PP 206: How Papa Lemon Books Made Lemonade with Paul Dixon

Paul and his cousin, Lehman Riley, launched Papa Lemon Books in 2004. Using their grandfather as the primary character, Papa Lemon Books share historical stories with children.

In our chat, Paul shares how he transitioned from working full time in sales with Disney to focusing full-time on building the Papa Lemon brand. We chat about the common misconceptions wannabe entrepreneurs have about entrepreneurship, the lessons we’ve learned along our entrepreneurial journeys, and why educating the younger generations about genealogy and history is so important.

Paul Dixon of @PapaLemonBooks and @thekimsutton talk about the misconceptions wannabe entrepreneurs have about entrepreneurship, the lessons they've learned along their journeys, and why educating younger generations about genealogy is so important. https://thekimsutton.com/pp206Click To Tweet

Episode Transcription – How Papa Lemon Books Made Lemonade with Paul Dixon

(Transcript not yet cleaned up but thanks for checking it out!)

Welcome back to another episode of positive productivity. I’m so happy that you are here to join us Today, and I’m thrilled to introduce you to our guest, Paul Dixon. Paul is the CO owner of Papa lemon books. Paul, welcome.

Paul Dixon: Thank you, Kim. It’s great to be on your show.

Oh, I’m so thrilled to have you and I love your story and how you got started. So with that said, I’d love if you could share about pop 11 books with listeners and tell them what it’s all about.

Paul Dixon: Yes, I can definitely do that. Well, first of all, Papa lemon is my grandfather. And his actual real name was Walter cane. But when he was two years old, he got the nickname of lemon because he was acting fussy and cranky one day and his mother said you’re sour as a lemon. So all of his grandkids knew him as Papa lemon. Now, my cousin Lehman Riley is the author of the Papa lemon books, and I’m more of the business guy. The concept is our great grandfather, Papa lemon, and our grandmother, Mama Sarah. They’re the neighborhood group. grandparents in a small town in Mississippi, five friends, known as a little wanderers come to them for advice about a history homework assignment. And that’s when Papa lemon reveals his magical train. So in each of the seven popular books, the five friends go back in time, visit a different historical figure in each of the books.

That’s incredible. I love that. How many books do you see yourself having in the whole series?

You know, it’s one of those things where I leave the creative expression to my cousin, the author Lehman. So I mean, hopefully there’ll be you know, twice as many as we have now. So I really can’t say what the future holds because he already has a couple that are in his head and kind of written down so we’ll we’ll see what happens down the road.

Speaking of journeys, even though that was a time travel journey, you’ve had a little journey yourself through your career, and just graphically. Could you share about that with the listeners?

I definitely. Well, I was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I lived there for my entire life up until a year ago. And while living in Minnesota, I went to school at the University of Minnesota, the business school, I worked for 16 years at Target Corporation as a buyer, and also worked in Minneapolis. In the Disney sales office. I was a toy sales person. But a year ago, we actually a year in a couple months or Now a couple months, a couple of weeks ago, I actually made one of the biggest leaps in life. I quit my job and moved to Los Angeles, California. So that’s a bit of my journey.

What take that decision look like? What were the biggest factors that helps you make that decision?

You know, it was really a spiritual decision for me. And it was one of those things where even a few years prior to making the move last year, I felt I was being called to move out to California. And at that time, I thought I was going to do that to work for Disney. But that wasn’t really in the cards. And really through a variety of synchronistic events last year, I just knew it was the right time to quit my job, moved to California and focus full time on the Papa lemon book business.

For anybody who’s listening who is still in a full time job, but has their own business either started or as a dream in their head. What are some items that you would make sure that they would consider or recommend that they would consider before making a move like you did?

I think you have to have some realistic thoughts about it when I say realistic, like from a financial perspective. So that you can still see competence. I mean, cover your expenses and so forth. So I think it’s important to think through that. And depending upon what your belief system is, I mean, some people are very spiritual and they can just kind of get a feel for things. Or maybe if you’re not, if you just listen to your gut, I think it’s one of those things where your body or your spiritual beliefs will really tell you if that is truly the time for you to move on. But I think you definitely still need to make sure that you have some type of financial plan as you move forth in taking that big step.

