“Rewiring, not retiring” is Robie Rogge’s description of her relatively recent career move, which, as implied by that first word, has enabled her to amp up her creative and entrepreneurial wattage. After working for 42 years as publishing manager at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogge switched tracks in 2012, when she left the museum to start her own company, ROBIE LLC. Rogge’s tagline for her new business hints at its protean nature: “Product creation. Product refresh. Product extension.” This mission has inspired a lineup of novelty books and other products she and her colleagues have created for children and adults – and in some cases both – and sold to a variety of publishers. Rogge is extending ROBIE’s reach into the children’s market, and is currently developing a number of new projects for several publishers.
Rogge put her energy and imagination to good use at the Met, where she joined the sales department in 1970 and was given the go-ahead to develop products that tied into the museum’s collection. “They let me do practically anything I wanted,” Rogge recalled. “Basically one thing led to another, and I began creating publications with trade partners. The first book we did was Baby’s Journal, which we co-published with Scribner’s under a joint imprint – and reprinted and reprinted.”
As with most of the projects she initiated at the Met, that book spawned companion titles, including My New Baby and Me: A First-Year Record Book for Big Brothers and Sisters and Baby’s First Year Calendar, along with other merchandise, including a sitter’s memo board, birth announcements, and notecards.
Rogge’s creativity paid off: she was given her own sales department in 1978, and substantially expanded the roster of gift items offered by the museum – with impressive results. She generated some of the first “book-plus” items in the industry, creating such add-ons as rubber stamps, fragrances, beads, and CDs to books in an array of subjects. And among the successful children’s book offerings Rogge initiated were Fun with Hieroglyphs (originally published with Viking, and currently available in an updated edition from Simon & Schuster), the Can You Find It? series with Abrams, and Museum ABC, Museum I23, and related titles with Little, Brown.
An ardent entrepreneurial spirit fueled Rogge’s decision to move on and launch her own business. “I had a lot of fun working at the Met, and had a really good run there,” she said. “But I was ready to get out there and start coming up with book and product ideas that didn’t have to be related to the museum. It’s very liberating! And unlike when I worked at the Met, I don’t now oversee the production aspect of anything – I sell the ideas and move on to the next thing, and that has been such a pleasure.”
A New Creative Chapter
Ironically, ROBIE’s first sale was to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which purchased rights to Hidden Pencil Journal: Number 2 Pencils and Hidden Pencil Journal: Scattered Pencils in 2013. That same year, Potter Style bought Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You: A Journal, which Rogge wrote with Dian G. Smith, ROBIE’s editorial director. Released in early 2014, the book offers 365 challenges to one’s comfort zone – a concept that clearly appealed to brave souls: now in its 10th printing, the journal has 175,000 copies in print. Potter Style also signed up two sequels, Do One Thing Every Day That Inspires You, published last month, and Do One Thing Every Day That Centers You, due in summer 2016.
ROBIE’s inaugural project aimed at children was Animals in the Stars Lacing Cards, which encourages kids to thread laces through holes to create 10 glow-in-the-dark animal constellations. Created by Rogge and Smith, the kit was published by Chronicle Books in fall 2014. That same season, C&T Publishing’s FunStitch Studio released another ROBIE title for kids, Bandana-rama, a roundup of craft projects using bandanas, written by Judith Cressy, a former staff member at the Met.
Rogge and Smith work closely to shape book and novelty projects, explained Rogge. “After we come up with ideas, she does most of the writing, and I do most of the conceptual work and present proposals to publishers.” And theirs, she added, is far more than a professional relationship. “We’re not only colleagues, but have been friends for 50 years,” she explained. “In fact, we were college roommates and maid of honor at each other’s wedding!”
Another individual very close to Rogge was also instrumental in launching ROBIE: her daughter Hannah Rogge, who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in industrial design and is currently director of product development for Klutz. “Hannah is so clever and was so very helpful at the start, working as our creative director,” Rogge noted. “She dummied up projects and made presentations to publishers with me.”
Hannah Rogge created two ROBIE novelty journals (that turn into paper sculptures when the pages are folded), which Chronicle published in September: 101 Smiles Make a Sunshine: A Happiness Journal and 101 Joys Make a Rainbow: A Gratitude Journal. The books were acquired by Chronicle editorial director Christina Amini.
Ariel Richardson, associate editor at Chronicle Children’s Books, who edited Animals in the Stars Lacing Cards, praised Rogge for her creative vision and close attention to visual details. “Robie sends us mock-ups and prototypes that are always helpful, and has smart opinions that we really value,” said Richardson. “She has a brilliant mind for ‘formats,’ which is what we call our paper-based, non-book items. And Robie has a great eye for what works for us at Chronicle.”
Rogge has another children’s project due from Chronicle, likely in 2017: Mask Peek-a-Who 1 and Mask Peek-a-Who 2, collections of themed peek-a-boo masks that feature a ring to attach to strollers or car seats. And Rogge noted that she has a number of additional children’s projects brewing, which suits Richardson just fine. “I absolutely hope to do more collaborations with Robie,” said the editor. “I’m always delighted to see submissions from her – I know they’re guaranteed to be innovative.”