Feb
09

A Sea Change

By

There’s been a sea change in my life since I last wrote here.

About seven years ago I started working on family literacy and parenting education projects. As a former high school English teacher in a large urban area, I came (somewhat belatedly) to the conclusion that we could make a significant improvement in American education if we could help many more parents learn to do the things with their young kids that set the kids up for greater success in school. The solution to our biggest education problems (like 25% – 30% of our kids not being able to read well and the 40% – 50% school drop-out rate in many cities) is in the family, I believed then (and now).

Back then I thought, How hard can it be to reach out to young parents? And I had an idea for a book/ product/ system that elementary schools could use to encourage and teach parents.

I had no clue of how to create and publish a book or set up a company and get investment money or work with graphic artists or market materials. I just had an idea and I started to create it.

And oh, boy, has this seven-year journey been an education.

My first product was the Way to Go! Family Learning Journal. It’s a gorgeous, smart product. Almost everyone who sees it says so. And it is supported by free materials on the website, including 24 free monthly activities for families that help young children gain the foundational skills related to school success. The activities were even translated into Spanish by a generous friend. I felt pleased with the book/system.

But, I discovered, the biggest challenge was not in developing great materials. It was in the marketing. Duh! People get college degrees in marketing. Corporations spend huge budgets on marketing. Sales people often spend their whole lifetime learning skills that enable them to make the sale.

I was naive, but I tried to play catch up. I prepared marketing materials. I paid lots of money for training programs, branding programs, inner circles, coaching, websites, data bases, and so forth. I thought BIG. I did pilot programs. I tried selling at conferences and trade shows. But there was never sufficient revenue to hire someone else to help, so it was a one-person show.

Along the way, I created a second book, one that could be sold very inexpensively. Perhaps the Way to Go! Family Learning Journal was overpriced, I thought. The second book was Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids. It’s gotten good reviews, but not enough sales to pay for itself yet.

So now I feel it’s time to let go of the JantzenBooks, Inc. corporation, which is not financially viable. I’m slowly handling the legal stuff and moving on. Some days I find myself grieving, actually, because this business and these projects had been the big focus of my life for a long time. I’m not sure what’s next.

But the books will continue to be available for sale until they are out of stock. Or until some company or entrepreneur picks them up and reprints them. Or until some Department of Education or large school district realizes how well these materials would supplement their programs. Or…

It makes me happy to think of the endless possibilities for these books. And as I say goodbye to this phase of my life, I gladly hang on to an idea I truly believe: “Nothing done for children is ever wasted.”

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