On Turning 20...

Dear BK community member,

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., was founded in January 1992. We have had remarkable continuity in the purposes, values, and vision of our publishing company, as is apparent from this letter in our first catalog.

But a great deal has also changed and is continuing to change at Berrett-Koehler, as is apparent from these Berrett-Koehler News pages in our newest catalog, which is being distributed this month.

We will celebrate our 20th Anniversary during 2012. We want to involve as many members of the BK community as possible in celebrating with us in ways that help advance BK’s mission of “Creating a World That Works for All.” Therefore, we are beginning now to make plans for celebrations during 2012, and we are seeking to involve many members of the BK community in participating in these celebrations.

To help us do this, we ask you to respond to a quick 6-question survey. Please click on this link to respond to the survey:

We appreciate your support of Berrett-Koehler and hope that you will join with us celebrating our 20th Anniversary in 2012.

Best regards,

Steven Piersanti
President and Publisher

Marshall on Management

Our VP for Editorial and Digital Initiatives, David Marshall, is also a bestselling author and has held numerous executive-level positions with global companies. Here David obliges us with five lessons on management -- three for self-management and two for managing others:

Managing Yourself...

#1 Plan your career, or it will plan you (lifelong tip): In a previous entrepreneurial life, I spent many hours with Richard Bolles, the acclaimed author of What Color Is Your Parachute? Dick says that the vast majority of people fall into jobs that have nothing to do with their values; it’s no wonder so many are unhappy with their careers. Confucius said “find a job you love, and you’ll never work day in your life.” There is much wisdom in those words. In college, I created a 50-year career life chart that I have updated every five years as new life experiences re-shaped the original plan. It is vital to have a vision of where you want to be professionally in 5, 10, and 20 years. If you don’t, you will let external factors drive your career instead of you steering it.

#2 Grow or die (annual tip): Many managers and leaders, usually at the 50-yard line or beyond, conclude that they have learned all there is to learn, figured out what management style works best for them, so just settle in and execute. This is a tragedy. Don’t go stale. No matter how advanced your career, no matter how much success you’ve had, take a blank piece of paper at the beginning of each year (it’s not too late for 2011), and write down five things you want to learn or improve upon as a manager and leader. Choose things that you can realistically accomplish with intention and attention. Pick the most important one and create quarterly milestones for yourself so you can measure your progress. Grade yourself at year end.

#3 Fortify your life blood: your daily time (daily tip):
Choose the number of hours you work each week; don’t let it choose you. For some, it’s 40; for others, it’s 70. Embrace that number and then prioritize projects within it. Steven Covey advises us to do first what we prioritize as the most important rather than let others choose which things we do first based on their priorities. Avoid letting new requests from others re-prioritize your day, week, and month. Learn to respectfully say no or “yes, but later” when necessary. Every committed project advances or slips based on what’s in front or behind it. If I lose control of my time, I feel stressed, guilty, and de-motivated—and don’t even want to go to work. It’s deadly.

Managing Others...

Managing myself and managing others are connected at the hip. 1) If I am not happy at work because I am in the wrong career, 2) if I have lost my desire to keep learning throughout life, or 3) if I have lost control of my time, woe be to those I manage; they will suffer because I did not nurture my own management soul first.

#4 Practice permission-based leadership: Employee and company stakeholder empowerment is not just a buzzword. As Harvard Business School professor and new BK author Bill George said to Steve Piersanti and me recently (I’m paraphrasing), “the era of top-down ‘command and control’ leadership is over.” My experience is that people work harder, longer, and with higher quality if they are inspired and motivated by their manager, not brow beaten. As head of the BK editorial department, it’s not my right to lead the team. I receive permission every day from Bonnie, Jeevan, Neal, and Steve to lead it. They hold the power, not I. If I serve them well, miracles happen. This is equally true of cross-departmental and cross-divisional leadership.

