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FALL 2007 FEATURED PUBLISHER, FLORRIE BINFORD KICHLER

RT: Congratulations on the continuing success of the Young Patriot Series. The awards and recognition seem to increase with each title! The series is drawn from the Childhood of Famous Americans® series, a collection of historical biographies you read as a child. Could you tell us about how The Young Patriot Series came to be?

Florrie: When I was 8, I became ill with rheumatic fever and had to stay in bed for three months. This was before the days of video games and computers — even television was in its infancy - so reading was my major source of entertainment. One day, my Aunt Mary came to visit and brought me a little book entitled, Amelia Earhart, Kansas Girl.

Immediately upon opening that bright orange cover I was hooked! I read every book in theChildhood of Famous Americans Series. Some of your readers who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s might even remember them, as they were a staple in public libraries and school classrooms.

Upon graduating from college, I went to work for the original publisher of the Childhood series, the Bobbs-Merrill Company, which coincidentally was located where I live—in Indianapolis, Indiana. I left Bobbs-Merrill to raise my family and in the meantime, the company was sold and the various product lines went in all different directions, including my beloved Childhood series.

Time passed, and I saw that many of the old Childhood of Famous Americans series books that I loved as a child had not seen the light of day for 30 years. Since I had been thinking about starting my own publishing company, I thought that reintroducing those books to today’s kids would be a worthy mission, as well as a labor of love.

The original name is trademarked, so I had to create a new name for the series; one that was different but would still reflect the spirit of the original. Since each book is about a famous figure in American history who made a significant contribution to our country, I thought “Young Patriot” was an apt description.

RT: Reading obviously had a great impact on you as a child. Of all the famous Americans in the series whose story had the greatest impact on you? Looking back, who do you think is the person profiled that we don't know enough about (but should)?

Florrie: When I was a girl, Juliette Low’s story was by far my favorite. She spent her childhood doing everything girls were not supposed to do in the mid-19th century: climbing trees and rescuing animals. She took her belief that “There’s not one thing I can’t do that boys can” and turned it into reality when she founded the largest organization for girls in the world, the Girl Scouts.

Of course from my 8-year-old viewpoint, I felt a real kinship with Juliette because she got in trouble with her parents just like I did! That is the real impact of this Series: a child reading about Juliette Low, or Amelia Earhart, or Alexander Hamilton can identify with these historical figures because they, too, are children who lose their temper, get in trouble with their parents, and play with friends. Hence kids will keep reading (always a challenge!), enjoy the story, and, most importantly, remember who these people are when they study them in school.

RT: In the original series, there were about 100 Americans profiled. Do you plan to republish all of the biographies? How do you select the order of publication?

Florrie: Believe it or not, there were 200 books in the original series—from Abe Lincoln to Zeb Pike! I don’t foresee all 200 in my company’s future, but I do hope there are at least 20 to 30 ahead!

There are lots of factors to consider in choosing which books to re-issue. We want to have a variety of occupations and time periods represented and stay as multicultural as possible. From a marketing standpoint, we also look at upcoming historical celebrations and/or anniversaries or significant birthdays as criteria when we make our choice. Probably the most important factor in choosing titles is my ability to find the original author and/or their families in order to get the rights and permission to publish. Since many of the books were written 50 years ago, finding authors and/or heirs is a challenge.

RT: In bringing back this collection of biographies, did you find that you needed to update them for today's audience? If so, how have the stories changed?

Florrie: These books were written 50 years ago—language and cultural sensitivity have changed dramatically since then. The major issue is, and continues to be, reconciling historical accuracy on one hand with language that portrays ethnic or cultural groups in a stereotypical or pejorative manner on the other. Fortunately, a very small percentage of these books need to be edited. And nothing is deleted or edited that is essential to character or plot development. After all, the beauty of these books is in the strength of the story—the last thing in the world we want to do is change that!

RT: As the president of PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, what do you see as the three greatest challenges for authors and independent publishers over the next five years?

Florrie: Capital, Distribution, and Marketing.

Technology has revolutionized the book industry, but in order to STAY in business, you have to run your publishing company like a business. Money to pay the bills while you’re waiting that 30, 60, 90 or even 120 days for payment, getting your books to market, and driving demand for your books are still the basics that have to be in place if you are to succeed. That said, the huge advantage that the smaller, independent publisher has is the ability to sell into niches that the big guys can’t cost effectively bother with. And of course the Internet and explosion of marketing direct to the consumer has leveled the playing field tremendously.

RT: Do you think the diversity of today's media — eMail, podcasts, blogs, etc. — has made it easier or harder for authors and smaller publishing houses to market their products? How important is it to jump into the "next big thing" in order to be successful in the publishing industry?

Florrie: Easier in the sense of being able to effectively widen the net to reach a potential worldwide audience at a comparatively low cost. Harder because technology is changing so rapidly that it is extremely difficult to keep up with it all. Tomorrow’s “next big thing” is next week’s “old hat.”

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the future. But it is important not to jump on any bandwagon too fast. Electronic books are a perfect example. Huge companies have lost millions and millions of dollars producing electronic books for a reading device that a market didn’t want. That does NOT mean that publishers should ignore electronic books. They only makes sense. In terms of ease of use, ease of storage, and eventual lower cost electronic books will be embraced by consumers at some point. In the meantime, I would advise publishers at this point NOT to invest huge sums of money but to make sure each one of your books is in digital form so that when the time comes, you will be positioned to move in any direction.

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Florrie: This is a perfect time to thank Cathy (Morrison) publicly for lending her amazing talent and endless creativity to the Young Patriots Series. And thanks to the Reading Tub for providing the opportunity for me to talk about my favorite subject! As a publisher, I’m proud to support the Reading Tub’s mission and encourage all who read this to do so as well.

But most of all, thank you to my readers—the kids. They’re the reason I do what I do.

Website: http://www.patriapress.com




                 

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