welcome.

Open the door? Or keep walking? Open the door? Or get breakfast? Open the door? Or read the manuscript I had in my bag?  Open the door? Or. . .?

I opened the door.
During the class, held in a beautiful space that felt at once new and safe, I stretched, twisted, and balanced. I didn't go very deep, very high, or very low, but I did what I could do. There were things I could do well (realizing that being back to the gym was helping me enormously), and there were things I couldn't do at all (realizing that I am just not as in shape and flexible as I used to be). Then, as the instructor guided us from a stretch that was already making my muscles tremble into a new stretch that promised to do something even more dynamic (aka OMG!) to my muscles, she said,

"Keep breathing as you change your position. The one time most of us stop breathing is during change. And it's at times of change when we need to breathe most of all. Change can be hard. Change can be uncomfortable. But instead of quitting, keep breathing and see if your breathing can actually help you find comfort in the change."

Her words coursed through me. In the moments it took for me to slowly change positions, I was brought back to the March day five years ago I launched drydenbks; to the winter morning ten years ago I first got on downhill skis; to the May day six years ago I got laid off; to the late afternoon eleven years ago I held my dying father's hand; to the unseasonably warm February morning seventeen years ago my mother died; to the day in the wintery woods thirty years ago I first knew I was in love; to the August afternoon thirty-nine years ago I got my first period; to the October morning forty-three years ago I took the public bus to school all by myself. Times of exhilarating and excruciating change. Times of hold-my-breath change because breathing felt terrifying. Times of change I knew would change everything forever. Times of change I knew would change me forever.

In those moments in yoga class, those memories of times of change flooding back at once, I exhaled, then breathed deeply and purposefully through the discomfort of the dynamic (aka OMG!) stretch, confident I would be okay in that stretch (trembling muscles and all). As okay as I was during all those times of change in my life that I hadn't thought about in years. As okay as I was that freezing evening four months ago when I signed up to train with Jay. As okay as I was on the day a few weeks ago when I opened the door to the yoga studio. As okay as I will be through whatever times of change are coming—and they will come. I'll be okay as long as I keep taking better care and remember I have what I need to transform the uncomfortable into the comfortable by breathing through the change.

(c) drydenbks LLC, 2015


The Entrepreneurial Spirit: An "Accidental Entrepreneur" - Sarah Towle's Path from Creative Writer to Agile Publisher


I've been delighted to be consulting for the past few years with Sarah Towle, a woman who's been transforming herself from a hardworking author to an even harder working author and publisher striving to, as Sarah says, “combine the traditional power of storytelling with the magic of the touchscreen to create portals to the past.” A few weeks ago, at a splendid event hosted by KidLit TV in New York City, Sarah officially launched her company, Time Traveler Tours & Tales, which is a digital-first multiformat publishing company with the goal of turning kids on to history by turning history on. I’m delighted to have Sarah with us on “our stories, ourselves” to talk about what led her to start her own company and to share some advice and lessons she’s learning along the way. Welcome, Sarah!


[edd] How did you come to start Time Traveler Tours &Tales? What problem do you see Time Traveler Tours &Tales positioned to solve?

[st] I didn’t set out to forge this path. Far from it. I was content in my career as a language and literacy educator. In my last role, I helped to run a citywide initiative in New York City to train whole school populations—from admin to teachers to students to janitorial staff—in how to negotiate conflict creatively. We taught the concepts through children’s literature, then developed skills through dramatic role-play. It was a fabulous job. I was changing lives. And I loved it.

Then, in 2004, my husband’s job took us to France. Two years sounded like the perfect amount of time for a mid-career sabbatical. I would learn French, be a full-time mom, and discover everything I possibly could about the history and culture of Paris. I would return to my career smart and refreshed. But two years turned into five, and the French authorities refused to let me teach. Then the global economic crisis wiped out my job back home. So at what should have been the pinnacle of my professional life, I was forced to start over.