#5 Be hard on the issues, soft on the people: Many assume that you are either soft on the issues and soft on the people (good cop), or hard on the issues and hard on the people (bad cop). However, it is indeed possible to be a strong-willed manager who asks employees to stretch themselves every day without being a tyrant. A common dysfunction resulting from the “hard on the issues, hard on the people” management style is passive-aggressive behavior whereby co-workers, who are under harsh personal treatment from managers, outwardly agree to support the bad cop’s directives but don’t follow through. Managers who learn to be hard on the issues but soft on the people—both good cop and bad cop in the same person—are more effective and successful in the long run.

A final note on humility and resilience: Either lose your ego or don’t seek or accept a management position. I aspire to the five tips above but am not always successful. I regularly fall, but pick myself up and try again. Fail fast and often, learn from the slips, and bounce back; that’s the overriding lifelong learning tip I can share.


The Magic of BK Authors Retreats

I recently participated in a unique event in all the world: the Ninth Annual Berrett-Koehler Authors Retreat, which was held from October 7 – 10 at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center in Reisterstown, Maryland. Several factors make this annual retreat unique, including the many ways that fun and meaning are combined with learning and connection, the fact that it is entirely organized and run by authors for authors, and the fact that its sponsoring organization, the BK Authors Cooperative, is the first of its kind in the world as far as I know.

Each year, magic truly happens at the retreat. To give a glimpse of this magic, I asked seven BK authors (including five who were first-time participants in the retreat) to share their experience of the retreat. Their comments are below. Also below are comments from new BK editor Neal Maillet, who has seen a lot in his 22-year publishing career but was nevertheless amazed by the retreat. And Bruce Rosenstein blogged about the retreat; here’s a link to his blog (which includes responses from several retreat participants).

The importance and influence of the retreat go far beyond what happens at the retreat itself. In part this is because every year friendships are formed between retreat participants that go on for years and that often lead to these new friends sharing speaking and consulting leads, recommending each others’ work, and even collaborating on projects. But I think that there is a still bigger and wider impact of the retreat: in many ways the retreat is a microcosm of what Berrett-Koehler is about. The retreat creates and models patterns that permeate many dimensions of BK and that reach beyond BK’s authors into its broader community and the messages of its publications. Some of these patterns are:

• Unity around a common purpose and mission of “creating a world that works for all.” BK books address hundreds of different topics, yet almost all BK authors see their work as contributing to this common purpose.

• A welcoming community.
Part of the magic of the retreat is that most participants feel a vibrant sense of community while new participants are welcomed warmly into this community. This is due partly to the engaging personalities of many participants, but I believe that it is due even more to the sense of shared purpose that permeates those who are attracted to the BK mission of creating a world that works for all. As Mark Albion observes below, “I belong within a community of authors of different minds sharing one heart.”

• Desire to help, serve, and share.
The pattern in evidence at the retreat and throughout the BK community is of people being exceptionally generous in reaching out in many ways to help others in need.

• Openness to learning and teaching. Participants in the retreats see themselves as simultaneously both learning from others and sharing their unique talents and perspectives. Everyone has much to learn and much to teach.

• The power of integration.
At every retreat I have been struck by how well different types of authors connect with each other and how much they learn from each other: academics and practitioners, old and young, new and experienced, progressive and conservative, business authors and personal growth authors, societal change authors and organizational change authors, etc. I have concluded that much of the value of the retreat – and the power of BK’s publishing program generally – comes from bringing together these diverse perspectives under the umbrella of a welcoming community and common mission. This integration happens on many levels and in many ways.

I am confident that future retreats will continue to develop these and other powerful patterns – both in making the retreats a phenomenal experience for participants and in leavening the entire BK community, publishing program, and impact on the world.

If you are a BK author, I hope that you will plan on participating in the next retreat, scheduled for September 8 – 11, 2011, at the Stillheart Institute, nestled in the Redwoods just south of San Francisco. You can learn more here.

If you are not a BK author and would like to attend the retreat, a few spaces will be available for other members of the BK community who are sponsored by a BK author and granted associate membership in the BK Authors Cooperative; if this is of interest to you, contact a BK author about sponsoring you.

To get more of a feel for the retreat, here are some photos from the last retreat.

