Modeling the same business philosophy that she writes about, children’s author Lowey Bundy Sichol has demonstrated the power of entrepreneurship. The creator of the From an Idea… series (HMH, 2019) and Idea Makers: 15 Fearless Female Entrepreneurs (Chicago Review Press, 2022) recently established a charitable giving program that connects local companies with schools in underserved districts, providing students with free books and author visits. Now she is ready to share her strategy with other writers looking to broaden their readership—and give back to their own communities.

Lightbulb Moment

Following the launch of her first two books in 2019 (From an Idea to Disney and From an Idea to Nike), Sichol began thinking about the types of readers she typically speaks with during her school visits. “I write about entrepreneurs, who are often people who don’t come from a lot,” she told PW. “I kept wishing that I could get into schools where they don’t get to hear those stories of dreaming big.” Later that year at a holiday party, Sichol was chatting with a friend who owned a check-cashing service when an idea for a business venture clicked. “Lots of his customers are people in underprivileged communities and I realized it was the same market I was trying to reach,” she explained. “I thought maybe there was a way we could work together.”

Sichol soon began working with her friend’s Chicago-based business, PLS Check Cashers, and realized the potential for a scalable model. Under this strategy, companies were asked to donate one book per child at a given school, and Sichol would offer a gratis author visit and design custom bookplate stickers highlighting the corporate donor.

To date, Sichol has reached out to four companies, three of which have sponsored 25 author visits. (She has conducted 200 author visits arranged by schools and independent of her giving back program.) Momentum for the program was temporarily sidelined during the height of the pandemic, but resumed in spring 2021. She insists on in-person visits over virtual, stressing the importance of connecting with her readers in real time. “It’s important that these kids meet the author and it’s nice for the companies to see the photos being taken,” she noted.

When determining which of her books would resonate at certain schools, Sichol relies upon input from school librarians, principals, and teachers who know their students best. Although her Idea series is primarily read by third through fifth graders, she was able to share her YA release Idea Makers with an inner Chicago girls’ organization during a spring break camp. While her books have a natural synergy that lends themselves to prospective partnerships, she believes that authors can find creative ways to connect with companies and schools via their own books.

Sichol chooses to coordinate her own school visits and company partnerships without the help of her publishers, but she is open to future collaborations. Next summer, Random House will release Cookie Queen: How One Girl Built Tate’s Bake Shop, which Sichol co-authored with company founder Kathleen King. “I see the wheels turning on that one,” she said of the possibility of creating some “sweet” marketing tools.

Getting Onboard

In the meantime, Sichol is focused on expanding into other areas of the country and expects 2023 to be an active touring year; she has already planned 10–15 visits for the spring alone. “I like to devote at least 50% of my time to schools that don’t normally get author visits,” she noted. And while Sichol did not share sales data, she believes that these visits have increased the visibility of her books, particularly in Chicago and San Antonio, where From an Idea to Disney earned a Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Over the last few years, Sichol has received thank-you cards and drawings from the students she has met, but one of the more memorable moments came from an educator. “During my visit, I quoted a statistic that said children of immigrants are more likely to become entrepreneurs, and he came up to me afterwards and said that no one had ever told him that his students would succeed like that before,” she recalled.

For those authors looking to adopt Sichol’s strategy for promoting their own book sales, she recommends figuring out a target market and then finding companies that make sense for you and your book. “You might have to reach out to 100 companies for book donations,” she said. “You want to seek out those with the right size—50–200 employees is the sweet spot—and that want to give back.” She suggested tapping existing relationships with librarians with established networks who can help coordinate visits, and maximizing your time in that market. As a final tip, Sichol said it never hurts to ask around and see who works at a company that might be interested. “The worst they can do, is say no,” she said.