Whether you are a blogger, author, creativity lover, or entrepreneur, we have just the woman for you! We are thrilled to have Kelley Lilien of Mrs. Lilien back on BFFF today to share some insight on her incredibly successful brand and how she became an author. With her book, Mrs. Lilien’s Cocktail Swatchbook, selling out in the first three months she has seen great success and growth. We are truly inspired by everything that Kelley has accomplished and whole heartedly trust her tips on how to not only stay successful, but how to stay sane doing it! Read on below for Kelley’s seriously amazing story and get ready for some major motivation
WAIT, I’m an “AUTHOR”???? So, ya…. technically I am, and with 2 books under my belt. BUT, let me first start by saying that I never thought I’d ever do this, consider it, succeed, and then do it again!!! Looking back I still get puzzled about how that all happened. I’ve been a graphic designer since 2005, that’s it. I haven’t a special trophy wall in my ‘office’ that’s covered with impressively framed degrees + awards. I went to community college for 2 years and learned the technical aspect required for the graphic design trade. I worked my BUTT off, and for the first time in my life got straight A’s. I was at the top of my class and ultimately everyone hated me for it. I was also newly married, determined, and one driven son of a gun. And, as life would have it expecting my 1st son (who just turned 10!!) as I entered my second to last semester of my program. The only thing that I didn’t complete before giving birth to one of the most amazing human being that walks this earth, was my final portfolio class. Then end result…? I never graduated. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Instead, I became a new mom and an overnight graphic designing entrepreneur. As luck would have it, I was really good at my craft and things just grew from there. Now, my plan isn’t for everyone and I’d highly encourage anyone who has passion for their creative trade to get as educated as possible. While I happened to luck out, the bit about not having the paper to prove it has always left me feeling slightly insecure and illegitimate. And obviously so, as I’ve never publicly spoken about it.
Fast forward 6 years to 2011. I had 3 separate entities under my belt, a stationery company [Pink Dot Press], a branding company [Kelley Lilien Design], and what most people know me for, the MRS. LILIEN website. I was one busy gal and really happy with everything that was going on with my brainchildren. While at that point, I had stopped the stationery side of things so that I could focus more on my design clients and pour my fabulous guts into MRS. LILIEN, which truly was my favorite part of everything I had. One day out of the blue, I received a phone call from two lovely gals from Penguin Random House. They praised my work and point blank asked me if I would be interested in writing a book with them. Specifically, they wanted me to produce a cocktail book, one with 50 recipes of my own, and they wanted me to design it! I was dumfounded. I ran every scenario through my head from “this is a prank, it has to be” to “they must have the wrong number” to “OMG”, etc.. With my head in the clouds and my heart pounding out of my chest I said “YES!! Where do I sign?!” I was consumed by euphoria. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Because we knew there was LOTS to get done creatively, I decided to agree to get started working on the project so that we could “meet our deadlines” prior to discussing or even seeing a contract. At first I didn’t think too much about it, after all, this was a famous and reputable publishing house. The team I was working with was truly a DREAM TEAM! I spent nearly every day rolling out my genius into MRS. Lilien’s Cocktail Swatchbook. So much so that I was not meeting deadlines for my paying design clients. Therefore, not only was I working like a hound dog, but my clients were not happy with me and I wasn’t getting paid!! This is a horrible, hot mess of a situation to be in and it was then that I began to walk the razor’s edge between being really stressed out and having a nervous breakdown. That’s when the contract FINALLY came through from Penguin Random House. I scoured the enormous document and was utterly beside myself when I saw the figures they had worked out. I was nearly half way finished with the book, files submitted and working for far less than expected. My next logical move…? PANIC! A complete freakout that ignited a very monumental nervous breakdown. I had lawyers, friends who’ve been through this process many times, and those in which I trusted with my life look over the contract. Everyone who had looked it over agreed that It was not sound nor worth my continued efforts. I was in way over my head, I lost all confidence in myself and froze. I called my doctor, saw her that afternoon and that same commenced prescription medication that to this day I still take. Thank goodness for it because I was able to get my head on straight, and press on with a new found calmness and renewed confidence. After a week of silence from me, I picked up the phone and called my dream team of editors and we hashed things out. They went back to the bargaining table a few times until they reached their end all limit, and my absolute minimum was met. It still wasn’t financially great, but I took it and also knew that the opportunity was in itself worth it. The book was to be a gem and in the end it would all work out.
At the very end of summer the book was finished. I created the recipes, book design, and submitted final files in 3.5 months. A month or so later we went through a few rounds of revisions which I don’t recall being too major. Right before Thanksgiving 2011, I signed off and the book went into production in China. It wasn’t until March 2012 when on a work trip in NYC that I was handed an actual copy of my child, I mean book, over dinner with my editors! My face nearly fell into my polenta rague!!! I was in pure amazement, as was my amazing dream team, who were so pleased with themselves for pulling off the surprise that evening. From that moment on, all horrible memories of the creation, the breakdown, the lackluster contract, disappeared.
When you have highly talented, totally committed, extra supportive, and utterly amazing people working for you, the sky’s the limit. My publicist who still remain dear friends with – moved mountains for me. She secured features of my book in Real Simple, House Beautiful, Martha Stewart, House Beautiful, Town & Country, and Better Homes & Gardens. Finally she secured the HOLY GRAIL of book press opportunities… a segment on The Today Show with Hoda + Kathy Lee. I could NOT have asked for a better roll out, a better crew who helped make magic happen, or a better response to this book that in the beginning caused me such life crumbling turmoil. The book which published June 12, 2012 was a smash hit + sold out in the first 3 months. We had to authorize a re-print in September that year. I was on fire and everything in sight was glittering with success. In the end, everything clearly worked out, success was met, and so many lessons were learned. Lessons that will stay with me for as long as I’m lucky enough to live this life.
Here are the heavy hitting absolute MUSTS that I would advise anyone who finds themselves in this arena:
1. INVEST in HELP!
Whether it’s a complete Brand Management agency, an editorial agent, a business manager, or simply a lawyer that specializes in editorial contracts… pick one, and don’t look back! Navigating this process on your own is NOT something I suggest. I didn’t know any better, so I had to learn the hard way. Learn from my mistake and invest in retaining the most appropriate muscle for you + your brand.
2. Set realistic timelines!
Getting in over your head is the easiest thing to do. When working with your editors, do yourself a favor and advocate for as much wiggle room as possible when it comes to deadlines. I can say with certainty that your best work will NOT happen at 2am the night before!
3. Aim HIGH, but expect LOW!
Publicity is only as good as the publicist is at their job. In this particular situation, I had THE GREATEST PUBLICIST, Kimberly Small, and she made miracles happen for me. She did it with a smile, and she did it with her amazingly tenured publicist skills that she made look effortless. When you expect little, and fabulosity comes raining down… you WIN, and disappointment never enters the situation.
I dedicate this very personal and detailed recount of my experience to the 3 beautiful women that made a promise, kept it, and never lost their confidence in me. Karrie Whitkin + Camaren Subihiya, the greatest EDITORS OF ALL TIME, and Kimberly Small, the MOUNTAIN MOVING DEDICATED TO THE BONE, GREATEST editorial publicist of all time. I bow to you all, and love you all. —- MRS. LILIEN
Gown: Teri Jon