579 April Sheris:
Actually writing the book is the easy part. Ok not easy, but much easier for many authors …than stepping out of their comfort zones to build magnetic personal brands and communities … the hard stuff that is 80 per cent of the effort required to launch a bestseller.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who started her career in marketing before building a diverse portfolio of publishing, media and technology properties – all aimed at helping authors make the impact they want.
April Sheris is the CEO of Upland Avenue Productions and also the founder of a literary networking platform to bridge the relationship between the film, literary and journalism industries and foster new relationships with political and business leaders, as well as, placing indie writers in front of industry insiders and fellow peers.
I can’t wait to introduce you to April! First…
April Sheris is on a mission … to help entrepreneurs and authors leverage the power of storytelling, magnetic branding and community building … to make the impact of their dreams.
CEO of Upland Avenue Productions, April works with authors to help them step out from behind the scenes so they can create bestsellers and revenue-generating opportunities.
Passionate about children’s books, April has partnered with Barnes & Noble on reading initiatives for kids. She’s also busy assisted youth in developing and launching their businesses through the Young Entrepreneurship Initiative and Launch Los Alamos programs. She also launched the first on rail reading book club in New Mexico through a collaborative partnership with New Mexico Rail Runner Express. And as she’s built her publishing company she’s also collaborated with the New Mexico School for the Arts to attract money for arts education.
Today we’re talk about what it takes to market your book to bestseller status, why authors must get out of their comfort zones and focus on building and sustaining community, plus the necessity as entrepreneurs to build diverse teams and bolster our “inner health” with spiritual growth.
Let’s put on our wings with the inspiring April Sheris.
Melinda Wittstock: April, welcome to Wings.
April Sheris: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s great to have you too. What was it that led you to begin a publishing house?
April Sheris: It really was a chance encounter. My background is in marketing. I was working with local creatives and musicians in my home state. And I had a friend of mine who wanted to start writing her own series, similar to Avatar, where she was creating her own realm and all of original characters, but it was a faith based story. And so she asked me to help market that series for her, and it was from there that I fell in love with the industry and I began to network and build contacts so that one day, if I decided to write a book, I would have that network there, but what happened was after I worked with her series, there were other authors that came along from hearing what I had done and it just grew from there.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, that’s so lovely when it happens organically like that. Right? And so were you surprised with what it took to really build this from something that just happened into a significant business?
April Sheris: Yeah, it really was surprising because from the marketing standpoint, you think, okay, it’s easy to market a product, any product you can market it. And to some extent, that is true. However, with books, it’s really a very niche industry. And so you have to build the love or the interest in the storyline, or with the person themself. So the marketing of the product really became a nurturing experience. So, I really had to nurture the target audience and get them to warm up to the idea of the story or the author. And that was just a little bit different coming from the music industry, because everybody loves music, music becomes universal and that’s a little easier sale, but books was very surprising from that standpoint.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. And so what were some of the entrepreneurial challenges early on? Because it’s one thing doing the doing, the thing that you love to do, and then there’s all the rest.
April Sheris: Yes. Exactly.
Melinda Wittstock: Talk to me a little bit about that journey. What were some of your challenges along the way?
April Sheris: The main challenge was really working with authors. I found that a lot of authors can be a little reserved and maybe it’s because it’s their story, right? It’s very personal to them and it becomes almost like a birthing process getting the story out. And so they get comfortable once that story is done, it’s like, okay, I’m done, my part of this journey has ended. And just getting them to understand that really you’re still at the beginning phase because now we have to introduce you as the originator of this story and get people to fall in love with your brand. And so we have to teach you how to market, teach you how to use social media consistently. We’re teaching them about how to think outside of the box for their brands so that they don’t just become stuck as a author with one book, but they are continuously creating content that their followers would love.
So that really was the challenge because the previous industry, a lot of musicians are hungry and they’re ready to be out there front center. So that was the biggest challenge is just getting the authors to understand that the journey just started and now the real work begins. And then the other side of that is just really building a relationship and establish long standing relationship with books retailers, and booksellers, because they get so much thrown at them that a lot of times they don’t have the time, and sometimes the interest to see through every submission that they get. So really nurturing those relationships with booksellers took some time as well. And it was a bit challenging being a small press.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s really interesting though what you say about, folks who do the work, like write a book or maybe write a great and produce a great song, or create a great product and think they’re done. And I was like, almost like, first of all, you need a great product, book, album, whatever it is, but without being all in on the marketing, it seems like for music and books, all of it’s like 80% marketing, is that right?