All the best,


“Generosity is a gift that is genuine and rewarding. The generosity of my fellow authors was overwhelming. As a first-time attendee at the Berrett-Koehler Authors Retreat you are not sure what to expect. Very quickly any concerns vanish. The warmth and complete acceptance replace all the fears. As the retreat goes on, generous gifts of friendship, suggestions, and coaching begin to fill you. Soon you realize that you belong with these people and you feel joy and a sense of renewal. What more could you want except to eagerly await next year's retreat.”-- Dave Basarab

“What I enjoyed most about the retreat was seeing the deep friendships that have been formed between BK authors over the years. All the laughter, the gentle teasing, and the sense of camaraderie were great. Also appreciated the warm welcome that I received."-- Suchi Shenoy

“I want you to know that the retreat was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt I was watching a 'better world for all' unfold before my eyes, and I’ll never use the term 'BK community' in the abstract again. I don’t think I fully understood until the weekend how the strength of our publishing comes from this community. Nor did I understand how this community would support me and nurture me, personally. I now understand how BK will help me become a better person, not just pay my salary. I know I must sound like I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but there really is something special about this place and our mission.” -- Neal Maillet (new BK Executive Editor)

“The retreat reconnects me with spirit and community. It causes me to remember who I am and where I belong within a community of authors of different minds sharing one heart. Through the trials, tribulations, and financial struggles of being an author, the retreat reinvigorates me to the beauty and honor of what we do.” -- Mark Albion

“I had a wonderful time at the retreat. It's rare to be in a group of people who are simultaneously brilliant, welcoming, aspirational, curious, and fun. The design of the retreat created space for all of these qualities to bloom among and within us. I can't believe that one weekend could include such a range of experience. How did we manage to travel from pragmatic information to community building to world changing so effortlessly? How did we do all of those things and still have time to rest and play? I'm honored to be part of this community.” -- Barbara McAfee

“The BK Author’s Retreat was everything I hoped it would be and more. Smart, caring, and creative people who were willing to share their experiences, not to mention their books. Provocative team building exercises that built trust and broke the ice in a nice way. And even the opportunity to make my ‘Maryland shore’ solo singing debut at Saturday night’s talent show. Thanks for such a nice way to welcome me into this extraordinary community of professionals.” -- Jacquie Ottman

“I had a fabulous time at the retreat. As a first-time author, I felt enormous gratitude for the warmth and the welcome that the BK authors community offered. People were unexpectedly generous with their encouragement, ideas, lessons learned, and networks of relationships. Of course, the highlights had nothing to do with writing or selling books. The highlights were what happens when people who trust one another and share a vision of how the world could be let their guard down enough to stuff their cheeks with marshmallows, dance on four-inch high rails, and sing ‘Lasagna!’ at the top of their lungs. So much for being intimidated by BK authors!” -- Debbie Frieze

“If I could prescribe a population of people with whom I could spend my life, it would be the BK authors community. For me, this particular retreat was no less than a spiritual hot tub, where I felt surrounded by trusted and trusting friends, amidst the swirl of warm waters. I attend the authors retreats knowing that I will come away smarter, wiser, and more attuned to what really matters in the world. This one was no exception. The last line of the Identity Credo is, I will receive in accordance with what I give. I came to the retreat knowing full well that I had an obligation to give – to give something of value, something meaningful and, hopefully, lasting – which might entitle me to receive the same in return. I did. And, I did. This retreat reached a new level of joyfulness…there was a vibe from the outset that resonated during our time together. I think what happened more this time than ever before was the marriage of intellect and emotion. There were, for sure, great conversations about important ideas. But there was more; there was the deliberate intrusion of beautiful music, in voice and instruments. There was a native humanness that interceded, penetrating the meetings, the structure and earnest conversations, which are always present in our retreats. For me, a new level of ‘community’ was born.” -- Larry Ackerman

Three Resolutions for You, and Three for Cynthia

2011 is not just the start of a new year, but a new decade. In the spirit of the season, I thought of the three most important resolutions I wish my authors – and any authors – should make for me, and then I added the three resolutions I made for you.

