Size Matters

Star Sisters on the shelves at Edgartown Books!

Star Sisters on the shelves at Edgartown Books!

This weekend we went to Martha's Vineyard which, besides being my favorite place in the world, is also home to one of my favorite bookstores - Edgartown Books.  It's an incredible bookstore, with a large front porch where you can sit, rock, and watch the island life pass by.  And to top it all off, Edgartown Books carries Star Sisters.  It's hard for me to explain how exciting it is to see my work in a bookstore that I have loved for years.  A place where I spent many rainy afternoons with young children, dreaming of being one of those authors on the shelves, dreaming of having that kind of creative life.    

I publish independently, which brings many challenges.  But one big challenge is that stores like Barnes & Nobles will probably never carry my books (at least not with the way things currently stand).  When I decided to take the indy route, this worried me.  I was dreaming of big, huge, total Star Sisters world domination.  Then I stopped dreaming and started doing and everything changed for me.  

First, I learned that world wide domination was going to take a heck of a long time.  My books weren't going to land with a splash.  They were going to land with a teeny, tiny drop in a very big ocean.  And they were going to spread from there.  Second, I realized that there is no greater feeling than seeing my books on the shelves of local independent bookstores.  I love going into these stores and talking with the owners.  I love seeing my book spines (or sometimes forward facing covers) on the shelves.  I love the smell of the places, getting to know the people who work there, and bringing my girls along to browse the shelves and get recommendations.  

I've written this before and I'm sure I'll write it again: independent bookstores are the best.  If you're professional and have a good product, they will take the time to get to know you and your books.  They will invite you to special events and recommend your books to customers.  They will cheer for you when you get press and help you brainstorm strategies when you have a slow month.  They will make you feel like you belong in this industry even when you have days where you worry you never will.  Working with places like Edgartown Books, Wellesley Books, Newtonville Books, Winchester Bookends, Brookline Books and many more has been one of the highlights of this experience and one of the reasons why, even though I sell my books on Amazon, I will only buy my books from stores like these.     

And since we're on the topic of Martha's Vineyard and following dreams, I have to share the incredible home of Molly and Eric Glasgow, owners of the Grey Barn Farm.  This home was recently featured in Architectural Digest and it blew me away.  The short (and I'm going to guess very simplified) story is that the Glasgow's were working in high powered jobs in London when they decided to make a drastic change and move their family to Martha's Vineyard to open a dairy farm.  Several years and twenty-five cows later, just look at what they've built.  We drove by the property several times this weekend and I almost pulled my neck out straining to get a view of the place.  I'm pretty sure they open the farm to visitors during the summer and it is at the top of my list for next year.  In the meantime, I will visit these images whenever I need some inspiration to keep pushing on my making my own dreams come true.  (All images via Architectural Digest).  

In The Air

Misty Copeland via Elle Magazine

Misty Copeland via Elle Magazine

There's something in the air these days that I'm loving - a new kind of empowerment message aimed at young women and girls.  I'm seeing and hearing it in commercials, on Facebook, on the radio, and even at the toy store.  Take the following campaigns:

Always: Like A Girl

Pantene: Not Sorry

Under Armour: I Will What I Want

Goldie Box: Like a Princess

These campaigns are awesome!  (And all seem to draw inspiration from the groundbreaking "Dove: Real Beauty" campaign from a few years ago.)  Obviously these companies are not perfect, no monster corporation is.  Just like no mother is always the perfect example for own daughter.  I know I'm not.  I have my moments where I look in the mirror and sigh at the way my jeans are fitting, only to notice a tiny little face watching me with those big eyes that take in every little thing, that pick up on every little sigh.  All I'm saying is that I love the message.  I love that all the money, resources, and brain power that it takes to produce these kind of videos is being spent on helping girls recognize their own self-worth.  On helping them see the beauty and power within.  

It's really inspiring and it's made me a think a lot about what I put out into the world.  Because even if my voice is a small one (at least for now), more and more girls are reading my words every day.  They are taking in my thoughts and stories and, as much as I want my writing to entertain, I also want it to teach.  That's why every story I write centers around kindness.  That's why no matter where in the world Coco and Lucy go, they don't return home until they've left it a better place, until they've helped someone.  But now I want to take my message even farther.  I've got this idea turning in my head for a new spin-off series based on this awesome message that's floating in the air.  Now I've just got to get this idea down on paper.  That's the fun part.

In the meantime, I am SO proud of Star Sisters and the Best Seller, which is coming out on Monday!  It's inspired by J.K. Rowling, a brilliant woman who has been a huge source of inspiration to me.  The book centers around a little girl (K.J. Dowling) who wants to be a writer.  No one takes her seriously and she's feeling pretty down, until Coco and Lucy come to the rescue and convince her not to give up.  To never stop trying.  It's the perfect book for any girl with big dreams.  And the New York City setting is the icing on the cake.  Don't Coco and Lucy look like so happy on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

Oh, Anne!

