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Beth Stafford and Jeremy Slagle

In this episode, Chris talks with creative team, Beth Stafford and Jeremy Slagle. Together they've written, illustrated and published two successful children's books that shine a light on the importance of teaching empathy to both parents and their kids.

Empathy, Self-Publishing and Collaborative Spirit
Empathy, Self-Publishing and Collaborative Spirit

Empathy, Self-Publishing and Collaborative Spirit

Ep
78
Apr
13
With
Beth Stafford and Jeremy Slagle
Or Listen On:

The Importance of Teaching Empathy

In this episode, Chris talks with creative team, Beth Stafford and Jeremy Slagle. Together they've written, illustrated and published two successful children's books that shine a light on the importance of teaching empathy to both parents and their kids.

These two solopreneurs share how their truly collaborative spirit works, the perks and perils of social media and the unintended benefits of pursuing that side project you can't stop thinking about.

Both Beth and Jeremy are graphic designers, with Jeremy working largely in branding. Their motivation for writing children’s books came naturally and with no specific intentions; they do it just to do it.

The two were introduced through Beth’s husband, who originally, was creating the illustrations for Beth’s first children’s books. Their paths would later cross again, when Beth asked Jeremy if he would like to illustrate the book. Emphatically, he said yes.

The two searched the web for the best practices to curate the promotional messaging of the book. They raised funds entirely on Kickstarter to get their first book, Chin Up, Chinchilla, out on bookshelves and in the hands of parents and kids.

They were able to raise money for their first book rather quickly thanks to a mixture of both word of mouth and social media marketing. They met with child psychologists and took notes from other children’s authors to refine the story before publishing.

So why write about empathy? For Beth, she was curious to know what she could teach her daughter that she found was incredibly important as an adult. When she noticed how easily empathy came to her daughter, she knew that was vital not just for her, but for everyone to practice and apply to their daily lives.

If you're a parent, teacher or curious about publishing then you are in for a wonderful treat. Even if you're none of those things, give this one a listen, because there's always something to learn.

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Episode Transcript

Beth:
I really wrote it in one night. It just came to me this idea of [inaudible 00:00:05] Chinchilla and I started writing the rhymes and it just all came together. And so for me, I often struggle with that, like how do I teach someone else to do this when I feel like the story was kind of a gift that was given to me?

Greg:
Hello, and welcome to the Futur Podcast. My name is Greg Gunn, and I'm not only the producer of the show, but also your temporary intro reader during these strange pandemic times. Chris and I usually talk about the episode up front together, but today it's just me. You're stuck with me. I know, I don't like it either. Now we've got two guests on the show today, a team if you will. And together they've written, illustrated and published two successful children's books that shine a light on the importance of teaching empathy to both parents and their kids.

Greg:
These two solopreneurs share how their truly collaborative spirit works, the perks and perils of social media, and the unintended benefits of pursuing that side project that you just can't stop thinking about. If you're a parent, a teacher, or just curious about how publishing works, then you are in for a wonderful treat. And if you're none of those things, don't worry about it. Stick around anyway, because there's always something to learn. Please enjoy our conversation with Beth Stafford and Jeremy Slagle.

Chris:
The first thing I'm going to just ask is for you guys to introduce yourself and give us a little background as to who you are.

Beth:
I'm Beth Stafford. I am a graphic designer professionally, but I also have written some children's books on this side. And so those books are called Chin Up, Chinchilla and Hip Hooray, Hippo.

Jeremy:
I'm Jeremy Slagle. I'm a graphic designer and illustrator, I do a lot of work in branding. Always wanted to do a children's book, illustrated children's book. I had trouble reading when I was little. So picture books always resonated with me and I just love that style of illustration. So I had an opportunity to work with Beth on it. And we ran two successful Kickstarter campaigns. So that kind of brings us to where we are today.

Chris:
Yeah, your latest Kickstarter project, I think it's still ongoing, right?

Jeremy:
It's done.

Beth:
Last night.

Chris:
Oh, it's done? Okay. So you hit your pledge goals? That's amazing.

Jeremy:
Yes.

Chris:
Congratulations, first of all.

Beth:
Thank you.

Jeremy:
Thank you.

Chris:
Yeah. So I have a lot of questions, but I know that you were on podcasts of a friend of mine, Dan Gibbs. So I don't want to retread. I don't want to retread and if there's things that you've talked about and other things, which I haven't seen, I don't want to go there either. So what makes the most sense for us to kind of talk about because I have 1000 questions, but you guys know more than I do, like where this conversation should go?

Beth:
Yeah, I think there are two main things that have come from this project. And one is just talking about empathy and the different ways that we can empathize with other people, whether it be in their sadness or happiness. And to us, that's probably the most important thing. And the other thing that we've really learned is just how do you partner with somebody to work on something successfully, and still like each other in the end?

Chris:
No easy task. You laugh, but it's not an easy task.

Beth:
Yeah.

Chris:
Okay.

Jeremy:
Yeah, I would say the other thing that might be worth touching on is kind of like the unintended benefits of doing a side project like this. Neither of us did this project to get rich. I mean, we're basically covering the cost of books and shipping and we're just doing it to do it. Neither of us want to stop doing graphic design and start doing children's books. And so it really is a side project and something that we just want to do for fun. But what's been really cool from an unintended side effect is, is that I've had opportunities now to speak at major conferences and do workshops that I learned so many tools and tricks and tips and things that I kind of pushed myself to do to create the book, that I had a wealth of information, and now I'm doing workshops, and it's been really, really great. So the things like that have been things that I hadn't anticipated, but they've been real beneficial.

Chris:
That's great. So that sounds like three pillars in which we can use to guide us through this conversation. So I guess the first question I have for you is, of all the things you could talk about why is empathy so important to either one of you or both of you?