Your Resolution #1: Stop your Amazon addiction. I know it’s tempting to track your Amazon ranking every hour on the hour, but this will drive you (and more importantly, your loved ones) insane! Your Amazon ranking can fluctuate wildly, going from #265,789 to #10,458 in a course of a click on the refresh button, but it doesn’t reflect actual sales – never has, never will. There are various algorithms that Amazon uses to determine the ranking, some which have nothing to do with your book. Take the time instead to read about trends in the publishing world on Publishers Lunch.

Your Resolution #2: Get on Twitter. I know I sound like a broken record with this, but every author needs to make peace with one social media tool at the very least this year. Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or GoodReads – it doesn’t matter as long as you’re doing it regularly. Stumped on what else there is to do? There are tons of articles out there (Mashable has some great pieces) as well as books that will teach you new tricks and help spread the word about your work.

Your Resolution #3: Visit a bookstore. Once a month, go to your favorite bookstore and marvel at all the new titles that are available. Watch how the front-of-store tables rotate their titles, which books are shelved face out, and which business book is located in the memoir section. Read the author bios in the back of the book and imagine all the publicists trying to book them on all the same shows I’m trying to book you on. That’s what you’re up against. Bowker reported that over 1 million books were printed in just 2009. I bet that number will only increase in the new decade.

But of course, I can’t just expect other people to change their ways – here are three resolutions I made for myself:

Cynthia’s Resolution #1: I will respond to your emails asap (except on weekends). It’s easy to get overlooked in the steady onslaught of correspondence -- sometimes I’m so busy responding to authors that I don’t have time to actually send emails to reporters! But I know that most of the time, the question the author has is quick and the answer needed to move ahead is equally quick. Therefore, I resolve to do my best to get back to you as quickly as humanly possible.

Cynthia’s Resolution #2: I will send you your clippings. I keep track of every little mention of your title and name – not only to share the piece with our sales reps, but also to spread the article on our social media channels. By doing so, I often forget to share it with the most important person – you, author. So, I now resolve that by the end of each campaign, I will have a comprehensive record of all your media clips for you to use however you please.

Cynthia’s Resolution #3: I will be 100% honest. I want your book to deserve all the attention it can receive, but I won’t waste time (especially yours) pitching the wrong shows. I know, you want to be on Jon Stewart, and at one time I may have humored you against my better judgment. No more. Instead, I’ll kindly but directly tell you that Jon Stewart will likely not be having you on the show regardless of how many copies I send him, and recommend we redirect our energy elsewhere. In the long run, it will be much more productive, your book will reach exactly the right audience, and everyone will be happy. Thus, I resolve to always be up-front and constructively honest with you so that your book has the best possible chance of recognition and success.

Resolutions are usually a recipe for disaster, but by sharing them with you I hope that we can keep each other in check. Do you have any resolutions you want to share with me? I would love to hear them.


A Postcard from Australia

We miss Johanna Vondeling, our ex-Editorial VP (now VP for Business Development), greatly and we're so very curious about her new life down under, and we know others in our community are, too. So she decided to write and tell us:

Dear BK Community,

Greetings from Australia! I’m happy to report that all is well in the most remote large city on the planet. Perth is a pretty, hospitable city, with beautiful beaches and plenty of riverside parks and walking trails. We’ve been enjoying exploring the local bush, where we’ve spotted kangaroos, bobtails and plenty of loud, exotic birds. The eerie, Mars-like landscape of the Pinnacles took our breath away, and the color contrasts in the former pearling town of Broome are stunning. Hopefully, we’ll find an opportunity to complete this gorgeous 135 kilometer Cape-to-Cape trek while we’re here.

Our senior dog, Jude, survived an unhappy month in quarantine and is now living a life of leisure, though the dive-bombing Willie Wagtails here pester him on walks. Things I’ve learned the hard way: u-turns are illegal, and using a cordless phone brought from the US will both disrupt the local cell phone network and draw the attention of the authorities. 30 SPF is the absolute minimum level of adequate sunscreen, even in Winter; the “slip, slop, slap” mantra is widely -- and wisely -- heeded. I have yet to try Vegemite, and I’m still recovering from sugar shock brought on by my single encounter with a Tim-tam. Grilled kangaroo, however, is quite tasty, as is the Pipsqueak Cider produced by local microbrewery Little Creatures.