At that point, my daughter was a tween and I came face to face with a huge issue in education: At the secondary level, school cultures worldwide make a dramatic shift. Kids are suddenly swamped by the tyranny of testing and rigor. Instead of getting out and about to explore the world around them, they are constrained by textbooks, timetables, and walls. Even in Paris, where history whispers from every cobblestone, field trips to local museums, monuments, and other historic sites are few and far between.

Paris at the outbreak of French Revolution
Ironically, as I was growing more enamored of my adopted home and more appreciative of how its history affects and influences its culture today, my daughter and her friends were turning off to history. I resolved to use my skills as an educator to write a fun interactive book of the history of Paris for them that would include a story and great characters layered among the historical details. Folks are now calling this concept “Place-Based Education”—learning through the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular location. But when I tested a chapter of my book on a group of forty-eight 14-year-olds, they insisted it would make a better app than book.

the app
As a teacher, I had cut my teeth on CD-Roms and other web-based learning tools. I was already thinking digitally, but didn’t know it. Many editors had at that point lauded my concept and the execution of my manuscript and vision, but they didn’t know where it fit on a bookstore shelf. What’s more, in the economic climate of 2009-10, publishers were unwilling to take a risk on something so new and different, particularly historical fiction/creative nonfiction.

So I ran with the kids’ advice. I created a company, Time Traveler Tours, set up an embarrassingly ugly website, and in July 2011, I launched our proof-of-concept StoryAppTour, Beware Madame la Guillotine: A RevolutionaryTour of Paris. (link here)

the book
The app was a critical success, but its use was limited to people with an iPhone in Paris. So when Apple introduced iBooksAuthor in 2012, I republished the story as an interactive book for iPad 
(link here) for the school and library markets. Then, recognizing that there are still many learning environments that can’t afford new technologies, I released a print version (link here) of my revolutionary tale in 2014. A curriculum guide soon followed. With all of these various formats of the story now in circulation, I created a second imprint, Time Traveler Tales, and the Time Traveler Tours & Tales “title suite” was born. 

What an amazing creative evolution you and your work are going through! So, what inspired you to make the (huge!) leap from self-produced author to independent publisher?

Honestly, this has all been a sort of happy accident brought on by loss and change, the need to adapt and the willingness to listen to the muse. That’s why I call myself an “accidental entrepreneur.”

While Beware Madame La Guillotine continues to be a critical success, it’s not been a commercial one. However, the interactive story-history-tour concept seemed to be touching hearts and minds, a “hiding in plain sight” kind of idea. I realized I needed to gain some business acumen before deciding which way to move forward, if at all. I sought advice wherever I could find it, and fell into a start-up meet-up community at the suggestion of Dominique Raccah, Publisher of Sourcebooks. Thus began my education into the world of agile publishing.

In 2013, I attended a “Startup Weekend” in Paris—it was basically speed dating for visionaries and geeks. In fifty-four hours, the motley crew I was able to assemble there produced an app based on my concepts for Beware Madame La Guillotine and we went on to achieve a stunning 2nd place victory. With that came a touch of free mentoring and a bit of seed capital and the confidence that my idea could be scaled into a business with multiple revenue streams.

I loved the idea of expanding this platform to showcase stories and content by authors other than myself. And in April, 2014, while we were both teaching at Julie Hedlund’s Writers Renaissance Retreat in Florence, bestselling author Mary Hoffman pitched me an idea for an interactive tour to the world of Michelangelo through a story from the point of view of the model who stood for the artist’s famous statue of David.
Sarah's Kickstarter Campaign home page
Mary Hoffman, David, Sarah 
with original map of Florence by Roxie Munro
That's when it all clicked: I now had a world- renowned author interested in working with me as well as a bit of money and a few trusted consultants and advisers to guide the process. It was time to create a real team to help make it all a reality. I’m lucky enough to have found a terrific team of people to help me brainstorm every bit of this new company (from the creative aspects to the marketing and business aspects and everything in between) and together we decided to use Kickstarter to raise funds for—and spread the word about—our launch title by Mary Hoffman which is called In the Footsteps of Giants. (link here

[Note from edd: Sarah has written a series of informative and honest "case study" posts that chronicle her team's decision to use Kickstarter, what's required of a good Kickstarter campaign, and what the entire Kickstarter process for this project has been like from beginning to end. For more information, see her blog here.]