Beth:
I think for me as a parent, I approach my parenting in a way that I'm thinking, what is something that I find so important now as an adult that I can really see clearly how much it matters? Or what is something that I really struggle with that I want to make better for my child moving forward? And so when I saw my daughter starting to show signs of empathy towards others, I thought, yes, that is so important to me. I want her to look at other people and care about them and care about how they're feeling and be able to relate to them. And so my initial goal in writing the book was just to write it for her to say, this is what I want you to be when you grow up. I want you to be a person who loves people well.

Beth:
And so I wrote it, and then I started talking to other parents and they're telling me, "Yes, I would love to have this story as well." And so that gave me this confidence that there was a need for it. That other parents also want to try to do the same thing. Take something simple like a story, but use it as a tool to bring about a greater good and to hopefully give their kids the resources they need to be better adults when they grow up.

Chris:
Did your daughter inspire the story because you saw this trait in her?

Beth:
Yes. She did. She would watch TV and she would see Tinkerbell in a perilous situation and she would go, "Oh, no. Tinkerbell." Like I could see it in her face, she was taking on the same emotions that she was seeing portrayed in the show. And even now, we'll be playing a game together and my turn won't go so well. And she will say things to me like, "I'm sorry, mommy. I know that must make you feel really frustrated." And I just think, "Yes, that's the way I want you to feel, instead of only thinking about yourself."

Chris:
Yeah, she'll probably make a great therapist one day.

Beth:
Maybe.

Chris:
It's required, the empathy. Okay, so you're watching your daughter kind of observing her as she interacts with the world. And that's a spark for an idea. So you write the story. How is this story first translated into a form that you can share with people? Did you post this as a blog? Or is it just something you told people?

Beth:
I just personally told people. I would be sitting with a friend at lunch and I would say, "I had this idea for a book, do you care if I read it to you?" And then I would read it to them and I would be able to just see their expressions and see how they were taking it in. And so that's just basically what I did very organically. As I was sitting with people, I would just bring it up and ask if they were interested to hear about it. And every time people would say, "Yes, I hope that you really make this book. Please really make this book," which I mean, you have to... I mean, if you've ever watched American Idol and you can see people come on there who think that they're so great that they have a great voice. And it's just because their parents encouraged them. I mean, there's always a part of you that thinks, "Are you just saying you like this because you're my friend?" But I genuinely thought it was a quality story that people really were connecting with.

Chris:
Mm-hmm. So now let's connect this to Jeremy, where does he come into this story? And how does this begin?

Jeremy:
I'm really good friends with Beth's husband, Ben. And we were hanging out at the Creative South Conference probably three years ago now, hanging out at dinner and he... Sometimes we as designers show each other what we're working on or side projects, and he pulled his phone up and he's like, "Hey, my wife wrote this really cute story. And I'm doing some illustrations for it." And he showed them to me and I was like, "Oh," I was so jealous because I've always wanted to do children's book. And so I was like, "These are great, Ben. These are really, really good." And they were.

Jeremy:
And then we had Beth and Ben on my podcast about, I don't know, six months later, maybe a year later. And we went out for tacos afterwards and I just said, "Hey, how's that book going?" And they kind of looked at each other. And then Beth looked over me and she's like, "Do you want to illustrate it?"

Chris:
Uh-oh.

Jeremy:
Yeah, I was taken aback a little bit, was not expecting that as an answer. So yeah, so I was like, "Yes." And she's like, "Well, maybe we should talk about... It's probably not going to make a lot of money and we should probably talk," and I'm like, "Yes, I don't really care about any of that. I just want to work with you on it. The story is so great." I remember it, really connecting with it when Ben shared it with me and I just wanted to do it.

Chris:
Okay. So Beth take us to the trouble in paradise. What happened?

Beth:
Oh, you mean with Ben?

Chris:
Yeah. You're still married, right?

Beth:
Yes, we are.

Chris:
Okay. All right.

Beth:
It's one of those things that people assume you have the skill set. He's an illustrator. And so they assume that you can just do anything. And really, he would draw something and I'd be like, "That's perfect. Yes, that's great." And he'd be like, "No, I don't, that's not good for me." Then he would do something and I would be like, "Oh, but that's not quite what I had wanted." And I think it got to the point where he felt like he was holding up the process because he wasn't getting it where he wanted it on his end. And so at one point, he's just like, "You know what, I just think you should find someone else."

Beth:
And so I sat on that story for a year or more without having anybody to illustrate it. And I knew it was just something I was going to have to wait for and save up my money and find the right person. And so when we connected with Jeremy and he was talking about always wanting to do a children's book, I'm just sitting there like, maybe I should just bring it up. I mean, what's the worst he can do is say no.

Chris:
Okay, okay. So when your husband Ben tells you I think due to his perfectionist or whatever that is, how did that make you feel? When he said like, "I think you need to find somebody else."

Beth:
It's a mixture of disappointment because I would love to be the next... what? Stan and Jan Berenstain. That would have been awesome to be able to partner with him on it because he is so talented, and I know that he would do a great job. But there was also something freeing about that too, that I didn't have to wait for him to fit it into his schedule or wait for him to get to a spot where he was happy with it. I could just take it and see if I could still make it a thing because I don't think he wanted it to die, and essentially, that's probably what would happen if I was just continually waiting for him and he wasn't fulfilling his needs through the process.

Chris:
So you were disappointed, but you... I mean, did it feel like, well, at least you're telling me now, so this doesn't become some kind of bitter thing between the two of us.

Beth:
Yeah. Because I didn't want to keep... I think every time I'd say, "So, are we going to work on that?" I think he just felt a lot of guilt. And he didn't want that to be part of our experience with it. And because we work in this field, the creative field, we know there are so many talented people out there, and a lot of them we're friends with, people that we know. And so if we were going to have someone do it, it's not like we wouldn't know where to start. It would just be a factor of who would be interested and how would we afford it and all those different details.