I’ve been delighted to find that the publishing community in Australia rivals America’s in overall friendliness. Many booksellers and publishers have generously and patiently answered my questions about the marketplace here, which is facing its share of challenges. While the Australian economy overall is currently much healthier than the US’s, industry revenue is nonetheless estimated to be down 5-10% for the year. To the consternation of local booksellers, many customers are turning to overseas online retailers, while others are simply purchasing fewer books. Cookbooks, children’s books, and coffee table books are uniquely recession-proof. The boom in digital publishing has yet to sweep Australia (e-book sales were recently estimated to be around 1% of total book sales), but many are excited that Kobo and the iBookstore both launched here earlier this year.

Perth itself has a lively scene of independent booksellers, such as Boffins, Bookcaffé, and Planet Books. Each store hosts creative events that make the shop a destination site for the local community, and the foot-traffic is impressive. Karen Kotze, owner of the Bodhi Tree, is cultivating a community very much aligned with Berrett-Koehler’s mission; her book café serves authors and customers by “promoting conscious development in all areas of life -- at work, at home and at play and through inspiring and cultivating wisdom that draws on both western and eastern philosophies.” We’re excited to be exploring ways Bodhi’s author community can hold hands across the pond with the Berrett-Koehler Authors Cooperative.

All in all, a great adventure so far! Please feel free to connect with me through social networks, including, for more updates and news. In the meantime, here are some photos from our life down under, and an authentic recording of those really loud birds known as Kukaburras.

Johanna Vondeling
Vice President, Business Development

Follow me on Twitter.
Connect with me on LinkedIn and Facebook.


Five Things Cynthia Wants You to Know

I love the authors I work with, but sometimes, the process can be a bit trying. Since the same things come up with every title, I thought it might be best to list the five things that I want my authors to know up front:

1. I want you to be on the Daily Show just as much as you do. I have a crush on Jon Stewart and getting you on the show would get me one step closer to having him notice me. Seriously though, you need to have a really solid book that is smart enough for Stewart, or you need to be a celebrity of some sort. Stewart’s producers know the power of their reach and look for really compelling topics that would make good interviews. I know, all authors feel that their topic is really compelling, which is why you should approach your teenage kids or nieces or nephews about the subject and see their reaction. That reaction will be Jon's producers' reaction.

2. I cannot send you the contact information for my media contacts. Sorry, but too many over-zealous authors before you abused that privilege by calling my contacts and harassing them incessantly, which only ruined the contacts’ trust in me. A big part of my job is cultivating relationships with media, and protecting them from authors who don’t understand when to move on. Trust that I follow up with them appropriately, and I know how to speak their language.

3. Your media contacts are just as good as my media contacts. If you have a friend who has a sister who works at Time Magazine, it’s perfectly fine to send her a copy of your book, asking her to pass it along. But please share that information with me so that we can decide who has the better relationship.

4. Many authors think that their books "are for everyone." Not so. Please don’t make me pitch media that has little to do with your book. If a magazine only covers recipes and food, an article about building social networks isn’t going to fly -- even if you pitch it as "the recipe for social networking success!" Instead, familiarize yourself with the outlet, and then explain to me exactly where and how you’ll fit in. If it’s too far of a stretch, I'll let you know. Trust me.

5. Use email instead of the phone whenever possible. Phone calls are reserved for discussions that take too long to write, or when you’re needed immediately for a last minute interview. Calling me often is not going to give you priority, and calling me to tell me that you just emailed me is just redundant.

Now I feel better for getting that off my chest. Thank you!


Saving Your Sanity (and Privacy) on Facebook

It’s normal to feel anxious about sharing all your personal information on Facebook, but there are some basic precautions you can take to protect yourself from hackers and stalkers. BK's publicist Cynthia Shannon has five recommendations for maintaining your privacy and sanity on Facebook.

