Archive for How’s Business?
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.”
“A great stocking stuffer for parents, teachers, grandparents, babysitters and other childcare providers”—that’s what Maya Creedman, mother of two, said about Plus It! today in San Francisco’s Examiner.com. She’s an educational consultant, a teacher, and a writer on parenting and education—so she should know!
Then she says, it’s a “pocket-sized book perfect for a purse or glove compartment…” Yes!
Creedman knows that “parents have an incredible opportunity to further their child’s development and education in day-to-day activities and routines,” and that Plus It! is about exactly that opportunity.
I’m thrilled with this online review. Read the whole review here.
I’m cheering wildly! The family fun and educational activities for kids in Plus It! have received a big boost. How?
Last week, an enthusiastic review of Plus It! and its parenting tips showed up on a website I enjoy, admire, and respect, one that covers “what really matters” (isn’t that a grand tagline): http://vickyandjen.com. Here’s the link to that dazzlingly clear summary of the value of Plus It!
It’s free to subscribe to the vickyandjen blog that provides parent support for raising children. And they have a strong podcast series on getting organized, on things kids can ask-a-chef, and on how to effectively relate to your pediatrician. They’re promoters of cooking with children and provide wondrous recipes, and they offer a huge list of things to do with kids.
Thanks, Vicky and Jen!
A lovely woman, a former kindergarten teacher, I met this week writes:
“I had some inspirations about potential marketing for Plus-It. First of all, it is wonderful, and I would like to order some as gifts. The book will make wonderful Xmas gifts to our neighbors with young children, to family members, to new grandparents, and (here is my marketing idea-)-at children’s stores and for baby showers and as gifts to new grandparents!
“Put me down for ten copies…”
Now if that doesn’t cheer my little writer’s heart! Thank you, Charlene!
Two months ago, when Plus It! had just been released, I met with the customer relations manager at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore.
Does your store like to support local authors? I asked.
Yes! And Naomi, the CR manager, was enthusiastic when I showed her a copy of my book and when she found out the B&N distributor carried it. Especially she liked that the price was under $10.
She suggested we do a book-signing on a Saturday in July when lots of parents were likely to be in the store. I was delighted. I told my Facebook friends about it.
Then Naomi and I had a flurry of emails to confirm details: the store would list my book-signing in their monthly printed calendar that goes out to customers, and they’d put posters with a picture of my book cover around the store. I sent her a .jpg of the cover. She encouraged me to invite my local friends.
For six weeks after that I didn’t hear from her, which was fine. But last week I emailed her again to confirm. No response.
Yesterday I thought a personal visit to the store would be smart—just to check on arrangements. I took my camera, intending to take a picture of the poster with the Plus It! cover against the background of the book shelves. That would be a great pix to post on this blog.
I walked into the store and looked around. No posters anywhere. Okay. I’ll let go of that image in my head, I thought, and I’ll just speak with her.
You probably guessed what happened: “Naomi is no longer with us,” another manager told me. “We’re very understaffed.”
Still, they’re honoring their commitment. No, there wouldn’t be publicity (“Our printed calendars for July still haven’t arrived at the store, though they’re a week late”).
But they will have a table set up for me near the children’s books section. I won’t need to give a presentation, which is a relief, but there will be a place for me to sit and a stack of my books.
The new manager—a woman who’s most likely had customer relations added to her already heavy workload—suggested gently that I be sure to circulate and engage people in conversation.
Some authors, she said, just sit behind the table and expect people to come to them. That doesn’t work to sell books.
“And what we want is to sell your book!” she said.
That’s what I want, too.
So my intention next Saturday at 1:30pm at The Shoppes in Chino HIlls, CA, is to move beyond shyness with grace, enthusiasm, and tact. I’ll do my best to engage people as they flow among the bookshelves.
Take a deep breath. What an opportunity for personal growth and for letting go of expectations this is. It’s good for me. Cheers!
Well, that may be a bit of exaggeration. However, Plus It! received wonderful publicity this week.
The book is featured in the LA Parent magazine’s Education Directory for July 2009. The editors reprinted much of the first chapter in a two-page spread, and put a small picture of the book in the corner. I’m thrilled!
In addition, this week my publisher, David Hancock of Morgan James Publishing, pointed out that Plus It! is a bestseller in the grandparenting category on Amazon!
What that means is that the book is in the top 100 books in that category. On Tuesday, when David told me that, Plus It! was #81. Last night I checked, and it was #24.
