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The Story Behind 150 Ways to Show Kids You Care

brochure cover

In 1996, Search Institute President Peter Benson asked me to create a low-budget, catchy brochure that would encourage individuals to become asset builders. Inspired by the work of SARK, author of A Creative Companion, I began to jot down simple, creative ways to connect with a child or a teenager.

The ideas came quickly and soon there were 143 of them. Knowing that people like round numbers, I bounced a ball around for a while until I came up with seven more.

Peter was excited, but the publishing arm of Search wasn’t so sure. “It’s so long!” they said. Then they decided that was the key: It needed to be a long brochure.

Sina Goudarzi designed the original brochure, and Search Institute invested a lot more money in printing the thing than they wanted. Most were sure that all these brochures would sit on the shelves and rot.

Instead, much to the surprise of everyone, the brochures flew out the door. Soon, people were asking for the brochure in Spanish, and a Spanish version was created. Today, more than 5 million copies of 150 Ways to Show Kids You Care have been sold.

I charged Search Institute $250 for the piece and sold all the rights, which is one common way that writers do business. But sometimes, I can’t help but wonder if I could have taken the risk like the composer Stephen Foster and asked for a royalty of two cents for every copy sold.

Being offered $250 seemed like a great deal at the time, especially since I was in the early years of my writing career. Later on, I negotiated a royalty contract for a book that sold dismally, so the only money I made off of the book was from the royalty advance, which wasn’t much.

This is why John Steinbeck said, “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.” You never know how people will respond to what you create—just like you never know which horse will make it most quickly around the track.

Written by Jolene Roehlkepartain.