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My Publishing Why: Tom Reale, Brown Books Publishing Group

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In the May 2015 issue of IBPA’s Independent magazine, Executive Director Angela Bole asked IBPA members to take some time to explore their personal Why Power. In general terms, “why power” is what connects you to the work you do in a basic and authentic way. Here is one member’s response.

BrownBooksPublishingGroupI found my why of publishing nearly twenty-five years ago, on a Sunday. At the time I was a first-time manager, putting in weekend hours for a major New York-based publishing house. We were creating methods to reuse content from our higher education products, parsing and republishing text using then-experimental techniques in electronic tagging, rights tracking, and automated formatting and pagination. As I set the system to process batches of content from our textbooks, I found myself with time to think in-between tasks, and my mind wandered to a question as I considered what I was doing there that day: what IS publishing?

Throughout my professional career, I have been a proponent of the idea that publishing was not an activity reserved to output of ink on paper, glue, and board or cardstock. In and after college I had been a journalist, bylined over 200 times by the time I had moved to New York and taken work in publishing production and operations. And while I did have a sense of what publishing was not limited to, at the time I was hard-pressed to define our industry: its precepts and its most basic outcomes. So I got up from my desk and rummaged the office for a copy of a document I considered to be my most viable starting point: the Constitution of the United States of America.

I flipped immediately to the First Amendment at the start of our Bill of Rights, and read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” No answer there, really. Of course I have the right to free speech and belief, but this in and of itself does not support the printing or dissemination of my speech on a large scale.

So I went back to the beginning of our Constitution and started reading it anew. It was not long before I reached the Powers of Congress, Article I, Section 8:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

The idea was so clear and beautiful, and I soon became aware of tears welling in my eyes. What I guessed to be the thought process of the Founding Fathers went something like this:

  • Freedom of speech is basal to the guarantee of a free democracy.
  • Yet freedom of speech in and of itself is not enough. Important ideas that reinforce freedoms, question government and create reform must be available to a larger audience for support or dissent.
  • All thought is inherently free and belongs to everyone; however the investment involved in disseminating ideas should be rewarded in a way that is fair, in consideration of the level of effort required to realize distribution.
  • Therefore, authorship and a limited-rights ownership over creative works and inventions should supply the creator (and other involved entities) with enough return to support usefulness.

I don’t believe I’ll ever find an author or a publisher who would argue the point of limited return by industry design. But I am not sure how many of us understand our most basic mission. We are here to empower the author’s voice.

To date, I have lived out my career in the service of this idea. I have empowered voices inside nearly every publishing segment at companies garnering significant market shares. Today I find myself in the office again on a Sunday, working to expand the reach and services of our industry’s oldest 100 percent author-owned copyright publishing house. I wonder whose voice we will empower tomorrow.

About the Author:

Tom RealePrior to becoming the Chief Operating Officer at Brown Books Publishing Group, including Brown Books Publishing and the Agency at Brown Books, Tom held a variety of roles across a number of top-tier publishers, such as Random House, HarperCollins, Miller Freeman, Harcourt Education and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. As a facilitative force in these organizations, Tom developed deep competencies in publishing process, quality management, organizational change management, content management, publishing production technologies, and project management. Tom holds a BA from the University of Rhode Island and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

Tom’s fascination with the printed (and transmitted) word began as a teenager when he accepted his first internship as a local government and business journalist for a small, New England-based weekly newspaper. Nearly 30 years later, his journey in publishing continues and he is delighted and proud to serve on the team at Brown Books in supporting the vision of author-owned and empowered, entrepreneurial publishing.

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