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IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards: The Stories Behind the Stories

Thursday, May 7, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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In a normal year, the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award™ gold winners would get to share the stories behind the publication of their wonderful books in person at the awards ceremony. But as we all know, 2020 has been anything but normal. The in-person award ceremony had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 health crisis and moved to the 4-night “Shelter-In-Place” IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award Ceremony Viewing Parties online. (Two of the nights already took place on May 5 and 6, but there’s still a chance to attend tonight, May 7, and tomorrow night, May 8, by registering here).

Hearing the “thank you” speeches of the winners is always a touching and inspiring experience, so IBPA asked this year’s finalists to share their stories behind the publication of their books. Below are ten highlights:

Marina Aris

“Last year on Career Day, my seven-year-old daughter said that she wants to be a publisher when she grows up. I was secretly elated by her response—not because she may want to follow in my footsteps someday, but because, those words, ‘I want to be a publisher’ can now be a possible career choice. Those words, can serve as a valid response to an age-old question.

“When I started the Brooklyn Writers Press, I only intended to publish my own writing. I never imagined that in just 3 years I would be publishing the work of more than a dozen passionate and talented writers. Everything I’ve done, every risk I’ve taken since deciding to follow a life-long dream of a career in publishing has led to nothing but rewards. The reward of being in a position to encourage other writers. The reward of taking an active role in creating beautiful books that meet professional standards. And mostly, the reward of building a literary legacy I hope will stand the test of time.

“Whatever path my children eventually embark on, the Brooklyn Writers Press, the house their mother built, is meant to remind them, not only that independently-published books can be well made, but that it is never too late to follow your passion. Words and books have always been my passion. I’m grateful every day is now spent not so much working, as dream-weaving the kind of magic that can only come from books.”

—Marina Aris, Publisher, Brooklyn Writers Press

BOOK: Bleed Through: Alex Greco, ADA Series Book 2

FINALIST CATEGORY:Fiction: Mystery & Thriller

Lisa Braver Moss

Shrug was a difficult novel for me to write. Besides the fact that it depicts domestic violence and psychological brutality in the main character’s childhood, the book is largely autobiographical. I had to be confident in my own strength and healing in order to see it through.  

Shrug was also a difficult novel for me to release, mainly because I knew I’d be asked whether the book was based on my childhood. If I answered honestly, would family members be upset with me? What would my friends think? Would interviews and reviews focus on my childhood experience rather than on the book itself?  

“One person who helped me forge ahead was publishing ‘disrupter’ Brooke Warner, Publisher of She Writes Press, who’s such a badass herself that she made me want to be a badass, too. Because of Brooke’s understanding and encouragement, I let myself be interviewed not just as a novelist, but also as a survivor. I began to embrace that identity in a way I’d never done before—proudly. Along the way, I got lots of support from the She Writes community of authors, whose unspoken motto is ‘You go, girl!’ Brooke and her community helped me launch Shrug with self-assurance and no small measure of joy.  

“I am deeply proud of Shrug, and its publication was a great opportunity for me to feel pleased and confident no matter what anyone else thought. So I’m doubly thrilled and doubly honored that the IBPA has recognized Shrug with this award.”

—Lisa Braver Moss, author



Claudia Wheatley

“Solution Tree’s vision is to transform education worldwide to ensure high levels of learning for all. Internally, our mission is to advance the work of our authors. We have a big hairy audacious vision, so we are very selective to find the right authors with passion for that purpose. All of our books become a mission for our press staff as well. When a new project comes in, we look for the very best team to take the journey with the authors. This matching normally is an efficient selection process based on areas of editor expertise and project schedules. Not so with Step In, Step Up: Empowering WOMEN for the School Leadership Journey. Our Publisher was barraged by both our female and male editors and designers with a multitude of reasons each should have an essential role in this project. The rationales ranged from pleading to almost threatening. We all know the dismal data. Over 75% of educators are women yet less than 30% of school leaders are women. We all wanted to have a role in eliminating that gender gap. Fortunately, our team works as a truly collaborative machine and everyone was kept in the loop.

“Solution Tree later made the decision to hold an event for current and aspiring women in education leadership. Each participant received a copy of Step In, Step Up. Because the authors and Solution Tree’s publishing team stepped up, we believe women will now be empowered.”

—Claudia Wheatley, Education Specialist and Author Liaison, Solution Tree

BOOK: Step In, Step Up: Empowering WOMEN for the School Leadership Journey


Deborah Brandon

Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe started out as a collection of previously published newsletter articles focused on ethnic textile techniques. But instead of simply editing, I found myself extensively reworking the articles. I had become more interested in the stories behind the techniques—about the traditions, cultures, communities, and the artisans. In addition, Judy Fort Brenneman (my writing coach and editor) and I commissioned renowned textile photographer Joe Coca to create photographs of the textiles to accompany each essay. Joe’s photos elevated the project to one worthy of publishing.

