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Director’s Desk: A Progress Report with Questions for the Future

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by Angela Bole, CEO, Independent Book Publishers Association

Angela Bole

This month marks the beginning of my third year as IBPA’s executive director. I know it’s cliché, but it’s absolutely astonishing to me how quickly time flies. It’s true what Ferris Bueller said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

It’s a privilege to serve as the executive director of IBPA—an esteemed organization known for its professionalism and for providing a truly supportive atmosphere where independent publishers and self-published authors can connect with the business of publishing. Heading into my third year, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the successes of the past couple of years, as well as some thoughts on the future.

In the July 2013 Director’s Desk column, my first, I wrote about wanting to develop significant new programs for IBPA members that would take advantage of current developments in creating, producing, and selling content. I also wrote about wanting to strengthen the existing programs so they could have a greater impact. I’m proud to say we’ve moved the dial on both.

In the past two years, we have overhauled the Publishing University Online and Ask the Experts Online programs and introduced OpenLearning as our new, interactive learning platform. We substantially redesigned the quarterly Bookstore Catalog and purchased new mailing lists for it as well as for our quarterly Books for Review catalog. We had to do both of these things, of course: it doesn’t matter how strong your marketing materials are; if they’re not being sent to the right people, the look and feel won’t do their job.

Ernest Hemingway said, “I like to listen. I have learned a lot from listening carefully.” We like to listen, as well. So, two years ago, we initiated an annual IBPA member survey. We just finished the second one and are starting to see a picture of IBPA membership emerge that is proving helpful in the development of new programs and educational opportunities.

We learned through our membership surveys, for example, that you wanted easier access to the articles from this publication, the Independent. So, in May 2014, we made 90 percent of the articles published in the Independent accessible online without required login. We also improved the online search functionality. You can now search by a finite number of Categories, by Article Authors, by Article Tags, or by a specific Category-plus-Author combo.

Not stopping there, we reinvigorated the orientation process for our Benjamin Franklin Awards judges, redesigned the monthly Independent Publishing Now e-newsletter, recommitted to a timely online News & Blog Roll, launched a “Get to Know Your IBPA Benefits” webinar series, and flipped our library mailing program from print catalog to e-blast catalog, which, for the first time, gave us the ability to provide direct leads to all participants.

That’s a lot of program development!

Core Commitments

I’m very proud of this work—which was possible only because the IBPA staff is tirelessly committed to service and professionalism. I think, however, what I’m most proud of is the work we’ve done to refine and affirm IBPA’s core values. Our core values are the implicitly understood, deeply held convictions that guide the spirit and nature of the IBPA board, staff, and volunteers. They include:

  • Service, which expresses IBPA’s commitment to openness and accessibility. IBPA’s desire to be authentically and truly helpful (with no other agenda) reflects an understanding that the essence of leadership is service.
  • Leadership, which is expressed through IBPA’s position as the largest professional publishing association in the United States, as well as in its commitment to providing expert programs and perspectives to aid independent, hybrid, and self-publishers in the business of publishing.
  • Independence, which reflects a deep commitment to independent points of view and the belief that enabling access to these points of view is essential to creativity and innovation.

Without a clear understanding of our core values, I’m not sure how we could know if we’re moving in the right direction. IBPA’s mission is to lead and serve the independent publishing community by providing advocacy, education, and tools for success. Our core values—service, leadership, and independence—anchor this mission. We must be sure our advocacy, education, and tools for success connect with service, leadership, and independence. It’s a virtuous circle.

Most people are familiar with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden—“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation . . . ” and all that. Fewer know his wonderful manifesto, Walking, where he writes of going for walks not as exercise, but as spiritual endeavors. In it he writes:

A man’s ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful—while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly. Which is the best man to deal with—he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all?

As I look to my third year as executive director, I celebrate our past successes with the knowledge that there is still a great deal more we can do to realize our mission. I do believe we know something of what needs to be done, but—with a tip of the hat to Thoreau—I certainly don’t believe we know it all. The IBPA staff, the board of directors, and our core volunteers must ask ourselves:

  • How can IBPA’s mission be clearly heard across the publishing industry, and how can its values be discovered and appreciated?
  • In what ways can IBPA emerge as a thought leader in the confusing clutter of opinions, observations, and services offered to our market?
  • How can IBPA speak to, shape, and lead the independent publishing community as well as serve and advocate?
  • What will IBPA’s unique program developments be over the next two years? Which current activities should be continued? Which should be expanded or abandoned?
  • Will we be decisive, prioritize, take action, and exercise the authority necessary to do what must be done?

If you have a suggestion that could help us answer one or more of the questions above, I hope you’ll share it with me by e-mailing angela@ibpa-online.org. As a member, you are the life’s blood of IBPA’s organization. As always, my door is open.

Just before Angela Bole became IBPA’s Chief Executive Officer, she was Deputy Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, Inc. (BISG), which fosters conversation and consensus across all sectors of the book business. Before that, Angela served for two years as BISG’s Associate Director and two years as its Marketing and Communications Manager.

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