“It’s a Terrible Idea,” Isn’t a Good Enough Reason Not to Start Your Company: With Tracey Hecht

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

A movie director and producer has taken her talents from the big screen to the pages of a new critically acclaimed middle grade book series called The Nocturnals. Tracey Hecht’s passion for literacy, reading, and entrepreneurship inspired her to create books that read similarly to movie scripts in hopes of getting children nationwide to put down the electronics and develop a bigger love of reading.

Thank you for doing this with us. What is your backstory?

When I was forty, I sold my business and took a year off. I spent the year thinking about what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to write and create, but I love the business side of content too. I also believe strongly in the value of children’s literature as both a form of entertainment and a cognitive tool for children’s development. I decided to start a children’s publishing company that focused primarily on literature but recognized storytelling more broadly. It was over the course of that year that Fabled Films, Fabled Films Press, and our first brand, The Nocturnals, was born.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that has happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I first decided to start a publishing company, I shared the decision with my family and peers, and many of them gave me what’s considered to be the standard, typical response: “Don’t do it. It’s a terrible idea!” However, I thought to myself, “I have to do this.” I knew that there would be challenges, as that is inevitable when starting any venture. To this day, my team and I face many challenges and ups and downs. However, the key thing that keeps us going is that we believe we’re not only creating something that people want, but something that the world needs. Books are good, and getting children to read is good. We care about our projects, our professional growth as individuals, and where we are going as a company.

It’s fun to think of the progression. I truly remember sitting on a deck in Maine early one morning four years ago. There was a heavy fog over the lake, and I was the only one in my family awake. I modeled the business plan for Fabled Films and Fabled Films Press, and sketched the first ideas for The Nocturnals that morning. Now I’m surrounded by an incredible team, all of our amazing readers, librarians, teachers, and bookstores, and I’m filled with many more ideas of what we’ll do next. I enjoy the solitude of creating and the collaboration of building and growth.

What exactly does your company do?

Fabled Films Press is a children’s publishing and entertainment company. We create original content for early, middle grade, and young adult readers. Fabled Films combines strong literary properties with high quality production values to connect books with generations of parents and their children. Each property is supported with additional content in the form of animated web series and social media as well as websites featuring activities for children, parents, bookstores, educators, and librarians. All the content is available for download on the book’s website, NocturnalsWorld.com, and acts as an important element to spark creativity, engage entire families, and get children passionate about reading from an early age.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I hope I’ve found a way to do what I love creatively while affording the joy of reading to young people. I like to combine adventure and mystery with real-life scenarios that are relatable to elementary and middle school children. Particularly important to me are topics relating to bullying, confidence, friendship, and self-acceptance. The scenarios in the books are great ways for parents to segue into a variety of topics with their young ones. For example, in one of the books, there is a specific scenario where one of the main characters feels like an outcast because of how she looks. This one hits home for a lot of middle graders. In today’s political and social climate, parents and educators may be looking for unique tools to help them speak to their children about what it means to be a bully or to be bullied. I’m proud that the books can play a role in how important it is to accept each other’s differences. I also love
that they give children different perspectives on how to deal with not only bullying but other tough situations as well. The books highlight the importance of compassion while teaching middle graders how to analyze various scenarios objectively.

In partnership with the New York Public Library, we created a Read Aloud Writing Program in ten schools around New York City. That program then expanded to include over thirty-five schools, libraries, and bookstores across the country. These collaborations are allowing us to spread the messages of our books to a wider audience, and they’re helping us instill a love of literacy, one child at a time. It’s really exciting to see kids working together to access some of their untapped creativity and having fun doing it! Anything that helps children get away from the screen and use their own imagination is wonderful.

In June of this year, we launched a partnership with the Ryan Seacrest Foundation to bring The Nocturnals program to the broadcast media centers within pediatric hospitals. The first hospital was the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. It’s a fantastic organization. I Skype into the hospitals to host the workshop itself and play games. It’s a great thing to give kids who spend a lot of time in hospitals creative, imaginative escape. We have upcoming events in Nashville, TN, and Charlotte, NC. In today’s world, when you ask kids to invest their time and energy in a book, you have to be realistic. I believe that literature is vital, especially for kids. That being said, I have four kids myself. I know that smart phones, video games, and TV shows will always compete for children’s time. That’s why, although we at Fabled Films root all of our content in print and literature, we also value other media channels, including animation, audible chapters, and social media. When children find something they like, they want to engage with it via different platforms — and we try to provide that.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became a CEO,” and why?

  1. Do what you want. Let’s face it, no matter how good the meal, if you’re craving a good salad and you’re offered spaghetti, it’s not going to satisfy that craving. Jobs are the same. No matter how good it looks on paper, if it’s not what you want to be doing all day, it’s not going to work out. Ask yourself what you want to do, and then seek that job. Not the other way around. Especially because doing what you want will help on those days
    when you want to be doing nothing.
  2. Know when it’s time to move on. I get the value of a consistent resume and not wanting to quit. However, if you find your tenures are never more than a few months, then it might not be the job for you. If you look around and the place you’re at is not a good fit, then leave. I quit my first job out of college after six weeks because I realized there was not a single person or individual I wanted to switch places with. On a personal level, it was a cool company with cool people, but on a professional level, it was a dead end. Know if a place is right for you, and if it’s not, leave. It’s better for you and for them.
  3. However, don’t quit too easily. The Little Engine That Could saying goes a long way in life: I think I can, I think I can. Humans are amazing creatures, and we can pull off amazing things. It’s not always simple, it’s rarely obvious, but you can figure it out. That’s your job. Don’t throw up your arms at a quandary at work or look to others to fix things. Put your head down and figure it out. You can do it.
  4. Take your job seriously and enjoy yourself. These two things may sound contradictory, but they’re actually one in the same. You spend most of your
    day at your job. If you prioritize enjoying it, my experience is that you will. And by the way, enjoying it sometimes means commiserating about it. I once sat on the floor of a post office for three hours licking and sticking postage for dozens of packages — not enjoyable. But then I started sending selfies of the ridiculous ordeal to coworkers and receiving their responses — more enjoyable! Have some fun, for yourself and for those you work with.
  5. Have a singular vision but be collaborative. That may seem counterintuitive, but it’s the key to running a successful business. You have to have a singular vision when you do anything; however, being collaborative and informing that process with more than one decision maker is really important. I have a very collaborative team. At the end of the day, someone has to make the decision. In marketing, that would fall to the head of marketing; in animation, that’s the head of animation. If it’s something that’s creatively driven around The Nocturnals, then I’m the final decision maker.
  6. As a leader, you never want to be in a place where you can’t get to a position of agreement with the people that you work with. You have to really trust your team. If you strongly disagree with them, then you may not be seeing something; and if they strongly disagree with you, then you’re not conveying your message well.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I really love Jack White. I’d love to sit down with him and hear his creative process and what inspires him. He has a really short song called “Little Room.” It’s all about that small and manageable feeling you have at the moment you start working on something. And as that “something” grows, you can start to become unsure of what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. Instead of getting overwhelmed by this project getting bigger, just go back and think of all the improvements that you’ve made so far. I relate to that feeling all the time. He’d be fun to have breakfast with.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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