Episode 59! EMPOWER YOURSELF: 3 KEY LESSONS I LEARNED FROM WORKING IN TOYS AND KIDS' ENTERTAINMENT, Conversation with Megan Lacera
Welcome to episode 59 of our kidlitwomen* podcast! Every week this podcast will feature an essay about an issue in the children's literature community (Monday) and a discussion about the essay (Wednesday).
In this episode, Megan Lacera discusses her essay "EMPOWER YOURSELF: 3 KEY LESSONS I LEARNED FROM WORKING IN TOYS AND KIDS' ENTERTAINMENT," (which can be heard in episode 58) with Shana Targosz.
On today's podcast you will hear:
Megan Lacera, as well as writing her own stories and co-creating original IP with artist Jorge Lacera, has created and led original IP development for companies like Hasbro, GoldieBlox, American Greetings Entertainment and more Brands she's created for include Disney Princess, My Little Pony, Care Bears, Baby Alive, Trivial Pursuit, Cranium, Littlest Pet Shop and many more. She writes books, scripts, IP bibles, animated content, content for toys, games, and everything in between. Megan is currently working on a middle grade novel and several picture books.
Shana Targosz is an author of middle grade fantasy. She is also an award-winning costume designer for theatre, opera, film, and television, working with companies such as Disney, MGM productions, and ABC Family. You can find out more about her at www.shanatargosz.com, or find her on twitter at @shanatargosz
Shana: I'm Shana Targos talking with Megan Lacera about her essay, Empower Yourself: Three Key Lessons I Learned from Working in Toys and Kids Entertainment.
Shana: Megan, thank you for joining me today.
Megan: Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Shana: Can you tell us what drove you to write this piece?
Megan: Well, I've gone through a lot over the course of my career. I've had a lot of different experiences and I have been working in kids entertainment and toys and games for a long time and I thought that there were things that I've learned and I'm still learning that could be valuable to others. So, I thought I would write it.
Shana: And I'm so glad you you did. There are some lessons that you outlined that really struck a cord with me, especially "Know your value." That is so personal to me because as artists, we all go through this. We take on jobs to add to our resume, even if they're not a good fit or not financially viable.
Megan: Totally. Totally. We all do it.
Shana: And so what do you hope people will take away from your essay?
Megan: Well, I mean that's a big one that I think knowing your value is something that's very personal to me too and it's something that I've really struggled with and I think I'm still learning about but I've definitely come a long way because like I said in the essay, I've taken on jobs that were very valuable to the company and I didn't really get anything for it and that's a life lesson but now I think it's just so important to remind yourself of it really every day that what you're doing is valuable. I think as artists, we're more inclined to say it's value for the connection that we're making with audience or the story is important and those are very valuable, of course but there is a financial value to those things as well and that's just as important.
Shana: Yes, because as artists and contributors, we are unique and the ideas that we present are unique and they are, like you said, very valuable.
Megan: Exactly. And I guess the other thing about my essay is that something that I've really learned working in these other industries is really how valuable there are. I mean, one character can be worth a billion dollars. Now, it's very rare but that's the reality of ... I worked on Care Bears. I'm not the creator of Care Bears by any means but I worked on the brand and the brand of Care Bears is worth a billion dollars, at least at one time. So, think about that when you're creating things.
Shana: Right, and I remember Care Bears were everywhere in our school. People had the one with the rainbow on the belly and the ones with the stars on the belly and each one was unique and it was definitely a big thing. So if you bring that idea to the table and don't get paid for it, then that could be not such a good thing.
Megan: Exactly, and I think a lot of people aren't getting paid for it. Something to think about.
Shana: Yeah. And your essay strikes a very personal note. Was there anything that was difficult about writing it?
Megan: Oh, the whole thing was difficult. It took me many times sitting down and working on it. I actually had to change it to be more focused on these three things because as I was first starting to write it, sort of the personal stories were what I was kind of venting, if you will, and that was good too because it helped me to really look at the lessons that I've learned in an objective manor and kinda pull them out. It was very challenging to kind of think about some of the things that led to learning these three lessons.
Shana: Writing about a personal experience like this is very difficult and I just want to say thank you for sharing your experiences because it is hard to put yourself out there and say this is what happened to me but this is what I learned from it and I want other people to learn from what I went through. So, thank you for putting it out there for us to experience alongside you.