April Sheris: It really is 80% marketing, the big substantial differences, of course, the music a lot of times will speak to the soul of the spirit of individual for itself. And so you don’t really have to fall in love with the musician right away. But with the author, 80% of it is marketing, but a huge part of it is really grooming an individual to be a personality because everybody, they want to remain themselves, but people have to, you have to be comfortable being the center of attention or putting yourself out as a personality, because people really fall in love with the writers of books now. And so that was a challenge because a lot of people were comfortable behind the scenes.
So, for book selling marketing is, of course a huge part of it, but really grooming the writer and getting them to understand that now you have to step out in front, especially in a world where it’s majority social media, that means you may have to go live sometimes, or that means that you may have to feel comfortable doing book readings and book signings in front of people, gone are the days where we could sit at home and really sell books or sell eBooks, just being an author that just pushed and promoted from home and relied on your publisher to do that for you. So now, getting them to understand that it’s really time for you to connect with that audience so that they can fall in love with your personality.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes, absolutely right. What kind of authors do you like to work with? Who’s your ideal client?
April Sheris: Yeah. So for me, I love children’s authors. We love creating stories that are not just entertaining, but are educational in a sense for children, because I feel that a lot of the time, me personally, having a young child, a lot of the content that I feel is available to children, especially through YouTube and even some of the Nickelodeon or Disney shows, I think are a little bit too mature for a young child, or maybe some of the topics, is it something that I would really like my child to know at the age that he may be. And so I fell in love with working with writers who had a passion for really entertaining, but engaging children at a earlier stage, to help them learn the fundamentals of life or daily activities. So the ideal client for us would be someone that shares that same interest and has a passion beyond just making a profit for the book.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, right, right, right. And it’s interesting now where you’re taking your publishing company to as Hollywood and networks, everybody, they look at books as source material.
April Sheris: Yes. Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: So talk to me about that, because I think that’s something that’s actually happening in the podcast space a little bit as well, where podcasts have traction, particularly fiction or even documentary type things can be developed into really compelling series. So how is that working for you and what led you there?
April Sheris: Yeah, again, it goes back to just having a love for storytelling and finding that so much healing and inspiration can come from a really well written story. And I also realized that there are a lot of writers and authors who at the onset of wanting to get published, also knew that this story they had would really resonate better, either on a big screen or on a small screen, as a television series. And through our journey, we ran across so many people like that who had questions, and if we knew how to get them started, or if we would be willing to create a production out of their story. And now I feel like after 2020, it’s something that we don’t really have to feel comfortable just waiting on, people are eager, 2020 I’m sure will birth a lot of books just in that year itself.
And so we felt compelled to go ahead and take it to the next level so that we can walk a lot of the authors and writers that we come across into that space personally, because it is tricky and it is scary. And just like any industry you can get taken advantage of, but we created Upland Studios organically as a next step to help authors continue to produce great content and storytelling.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful. During the pandemic do you think a lot of people finally said, okay, this is the year I’m finally going to write the book? Did the pandemic help get people going with their books?
April Sheris: I really do think so. Yeah, because it’s like, you were faced with so much time outside of any spiritual journey that anyone had. If you had anything on the back burner, 2020 was that year that gave you nothing but time to get it done and say, you know what? Time really isn’t the issue anymore to you. And so I think we will get those stories that people have been sitting on before the pandemic, where we’re going to have so much rich storytelling that comes out of the experiences and spiritual revelations people encounter just through 2020 alone. So I’m excited to see what’s about to come because, again, I love great storytelling. So I’m really looking forward to that.
Melinda Wittstock: I think it’s interesting too, on the children’s side of things as well, because everybody has been so challenged by homeschooling, the whole education system is appended.
April Sheris: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Coronavirus has shone a light on so many things that are wrong with our society, right? Just a really bright light, but talking about education for a moment, it was really difficult to get kids to engage in reading, and then now when they’re homeschooled, or Zoom, or whatever, so children’s literature takes on a whole new aspect in a way.
April Sheris: It does. It really, really does. And I’m glad that it has this light shone on it now because it was something that I think children felt like they didn’t have to, that they can get away from because of the advancements of technology and other types of content that was coming at them. But you really can’t beat having a great story either at the end of the night for a child, because I believe it informs them and entertains them, but it creates a bonding experience for a parent and child as well, right before bed or when they wake up, or whenever you decide to read to the child. So really getting back to the fundamentals of reading tangible books, not having all of their books be eBooks or digital books, but having hard physical copies of books in the home as well, because it really is, it’s nurturing to me when my son comes with a book in his hand and he wants me to read it.