Congratulations on your successful Kickstarter Campaign! I think your mission to bring history to life for contemporary audiences is so exciting and I'm honored to have contributed a backer reward for authors! You sure are wearing a lot of hats. How do you manage a life/work balance?

Oh boy! Balance has been elusive since the Kickstarter campaign began on May 19. But I know I will find it again when the campaign concludes on June 26. Prior to the kick-off, I found balance thanks to the routines imposed on me by my four-legged companion, Gryffindog. He forces me out of my chair at regular intervals. I also endeavor to practice yoga every morning as I listen to the news, and I sing with a local choir every Monday evening.

Because I live five hours ahead of the business day in New York, I can give myself over to pure creative writing time each morning while my colleagues are sleeping. I return to “business” and social media and the buzz of life after my first long walk with Gryffin. This means I put in very long hours, starting my day in London GMT and ending in EST. But it’s the only way I manage to get everything done.

I’m also very fortunate to have a husband who loves to shop and cook. He keeps me fed. We recently emptied the nest—our daughter, Lily, is now at university—and simultaneously relocated to London. I now have few friends and no children at home. So it’s a good time to be working twelve- to fifteen-hour days  six or seven days a week, which is par for the course for any one starting up a business.

What are three lessons and/or surprises you've experienced as an accidental entrepreneur? What does anyone thinking about becoming their own boss and business owner need to know?

* Very few companies are making it by just producing apps. That’s why I wish to re-purpose the creative assets of our future StoryAppTours to produce story content across multiple formats. I also believe we should make our stories accessible where our young audiences want them most. And not everyone has a smartphone or tablet.

* Making one app that contains a single story is not a commercially viable business model. For this reason, our goal now is to build a single app framework that can contain a multitude of stories. With that framework we can produce TTT&T-branded apps as well as white-label apps for any future company clients, museums, or other cultural institutions, which will provide us with multiple revenue streams.

* In the digital age, collaboration is key. Sharing ideas and tips, even code, makes great business sense.

This is such great advice. Three warnings you might give others seeking to start their own businesses?

* Be ready to work hard. And then work harder. And then work even harder again.

* Don’t expect your nearest and dearest to understand or even be supportive. And don’t fault them for it. You’ll find your support in unexpected places and it will come to you via mysterious ways.

* Be prepared for everything to take longer than you think it will and for your path forward to be fraught with some frustration and some rejection. But stay the course and remain focused on your dream. If it’s a good one, it will eventually take flight.

These are terrifically honest and helpful answers. I love the entrepreneurial community--people like you, who are paving new paths, are always willing to help others along with advice, guidance, and more. So, did you always consider yourself an "authorpreneur"?

When I was strictly authoring, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. But then I realized that all of us trying to live by our craft must act as our own little businesses. In contrast to, say, Michelangelo’s day, there are few patrons like the de’ Medicis today who support artists. All creative people are therefore entrepreneurs. And it’s in working together and supporting each other that we make magic happen.

Here's to making magic happen!  UPDATE:  Sarah's Kickstarter campaign was fully funded before the end of the campaign. Congratulations, Sarah!



   Lunacy: Mid 16th Cent. Originally referring to intermittent insanity believed to be caused by 
changes of the moon. From lunatic + -acy
  Lunatic: Middle English; from Old French lunatique; from Latin luna (moon)

Confession: The other night a writer friend and I mistook the rising moon for the setting sun.

