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The Power of the Pioneer

by Valerie Kirschenbaum

Valerie Kirschenbaum Valerie Kirschenbaum is a 12-year veteran of New York City public schools and one of the worlds leading experts on the creation of full-color book interiors. She is the first female writer in 500 years to design her own font and the inventor of the new genre of designer writing. The book can be viewed online at

Zev Saftlas, host of and author of Motivation That Works.

ZEV: Val, your book is breathtakingly beautiful, but you say that now anyone can do it, and soon everyone will. Isn't this a bit far fetched?

VALERIE: I am a high school English teacher with literally no art or technology background. I studied literature in college, and that was it. I'm a certified dingbat when it comes to learning new technologies. (I make Edith Bunker look like a genius). It takes me months and months of painstaking effort to learn a new design program, then I keep forgetting what I learned and have to start over. The only thing I credit myself with is faith and perseverance. The book in your hands is proof that anyone can do it. Jack Canfield often speaks of "ordinary people" doing "extraordinary things." What's extraordinary is not my talent but the new technologies that can make us all look extraordinary. Goodbye Gutenberg proves that a Renaissance in literature and the arts is really possible. And if its possible, given all the extraordinary benefits, its inevitable. It's only a matter of time before the floodgates are opened.

goodbyegutenberg ZEV: Jack Canfield said he would have self-published Chicken Soup for the Soul if he had to, but that hes glad he didnt. It is hard enough writing these books, let alone trying to be a publishing company, he said. How do you feel in being not only the author and designer, but also the publisher? Is it scary? What concerns do you have?

VALERIE: Im actually trying to create a new market of readers, which is far more challenging than self-publishing a normal book, if youll forgive the word. Im introducing a new kind of book and showing why our publishing culture must make some substantial changes to thrive in the new millennium. Im also creating a new emotional space for writers, a space in which it is not only acceptable but encouraged to present your ideas visually as well as verbally. We desperately need this space because fewer and fewer people are reading (although more and more people are writing). This would be hard enough for Random House to do, but for a high school teacher in the Bronx to do alone, it seems ridiculous, at times. But Jack also said that if you have a vision and a life purpose, and you believe in it, then you do not let external events tell you what is so. You follow your internal guidance and follow your bliss. My mission in life is to get America reading again and to help writers create books as magnificent as the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. This is my bliss, and I am following it.

ZEV: How do you feel about the need to self-promote, given that you are your own publisher?

VALERIE: Thats a very good question, and honestly, I struggle with it. I have spent my entire adult life serving in the New York City public school system, devoting myself to educating the young. Ive always been a giver, and its not in my nature to ask for things, or promote myself. For example, I am the first female writer in 500 years to design her own font and the first to design a book like this. I say these things to show others that its possible. If I can do it, they can do it, maybe even ten times better. Ultimately, Im not promoting myself, Im promoting the ideas. And ideas belong to everyone, they cant be copyrighted. I dont make any money if people take my ideas and run with them. Ive already received dozens of letters from people saying that Goodbye Gutenberg changed the way they see the written word. They want to try writing their first book, or their next book, in color. This is my biggest reward.

ZEV: What do you think the impact of Goodbye Gutenberg will be?

VALERIE: Publishers Weekly listed the top selling book of each year between 1900 and 1999. All of the books, without exception let me say this again without exception, were printed in the standard black and white way. And if you look at every Nobel prize winner of the past 100 years, you will see that all of them, again without exception, wrote in the standard black and white way. Now compare this to 1300 through 1399, the last century before Gutenberg invented the printing press. Every one of the major books produced during that 100 year period, without exception, was beautifully illuminated in gorgeous colors. My big vision, my destiny in life, is to show other young writers how beautiful their books can be and to invite them to join me in creating this Renaissance. In the year 2100, when Publishers Weekly lists the top selling books between 2000 and 2099, most of the books will have been beautifully designed, like they were in the Middle Ages.

ZEV: Your work is not without criticism. How do you react when you read a negative review?

