The future is make believe

The future is make believe

I didn’t think I’d ever call myself part of the publishing industry, I’m still not sure I can. I started approaching stories with digital eyes, and have come full circle to print. So I’m now a double self-publisher – I started a self-publishing platform for kids, Fabled, and now I’m creating a book of kid-authored stories, The Future Is Make Believe (live on Kickstarter now). A strange sort of industry beast to be sure, but I think how I’ve grown may be of some interest to the traditional animals out there too.

Fabled started as a web app to help kids to create and share their stories online.  We’ve had a fantastic first 18 months, kids love it, parents love it, and the stories they share are wild and brilliant. But it didn’t feel like enough. 

I started a podcast, a newsletter, more social media. Still not enough bang (and certainly no buck). So I decided to level-up, and make a book.

Ironically perhaps, a book felt like the best platform from which to shout about my mission. A book would be a triple threat: product in itself, campaign device, and marketing vehicle. Running a Kickstarter to produce it is one of the most direct means of testing one of several revenue models for Fabled. Most of all, the printed word is also still the highest honour I can give to celebrating kids’ authorship. And I saw the growing volume of lush, illustrated, gift-worthy kids’ books on empowering themes – and felt like the obvious missing piece was something with real kids voices in it.

If the last 18 months have taught me anything, it is the sheer power of simply listening to, inspiring, and celebrating kids’ voices. I want to push for more make believe, to start a movement to save the green spaces in kids’ heads where the wild things live. And every movement needs a manifesto. 

Tech alone is still too ephemeral for most people to rally around, they need something tangible, a thing, in my case a book-shaped thing. And its not just us ‘old’ people who long for clear products. One of the first questions Fabled users asked of their finished stories was “can I hold it”? 

It’s been fascinating to see how much more traction I’ve had for my mission since announcing the book. A book is a currency people understand.  It costs money, which my platform doesn’t, but it feels rich in a different way. 

The book represents an aspiration, to read with their children, to inspire them to tell stories. Somehow, for parents especially, that investment is easier to make in advance, though I also dearly hope it will also later elicit time spent, to read and tell stories together.

The economics of small print runs are not great, by any means. But, from a mission point of view, this project has already been worthwhile. Even as marketing spend for Fabled itself, the cost of producing the book will have been a worthier investment than raising the equivalent money to spend on social media ads.

Or if the book does well, that dynamic could be inverted. It could be that Fabled the web platform becomes marketing for the books, the face of a publishing house for kid-authored stories. Am I building a tech business, a content production house, a radio station, a publishing business, a social movement, a digital stationer? Frankly I don’t know. And that is part of what makes it so exciting (and terrifying). But as long as I stay true to the mission of listening to, inspiring, and celebrating kids’ imaginations, I’m open to whatever a Fabled future holds.

I think the strange fluidity I’m in as I build my brand mirrors the way children interact with stories. Children are story first and format second – they don’t come with our snobbery about form. They play at Spiderman mashed up with Harry Potter, they read Winnie-the-Pooh, collect the Shopkins and watch Paw Patrol, and it is all fodder for their imagination. It all gets whirled and re-spun in daydreams and their stories. If we give them space to do it that is, if we listen. And I intend to.