"How," you might ask, "is such a thing possible?" We were driving in a caravan with several other people on darkened roads en route to see the star-filled sky. We arrived at the appointed spot and jumped out of the car, eager to watch the remains of the huge yellowy-orange sun set in the vast purple-black sky starting to fill with constellations. We watched, enraptured, and then my friend and I looked at one another and said, "Wait. Did you see that? Is the sun higher in the sky now? Wasn't it lower a second ago? What's going on?"

No one else seemed to be alarmed by the apparently rising sun at 9:30 at night. We kept watching. We heard someone say "moon." And then we knew. We were watching the rising of the full moon! An enormous yellowy-orange full moon. And we started to laugh. Laughter that doubled us over. Laughter that infected several of the people around us who didn't know what was so funny, but who were happy to laugh along with us. Laughter that made our stomachs hurt. Laughter that didn't stop. The laughter of lunacy.

Earlier that morning this same writer friend and I had been in a situation where someone reminded us to expect emotions to run high and to expect the unexpected because of the full moon. (It fact it seems this particular full moon was such it generated this article: http://www.feelguide.com/2015/06/02/this-week-full-sagittarius-moon-in-mercury-retrograde-is-wreaking-havoc-on-nearly-everyone/) And earlier that evening this same friend and I had been at dinner with a writer talking about the wonderful subtleties and lessons of the movie "Moonstruck". We should have known. 

"Those people who recognize that the imagination is realitys master 
we call sages, and those who act upon it we call artists or lunatics."  - Tom Robbins
In the spirit of imagination being reality's master, we've decided not only did the full moon indeed cause our momentary disorientation, but we've also decided it makes perfect artistic sense for creative people like us to turn the rising moon into the setting sun. Why not? More people should try it. And if a flexing of the imagination is accompanied by the uncontrollable laughter of lunacy, even better. Better for our stories and better for ourselves.

I wonder what my imagination will generate during the next full moon. 

And what will your imagination create? 

Join me in the lunacy!

(c) drydenbks LLC 2015


The Entrepreneurial Spirit: “The Game Has Changed” - Four Steps to Surviving & Succeeding On a New Playing Field


Ellen Senisi creates media--books, apps, photos, photos, multimedia video--about real-life kids and their environments for children and parents, and for the education market.  Ellen's been a children's writer and photographer for nearly thirty years, publishing her first book, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, with Scholastic in 1993, and her most recent book in 2014, ALL IN A RAINFOREST DAY, through EdTechLens Publishing, the publishing arm of Ellen's company, EdTechLens.

Ellen's work first hit the market shortly after I began my publishing career and I've always considered Ellen's photographic book work for young readers to set the highest bar and standard.  I so admire Ellen's passion and drive to reinvent herself to meet and exceed the challenges of today's market. She is inspiring! It is my great privilege to have Ellen join us on "Our Stories, Ourselves" to share her experiences and advice for becoming a successful creative entrepreneur.


I got a phone call from a photographer friend recently. "I've got a great idea for a book!" he said. And he did. He had read up on how to put together a proposal and had made a professional-looking package. He’d sent it out to several publishers but wasn't getting any responses. He knew I had published children's photo essay books and wanted to know how to break into book publishing.

I had to tell him: the game has changed.

But you know that. So I don't intend to wonder why or whine (there's enough of that going on), but to share some of what I have learned as I changed how I play in the new game of publishing for young readers.

What is changing is not the creative process we all got into this for--people still want stories; they are hungry for information, the kind we can give them with good nonfiction; and they want images--lots of them.

What is changing is the delivery model. And--oh, yeah--the revenue model; we’ll get to that later.

It is quite telling, in this new digital age,that we writers, photographers, and illustrators are referred to as “content providers.” This term really bothered me at first, as it shows an utter lack of respect for the creative process. I eventually accepted the fact that it was just a name that was part of this new game I was reinventing myself to join.

I found myself going through four stages as I went through the reinvention process and became a "content provider": research, protecting my work, finding colleagues to collaborate with, and becoming an entrepreneur.

