I need to rant and vent and get some encouragement. Some will think this is nothing but a big whine… but I need your opinion and maybe some help.
Yesterday, my motivations were called into question by someone that I thought was a friend. I believe one of the worst things for a person to do is insult someone else’s dreams, ambitions or goals. And this is exactly what my friend did to me. It hurt– deeply.
As you know, earlier this year, we released a book for children titled Pete the Popcorn. Pete the Popcorn was dreamed up when co-author Joe Kelley’s nephew was being bullied in school. He was 11 years old at the time– and the situation grew bad enough for him to move to a new school.
Joe and I began talking with school teachers, administrators and psychologists. They all said the same thing: the solution to bullying isn’t about the bully or the victim. The solution lies in Child Number Three– the one that is watching it happen. That third child needs to learn that it’s OK to stand up and encourage the victim, while letting the bully know that what they did was wrong.
This is tough to do. Even as adults, we have a difficult time standing up for someone else. So how do you teach this to small children? We’ve attempted to do it through a fun children’s book. By teaching kids to simply be nice to one another, compliment each other, be friends or play with kids you don’t normally play with… these are all ways of encouraging others.
Even The Bible speaks of encouragement. By starting to encourage each other at a very young age, this becomes easier and easier to do on a daily basis as we grow older. It’s the chain of encouragement— someone encourages you, then you find it easier to encourage me, which makes me encourage someone else… and the chain builds.
When we were developing a plan to market our book, we decided to focus on “pro-encouragement” rather than “anti-bullying”. However, The Toledo Blade ran an article about the book, hailing it as a perfect way to talk about bullying with very young children. The dye had been cast…. Pete the Popcorn was an anti-bullying book in the eyes of the media, soon followed by teachers and parents.
Which brings me to yesterday… a friend made a passing comment that Joe and I were “getting rich” off “anti-bullying.” This person insinuated that we were “kicking back, living the good life” and “collecting checks” while kids were still getting picked on.
Now, I’m not saying that Pete the Popcorn is some earth-shattering, ground-breaking masterpiece. But I am proud of it– and it makes us feel great when a child tells us that they love the story. And book sales are nice– but have we gotten “rich”? No– far from it. I’m still driving my 1999 Chrysler Sebring with 225,000 miles on it… as soon as I upgrade, I’ll let y’all know.
This friend also made the reference that Pete the Popcorn wasn’t really doing any good– that we were just using the “bullying” tag to sell books. Well, we don’t have any way to measure whether or not our book has made an impact, that much is true. But we’ve received feedback from individual parents and teachers on how a particular child has related to Pete, Patty or the story in general. And when you’re discussing children’s literature, all that matters is whether or not your book has impacted one child.
And for my friend’s claim that we are, “kicking back”? I’ve never worked so hard in my life as I have this past year. Apparently, this person doesn’t realize that Joe and I do it all— marketing via Facebook and other online means, contacting schools, appearing at schools, maintaining a website, producing videos documenting school visits, signing books, speaking at family literacy nights, writing new stories, keeping up with a blog, ordering books, shipping books, working with our illustrator, producing a version of Pete the Popcorn for iPad, maintaining relationships with business partners like gourmet popcorn shops, developing relationships for future releases… this list could literally go on and on and on. Last week, we spent 8 hours– literally 8 hours– calling schools and then sending out emails. Do you know how many schools got back to us? Zero. And that’s for free readings.
Are we looking to make some money? Absolutely. Are we looking to get rich? In the book business, that’s just a very, very rare occurrence. This is already a full-time job— but we aren’t making full-time money. Both of us are still required to work other jobs in order to pay the bills. Would we like to make enough money producing books so this ONE full-time job is all we have to do? Yes– that is our goal.
However, I’m downright baffled and insulted that anyone would think that somehow we’re living high off the hog. If anything, we’re still in the phase of business where we’re losing money.
But it’s been worth being poor. What do I mean by that? I’ve gotten this crazy opportunity to carve out a career for myself where I’m doing something that I absolutely love to do. There’s an old saying– “do what you love and the money will follow.” Well, I’ve completed the first part. In producing Children’s Books, I get the chance to be creative, to learn, to work with new and emerging technologies, to produce fun videos (which I’ve been doing since high school– literally.)
Not only have we attempted to take on bullying through our teaching of encouragement, but we’ve also had the opportunity to promote literacy.
Back in the Spring, at one of our school visits, we ran across a school that was closing. Their library books were destined for the recycling bin. After much back-and-forth and begging, Joe and I were able to obtain the books for distribution. There were thousands and thousands of books that we had the opportunity to give away to deserving children for their summer reading.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have a troop of magical elves following us around. So we rented a U-Haul with our own money, worked the phones to get a space donated, secured donations from friends for food and drinks, hassled people to volunteer, contacted school districts and media to help spread the word (again– zero response)— all of this led to the very first Summer Book Swap, where kids could get free books for reading during the summer.
When thousands of books were left over, we again loaded them all up and took them to a festival, where they were all given away to families that needed them. Have you ever lifted, loaded, stacked and organized boxes and boxes of books? Let’s just say that the back wasn’t feeling too hot for a good week following both of these events.
