Jessica Gunderson’s mind for business comes naturally, but the knowledge she has gained from classes at Lake Forest College certainly is helping her to bring her ambitions to the next level.
Gunderson, a communication major from the Class of 2016 with plans to be among the first to pursue the College’s new entrepreneurship and innovation minor next semester, recently published her fifth book in her young adult mystery series. This one is titled The Sleuth is Mightier Than the Sword, and she is in the midst of book tours and signings at local middle and elementary schools and libraries to promote her protagonist Riley Starr as well as Starr’s fellow teenaged detective friends.
Gunderson also is managing a Web site where she sells clothing and merchandise related to her characters and stories. It’s a concept she learned last year in her Introduction to Entrepreneurship class with Lecturer in Economics and Business Darlene Jaffke.
“It’s not enough to have a book,” she said. “You need to create a brand for fans to immerse themselves in.”
Gunderson first started writing the series as a 14-year-old, the same age as Riley Starr in the first novel How to Keep a Secret for Detectives. The series is geared toward a fourth through sixth grade audience, Gunderson says, though she adds that adults would appreciate some of the humor. Some of her grandmother’s friends, in fact, are her biggest fans.
She decided to self-publish her books on Lulu.com because “a natural step for someone who loves writing is to share their writing with others,” she said.
Gunderson’s books are available for a price tag of anywhere from $7-10 on Lulu, Amazon and iBookstore. She sells both print and digital copies because, being a true businesswoman, she knows it’s the smart thing to do. It’s also handy that her younger brother is studying animation in college and designed the cover art for three of her books.
Gunderson learned about the ins and outs of the book industry in her class Media Systems and Institutions with Assistant Professor of Communication Camille Johnson-Yale, and she credits Lake Forest College, in general, for teaching her how to present. During her book talks, she teaches her young audience about the art of writing a book and developing characters. She also leads them in activities about writing and has them create their own undercover disguises. The Lake Villa, Illinois native recognizes her function as a role model and she takes it seriously—especially since she once overheard a student refer to her as “my hero.”
Gunderson has probably three more books in store for Riley Starr before she wraps up that adventure. She sees herself in public relations or corporate communications some day, but should the opportunity to open a bakery and continue writing on the side present itself, she wouldn’t turn it down.
After all, “You can be anything when you read,” she said.