Chris:
So disappointment, and then a year later turns into opportunity?

Beth:
Yeah.

Chris:
And so you're like, "What do I have to lose if I asked Jeremy?" And secretly kind of unbeknownst to you, he's like, "Man, I wanted to do a project like that."

Beth:
Yes.

Chris:
Right?

Jeremy:
Yep.

Chris:
So we all can learn something here. It's like these kind of unspoken ideas that kind of just are left lingering. This is the classic formula for most Hollywood films, where one person needs to say like, "Don't leave," and the other person's like, "I just need you to hug me right now," and nobody does anything and then they split up and then reunite 20 years later. Luckily for you guys it only took a year to figure this out. And so you guys are working together. What's the working relationship like then?

Jeremy:
Awesome. Beth's like a one of the most organized just on the ball people I've ever worked with in my life. I mean, I am in some ways, kind of the typical designer, where I'm just kind of just designing stuff and throwing it at her. And she's the one who's like, "Okay, I'm going to make sure we have the ISBN number< I'm going to reach out for this, I'm going to make sure that..." And we've been using Dropbox Paper because we live an hour and a half apart. So we use Dropbox Paper to kind of organize all of our stuff and make sure we're on the same page. It's a great tool for that. But she is just on it. She is just totally on it. She's been running all the social media for everything.

Jeremy:
Because she's also a talented designer in her own right, she has the ability to take, basically my illustrations that we have in a shared Dropbox, and then all of a sudden I see all of these Instagram posts popping up where she's basically typesetting and writing headlines and dropping our characters into them. It's just been a really great partnership in a lot of ways.

Beth:
Yeah, I think what is a benefit to us is that we have a lot of similar standards. Like we have very high standards. We want this to be great. But we have very different strengths that help us achieve those goals. So it's not like we both have the same weaknesses, and then we can't accomplish certain things. I think that because we complement each other, it really fills in those gaps.

Jeremy:
Yeah, we defer to each other a lot, too. I mean, if it's something that I feel passionate about, she'll usually defer to me, and if it's something I can tell she feels passionate about. But we get along really, really well. It's been a great partnership.

Chris:
So it sounds to me like via distance based technology, and it's very relevant to what's going on right now, you guys were able to collaborate in a very seamless way. And I don't hear that many people who love Dropbox Paper as much as I do. So it's kind of nice. I'm like, "Oh, there's another person, that kindred spirit."

Jeremy:
Yeah, it is awesome.

Chris:
Isn't it?

Jeremy:
Yes.

Chris:
I know there are a lot of other options out there, but they're not intuitive. There're too many features. That's a story for a different day. But it sounded like you were working in a kind of true collaborative spirit where Images inspire layout and layout inspires images. And you guys are ping ponging back and forth. And then this book is born. Okay, so I want to talk a little bit about how the Kickstarter project went assuming that was your first Kickstarter project for... The first book was Chin Up, Chinchilla. What did you do to prepare for this? What were the lessons that you learned from doing it and the pitfalls that you may or may not have stepped into?

Jeremy:
We reached out to a lot of people. We definitely did our homework, there's loads and loads of blog posts and websites where people are basically saying, here's some great rules to follow. Here's kind of some metrics as far as how long your video should be, or just different things to keep in mind for your messaging and signs or attributes of a successful Kickstarter type thing. So we followed all of that stuff, but we also reached out to people that we know and have run successful campaigns in the past and just listened. And it was really helpful.

Chris:
Were there any strategies that you applied or things that didn't work out the way you expected, either good or bad?

Jeremy:
I think we had a lot of our stuff together before we started, it wasn't like, we decided we're going to run a Kickstarter. And then if it got funded, then we would do the art sort of thing. So we had a lot of work done before the Kickstarter ever was launched. We were probably 60 or 70% done with all the illustrations. We did a ton of work. And I think part of it's because we knew between the two of us, we just wanted to get a book printed and in people's hands. And I remember Beth saying at one point in time, "Listen, if this thing doesn't get funded, I'll just go out and get something printed so I have one in my hand."

Jeremy:
And so for us, it was like we're going to do this book regardless, this is what we want to do. So yeah, so I think part of it for us was making sure we had a viable product. We had it vetted. We ran it through a bunch of people, we got some great feedback from people. We met and talked with child psychologists. We talked with children's book. There are people out there that critique children's books, and one at a local college here, and she gave us some feedback, some of which we took. And so it was really great. So yeah, a lot of it was reaching outside of ourselves for help.

Chris:
Yeah. So I think I want to tie this to something that Beth said earlier, that sometimes your friends and your family will tell you what they think you want to hear. And you're not quite sure if that's something you could go to the bank with. So the idea of product validation, Kickstarter, I love because it's like, is there a real demand for this thing or not? Or is it just five friends that love me, and that's what they want, and I'll still do it, but... And then you try it out and you never know what's going to happen. It could exceed your dreams, or it could just fall short and be a little disappointing. But I think it's a great way for anybody that has an idea to kind of test it first. And a great way to test it is through Kickstarter, put your money where your mouth is, and see what happens.

Chris:
Now I have to ask a couple of questions here before I forget, do either one of you have a huge social following to kind of put behind this project so that it can get the attention that it needs?

Beth:
No. I actually have a private account.

Chris:
Oh my God, you're one of those people.

Beth:
I'm one of those people.

Chris:
I got to talk to you about that in a second.

Beth:
Yeah.

Chris:
You have a private account.

Beth:
I do. I mostly just post pictures of my kid. And there's some security reasons why I have it on private.

Chris:
Yeah, of course.

Beth:
But I think most people wouldn't even really want to follow me. I'm not posting work, things to inspire. It's just mostly [inaudible 00:19:50]. So I have it on private, so really, I don't have that many. And we created a totally separate account for people to follow, to follow the book progress, and so we could tell our friends about that. I would say Jeremy has a bigger following than I do. But I don't think that he really... Well, I'll let you talk about it yourself.