I started my first business in 2005, I made an impulse purchase of a craft tool. Okay. It wasn’t actually that big of a purchase. In retrospect, it was maybe $75 but at the time, I was pregnant with my second and I felt guilty so I decided I needed to I needed to pay it off by selling stuff that I could make with it. It was a die cutting tool. And I turned it into a business that blew up. But for me, it ended up taking so much time. And I, I’m surprised, or maybe surprise is the wrong word. I laugh to myself, of course, sometimes when I hear people talking about how they’re going to quit their job and start their own business and work four hours a week. As an entrepreneur, I think a lot of us can relate that that is not the journey that it takes us on. We had to be really careful and guard our time if that’s the journey that we want to go on. But so many of us quit our 40 hour week jobs to work 80 hours for ourself. What was the situation for you?

For me?

I’ve always been a relatively efficient type of person, but there’s no If ands and buts that you will if you want to have a successful business that you need to spend a significant time working on that business. And for me, actually, in my my previous job, I did work a lot of hours. So it’s one of those things where I really didn’t like shift or increase the number of hours that worked with the population book business, it just kind of stayed level, I guess you could say. But I totally get what you’re saying. When you step into that entrepreneur world, because when you’re working, especially if it’s for a larger company, you have so many support systems around you. And when you’re doing something on your own. Even if you have a business partner to that support system really is so much smaller. So you have to pretty much do everything or try to hire someone to to assist you. So it’s so much more in my estimation, mental strain and stress to

so your cousin Lehman came to you over a decade. Go right and said that he had this idea. And he he wanted to get the books out there. What did the process look like to actually getting it going and getting it published and into the hands of, of your intended audience.

It’s actually a really interesting story because my cousin Lehman was born in Minneapolis, too. And he and I really weren’t that close growing up. And he worked out in downtown Minneapolis like I did. And occasionally as an adults, we’d see each other now and then say hello. But what happened in spring of 2003, I ran into a sister, also my cousin. And we started talking and I gave her my business card. And I was doing some consulting work at the time, because I had left my target job, approximately four months previously. And about three months later, in August of 2003. One day, Lehman called me and he had never called me before in his life and he said, Hey Paul, I’d like to share with you this concept I have about utilizing our grandfather as the main character in a children’s series book. So I go to his house, listen to the pitch. And I thought, Hey, this is really fascinating. Yeah, that sounds like a really good idea. And what ended up happening is that the following year, we basically decided, let’s partner up and let’s make this happen. And that is how we started the Papa lemon book business. And he had already started doing the groundwork with respect to finding an illustrator and editor and of course, writing the story. So basically, what ended up happening is in September of 2004, is when the first book was actually published and available for sale.

So what is your role?

Paul Dixon: That’s a really good question. Because I mean, it’s a variety of things. It’s primarily when I say I’m the business person with In the, our, our, our business and when I say that what I basically do is you know handle the finances within the business and also the marketing elements of what we should be doing. So those are the main two components that deal with

well on your website, which is fantastic, by the way, and listeners all the resources that we talked about, including links to the Papa lemon book series will be on the show notes page at that KIM SUTTON calm forward slash p. p. 206. It’s amazing to read the testimonials, or the reviews from parents and teachers and elected government people is that is that the that’s probably not the most eloquent way to say it. And even somebody with a major toy company, at what is the route look like or the journey look like for actually getting the books into the hands of His people.

Paul Dixon: It has been one roller coaster of a journey, because we started the business, as I mentioned before in 2004. And what we did during those first couple of years is we did as much as we could actually get the books out and people saying go to different events try to appear on television in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area, and had some decent success there. And also, Lehman visited quite a few schools. So that exposed the books to to more people. But what started to happen in 2006, we said, You know what, let’s really go for it. And we went on numerous trips across the country at various events, exhibiting the books such as AARP convention, PTA convention, and a variety of other different types of conventions. With respect to some of the people within the toy world that I’ve known since I had been a buyer at Target. I basically, you know, connected with them, send them a copy The book asked for their thoughts. And that’s how we were able to get some testimonies from people within the toy industry.

Paul, what type of systems do you have in place in the company today is your and I’m going to piggyback another question in the back of that is leaving still in Minnesota or Is he out in California with you?

Paul Dixon: He is still in beautiful Minneapolis, Minnesota.

So I know we’re in the digital age, we have smartphones, we can text each other all the time. However, what do the systems look like that you use to keep on going and stay on task and and keep everything flowing?

Paul Dixon: Yeah, we consistently communicate with with with each other. It’s not like we have a formal set time when we talk but we’re talking three or four times a week. And I also have gone back to Minneapolis seven times will be eight. coming up soon. Maxie just a visit family and also do some business things with Lehman. So We definitely continue to keep on task with each other by those two routes me either going back to Minneapolis or consistently talking over the phone on making sure we’re moving in the right direction.

