Interview with Shannon Ishizaki

By Julia Nelson, Reviews Editor

Interview Transcription

Julia Nelson: Hi, everyone. My name is Julia and I’m here with Shannon, the owner of Orange Hat Publishing here in Waukesha. Shannon, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me.

Shannon Ishizaki: Yeah, thank you very much for inviting me.

JN: Yeah, so, we’ll just get started. First of all, can you give some background on yourself and Orange Hat Publishing? How did the company get started?

SI: Sure. I started the company ten years ago. I was actually working for a publishing company in the West Allis area, and I adored the job so much. I thought, “Wow, so this is my job? I get to read books and talk to authors and help make their dream come true? Sign me up, this is great!” So, during that process, I also had my first daughter. At that point in my life, I thought, I want to be at home with her, and I didn’t want to put her in daycare. But I still loved that job so much! Then I thought, you know, I’m going to start my own company. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I just never knew what I was going to start. Lo and behold, I started the company in the basement while rocking my newborn. Now she’s ten years old, and she’s part of our editing/submission review team for middle-grade books. (laughs) So yeah, we’ve increased from the basement. I moved out here to Waukesha, and I ran the company from my house there. From there, I started to bring in interns and editors and graphic designers, and we grew to the point where we rented an office. We eventually outgrew that office, and now we are in an even bigger space in downtown Waukesha by The Rotunda.

JN: Nice. So, how did you figure out you wanted to get into publishing?

SI: Well, it was with that other publisher. It was just a two-man show, like he ran the company, and I was the office manager and submissions reviewer. It just kind of fell into place. My background is actually special education. I have a passion for giving people a voice, and I feel like publishing is the perfect career to allow that to happen. I feel like I’m more of a guide to allow that passion within other people to be ignited and give them the path and say, “You have an amazing mission to tell people about your story, so let’s put that into a book. I will help you publish it, distribute it, and get it into the hands of readers.”

JN: I feel like we can understand that at Portage, too. What does a day in your life typically look like?

SI: A lot of times, it’s talking with the team. I am project manager, basically, and allowing the team to do what they do best. I have graphic designs in an artistic team, I have an editing team, and we are on the springboard of a marketing team. I say that because a lot of people come to us with a book idea or concept. So, yes, we can help you with editing, we can help you with cover design. But then once the book is in place, then the author is [left] with, “Now what do I do? Oh, I have to tell people about it!” I’ve always told people we are experts in making the book, distributing the book, and helping you up until that point. After that, it really is in the hands of the author to get their product out there. Back to your original question—I’m trying to help encourage my team, provide them with the files that they need. With the marketing team on the springboard, we’re talking about, “Okay, who can we research? How can we get in touch and make more of a connection or collaboration with local bookstores or different shops, to try and encourage purchasing of our products?” Also, a lot of my day—the last two days, I’ve had a meeting every hour, on the hour. It’s usually with an author that wants to know, “What do I do next? I have just worked with your editor, now what do I do?” It’s a lot of explaining what the publishing looks like. And then also my meetings are [with] people who wrote a book, and they want to know about publishing as well. It’s a lot of explaining.

JN: What are some of the challenges that come with owning a publishing house, or just any small business in general?

SI: Well, I feel like there’s way more perks than there are challenges! It’s just, it’s so fun being in a small, family-owned company. Everyone has become our family. So, let me think. Some of the challenges are, in owning a business, you wear several hats, even the hats that you don’t want to [wear] or aren’t the most fun. There’s not much passing of the buck when you’re the owner. For instance, I’m much more of a wordsmith, but you know what? I have to do accounting and bookkeeping in the sense of numbers. So, I just have to keep a good spirit and a happy attitude, just that we’re going to make it through or hire an expert to help me where I am weakest in the business.

JN: On the other side, what would you say is your proudest moment or biggest accomplishment that you’ve had as the owner of Orange Hat?

SI: I feel like it’s all these wonderful, beautiful moments that happen throughout the week. People have come to me crying, saying, “I have made a difference in the life of one reader.” Or they’ve gotten a review that told them “Wow, this really resonated with me.” For example, we have a memoir that we’ve published about a woman that gave birth to twins, and the twins died within twenty-four hours. And she wrote that book to let people know, “It’s okay what you’re experiencing, all this grief and anxiety and stress and depression. You are not alone.” We published that in 2018, and we still are getting so many reviews. She has close to two hundred reviews on Amazon of just people saying, “Thank you. Thank you for giving a voice or putting the words to what I’m feeling.” I feel like that is a monumental success, even if it’s like, two hundred reviews might not seem like a lot to a lot of people. But to us, it’s like, if we’ve touched the lives of two hundred people and let them know they’re not alone, then that is a success to me.

JN: Yeah. So, you’ve already touched on this before, but what goals do you have for the future of Orange Hat?

SI: So, I usually work in goals, like, “What’s my one-year goal, three-year goal, and five-year goal?” We’re in the middle of my five-year goal of collaborating with more schools. We always see Scholastic Book Fairs, which is awesome and great! But also, we have really awesome books and local authors that could come to schools. We can set up an event. We can set up all these books. We have four hundred titles. We have very personable authors that have experience to share. So, that is one of my goals. I want to walk into a school, set up books, help sell them, [and] help give authors an avenue to teach about writing or talk about their book. Another one of my goals is every year, I come up with a word that I’m going to focus on for the business. One word was “collaborate.” That was in 2018. I told my team, “Just find any random business. It doesn’t have to do with books. I want to collaborate with everyone in Waukesha.” My word for 2021 is “magnify.” I came up with that word when I was at church. I go to RiverGlen Christian Church. They were singing “Christ Be Magnified” and I was like “That’s it! That’s my word, my word is ‘magnify.’” I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus and just allow these authors to magnify their voice with their stories. So, we created a catalogue of titles that magnify diversity, kindness, and inclusion. We just mailed that out yesterday to the local bookstores to hopefully make more of a connection and magnify those titles.

JN: Nice. I have one more question, and that is, what advice do you have for someone who wants to own a business someday?

SI: My advice is, be willing to work one hundred hours a week for not—okay, this is what I always say a CEO is. It’s someone that’s willing to work night and day, not get any sleep, and just be okay with it. Like, I love my job so much. It’s just part of who I am. So, you have to love what you’re doing. But also, you should job shadow someone that owns a business so you can know the gritty details of, “Oh, that’s what the owner has to do. I see.” It’s really beneficial. Also, I would have many other jobs until you start your own company because all the jobs that I’ve had led me to owning my own company, and I’ve had so many role models of good and bad experiences of how I want to run a company. I wouldn’t have had all that experience if I wasn’t just open to opportunities that came my way until I started my own company.

JN: Alright, that’s all I have. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

SI: No, thank you so much for this opportunity! It was great talking with you.

JN: Yeah, thank you so much again! Bye.

Shannon Ishizaki earned a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education with a focus in Sign Language Interpreting from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 2004. After graduating, Ishizaki held a variety of careers, including an administrative assistant for Agape Community Center, an in-home elderly caregiver, a sign language interpreter, and an operations manager for a publishing company. It was at that publishing company that she found her passion for helping people bring their stories to life. In 2010, while she was a stay-at-home mom with her newborn daughter, she took the leap of faith and started her own publishing company. Ten years later, she now manages five employees and dozens of freelance artists and has an office located off South Street in downtown Waukesha. The office is home to her two publishing companies, Orange Hat Publishing and Ten16 Press. You can learn more about the publishing houses at orangehatpublishing.com and ten16press.com.

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