Chris:
Yeah, let's talk about it.

Jeremy:
I'm not a big fan of social media. I'll just be completely honest.

Chris:
Oh, no.

Jeremy:
I know. I know.

Chris:
Okay. Two [crosstalk 00:20:23] on you guys right now. Okay, go ahead.

Jeremy:
I know who I'm talking to. So I'm totally willing to hear it back from you.

Chris:
Okay.

Jeremy:
But I'm not a big fan just because I feel like, in and out, I feel like I've gotten better about who I follow. And I feel like it's just a giant gripe session.

Chris:
Really?

Jeremy:
Yeah, sometimes. I don't need that in my life. I do post work on it every once in a while. I usually use it mostly for posting blog posts that I've got on my website to kind of draw people back to my site. I spend more time on my website than I do on social media. I rank really really high on Google for some reason and I wish I could tell you how but I do locally, especially in the area that I do a lot of my work in. So I just don't spend a lot of time there. I'm a dad. I've got two high school kids that are involved in theater and in the arts and in varsity athletics. And so I'm constantly chasing after them and usually, after five o'clock, it's phones down. I'm not flipping through Twitter. I just don't do it. I don't have time for it.

Jeremy:
I mean, I do have a social media presence. It's there. I couldn't tell you how many followers I have on any of them. But I'd say of all of them, I'd like to hang out on Instagram the most just because I feel like people are nicer to each other and less grumpy about stuff. And I'm just looking at cool art at point.

Chris:
Yeah, yeah. Okay. All right now without revealing our respective ages, I'm going to suspect we're both in a similar age group here, Jeremy, but Beth, you look a lot younger.

Beth:
Oh, thank you.

Chris:
I just get this feeling, I just get this feeling that this stuff is for young people, but for older people, I'm not saying we're old, but just older people, we kind of have to figure this stuff out because we're going to get left behind in this digital divide. You guys both seem very social and outgoing. You talk about being an hour and a half away, but one of your best friends is Ben. So you make an effort there. And I think where social media has some problems is that people don't behave in the way that they do in real life. You would not walk up to somebody and said, "That's stupid. You're dumb and shut the F up," or something. You just wouldn't do that because people are not that brave in public.

Jeremy:
Exactly.

Chris:
But they hire behind the wall of anonymity, especially on Twitter, and in your right, there is a general negative pool on Twitter where people just rant on stuff because they feel free to express that. And when they do more people like it, so it just kind of rewards that. Whereas I think on Instagram, it's a visual place and don't follow somebody if you don't like them. And it's kind of nice to see a piece of work that is inspiring or to hear a message that's uplifting, or to show some compassion or generosity.

Chris:
But here's the danger where both of you or myself are maybe in if we don't pay attention to this kind of stuff, because you'll see this happen. People of lesser talent will get the lion's share of the work and the attention, where people like yourselves who have been in the business for a while who have integrity, who do good work, who charge a reasonable rate and service your clients well, you're going to get forgotten about it's just the way the attention works. So I think learning to play the game is just as important as any other facet of your marketing or sales operation.

Jeremy:
No, I think you're absolutely right. I think that there's a lot of truth to that. I haven't been able to figure out how to integrate it. Both Beth and I are solopreneurs we we both basically work by ourselves for ourselves. So everything from invoicing to writing contracts, like we do everything soup to nuts. It's just for me, there's so much to do. And then after hours, there's just so much that I can do with my family. I hear what you're saying, but for me personally, it's hard to figure out where that fits into my day.

Chris:
Seth Godin talks about this because people ask him about this all the time. I think he's written something like 18 or 19, right?

Jeremy:
Mm-hmm.

Chris:
They asked him, "What's the order? How do I do this because I want to launch my book?" He says, "Don't wait to build your audience until after you've written the book, you should be building your audience before you even think about writing a book."

Jeremy:
Totally.

Chris:
And this is really important. And we can see this because when you guys went to start your Kickstarter project, it's just relying on word of mouth or friends to help you push it because you don't have this audience that's hungry for your content. But I also think there's another super valuable thing on social media, and then I'll get off my social media soapbox, which is you could be testing your ideas with them. Like people think, why do I make a certain video or make a certain piece of content? Because I'm always product testing all the time. I put out an idea if there's a strong reaction positive or negative it guides what I do next.

Jeremy:
Oh, yeah. One thing I will say is that we have the people that I do follow and the people that do follow me I typically know and a lot of them are very active on social media. So we got a ton of traction because people just loved our products so much that they shared it themselves.

Chris:
I see.

Jeremy:
And so we had a lot of influencers, especially in the design and creative community that just came out in spades when our books launch and just share it, share it, share it. So anybody that knows anything about Kickstarter knows that you don't just put it up on Kickstarter and sit back and wait for it to happen. It is the people that directly follow you and maybe one generation beyond that, actually purchases. And so one thing that has been nice also, is that I've gotten a lot more followers, even though I don't push out a lot of content. A lot of people have seen what we're doing and they are following me, which means I probably then should start pushing out more content.

Chris:
I want to see creative people do well, especially you guys who are solopreneurs you have to play every role from, like you said, from marketing all the way through, "Here's the invoice Sir/Ma'am." And you're doing it all. And it's important, especially in times like this when the work starts to dry up, and people start to get really pensive about spending more money. It's like whoever has the attention is going to get the lion's share of the opportunities. You can turn them all down, but at least you have the option to turn people down.

Jeremy:
You're very right.

Chris:
And you are actually doing a form of this already because you're making content via the podcast.

Jeremy:
Yes.

Chris:
You're creating content to help people in their journey and your book, you could even argue that your book is a form of content marketing.

Jeremy:
Yes.

