I recently had the great honor of accepting the 2013 Luminary Award from the Committee of 200, a membership organization of the world's most successful women entrepreneurs and corporate innovators dedicated to fostering, celebrating and advancing women's leadership in business. (This really is the most amazing group of people you may not have heard of). The Muriel Siebert Entrepreneurial Champion award goes to a female entrepreneur who has created an innovative new product or service with global implications.
When they asked me to give an acceptance speech, I thought I'd talk about the importance of books and the transformation that has so changed our industry and Sourcebooks. A lot of the people in the room asked me to share the talk, so here it is. Thank you to all of you who have been a part of this journey so far! It's been amazing!!
Committee of 200 2013 Muriel Siebert Entrepreneurial Champion
Acceptance Speech – October 25th 2013
The women in this room are brilliant and extraordinary. I’m certainly more than a bit overwhelmed to have been presented with an award from all of you.
So first let me just say Thank YOU! Thank you for this award but particularly thank you for being. Thank you for being strong, thank you for being outspoken and committed, thank you for being role models to me and to the thousands of other women (and not a few men) whom you impact every day.
In short, thank you for being yourselves – writ larger than life!!
I believe in books. And my story is very much one of following your passion (through all the surprising turns that takes). Today, I’m part of a revolution in reading and therefore in books. We call it the digital revolution.
I started Sourcebooks at the beginning of another revolution 26 years ago…that was the desktop publishing revolution. A Mac, a Laser Printer and off I went.
And it was a real challenge… My first idea was pretty limited. And it probably didn’t help that the first banker I met didn’t see women as real entrepreneurs, a problem I know other women entrepreneurs in this room have experienced.
There was my first real success (round about year 3), a book that sold 25,000 copies, directly followed by the distributor who refused to pay me and said succinctly “I don’t have to pay you. You’re little. Sue me.” Probably the most notable memory from that period was hanging up the phone after that call and slipping to the floor sobbing in the living room. I still remember it. It’s that visceral. And the only thought in my head was, “How do I tell Ray (my husband) I’ve lost the house.” And do you know what he said? ”We’ve just paid for your graduate school. You’re pretty good at this. Let’s do it again. Now you know how to do it.” And so I did.
It was hard…resilient making. It’s what I see when I look at my council or any of you in this room—tough, resilient, women who have kept going in the face of challenges and some pretty long odds.
Breakthroughs and taking risks
Now fast-forward 20 years, and all those challenges (yes both the failures and the successes) turned out to be pretty good training for another revolution. This time it was the digital revolution of the book and being an entrepreneur who knew some things about walking into uncertainty turned out to be real training for what has become my greatest passion. I call it the promise of digital and books.
The promise of digital and books
As I said, I believe in books. Reading a book is one of the few times that we allow another voice deeply into our being. For days, weeks, sometimes even months, we walk in another’s shoes, see life through a different pair of eyes and maybe even sometimes (surprisingly) learn something new or change our minds about something. Books are a powerful and in some ways unique force for creating a different, greater YOU. Books are one of the few places that girls, like the girls we were, can discover what more life can offer.
And what I saw in digital was the promise of bringing books and reading to more people than ever before. When I got into book publishing, people in the industry told me, about 5% of Americans go into a bookstore in an average year. For me, that was staggering. “What about the other 95%?” I thought. Yes, some go to libraries, but how do we touch everybody? How do we create a nation of readers?
The promise of digital is to have any book, the book that you most need available to you, RIGHT now on whatever device you happen to be carrying, from your smallest phone to your big screen tv. It’s any time, anywhere, any device.
What more can digital books be
And today, digital is transforming the landscape for books. eBooks have grown the number of books that are being published and consumed. Far from being dead, with digital books, people are buying and reading more books than ever before. And by the way, they’re buying both print and digital books…
And the question we’re now asking is: What MORE can digital create for books?
And here is what’s exciting: We’re working to create books that are:
You know, we lose children at different times when it comes to reading. Can we create a greater bond between kids and reading? What happens when we really make books become "Mine"? If children can't read, they can't learn. We have to help create that bond younger and more deeply. We now know the importance of children knowing how to read well by 3rd grade; it's mission critical for us all.
What you’ll see next are books like you’ve never seen them before.
Our first experiences of books come from children’s books and textbooks, but our children will have new and different experiences with books. For them books will be interactive – content itself will be touchable, social, experiential, smart and deeply personal.
Books will become not more mechanical, cold, impersonal but just the opposite. Books will talk to you and help you. Books will be connected and connecting, becoming something quite new that we’re just beginning to understand.
What digital gave me was the gift to rethink my business…to rethink the limits that I had unknowingly imposed on Sourcebooks just by being part of an industry…to rethink all that we could do. My favorite fictional character likes to say: “Tests are a gift. And great tests are a great gift.” Digital was a tremendous test for our organization. We got to rethink every part of our world, how we worked with our content partners, our authors, our brands and licenses and to extend what we could create that was of value to them.
And how we worked with our retail partners, from the products we gave them to how we marketed with them and what we could create together. Digital changed everything.
And the impact of seeing yourself in a bigger way changes everything. Last night our French author Jennifer Yerkes accepted the Gold Medal for A Funny Little Bird at the most prestigious juried show in the world of illustrated children's books; 6 years ago we weren’t even in children’s books. When we push beyond who we know ourselves to be, it changes every aspect of what we do.
I want to thank my tribe
And so we come full circle. I want to thank my tribe…All the people who believed not just in me but in Sourcebooks – the authors, agents, my family, my friends, all of you (who have so inspired me for years!).
Just a quick note here about the partnership we’ve built with authors. The creative people that we work with are, in the end, the reason we do this work. And our authors continue to amaze me. Their smarts and commitment, their drive, ambition and willingness to think beyond boundaries has inspired me to take risks and to drive beyond the boundaries I thought were there.
In some ways, the people who have helped me the most were our customers. From Barnes and Noble, to our local bookstore Anderson’s, to Apple, to our friends and partners at Readerlink…to many many bookstores, to Walmart, Indigo to library partners far and wide. And to the dozens (literally) of individual booksellers who helped me rethink Sourcebooks at every stage of our development.
There are authors, booksellers and colleagues all over the world who have repeatedly shown us the way.
They have viewed us as a force for innovation and allowed us to try new things (even when some of those new things didn’t work).
And of course our team – the people of Sourcebooks who are actually the recipients of this award. Their drive, their willingness to learn, their innovative attitude and hard work, that’s what makes everything possible.
It’s exciting to have a 26-year-old company that is a startup once again—new challenges, new things to learn, and a whole lot of fun.