The Entrepreneurial Spirit: "Do or Don’t Do. There is No In-Between." The Inspiring Moves of Indy Publisher, Eileen Robinson


Eileen Robinson
I've been an admirer of Eileen Robinson for many years. She established herself as a children's editorial consultant with her own company, F1rst Pages, long before editors like myself were becoming consultants, and it's been thrilling to watch her launch her own publishing company, Move Books, in response to what she saw as a dire need in the marketplace. She's following her dreams; she's doing; she's walking the talk--and I'm honored to have gotten her to take time out of her busy schedule and busy life to share her experiences, lessons, and insights with us. Welcome, Eileen!

Do or Don’t Do. There is no in-between. Isn’t that what Yoda said? You either go for it or you dream. And I recognize it all starts with a dream, with a passion, an itch you can’t seem to get rid of. But at some point, you have to leap if the dream will ever become reality. Whatever your passion, you must take that first step.

I’ve been starting up things since I was a kid, but I never planned to be an entrepreneur, and though I loved to read (the New York Public library was like my second home), I never thought I would land in book publishing much less forge ahead with my own company. I was just a young, avid reader who spent summers hunched over Judy Blume’s books, secretly and defiantly, under the watchful eye of the passing librarian. At home I read Young Miss magazine, my Childcraft encyclopedia set (that I forced my brother to read with me on Saturdays), Readers Digest, my beloved dictionary, and later, when I joined my first book club, my closet became home to books instead of clothes. I loved magazines and pursued magazine writing, getting my first article published in Better Homes and Gardens. In college, I tried to start a magazine but little did I know the world of books was where I was meant to be, though I had no idea entrepreneurship was in my future, much less my first love, becoming an editor.

I’d like to say something savvy, that I came up with some great idea, something different, something that would change the face of publishing, but I just have a passion to make books, shape stories, be a part of the process. I want to help children see themselves in books, be changed by them, and find confidence and solace in reading, giving them an experience that might inspire them or help them inspire others. That’s it.

In the professional world, it all began at Scholastic, where I landed by accident, as an Associate Editor. I was immediately awed and inspired. Little did I know I was on the path to entrepreneurship, getting a great foundation, working alongside others in children’s publishing who loved books gave me an opportunity to learn from them, pick their brains, and absorb a bit of their happiness, passion, and madness.

So I did. So I am.  

But taking the leap to be an entrepreneur in publishing—the financial responsibility, distribution and sales, marketing and publicity, illustration and design, manufacturing, establishing the brand Move Books to sit among the publishing giants and alongside established small publishers—is another path entirely. Was I going to let my passion and drive override my fear?

Back to Yoda, it’s Do or Don’t Do.

So I did.

And my son, now thirteen, is the reason. With stacks of books in every corner of my house, and unable to eat at the dinner table because of the piles, it dismayed me that he, at six-years-old, was a struggling reader and then became a reluctant reader as he progressed through elementary school. When he was seven, he told me picture books were no longer acceptable to take from the library. Wow. What would the educational system think of all the adults who love picture books? Later on, a teacher took a book out of his hands, telling him it wasn’t on his reading level. Though I understood there must be compliance with reading standards and expectations in the classroom, he was discouraged. What did I do? I purchased two copies of the book and read along with him. Why read along with him? Because I felt the book he wanted to read, Hunger Games, had important emotional, moral, and ethical issues that might emerge for him and I wanted to have these discussions with him. It was unimaginable to me that he—along with his friends, my nephews, and the other children I’ve met while presenting throughout the school and library system—didn’t love books as much as I did. They saw books as vehicles for information to be used in school, but not for pleasure. Of course, I also met many children who were avid readers but I worried about those who might never enjoy reading, and I wanted to contribute.

After much thought and driving my colleagues crazy, I decided to launch a publishing venture called Move Books. Why? Because I wanted to move boys to read.

So what is it to be an entrepreneur? Team, Trust, Sharing, Embracing are some words that come to mind.

Your team. Entrepreneurship is a team effort. And no business can get off the ground or survive without people who believe in what you are trying to do. Everybody counts—even your babysitter!

Trust is key. Support can come in many ways but the key is you must trust those you work with, respecting their ideas and experience.

Share information. You must share information where you can to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.