Chris:
Right? Okay. All right. So you guys work together. It seems like two peas in a pod. There's, no friction there?

Jeremy:
Zero.

Chris:
Everything's going swimmingly?

Jeremy:
Yeah.

Chris:
You launch a project, it's funded, everything is great you put out the book. Now, you said something that I have to kind of circle back to, which is, we're not looking to do this as a business. It's meant to be a side project. It's a passion thing. That goes against everything in my brain so I have to talk to you about that a little bit.

Jeremy:
Great.

Chris:
It's cool to do something you love, but wouldn't it be cooler to do that forever and make a living doing it?

Jeremy:
But I'm not sure I love doing children's books more than I like doing graphic design.

Chris:
Oh.

Jeremy:
So it really is something that to me, it's such a great message. I think if it wasn't the story that she had, I'm not sure I would have gotten behind it like I did.

Chris:
I see.

Jeremy:
So it really is about getting that message out. And for me, what I did do from a business standpoint is I looked at it and said, "What are the things I want to learn to do better in illustrator? What are the skill set the skill sets that I'm lacking when it comes to being a good illustrator?" So I pulled mood boards and I did all this... In the same way that I would pull mood boards for a brand, I did the same thing for storybook design and children's book design and said how do I make illustrator work this way? And so I looked up tons of tutorials, spent a lot of time on Skillshare, taught myself some new skills. And now those skills are great because I can integrate them into the other illustration and design work that I do.

Jeremy:
So that's one of the big benefits to me, it's not necessarily about making bank on it. And all that to say, "We'd love to make bank on it." I would love to. I mean, I think it would be great if... One of the things we've talked about in the past and we've talked with children's book publishing folks, it would be if somebody called us up and said, "Hey, we love your books. We'd love to publish this. And we'd love to be able to distribute it and get it in the hands of a million kids." That would be great. We'd love to make some money doing that. But that's not been our motivation for doing it at all.

Chris:
Oh, okay. I'm making notes here. Oh, my gosh, this is going to spin out of control in a second. So Beth, would you be happy making illustrate books for children?

Beth:
I think I would enjoy it. I love children's books. That's the section I go into If I go into a bookstore, that's where I first go, I just love them. And so I think I would really enjoy it. But I think, for me, I remember when I got my first graphic design job, and I was being interviewed, and my boss asked me what would be like my ideal job and I said, "I would love to just work for nonprofit organizations and help them spread their message." And she told me, "Well, good luck because they don't pay anything." I mean, it was basically like, that sounds nice, but in reality, they don't have money to pay you to... So I felt like this is a way where I can do something that makes a difference. And yes, I might not be getting paid a bunch of money, but it's fulfilling that need for me to use my skills and talents to do something that has a greater message because not every client is going to give you that opportunity. Sometimes they're just selling soap.

Chris:
Yeah.

Beth:
Sometimes they're just trying to sell you something that is important, but might not have a greater message to it.

Jeremy:
Soap is very important right now.

Chris:
Right. I was just going to say that soap is critical right now.

Beth:
[crosstalk 00:31:17] like toilet paper.

Chris:
Yeah, like toilet paper, or soap, whatever. Okay, we got to keep it in times. Okay, so many things to think about here. First thing is about passive income. That I think one of the things that I try to help people with is, it's nice to get paid to do what you love. It's even nicer to get paid when you're sleeping, and when you're eating, and when you're washing the car. And it's the dream, isn't it? For creative people, like I made this thing. It's so good people keep paying me money for it forever. And that's a really cool concept. So if the book became that for you, even if it wasn't a giant amount of money, like say a few thousand dollars a month, I mean, what could you do with that? And what kind of freedom would that give you? So it's something to think about.

Chris:
Jeremy, you said this thing about, it'd be nice if a publisher came and swept you off your feet and said, "Look, we'll sell a million copies for you. We'll take care of everything. You guys just dream up projects that you like." So I want to share a little story with you. About 10 years ago, I want to write a book. I don't even know what to write about. But I want to write a book. And a friend of mine introduces me to a publisher, like Vocal Press, which writes really technical books, but it's just the standard for technical books to learn about, say after effects or editing or something like that. So I got their contact information. And the first thing they do is send me a form and the form is like, "Tell us your pitch and give us sample pages. Tell us what the Table of Contents looks like." And that just made my brain melt because I'm not a guy who likes to fill in forms. I just feel like, "God, this is not the right publisher for me."

Chris:
So the idea of publishing book dies. and it's many, many years later, where I'm now doing this content on the internet and people keep saying, "Chris, we love what you say, can you put together a book?" I'm like, "No, that's a lot of work, man. I don't want to do that." So I was wrestling in my mind, need versus want. And feel free to chime in here where I don't want to write a book. And then for that reason to make a book, I only want to do it if there's a need for the book. So hence, the Kickstarter project. Like I basically wrote 10 pages and that was a mistake. And we asked people, "Do you want to fund this or not?" And it was overwhelmingly, "Yes," we raised two and a half times our goal. So I'm like, "Shoot, now I have to write the book. This is really what they want. So let's do that."

Chris:
But here's the cool thing. Afterwards, publisher reaches out to me and is like, "We want to publish your book." So the whole thing has come full circle because we see that you have a following and that makes it a lot easier for us to gamble that this is going to work out because, believe it or not, it's kind of like a hits industry. There's a lot of failures. And it's a gamble for us every single time. So that's another reason for you guys to be strong and social. But let me ask you this question about need versus want. You guys wanted to do this no matter what. So this is where my business brain is like, "No, there's other things you could do. But okay." So do you guys want to talk about that a little bit?

Jeremy:
Unless you have nothing to say.