Does anyone else read the title of this post and immediately hear Diana Barry's voice in their head?  I certainly do.  I've been thinking a lot about Anne of Green Gables as I go through the process of writing my own Star Sisters books.  I've been trying to figure out what makes Lucy Montgomery's book so magical.  What about Anne Shirley made us all fall in love with her?  What about Prince Edward Island enchanted us?  Why as an adult did I buy a hardback copy of the book for my newborn daughter's bookshelf?  I've also got Anne on my mind because I've recently introduced her to my own daughters.  My older girls are four and six so, sadly, we're not cuddling up in bed mutually absorbed in Montgomery's words.  Even the annotated version that I picked up at the library was too complex for them.  But one rainy day, I took a chance and rented the PBS series of Anne of Green Gables that originally aired in 1985 and it was a huge success.  My girls were just as absorbed as I was, although I think all my sighs of nostalgia were quite annoying.  But really, watch this trailer and try not to sigh (or cry).  I dare you!

I'm currently rereading Anne of Green Gables with an adult's eye and what I find so interesting is that Montgomery wrote for a mature, intelligent reader.  Her sentences are complex, her descriptions are lengthy and wandering, and her dialogue is so detailed.  As a result she created such a sense of place and person that the reader feels like they're entering a different world (the holy grail of compliments for many writers).  Yet somehow this book has become known as a children's novel.   Do children's authors write like this anymore?  Are they even allowed to?  By that I mean: would an author that wrote in a similar style get their work published these days?  I don't know.  My kids aren't reading at this level yet so I don't have any current works to compare.  But I do know that one of the first things a book seller said to me when I brought Star Sisters and the Royal Wedding to her store was: "I don't know, that third sentence is kind of long."  For the record, that third sentence is 45 words long.  Montgomery's first sentence is approximately 150 words long.  (Also for the record, they both involved descriptions of a stream.  Subconscious emulation on my part, perhaps?  Also, also for the record, that bookseller is constantly selling out of my books.  Just saying!).

Anyway, I find Anne Shirley so inspiring.  She's spunky, dramatic, flawed, smart, and she grows so much over the course her fictional life.  I cannot wait for the day when my girls are old enough to read the original Montgomery version.  In the meantime, I can only hope that some of my littlest readers out there love Star Sisters just an ounce as much as I loved this series growing up.  That would be amazing.  

Now, while Anne is clearly the star of the show, Prince Edward Island is a close second.  And I thought it would be fun to imagine a modern-day Green Gables.  A house that was warm, yet stylish.  The kind of place that would enchant a visitor and inspire a young orphan to pinch her arms so many times that they turned black and blue from the elbow up, for so amazed was she at her new home that she could hardly believe it was real.

The kitchen would be warm and tidy, as Marilla would stand for nothing less.  A mix between these two:

Via  Pinterest

And the entry way would be welcoming, but with a strong sense of the past:

Via  Pinterest
I mage via  Heather Bullard

There would obviously be a library where Anne would spend hours with her beloved books and wild imagination:

Via  Pinterest

And Anne's bedroom would be a combo of fun and cozy.  The perfect place for a young girl to look out the window and daydream the day away.  A cross between these two:

P.S. This is a great article about how the series has spawned a whole arm of tourism on Prince Edward Island.   

Brand Building - Island Style

The Vineyard Vines brothers, Shep and Ian.

The Vineyard Vines brothers, Shep and Ian.

This past week I was on Martha's Vineyard, a place well known in New England for its beautiful beaches, incredible farmland, and classic coastal towns.  But to the rest of the country, I think Martha's Vineyard is becoming known for being the birthplace of Vineyard Vines, a clothing company that has been expanding like crazy these past few years.  Much like Nantucket Nectars, Vineyard Vines was started by two guys, Shep and Ian (also brothers), who drew inspiration from an island they loved to start selling a product.  For the Nantucket Nectars guys, that product was homemade juice that they sold boat-to-boat in Nantucket Harbor.  For the Vineyard Vines brothers, it was preppy colorful ties.  If you do a little digging into how both these companies started, you get the sense that it all began with two guys who just wanted to live by the water and sell enough product to cover their mooring fees.  It seems that neither could have ever imagined how big their sales would get.  

But in both cases, sales got really, really big.  On July 3rd, I walked into the newly expanded Vineyard Vines store in Edgartown and saw Ian, one of the founding brothers, shaking hands and taking pictures with his devoted customers.  The staff was fully decked out in their preppy glory, a Hinkley-inspired boat couch gleamed in the front room, and sales were booming.  I later read that it was on July 3rd, 1998, exactly sixteen years earlier, that Ian and his brother sold their first batch of ties.  They sold those ties door-to-door on commission, which means they paid for the product upfront and gave them to stores for free, receiving a split only when the ties sold.  