* Research Your Niche

Writers and artists are creative people with unique skill sets and diverse interests. A good place to start if you want to reinvent is to think hard about what you know and are passionate about, then look around online to see how others are doing similar things successfully.

In my case, my first steps involved learning new skills related to digital delivery of nonfiction content. I learned about video editing and I experimented with mixing text, photos, video, and graphics. One of my first videos (I DON'T WANT TO SAY GOODBYE) used text and images from a picture book that never got picked up for publication. It was fascinating to reproduce the concept in a whole new medium! [EDD noteSee this beautiful and moving 1.38 minute video here!]

However, I realized over time that I wanted to go further than producing one-off videos. Over the last several years, I combined my new skills with my background in education to create an e-learning company called EdTechLens. The first program, recently released, teaches the life sciences portion of the K-5 science curriculum using the theme of the rainforest. And, no surprise here, self-published books will be available as supplements to the curriculum. The first one, ALL IN A RAINFOREST DAY, was published last year.

I went this route because my research found that educational technology is a growing field and that standards-aligned science curriculum is in demand. This was a no-brainer for me because I have a passion for education so I was excited about exploring new ways of learning.

* Protect Your Work

At the same time, I took steps to protect my previous and new work. This is well worth doing, as you may be able to use previous work in other ways. Repurposing is done a lot in the digital world, as you will see when you do your research. Protective actions you can take include:

-- Request rights back from your publishers for out-of-print books, if you haven’t already done so.

Fall Changes & Hurray for Pre-K! are two 
of Ellen's books-turned-apps from Auryn 
-- For out-of-print books for which you already have the rights, seek out digital publishers to reprint them as e-books. I have had four titles reprinted by digital publisher, Auryn, and I know there are more opportunities out there. 

-- Check to see if publishers really registered your work for copyright in the first place; if not, register it yourself now. (It’s not uncommon for this to be forgotten.)

-- If you have new work that has not been registered for copyright, register it now. Unpublished work can be easily registered electronically. If you end up getting it published digitally, it is covered so if someone reproduces it online, you can find it and take action against them.

-- Protect your rights; find out if they are being violated and take action.  You can search text and images easily these days and, if you find violations, send a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act)notice.

-- Scan your picture books, original slides, prints, and artwork in as high a resolution as possible to preserve them.

* Collaborate

Collaboration with other authors and/or illustrators can be an effective and beneficial way to work. If you collaborate, you can do larger-scale projects than you could do alone. If you have the right mix of people, the synergy of working together can be invigorating and creatively productive. I would not be where I am with my e-learning program, EdTechLens, without my four collaborators. Between us, the roles we have covered include writing, editing, photography, videography, music composition, photo research, content management, and curriculum development. Along the way, we've picked up marketing (including social media) and basic tech skills.

Ellen and her son Steven, one of her
EdTechLens collaborators, 
in the rainforest
Before making any official arrangement, it’s a good idea to work together for a time to be sure you are all on the same page regarding who does what and how much time and effort is contributed by all members of the team. I had worked with my team on other, smaller projects in the past so we already had a successful history and comfort level with each other when EdTechLens launched.

There are incredible collaboration tools available online. You and your colleagues or the consultants you hire can be anywhere in the world and communicate easily in a variety of ways. You can file share, hold meetings, message each other, or use project management software with to-do lists and discussion threads.

For example, one of our photographers lives in Switzerland and travels extensively to rainforests. He can use ftp to upload photos to our server from locations around the world. We can message him in a variety of ways for research information. We have not met in person yet (I found him on the internet because of his photographic specialty), but he has become an important part of our e-learning program. He had a need for a wider audience for his work and I had a need for his (ha ha) “content.”

* Get Entrepreneurial

You could also take the next step and become an entrepreneur. Technology has opened doors for individuals and small groups, allowing them to efficiently run businesses in ways that were not possible before. The startup movement is spreading rapidly, and there are many ways to get up to speed on the process of becoming an entrepreneur. You can find everything from startup weekends to three-month incubators where participants get opportunities to learn the tools, resources, and procedures of running a digitally-based business. In the longer-term incubators you can find collaborators, consultants, mentors, even investors. (The genre is known as SaaS for "Software as a Service," which is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over the internet.)

