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


Seeing the World

An author recently shared with me a wonderful "Ah-Ha!" moment that occurred for her in my World Building workshop. I'd asked authors to write down three tenets or commandments of the world in which their main character lives.  The author said, "I was really thrown for a loop when you asked us to come up with commandments for our story's world because I was like, "Well, it's the here and now so, ya know, our commandments."  But then it hit me that my character's world is actually her home and high school, and those are very specific to her and would have their own commandments. It was a wonderful light bulb moment that will really help me flesh out her surroundings and how they effect her on my next round of revisions."
"through the lens" - (c) 2007-2014 deranged-mongoose
Being able to see through the lens of our main characters. This is one of the most difficult and most important challenges for any writer. A story world--and indeed perhaps any world, including our own world!--doesn't actually exist in any real way unless and until it's perceived and seen by someone, and exactly how someone perceives their world is going to vary from person to person, from character to character.

As this author suggests, a story set in the here and now would, one might logically assume, have commandments or tenets that mimic our own. But what are these, really? If we were to ask ten people what they think the commandments or tenets are of our world today, I guarantee we would get ten entirely different lists. My list of commandments will differ from yours and yet we live in the same world. Or do we? What defines a world? Or should we be asking, rather, who defines a world?

Successful and compelling story world building--whether fantasy, sci-fi, or the familiar here and now contemporary--relies solely on an author figuring out how to see with their character's eyes, taste with their character's tongue, hear with their character's ears, touch with their character's fingers, and feel with their character's senses. Only when we figure out what and how a character perceives and feels when his or her lens is placed over the world can that world be brought into sharp, specific focus. And only then will a world come to life for our stories, ourselves, and our readers.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


The Entrepreneurial Spirit: "There's Always Lots Going On!" A (Busy!) Day in the Life of Georgia McBride


I'm a big fan of small presses. And it excites me to see some terrific small indie presses gaining stronger footholds in the current marketplace. Some of the small presses going strong right now fall under the editorial and business guidance of Georgia McBride who is growing her Georgia McBride Media Group by leaps and bounds. How is she doing this, and how is she faring in the current climate of publishing change and flux? I wanted to find out, and am so pleased I could grab Georgia between projects (and while she was at her son's football practice) to interview her about her business and her thoughts on succeeding with new publishing models. Please join me in welcoming Georgia McBride to "our stories, ourselves."

[edd] You are a writer, so what prompted you to make the leap to becoming a publisher?
[gmcb] I started as a blogger and writer in 2008. I stopped blogging and reviewing books because I wanted to focus on my writing and I hated being in the position of having to sometimes give negative reviews to my fellow writers.  After founding #yalitchat on Twitter, I began connecting writers with agents and editors with writers and manuscripts. I was asked to vet submissions for agents and editors as well as help publishers market their YA books.
When Sourcebooks wanted to launch a teen imprint, they asked me to help source and vet submissions as well as promote the launch of Teen Fire. An early and very vocal supporter of New Adult, St. Martin's press asked me to help launch a New Adult line and recommend content and writers. After having a successful freelance editing business, I decided I wanted to do more to bring good stories to market. Thus, Month9Books was born!

[edd] What an inspiring--and brave!--journey on which to embark! Tell us about the scope of your business today.
[gmcb] I am founder of Georgia McBride Media Group, which is home to Month9BooksSwoon Romance, and Tantrum Books.  I also develop content for film and TV. When I have time, I also write speculative fiction! On Wednesday nights I host #yalitchat on Twitter. And to top it off, I've got two kids, a husband, three dogs, and a parrot! My parents live with us, so there's always lots going on.

[edd] That's putting it mildly! Dare I ask you to give us a glimpse into your typical work day?
[gmcb] Well, let's take today. Today I finalized four contracts, negotiated an audio deal, approved audio talent for another deal, discussed progress of a network pitch with a producer, negotiated two contracts, had a conference call with an author who lives in Finland and her agent about the development of her second book, acquired two books, ordered books for several contest winners and authors awaiting their free author copies, reviewed eighteen royalty statements, talked (phone or email) to seven different agents, exchanged emails with eleven authors (spoke to two via phone), confirmed booth space for BookCon 2015, and inquired about booth space for ALA Midwinter. I think that's it. Well, I also did this interview.  