1. Avoid easy passwords: Having your Facebook account hacked is a lot more common – and frustrating – when your password is easy to crack. Make your password really hard – a mix of random numbers and letters that only make sense to you. Example: The area code of the first phone number you remember, the initials of your favorite two cousins, and an ampersand. Heck, make it two ampersands.

2. Get instant notification in case of a security breach: Go to Account > Privacy Settings > Account Security (second from bottom). Click Yes to receive notifications when your account has been accessed from another computer that wasn’t your own. You’ll have to register each computer you’re accessing Facebook on, but it’s worth knowing when someone else is too (hackers will use your account to spam your friends and download viruses to their machines. Not fun.

3. Control who can find you on Facebook: Go to Account > Privacy Settings > Basic Directory Information. Select Only Friends under Search for Me on Facebook. The same goes for Message Me. Let's face it, you really aren't too keen on being found by certain people.

4. Stop Google from finding you on Facebook: Take your privacy to the next level by going to Privacy Settings > Applications and Websites (bottom left) > Public Search. Unclick the box that catalogs you in public searches. You will now have to be the instigator of all friend requests -- which is fine because Google knows a bit too much about us already. This only works if you’re already limited under Basic Directory Information (see above).

5. Don’t let Facebook follow you where you go: Facebook partners with certain sites such as Pandora and Yelp, instantly showing your Facebook profile picture and likes when on their sites. If you think this is creepy, turn it off by going to Privacy Settings > Application Settings (bottom left) > Instant Personalization. Uncheck the box, and no one will know of your secret crush on Justin Bieber.

Though these tips are drastic, they can save you unnecessary headache from spammers, hackers, and stalkers. On the other hand, if people can’t find you on Google, you might miss out on reconnecting with a former flame – or potential business partner. Tread wisely, my dears, and do let me know your thoughts, reactions, and suggestions below.

Bonnie's Love Letter to the Internet

Dear Internet,

We have a tumultuous relationship, you and I. To the outside world, all seems well between us, we appear thick as thieves and happy with our loot, but really there is trouble in paradise. After careful consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that our problems all stem from one sore spot: an imbalance in our relationship’s power dynamic. You don’t need me, Internet, but I feel that I need you. I needed you to find work, and now I need you to do it. I need you to most easily keep in touch with friends and family, to stay on top of finances, and to pay my bills. Increasingly, I rely on you to fill me in on the day’s events and to verify facts and figures. You grant me access to the television shows I’m never home in time to watch, and always point me towards my next favorite band. Without you, how would I have gone about planning and preparing Wednesday’s dinner party or purchased tickets to last night’s symphony performance? As you can see, I am relentlessly reliant on you and your abilities, a situation that the strong and independent woman I was raised to be really resents! On top of everything else, I hold you solely responsible for the rapid decline in my eyesight. I clearly need a new prescription, but since I used all of my 2009 Health Savings Account money on 300 dollars worth of contact lenses, I have to make my way through 2 years of blurry vision all because of you!

And yet...this is a love letter, is it not? It is. And, dear Internet, I do love you so. Never have my affections been more obvious to me than they are right now. As you may or may not know, I have recently returned from a much-anticipated two-week vacation to New York and Italy. As planned, I used this time away to truly be “away” -- from you, Internet. While I admit to brief but necessary encounters (flight confirmation, European weather reports, Google Alerts set up in my name, etc.), I spent the rest of my time doing things without you: talking to people in person, walking around in the world, and even reading books! I wasn’t tied to my Facebook newsfeed, or the latest news on Gawker, or even the arrival of Jeevan’s bi-weekly masterpiece, The BK Communiqué. And you know what? It felt good! I was able to really enjoy face time with friends and family, and to see the beautiful buildings of Florence and the ancient ruins of Rome with my very own eyes.

The trip was incredible, just what I needed. However, as often happens at the end of a vacation, I found myself more than ready to be going back home. I missed my friends; I missed the comfort of my very own bed and shower; I missed the cooling breezes of San Francisco...and I missed you, my beloved Internet. After some time apart, I realized that I was ready to reassess and reevaluate the relationship. And, my darling, I’m glad that I did.

Upon my return, I realized that our love is not a matter of power and need. Instead, ours is a relationship based on help and support. With you, I am able to share my travel experiences, stories, and photos with people all over the world. Were it not for you, Internet, when I said goodbye to my friends in Italy, it really would have been ‘goodbye.’ Together, with you, we have continued the conversations we started in Tuscany — from our respective living rooms! Thanks to you, my sweet Internet, I was able to attend the Berrett-Koehler Shareholder’s Meeting — from an airplane! More than that, I’ve happily spent the last few hours both watching and reading about everything presented at said meeting, using a social networking site that I even helped to build! With your guidance, beautiful Internet, I have grown as a person and —more importantly— as a publishing professional.

But seriously Internet, all kidding aside, I will no longer take our relationship for granted. You keep me connected, informed, authoritative and – always! - entertained. My dependence on you is my own issue, not yours, and something I will continue to work on. For now, I am delighted to be back in your embrace — posting pictures, watching adorable animal videos, working on the weekend and, yes, catching up on my celebrity gossip.

I wish nothing but the best for us and, of course, for Lindsay Lohan.

I Love you, Internet.

Yours truly,


The Intern Discovers Five Truths About Publishing

Feeling strangely uncomfortable in my business clothes and missing my scruffy college student sweatshirt, I walked into a gleaming lobby where a smiling man in a suit ushered me towards golden elevators.  I zoomed upward, landing in a richly carpeted hallway lined with mahogany doors. Berrett-Koehler had the biggest door and the biggest sign.  I crept in with appropriate feelings of awe.  There I was, on my first day, ready to learn.  

That was a month ago.  Here are five interesting things I've learned since then:

1. Leadership doesn't need to mean hierarchy.  "I want to discuss ways that I can mentor you, and you can mentor me," our publisher recently said to a new employee.  I thought this was a wonderful approach.  Another leader would simply have said, "I need to train you. We have to show you how things are done around here."  But this wasn't an order, this was an invitation, "We'll teach each other how to do our jobs."  If I ever become a leader, I hope I can model this quality and be the kind of person who is always willing to learn something new and never shuts himself off in a fortress of authority.   

2. The world is awash in good intentions, but intentions aren't enough.  Since Berrett-Koehler's mission is "creating a world that works for all," the slush pile is crammed with idealistic manifestos and blueprints for better tomorrows. Horrible things or injustices happen to people and they deal with it by writing a book to "help other people in my situation." Or professors sit in their offices and draw these complex bubble charts about how to save the world from evil. All morning I sit reading these books into which people have poured their heart and soul. One by one I decide which ones won't sell (about 95% of them). One by one I call the authors to deliver the bad news. One by one the manuscripts fall between my fingers into the recycling bin. Yet, I am left feeling strangely happy. Maybe the bubble charts don't actually show how to deliver the world from evil, but they do prove that apathy is very far from ruling supreme.  

3. Books don't launch movements, movements launch books. 
Whenever a book proposal comes in, I have to look at the author bio and evaluate his degree of fame. Does he speak often to groups? Does he give workshops? Does he publish in magazines? Does he belong to professional societies and tightly-knit communities? Does he have good connections?  Simply put: is he out there stoking the furnace of his movement, or is he simply sitting in his basement scribbling down theories for the book which he will use to supposedly launch his movement? The key to any kind of change, after all, is connecting with other people. A book is a way of connecting with large numbers of people, but it won't work unless you've been connecting with smaller numbers on the personal level first.

4. Employees of this publishing house get to take home free books!  This was by far the happiest discovery.  In fact, I was so ridiculously delighted by this perk that my boss joked they should hire me permanently by paying my wages in books. I giggled and pointed out, "You don't see homeless people standing around with cardboard signs that say, WILL WORK FOR BOOKS."  My boss replied, "No, you don't. On the other hand, if I did see a homeless person with that sign, I would surely respect that man." 