As previously mentioned, the revenue models are changing. Not much is available in the advance-and-royalties model on the web. Some of the most common types of payment used in the digital world include one-time payments, ad-supported websites, subscriptions, ad-supported websites, and freemium. (Freemium is when users get to use the product for free at a basic level. Once they get hooked and want to use the product’s higher-level functions, wallets are opened.)

Entrepreneurship is, in a way, like legalized gambling; but, heck, people do it all the time with the stock market. Risk can be minimized by beginning small and then moving to the next level as what you are creating gets tested and improved.

One of the biggest expenses of this new age is the tech part. Partnering with someone who can write code and shares your passion is a golden arrangement. Otherwise, you need to spend a good amount to pay someone to do this. Here’s where the risk gets bigger. This is where, once again, collaborators are an important part of the entrepreneur equation. If they share your passion, they may share your risk, as my four collaborators (who have opted to profit share) are doing. Some of our consultants, such as the photographer mentioned above, and our tech person, are willing to work with us on a deferred compensation basis. This involves being paid a certain amount upfront but deferring the remainder until the business is profitable.

Working with new types of financial arrangements, such as profit sharing or deferred compensation, is an important component of this new way to work and build a business. Depending on the level of growth your business is capable of, you may even attract investors who will give you money to build with in exchange for a percentage of equity in the company. We are exploring this option now for EdTechLens after two years of self-funding and (mostly) free labor from the collaborators.

Ellen photographing kindergarteners for one of her books

If you're a writer and/or an artist, you're creative, and you will be intrigued by the multiple ways to communicate in the new digital world. The job of authorship is not going away, it is evolving. I'm not saying all this is easy or quick, but it is exciting--and it beats being left out of the game!


Where Will You Be Five Years from Today? drydenbks celebrates its 5th anniversary!

I was given a book five years ago. A bright red book. A bold book. A wonderful book. An inspiring book. A scary book. A book that threw down a gauntlet.
where will you be five years from today?
(compendium, inc. 2009)

Where Will You Be Five Years from Today?  

I found myself inspired and challenged by the book's content, its questions, its statements: "Over the next five years, what do you really want to do? What do you really want to have? What do you really want to be? Where do you really want to go?"

Five years ago I'd just been laid off, I didn't know what was coming next, I had no idea what I really wanted or what I really wanted to be. This book seemed to be taunting me...And the not knowing was terrifying.

The not knowing became my constant companion over the next five years, and slowly turned into I'm just going to try this...turned into Let's just see what happens...turned into What if?...turned into Why not?

I launched drydenbks LLC, my children's editorial and publishing consultancy firm, five years ago this week. I can't quite fathom that five years have come and gone already. And I can't quite fathom how busy I've been and how busy I am, all in the most rewarding ways possible and all with the support and inspiration of colleagues, clients, friends, and family, for which I am sincerely grateful.

I'm thrilled to have found some answers to those daunting, taunting questions that bright red book posed five years ago. So what does this mean? This means, of course, that I need to read the book all over again! Where will I be five years from today? I don't know. Five years ago I set off on a journey into an unknown, the not knowing my traveling companion. The not knowing that has now turned into...What's next?

In honor of drydenbks' five year anniversary, I've been interviewed by the talented author, Joanna Marple on her blog, "Miss Marple's Musings." Responding to Joanna's thoughtful questions made me realize the power and truth behind one of the statements in Where Will You Be Five Years from Today?: "If you don't have a dream, how can you have a dream come true?"  Please read that interview here.


Winter Solstice

The Shortest Day of the Year
by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died.
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
The shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!


