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Red Balloon is active in the BookSense 76 program, having nominated Marianne Richmond's books, PEEF, and other Waldman House Titles. Now celebrating 17 years as booksellers, the store has received many prized awards including "Best Children's Book Store" by MINNEAPOLIS ST.PAUL MAGAZINE so often they put us in their "Hall of Fame." MINNESOTA MONTHLY'S readers honored us by naming us" Minnesota's Favorite Children's Book Store"; MINNESOTA PARENT'S readers have voted us " Best Selection of Children's Books" often and CITY PAGES in naming us "Best Children's Bookstore" says, "And here's the thing that makes Red Balloon different in the end: Its staff is knowledgeable about and enamored with the entire process."

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Author-Artist Turns "You-ness" Into Book Publishing Success

Using talent, marketing skill, and life's inspirations to build a card and book empire
Minneapolis-based Marianne Richmond has touched the lives of millions over the past decade through her greeting cards and gift books. Richmond discovered her natural talent for painting and prose in her early 20's while recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor. To thank family and friends for their get-well gifts, she began painting and writing thank-you cards.

"While I was recovering from surgery, I was looking for a diversion to pass my five weeks of recovery. I had always enjoyed writing, had a mild interest in learning to paint, and so I started dabbling. I painted simple thank you cards for my well-wishers. A friend, intrigued by what I was doing, began selling my hand-painted cards to local gift shops around Connecticut. An order for four-dozen cards was HUGE! It all started there."

After painting more than 1000 individual cards, Richmond launched a business to publish her first 20 designs, and in 1991 she and husband Jim moved company to Minnesota, where they now live with their two young sons. For the next four years, they slowly grew the card line while both worked other jobs.

It was very much a part-time thing, until 1995, when they received their first large Christmas card order from Dayton Hudson Corporation. That prompted them to find office space in downtown Minneapolis, leave their jobs, and devote their efforts to the growing company. Today, Marianne Richmond Studios, Inc. products are sold nationwide in more than 1200 gift shops as well as in major retail accounts like Target and Marshall Fields. They now offer more than 400 designs on cards, notes and invitations, plus three gift books.

Originally from Greendale, Wisconsin, Marianne received a business and marketing degree from Ohio State University. Her first job out of college was in Stamford, CT, working in the marketing department of a large company. From there she went to a video production company in New York City, and she also took some formal drawing classes.

Where does she get her inspiration? "That's a tough question to answer because I think there's so many things. Life. People. Conversations. I've always been told by friends and teachers that I ask 'good questions.' I've also been curious about people's life stories and the feelings they evoke. And I've always seemed to have a knack for putting these feelings into words for people. Ideas seem to 'jump' into my mind ... usually when least expected."

Richmond's work has now turned to writing and illustrating books, beginning with the publication of The Gift of an Angel, for parents welcoming a new child, and The Gift of a Memory, a keepsake to commemorate the loss of a loved one. Her first two books have enjoyed a tremendous success and a loyal following. Her newest book, Hooray For You!: A Celebration of "You-ness" is a joyful encouragement to find the best in all of us.

Hooray For You! teaches very young readers a lifelong lesson: to take pride in themselves, rather than degrade their own esteem in a futile quest to copy someone else's individuality. Bold, full-color illustrations in the style of what a preschooler could draw with crayons or paints drive the point home: that each of us is a unique individual, and that uniqueness is to be celebrated. The simple text is written entirely in charming, singsong rhyme. It's great for beginning readers, and makes an excellent bedtime "moral" story. Part of what makes Marianne unique is her abilities as both writer and artist. "My goal is to help people share the emotions around meaningful life events through unique gift books and products," says Marianne. "My work gives me the chance to touch people's lives. I want to help people connect with those who mean the most to them. I can't think of a better way to reciprocate the joy I've received from creating my cards and books."

"So often we just overlook the obvious, forget to recognize the beauty and impact of all those who are close to us. I wanted to write a book that celebrates all the wonderful, unusual, everyday things about those we know and love. And, the result is Hooray For You! I hope parents, teachers, anyone who works with kids will use this book to motivate themselves and the children around them, to see the good in everyone."

"From your head to tip toe, journey through a wondrous discovery of just how special you are. Learn to praise your own unique qualities. Learn to appreciate the small differences that make up your 'you-ness.'"

Advice for struggling independent authors and artists? "I am a believer that you can do whatever you put your mind to. I, for one, never thought I would be an author and artist. But I wouldn't call it an "easy" road. Fulfilling and rewarding, yes ... but not quick success. Regardless, I'd tell you that you have to just dive in somewhere and start establishing your niche. Whether your thing is jewelry, greeting cards, furniture or need to start creating an audience for your work...and figure out a way to truly differentiate yourself."

"You'll need to figure out how you'll sell your products--through reps, trade shows, art fairs, galleries, etc. And of course, there's the money part. Can you finance a simple product line on your own? Borrow from a family member? You need to start somewhere. With the book publishing part of my business, I chose to self-publish my titles because I didn't want to participate in the often-fruitless task of finding a publisher. After I had sold 30,000 copies of books, it was much easier to sign with my current publisher."

Marianne recently signed a book deal with Minneapolis' Waldman House Press, publisher of the well-known A Cup of Christmas Tea and the popular PEEF books, to publish and distribute her gift books to the book trade. She has also partnered with Steven C. Anderson, a composer and pianist, to launch Keepsake Music, Inc. and offer companion audios to all books. Her unique, playful style has also attracted the attention of manufacturers wishing to feature her work on home decor, decorative flags and stationery products.

Known for their creative book promotions, Waldman House help Marianne stage a "book debut" party in October at the Children's Museum in St. Paul. She had buttons and temporary tattoos made, and the event delighted many happy kids and parents. She is also starting to do some school programs, using the book and an activity sheet Waldman House developed.

The book has also attracted the attention of reviewers, like Zanne Marie Gray, editor-in-chief at "Marianne Richmond speaks to the special-ness and uniqueness in each of us. In both her verse and her delightful painted illustrations, she celebrates the individual in such a fashion as to make each of us believe she wrote it just for us," wrote Gray.

"As this book made its way through our office, each person who read it, from our 16 year-old summer intern to our 62 year-old programmer, returned the book with tears in their eyes, feeling better about themselves, and wanting to share it with someone else."

"This book made me want to have children just so I'd have someone to read it to. It is the perfect book for any child, the perfect book for that friend of yours who is feeling a bit down, and the perfect birthday present for just about anyone. It is destined to be a classic."