My revised goal is to sell 5000 books by Sept. 13, 2009. LA Parent may help us meet that target.
Here’s what an enthusiastic Mom wrote about Plus It!, this small new book chock full of tips for parents and easy, no-cost educational activities for kids:
“What a perfect mother’s day gift! I will be giving this to all the ‘mothers’ associated with each of my children: grandmas, godmothers, daycare providers, play-date moms…. I have to admit, I have selfish motives in so doing. I want everyone to help my children maintain their natural-born curiosity and passion for learning. In so doing, my role as mother will be so very much easier in the days and years to come.”
I loved receiving this email! Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids was officially released yesterday, May 1, 2009. Yeah! That means bookstores are now permitted to sell it.
As author and primary marketer, I’m almost beside myself with joy, for Lynn D, who wrote what I quoted above, ordered ten copies from Amazon to give out as gifts.
And she sent out an email announcing the book to 26 friends!
That means all those parents/ caregivers and kids might soon be talking and interacting more with one another, and perhaps in fresh, meaningful, fun, new ways.
Whoopee! The mission of Plus It!—to support literacy, learning, and loving in families worldwide—is being served!
The sales of this little book full of tips for parents, Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids, are taking off! It will be released on May 1.
Yesterday one person emailed me and bought eight copies because she’s interested in family life and family literacy. A friend from high school days who now lives in Panama (!) said she ordered three copies from Amazon. The first independent bookstore owner I’ve approached is interested in carrying the book. Two days ago, I did my first radio interview—with a distinguished media psychiatrist, Dr. Carole Lieberman <www.drcarole.com> who is very involved in the movement to limit violent media and video games. And of course, she supports families in doing creative, educational activities for kids.
My business goals for Plus It! are below.
As an aside, I have other goals which compel me more, but meeting them really depends on manifesting the business goals. For example, I have impact goals that center on how I’d like to contribute to improving education: My mission, which should keep me busy for rest of my life, is promoting literacy, learning, and loving in families worldwide. And I have personal goals that arise from deciding to be an info-preneur. For example, I’d like to let go of fears about sales and promotion, become more unconditionally loving of myself and others, and live in even more joy, fun, ease, grace, abundance, and adventure.
But my business goals are delineated here to help me stay on course. Of course, I reserve the right to add, subtract, and refine these as I go along. Adjustment is part of the process.
1. Break even first via sales by 12/31/2009. I figure I need to sell between 7,000 and 10,000 books to break even, depending on how much of the sale price of a book I actually get. (I don’t know that for sure yet.) The reality is that Amazon, Morgan James Publishing, and Ingram Publisher Services (IPS), the distributor, take the biggest chunks of revenue by far. I’m contributing to creating employment in all those companies, I figure.
2. Easily maintain a fun, engaging, professional website—www.plusitbook.com—that at least 500 people/week visit to download the free bonus and order more books by 12/31/2009.
3. Develop a community of Plus It readers and users who comment and share how they use Plus It ideas with kids 12/31/2009.
4. Sky-rocket to 100,000 in sales, through single sales and through bulk sales to organizations that support parenting, family services, family literacy, and schools by 9/30/2010.
5. Develop the next book in the series easily and in partnership with others by 9/30/2010.
6. Then move into the millions-of-books-sold club by mid 2011!
And why not! For this is an auspicious day: it’s Shakespeare’s birthday.
My new parenting book, Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids, is my new golden opportunity as an educator and info-preneur. It’s just released and available on Amazon. (You can search for it using the whole title as I wasn’t able to put the link here for some reason.).
Marketing this book of tips for parents—getting it out into the world and into the hands of those who can use and enjoy it—is going to be a major learning adventure for me. Yes!
I declare I welcome it all: small successes, getting to know new people, writing ad copy, disappointments, large successes, losing money, making money, creating sequels, fearing I’ll be seen as too self-promoting, wandering around the house trying to figure out the next priority thing to do, planning and presenting of workshops, being on the radio…all of it!
Yesterday, at my first attendance at a writers’ group in a local bookstore, I was asked to pass around my new book. It got stalled on one woman’s lap. Then I saw her slip a notebook out of her bag. She started writing intently, copying down something from Plus It! Yes! In just flipping through this parenting book, she found something of value, a tip to use with children. Yes!
That’s just how I want the book to be used—as a source of ideas and inspiration. And maybe she’ll also buy it!
(Coming next: Goals for Plus It!)