What do you think is one of the obstacles that held you up from reaching the level of success? The last time that you before you quit Disney is what I’m trying to say before you embarked on this adventure full time again this time? What would you say was one of the obstacles back then? And what are you doing differently today to overcome that obstacle?

Paul Dixon: One of the greatest obstacles in the children’s book world is that there’s so many books that come out so you can spend hours and hours marketing and networking and doing various things and it’s still really difficult to break through, because the children’s book market is primarily dominated by the top publishers. So for those first four or five 2014 2008 nine timeframe again, we spent a lot of time and again, it just didn’t pan out to what we wanted it to be. And there was a long period about six years where the book business it was still alive, but we weren’t spending a lot of time on it. And a couple years ago, we just felt that again, it was time to really attack this business again. And really the main reason behind us sticking with it is that we just truly believe in our heart and soul that what we’re doing is part of our spiritual destiny, and that it will eventually be successful. So the biggest difference now for myself is that I know the move to California. It’s about me connecting with more people. And since I’m out here, I’ve already have connected with more people to further the book business, but I just more so get a feeling that being out here is one of the key components to taking the business To to another level. So I just feel that I’m a different person now than I was years ago when I started the business so when I say different what I’m really referring to is that I just feel more connected and passion about now is the time that this book series is really needed and will be very successful and in the hands of numerous children across the country.

How did you all decide to go the self publishing route versus going to official publishing route and I know that I am familiar with the book industry so I know it’s a it’s a challenge to break into. Could I guess Let me ask it a different way. Would you do it again? A self publishing route?

Paul Dixon: Yes. And the reason why is just having the creative control to do it yourself. just felt right. And you’re right, Kim. I mean, it’s one of those things where You can submit to publishers hundreds of times and get rejected, rejected, rejected. But we just felt that if going that route, it would have taken a long time, even if we would have gotten published to actually get published. And by self publishing, and especially with the internet, there’s so many ways to get out there and connect with people. But most importantly, when you actually are doing it on your own, you can control the timelines versus working with a publisher.

Oh, a completely understand. listeners. You’ve been hearing me talk since the podcast was released over a year ago now about how I’m writing my book chronic idea disorder. And I think I’m just gonna keep on saying the name like every other episode, not to promote it, but because that’s one of the things I’ve heard about actually working with a publisher outside of myself rather than self publishing, is that they could even have me change the name. I really don’t want to do that. And can you imagine Papa them in little wonders being named anything else.

Paul Dixon: Right? Yeah. And it’s one of those things where and then you’re right, that definitely does happen. And it’s like, well, no, that’s our grandfather. It’s Papa women. Well, no, let’s call him Papa George or Papa john or whatever it may be. So yeah, keeping creative control, I believe is very important. If you want it to really end up being the way that is important for for yourself.

Oh, yeah. I’m 95% sure I am going to go the publisher route, just based on the recommendations that I received, but the other alarm in my head is but when I have it written, I want to get it right out and get it into the hands of people and I don’t want to wait a year and a half for it to actually hit shelves. So well. Maybe we should have another episode. The two of us after it actually does get out so we can laugh at whatever decision they make.

Paul Dixon: Possible. Yeah. Oh, of course. Yeah. There’s no doubt about that. You can learn something every day if you choose to.

Paul, I know you said that your move to California was spiritual in some way. Why do you think it was California and not New York as far as the publishing industry?

Paul Dixon: The reason why I believe it was California because it’s so much warmer out here compared to New York. I’m joking. It is warmer. I mean, considering that you know, Minnesota gets very chilly. The main reason I believe it was California is because our ultimate goal with Papa lemon is an animated series. And there are obviously a lot of studios that are based in beautiful California. So I believe that is why I was guided to move west versus moving east.

What would you say are a couple of the best resources says that either you or Lehman have used since the development of the books that have helped you along this journey.

There’s an organization called the independent book Publishers Association. And it basically is an organization that helps Self Publishers, indie publishers, they have annual conferences, they have webinars, but they’re a great resource with respect to learning about the publishing industry. And it’s one of those things where if I could turn back the clock, we would have gotten connected with them a lot earlier, but you know, to be point blank, when we first started, we didn’t really know what we were doing for a while. And I mean, that happens in a lot of different businesses, but if we would have connected with them at the outset of the business, we probably would have saved a few errors that we made along the way.