[edd] I'm exhausted and inspired at the same time! That sounds like a lot for a "small" press. I know you're active with new acquisitions. How's that going?
[gmcb] Right now I have twenty-six active contracts in negotiation at various stages across all three imprints. I am in the process of negotiating two audio deals and one foreign deal. We send deal announcements to Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly. According to Publishers Marketplace, I've completed over 100 publishing deals on behalf of three imprints in the past twenty-four months!                                             

[edd] We mustn't underestimate "small" and it sure seems to me small equals nimble in your case. Tell us about your lists.  
[gmcb] GMMG imprints publish debut authors as well asUSA Today and NY Timesbestselling author Diane Alberts; Bram Stoker Award-nominated authors, Janice Gable Bashman and Charles Day; Amazon US #1 Erotica author Kenya Wright; Amazon #1 Fantasy and Paranormal Romance author Melissa Petreshock; Amazon #1 Children's Fantasy author Nicole Conway; Amazon UK #1 Teen Mythology and Legends author Jen McConnel; and renowned YA authors such as Jackie Morse Kessler, Michelle Zink, and Cindy Pon.  

[edd] You must work with a great team of editors and designers. How does a small press attract editorial talent? 
[gmcb] Success and visibility are attracting talent. Every time I participate in a trade event, or when one of our authors does a signing or has a best selling book, we attract potential talent.
[edd] You work with unagented as well as agented authors. It's great that agents are including you in their submissions; this tells me they're taking your imprints seriously.
[gmcb] We accept unagented submissions via Facebook! And lots of agencies are showing us their work, such as Writers House,  ICM, Paradigm, Curtis Brown, and more.

[edd] Discoverability is the key these days among all publishers large and small. How do you get your titles into bookstores and other channels? 
[gmcb] We work with Susan Schulman Agency for subsidiary rights, and IPG (Independent Publishers Group), and INScribe Digital for distribution. Additionally, GMMG titles have been sold internationally in Australia and the UK. We're represented at the Bologna and London Book Fairs and we have a presence at BEA, Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention, Dragon Con, and other trade and consumer events. We license audio rights to four audio companies and we've been licensing film and TV options and rights. I'll be a panelist at Digital Book World Conference & Expo next year. We're getting the word out about our books every way we can--and we're keeping  in contact with all the major publishing media outlets (PW, Huffington Post, Writers Digest, Suspense Magazine, YA Mag, and many more) to keep them apprised of what we're up to at GMMG.

[edd] Such constant hard work is necessary in a competitive marketplace.  As an entre-preneur with your own business, it's clear you have no choice but to wear many hats. What advice do you have for someone who might want to start a small press?
[gmcb] Align yourself with good partners for distribution. Get a good attorney and a good accountant. Don't cut corners. Research. A great resource is IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association). Have fun!

[edd] It's clear you love your work, Georgia!
[gmcb] I love being a publisher. Everything I've done before now has led me to this outcome. Few things are more satisfying for me professionally than sharing an amazing story with readers. I'm a lucky girl.


Avoiding the Biggest Post-Conference Pitfall

Over 1,200 children's authors and illustrators are coming down off the high that was #LA14SCBWI this past weekend--the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. At any given time, hundreds and hundreds of other children's authors and illustrators are coming down off the highs inspired by the myriad of writers and illustrators workshops that are going on all the time all around the country and all around the world. Inspiring speeches are ringing in our heads and our hearts. Thoughtful critiques are giving us confidence. Amazing meetings are translating into new friendships. Smart experts are giving us the tools and techniques we need. And we're ready to get back into our work wholeheartedly. And it's all great great great...except for one thing: Impatience.

The downside to a successful workshop or conference is often the fear and panic (mixed with genuine enthusiasm!) some authors and illustrators feel that if they don't do what an editor suggested right away, or if they don't follow up with an agent right away, or if they don't submit their work right away, their opportunity to be published will be lost. And so, before the jet lag's even worn off, they rush rush rush to revise those first ten pages that were critiqued or the image in the portfolio that was critiqued...and then they press "send" to submit the manuscript or art samples. And what's just happened? That author or illustrator has just started to unravel the threads that the conference or workshop had so expertly knitted, and they've done themselves a huge disservice--they've stepped right into a post-conference pitfall, one from which it's not always so easy to get out.

Here's the thing: there's not one editor or art director or agent out there who wants to see a project before it's ready. There's not one editor or agent who gives a critique of the first ten pages of a manuscript and expects to see a revised manuscript within the next few days! Nor is there any art director who gives feedback on an image in a portfolio and expects to see a fresh new portfolio within the next few days! In fact, quite the opposite.  What any editor or art director or agent expects after a workshop or conference during which they've offered advice is that artist will take their time, will think, will craft--and will do whatever is needed in the way of time and work to apply what they've heard about ten pages or one image to the entirety of their work, be it a complete manuscript or a complete portfolio.

This is what I know to be true: You can't write the best first page of your work without writing the best last page of your work.  So that means if you're excited about doing revisions on the first ten page that were suggested during a critique, then you need to be excited about doing revisions on all the other pages of that manuscript, all the way through to the last page, and then back to the first page all over again.

Take your time. Respect the process. Respect the people from whom you've gotten the feedback to begin with by not rushing without thinking. Avoid the pitfalls. Do your best work. Be your best. The rest will follow.


