SOUTHPORT CORRIDOR — Elf on the Shelf is so 2014. Kids, meet Oliver the Ornament.
Written by Lakeview resident Todd Zimmermann, "Oliver the Ornament" is the story of a group of friendly ornaments preparing for the Christmas season. Despite being broken and bullied, cheerful Oliver shares the story of each ornament on a family's tree with the help of a little Christmas magic.
Over the past year, Zimmermann has launched a Kickstarter to get the book to early supporters. He's also shared it at street fests, children's hospitals and reading parties. With a week to go, he's raised about $42,000 of his $50,000 goal.
The idea for Oliver came to him two Christmases ago, when he teased his partner about the last ornament to be added to an already loaded tree.
"What am I going to do with this little guy? He's going to go back in the attic and miss out on all the Christmas fun?" Zimmermann asked him.
The story resonated with Zimmermann, who quickly wrote it down. After a healthy career in marketing, the cogs in his head started turning, and Zimmermann realized Oliver's business potential.
"I felt like it was one of the best ideas I'd ever had. So then I thought, it would be neat if you could sell the book with the ornament, and there was nothing like that out there," he said.
He found an illustrator on Craigslist and launched a Kickstarter, with the hopes of creating buzz and a "special club" of family, friends and neighbors who would follow along as Zimmermann publishes all seven books.
While Zimmermann is also hoping to get the book into retail stores, he said the independent approach meant he had the final say in all aspects of the book, as opposed to reliquishing control to a publisher.
"If this were 10 years ago, I couldn't have done this. This couldn't exist without social media," Zimmermann said.
The Kickstarter also provides options for backers to donate books to children's hospitals, with 400 donor copies already purchased.
"I wanted to create a special community of Oliver's advocates, people who really believe in the message of the book and the business," he said. "They're going to get a Christmas card from me every single year, because there's this relationship now between these backers and this brand that's very special."
Zimmermann said he hopes each ornament's story will eventually become a book of its own, and plans to donate increasing percentages of his profits to children's hospitals and other charity organizations. All proceeds from the seventh book, which will introduce a fan favorite character, will go to a good cause, he said.
Now, as summer wanes and Christmas in July yields to actual Christmas, Oliver the Ornament could be the next big thing this holiday season.
"If you ask people what their most precious Christmas possession is, most people will say their ornaments. What has gotten me so excited is how the story resonates with both children and adults. It's really a new Christmas book for the whole family," Zimmermann said.
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