Oh, I hear that. I think been in this business for five years. And when I started it five years ago, I didn’t even know what WordPress was. And today, like literally today, the day that we’re recording, I’m looking at doing a quick entire build of a client’s website.

In a day.

Wow. Yeah. And what a change.

So it’s amazing. Yeah, just that, that increased learning and all all the tricks and the tips and the time saving strategies and everything. It all adds up. Would you say that confidence has increased

in the last since 2014?

Paul Dixon: Yes, and the reason that I’d say that is because it’s, it just I just feel and sometimes it might be difficult to you know, really Explain this, but I just feel that now is the time. And when I say now is the time where there will be some significant success. So yeah, there definitely is a much higher confidence level that I have now than I did a few years ago.

I don’t want to date this episode, I’m not, I’m not going to put a date on it. listeners, you can look in iTunes or on the site and see when it was actually first released. But just because I know this is still going to be applicable whenever you’re listening. But I know especially lately, there’s been a lot of stuff going on as far as politics and history and world events. So I love where you’re going with this. I mean, it’s not just gonna be traveling back decades and decades, but eventually as the series goes on, we can even you’ll, you’ll be able to travel to even more current events if you want to because it just has such potential to grow. No matter where Papa lemon is in time.

Paul Dixon: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s one of those things where what we’re also trying to do is stimulate the child’s mind to take that magical train anywhere. And for a child because the reading level of the books is third grade, so that’s like eight, nine years old. So for an eight or nine year old, if they went back 10 years, you know, before they were, let’s say about born, that might be a long time frame for them. So it’s one of those things where by just stimulating their mind to, to be enjoyment of history is one of the goals that we have. The other goal of the series is for youth, if they can to sit down with their grandparents, and learn more about their own family history. When you’re young. A lot of times you’ll look at your grandparents and you don’t realize that they were young at some point in time. So if you can share those intergenerational stories, it’ll give you hopefully a better sense of yourself and more about your your family history, too.

I’m really glad that you brought that up. My son was Asking me my 15 year old was asking me last week about my grandparents. And we had never had that conversation before which I was amazed by the fact that you really didn’t know much about either of my grandparents. And I was telling them that on my mom’s side, were completely German. And he says, I’m German. I was like, Yeah, you’re, I’m 50% German, and it just blew his mind. And then on my father’s side of the family, I my parents were divorced when I was young. I really never got to know the family history. Okay, I know the I, I know the ethnic, ethnicity, the right word, but I have no idea when the family actually came from Ireland or England or Yeah, this is making me it’s making it painfully obvious how much I don’t know about that side of the family. But we really need to have those conversations not only with our parents and our grandparents With our kids, because all they think, especially, no matter where you live is they know where they are right now. But it seems like the social media is taking over any type of history that we have. And we forget about family history a lot of times at least that’s what I’m seeing.

Paul Dixon: Yeah, and I totally believe that and actually, a story within my own family is I was just raised by my mother, even though I knew who my father was. And Papa lemon is my grandfather on my father’s side. So by being involved in the Papa lemon project, I’ve learned so much about that side of the family that I knew really not much about. I mean, I knew Papa lemon and my grandmother, Mama Sarah because they would come up from Mississippi during the summer, and I was able to get to see them, you know, every summer but Papa lemon passed away in 1973. So I was only eight years old. And I vaguely remember him. Now mama Sarah, she lived to be 101. And I actually do vividly remember seeing her quite a few more times. And actually kind of a touching story with respect to mama Sarah, is that we published the first book about Dr. Martin Luther King and his I Have a Dream speech in September of 2004. Mamma Sara actually saw a copy of that book about one month before she passed away. So I just felt there was something really special and touching about that she was able to see that before she, you know, left this earth and kind of how I look at it is that she knew it was going to happen. So she waited in order before it was her time to go to actually be able to physically see that book. That’s that’s the story that I believe with respect to, to mama, Sarah.

You literally gave me goosebumps

It gives me goosebumps. Well,

yeah, there’s been in sorry for there’s been a lot of wow moments with this book series that have been just like just blown me away. And I just want to share one real quick. And this happened eight or nine years ago. And I was just at this event exhibiting books leaving wasn’t attending at this time. And the middle aged gentleman walked by the table I was at, and he kind of kept going past and he stopped. He looked at the books, and he came back to me, and then he said something that shocked the heck out of me. He said, Papa, women, hey, I read that book. You know, I read that when I was having some challenging times in my life, I actually was, you know, in jail for a period of time, but I read the Papa lemon book while I was in jail, and it was a really good read. Thank you very much for creating these books. And I didn’t even know what to say, because I have no idea how we got that book. So I just thought I’d shared that those story about one of the things that happened with one of the pop 11 books.