Megan: Oh, you're welcome. I'm glad. It makes me feel really good and I'm glad that I wrote it then if it's making a connection and ... Yeah, that makes me feel good.
Shana: Were there other ideas you'd considered writing about instead?
Megan: Well, I thought about writing some of more of the details of what had happened to me along the way, not with names or places or anything like that but just details of how things had gone down and I think that was helpful for me and maybe it might be something to write about later but as I was putting together the piece, I just realized well that's probably interesting but I don't know if it's that helpful and I think Grace has really made a point to say let's think about what we can do to fix things and change things and I think that's so important. So, I felt like venting while, again, maybe an interesting read is not about changing something, so I wanted to put useful points in there.
Shana: Yes. I'm very appreciative of this kidlet-women movement and the discussions surrounding it because it is bringing things up to the forefront that not everybody sees. We don't all see behind the curtain and it's nice to know that this is happening so we can inspire change and inspire others to think differently and approach things differently and, like in your essay, outlining three lessons that we can take away from navigating through the world of publishing.
Megan: Yes, exactly. I'm just really glad to be a part of this and I really appreciate these conversations because I think they're going to lead to really good changes.
Shana: And that actually leads to my next question. How do you hope the world of children's publishing will change in the future?
Megan: I think the biggest one is going back to that knowing your value. I really hope that creators do realize that they're valuable and that the publishing world changes to reflect that. It's a very challenging business and that's good. I think that's fine but I think that there's very few people that can really make a living doing it and I think that has such a big impact on what kind of stories are told because it's been very challenging for myself and finding different ways to make a living while working on our stories is ... it's very difficult and I think part of that is that our first books really don't make a lot of money often. I mean, you hear stories of huge advances and they do happen but they're pretty rare and I think we need to really value the creators of these stories so that more stories can get out there that are so transformative for people.
Shana: I agree in what you say. Sometimes it is hard for an artist and writer, a collaborative team, to publish that first book and that's just the first hurdle and in order to continue publishing books, they have to make a certain amount of money. Otherwise, they might have to reevaluate and that's unfortunate because I think a lot of stories that are needed are not entering the stream of publishing.
Megan: Exactly because there's so many people that are working another job or two other jobs and they're cramming their writing into the evening which is very admirable and I do that. I think most of us do that but if you're stressed about making money even after you are published and having a career as a writer or artist or editor, how are you bringing your best self out there? I think it's pretty challenging.
Shana: It is because you're just trying to find the right thing that's going to hit at the right time and instead of letting the creative muse flow, so to speak.
Megan: Exactly. Exactly.
Shana: One thing you wrote, it says "We are valuable for so many reasons, all of us. Remind yourself of this everyday and try asking for more until you get it." Do you still find yourself reminding yourself of these things?
Megan: Oh my gosh, yes. I mean, I really do have to remind myself every single day and it's hard. For example, recently I was asked to write a memoir for someone and I was excited about the project and the person told me that they were working with several other people and told me what their quotes were and they were much lower than what I thought was reasonable for the project and it was very hard for me to say that's not going to work for me because basically what they put up ... Whether it was true or not I don't even know but what they put up front was that other people were willing to take this price and that's, for me ... Maybe it's easy for other people but for me, that is very difficult to kind of face and be like "Okay, well I think for me, that's not gonna work" and I really had to like get myself pumped up to say "No, I just can't do it unless it's for this price" and it worked out but that's an example. It was just a couple of weeks ago.
Shana: And I'm glad that you found it within yourself to say no, I'm gonna stand firm with what I said because that doesn't seem like it's playing fair to say "Well, somebody else said that they would do it for this much." So, I applaud you for sticking to your guns there.
Megan: Thank you. Thank you. I haven't done it in the past, so I know how it feels when I don't do it and that's also a motivator too to be like I knew I should've done something different there.
Shana: Yeah. Well, I admire that.
Megan: Thank you.
Shana: Another thing that you wrote, it says "Learn something new because it makes you a stronger writer, illustrator, editor, agent, executive, leader or anything you want to be." Can you tell us some of the things that you learned?
Megan: Sure. I am always learning new things. I mean, from early on, I can tell you I've always been a creative person. I love ... I did theater. I love writing. I was into art. I mean, I was really a creative person and that's what's in my soul but my parents are much more practical and were always kind of pushing me to think about other things which at the time I found irritating but I'm very glad that they did. One was that my dad really encouraged me to go to business school and so after I got my bachelor's, I went to Boston University and got a management degree and I am so glad that I did that because it really gave me a very different understanding of how things work. So, that's a big example. I don't think everyone needs to go to business school but can you read a business book? Can you take a seminar? I mean, I do hear a lot of creatives saying "Leave the business to the business people" but then you kind of end up getting screwed. So, that's probably a big one but recently, I'm always learning something new.
