How To Turn $168 Into $80,000 In 3 Years? A Little Hirstius Juju Voodoo!
Michelle Hirstius and her husband were living in their Alabama home when Hurricane Katrina hit. The house was spared, but they lost their New Orleans courier business.
She and her husband tried for several years to scrape up enough income to pay the same bills they had before the storm, but the bank eventually foreclosed on their house, and she lost whatever else she had left in a nasty 2009 divorce.
“It was a constant struggle to try and get back to where I was financially before Katrina,” hexed Hirstius said. “I had lost all my savings, and was living paycheck to paycheck.”
Hirstius tried to start an art studio business in Alabama while working a retail job, but decided to return home to her native New Orleans in 2011.
“I worked for $10 an hour at Lakeside Mall, put my stuff in storage and moved in with my Mom for 7 months,” Hirstius said. “It felt like I was starting life over and over and over again.”
It wasn’t until 2012, when Hirstius moved to Mandeville, that she started to get her mojo back, thanks to a Juju doodle.
After graduating from Marion Abramson High School in New Orleans East, where she liked to draw comic book characters, Hirstius didn’t pursue a college education or take art classes. But, whenever she got stressed out, Hirstius tuned to her self-taught drawing, painting and doodling for relief.
“’Juju The GOOD Voodoo’ doll seemed to just draw herself on paper,” she said. “And I said ‘Wow, she’s cute,’ and when I showed her to my friends they said, ‘Yeah, she is really cute.’”
Hirstius said she always took inspiration from famed Louisiana artist George Rodrigue and his Blue Dog, and admired how he placed it in different situations and different scenarios. She thought she could do the same with Juju and saw her voodoo doll doing New Orleans-type things like riding the streetcar and spending time in the bayous.
She turned Juju into a children’s book character, and decided to use her to illustrate the misconception that voodoo was always bad.
“Juju comes to life with a good deed spell,” Hirstius, said. “And she teaches children to do good deeds like she does. I bring a whole positive spin to voodoo to teach kids to do the right thing.”
It took Hirstius 20 minutes to write her first children’s book, “Juju The GOOD Voodoo,” but didn’t know exactly where to go from there.
When she learned she would have to wait about a year to get her book published through an established publishing house, her impatience led her to self-publishing.
She started Fleur de Dat, LLC in 2012 with $168 and a 15-year-old HP laptop that crashed multiple times a day.
“It was a real struggle because I didn’t have the money,” Hirstius said. “I was working for commission at this radio sales job, and had to sell my bed to invest the money I needed for my new publishing business. I slept on an air mattress for a year. I started this business from nothing. I had no investors, and couldn’t get a loan because my house in Alabama was foreclosed on.”
Juju’s good voodoo rubbed off and turned Hirstius’ idea into a series of 6 books. She sold 2,000 books last year and 10,000 total since April 2, 2012. She said her initial $168 investment has turned into an $80,000 return from sales.
“Not too many people can make a living off their passion and their dream that also puts smiles on kids’ faces,” she said. “Self-publishing is awesome, even though there are times I want to pull my hair out, but I’m proud of the fact that I have 6 books in this series, I produced and manage my own website, I do all my own social media and make all the marketing phone calls. It’s just me and no one else.”
Hirstius said highlights in the past 3 years include buying a new Dell laptop with some of her earnings, going to multiple regional festivals and fairs, meeting people and talking about and selling her books. She also tries to commit to as many grade school book readings as she can.
“I remember at one fair two little sisters were sitting on a bench,” she said. “They were so young that none of their feet could touch the ground. The older one was reading one of my Juju books to the younger one who was trying to mouth the words right along. It still gives me goose bumps thinking about it today that my creation entertains people, and they learn something from it, too.”
Juju’s following has grown, and due to a chance encounter at a Hobby Lobby, Hirstius added some new gris-gris to her burgeoning publishing empire. Hirstius started to manufacture and sell Juju dolls.
“I didn’t want to order 1,000 dolls from China,” she said. “Even if I did, I couldn’t get a loan. I wanted them to be made here in the United States, and I met a lady in the aisles of a Hobby Lobby who embroiders and she started making some for me.”
Hirstius has since enlisted the talents of several Louisiana ladies to embroider one-of-a-kind handmade Juju dolls to sell. They are all made in Louisiana and are mostly sold at festivals and book readings and signings where she sometimes brings a life-size Juju costume for her sister Tayler Hirstius or a volunteer to wear.
“It’s a sacrifice,” she said. “I forgo trips to the movies and nights out with my friends just to save that extra $50 to put back into promoting Juju. I want to keep this going, and seeing the kids’ reaction when I read them the books is just priceless.”
“Juju The GOOD Voodoo” is a book that lets children learn that something known to be a negative, like voodoo, can also be a positive – through good deeds. The book’s message that Juju believes you can be you demonstrates how being different and unique is OK.
In October 2012, Hirstius’ first book was followed by “Juju Saves Christmas In Da Bayou,” where Santa and his reindeer get stuck in the swamp. Juju sings a good deed spell and saves the day.
In “Juju NOLA ABCs And Fun Facts,” published in July 2013, Juju teaches the ABCs with New Orleans terminology like “H”ot Sauce and “M”agnolia tree, and even shares some New Orleans and Louisiana trivia.
Her 4th book “Juju In Easterland? Who Knew,” published in January 2014, is about Juju saving Easter and the magical and candy-filled land where the Easter Bunny and his friends make and gather all the Easter candy including New Orleans favorite Elmer Chocolate.
In “Juju To The Rescue,” Juju, on her airboat, rescues an adorable puppy and teaches children how they can do good deeds at their local animal shelters, and in “Juju’s Numbers Nursery Rhyme,” Juju puts a Cajun twist on learning the numbers 1 through 20.
Hirstius’ books, that cost $12, can be found in stores throughout New Orleans, the Northshore, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, and her books and dolls can be found at Juju’s etsy store at www.etsy.com/shop/JujuTheGoodVoodoostore.
“As little money as I make, I always seem to want to give it away,” Hirstius joked about using her Juju merchandise to “give back” to worthy causes. Even though she said she makes the most money selling her books at school readings, her policy is to give back $2 of every book sold to the schools where they’re sold.
Ten percent of proceeds from “Juju To The Rescue,” is donated to the Humane Society of Louisiana, and ten percent of proceeds from “Juju’s Numbers Nursery Rhyme,” is donated to New Orleans Public Broadcasting station WYES. Hirstius also donates books at Christmas.
With a professional background in sales, marketing, acting and management, Hirstius, 43, now an author, illustrator and self-publisher who was awarded a Proclamation of Recognition from the City of New Orleans for her accomplishments with “Juju The GOOD Voodoo” children’s books, is currently living in Baton Rouge.
On Halloween, she’ll be participating in the Yelp! Baton Rouge Howl-O-Ween Parade, at BREC’s City-Brooks Park, on 1515 Dalrymple Dr. Hirstius will be at the costume parade for dogs from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. where she may even see some Juju Halloween costumes on dogs and young avid readers.
“Go after your dreams because you never want to live your life with a what if,” Hirstius said is her best advice to aspiring authors and self-publishers.
“And my message about Halloween is like my message about Juju – turn a negative into a positive. Halloween doesn’t have to be creepy and scary. Stay positive and have safe fun. Good is what Juju is all about. Juju would tell all the kids to share their Halloween candy.”