For a long time with some of my older kids, we had gotten away from that like I said, because there were tablets that they can read books on. And so that reading experience became different because you can do the text to read to them, but as a parent, being able to sit down and point out words and show the child how to pronounce or annunciate words is really more rewarding than the technological advances we’ve had in literature.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely, because the technology is growing at such a pace and yet coronavirus reminds us, especially now into 2021, how much we miss that real human connection.
April Sheris: Right, right, right. More so than now, it made you miss the human connection, it made you value the people you took advantage of seeing the most. Right? Now it’s like, I can’t wait until everything opens up so I can visit this person, or I can have lunch with that person, so you’re right, that human interaction, it really is valuable.
Melinda Wittstock: So true. So April, you mentioned just a moment ago, spiritual journey in the context of coronavirus in 2020, it was really a time for that. We all had a choice with the pandemic, you could scream and wail and just be impatient for things to return to normal, or you could use that time really productively to look within at what needs to be changed in your own life, because it’s such a big pattern interrupt, right? It gave everyone the opportunity if they chose to take it, to really align themselves, or get into alignment with what they’re really meant to be doing here in their earth suit at this particular time, or really work on themselves, work on their personal growth. What was your experience through that? Was it a game changer for you? Did it advance you in some way on a spiritual level?
April Sheris: It did. Spiritually for me, it taught me that inner health is really the jewel of life, whether you’re an entrepreneur or you’re an employee, we get so caught up in our next sale or our next accomplishment, or we get so caught up in trying to check off these bucket lists of items that we set for our life. And those things are great to have, but life is passing us by and we don’t value our inner health, we don’t value our mental sanity.
And so for me, those were the biggest factors for me. It’s like, okay, I am forced to slow down. Do I really like this? And through me answering that question, I found that I really love it, I freaking love slowing down, being able to be present in the moment, being able to be out in nature and grounding myself in nature, because it brought about such a sense of calm and peace that I had never really established before. Because going from being a young adult, you’re just going through school and you’re going through career goals, and then you’re starting a family, and you never really have the opportunity to slow down and say, you know what? Life is really beautiful, any, and everywhere we turn. And so that’s what 2020 brought me that a higher consciousness of just being present and grounding myself with nature.
Melinda Wittstock: How beautiful. The reality is when we do that, it feels like, for an entrepreneur, that, Oh man, it’s scary to slow down a little bit. In fairness, I do that though, I actually achieve more. It’s counter-intuitive.
April Sheris: Right. It’s funny how that works, right? Because mentally, we think the opposite.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. We become human doings.
April Sheris: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.
Melinda Wittstock: But really getting grounded and connected this is one of the things that during the pandemic and working from home all through last year, it was lovely to be able to go and work outside, work in my garden, I’m in the Northeast, so that’s a little difficult to do in the winter, I’m missing that, but it really makes a difference and just being really, I don’t know, present in the present moment, really enjoying the journey. I want to talk to you a little bit about what’s been happening too, in the context of everything that came to light last year for a lot of white folks that really is old news, four hundred years old in reality. But there was a lot of people coming to a new understanding and a new awakening. We’ve got this very polarized society where we have a lot of progress, or potential progress on another level, but also a lot of really scary, horrible, hateful reaction. How are you walking that? What does it mean for you in your life and in your business?
April Sheris: For me, I felt like it is still a part of a great awakening. And I always try to look on the bright side of things and be grateful for what this scab being removed for what it is. For me in business I think that healing, again, can come from the storytelling, whether it’s a book or it’s a podcast, and you’re just sharing emotions. And I think what will come of this is once all of the nastiness is out in the open, I think at the end of it all, at least I’m optimistic, I’ll say that, that at the end of it all, we will come together and it will be more of a communal living because everything will be out in the open, and we can see the ugliness for what it is, and as a collective, we can decide that this no longer serves us going forward.
So that’s what I’m optimistic about, that once everything is said and done, and all of the darkness is out there, collectively, we can say, you know what? These old ways have died, we don’t want them in our present or future. And we can live communally as a species, as Americans. So that’s what I’m optimistic about.
Melinda Wittstock: I think you’re right, because in all through history, it’s where things are simmering subtly, where you can’t really see them, that makes change a lot more difficult. But the one thing about coronavirus, again, like you said, just open the scab, a lot of things that are wrong with our society. And if you can see the problem clearly, it’s easier to solve, but it is really a time of awakening.
April Sheris: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: How do you see the role of entrepreneurs such as yourself, in terms of using business to really accelerate and foster that? I know you talked about storytelling being very, very powerful, and of course it is. From a business standpoint, how do you see your role in being able to really accelerate that change?