“I was delighted when Peter Schiffer of Schiffer Publishing expressed his enthusiasm for my proposed book. He suggested supplementing Joe’s beautiful textile photos with images of process. I was hesitant. Since I couldn’t travel in person to photograph artisans worldwide, I knew that obtaining the required images would be a significant challenge.

“But Peter was right: the benefits of our photo search were invaluable. I learned even more about the artisans and their stories, which further enriched my writing and led to the realization that this book was not simply a series of stories about traditional textiles. It was instead about how these traditional textiles unveil our commonalities and our connections with each other—and how they prevent us from losing our humanity.

“The end result is a book that is more vibrant and valuable, a true work of art that will remain relevant for many generations.”

—Deborah Brandon, author

BOOK: Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe


Deborah Kalas

“It was actually a date that got my book started. Meeting in a public space, my date took me to an art show. There, I found the late Pat Gerlach, wildlife photographer, who led trips to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Nine months later, I found myself in North Dakota face-to-face with a wild stallion and my camera. Again, I was smitten, this time with the wild horses.

“I returned many times over the course of five years to photograph these magnificent horses and their relationships with each other through the changing seasons. When I decided to put a book together little did I know that the trail would wind up and down through similar challenges I faced photographing the horses.

“My first publisher took my money and ran. The writer I hired decided she couldn’t write. The writer who did write turned out to miss the point. And then my luck changed. In finding Terri Wright Design, my book, The Wild Herd, began taking shape. When she shared my proof with Val De Grace Books, they chose to publish it, adding my title to their list of top-quality books. With the guidance of Terri and Paul Chutkow, the publisher, I wrote what needed to be written, edited the photographs again, and was finally able to produce the book I had always dreamed of!”

—Deborah Kalas, author

BOOK: The Wild Herd: A Vanishing American Treasure

FINALIST CATEGORIES:Animal and Pet,” “Coffee Table Book,” “Interior Design

Judy Stoffel

“’Start local, then expand the circle.’

“Those words summed up the message I received from Dara Beevas, Wise Ink Creative Publishing’s Co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer, on how my book can be a game-changer for parents struggling with their children’s use of screens. I wanted to influence thousands of families, and she told me to start local and it will come.

“My journey began when Dara took a chance on me, a first-time author with no writing experience. What I did have, and Wise Ink prides themselves on, was a passion and vision for effectuating change. I was enraged that Silicon Valley executives were not letting their own children use iPads, but they were willing to sell them to us. I wanted to build awareness on the addictive qualities of these devices, especially in children.

“The first big step was a launch party for 125 friends, followed by interviews in local newspapers, then print, radio and television interviews in nearby states. Within months, my book was on the Amazon bestseller list in my category.

“Next, I drafted legislation to mandate screen use education and limits for young children, SF3310 and HF3504. The bill was co-authored by five Senators and Representatives and I testified at the Minnesota State Capitol. This hearing received coverage from the largest television station in Minneapolis and the first of its kind screen time bill was going national as I was interviewed by Good Morning America. The icing on the cake: IBPA Benjamin Franklin award finalist. Start local and it will come…”

—Judy Stoffel, author

BOOK: #LookUp: A Parenting Guide to Screen Use

FINALIST CATEGORY:Parenting & Family

Ray Fisk

“When Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey Shore in 2012, it not only destroyed our office but it also destroyed the remaining inventory of the last printing of our all-time bestselling book. Mother Nature must have a sense of irony, because that book, published in 1993, was titled Great Storms of the Jersey Shore.

“There was still demand for the title, which had gone through a dozen printings, but the content was dated without the greatest storm of the modern era. We let the title go out of print and worked to pick up the pieces of our publishing company, focusing on a book about Superstorm Sandy.

“Half a decade after that publication, we built on the original Great Storms to create a greatly expanded new edition, with color images and new stories. An elephant in the room was climate change and sea level rise, so an Afterword by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Gilbert M. Gaul was added.

“Scott Mazzella, author of IBPA award-winning Surviving Sandy, was recruited to write new material—including not only Sandy, but major weather events of the past quarter century. Authors of the original book, Margaret Thomas Buchholz and Larry Savadove, contributed updates and corrections. Veteran newspaper editor Stephen Warren helped define the scope and edit. Leslee Ganss and I designed a book incorporating the best of the first edition with the new. All involved had suffered the loss of part of their homes in Sandy and felt an abiding passion for the project.”

—Ray Fisk, Publisher, Down The Shore Publishing

BOOK: Great Storms of the Jersey Shore, 2nd Edition


Julie Hammonds and Myles Schrag

“When Chris Gomez unpinned a race bib from his shirt and held it in front of him as he neared the finish line, a publishing company was born.

“That may not be the most outrageous Butterfly Effect you’ll ever hear, but it’s pretty special to us at Soulstice Publishing and our running peers in Flagstaff, Arizona.