And that made me really, really happy.  Because that's how I sell to bookstores.  I go in person and introduce myself and my books and then provide inventory to the stores.  I make many follow-up phones calls and many long drives to restock supplies when the books sell out (which they have been very fast!).  It's a lot of unglamorous legwork, but I'm learning that it's what I need to do to grow my young company.  Yes, company.  Star Sisters will always be first and foremost about writing, because that's what I love and what really fulfills me. But I also want it to be bigger than just a single book.  I want to produce an entire series that moms and kids love, that they think of whenever they need something new to read, or the perfect birthday present, or a fabulous necklace to celebrate a milestone event.  And that takes a lot of work.  But I think part of the reason that the Nantucket Nectars and Vineyard Vines guys have succeeded is because they genuinely loved their products.  They came up with something unique that didn't exist before and people responded.  I've certainly got the love, so I can't wait to see what happens.

And while we're talking fashion, Annie and I are starting to think about illustrations for Book 4, titled Star Sisters and the Best Seller.  It's such a fun part of the process because she is amazing at bringing my ideas to life.  It's not a summer book, but if it was I could totally see Coco in this chevron halter and Lucy in this collared anchor print:


Baby Steps (or Mocs).

star sisters mocs.jpg

Should you happen to ring my doorbell on an average Friday night, you would find me and my husband sprawled on the couch watching Shark Tank.  He and I have very different taste in television - one of us leans more Top Gear, while the other more Real Housewives of whatever city is playing.  But Shark Tank is the one show that we both love equally.  My husband likes the business wheeling and dealing side of the show and I love the personal side of the show, particularly the stories about moms like me who have an idea for a product and work their bootys off to that make that idea an actual business.  I keep trying to think of a reason why The Star Sisters chapter book series should be on Shark Tank but so far nothing rational comes to mind, at least until we start production on Coco and Lucy dolls.  (Kidding.  Kind of.)

Hands down, my favorite Shark Tank guest was Susan Petersen of Freshly Picked.  Susan earned money to start her business by removing the aluminum framing from old windows.  She had a vision for the kind of baby moccasin she wanted to produce and she made it happen, big time.  On the show, Susan scored an investment from Shark Damian and she's recently been traveling across the U.S. selling her moccasins at Land of Nod pop up shops.

I know all about Susan's travels because I, along with roughly 128,000 other people, follow Susan on Instagram.  Impressive number, right?  In an interview with SMP Living Susan cited Instagram as her top marketing source and suggests a 20/40/40 breakdown of content - meaning 20% promotional, 40% about the company (behind the scenes and such), and 40% personal. It helps tremendously that Susan's product is insanely cute and the woman takes full advantage of featuring chubby baby thighs and feet, as she very well should.  But I wonder if this marketing advice can be applied to a publishing venture like Star Sisters?  After all, part of what inspired my to publish Star Sisters independently is the desire to bring a fresher, stylish approach to the children's chapter book genre. So I'm going to give this Instagram marketing thing a shot!  After all, I've spent enough time by myself with just a blank screen for company, it's time to start engaging with the outside world, even if its only virtually.  Baby steps, one social media platform at a time. 

Creative Inspiration: Jess Brown Dolls

Having spent many, many unfortunate years suppressing my creative side (I'm talking about you, law school!), I am so inspired by all the artistic people out there.  But the people that really get me excited are the women who combine their creative passions with motherhood.  (After all, that's what I'm trying to do right now with Star Sisters).  Those are the woman I emulate, whose websites I obsessively troll trying to gather tips or insights about their paths.  

Jess Brown is one such victim of my stalker-ish tendencies.  I can't remember the first time I saw one of her dolls but it must have been before I had children because I swore that my daughters would only play with Jess Brown rag dolls, no plastic barbies with synthetic hair for my precious unborn offspring.  Well, those lofty ambitions fell by the wayside once I actually had children and realized that (1) they had minds of their own and (2) sometimes things are mass produced in cheap plastic because they are just so darn helpful (this realization started with the obnoxiously colorful and loud baby excersauce, commonly known among my friends as baby crack).  But I still stop and sigh whenever I see a Jess Brown doll.  So lovely, right?

Each doll is handmade and they're not cheap.  But fear not, there is an affordable way to get some Jess Brown beauty into your life.  "Kiki and Coco in Paris" is  beautiful book that tells the story of a girl named Kiki and who travels to Paris with her Jess Brown rag doll, Coco.  Photographed by Stephanie Rausser, the book is full of gorgeous images of not only Paris, but also the doll.  The story is a touching one about the connection between a doll and "her girl" who are meant just for each other.  It's one that I've read over and over, as much for the content as for the mini-bedtime escape to Paris.  

Or, if you're really in need of a Jess Brown doll and you've got a snow day on your hands, you can make one yourself.  I made this one with my oldest daughter one snowy day last winter.  It was a lot of work and I had to sacrifice an old sweater or two but I think it came out pretty well!  And we named her Coco, of course!