The Entrepreneurial Spirit: "Dare Greatly!” The Road from Reformed Lawyer, Investment Banker, and Mother of Three to Author and Publisher


Little Pickle Press
Rana DiOrio has written her way through life--as a student, lawyer, investment banker, private equity investor, and now as an award-winning author and publisher of children's media. In 2009 Rana founded San Francisco-based Little Pickle Press, a 21st century publisher of high quality, high impact media for children. I have long admired Little Pickle Press's commitment to offer content to readers across all media in a manner that takes advantage of the latest technological innovation to foster multi-modal, enriched learning experiences. It's my pleasure to have Rana DiOrio share her inspiring story and herself on "our stories, ourselves" today.


[Rana DiOrio:] I am a life-long learner with a growth mindset. I aspire to grow and change for the better and make a difference in the world. Lofty aspirations, I realize, but it is with great humility that I tell you my story.

When people discover that I was a corporate securities lawyer then a technology investment banker during the height of the Tech Boom in Silicon Valley, they inevitably ask—why in the world did you start a children’s media company!?

While I was pregnant with my third child, my son, The Great Recession commenced, and it became increasingly difficult to be in finance. My husband at the time encouraged me to take some time away from the workforce, so I did. During that hiatus I wrote two children’s picture book manuscripts—What Does It Mean To Be Global? and What Does It Mean To Be Green?

Initially, I read them to my daughters. Then, I vetted them with industry professionals and received universally positive feedback. I did extensive research on how best to get them published. What I discovered was that the publishing industry was in the midst of a 21st Century upgrade. I wanted to print in the Americas on recycled paper with soy inks and without dust jackets (that children often rip off). How could I publish a book about being green pursuant to an age-old process that was not environmentally-friendly? I discovered that there were no publishing companies that would do this. My research also revealed that the publishing industry was just waking up to the digital age. Since my focus as a lawyer and an investment banker was software, I recognized the opportunity. I wanted to found a company that was on the vanguard of this exciting change and one that was congruent with my values. I founded Little Pickle Press in early 2009, initially to publish my titles in an environmentally-friendly manner and soon thereafter to publish the titles of other authors, including the award-winning Coleen Paratore and NYT bestselling Shawn Achor.

The second question I am asked all the time is why did you found a company with a social mission? Two factors motivated me. First, I was a new mother. I wanted to walk my talk. I wanted my children to see that they could make a difference in the world, and I could lead by example. Also, as a mother who read a great deal to my children, I noticed that there was a need for content that catalyzed meaningful conversations between children and their grown-ups—about being global, green, present, safe, kind, the best person you can be, about the power of a smile, about the importance of embracing differences, and so on. Further, my whole professional career to that point had been fueled by excess, materialism, bravado, and hubris. I was changing, and these attributes no longer appealed to me. What did appeal to me was living my life with higher consciousness. I wanted to work on my own “stuff” and to become a better person. I wanted to be kind, gentle, mindful, respectful, and grateful.

I found like-minded entrepreneurs in the B Corporation community. These leaders use the power of business to effect positive change. So, from inception, Little Pickle Press was, and continues to be, a certified B Corporation. Little Pickle Press has earned Best For The World honors for three years in a row and Best For Workers honors for the past two years.

There were so many obstacles on my path to scale Little Pickle Press:
  • Lots of folks told me I would not be successful; the margins in publishing are so narrow, and I was electing a sustainable process that was more expensive.
  • Entities characterized me as a self-publisher, back when that was a derogatory class of citizenship in publishing, and excluded me even though I was publishing numerous other authors quite successfully.
  • Getting distribution was very hard when we had fewer than ten titles. There are many more options available now, but in the early days of Little Pickle Press, there were not many options for a company with fewer than ten titles, and no reputable distributor wanted to take a chance on a fledgling publisher.
  • There was the challenge of scaling without sufficient capital to grow.
  • There was the challenge of building the company with part-time help whose attention and loyalties were constantly divided.
  • Not having enough hours in the day to complete all that I needed to, professionally and personally (as a single mother), not getting enough sleep as the consequence, and having my needs subjugated below so many others’ that I barely recognized what they were.

