In this edition of my Meet the Mompreneur Interview Series, meet Nina Chiminec Saporta, an inspiring mom of three who used to play in a punk rock band, owns her own website design business, is gearing up for the release of her first children’s book and has helped refugee families in New Jersey. Here, she discusses the platform she chose to self-publish her book, how she raised money via Kickstarter, the website platform that can help other mompreneurs launch their companies, and how she learned the hard way to juggle work and family life.
Question: It seems like another lifetime ago when we met. I was running a music magazine and working with bands and you were playing bass in the band Avery. Now, you’re a mom of three, own a website development business and are about to publish your first book! I sometimes joke #iusedtobecool, but you are totally still in the know, so it’s about time we catch up!
Nina Chiminec Saporta: Yes! I feel like people that met in the music scene during such formidable years are bonded for life. So glad we’ve reconnected lately!
Q: How did the idea for your book, Sunshine Elementary, come about and what age range is your target audience?
Nina: When my 7 year-old was starting to read independently, she switched over to chapter books. I was so used to how gentle and positive children’s picture books were, that I naively assumed that chapter books were just be a more advanced version of those types of stories. It wasn’t until my 4 year-old asked me to read him his sister’s Junie B. Jones book that I realized how far off my assumption had been!
The more research I did, the more I found that this pattern of kids hating school, being super bratty to others, lying to their parents, and just relentlessly misbehaving are the total norm for this genre of books. Yes they can be funny, yes I get why kids like them, but I found it frustrating that all of these books appealed to the worst potential in kids, rather than the best.
When I tried to find a series that were more positive and showed real, relatable examples of kids handling situations in ways that we’d want to teach them, I came up short.
I wanted a series to exist that showed kids at their best, who love school, are kind to one another, embrace each other’s differences, and who navigate situations in elementary school in a ways that set good examples for the reader.
It wasn’t exactly the most convenient time in my life to take up writing, but I believed so wholeheartedly that this type of book needed to exist, that I just went for it. It’s targeted towards any elementary-aged kid (6-12) though the younger children may enjoy reading it more with an adult.
Q: Give readers a summary of the story.
Nina: The first book in the Sunshine Elementary chapter book series follows the main characters—Hanny, Wilder, Winnie and Jonah—as they journey through an eventful first day at their brand new school by the shore. From meeting their warm, colorful teacher, Mr. Tenderheart, to creating their own class rules, the morning starts off greater than anyone could have imagined… and only gets better from there!
Woven into this fun and heart-warming story are examples of children navigating through situations using kindness and problem solving skills. When Hanny notices Vida, an Afghan refugee, sitting alone at lunch, she remembers what her mom had taught her: “It only takes one person to make a difference,” and shares in a moment both she and Vida will never forget. At recess, when the students discover shiny rocks (“crystals”) buried in the ground, it is Vida who makes a drastic gesture to Olive that starts a chain reaction of kindness. It’s no surprise that when the classmates rescue a bird’s nest that’s fallen from the tree, they come together to problem solve using Hanny’s Maker Cart supplies, engineering a pulley to put it back on the branch. The evening ends with the four friends leaving their worries on the shore as they dash into the ocean, side-by-side, to go surfing.
As the author, I believe in normalizing and embracing the beauty that lies within different family structures, ethnicities, disabilities, and backgrounds, without these being the characters’ defining characteristics. I also believe that children are intrinsically kind, capable, independent problem-solvers, who deserve to be portrayed as such in the books they read.
Q: You funded your project on Kickstarter, which so many people struggle to accomplish. How did you make it happen? What were your marketing techniques?
Nina: I think I’ll always have this DIY mentality from my band days that taught me that if you want to do something, you just keep moving forward with whatever resources you have available to you at the time, rather than waiting for the perfect situation, or for someone to come along and help you. So when I didn’t get much interest from traditional publishers or agents (chapter books are a really tough sell in that world), I decided to go the route of Kickstarter. I knew from talking with parents and teachers that there was a definite gap that this book would be filling, so I felt confident that if I could convey the concept of the book well, it would resonate with others and they’d want to be a part of getting it off the ground. I’d say the best move I made was hiring a really talented videographer friend to make the Kickstarter video, which gave a pretty thorough overview of the book. Once the campaign launched, I shared the video (and a whole lot of other posts and ads on social media) and it really just expanded from there. So many friends from all walks of life shared with their friends (including their own stories of feeling disheartened over the current chapter book selection) and those friends shared it with their friends, and so on. Initially the backers that I saw coming in were all friends and family, but then it started to be all people I didn’t know, which was pretty surreal. The project was funded in less than 5 days and ended up surpassing the initial goal by over $3k.
Q: When will the book be available and where can we get it?
Nina: The book will be printed next month, so the Kickstarter backers will receive the book around the end of June. The official book release however won’t be until September, as I wanted to wait until kids are back in school to release it. Pre-orders are up on the book’s site KidsareKind.com and will be available through retailers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. within the next few weeks.
Q: What platform are you using to self publish and why did you choose that one?
