As the end of my term as PMA president approaches, I sometimes find myself thinking about–and valuing–the many publishing colleagues who have become a significant part of my friendship network over the years. So many book people I first met 20 and 25 years ago have periodically appeared and reappeared at various events, providing us with chance encounters that have built our relationships over time. And even more significantly, so many of us have quietly shared our personal struggles and joys over a late-evening beer. What an important and unexpected resource these friendships have become in my life! So I offer these reflections on them to you, not as a sentimental farewell, but as a thoughtful challenge.
Memoirs of an Independent Isolate
Years ago I read a study in the Harvard Business Review outlining the lifestyle characteristics of the American small-business entrepreneur. Personal isolation was identified as the quality most prevalent in this group. Yep, it’s a given–create your business dream in your own mind, do the work yourself day and night to make it become real, mortgage your own house as collateral to pay for your vision, defend yourself regularly against all doubters, try to collect your receivables within 120 days, and solve the unexpected problems late at night after your assistants have all gone home for the evening. Guaranteed to produce a sense of isolation! It’s just the nature of the beast. I can’t imagine that any one of us has escaped this natural consequence of our wonderful drive to turn our dreams into reality.
In my life as an independent isolate, acquaintances that turned into friendships snuck up on me while I wasn’t really looking. At our first American Booksellers Association convention (the precursor of BEA), our small-press table was located between a children’s-book author/distributor, and Klutz, the children’s book and toy firm that was then also an infant in the industry. All three of us have followed, and applauded, each other’s success ever since. At our first PMA University we met Alice Acheson and Bob Erdmann and Bob Alberti, among others who were soon to become mentors and friends. At my first PMA board meeting, I met a whole batch of independent publishing leaders who have since been dinner partners and late-night conversation partners time after time. We did not attend these events looking for friends–but we have surely found them in both quantity and quality.
I have been a member of PMA for 18 years, and I have been attending PMA University for 14 years. I have presented at many PMA Universities and attended almost all the Ben Franklins. I served as a member of the board for four years, and after a break of several years, have now served as president for the past two. What’s been the payoff? Throughout that whole time I have learned a lot about publishing, and our company has even received a number of awards. However, to me, without question, the most valuable end result of all these activities is the long list of people I can now call on as friends. That is truly a blessing.
Advice on Collecting Connections
The life of an independent publishing entrepreneur might by its very nature be personally isolating. However, in my experience virtually every gathering of like-minded independent publishers provides opportunity for the most stimulating conversations and the most natural long-term friendships I have encountered anywhere. So, when you attend PMA University and the Ben Franklins this year, pay careful attention to those people who seem to be potential long-term connections. Then, take care to follow up with that select few.
As you move through your publishing years, one year at a time, focus intentionally on nurturing your own personal collection of publishing people you can count on–and can find ways to love. In the end, I believe that these friendships may become, as they have for me, your best reward.