April Sheris: Yeah. I think me personally, diversity is going to be major. It’s easy for us to hire within, or hire people we feel are talented that may come from a culturally, or ethnically similar background as us, but even from my standpoint, to continue to hire as diverse of people as possible and bring that talent and bring all of those views into the company, or of any company, it will make change because it doesn’t become so one-sided. Now you have the voice and now you have the opinions of Americans really in a company that can drive change, and it can foster great results. So I really think from an entrepreneurial standpoint as the more of a diverse talent that you can bring in allows you to have someone that reflects our country having a voice to impact through your consumer, or your customer a little bit better.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. This is a big challenge for a lot of people, especially early stage entrepreneurs who end up, whoever say from the idea stage, right? Who’s ever willing to work on it. Who’s like, can pay anybody, start this thing. And it ends, people end up drawing from their own networks. I think that’s a real mistake, from the very, very beginning, it’s so important to be conscious of this in terms of your team. And I really think companies that really do put investment into that, and real thoughtfulness, are much stronger companies, because their product and the way they market, everything is just going to be more relevant.
April Sheris: Right. Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: So what do you suggest for people who are listening to this, who are struggling with it, their hearts are in the right place, they have the right intention. They don’t really know what to do, when they really want to be able to attract diversity in their teams, black and brown people, and gay people, right?
April Sheris: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s so, so important, and for us at Podopolo, my podcast network, we’re very, very conscious of it, and are constantly looking and asking to be able to source great talent in that way. But it’s not necessarily automatic.
April Sheris: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It isn’t automatic. And I think that people feel, especially from an administrative level, that the business itself and trying to gain the consumer is the risk, it’s the real risk taking. And so you don’t want to take the risk with the staff or with the employees because you need that to be solid. But I really think that it will serve your company and serve the community better if you take the risk and gain the reward in the talent. And like I said before, by doing that, your company can excel and grow exponentially if you take the risk in a diverse talent [crosstalk 00:22:38].
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely.
April Sheris: … with the company, with the community as well.
Melinda Wittstock: You got to do it. It’s just like sourcing it. It’s comes back to the network thing. Right?
April Sheris: Right. Exactly [crosstalk 00:22:50].
Melinda Wittstock: That happens a lot. So if your networks don’t, because so many jobs you find often a lot have great people just through your networks, but if your networks are limited, then your sourcing is limited. And so, that’s really something that we’re working through and actually, pretty successfully so far, but we have so many and intentionally, a lot of black voices on our podcast network. It would be [crosstalk 00:23:25]
April Sheris: Awesome. Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Right? And it’s intentional because it’s so, so important at this point in our history. One of the things that I’ve been really inspired by is just taking from politics and watching the new president of the United States really put together a team that looks like America.
April Sheris: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: And what lessons can we learn? How did he do that?
April Sheris: Right. Right. And, again, if you don’t know, Biden was smart enough to hire people who can at least shed light or provide assistance in finding that diverse talent. So even if you have no idea how to get started and how to do this the proper way, at least have someone in your executive team that can say, Hey, you know what? This is a great talent, and here’s why.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. We brought in a virtual CDO [crosstalk 00:24:23].
April Sheris: Oh, wow. Okay. Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: … company. Right? From day one.
April Sheris: Oh, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: We didn’t say, Oh, that’s nice to have later.
April Sheris: Yes. Right.
Melinda Wittstock: Because it had to be top of mind from the beginning.
April Sheris: Yeah, exactly. I agree.
Melinda Wittstock: But I really do believe that we’re so much stronger in our businesses with many diverse experiences, diverse talents, multidisciplinary, diverse perspectives, diverse experiences, the way we look, the way we talk, all those things being different, it leads to so much more innovation and creativity.
April Sheris: It does. And if I can just add, I also think that once you hire that diverse team, there are some companies that still do this, but I’m seeing that there are a lot of companies that are getting away from this, I would love for us as entrepreneurs and administrators to get back to building a nurturing environment for the employees again, because it’s not enough to just bring the talent on and then they’re struggling in their personal life and their family life, just to get back to really caring about our team again, like it used to be years before and not just what they can produce to gain a profit as well, because then they’ll stay, you’ll be able to retain more of your team and your talent.
Melinda Wittstock: So, so important. So, how big has your company gotten now? How long have you been going and how has it scaled?
April Sheris: We are just entering into our ninth year, when we started, we were a small team of four. We have grown, to me I feel like it’s significantly. But right now we are a team of 13, and some of our team are working from offices around the world. So we’re all not just here in the State of New Mexico, which is where we’re headquartered at now. But we do work with talent outside of the State and some international talent as well. Because of course we need a team of illustrators and because we have Upland Studios now, we need a team of animators. And so we work with talent all over the world, but right now we’re at 13.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s great.