Accept change. It’s an everyday occurrence. Embrace it.  Get used to having a plan A and plan B should things go in a different direction.

Entrepreneurship has been a daily transformation for me, and it all began after leaving Scholastic in 2003. I became an editorial consultant and created F1rstPages to help writers work on their craft and provide insight into the publishing world. About a year later, editorial consultant Harold Underdown (The Purple Crayon, and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books) and I began Kid’s Book Revisions which further built on the premise of helping writers hone their work through revision and understanding the market. But I felt like something was missing. I missed that feeling of shepherding a manuscript through the process to bound book. So in 2011, with colleagues, friends, and family rooting for me, I jumped in with both feet and launched Move Books!

Move Books team:
Harold Underdown,
Our Mission: Why Focus on Boys? It’s important for me to note here that I am not saying there should be different books for girls and different books for boys, nor am I publishing the “stereotypical” boy books, but I am publishing books to get more boys to reading, and hope that through reading texts and stories they are drawn to, boys will see the value of reading in their own lives and that it can bring enjoyment as an activity. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and The National Assessment of Educational Progress, boys consistently lag behind girls in reading literacy—the latest study in 2012 showed a five point gap between nine-year-old boys and girls which increased to an eight point gap by age thirteen, and this gap remained through age seventeen. Though these gaps differ by country, they are worldwide. The great news is with contemporary authors like J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and Jon Scieszka, whose Guys Read initiative has long been dedicated to giving boy readers more options, the statistics are likely to get better in the next assessments. Regardless of the statistics, teachers, librarians, and parents know this gap exists, so let’s stop calling it gender bias and contribute to becoming a more literate nation. Like most entrepreneurs, I’d like to help make a difference and hope that I do.

What are we publishing and what do we want? In 2016 we are happily continuing with the second book in The Lost Tribes Series, by C. Taylor-Butler (author of Sacred Mountain: Everest and many others)--stay tuned for a cover reveal in January! We are also excited to be considering our first historical fiction project, among other kinds of stories. We would love more submissions with humor but look forward to just reading really good books that challenge the imagination, and those that show the complexity of middle-grade relationships. If a great YA comes along, we may consider it, but right now our niche is middle-grade. These readers (age eight to twelve) are a lot of fun and more importantly, it is where boys begin to lose interest in reading. Submissions are open now until June 2016.

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Cliché but true. For everyone who supports you, there will be those who disagree with you, think your mission is fruitless, think they have all the answers, or that they know your direction better than you do. Like in writing, I believe showing is better than telling, so any of you thinking about becoming any sort of entrepreneur need to do your homework so you can feel confident about what you are doing. Listen to all comments, find the truth in them and use that to help make your business stronger.

Mistakes are part of the process. There is so much room for error and bad judgement calls. And you will probably make a lot of them, so see them as stepping stones.

Move Books team:
Virginia Pope, Design
Everyones job is crucial. I have always known it takes a village, but when you are the village for the most part, you become enlightened very quickly and start to wonder why you ever argued that editorial was more important than marketing—with the Head of Marketing that is—yes I was very bold! I really believed that there could be no marketing without a good book. And you also learn that you can’t do twelve passes of book layout with your designer just because you own the company. Not productive. Costs money. And everyone is unhappy.

Youve got experience? So what!  Remember, you are reinventing yourself. I thought because I’d been at Scholastic and Harcourt that a distributor for Move Books’ titles would fall in my lap. My educational/school library background and exposure to trade certainly helped me, but it still took a lot of work and time to land a major, national distributor (with a sales force) that would get us a relationship with the bookstores and wholesalers reaching the school/library and trade markets.

Move Books team:Joe
Sita, Manufacturing
Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle change. Though working for yourself seems like a brilliant idea (and I wouldn’t change it for the world), it’s a lifestyle change for you and your family that requires discipline.

Delegate and trust in others a lot more than you ever have. It is the experience and ideas of the team that help bring an author’s vision and words to life, and that also applies to your company. Never forget, you may be the boss, but you are part of a team. And never underestimate the importance of shielding your team. Don't throw people under the bus. We grow from our mistakes and if you keep that in mind, you will cultivate a team producing ideas that are more adventurous and more creative.