VALERIE: Like many people, I used to fear rejection, kind of like stage fright, but Tony Robbins really helped me redefine rejection, in fact, to learn to eliminate the word rejection from my vocabulary. I still have my moments, but now I understand that people arent rejecting or criticizing me, they just havent understood what Im saying yet. I am quickly discovering that when youre an innovator or pioneer, you get a lot of criticism from people who will later change their minds anyway. Brian Tracy said that a pioneer is someone lying face down in the dirt with a back full of arrows. The lesson is that you have to accept the fact that there will be arrows, and prepare for them with mental and emotional armor. Ive learned to love and accept people for where they are at the moment. One day theyll wake up, their light bulbs will go off, and theyll understand what Im saying. And when they do, its important to me that even when they were critical of me, I treated them with kindness and respect. Its easy to be kind to others when they are kind to you, but the ideal is to be kind even under adverse circumstances.

I have also learned to grow and get stronger with each critical review. Either they help strengthen and polish my vision for the next edition, or their comments are insincere and can easily be dismissed. Its a win / win. Because fundamentally, my vision is based on rock solid principles, as Steven Covey has emphasized. And as Napoleon Hill said, you cant envision something and be really passionate about it and see it as your destiny without it eventually coming to pass. My big vision may need improvements on the execution, the packaging, the sales and marketing, but fundamentally, it has a solid foundation. Who wouldnt want to see a flowering of beautiful books? Who wouldnt want to experience a Renaissance?

ZEV: In such a crowded, competitive field, how do you plan to get people interested in your work?

VALERIE: Jim Rohn said to work harder on yourself than at your job, and this is my meta-strategy. Its a combination of faith and perseverance more than anything specific. Ive launched about a dozen very different strategies, but all I have to do is reach a few people the right people and they can really help take this book to the next level. Ive opened my heart and Im reaching out to people with this edition. Its often not the originator of an idea who has the most impact, but the people who recognize the idea as brilliant, and spread the word, who in fact have the greatest impact. There are people out there who will read Goodbye Gutenberg, see the vision, see the Renaissance in ten years, and really understand the significance of what Im saying. One of my goals with this edition is to connect with some wonderful people who will become lifetime friends. I have so much to give and my focus now is finding people who would like to share in this vision. We really are the luckiest generation ever. But luck without action is useless. And I cant do it all alone.

ZEV: Authors are rarely interviewed in a success magazine at the beginning of their careers, before they have achieved much commercial success. Why would anyone want to listen to an interview with you now?

VALERIE: Actually, I thought about that for a while, and I agreed for a while, but then something really interesting occurred to me. The success magazines are missing out on a really big story if they always wait until someone is commercially successful. When people talk about their success in hindsight, they invariably see it from a certain perspective. Its a valid perspective, but I would give anything to interview some of the most successful people in our culture before they became household names. I would love to have heard Bob Proctor when he was 21, or Wayne Dyer when he was 25. I think these interviews would be just as interesting and inspirational, for different reasons.

ZEV: You mentioned a number of people in the personal development field. Who are the ones whove had the biggest influence on you, and why?

VALERIE: For years I rode the hour long train into the city and listened to Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Bob Proctor, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Wayne Dyer, Zig Ziglar, Denis Waitley, Steven Covey, and Earle Nightengale. These people literally changed my life. Recently I discovered Jeff Gitomer. He made my laugh so hard I needed a box of tissues. If Napoleon Hill and Don Rickles could have a son, it would have been Jeff Gitomer. The top personal development people are all funny, but Jeff is in a league all his own.

ZEV: Whats the significance of the first edition? Why do you think this particular edition might appreciate in value over time?

VALERIE: Its one of the great ironies of being an artist or pioneer, that when you need the money the most, your work is worth the least, and when you need the money the least, your work is worth the most. Right now people can buy a first edition of Goodbye Gutenberg for $47.95. The price is ridiculously cheap. I dont promise people anything Im careful, in that sense but people keep telling me that this edition is going to be worth an enormous amount of money some day. One supposedly reputable agent sold one of my galley copies to a rare books dealer (without my permission) and it is now listed on the Internet for $202.22. Another person recently bought one of the galleys on for $250.00.

The first edition is dedicated to the employees of Adobe, who created such amazing products as Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat. They get the credit as much as anyone. In the final pages, Ive acknowledged my errors and shortcomings and invited everyone to surpass what Ive done, to stand on my shoulders and go way, way further. Goodbye Gutenberg is a gorgeous and exciting book, but what is most exciting is that it is just the beginning, just a prelude of what is to come.

More information is available at . Valerie can be reached at

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