“Gomez, a talented distance runner and oncology nurse, wore the bib of Fon Cordasco, his patient and friend who had passed away just months earlier—before she could finish her beloved Imogene Pass Run for the 20th time.

“Gomez’s moving tribute caught the attention of Myles, which led to a call for other Flagstaffians to share their own special Imogene moments. That resulted in a friendship and co-editing partnership with Julie that resulted in To Imogene, a Flagstaff Love Letter being a finalist for the "Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book: Nonfiction."

“We quickly realized this passion project should not be our only book, that our skill sets were complementary, and that the sheer pleasure of thinking together made the book stronger. Besides, new book ideas kept popping up once Imogene was in motion! We formed Soulstice Publishing—named after an annual Flagstaff race with an evocative name that itself was inspired by Imogene.

“Our future titles won’t always have such a direct local connection, but they will all be chosen by a desire to produce ‘books with soul,’ in the spirit of Chris’ inspiring, spontaneous decision and our first title that blossomed from it.”

—Myles Schrag and Julie Hammonds, co-founders, Soulstice Publishing

BOOK: To Imogene, a Flagstaff Love Letter: One Town’s Long-Distance Romance with an Iconic Trail Run

FINALIST CATEGORY: "Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book: Nonfiction"

Michael Blanchard

“Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. As the author of Through A Sober Lens I had a message I needed to communicate to make sense of my personal battle with alcoholism. After hitting a very low bottom, which included a plan to commit suicide, I transformed from the COO of a large company into a writer and a photographer. By happenstance, I decided to share a gallery space with Julian Wise who would later become the publisher of my book. We shared a love of art, but also had families that were torn by the disease of addiction. Julian had deep empathy for the words and photographs I shared on social media, which would eventually become the essays in my new book. He understood my need to repair damage, help others, and leave a legacy. Julian and his wife had the same deep sense of gratitude and desire to make the world a better place. What are the chances of finding a publisher who shared my specific goal of giving hope to people who suffer from addiction?

Genevieve Press was born, named after his beautiful daughter. We came into each other’s life through destiny, not coincidence. A ‘God-wink’ that put two people together that had something to say. I was granted my wish in becoming an author, and Julian began his dream of publishing books that will make a difference in people’s lives. We are truly grateful.”

—Michael Blanchard, author

BOOK: Through A Sober Lens: A Photographer’s Journey

FINALIST CATEGORIES: Inspirational,” "Interior Design

Justine Villanueva

"For us at Sawaga River Press, publishing our own stories is one of the many ways we decolonize the way we think, act, and live in relation to others and the land. It is how we honor our indigenous identities lest we forget the lessons that our ancestors have passed down to us to help us thrive.

“The best thing about publishing Jack & Agyu is that it reflects the indigenous Filipino concept of Kapwa, which guides us to work collectively and for the collective good. Jack & Agyu is the manifestation of the intentions of many in our diasporic community who are working hard to decolonize.

“We are grateful for our artists, illustrator Lynnor Bontigao, and book designer Stefanie Liang Chung, and our many collaborators, especially those whose support went beyond what we asked for: the Bukidnon Studies Center of the Bukidnon State University, which provided translations to three other Filipino languages and vetted the cultural content of the book to ensure we were accurate and appropriate in our storytelling; the Center for Babaylan Studies for believing in the story; and the 250 crowdfunders who backed our campaign.

“Wherever we share Jack & Agyu, people come up to us and tell us how much the book means to them and that they're grateful for the work we do so that their kids can have books that reflect their kids' joys and dreams. This is all we need to hear to keep us going."

—Justine Villanueva, Founder, Sawaga River Press

BOOK: Jack & Agyu

FINALIST CATEGORY:Children’s Picture Book (4-7 Years)

Thank you everyone who shared the stories behind the publication of their books! We hope these stories prove to be an inspiration to all indie publishers out there. For all the finalists whose stories were not included above, feel free to share the story behind the publication of your book in the comments below.

Click here to read more about the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards and to apply for next year’s 33rd annual program!

Share your publishing news with the IBPA community! Send news about events or accomplishments to For more details about the types of stories we're seeking, click here.

Keep in mind that we reserve Spotlights for major news (such as, you published a book about space exploration and now it's being read in a live video feed by astronauts from the International Space Station), unique news (such as, you published a book about cycling and now the author is riding a bike across the U.S. for their book tour), or human interest stories (such as, you visit shelters every weekend to read books to the dogs and cats there).

Though launching a new book isn’t the focus of our Spotlights articles, IBPA is happy to share that exciting news on social media. Please contact with the launch date, your book cover, your book title, your book's genre, a link to where readers can learn more about your book, and your Twitter handle.

For good news in general about your publishing company (your book received a wonderful editorial review, you have an upcoming speaking engagement, etc.), use the hashtag #IBPAmemberGoodNews on Twitter and IBPA will amplify your good news!

Whether you have news or not, all of us at IBPA are cheering you on!

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