They say that if a company makes it through the first 1,000 days it has a much higher probability of success in the wake of that auspicious milestone. We persevered, and now we are on the threshold of thriving.

We made some mistakes along the way—the kind of mistakes that helped us to learn, and learn quickly! It took me a while to shake my Wall Street mentality when it came to expenses and as with many growth-stage companies, we spent too much money in the early days. We gave a lavish launch party for our first title, for example. Fortunately for our investors, it was my money we spent. Before we raised our first round of capital last year, we had reigned in expenses to all extents possible. We learned to be very judicious about our expenditures. Less really can be more. It was a hard but valuable lesson to learn.

Another mistake we made was printing too many first editions. To take advantage of economies of scale and to get our unit price down, we used to print 7,500 to 10,000 copies of each title. Harboring inventory is very expensive. We didn’t know it then, but we know now that the most successful businesses have just-in-time inventory. We are experimenting with POD (print on demand) solutions. The carbon footprint of a book printed on recycled paper with soy inks in the States yet stored in a warehouse for over a year before it is sold is greater than the carbon footprint of a book printed by Lightning Source moments after being ordered and shipped directly to the bookseller or reader. That was a hard fact to wrap my mind around, but it has really changed the way we view our supply chain and has impacted our project selection too.
Another question I am asked frequently is what advice do I have for someone who wants to start a company?
  • Go for it and then experiment, because nothing ventured, nothing gained. As BrenĂ© Brown would say, “dare greatly”—that is, make yourself vulnerable and charge ahead.
  • Be persistent and undeterred.
  • Embrace change, as it is the only constant in life.
  • Listen more than you talk because we have two ears and one mouth and we ought to use these gifts in that proportion.
  • Choose to be happy because happiness breeds success, not the other way around.
  • Have an attitude of gratitude because life is too short to live any other way.

Rana DiOrio sits on the Executive Committee of the Independent Book Publishers Association as well as the National Board of Advisors of Vanderbilt Law School. Two of her articles have become go-to resources for aspring entrepreneurs: The Top 10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make  and Keys to Managing a Virtual Publishing Company.  

Find Rana and Little Pickle Press on Twitter: @ranadiorio  *  @LPP_Media *  @Relish_Media


I Want What She's Got: The Disastrous Comparison Game

There's a thief among us in the writing community: this thief is insidious, harmful, and causing an enormous amount of heartache, pain, and angst. And worst of all, this thief is stealing writers' ability to write.  What is this thief?   
credit: chibird.com
The compulsion to compare oneself to others.                                                                                               I write, but they write better. I have completed a manuscript, but they have an agent. I have an agent, but they have a publishing deal. I have a publishing deal, but they have marketing. I have marketing, but they have a publicist. I have...but they have. I have...but they have. I have...but they have....                                                                                             Where does it stop? It has to stop with the writer who decides not to play the game. It has to stop with the writer who decides to trust themselves and their decisions. It has to stop with the writer who decides to turn off the noise. It has to stop with the writer who is able to say, "The only writer to whom I should be comparing myself is the writer I was yesterday." The cost of the obsessive, high-stakes "I have...but they have" game is just too great: Creativity is floundering. Craft is being overlooked. Imagination is impotent. Dreams are being derailed. 

I suppose there is such a thing as "healthy comparison," but I don't know anyone who's healthy enough to master such a thing--is anyone really that healthy? Theodore Roosevelt cautioned, "Comparison is the thief of joy," and I think we must take heed. We must, as a community, be diligent protecting ourselves from such a thief. We must recommit to nurturing and nourishing something extremely delicate and precious--the artist's craft, the artist's imagination, the artist's vision, the artist's dream. Something extremely delicate and precious...and incomparable. And if you find yourself being dealt a hand in the "I have...but they have" game? Fold, walk away, and go back to that place that matters most: your writing. There's nothing in the world worth putting that in jeopardy.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc