Outgoing Board Chair Brooke Warner’s Powerful Note & Get to Know Incoming Board Chair Karla Olson
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Posted by: Christopher Locke
July 1, 2020 was a big day for the Independent Book Publishers Association. It was the beginning of the new IBPA fiscal year, which includes a change of guard for IBPA Board Members. We have four incumbent and two newly-elected Board Members. It also marked the end of Board Chair Brooke Warner’s term and the beginning of new Board Chair Karla Olson’s term.
She Writes Press Publisher Brooke Warner has had a profound impact on IBPA and we are incredibly grateful for her six years of service on the IBPA Board of Directors (four years as an at-large board member and two years as chair). In the May/June 2020 issue of the IBPA Independent magazine, Brooke shared a powerful message to members in response to the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 health crisis, and we’re sharing it here.
IBPA is also excited to welcome Patagonia Books Publisher Karla Olson as the new Board Chair, and we’re also sharing her interview from that same issue of the magazine below.
Note from Outgoing Board Chair Brooke Warner
Each outgoing chair is tasked with writing a parting message to the IBPA community. This is something I would have relished in normal times—what would have been a farewell message to my tribe on the heels of a successful IBPA Publishing University, a call for all of us to keep fighting the good fight that often goes hand in hand with being a struggling indie, a reminder of the force we all are, especially collectively, in this industry we all love.
But instead we are here, many of us facing the unimaginable. We are not buoyed by another IBPA Publishing University. Some of us have made sacrifices already in the form of layoffs and salary cuts. Some of us are postponing titles and trying to figure out the best next step in an unprecedented situation. Many of us fear our companies might not make it to the other side of this crisis.
I have spent six years on the board of IBPA, and most of the hours have been focused on advocacy. That has been my passion, a place where my fire gets ignited. During my tenure, IBPA created its Advocacy Committee, which started out with a handful of board members and grew to encompass individuals from the broader community of members. Completing the Industry Standards Checklist and the Hybrid Publisher Criteria list are two of my proudest accomplishments.
It’s human nature to rank things, in an effort to make sense of things by comparing. It’s been hard for me, therefore, to tap into all there is to celebrate about my tenure at IBPA as some of us confront our very survival as independent publishers. But I also know that through crisis we tap into our deepest resilience.
We will be different people on the other side of this.
We will be different publishers, different leaders, and a changed industry. This crisis calls for resolve, and it also calls for faith. I’m not a religious person, but my spirituality has long been rooted in the work I do. To work in the book industry means having an intimate and front-row seat in the arena of life. We know of stories beyond our own lived experience. When we read, we enter into the heart space of others. When we publish books, we are midwives of experience and knowledge and story. We are bearers of legacies. We are space-holders. We are validators.
I’ve spent my entire career championing authors, especially indie authors. What IBPA has afforded me over these six years is to champion indie publishers, because we deserve championing, too. We are out there in the trenches doing work we love, just like so many authors, with little to no expectation of gain or riches or fame. We are such an amazing community because our shared drive is such a tough thing to do, and even harder to be successful at.
I am deeply saddened not to have had the opportunity to say goodbye in person this year, not to have passed the torch to our new chair, Karla Olson, in the way I imagined I would. But one of the things I’m learning through this barrage of disappointments and loss is that there is much to be grateful for that we’ve inevitably taken for granted. A supportive community like the one we have at IBPA is not a given. It’s a gift. So I will be at next year’s IBPA Publishing University, where I will give hugs liberally. And I will continue to be an active participant of this amazing association that always goes above and beyond the call of duty to support its members as family. I am grateful beyond measure to my IBPA family and for all of you for these amazing six years.
Meet Karla Olson, Your New IBPA Board Chair
IBPA: What is your current company and role, and how long have you been involved in independent publishing?
Karla Olson (KO): I am the publisher of the book program at Patagonia, the clothing company. Patagonia has been publishing books since 2007, and we just published our 50th book. We publish five to eight books per year. Our books are about the sports we support as well as sustainable business or environmental issues. We are well known in the adventure memoir and environmental memoir categories but are starting to publish more books that discuss environmental issues.
