Interview with Sue Johnson and Julie Carlson of Heartstrings Press
Tell us about your company, it’s purpose, mission, target audience, goals, what makes it unique.
Sue: Julie and I have been writing together since 1996. We established Heartstrings Press in 1998 when we purchased back the rights to our book from our publisher. Our mission is to encourage grandparents and families
to stay in touch and to create heartfelt memories.
How did you come to work together in the first place?
Sue: When our first grandchild was born we searched the bookstores and library for a good book on grandparenting. Unable to find anything helpful, I commented to my daughter-in-law, “Gosh, I could write a better book than
what is out there!” To which, Julie replied, “Well, Mom!” .with a quick follow up of, “Hey how would you like a co-author?”
Please describe your respective roles in the company.
Sue: I am the researcher and sent out 150 questionnaires to families worldwide. It snowballed into over 350 responses – we had struck a chord and knew others were looking for ways to connect with their grandchildren
We outlined the book together and worked together on a dynamite proposal – sent out 22 inquiries and had three publishers who wanted Grandloving!
I then did the research, outlined all the material that came in to us from the 350 other families and fed this to Julie who, as an editor for the Yale and Harvard Presses, obviously writes well. Julie put it into text format while I wrote up over 200 activities for the book.
We have done TV, radio and presentations together across the country. Julie created our website, and I run the publishing end of the business and follow up on publicity opportunities.
Our strengths and weaknesses balance each other beautifully.
How has working together affected your relationship outside the “office.” In other words how do you keep family matters separate from work related issues?
We are fortunate to have husbands who have been very supportive. In the initial stage when we needed to spend time outlining the book and our different duties, they kept the grandchildren occupied and put food on the table. When we wrote the first edition we were living on opposite coasts, so we used the internet daily. Since that time we’ve guarded our family gatherings and made it a point not to spend much time discussing the book and promotions. Working with Julie has brought us even closer. I’ve always know she was a super Mom but working with her has given me a huge respect for her writing ability and her work ethic.
Julie: I think working together has enriched our relationship–it’s fun to see Sue “do her thing” as a marketer, publisher, and writer; I couldn’t respect her more as a grandma, but it’s always exciting to appreciate her other skills, too! And we have learned to keep the “business” on the back burner during family gatherings, so we can truly enjoy the moment with the kids–even if it was harder at first, this comes naturally now.
What are some of the challenges you have faced working together?
Sue: We have been fortunate not to have had power struggles as we realized early on that we each had different interests and strengths to bring to the business.I love to research, organize and market and Julie loves to write, edit and give presentations. We respect each other and are able to critic each other’s work and ideas without hard feelings.
Julie: When we first were busy creating and selling “Grandloving,” it was hard to turn off the excitement and great ideas so that we could spend quality time as a whole family–although I think we tried to be sensitive to this even from the start, it took some practice to keep an “eye on the prize”–great family relationships among all the members of our family. We always played to our strengths, and didn’t seem to have too much trouble dividing the work–I think one of Sue’s great gifts is that she seems to remember and appreciate the hard work it takes to raise three kids–I’m often running behind and she’s a wonderful support.
Sue: We sent out 22 proposals and as first time authors, felt terrifically empowered to have three publishers want our book.
Having Bil Keane, the Family Circus Cartoonist call and offer to do a cartoon for us because he felt “the book is filled with such love, and you two women should be very proud!” He gave us permission to use the cartoon in any way we wanted!
Having a grandmother call and ask our help. Her daughter had died suddenly, and her son-in-law remarried quickly. His new wife did not want her to remain in contact with her two granddaughters with whom she’d been very close. She was understandably devastated. We suggested she use some of the ideas from Grandloving and send little heartfelt things in the mail (two chapters offer ways to turn your grandchild’s mailbox into a treasure chest). A year later the grandmother called to thank us and to say she had been invited back into the family and was going for Thanksgiving! This brought both of us to tears and reinforced the knowledge that Grandloving was helping other families.
Julie: An exciting though challenging media blitz. We had been hired by Nylint Toys to co-promote for a year. After giving us media training they sent us to do a satellite TV gig in Denver. Landing amid a snowstorm, then with baby Charlie, at five months, in a snuggli on the producer’s chest we went live coast to coast to 28 morning news shows–wow!
What do you like best about working together? Least?
Sue: I love getting to know a side of Julie I wouldn’t know had we not worked together.I have the utmost of admiration for her skills and integrity.
What, if any big challenges or little annoyances have occurred as a result of working together and how have you managed to overcome them?
Julie: Annoyances seem to be few, I think because we really had a very loving relationship from the start. In fact, I see the marketing opportunities as a much-needed chance for me to say thanks to Sue for all she does as “Oma” for our kids–sometimes it takes an interview or other big event for me to stop running around as a busy mom and reflect, aloud to Sue and Rick, on how lucky we are to have them on our team, and how much we admire all the creativity and love they give to all of their grandkids.
What tips would you share with our readers for working with a member of the family?
Julie: Communicate! I follow the advice in Grandloving all the time in the sense that I try to think of unconventional ways to show Sue that we appreciate all that she does. In easy times or tough, there’s always something positive to remember and draw out in a relationship that can make any necessary healing happen faster. Of course, we’re lucky in that Sue makes the job easy. She’s always working hard on her end to enrich the relationship, too–making it a win-win.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Julie: Working with a member of the family can be exciting, enriching, and rewarding to the relationship–go for it!
What’s next for this mother daughter team?
Sue: Probably an updated 5th edition – Grandloving is well on it’s way to becoming a classic!
For more information on Sue Johnson and Julie Carlson visit Heartstrings Press at www.grandloving.com
This article can be read in the Spring/Summer 2009 Issue of WE Magazine for Women