The Experience Economy, Stupid!

Painting by Norman Rockwell

Painting by Norman Rockwell

When my book launched in February 2013, I often referred to my children’s picture book Gia and Lincoln’s Aggravating Allergies as my third child. Conception, gestation, labor and delivery were painfully slow, but I finally got the book to market. I coddled my new “child,” adored it, and proudly mentioned it to anyone who passed by – “Look at my new baby!” I invented a new identity, The Allergic Author, to parent my new book. I was a zealous newbie author, and started marketing my book online, blogging, promoting my book at local book shops, book fairs, and library. I even made an e-book version. Like a new mom, I had all these dreams and aspirations for my new creation. It was going to be beloved by all, take the world by storm, change the world.

Then reality set in. Being a new author is a lot of work. And particularly extra work for me as a working mother with a family which commands all my attention. I failed to keep pace with book promotion, especially as I was going through a major personal crisis that I needed to sort out. As a result, my book – my third child – was neglected. I stopped blogging. I didn’t update my author Facebook page. I didn’t check my Twitter account. I retreated from the children’s literary world. I stopped going to writers meetings. My stack of Gia and Lincoln’s Aggravating Allergies books got relegated to the corner of a closet, next to the Christmas ornaments. Instead of being The Allergic Author, I morphed into The Apathetic Author. My Facebook “likes” on my author page dried up, my number of followers on Twitter stalled, and my blog collected cyber dust. I haven’t had a book review on Amazon in almost a year and book sales came to a screeching halt. All the hours, blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money) I invested into birthing my book, book platform, and identity as an author had gone to waste.

But then a recent encounter with a young mother broke through my fog of apathy. I was going to a doctor’s appointment and remembered my physician had two small kids, ages 3 and 1, and I decided to give my book to my doctor as a gift. When I told her the main characters had allergies, she mentioned that she suspected her 3-year-old daughter had allergies. She couldn’t wait to read the book to her kids that night. I thought it was ironic that this wonderful, smart, and accomplished M.D. was thrilled that I (The Apathetic Author) presented her my book to share with her children. I’m talking about a “let-me-tell-all-my-coworkers-right-now-how-excited-I-am” thrilled. I could hear her exclaiming about it down the hallway. I was truly surprised and humbled by her genuine reaction.

This brief exchange gave me food for thought. I realized it’s not all about the book. It is about what I like to call “the experience economy.” I learned about this theory at a business lecture presented by one of the authors of the book The Experience Economy (B. Joseph Pine ll and James H. Gilmore). They observe that most companies and entrepreneurs think they are selling products and services, but they are really selling the “experience” created by the use of their products or services. Take, for example, Walt Disney World. A local amusement park or state fair could satisfy the need for thrill rides, but throngs of vacationers go to Disney World to be at The Happiest Place on Earth. Disney theme parks provide the ultimate experience economy and, as a result, have a lot repeat business.

In my much, much smaller example (and I am not comparing myself to Disney World, by the way), my physician was excited about a picture book written by one of her patients, but she was equally enthused about sharing a new story with her children. She was anticipating the quality time of reading aloud to her little ones. Snuggling up to your kids with a book is the experience economy. It’s about the reading and the ritual.

The other evening I was reading aloud to my 12-year-old daughter. We squeezed onto her narrow twin bed and I read the introduction to The Soapmaker’s Companion: A Comprehensive Guide with Recipes, Techniques and Know-How (by Susan Miller Cavitch). This instructional manual on soapmaking was no page-turner, like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling) for instance, but it did the trick. As I kissed her good-night, I realized it wasn’t the book’s content that enraptured my tween, but the bedtime ritual of reading with me. That night the proverbial light bulb switched on in my head as I thought to myself “It’s the experience economy, stupid!”

My journey as a children’s picture book writer is filled with fits and starts and lessons learned through trial and error. It is similar to how I fumble my way through parenthood. As a mother, I wouldn’t let my daughters fend for themselves, and I can’t let my children’s book either. My third child, my picture book, needs proper care and feeding in order to thrive. It can’t create any magical reading moments packed away and stowed at the bottom of my hall closet. It’s time to arrange some play dates for my book and rethink my strategy.

Success as an author could be defined by how many books are sold, the number of twitter and blog followers, or the quantity of positive Amazon reviews. Would I love vast amounts of these things? Of course I would, I won’t lie. My inner marketer still wants to conquer the best seller list and social media. But I’d rather measure the smaller impact that is made, and define my worth as an author by knowing I helped create a reading moment between an adult and a child. And by doing my part to contribute to a culture of literacy – or in other words – the experience economy of reading.

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