April Sheris: We’re not large, but we have grown throughout the nine years to something that is solid.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s a new way too, for companies also spurred by the pandemic where it doesn’t really require an office anymore, there are certain people that it helps to be together or at least close, but not necessarily, I’ve had no choice with Podopolo, but to build a remote company.
April Sheris: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: We are all over the place.
April Sheris: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: And so thinking about, and all over the world, in fact, so thinking about though, once things start to return to normal, does that mean we all go back into offices? I don’t think so. I think it’s really being much more intentional about when is that connection needed, and how to make the most of the connection when people are together and be mindful of that, but a lot of the work can still be done from home, or from remote, or from wherever.
April Sheris: Yeah. I agree. I’m really glad that that revelation came about because if you really calculate the man-hours that you sit at a desk in a office, that 40 hour work week, how much real work is being done compared to when you’re at home. For some of our people in our team, it was a much more enriching experience to have a job and work from home. They were able to produce better results at a higher percentage from being home. And so for us, what I had to sit and look at, and I was like, 40 hours is a lot of a person’s life in a week. If we can produce the same results that it doesn’t feel like overload in a shorter amount of time then we’d be willing to do it.
And so as a company, what we have decided to do is that we will just have the Monday through Thursday work week and Friday as wellness day, we’ve integrated [crosstalk 00:00:28:37].
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, nice.
April Sheris: … Options where people can go and have meditation sessions, or if they want to go to a spa and have a facial, whatever it is that will nurture the soul, that’s what Fridays are for. Or if you just happen to need to schedule a meeting on a Friday, then that’s your choice. But we really want to get back to having people be whole beings again and not just be pressed to just work and produce all the time. So 2020 was amazing. In all of its darkness, it ended up being amazing for a lot of humanity in different ways.
Melinda Wittstock: I think so too. It’s funny the difference between entrepreneurs and their outlook on the pandemic, looking at it as, okay, where’s the opportunity here, because I think we’re all wired for that. We look for, okay, so this is happening. We’re used to handling things that are beyond our control. Right?
April Sheris: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: We’re used to change and rapid change. Change is just part of the deal for an entrepreneur. So I think we all had a totally different attitude to the pandemic, how can we leverage this?
April Sheris: Yeah. And I love it. Yeah I love it. I have heard of so many people pivoting in their lives, or pivoting in their businesses because of 2020. And I’m like, if this never happened would those ideas have been birthed? So I love it from a creative standpoint, it’s really going to progress humanity forward, all of the ideas that will come out of 2020.
Melinda Wittstock: I so agree with you. So April, tell me about the big vision for the company. You’ve talked about a lot of the things you’re doing, and you’re really involved in your community as well, and what are some of the big milestones, sorry, I can’t speak. What are some of the big milestones that you’re looking for in the next five, 10 years? Where do you ultimately want to be?
April Sheris: Yeah, ultimately for me in my industry, it’s to help more storytellers, right? Go beyond books. Books are great. I believe in books a 110%. And so as a company, publishing will always be at the heart of what we do, but I’m finding that the authors of today want to do more. They want to do more than just books. And if we can connect them with those resources, or provide the resources for them to fulfill those dreams with storytelling, that’s what we’re going to do. So long-term for us is to continue to resource and connect with amazing storytellers to build out the Upland studio platform, which we have some content up there now for children that they can stream, but to really make sure that the authors are not being shunned or turned down from major studios and production companies, because they don’t think the story has it.
There may be ways that we can tweak it from a streaming platform standpoint, the audience will still want to hear or watch. So for me, really getting more storytellers the opportunity to turn their book into film is one of the goals for us. And then we’re also still finding a lot of authors who want to retain more control over their product and just self-publish, but they just lack the roadmap as I like to call it. So we have a bookstore, The New Rich platform that we’re really pushing to work with as many authors as possible to give them that roadmap so that they can do it on their own.
Melinda Wittstock: April, you’re doing so many amazing things in the world, I want to make sure that people know how to find you and connect with you and work with you. What’s the best way?
April Sheris: Yeah. The best way to reach us is going to be at Uplandavenueproductions.com, that has all of our divisions attached at one URL. It also has the information if someone is looking to get published, and that will probably be the best way. And then on social media, you can find us either by Upland kids, Upland.kids on Instagram or Facebook. So we made it really simple. And you can follow me, if you would like to follow me or just have questions and want to reach out, I’m on social media at April Sheris.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.
April Sheris: Thank you. It was a beautiful experience. Thank you for having me.