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As we struggled at Epicenter Press this spring with the unpleasant effects of two years of declining sales (sound familiar?) while fine-tuning hopeful forecasts and contemplating what may be a modest comeback in 2004, Jan Nathan called.

The nominating committee wanted to know, would I be willing to serve a two-year term as PMA president? This was an easy decision.

Reflecting on our 15 years of membership in PMA, I realized how much PMA had helped our company, based in Kenmore, Washington, grow to become a regional trade publisher with more than 100 Alaska Book Adventures™ focusing on the romance, history, rich cultures, and larger-than-life characters of the far north.

Now it was payback time.

In 1987, we were a fledgling press newly founded in Fairbanks, Alaska. In our first year, while we looked for material, my partner, Lael Morgan, and I each published a title of our own under the Epicenter logo. This was before e-mail became the tool that it is today. The term Internet held little meaning. Telephone calls to the Outside, as Alaskans call the Lower 48 states, cost $1 a minute. FedEx had not yet removed the disadvantage of being, to quote one of our titles, On the Edge of Nowhere. Alaska lacked an infrastructure–no book editors, no book designers, no book printers.

Enter PMA. Through its newsletter, regional and national seminars, and generous mentoring from Jan and her staff, the association gave us a helping hand all along the way. Among other things, the benefits included:

    • A practical understanding of how to edit, design, market, and distribute books. Not that we didn’t make mistakes as our company matured, but thanks to PMA, we avoided many costly and possibly fatal pitfalls.
    • Opportunities to train staff, check out vendors, and acquire a sense of belonging to a community of independent publishers whose impact on the industry has grown steadily, along with PMA’s own influence.
    • Encouragement and much useful advice when lightning struck in 1993 with publication of Two Old Women by Velma Wallis, an award-winning title that was subsequently translated into 17 languages and sold more than one million copies.
    • Timely assistance with an assortment of problems, some of them urgent. In book publishing, few problems are unique. Somebody has dealt with it before. And Jan can tell you that somebody’s name, affiliation, and phone number. More times than I can count, she put us in touch with publishers who had faced the same challenges we were facing, and who were happy to help because they too had been helped by others. Today, PMA stands out as a vital, valuable networking organization that lives up to its motto, “Helping each other to achieve and succeed.”

So it was an easy decision to get reinvolved in PMA after serving two terms on the board a few years ago, although Don Tubesing is a tough act to follow.

But I have to admit this was not altogether an altruistic decision. I know from firsthand observation that our hardworking PMA directors are not attracted by “what’s in it for me,” yet inevitably one gets as much as one gives in terms of a more complete understanding of our industry, lifelong friendships, and a sense of being on the front line as independent book publishing faces a challenging future.

I welcome your ideas for PMA. Feel free to contact me at gksturgis@earthlink.net.

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