We even walked in a parade– where we handed out hundreds of books to kids lining the route. And these were BRAND NEW books donated by Michigan State Senator Glenn Anderson. Now how’s that for promoting literacy? Handing out BRAND NEW books in a parade instead of candy…
And then there is our National Book Tour, Encouragement Across America. Oh, it sure sounds fancy. At least my friend that started this whole rant with their comments yesterday thinks so. This person said that we are, “out seeing the country, having a good time…” Well, that’s a grand theory. And I wish it were true.
Since the tour started on September 10th, we have visited schools in Des Moines, Mason City, Rapid City, Billings, Pocatello, Carson City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Grand Junction, Hays, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit, Toledo, Dayton, Lexington, Pigeon Forge, Fayetteville and Jacksonville. I didn’t even list smaller communities where we’ve read— like Milford, Michigan and Fremont, Ohio and many more.
The current mileage on the rental car is over 9,000 miles since this trip began. We’ve been sleeping in Motel 6-range hotels or with friends– or camping. I’ve eaten so many $1 menu items it’s crazy. We’ve slurped down so much McDonald’s coffee in return for free Wi-Fi. And keep in mind that after we read to schools from 8 AM until 3 PM that there is usually an 8-hour drive to the next city. How very glamorous.
We also have not charged schools a dime for appearances thus far. We’ve been relying on book orders from students, teachers and libraries to fund this tour. Unfortunately, the average book order from each school has been 5 books. And then we’ve had schools not even return orders. So, we’ve lost our time, the order forms (which are not cheap), gas money, hotel costs and more.
Now, have we seen some beautiful sites during this journey? Absolutely. Do we deserve, when we’re 20 miles from Mt. Rushmore, to see this landmark? I think so.
But we’ve also lost thousands and thousands of dollars completing this tour. Will it eventually pay off in the long run? I certainly do hope so. I know that the students from coast-to-coast have thoroughly enjoyed our visits and seemed to learn quite a bit. While that makes this whole process “worth it” in my heart, it certainly doesn’t pay the mortgage.
One last great thing that we’ve done this year: our friends and supporters organized to donate nearly $1000 so that we can give away free books to deserving school libraries and students. Through the website indiegogo.com, folks were able to contribute different amounts– but just $10 was enough to sponsor a child. This definitely makes up for the lack of orders we’ve been receiving from schools.
But I did find this amazing… and it leads me to believe that maybe more people have an opinion like my friend from yesterday: Joe turned 40 in August. And I turned 30 in September. All we asked for, for our mini-landmark birthdays, was for our friends to sponsor a child for $10. On my birthday, just two of my friends donated. Yet, in past years, people have lined up at bars and restaurants to purchase me and them a drink in celebration. Was I selfish for asking? Or were they selfish for not participating?
So, I need to know from friends and strangers: was my friend correct? Are we out here “getting rich” off anti-bullying? Or is what we’re doing a unique way to help children?
In order to make up for the lack of book orders, we’ve opened up a new indiegogo campaign. You can find that online at www.indiegogo.com/petepopcorn For $10, you can sponsor a school library. That’s right– for just $10, we will be able to donate a book to a school library that we visit. Countless children will have access to Pete the Popcorn. Or, if $10 is too much, you can donate $5 and we will send you a postcard from the road.
We certainly do appreciate your donations– and if you have Facebook, a blog or Twitter, sharing this information with the world can make miracles happen. Maybe you can help prove my friend wrong and encourage us to keep going at the same time.
I do also want to let you know that we’re not giving up on bringing good messages to children. I remember being encouraged when I was a child. And hopefully you do, too. Joe and I, even though we don’t have children, know the importance of offering reassurance and encouragement.
So we are proud to announce that our new book is available for pre-ordering and will ship before the end of the year. Casey and Callie Cupcake is a Frosted Fable About Being Fantastic Just the Way You Are…
When kids harm themselves, many times it is simply because they don’t think they’re good enough. Through this next book, we want to let children know that they are PERFECT just the way they are– all the toppings and frostings in the world may look nice, but it’s what’s on the inside that really counts.
We are offering a super steal for those pre-ordering Casey and Callie Cupcake: For $25, you get a signed first-edition, a t-shirt, your dedication actually printed in the acknowledgment section of the book…. and we will donate an additional copy to a school library on our travels. This offer is limited to the first 250 people– and it’s a steal. When the book is released on Amazon.com, it will retail for $12.99. So this is like a buy-one, get-one WITH a free t-shirt! Just click here to pre-order!
If you’re a business, a school or a teacher, this is an awesome way to get your name in print now and forever… making your stand with encouraging children.
Folks, I appreciate the feedback. I strongly believe that my friend was wrong yesterday… and that we are attempting to do great things for children. Stand with us today by becoming a part of the movement…
Co-Authors of Pete the Popcorn
Thanks for visiting this blog! As you see, it is not supported by advertising. If you would like to personally support this blog and its authors, please visit Amazon to purchase our Children’s Book, Pete the Popcorn! If you don’t have a child in your life, donate a copy to your local school or library! Also, we LOVE it when people LIKE us on Facebook. To learn more about our books, please visit www.PeteThePopcorn.com