I have been working in independent publishing since the mid-’90s. For the first decade of my career, I worked for a book packager in New York. When I left New York, my colleagues told me there was no publishing anywhere else in the country. When I arrived in Arizona (where I lived and worked for 10 years), I discovered just the opposite. There were all kinds of people publishing for all kinds of reasons, and they were being very resourceful about it. I began consulting with independent publishers at that time and have been ever since. I started working with Patagonia in 2012 but still have a few consulting clients. I consider Patagonia an independent publisher because they decided to “go it on their own” instead of working with one of the many major publishers that approached them. It has allowed us to publish books that advance our mission to encourage environmental activism instead of making decisions based solely on the bottom line. It is a privilege and an honor to work with Patagonia and publish books that we feel will make a difference.
IBPA: What excites you right now about the industry?
KO: What I’ve always loved about publishing is that since no two books are alike, no publishers are directly competitive with each other. This means it can be a very open and sharing community. New publishers can learn from more established publishers, and more established publishers are watching the innovation that new publishers are bringing to the industry.
But what do I love about the industry right now? There are so many different reasons that people choose to publish, so many different goals and measures of success, and so many business models and structures. I love the diversity. (I don’t mean cultural diversity—that’s an area that the whole industry needs to work on.) I love that people still value telling their stories in a book, and that creating and publishing a book is a measure of success in itself. But there are also so many more opportunities for independent publishers right now. Print on demand and direct distribution channels have opened up the possibilities to small publishers. I’m excited to see how Barnes & Noble will reinvent itself, as they have the opportunity to highlight local and independent authors, and I hope they will. I love the community events that many independent bookstores are building, another opportunity to highlight local authors. I don’t want to focus on the current situation (I write this while “sheltering at home”), but I think we are learning to return to simpler, more reliable entertainment, enrichment, and connection, and part of that is found in books. Even if you have to stay at home, you can travel the world or the universe through a good book.
IBPA: What do you hope to bring to the IBPA board during your term as chair?
KO: There are always two major challenges for independent publishers: distribution and discoverability. Readers need to be able to find your book, and they need to be able to buy your book. I’ve been involved with IBPA and its affiliates (Arizona Book Publishers Association and Publishers and Writers of San Diego) since the mid-’90s. These groups have been gathering and sharing ways to tackle these two issues through all kinds of changes in the industry. I’m looking forward to finding new ways to help our members solve these challenges. I appreciate working with our diverse board, dedicated staff, and our members to always come up with new possible ideas. Maybe they will work, and maybe they won’t, but we always have to keep thinking about new avenues to access and highlight books.
It’s also time to reimagine the potential of the IBPA affiliates. These local extensions of IBPA offer reach, energy, and in-person contact. But are they organized in the best ways to support members on their independent journey? It is a question we have asked often during my involvement with IBPA, but I think now is the time to really evaluate the program and its connection to IBPA.
Which brings up another issue: How do we welcome more new publishers, a wider diversity of publishers, and younger publishers into our community? I love the new ways that people are sharing content (Wattpad, TikTok), and I’d like to see if there are ways we can be the resource for information on book publishing for those communities. There are support communities for new businesses too (such as Ureeka) where members are considering the power of publishing. We need to welcome all of them to join us on this amazing journey.
IBPA: What’s your favorite book from the past year?
KO: Oh, so many. I’d have to say that Educated by Tara Westover was the most thought-provoking. I also enjoyed Becoming by Michelle Obama (and found it comforting—like watching reruns of The West Wing). I enjoyed Writers and Lovers by Lily King. But my favorite of the last year was rereading Steinbeck’s East of Eden (which I read right after I graduated from college) and discussing it with my just-graduated son. I love seeing classics through the eyes of another generation.
Also, check out our interview with incoming IBPA Board Member Lindy Ryan (President of Black Spot Books and Chief Content Officer for Rosewind Books—imprints of Vesuvian Media Group).
And keep an eye out for our upcoming interview with incoming IBPA Board Member Victoria Sutherland (Publisher of Foreword Reviews) in a few weeks.
Share your publishing news with the IBPA community! Send news about events or accomplishments to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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).
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Whether you have news or not, all of us at IBPA are cheering you on!