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Amanda Close and Christine McNamara, lifelong book lovers and moms, found a way to share their passion with their families while inspiring others to do the same. The two co-founded Brightly, a digital resource powered by Penguin Random House that offers parents information on all things books for kids of all ages and stages.
Having spent a lot of time in the space (Close is the senior vice president of Consumer Marketing Development and McNamara is the vice president and director at Penguin Random House), starting Brightly just felt like the right move.
Close and McNamara talk more with mom.me about their inspiration behind Brightly and how parenting fits into it all—and they impart some pretty great gems of wisdom for moms hoping to turn the page.
How did you come up with the concept
for the site and at what point did you decide to make it a reality?
The inspiration for Brightly came from the realization that although we spend our lives working on books, we actually have very little pragmatic knowledge about what the best books for our kids would be for each age and stage. Before we were parents, we needed help finding the right books for the kids in our lives. Now that we're parents, we need even more help finding the right books for our children. The more we talked to others, the more it became apparent that they also wanted guidance finding books for their own children and grandchildren.
About a year ago, we began to explore the idea in a more focused way. We did some research (survey monkey, Facebook ads) to understand whether parents really would like Brightly's offerings and we received encouraging responses. We were especially interested in the way social channels and email technology could help us tailor content for busy parents and make it easy for them to discover the most relevant books for the specific ages and stages of their children. Being in the larger book business doesn't make us experts in children's books at all but it does allow access to people who are experts in this space. So far, sharing that knowledge is proving to be useful to people looking for book recommendations for children.
How much money should someone have
saved before starting their own website?
The most important resources someone needs to start a website is
time and dedication! There are a lot of free or inexpensive tools on the Web. Depending
on your goals, starting your own blog can be a low-expense endeavor. The most
important thing to think about is whether you want to keep it up for
years, and if you can put in the daily and weekly time and focus required to
make a project truly successful.
Was there a moment when you wanted to
give up but pushed on through anyway?
No one was really driving an ongoing conversation about reading as a focal point of family life. Celebrating that is what we are all about.
Not yet! We haven't wavered. It feels right—we have so much love
for books. People love to talk about books—with each other, with their
families, with their children. Someone recently said that talking about
books is like talking about life—it feels that way to us. Books can be a
tremendous source of emotional connection between parent and child, and this
project has been a wonderful way to explore this aspect of our business. We felt as though there were some wonderful one-time articles across many great
sources, like The Motherlode, Huffpo Parenting, Yahoo Parenting, Bustle and
the Guardian, but no one was really driving an ongoing conversation about
reading as a focal point of family life. Celebrating that is what we are
At what point did you (or will you)
consider yourself successful?
We are just getting started! We are pleased with the early
engagement that we are seeing in social channels, site traffic and email
sign-ups. We are happy that people want to participate in the discussion—moms and grandmothers especially are active on Facebook. We love when
readers chime in on particular articles and discussions with their own book
recommendations and memories. It's great to see a mix of "Oh, I can't
wait to introduce this to my child," with "Oh, I remember that book so fondly; it made such an impression on me as a kid." Nostalgia is so powerful.
How do you balance your work/home
life, or is there even such a thing?
Balance schmalance—it's mythological. I try to stay present and accept that some things are just not going to get done.
Amanda: There is no such thing as
balance—sometimes work wins, sometimes my family wins. I try to take it
day by day. I am, however, extraordinarily thankful that I work in a
business that allows me to focus on reading and literacy. Someday maybe
my son will thank me for exposing him to so many wonderful stories and books. Recently
we have been loving "The Book With No Pictures"—he laughs and laughs and
laughs and makes me repeat the best, most nonsensical parts again and again.
Though realistically, he might not thank me until he is well into his 40s with
a family of his own—and that's OK, too. I love you sweetie—no matter
schmalance—it's mythological. I try to stay present and accept that some
things are just not going to get done—at work or at home. I tend to think of
myself as a recovering perfectionist. As the mom of a toddler who works outside
the home, I've had to adapt and try to do exactly as Elsa says and "Let It Go." I'll admit that my to-do list runs at a steady "endless" so I am learning to
accept that it's not all getting done. Ever. Prioritize and take a breath and
on we go. I'm continually trying to recognize that for me, it's really more
about breathing space and trying to find joy in the hectic chaos of our life,
and do our best. I'll also point out that no one asks my husband how he
balances work/home life. He also has a work/home life, it's equally challenging
for him yet no one asks him. I'm not the first to bring it up but it is still
What was the best advice you have ever
received? Worst advice?