Nina: I ended up deciding to work with a hybrid publisher called Mascot Books, which gives a lot of the benefits of working with a publisher, while retaining control and rights to the book. I had pretty much done everything on my own (written it, gotten it illustrated, edited, formatted, copyrights, ISBN numbers, researched printers, etc.) though they could have helped with all of that if I had known about them sooner. So for anyone who wants to put out a book, I do recommend working with them, as they really do hold your hand through the whole process if you need it. The big piece that was missing for me was distribution, since Print-on-Demand books (which is when they get printed directly from Amazon or Ingramspark as they get ordered) are seldom carried by bookstores. Mascot was able to fulfill that need, so I could get my book printed at a traditional printer, store them at their warehouse and they’ll ship them out to retailers and consumers. They also help with marketing and press, so it feels good to not be in it totally alone anymore. Honestly, I’m pretty amazed at how smoothly everything has come together, considering I’ve just been figuring it all out as I go. It’s almost as if I planned it this way!
Q: You’re a big fan of Montessori schools. What drew you to them?
Nina: When we were new parents, we didn’t subscribe to any specific parenting style, but rather tried to rely on our instincts to develop a style that felt right to us. A lot of that had to do with following our daughter to figure out her needs, having really minimal toys (with no batteries), etc. It was just a bunch of different beliefs and practices that we decided on that worked for us. A few years into parenting like this, we learned about Montessori, which sort of just coincidentally mirrored exactly how we had been doing things. It became a great resource and we were really lucky to find a local Montessori school that we love, where the transition from school to home is seamless. Kids just get to live up to their best potential and are so comfortable getting to be exactly who they are. We now have all 3 of our kids in Montessori and are blown away by how much they’re all thriving there (academically, emotionally, and socially).
Q: You also freelance/ run your own website design business, Shiny New Websites. How many hours per week do you spend on your business between working on clients and marketing?
Nina: It really varies. I build websites every single day, but the number of hours per week varies based on how many clients I have at once, the timeline, and scope of the project. I try to take on one project at a time, but there is always more work to do than hours in the day, so I do end up multitasking a lot. If a client wants to move quickly (which is my default speed), I can bang out a site in a week, but it’s going to take a few late nights in addition to the hours that my kids are at school. I love this work because I get to deeply understand what people want for their business and get to use empathy to design a user-first experience, which is really enjoyable for me. It’s also a really ideal lifestyle for a mom of 3 kids, as I make my own hours and can take less work during weeks that the kids are on break or if we want to travel, etc.
Q: When recently spoke about my websites, you mentioned a platform you like better than WordPress, which is a common go-to (I forget the name!). Can you tell us why you prefer this and is it easier for first-time mompreneuers who aren’t as tech savvy and trying to do things on their own?
Nina: Yes! So when I had one kid, I used to code all of the websites I built from scratch. Then I had a second kid, and I started building websites on the WordPress platform, because it took less time and made it easier for clients to do their own updates. Luckily by the time I had my 3rd kid (and couldn’t do the 10+ hour stretches of coding at a time that I used to) you really didn’t need to do a whole lot of coding to have a beautiful, modern website thanks to platforms like Squarespace, which I now use pretty exclusively (except for ecommerce sites, which I build in Shopify). Yes, anyone can build their own site on Squarespace. Like anything, there’s a learning curve, and the first few sites I built were super time-consuming and frustrating. Are all of my clients capable of building their own sites? If they wanted to, yes. But they come to me when they don’t want to, don’t have the time, or want someone more experienced to do it. I’m happy to have that be the thing I’m experienced in and can help with, and my clients can focus on whatever thing they’re more interested in. I also feel like the technical side of building of a website is the least important part of the process. It’s really in wanting to understand the client’s vision and objectives that I think brings value to the project. Most of the sites I build are for small businesses, which means their businesses are their babies! They’ve poured their heart into it and want their site to reflect what their users would experience from them in real life. It sounds weird, but there’s an emotional side to designing websites (User Experience is my jam), and you have to really try to understand what users want to find and what they want to feel, and I love getting to figure that out and then build it.
Q: How do you balance work and family life?
Nina: I’ve been a mom for almost 8 years now, so my work life balance has looked different during different periods. I’d say that hardest time was when I worked full time from home while being home full time with my first child. It sounds ideal in theory to get to be home with your baby, but it became this impossible situation of never doing a good job with work and never doing a good job being a parent. It took many years for me to figure out the importance of defining “work time” and “family time.”
My set up now is ideal because there’s flexibility in when I do my work, which I try to only do when the kids are at school (3 hours in the morning for the little ones), then for about two hours in the afternoon some days when we have a sitter, and if I can stay awake, at night. There are basically 8 hours of work to do for each block of 3 hours that I have to do it in. This used to cause me a lot of stress and feelings of being inadequate, but I’ve finally learned to step back and be more gentle with myself and accepting of my limitations that are beyond my control. I try to just have my mind focused on my kids when I’m with them, and when I’m not, I’m working like a madwoman to do everything else. I will also add, that I’m really trying to push myself to add a little bit more whitespace in my days, even if it’s just 3 minutes to sit with a cup of tea, or playing bass for 10 minutes after dropping the kids off before jumping into work. This requires having to push through that feeling of needing to always be productive, which I’m really trying to work on.
