Brian Weisfeld was a businessperson, not a writer, but he wanted his daughters (and girls everywhere) to be inspired into entrepreneurship. After a five-year journey, he realized his dream with a middle grade series that he and Nicole C. Kear co-write. The Startup Squad is a book series and a brand that celebrates girl entrepreneurs. Below, Weisfeld shares what he learned in his writing odyssey. Next week, we’ll post an analysis of how Weisfeld and Kear embed their practical business lessons in the series, while still making it thoroughly engaging.
KidLitCraft: What do you love about writing middle grade novels?
So many things! My favorite ones are, first, the impact the books have on the kids. Tweens are so curious about the world around them and are interested in exploring new things. The Startup Squad series is intended to inspire girls to open their first lemonade stand or other business and start to think like an entrepreneur. Tweens who start their first businesses can leverage their curiosity to empower themselves with an entrepreneurial mindset that will help them reach their potential in life regardless of the path they choose.
The other thing I love is giving readers windows and mirrors through the characters. Hearing a kid say “that girl looks just like me” about one of our characters makes my day every single time.
KLC: Where did your idea for your debut novel come from?
The Startup Squad was inspired by my two daughters. I’m a former business guy (I helped build IMAX Corporation and Coupons.com), but when my daughters were just eight and six years old, I watched my older daughter attempt to sell Girl Scout cookies and run a charity bake sale with incredible amounts of enthusiasm, but no practical knowledge about how to market and sell a product. Later, while reading to my younger daughter what felt like yet another unicorn-rainbow-princess-fairy book, I got frustrated with all the lowest-common-denominator marketing to girls and wanted there to be more empowering options for my daughters. Those two thoughts combined in my head at that moment and launched my five-year journey to create The Startup Squad.
KLC: Can you talk a bit about how your story (series) evolved? How has it changed since its inception?
The biggest change was from the submitted manuscript to what became the new concept for the book series. The 42,000 word manuscript that I wrote had the working title of HARRIET MARTIN AND THE LEMONADE STAND and was a single protagonist story about a girl running a lemonade stand in order to win a class competition. Once I signed with Macmillan, we threw out everything that I had created and started from scratch with the simple premise of how to best reach and inspire girls to start their first businesses. I spent months working with the team at my imprint (named Imprint–long story) to create a diverse set of four characters and a story line for a series that would have a much greater reach and impact than what I had originally written.
KLC: What do you wish you had known about the publishing industry that you know now?
I had read that much of the marketing burden for a book will fall onto the author, but I didn’t truly grasp that concept. Publishers help to get a book onto the shelves and to launch it, but they support so many titles that it is hard for them to keep the focus on all titles all the time. The publisher’s marketing team is a great resource and is incredibly supportive to anything you need. But if you are not doing the work of promoting the book and getting out the word, the books will not move off of the shelves and into the hands of readers.
KLC: What one piece of advice would you like to give to aspiring middle-grade authors?
The publishing industry, like every other industry, has its own cultures, norms, processes, and idiosyncrasies. Learn them as soon as possible so that you can play the game by the established rules of the industry. One of the first things I did when I decided to create this series was purchase a copy of Writing Children‘s Books for Dummies. It gave me a wonderful overview into the world of query letters, publishing schedules, submission requirements, among other industry practices. Knowing how the industry works is probably as important as the quality of your writing.
KLC: How does your co-author process work?
My co-author for The Startup Squad series is the fabulous Nicole C. Kear. We are working on the third book in the series right now and have it down to a science. Fortunately, Nicole had published a prior book series with the same imprint and editorial team so they were familiar with each other’s working styles. Each book in the series begins with the editorial team and me creating a 5-6 page outline of the plot of the book. We determine the business lessons we want to weave into the storyline, which protagonists will be the lead and sub-lead characters (the sub-lead is usually the character that will be the main protagonist in the following book), and the outline of the plot. The finished outline is sent to Nicole who, approximately three months later, miraculously sends us back 24,000 amazing words. Macmillan and I then work together to edit the draft and we go back and forth with Nicole on those edits until we all sign off on the manuscript.
KLC: What was the most unique part of your writing journey?
My entire journey was unique because I started from scratch. I was a business person, not a writer. I had written press releases and memos and conference call speeches, but I knew nothing about writing fiction for kids. When I started out, I didn’t think that I would be the person to write the books at the end of the day, but I knew I had to learn enough to be able to write a manuscript that I could beta test with girls and show agents and publishers what I had in mind. The four years of creating that original manuscript were the hardest and most humbling of my entire career. But my journey is also a reminder that there are a lot of different paths to publication. If you have a story inside of you that needs to get out, make sure to consider all the different ways of releasing that story into the world.
KLC: What do you feel you’ve gained from being a part of the KidLitCraft community?
I’ve worked in many different industries during my career and can honestly say that the KidLit community is the most supportive of any community I’ve ever experienced. Virtually every friend of friend or publishing stranger I reached out to responded with the generous gift of their time and experience. And the SCBWI is a national and local organization that exists in large part to help pre-published authors become published authors. I could not have published The Startup Squad series without the support of the SCBWI and so many people who helped my journey.
Brian Weisfeld has always built businesses – from a gummy bear business as a kid, to IMAX Corporation and Coupons.com more recently. Brian is the Founder of The Startup Squad, an initiative dedicated to empowering girls to reach their potential and follow their dreams, whatever their passions. Brian lives in Silicon Valley with his wife and two daughters.
Here are a few more author interviews for your reading pleasure:
Kristi Wright (co-editor) writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her goal as a writer is to give children a sense of wonder, a hopefulness about humanity, and a belief in their future. She is represented by Kurestin Armada at Root Literary. She is an active volunteer for SCBWI and a 12 X 12 member. Find her at www.kristiwrightauthor.com and on Twitter @KristiWrite.