Beth:
Well, yeah, because I think for me, it was like I said, it was just something I wanted to make for my kid. And I believe that people would want it but even if they didn't, I wanted to give her something. So to me, it was very personal. And I think that's one reason why I've really enjoyed working with Jeremy because he also sees it as something personal, it's fulfilling something personally for him. And so neither one of us are really forcing the other one to do anything they don't feel comfortable with. And to me, I suggest a cherry on top that other people care about it too.

Chris:
Yeah.

Jeremy:
And to go back to what you were saying earlier, one of the things that we've done is every penny that we've made when we've sold the books, what whatever was left over at the end of the first Kickstarter, every time we've sold a book off our website, we just keep it all in a big fund. And so we sold through our first printing of the first book, and we just basically decided, let's roll it into buying a second printing of the first book. And now we offered it on the Kickstarter as you can buy the set because we already got the other ones printed. But I think for us, it's not about not wanting to make money off it. I don't want it to come across saying that we don't want to make money off of it. We do. It would be great. But it's just not our primary motivation for why we did it in the first place.

Jeremy:
I would love for people to find the book. I would love people to buy the book. I'd love for us not to have to go through a publisher and be able to sell it direct all day long, that would be great for us. And so I don't want to come across sounding like I don't see this as an entrepreneurial opportunity. It's just not the main motivation for why we did it. And as far as need versus want, I have plenty. As far as my business goes, I just celebrated 10 years of doing design and illustration on my own and I couldn't ask for a better job. I couldn't ask for a better situation. I've been really blessed in that way. So for me, I don't really have any intention of making it any bigger. I like it just being me.

Jeremy:
And so for me, it's like it was an opportunity to do something to kind of get something off of my chest or get something that I just really wanted to do out. And it's always been something that I've worked on in the margins. It's something that like, Beth and I will talk about it, and nothing will happen for four months. And then all of a sudden, she starts getting pencil sketches off my iPad Pro and procreate, filling up her inbox. And she's like, "Whoa, where'd this come from?" And so it's been a project where it fills the gaps. When I have some time, I was on a walk with my wife this morning and I said, "You know what I really realized about myself? Is to me, it doesn't matter when I look at my to do list, whether it's a high paying job, a medium paying job, or even just something I'm doing for myself, whether it's cleaning off my server or updating my website. I have to have something to do." And so, for me, it filled that gap of something to do when work slowed down or clients weren't getting back with me.

Chris:
Very interesting.

Greg:
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

Ben Burns:
Hey, Ben Burns from the future here. If you don't recognize my voice you might know me from our YouTube channel as the friendly guy with a big beard. Yep, that's me. Listen, The Future's mission is to teach a billion creatives how to make money doing what they love, without feeling gross about it. And let's be honest, historically, we creative types are great at producing the work, but not so great at running the business, especially when it comes to things like sales, marketing, and money. I know, personally, I used to struggle with all of those. Now fortunately for you, though, we have a slew of courses and products designed specifically to help you run your business better. These are tools like the complete case study and the perfect proposal. These things are there to help you attract new clients and then wow them with a thorough and professional presentation. Now you can go even deeper with one of our business courses like project management, how to find clients and the intensive business bootcamp. Check out all of our courses and products about running a creative business by visiting thefuture.com/business.

Greg:
Welcome back to our conversation with Beth Stafford and Jeremy Slagle.

Chris:
Okay, so if you're just joining us or tuning in for whatever reason, jumping in late or whatever. I'm talking to Jeremy and Beth and they wrote two books. One is called Chin Up, Chinchilla and the other is Hip Hooray, Hippo. Did I get that right?

Beth:
You did.

Jeremy:
Yes.

Chris:
Okay. So I know you just said it'd be great to have a publisher and then you don't want a publisher. But I'm just going to say this because I-

Jeremy:
I guess we're open to either.

Chris:
Yeah, well, maybe we'll edit that other part out, but I'll just say, hey, if you're a publisher listening to this, and you want to really get your hands on two amazing products, like these children's books that Jeremy and Beth have worked on and you want to help further their endeavor. I'm sure they'd be open to having a conversation with you. I just wanted to say that.

Beth:
Yes, thank you.

Jeremy:
We would.

Chris:
Okay, let's talk about the third thing, because I'm looking at the time here. The third thing I want to talk about is the unintended benefits. You write the book, and so what happens after? What didn't you plan on that's happening that's really cool?

Beth:
For me, I've had several opportunities to take the book to a school or a library, and I just get to read it and talk to kids about it. One of the things we did is we put questions in the back of the book that enable teachers and parents to be able to ask questions to kids to get them thinking about empathy. And so I get to do that in person. And that has been the greatest joy. I love seeing videos from people who have given it to their kids and their kids are memorizing it because it's very simple and it rhymes and so kids can read it a few times, and then they get it. And I love seeing new little kids reading this book out loud. There's just so much joy in seeing the actual kids who are being impacted by the book.

Beth:
And then just hearing stories from parents who say, "This has actually been really helpful for walking our family through a difficult time." Or, "This is great talking to my students in my class, because I need a resource on how to talk about being kind to other people and caring about people." And so not only do I get to do that, but I also get to talk to kids about creativity. Like I had this idea to make a book, I loved writing since I was a kid. And so I didn't give up and I had this idea, and it's a good idea, and you shouldn't give up if you have ideas and things like that. So there's just so many facets of encouraging, teaching, and even just learning from the kids that I'm talking to that has been so rewarding.

Chris:
Yeah. I have to just point this out. You have a great speaking smile voice. I'm sure our audience can hear this. And I can see you and she is smiling the whole time she's talking. So I think you would make an excellent person to read the book. So I have a question for you.

Beth:
Yes.

Chris:
Is there an audio book version already?

Beth:
There is not an audio book version, no.

Chris:
Shoot, what are you waiting for?

Beth:
You're right.

Chris:
I mean just to be able to hear your voice read it and kind of bring the words to life. There's the word or the sound that's inside your head, but then I think that would be great. And since you like doing that, why not just read the book?

