Author Interview: Rana DiOrio

Rana DiOrioIf you ask Rana, she will describe herself as a writer first. THEN she’ll tell you about all of her career … as a lawyer, an investment banker, and private equity investor. That journey – and her passion for stories – ultimately led her to continue to explore and grow as a published author and entrepreneur.

When she realized that a traditional publishing model wouldn’t work for her goals, Rana created Little Pickle Press. Rana describes it as a “21st century children’s media publisher dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible little people by inspiring our readers to help children in need, celebrate diversity, and protect the environment.” They walk the talk, too, and work diligently to minimize their own footprint. LPP prints and distributes its materials in an environmentally friendly manner using recycled paper, soy inks, and green packaging. In addition, Rana – and the other authors to be published through the company – donate a percentage of the proceeds of their books to a children’s non-profit. Rana is donating a portion of the proceeds for first book to the Starlight Children’s Foundation.

What Does It Mean to be GlobalJust as Rana’s first book What Does It Mean To Be Global? was arriving from the printer, she got word that the book was named a 2009 National Best Books Award winner in the Children’s Picture Book – Hardcover Nonfiction category. USA Book News sponsors this annual award. The next two books in the series are due to be released in 2010.

RT: Hi Rana! Thanks for your interest in jumping in the Reading Tub®. As I was preparing for our interview, I was fascinated about how you launched Little Pickle Press and your books, literally, within a six month window. And now, What Does It Mean to be Global? just won the 2009 National Best Books Award (USA Book News) for a children’s hardcover nonfiction picture book. How did it feel to open the box and hold your first book three weeks ago … and to know it is already-winning awards?

Rana: It was thrilling! It represented the net result of a very rewarding collaborative effort and a lot of hard work on the part of our whole team.

RT: Over the course of your career, you followed a path that looks at the world from different angles: political scientist, lawyer, investment banker, and private equity investor. Now you are a publisher and author … what was the “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to use those experiences to refine your path?

Rana:Shortly after writing my first three manuscripts, I attended a workshop to explore how best to get them published. The veteran author/illustrator who was presenting warned me not to collaborate with my illustrator before approaching a traditional publisher, as that was frowned upon. Well, it was too late. I had already started working with Chris Hill. Then, my first reader suggested that (1) I might not want to tell a publishing house that I wanted to print on recycled paper with soy inks, and (2) my content was over the heads of my intended audience. That was the “aha” moment. I knew at that point there had to be a better way to get high quality, eco-friendly content to our children. I promptly founded Little Pickle Press to apply my experience to create a new, interdisciplinary, dynamic approach to an industry I perceived to be in need of change.

RT: Since you’ve brought it up, let’s talk about the concepts for a moment. Each of your first three picture books are designed to bring big concepts to little people: globalization, conservation, and being “present.” Was it difficult to parse these broad themes into stories kids could comprehend without over-simplifying them?

Rana: concept picture bookGetting the messages across in an accessible manner is certainly a challenge, but at the same time, it is an opportunity. I believe that children are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for. I know that most children, mine included, appreciate when we take the time to have engaging discussions with them, especially about topics that are perceived to be “out of their reach.” It is with this spirit and respect for children that I wrote my first three books.

RT: Although these are the first three books you will be publishing, do you see other gaps in the “conscious kids” market that have yet to be addressed?

Rana: The potential for meaningful content that promotes “conscious kids” is vast and exciting. Not only are there entire categories of topics yet to be addressed fully (e.g., accountability, awareness, gratitude, philanthropy, respect, responsibility, etc.), but there are also opportunities to address other meaningful topics in a new way. Moreover, we plan to turn all of our books into feature-rich media that engages children and makes their learning experience fun and interactive.

RT: In the back of What Does It Mean To Be Global? you include an environmental benefits statement. I have never seen this before. Do you foresee this as something we could see industry-wide? And if so, how long do you think it would take?

Rana:Corporate consciousness is on the rise. Consumers are gravitating towards products that reflect their values (i.e., protecting the earth, giving to others, etc.). Consumer forces will lead to constructive changes in the publishing industry, being more environmentally aware just one of them. Because producing media in an eco-friendly manner is more costly than the alternatives, it will take some time for publishers to adjust their practices. The shift, however, has already commenced, and emerging publishers of children’s media, like Little Pickle Press, are on the vanguard of this positive industry development. All facets of our business operations – production, distribution, marketing, sales, etc. – are designed to minimize the impact on the environment.

RT: Do you think that being a published author is important to running Little Pickle Press? Do you think there are benefits that come from knowing the business?

Rana:The fact that I am a published author is important for two reasons. First, I wanted to develop our business model and refine our best practices using my content initially. In so doing, we created a platform that has been vetted and proven to produce the works of other authors and illustrators. Second, I needed to learn the publishing industry before I could hope to succeed in it. What better way to do so than to write and publish my own material? My experience has helped me to be empathic, resourceful, and open-minded.

RT: In looking at the website, it appears that you are leveraging resources and have a symbiotic relationship with a number of partners. For example, when Little Pickle Press begins accepting manuscripts, it will be through a specific, already-established manuscript review company. How did you come to decide on that model?

Rana: My decision to work with established partners emanated from my desire to produce high quality content for our children and to provide a suite of best-of-breed services for our artists. Our extended team comprises professionals who are experts in their respective fields. As an emerging publisher, forging relationships with and relying upon industry specialists gives us credibility and positions us well to succeed.

RT: In describing Little Pickle Press, you explain that it fills the gap in the conscious kids book market. Your first three books will be picture books. Do you see this group (kids ages 4 to 9) as your principal audience?

Rana:Initially, our target audience will be young children, ages 4 to 9. There is so much opportunity in this category. Little Pickle Press intends, however, to expand its scope to develop content for children of all ages as the Company itself grows.

RT: You have released What Does It Mean To Be Global? in hardcopy and also as an eBook. Will you do this for all Little Pickle Press books? Why did you decide to simultaneously release the books with both formats?

Rana: We intend to use our books as the foundation for all types of feature-rich media for children, eBooks among them. We want to develop talking eBooks, interactive stories, content for popular children’s learning devices, animations, music, etc. that excite and engage children while delivering the meaningful messages in our books. The decision to release the hardcopy and eBook simultaneously stemmed from our desire to reach as many children as possible as soon as possible and to appeal to a broader spectrum of customers (those who like the traditional hardcover and those who want to download an eBook to read to their child as they wait for their food in a restaurant).

RT: Although What Does It Mean To Be Global? just arrived from the printer, you have been building the business and promoting the book for several months. A book trailer is ready to go, you’ve got a blog, and you’re building your networks with industry peers. What has been the most useful platform (or platform strategy) for you?

Rana: Finding and appealing to our customer on the Web has been the most useful means to promote and sell our books. From updating our Facebook profile, to Tweeting milestones and industry developments, to reaching out to our LinkedIn network, to raising awareness in relevant blog communities, we have been hard at work reaching our customers online and encouraging them to learn more and to consider buying our differentiated content.

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
: Yes, thank you. I wanted to add that ten percent (10%) of the purchase price of our What Does It Mean To Be…?™ series of books is happily donated to the Starlight Children’s Foundation, brightening the lives of seriously ill children and their families. As a thank you for this opportunity, I would also like to offer your readership a 10% discount off books purchased on our site through the end of the year. To receive the discount, they will need to enter RT2009 at checkout.

Ways you can connect with Rana and Little Pickle Press

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