Megan: Even just for this piece, I was like I don't know if I can do that and be a part of this. Do I something to add? So, kind of learning to put my voice out there in a very highly respected group of people was learning for me. Learning to do this podcast with you, I'm learning all these new ways to communicate and there's some of the things that are in my piece, I mean I really hope ... I've worked with PR teams to learn how public relations works. At some of my jobs in the past, I've always taken on things that are little holes that somebody else isn't doing just so I can learn it and I think it makes us more well-rounded people.
Shana: Yes. More well-rounded. I was going to say that exact same thing. Yes, to add to your circle of knowledge and keep building who you are and grow as an artist, as a contributor and that's a very valuable lesson in itself, so thank you for sharing.
Shana: And one more thing that you said that I want to applaud is: Later on in your essay, it says "You've learned the hard way, that standing up for yourself or hiring people to advocate on my behalf is not only a good skill to learn, it's crucial to advancing my career. I take it seriously now and I continue to do my best to advocate for those around me as well" and I just wanted to say thank you for bringing that up because I think that this kidlet women discussion is helping everybody who's involved in the community advocate for each other.
Megan: Oh my gosh, yes. Totally and I think that's really important because one person can make a change, for sure, but I think if you have a group of people, not that we all need to think the same thing but if we're advocating for those voices to be heard, so much more can happen.
Shana: Yes. I agree. Yeah, the voice of many coming together.
Megan: Yeah, the voice of many. [crosstalk 00:11:22]
Shana: In your essay, you talked about your debut picture book "Zombies Don't Eat Veggies" which I believe comes out next year.
Shana: Can you tell us about your book?
Megan: Yeah. Som it's created with my husband who is the illustrator and it's about a zombie kid named Moe, Mauricio Romero, who is in a zombie family and as a zombie, he is not allowed to eat vegetables. He's only allowed to eat zombie cuisine and unfortunately for him, he loves vegetables. He just loves them. He can't ... they're the best thing in the world and so he goes about trying to convince his parents that they should love them too and he tries and fails and the conclusion is about acceptance of who you are and accepting your family for who they are. So, we're really excited about it. It's a blend of English and Spanish and it's gonna be coming out both in the English-Spanish version and a purely Spanish version at the same time. So, we're also really excited about that because we are a bilingual family.
Shana: Well, I'm really excited for this book for many reasons and now I'm double-excited to know that it's a bilingual book and that is amazing.
Megan: Oh, yeah. Thanks. Thanks. We're really excited about it. Wish there were more books like that one because we have a son and would love to have more bilingual books, so we made one.
Shana: Yeah. Can you tell us what you are working on now?
Megan: Yeah. So, I'm still working on Zombies Don't Eat Veggies to bring it to conclusion. It will be out next spring and I'm working on a middle grade novel called Signs of Grace. Our picture book deal is a two-book deal, so we are already working on a manuscript for the second book as well as a third picture book. I work a lot with my husband and then he and I are also creators of several animated series. So, we have several things that are in development, various phases of development, and we are working on a project with Temple Hill Entertainment, a book series with them. So, we have a lot going on.
Shana: There is a lot going on.
Megan: Yes. Hopefully it all gets finished.
Shana: Yeah. It will get finished. There are such things as deadlines and we run towards those deadlines and then we go "Oh, we it is."
Megan: Yes, exactly. And then I stay up all night somehow to finish it.
Shana: To finish it up. Right.
Shana: And what is your biggest publishing dream?
Megan: My biggest publishing dream is to do things with my own stories that I help companies do with their stories which is turn them into those really valuable big global entertainment properties. Like I was talking about sort of earlier in my essay, I would love for Zombies to be a TV series, an app, a toy, plush, clothing. I really can see it all and all of our stories I really think about that way, to be brands that have an impact on kids around the world. So, pretty big but I think it could happen.
Shana: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it's a wonderful wonderful publishing dream.
Megan: Yes. We'll see. We'll see what happens.
Shana: Thank you so much for joining me today. It's been so wonderful chatting with you.
Megan: Thank you so much. This is awesome. I really appreciate the time.