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10 Questions With Brightly's Amanda Close and Christine McNamara

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 all about.

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 what!

Christine: Balance 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 worth noting.

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 degree."

Christine: Best 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.

Amanda: Get started. It's that simple.

Christine: Try 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.

Christine: My 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.

Christine: With 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 life.

I am improving every day, with practice. In this and all things.

Amanda: I 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."

Christine: Up 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.

Photographs by Bryan Smith Photography

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