Beth:
That's a great idea.

Chris:
Yeah. So here's my second question. What about a book writing workshop for kids?

Beth:
That is also a great idea. Well, it's really hard. I know there are authors who say, when they write something, it's like, it's begging to be written and it's almost like an idea is given to them and they have to get it out. And that's kind of how this book was for me. I didn't sit in labor over, what kind of a story could I write? It was almost like, I really wrote it in one night. It just came to me this idea of us [inaudible 00:43:10] Chinchilla and I started writing the rhymes and it just all came together. And so for me, I often struggle with that, like, how do I teach someone else to do this when I feel like the story was kind of a gift that was given to me? And even though I've written a second one, and there's a third one that could happen, maybe someday it wasn't as though I had a structured plan on how to do it.

Beth:
I knew the idea I wanted to convey, I love alliteration, so Chin Up, Chinchilla and Hip Hooray, Hippo and things like that are things that I love. But I think I always struggle knowing how do I turn that into a teachable moment on how to do what I did when I'm not even sure how I did what I dId.

Chris:
Okay, I can help you. Because I'm listening to this I'm like, Huh? What if your first prompt was pick an unusual animal, and give your animal name using alliteration. And then give the animal an emotion that you're feeling sometimes. And then that's like three eighths of the way there. It's like Chin Up, Chinchilla, and it's dealing with sadness, or empathy or whatever it is. And then all stories need this so let's invent that. And then that's the conflict and they have to kind of solve that problem. It doesn't have to be a great thing, but just to get children to think about writing stories. And it doesn't have to be amazing work of art, but just, "Hey, this is kind of cool and I could do it too."

Beth:
One thing that was very fun is when I went to one school, I gave them a prompt like write a letter to the chinchilla, telling them about a time that you felt the way that chinchilla helped.

Chris:
Oh, nice.

Beth:
Because what we try to do in this book is take kids through all different kinds of scenarios that could cause sadness, pain, being afraid, being disappointed. And so I got all these letters from kids. "Dear Mr. Chinchilla, I'm so sorry to hear you lost your pet. One time I lost my cat and I couldn't find him." And so in writing the letter, they were forced to think about the times where they experienced the same thing. So it really was an exercise in empathy. But I love what you're saying. And I think because you gave me the idea, I owe you a cut of any proceeds I make on those workshops.

Chris:
Well, to make sure that the cut is meaningful, I'm going to have to help you with the business part because you guys love to just do stuff and maybe money happens. Maybe it doesn't, but we'll talk about that later. Okay, so Jeremy, I'll turn it over to you. What are some of the unintended consequences or benefits of doing this?

Jeremy:
Well, yeah, when we were putting together our rewards packages, we kind of had a book. And so we were like, well, we could offer like stickers with the book. In the first book, one of our main characters has a blanket. And it's a hedgehog. So it's a little tiny animal and it has a blanket. And we ran into someone from Jakprints and they're like, "You know we print bandanas." So we actually have a bandana that went with the first book is one of the rewards that looks like a little blanket. It's super cute. But anyways, as we were going through and thinking through our rewards and what offerings we do, Beth was like, "You've learned a lot through this. Why don't you offer up like a workshop? An online live workshop?" So we did that and got got a few takers on it.

Jeremy:
And so all of a sudden, I realized like, oh, crap, I'm not just going to show up and be like, "Hey, what am I going to do?" So I spent days, like days putting together this walkthrough, like here's how you use illustrator brushes, here's how you make them with ink and brushes and sticks and twigs and all that. And then I presented it and I got so much joy from presenting it. I actually had a total blast. And the people that did it online said, "Man, you just ought to do something with this." And I was like, "Yeah, I probably should considering how many hours I spent into it to give it once." So I just found a vocal space here in town and put it out there.

Jeremy:
And last summer I packed a house and gave a workshop and it was great. It was awesome. I love being hands, I like being in the room with people. And we just got our hands dirty with paint and and did the workshop and then I've had lots of opportunities to do that. I've done it at a conference in Dallas. I did it at a design school here in Ohio earlier this year, and I'm already booked to do some this this coming summer so long as things stay open. But that to me has been just as fun as doing the book itself.

Chris:
Very good. I want to share a business concept with you guys. Of course, we're going to do this, I'm going to share a business concept with you. Now, I just was given this metaphor from watching a video the other day. So it was very recent. And so it makes a lot of sense. So I want you guys to look at the book as the hub, the hub of a wheel, it's your pillar content. It's your best calling card. It's the ultimate destination for all the things that you do. And then there's these spokes that come out of the hub of the wheel that support it and keep everything together and they support each other. So the spokes could be the brushes that you've created. And you could sell those separately.

Jeremy:
I already am.

Chris:
Oh, okay, perfect. And then there's the audio book. And then there's the talks and how you launch a Kickstarter project blog posts. And then there's the line of merch and stickers and everything that you can think of just that the more spokes the better, because each one drives it to the hub. And then the hub drives it back out. And it's a wonderful ecosystem. If we're talking about businesses, that would be a business ecosystem. Now, I thought that one of the best examples of this is Martha Stewart. So Martha Stewart does the show and she writes cookbooks, and she has a catering business or she used to. And then she has housewares. And then the books sell the TV show, which sells the books, which sells the house goods, and it's just this perfect thing that just keeps going around kind of like an infinity.

Chris:
So if you look at your business like that, it's pretty cool when you start to design things that all work in a cohesive way. So okay, great. It sounds like you guys are doing all kinds of right things. So for some people who are listening to this, this might spark an idea in them, look for your pillar content. Look for all the parts that you can break away from this. I'm just curious, have you taken pages in the book or assets or characters or just components and posted those on social?

Jeremy:
Uh-huh. Yes.

Beth:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris:
Great. And what's been the reception to that?

Jeremy:
Lots of likes and shares.