That’s incredible. And I remember seeing on your site, somebody one of the reviews or one of the Yeah, I guess one of the reviews said that they actually knew two of the characters night. I don’t know if they’re talking about Papa lemon, but I mean there, there are undoubtedly people reading the book who could know somebody who was at or who was present when Martin Luther King Jr. gave the speech.

Paul Dixon: Yeah, and it’s one of those things where I mean, we’ve especially have gone to these events. We’ve had just amazing conversations with a variety of people. Because actually, in each of the seven books they touch on different elements of history. So the first book is about Dr. Martin Luther King. The second book is about Harriet Tubman. The third book is about the Navajo wind talkers who were instrumental in the US winning World War Two The fourth book is about a great woman athlete babe Diedrich son and it’s funny whenever Lehman goes to school and he asked the students so you know babe did your son is and some kids will raise their hand they’ll think it’s like Babe Ruth, the the guy baseball player but no baby person was a woman athlete that did amazing things in the 30s and 40s. The fifth book is about the California Gold Rush. And book six is about the first successful heart surgery performed by Dr. Daniel Hill Williams. And the seventh book actually touches on a subject that is usually challenging for elementary age students. But it’s about Abraham Lincoln and his battle with depression. And actually Lehman got great kudos from an organization that supports mental Hill, mental health and also a child therapist. So the reason I bring that all up is that the books touch on such a variety of subject matters and when it touches on a variety of subject matters as you’re out and about talking to people. There’s different ways of people connecting And potentially relating to the books that have been written.

I love that. That’s incredible. Paul, if you could travel back to any time in history, I don’t know how else to say this and be a fly on the wall. Where would you want to go?

Wow, that’s a really, you know, I, no one has ever really asked me that question, which is kind of surprising.

Surprising. Yeah. That is to say this all the time.

No, I gosh, that is where would I go? If I could go back in time? Where would I go?

Oh, my gosh.

I have had this question. You want to hear the second question?

Oh, your let me do the second question. Sure.

Who would you want to go talk to at any point in time and that can be completely separate from the first question.

Paul Dixon: You know, actually who I would want it to Talk to is, well, maybe it’s because I’m from Minneapolis but the great musician, entertainer, Princess from Minneapolis, and unfortunately, he passed away, you know, last year, but I would love to be able to talk to him, you know, maybe 2030 years ago and just understand how his mind work, how he was able to do what he did in his amazing career. So that is who I would want to speak to.

Any thoughts on where you’d want to go?

Where I’d want to go? That’s, I’m still that one is just not that is such a, you’re you are not letting me off the hook on that one. You are definitely not letting me off the hook. And you know, actually, where I would want to go, I would this would be a real long way back time travel. But I would want to go back to the Middle East during the timeframe when Jesus was alive, to actually sit down and talk to him. Never just experienced what was going on during that time. But

wouldn’t it be amazing to see how the basket of bread and fish was how it actually fed all those people?

Right? Yeah, that would be like how, like, yeah, fascinating to be able to see that or, you know, some of the other miracles that word perform, so to actually be there would be amazing in my mind.

Absolutely. Paul, this has been an amazing conversation. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Could you please share with listeners where they can learn more about you and about Papa lemans little wanders online?

Paul Dixon: Yeah, the best place to go is our website. And that would be www.pa PALEM. Oh, in edu.com. There’ll be information on the website about the books, testimonials, pictures. So yeah, just go to the website. You’ll learn everything that you would like to know about, Well, maybe not everything but you’ll learn quite a bit about the popular book business.

Fabulous listeners. Again, you’ll be able to find the links in the website URL and any other social media avenues that you can take to connect with Paul and Lehman and Papa lemon. On my website at KIM SUTTON comm forward slash p. p. 206. Paul, again, thank you so much for joining us here today. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Paul Dixon: Yeah. Thanks, KIM for having me. I really enjoyed our time. It was a great conversation and the time went by so fast. So thank you very much.

Oh, it definitely did. Do you have one last piece of advice or a golden nugget that you can share with listeners?

Paul Dixon: My advice to your listeners is for them to really listen to their gut. Feelings within life to really nurture that and listen to that because that will lead you and guide you to where you should go who you should be with. And a lot of times in life, people have gotten gut feelings about things, and they haven’t acted on it. And I believe that the more we do that, the more we will be led in the direction that we’re supposed to go.