IBPA Member Spotlight: Patagonia Books
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Posted by: Christopher Locke
Patagonia Books Awarded Foreword Reviews' 2017 Independent Publisher of the Year!
|Award given to Patagonia Books for 2017 Foreword Reviews Independent Publisher of the Year
“We are honored to be the [Foreword Reviews'] 2017 Indie Publisher of the Year!” says Karla Olson, director of Patagonia Books. “Being small and independent can allow a certain creativity and commitment to content and quality that might not be possible elsewhere. [Foreword Reviews'] recognition of the power of long-form storytelling to help connect people was so gratifying.”
Patagonia Books was started after the outdoor-clothing company, Patagonia, saw the great success of founder Yvon Chouinard’s memoir, Let My People Go Surfing. Patagonia had been telling stories in their catalogs for many years but realized that some stories were better told in longer form. The independent publishing company has now published 35 titles—around 5 to 8 titles a year—and have sold over 500,000 books.
Patagonia Books was founded with a distinct mission: their books are “focused on wilderness, wildlife, and outdoor sports and each book inspires readers and restores their connection with the natural world,” explains Karla. That mission was, in fact, a major determining factor in why Patagonia Books was chosen for this award.
“Of the many important issues facing a troubled world, we are particularly impressed with Patagonia’s ability to inspire environmental activism through superlative nature writing,” says Matt Sutherland, Foreword Reviews’ editor-in-chief. “Whether it’s publishing works on endangered steelhead trout in the Pacific Northwest or Polynesian voyagers, Patagonia embodies the best of the indie spirit this year.”
“The best thing about the award is that it recognizes what we are trying to do: use storytelling to encourage environmental activism and reflective living,” says Karla. “The top-level goal of any book we do is to encourage involvement with the environment and the environmental movement. If we can get one person to spend a little more time outdoors, to value a wild place, to work to protect it, we have accomplished one of our goals with that book.”
Patagonia Books has another title launching on October 9 that perfectly captures their mission as well: Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion. The book has already received rave reviews from Foreword Reviews and Publishers Weekly.
Three Questions for Patagonia Books’ Director Karla Olson
IBPA: Patagonia Books has had great success as an independent publisher, so can you share three key lessons about the publishing industry that led to your success?
KARLA OLSON (KO):
1) Stay focused: It is tempting to publish any book that is “good” in some way, but in my opinion as a publisher it is much more strategic to have a focus or theme that ties your books together. This way the marketplace, including readers, will know what to expect when they are buying one of your books. For instance, nature is a main character in all of our books. If the subject is not transformed by nature in some way, it is not a Patagonia book. I’ve rejected many wonderful books that I really wanted to publish because they didn’t fit this criteria or others that we’ve articulated. In my opinion, it would have been unfair to the author and the book because we would not have been the best partner for the book and we would not have been able to publish the book as successfully as it deserved.
2) Have a goal: Before we buy a book, we articulate a very clear goal for the book, whether that is to encourage sustainable business practices, to inspire gym climbers to climb outside, to use the book as a fundraiser for a cause, or to raise awareness about an issue we feel strongly about. We keep this goal in mind throughout the production process and allow it to help us make decisions about the book.
3) Uphold the highest standards of quality: I helped to develop IBPA's Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book with the IBPA Advocacy Committee because I believe this is SO important, especially for small publishers. Your books will be judged against books from the best publishers, and they need to hold up. Readers, booksellers, and the media are very astute and they expect a certain quality. If you don’t work hard to make your book the best it can be, it hurts all small publishers, as it can create prejudice against small publishers. It is important to a small publisher’s success but also to the success of this segment of the industry to make sure we all make our books the best they can be, from editorial to design to production.
IBPA: Patagonia and Patagonia Books have a great passion for environmentalism. Can you explain how you’ve been able to express this passion through your business?
KO: Patagonia’s mission statement, in place for over 40 years, is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” This is the foundation of and drives just about every decision made at the company. As a founder and member of 1% for the Planet, Patagonia donates 1% of sales every year. In 40 years, we’ve given over 70 million dollars to thousands of grassroots environmental groups.
IBPA: For authors out there writing books about environmentalism, can you describe your selection process for finding books that are both entertaining but also educational on this subject?
KO: Tell stories! The best way to communicate is with great, evocative, stimulating stories very well written. This is the first thing we look for. Then, as I said above, we are looking for a story of transformation, with Nature as a main character. These are two essential ingredients in a Patagonia book.
The selection process is careful and reflective. If we are considering a book we spend a good amount of time determining the goal of the book and how it fits with the overall mission statement. Then the book team (myself and the senior editor John Dutton) present the book to stakeholders, whether that is a marketer for a specific sport, our environmental campaigns, or our brand marketing, as well as our global vice president of marketing and the CEO, sometimes the family. If they don’t all buy in to the project 100%, we are not the best publisher for the project. It can take several months to get the project to greenlight, but it is worth it because by that time there is a solid team who is excited about the project.
IBPA: Thank you so much for these informative answers, Karla, and congratulations again on this distinguished honor.
Learn more about Patagonia Books here.
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