Chris:
Do they ever follow through like, "Hey, I need to get this thing."

Jeremy:
They haven't really been things per se yet. So they've basically just been illustrations, just kind of showing the work. But we haven't really offered anything besides the book and a couple rewards. But I like the idea of sticker packs and some other things that we could kind of create in that world. That'd be great.

Chris:
Yeah, I'm sure you guys can come up with some super creative ideas just to kind of extend that universe out a little bit. Like your your whole blanket bandana thing, that's really cool. And Beth, the questions that you came up with to write the letter to the Chinchilla, or the questions for teachers or parents to ask their kids about it. So the book lives on. So I love picture books too. And I have some kind of nostalgic fondness for them because when I was growing up, I was like, looking at these things. I just loved the smell the paper, the way the the sound of the pages folding. And maybe I had some really great teachers too, who like, when I was just a little dude, gather around, and she'd open up the book and she would read it to us. And it just felt like it came to life. And so there's a fondness for that.

Chris:
And in this time where everything's moving towards digital, I think it's kind of a nice throwback, like tangible analog things are still very precious to us. So I want to encourage you guys to keep doing this. I'd love to hear about the third book that you're probably already doing. Because the trilogy is always nice, right?

Beth:
You know it is. You always have to finish that. But anytime we come right off the Kickstarter campaign, it's like, let's just take a breather now. Yeah, cool.

Jeremy:
We feel like we just ran a marathon to be completely honest.

Chris:
I hear you. I hear you.

Jeremy:
But no, there is one, there is a third book that's being written. So that's kind of been our intention all along. So maybe at some point we'll be able to do that.

Chris:
Right. It just makes sense for the box set. I'm just thinking in threes that way, right?

Beth:
Right.

Chris:
Yeah.

Beth:
And there's so many emotions people have that you need to relate to and understand. So I always think it's valuable.

Chris:
Okay, so I'm almost out of time here is anything else that you guys want to talk about before we have to say goodbye?

Jeremy:
I would say the crux of what this has taught us is that there may be something that you really, really, really want to do. And it might not necessarily make sense. And it might not even be something that you see as being this massive entrepreneurial thing. But putting it out there and just seeing what happens is really encouraging, especially when people come through for you. And that's been really, really, really encouraging for us. On the first book, we got funded in five days, we had set some money aside, fully intending to push it across the finish line if we had to. And we got funded in five days. So that was really exciting for us. So I would just encourage people if you've got a great idea, and it's something that you feel like it's inside you, you need to get it out, get it out, put it out there.

Beth:
Yeah. And don't be discouraged if it takes some time. Like you were saying that example of your book, you had a moment, it didn't feel right and now you've found yourself in a different place where things are clicking in, it makes more sense, and it's better. I think, for me working with Ben on the book, I wasn't sure if it was ever going to happen, and I had to wait. But in the end, I'm so glad I did. I can't imagine this book looking any different than it does. It's perfect for what I wanted. And it I think it was totally worth the wait. So I can say that now being on the other side of the wait, where it's actually come to fruition. But just don't get discouraged if things aren't clicking right away because someday they will click if it is a good idea and you don't give up on it.

Chris:
Right. I think a good idea is like this giant pimple, eventually it's going to come out one way or the other and just let it go. Not ignore it. It's fine.

Jeremy:
There you go.

Chris:
There's a visual for you guys.

Jeremy:
I love it.

Chris:
Okay, I'm going to ask you guys a question. And I want you to... I'm going to ask the same question of both of you. So Jeremy, you're going to go first and then Beth. And I want a one word answer. Okay? And I want you to say it as fast as you could say it, and I want you to think about it too much. So I have to do this preamble. So are you guys ready?

Beth:
Yes.

Jeremy:
I'm not a very-

Chris:
Here's the question.

Jeremy:
Go ahead.

Chris:
So Jeremy, you're going to go first and then as soon as you finished Beth, you're gonna say your answer. Okay? What has doing this book done for you in one word?

Jeremy:
Joy.

Beth:
Joy is also my word, Jeremy.

Chris:
This is the first time-

Jeremy:
I'm glad I got to go first.

Chris:
I've seen a look other than a smile on Beth's face, I'm just saying. Okay, so both, it's brought joy to you. This is fantastic. Okay, now, where can people go to order the either book? Where do they go?

Beth:
Happycargobooks.com.

Chris:
Happycargobooks.com?

Beth:
Yes.

Chris:
Is that your own URL?

Beth:
Yes, we actually started a official company just so we could publish these books. And so we knew when we did the first one that we'd likely have a second coming and so we didn't want it to make it chinupchinchilla.com. So we branded a company and created Happy Cargo Books.

Chris:
Well, thank you guys very much for coming on the show.

Beth:
Thank you again for having us. We really appreciate it.

Chris:
Beth, it sounds like you're dealing with a little cough, too. And, guys, let's just stay safe right now it's crazy out there.

Jeremy:
Just stay indoors.

Chris:
Okay.

Jeremy:
Don't touch anything.

Chris:
As much as possible.

Jeremy:
That's right.

Chris:
And wash your hands 30 times today. Okay. All right, guys, take care.

Jeremy:
Thanks, Chris. I'm Jeremy.

Beth:
And I'm Beth, and you're listening to The Futur.

Jeremy:
And your listening to The Futur.

Greg:
Thanks so much for joining us in this episode. If you're new to The Futur and want to know more about our educational mission, visit thefutur.com. You'll find more podcast episodes, hundreds of YouTube videos, and a growing collection of online courses and products covering design in business. Oh, and we spell The Futur with no E. The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. This episode was mixed and edited by Anthony Barrow, with intro Music by Adam Sanborne. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor and rate and review us on iTunes. It's a tremendous help in getting our message out there. And lets us know what you like. Thanks again for listening and we will see you next time.

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