Move Books team:Krista
Ehrentraut, Intern
Success must be measured in small accomplishments. Building a business takes time, especially to attain that “big picture” success. So you must enjoy and celebrate the parts that contribute to the whole, or you’ll become discouraged quickly. That goes for writing too! “Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.”—Robert Louis Stevenson

There is a mentor in everyone. I believe you can learn something from everyone you meet. I have gathered emotional and professional support from people who have become long-time friends in publishing, and outside of publishing (no matter what business you are in, there is a common bond there). And sometimes getting out of your field opens you up to different approaches when you are stuck. I have learned from people who thought I was crazy to launch a publishing company or focus on boys and reading. Their comments either gave me confirmation or caused me to go back and rethink some things. It's all useful.

Stay Grounded. Always come back to the why. Why did I start this company in the first place? For my son and to instill a love of reading.

Fiction or Nonfiction? It’s all reading! As you know, I worried that my son would never enjoy books like I do. But not too long ago I realized all the books he chose were nonfiction. It was fiction he tried to steer clear of, though historical fiction seemed to capture his interest. I wanted him to be compelled to read, not because he had to…and that’s exactly what he was doing.

Entrepreneurship is like flying a kite. So do you choose “Do or Don’t Do”? There are many variables, some of which are out of your control.  Some of us contribute to make others successes. Some of us are successes ourselves. Both are great accomplishments. But is one separate from the other? Can we be both? I don’t know. But it’s worth the risk. “Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.”singer, Jackson Browne


Making Choices for Our Characters and Ourselves

I've recently been talking and guest-posting about the importance of ensuring our protagonists evolve and grow through the choices and decisions they make throughout the course of their stories. Whether these choices and decisions are compelled by something awful (the protagonist up against a threat with no apparent choice) or by something terrific (the protagonist seeing the means to achieve and go for their goal), it's the choices and decisions our protagonists make that go into defining who they are, add solidity to what they're made of, and instill a drive to face new things when they think they've faced everything they can possibly face. 

Talking and writing about how the most memorable and most compelling protagonists make choices and decisions all the time, I've caught myself wondering about the sorts of choices and decisions I make in my own life. Do the choices and decisions I make go into defining who I am? Do the choices and decisions I make add solidity to what I'm made of? Do the choices and decisions I make instill in me a drive to face new things—things that may take me out of my comfort zone, things that may make me fearful, things that make me someone more complex than the person I was the day before? Sure I do...sometimes. Once in a while. Not often enough. Certainly not enough, I realize, to be most memorable and most compelling protagonist if I were the main character in a story.

Okay, maybe I'm selling myself short. Maybe every single choice and decision I make over the course of any given day actually adds to my evolution as a person. It sure doesn't feel like it, though, not when I think about what we ask our characters to face in our stories. And this gets me thinking about why we write stories in the first place and why we create the characters we create. 

Is it possible we're instilling in our protagonists the abilities, attributes, and drives we may not ourselves have but wish we had? Is it possible we're putting our protagonists into positions where they have to make seemingly impossible choices and decisions that will result in seemingly impossible repercussions in order to test our own boundaries and definitions of what's truly impossible? Is it possible we're forcing our protagonists to face their ultimate "what if?" questions so we can explore how we might behave and react when faced with our own ultimate "what if?" questions? Absolutely! I think this is what writers do all the time—not only do writers write to express and explore the stories inside their heads and hearts, but to express and explore the stories of ourselves, our humanity, our boundaries, and our capacities.

Though it may not feel like it, all of us, at varying degrees and at varying times, are in positions to make—and do make—the kinds of choices and decisions we ask of our protagonists. Some of the positions in which we find ourselves making choices and decisions will be awful, some will be terrific. Some of the positions in which we find ourselves making choices and decisions will feel utterly impossible, some will feel easy. It's from all of these experiences and how we respond to them that we evolve. And it's from all of these experiences that we write our characters and our stories, putting what we know to be true of ourselves and humanity onto the page for readers to find themselves and discover truths.

I want to be a person who makes choices and decisions that matter, that have repercussions larger than me. I want to be a person who makes choices and decisions that help me on a meaningful path of growth and continuing evolution, no matter how old I am. So when I need inspiration and confidence to keep making those kinds of choices and decisions, I feel lucky to be able to look not only to those people whom I consider to be role models and mentors, but also to protagonists in all sorts of stories.

(c) drydenbks LLC 2015


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!