Amanda: Best advice: "Read, read,
read." As much as you can, whenever you can, however you can. And
write, even if just for yourself. It's therapy. Worst advice: "You'll never get a job with an English
advice: "Sunscreen and moisturizer are your best friends." Keep them close. Worst
advice: "Don't pack more
than you need." Do not listen. Pack at least 10 percent more than you need; I go for
20 percent. There's nothing worse than a flight cancellation or clothing mishap that leaves
you in the fashion lurch.
Since you've been through it, what
would you tell someone starting out?
Get started. It's that simple.
started. It's that simple.
it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
It must take a huge village. Who are
your go-to people/services?
Amanda: My mom is basecamp, even from four hours away. During
sleep training with my son, she would talk me through each night on the phone so
that I could make it through the process. My hubby. Our nanny is wonderful and helps us so
much in giving Ollie love and providing me with more flexibility. My
friends—from college and business school. I love having business
lunches with some of my friends. I sometimes forget that I have this
incredible group of people outside of my job with a fresh perspective. I've gotten everything from cooking and parenting tips, to leads on business
ideas and partnerships from this group. Also, on a more prosaic level, but
critical for moms working fulltime outside of the home: I couldn't live without
Diapers.com and Fresh Direct.
parents, who watch my daughter every day. It's an absolute blessing to have
them willing and able to take on such a hugely important job for our family. My girlfriends, for much needed perspective, humor and reminders about what matters.
Some of those same women are also my "mommy network"—advice, tips and tricks
from those who have "been there, done that." These moms come without judgment
about the travails of parenting. And, of course (thank goodness), my husband.
We might make each other crazy but we're in this together and that's a major
source of comfort and joy. Plus, all my online retailers and services, I
could not survive without you.
What do you do to unwind and recharge?
Amanda: I take a lot of pictures of
my family. I'm an Instagram fanatic. For a creative outlet I
quilt. I love working with color and creating beautiful things that keep
people warm. I usually give the quilts I make to new mom friends. I got
started on the hobby when my son was born and my husband's family sent us a
lovely baby quilt. I was so touched by the handmade present that I thought, Hmm, could I do that? I also read a lot.
my little one, Play-Doh, playgrounds and bathtime. Grown-up time: I try to
read, read, read. My DVR is my funny friend: Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, "Girls," "Silicon Valley" (and sneaking in old "Law & Order" eps, any flavor. I'm an
addict). And folding laundry has curative qualities, don't ask me why.
Finally, take me through a day in your
I am improving every day, with practice. In this and all things.
get up around 6:30. I pad into my son's room and we stretch and say good
morning. Hugs. Then I get his breakfast, and he watches a short TV show
while my husband and I get ready for the day. My husband drops our son at
school so I can get to the office early. Work tends to be very busy—and each
day brings different routines and interactions. Days pass quickly. I try to be home for bedtime each night
(unless I am on a business trip) so that my son and I can read together. Lately he has added a snuggle step, after our story time routine, where we tell
each other every step of our respective days. He especially likes to hear
the detail on what I have had for lunch. I especially love when he talks
about his drumming ("I had a little drum today, because I am a little person"). Bedtime around 10 unless it's the
finale of "Downton Abbey" or "Game of Thrones."
5:30ish, on the 6:35 train. In the office by 8 for an hour of peaceful emailing
before the office picks up speed. Meetings, working sessions, writing/editing,
this, that, and the other, and the days fly by. Try to step outside the building
for lunch to get a breath of fresh air. Out the door at 5 p.m. whenever possible
to catch an express train home for dinner, playtime, bathtime, storytime,
bedtime, and, if I can stay awake, the evening news. Lately, after dinner, my
daughter has been enjoying giving mini-concerts after dinner—the xylophone is
her specialty. I am allowed to play the triangle or the "farmonica." I am
improving every day, with practice. In this and all things.