Back There - A Taste of Our Past

I read Marcel Proust's REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST way before I was old enough to understand and appreciate the importance of things past and way before I was old enough to care to remember things past. I read the book in college and what stayed with me of that book is the concept that the mere taste of a cookie can invoke vivid, living memories of a life, and that the mere taste of a cookie can bring someone's life full circle.

It's taken decades of years of living life for me to be able to realize something I could never have known in college: That it's not the taste, sound, sight, smell, or touch that is in itself so potent, but it's the memories surrounding the sense that are so potent. So real. So necessary. So much a part of who we've been and who we are.

I've found that many writers overlook or forget about the senses when creating their characters. What are the senses of a child living their childhood? What is the smell of a child’s bedroom, a parent's particular shirt, a favorite stuffed animal? What is the sound of the foghorn over the surf, the distant train whistle heard every day at Noon, the traffic outside the window? What does it feel like to touch the climbing tree in the corner of a field, grandma’s nubbly chenille bedspread, a sister’s hair? 

And what is the taste of the fudgesicle Dad buys you from the gas station on the fishing dock in Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard, when you are five?

Texaco Station, Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard
Menemsha harbor & docks
Last week I experienced a remembrance of things past eating that very fudgesicle. The taste was the very same as when I ate them on the Menemsha dock at five-years-old—delicious, sweet, cold!  But what happened when I bit into that fudgesicle is that my dad came back. Bright black-brown eyes in his handsome suntanned actor’s face; blue-nearly-white worn-soft denim shirt smelling of salted sweat, sun, and Camels; his deep laughter at the joy of sneaking an ice cream before dinner (“Don’t tell Mom!”); the pungent smell-medley of the sour gas station, the sharp fish on the docks, day-worn sun lotion, and the sweet, crisp chocolate ice cream from the deep-freeze. And I was right there. Back there. With my dad and my ice cream. With my dad before there was unhappiness, illness, and anger. Just my dad and my ice cream. Back there.

Emma and her fudgesicle,
photo by Deb Dunn
We all experience times in our lives when we need to be back there. Back in a taste, in a smell, in a sound, in a touch, in a sight. As storytellers and writers, we need to allow ourselves to tap into our own back theres to understand what the back theres are going to be for our characters. By doing so, such a richness of life will be added to our stories, and to ourselves.


The Entrepreneurial Spirit: "Experiment I Will!" Exploring New Paths to Publishing with Rebecca Emberley


Why would a “successful” author/illustrator, working with many of the big trade publishers for more than thirty-five years, want to start up an independent publishing imprint? Why take such a risk?  These are just a few of the questions I’ve recently  posed to my wonderfully talented colleague Rebecca Emberley, who has authored and authored/illustrated more than twenty-five picture books, and who launched her own imprint, Two Little Birds  and independently published two books thus far – THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley and FLATLAND by David Sayre and Rebecca Emberley.

I am very interested in and excited by the myriad of options authors and artists have for presenting their work to readers and am particularly interested in the reasons why creative artists who seem to be having a healthy career within the traditional publishing route might decide to publish in new ways—self-publishing, indy publishing, hybrid publishing—and under new models—crowd-funding, profit-sharing, and the like. Therefore, I’m so pleased and honored Rebecca Emberley has agreed to share her thoughts on her own journey with us on “our stories, ourselves.”  Welcome, Rebecca!

Success is subjective and risk is necessary. Especially in the arts.

One thing of which I am sure is that change is the only constant. Most of your readers are undoubtedly well aware of the plethora of angst-ridden articles predicting both the impending doom of trade publishing and the get-rich-quick anecdotal evidences of digital publishing.More picture books will be published this year than last. If you have a children’s book you want to publish, you will need to stand out among more than 20,000 others.  Most will fall by the wayside. Fewer than 5% of us make a living at this. If you are a female illustrator your chances are 70% less.  

The industry has changed in so many ways, from the corporatizing of publishing houses to the technological obsession of “e” everything. I have seen the number of my sales increase, and my royalties decrease. So, the why of this story is that things change, this industry has and will continue to change, and I believe that to remain relevant you’re going to have to makes some changes as well. I want to be compensated fairly for the work I do. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think every artist is owed a living, but if someone else is making money off your work, so should you. If someone is using your art to look at or listen to, you should be compensated. 

Picture book making is a family business for me. My brother and I grew up the children of two artists and children’s books were the “business” that kept my father in his studio every day. But that doesn’t mean my books will necessarily sell better than anyone else’s. And that doesn’t mean I can sit back and not stay engaged or involved in my own career. I’ve observed, I’ve expanded into licensing, I’ve created other projects, but picture book making is a job I know, I was born into it.  Times have changed. Publishing has changed, and with that change must come decisions.

