PUBLISHED JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2022
by Karen Pavlicin, Publisher, Elva Resa Publishing —
A few lessons about expecting to plan for the unexpected.
Elva Resa is a traditional publisher specializing in resources for and about military families. Each year in January, our team pauses to review our strategic plan, talk about what’s going on in our customers’ world, and reassess how our portfolio and business model supports our mission and meets our customers’ needs. We update our priority campaigns and refine our operational plans for the year.
Planning has always been about setting intentions, approach, and priorities, and making sure we understand our customers in a way that allows us to use our talents and resources to serve them well. But as we look to our 2022 plan, our team has some understandable hesitancy: What’s the point of planning when Plan C has become the norm?
As with most companies, the past two years have been especially challenging for us. Though we continued to put Plan A, then Plan B, in motion, they seemed to be quickly swept aside to make room for a never-ending Plan C. Assembling a puzzle of digital and offset press runs with flexible paper choices, along with shifting hybrid events for each book launch, offered our team a few lessons about expecting to plan for the unexpected.
Contingency planning has always been an inherent aspect of our annual plan. A contingency plan is a proactive strategy to ensure business continuity when the unexpected happens. Our team has assessed risks and established a Plan B for years. We keep a list of reliable freelance editors and designers who can step in when needed. We maintain good relationships with at least eight printers so we can effectively place projects based on equipment and budget and, recently, so we have options when one—or five—are overcapacity. We hold cash reserves to pay operational costs during low seasons or to cover a larger unanticipated expense. We use cloud storage and backups. Our related crisis management plan is meant to minimize damage when an incident occurs.
Although we’ve always created these plans as a course of good business, this is the first time we’ve had to implement these C plans across every aspect of our business for a sustained time. As we enter our planning cycle this year, we’re taking our lessons learned and starting with a different Plan C as our foundation.
This past year hit our remote team hard, with significant disruptions and extended absences due to major illnesses, military deployments, natural disaster evacuations, and quarantines. Since we are a small team, we are big on accountability and reliability. But is a deadline as important as any of these situations? Never. We live out our core values, which means compassion led when our folks needed to engage their own personal Plan C.
This year, we’ve added designated personal care days into each project plan to go along with existing flex schedules. Recovery is a process, and our people come first.
Regular check-ins are already built into our plans, with a combination of email, phone, and video status updates, collaborative creative sessions, and virtual watercooler chats. At the beginning of the pandemic, we added monthly video calls, inviting all authors, artists, and team members to come check in with each other. The group calls started as a way to make sure everyone was OK and not feeling alone in this, as a safe place to share experiences with the pandemic, social unrest, hybrid schools, dual home offices, and other adjustments. It has grown into a family that looks out for each other. These calls now also include sharing best practices, marketing ideas, and industry updates.
This fall, after attending four publisher town halls about the growing supply chain crisis, Elva Resa held our own supply chain town hall with our authors. We reminded them of the publishing industry’s long-emerging crossroads, driven by repurposed paper mills, printer and distributor consolidations, and changes in consumer purchasing habits, and we talked about ways the pandemic hastened the effects. We reassured them with details of our split print runs and other examples of how we had been navigating the challenges all year to support their projects.
Many authors expressed special appreciation for this meeting, so we decided to take it a step further and involve them directly in the decisions about their upcoming production schedules. We tossed aside, for a moment, trade expectations for publication dates or advance review windows. We asked each author about their goals and talked through options and backup plans. Then we adjusted all 2022 production and marketing plans to meet these collaborative goals.
This collaboration worked so well for new releases, we decided to change our process for all new book projects. In the past, we followed a traditional creative model. Communication and planning were collaborative, but the creative workflow functioned more like checkpoints and handoffs. Given the interdependencies of a shifting production landscape, we decided to test a more collaborative workflow on what we thought was a simple translation project.
Elva Resa publishes a set of popular activity books for young children experiencing a parent’s military deployment. Since the first publication was in 2009, we knew the content would need some updating before we translated the new editions into Spanish. Everyone on the team, including the author, translator, and illustrator, assessed the book and scoped the project together. Instead of updating and translating, this collaboration led us to developing a completely new edition with more inclusive language and imagery, more interactive learning, and production elements that give us more print and multimedia options going forward.
Collaborative creation is not necessarily more efficient or comfortable, especially for team members used to giving or receiving more direction. But it has already been more fun and produced better ideas, which can’t help but bring more joy to the page for our readers.
We are a creative bunch, but the constant stress of applying creative solutions to the pandemic-induced operational puzzle has many times left us feeling more exhausted than inspired. Many of the industry’s supply chain and distribution challenges will require long-term systemic change. In the meantime, we need to contain the impact as much as possible so we can redirect the flow of creativity energy back to our content.
So, this planning cycle, we are updating our standard operating procedures to include more flexible plug-and-play solutions, simplifying production specs, and adding more educational instructions to our handbooks. We’re using our contingency plans from last year to create standard menu options for combo or split digital and offset print runs, multiformat book launches, hybrid marketing plans, and more.
By moving recurring contingencies out of our backup plans and into our standard procedures, we can save our best creative energy for our products, customers, and community.
Isolation has taken on new meaning during this pandemic. Community is one of the core values our company was founded on, and never has it been more on our minds than now. We’ve intentionally reached out not only to publishing colleagues and authors, but also our longstanding customers and partner organizations.
Elva Resa’s primary business model is as a bulk supplier of resources to military units and the nonprofits, schools, and healthcare organizations supporting military and first-responder families. Many of our partner organizations have been struggling during this time, challenged to fulfill their mission in new ways. We are right there with them, asking what’s needed and taking every opportunity to serve our community alongside them, with financial support, volunteering, creative programs, and, of course, books.
These are challenging times, but we are hopeful and excited. In 2022, we celebrate 25 years of publishing! Despite all the pivots, or perhaps because of them, we’re still here, still achieving our mission to make a positive difference in people’s lives, one book at a time. That is cause to celebrate, and I’ll take that Plan C any day!
Karen Pavlicin is the founder and publisher of Elva Resa Publishing, a traditional publisher specializing in resources for and about military families, and owner of Military Family Books, an independent bookstore and wholesaler specializing in bulk sales to the military, education, and healthcare markets. She serves on the IBPA Board of Directors and Executive Committee.