Q: What advice do you have for other moms thinking about making the leap to publish a book or launch a company?
Nina: My natural tendency is to get people really pumped up to go out and pursue their dreams. You are definitely capable of doing it, and if it’s just a matter of being brave and getting outside of your comfort zone, then I’d say, do whatever you’d tell your kids to do in that situation (you can do it!!). Everyone is different, but I personally really find that having things to do that are outside of my kids really healthy for all of us. But I’ve had to learn some important lessons along the way.
For so long I believed that if I wanted to do something, I could just put on blinders, work really hard and really fast, try not get distracted by all of the other things in my life that needed my attention, and get it done. It was a point of pride to feel like I could do anything, even though I had young kids. But the truth is, we all get 24 hours in our day, we all have some limit to our energy, and if you’re doing it all, at some point, something has to give. The things I end up paying with are my physical health, sleep, my patience with my kids, and my general mental health.
I may have gotten it all done, but it doesn’t mean I should have, or that I really needed to do it at that pace. (Hard lesson for me: Our value is not defined by how productive we are.)
So I think taking on something big like writing a book or launching a company is great and I absolutely encourage you to do it if you have a desire to, but have an honest plan. Be gentle with yourself about limitations beyond your control and be PROUD of yourself for all the things you do manage to do! Set reasonable goals for yourself and establish a pace that won’t burn you out. Don’t be hard on yourself for not being able to do more right now. I often feel like if I don’t do something right now then I can never do it. In truth, we will have a lot of years in the not-so-distant future when our kids won’t want to hang out with us as much, and we can do a lot more then. It won’t always be this hectic.
Q: I’ve been following all that you do to help refugee families. How did you get involved in this and how can others take part?
Nina: About two and a half years ago, when the refugee crisis was really brought center stage, I felt so sick and helpless watching what families were going through in Syria and around the world. I wanted so much to go there and save them all. While I couldn’t do that, I was able to find volunteer opportunities for families who were resettling in NJ from these countries. I started out by setting up apartments for the new arrivals. After quite some time of supporting and getting to know the families, I wanted to do more. They had been through so much and now here they were, barely getting by, the kids totally lost in their new schools (many of them had been in refugee camps for years and had never gone to school), the parents isolated and still in survival mode. They deserved more than to just survive, they deserved thrive and actually feel joy, purpose, and community. I decided that a small way of trying to accomplish this was to start a weekly program for them. It started over the summer with a fun music class and evolved over the next school year into an hour of 1-1 homework tutoring for the kids, while the parents did an ESL class together, followed by a community meal, and ending with an hour of an enrichment program (art, music, yoga, dance, etc). The program was unbelievable. The transformation happening with these individuals was palpable and the community became so closely bonded. Every week was filled with so much progress, love, and pure joy. There were about 75 resettled refugees that attended the program and about 40 volunteers each week (including my own kids and husband!). I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of anything in my life (aside from having kids 🙂 than I was to be able to orchestrate this beautiful experience. While I’ve stepped down from the helm, the program still continues on, and I’ve helped to develop another program just like it in another part of NJ for more families. The families I met during this experience are still close family friends today; our kids attend each other’s birthday parties and some of them even backed my book’s Kickstarter campaign, which was so special to me! If you want to volunteer at either of the programs, you can check out volunteer opportunities at WelcomeHomeRefugees.org in Jersey City or OneWorldOneLoveNJ.org in Elizabeth (I built both of those websites during my WordPress years!).
Q: What’s your personal motto?
Nina: Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. You really never know what someone else is going through, and small interactions can have big impacts. Take the extra second to look your cashier in the eyes and ask how his/her day is going, hold the door for someone even if they’re an extra second away, let someone go ahead of you in line, smile at strangers, speak up for someone who can’t. We’re all in this crazy life together, let’s look out for one another.
Q: What or who inspires you?
Nina: Kids! If you ever wonder what an ideal world would look like, just ask a child for their perspective. They have the kindest hearts, they love everyone exactly for who they are, and they see the world in such a beautiful way. I really think that anything that deviates from that is taught to them along the way.
Q: What’s on your playlist? Fave bands and TV shows?
Nina: My playlist is usually determined by my kids’ requests, which is a lot of Bouncing Souls, Ramones, Queen, and the Greatest Showman Soundtrack. When I’m on autopilot and just need to put on something quick, I usually default to the Regina Spektor Pandora station or some Frank Turner. TV isn’t too big in our house, but my favorite shows my hubs and I have watched over the years are the Leftovers and Marvelous Mrs Maisel. We recently watched the OA, which was good! I think we’re probably the only two people on the planet who haven’t watched GOT.
Q: Anything else you want to plug? Where can people follow you?
Nina: You can follow my book on Instagram/Facebook @SunshineElementaryBooks and the website is KidsareKind.com. You can learn more about the different odds and ends of my life at NinaSaporta.com. Thanks so much for the chat!
Lesson learned from this post: Chase those dreams- write that book, launch that website, raise your kids the way you feel is best- but don’t forget to be easy on yourself. You’re awesome, no matter how quickly you get things done!