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