It was the summer of 1999. My husband and I were working together in his software company. Most of the people who worked for him were stay-at-home moms, working part-time from their homes so they could be with their children. Frequently, one of the moms would comment that when her children were old enough she wanted to go back to college.
So one afternoon, when I heard the frustration in Cathy's voice as she spoke about wishing she could go back to school, I asked, "Why wait? Your kids might not be going to school for three or four years, but you could start reading about whatever subject you're interested in right now."
Cathy was not amused. "Look Suzanne, I cook, clean, do school activities, take care of my children, and work part time for you. I don't even have time to shave my legs and you expect me to sit down and read a book!"
Good point. I guess I'd forgotten how little free time my husband and I had when our kids were young. Between managing our businesses, trying to get kids off to school in the morning, and transporting them to music lessons and sports afterwards, it was a real juggling act. So that evening, when I was preparing our daily company email, on a whim I started typing in the first few pages of Tuesdays with Morrie, a book I'd just finished reading. The next evening I typed in a little more, continuing to send short installments with each company email.
Four days later, No-Time-to-Shave-My-Legs Woman called. "I'm embarrassed to admit it, Suzanne, but I've been sneaking over to my computer late at night to see if company email showed up yet, because I'm hooked on the book."
So if sending part of a book to a busy stay-at-home mom could inspire her to add reading to her "to-do" list, what would happen if I sent daily book club emails to millions of people? And that's how my online book clubs at DearReader.com were born. (By the way, before I continue, I need to tell you that taking copyrighted material out of a book is illegal, which my loving husband pointed out to me at the time. I assured him it was for a small group of women and that's how creative ideas are born. But that still doesn't make it legal. Not to worry, I now have permission for all of the books I use at my online book clubs.)
I knew how to build a website and I could envision what the book clubs would look like, but how was I going to get permission to use material from published books? Silly, naïve me, I thought that if I called a publisher they would call me back. When they didn't, I tried sending a fax, and then an overnight letter. Finally it was my persistent dialing that reached a Random House executive. She decided to take a chance on my online book club idea. But a week later, when we were supposed to finalize things, my contact was gone — literally. The recording on her phone said she didn't work at Random House any longer, "Press 1 if you need further assistance."
So I had no choice but to begin again. Eventually I connected with someone else at Random House and I started getting permissions. I figured I could name-drop and easily get other publishers on board, too. When that didn't work, I baked chocolate chip cookies and sent them overnight with a one-page letter. I realize a business letter and chocolate chip cookies might seem like strange bedfellows. But I loved to bake, and I needed to stand out, and who doesn't love a homemade chocolate chip cookie — like the kind Grandma used to make?
What a difference when I'd call a publisher the day after my package arrived, "Oh, you're the cookie woman! I'm sorry we didn't get back to you yet."
Today, 11 years later, over 375,000 people read at my Dear Reader online book clubs every day. I'm still baking cookies for publishers — because it's fun — and I bake for readers, too. Every month there's a Chocolate Chip Cookie Giveaway at the book clubs. Stop by, and if your name is drawn I'll bake and overnight two dozen homemade cookies to your front door.
Sound a little crazy? Yes, but a little crazy means we have a lot of fun. When you sign up at one of my free online book clubs, in addition to test-driving great books (every Monday through Friday you receive an email with a 5-minute read), you can read my daily column. And I give away other "crazy" items: bubble machines, heating pads for kitties that live in cold climates, vintage aprons, garage sale goodies, measuring cups, journals — I've even shopped for socks for book club readers.
I invite you to join the fun at www.DearReader.com and if you like my style, you'll love my new book, Muffins and Mayhem: Recipes for a Happy (If Disorderly) Life. Read a sample at www.MuffinsandMayhem.com, get a signed book plate, and discover my "goodies" for book clubs that meet in person.
Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.