Should I stay or should I go? I’ve been asking myself this question for several years now. Given that, I got to asking myself what can I change about the way I’m getting books into the hands of children?  Bricks and mortar. One of the things holding back the big guys from thinking outside the box, is that they are wed to those great big expensive boxes, in unholy matrimony. A lot of the profit from publishing books goes to support real estate. So,let’s eliminate the real estate. How? By staying small enough to work somewhere that I already work. Don’t expand my footprint. That means I need to use freelancers to do what I cannot, or do not want to do. Fantastic news about the changes in publishing, there are a lot of highly qualified, imaginative people from trade now working freelance. Distribution? Lots of different options, more every day.

When first thinking about publishing in new ways, there were a lot of things to consider. I had text and artwork that were completed for THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER. I had an audience. I had a reputation. I did not have a nest egg. So if I was going to publishing this book in a new way, how was I going to pay for the up-front costs? Even if I was extremely confident that I could make this one work, which I was (I am a worst case scenario person. I am not afraid to fail, so when I embark on a project I do to the worst case scenario, which would be me selling discounted copies of SPIDER at flea markets until the investment was recouped. Totally do-able.), I hate to borrow money and I didn’t want to rely on a single investor. So I turned to crowd-sourcing, pre-selling the book through Kickstarter. I am a huge fan of Kickstarter and I became familiar with the platform through the musical side of my family when my daughter used it to fund her last album, pre-selling CDs, LPs, and downloads. I chose to attempt to raise just the print costs, because time was short. I had an opportunity to get SPIDER into a Spring 2013 catalog with a distributor and things got moving quickly.

Creating the capital was important, but MOST important was proof of concept. I wanted to find out if people were interested in the book enough, and confident enough in what I was trying to do, to lay down cold, hard cash essentially sight unseen. They were. I had to run the Kickstarter campaign during the holidays when peoples’ attentions were drawn to so many things. In the end, it was a knuckle-biter. It was a lot of time and energy spent on social media. But to me the results were astounding. Fewer than one third of the pledges came from family and friends. Per capita, more than half of the pledges were from total strangers not involved with the children’s book industry. There are loads of details involved in running a successful crowd-funding campaign. You need a compelling video. You need attractive rewards. You need to have the ability to work Facebook and Twitter and other social networks. It was a lot of work and it was worth the effort, rewarding us with a community spirit, new fans, and a new perspective about getting things done in an unconventional way. (Reference Rebecca’s Kickstarter campaign here)

Can everyone do this? No. Should everyone do this? No. Can everyone get published in the trade? No. Should everyone self-publish? No. I have a unique perspective and forty years in the industry. Can you try something different? Yes. There is no single approach. There is no right or wrong way.

Here are some conclusions I’ve come to over the past year:
  • Forgetting artistry for a minute, let’s talk numbers: If you are already a published author illustrator, selling more than 10,000 copies a year with a following (no matter how many titles), you are already comfortable with social media and some degree of self-promotion, and you want to experiment, I would encourage you to invest in your future by publishing with a very small press or self-publishing. Yes, it will require up front monies. Your return will be worth it either way. Your other publishers won’t mind.
  • If you are an author/illustrator who goes out a lot and speaks to schools (more than ten small venues or five large), I would also encourage you to experiment. The profit in hand-selling is huge.
  • ALWAYS use a professional designer and editor. It’s a small investment up front for a big difference on the back end.
  • If you have friends and colleagues in the business, consider a co-op approach to publishing.
  • It’s critical to determine for yourself what success means to you. There is no wrong answer, just be clear for yourself what your goals are.
  • If you are just starting out, do the math and see what is right for you. If you don’t know the figures, ask someone else who knows.
  • No matter what approach to publishing you choose, you need to be doing self-promotion. Without it there is little point in publishing except to say that you are published.
  • Be SURE that you LOVE this. Be sure that your book is the best product you can create. It’s not all bunnies and badgers, it’s hard work. It’s a business.

I’m not sure where Two Little Birds will be in five years. The first eighteen months have been exhausting, but I’m learning every day and it's getting better. Last year we did one title, this year we have six. We expanded from picture books to activity books, which excites me. We changed distributors for a better fit stylistically, and to reach a broader market.

When I began, I felt the need to be perfect, then I realized that doesn’t exist. I don’t have to follow any rules (OK, I do need ISBN numbers and barcodes!) or fulfill any expectations. I can take the time to find the readers and put my books in front of them. I can cross-market. I can afford to sell fewer books and make more money. I can afford to give books away. It’s an experiment, and experiment I will!

People will still buy picture books. How they buy them, where they buy them, may change, but kids love books—until we tell them they don’t....

The support I have received both inside and outside the publishing community has been overwhelming. I believe that climbing the ladder of success is meaningless unless you turn and extend a hand to the person behind you and share what you have learned. To that end I am happy to answer any questions that I can, offer advice or encouragement (or discouragement if needed). It’s a jungle out there.