5. People look up to publishers as enlightened souls, but they're just business people like everyone else.  When I turn down authors, I always give them feedback and constructive criticism of some kind (it's the BK way -- no form rejections). At first I was really nervous and startled when I noticed how the authors I was calling hung on to my every word -- as if I was a sagely being imbued with higher knowledge. I kept thinking, "I'm only twenty-one years old, yet here I am telling these experts and these professors that their work just isn't good enough. Life is so strange sometimes...." I think often, in our respect for institutions, we forget that all institutions are made up of people just like ourselves.


Johanna Says Farewell But Not Goodbye

Johanna's last day with Berrett-Koehler as the VP of Editorial and Digital will be June 11, 2010. After moving to Australia, Johanna will continue to work for BK as the VP for Business Development on a part-time basis. And now, a few parting words from the lady:

Dear BK Community,

Thank you for the opportunity to share some news about my changing role at Berrett-Koehler. My husband’s employer has offered him a 2-4 year assignment in Perth, Australia. It’s a great professional opportunity for him, and hopefully an exciting adventure for us both, so we have decided to take the plunge and move there. My last day as editor and Vice President of Editorial and Digital will be Friday, June 11th. My actual move to Australia is set for early August.

Happily, the organization has approved a plan under which I will work part-time from Perth as Vice President for Business Development. I will be providing leadership for a few, special cross-departmental projects--such as steering the company’s transition to an XML-based workflow -- and with maintaining primary responsibility for a limited number of key partnerships. BK is in the process of hiring a new acquisitions editor (you’ll read more about our exciting new hire in a future newsletter), and David Marshall will be assuming my current responsibilities for leading the editorial and digital functions at the company.

It has been a great privilege meeting so many dedicated members of the BK community over the past several years; I’m endlessly inspired by your collective dedication to creating a world that works for all. Note that this week marks “onward!” rather than good-bye, as I’m looking forward to serving in my new role and remaining active in the community. Thanks to the wonders of technology, my BK contact information will remain unchanged. Feel free to connect with me through LinkedIn, friend me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter -- and, of course, let’s stay in touch via BK Community, announced elsewhere in this issue. I promise to post plenty of photos and accounts of life in what the guidebooks all call (gulp!) “the most remote large city on the planet.” Have a wonderful summer, all!




The Five Other Types of Facebook Users

By now, everyone has heard of the serial-updater, the drama queen, the too-much-sharer, and the various other types, but we've identified these five lesser-known types of Facebook offenders:

Offense #1: The Chalk Outline: The offenders consist of those people who refuse to upload a photo and have that generic blue and white chalk outline as their profile picture more than a month after setting up their account. Facebook administrators should allow these individuals' friends to post the most unflattering photos they can find of the perpetrator as the profile photo -- and bar the perpetrator from being able to remove or change the photos (hey, it didn't seem to bother you before).

Offense #2: The AWOL profile: Due to peer pressure or a fit of "seemed-like-a-cool-idea-at-the-time," the offender creates a profile and then abandons it. The last update made by the perpetrator is a year or so old. Mandatory deletion of these sorts of profiles is recommended for the sake of reducing the amount of waste floating around the web.

Offense #3: The 24/7 Party Person: Every single photo of this person shows them at various points of inebriation at a club or party with other inebriated people. Sure, they could really be living the high life, but we suspect a little "appear-cooler-than-I-really-am" duplicity. You're not in college any more and nobody cares, dude.

Offense #4: The Inappropriate Friend: This perpetrator is a "friend," but you often find yourself wondering why. His or her offenses include posting questionable links on your profile, using profanity and offensive language, and always commenting on every post you write with some smarmy sound-bite. Because you're friends with this person, others are likely to think you share the same IQ. Dump the attention-seeking clown.

Offense #5: The Name Dropper: This perpetrator’s friends are all celebrities, sports stars, and high-visibility individuals. Given that the overwhelming majority of popular media darlings have thousands of “friends” and will accept just about anyone (if they even monitor their own accounts, that is), this is is no great achievement. It’s not like they’re really your friend (“Hey Clooney, let’s hang on Saturday!”). In the halcyon days of Facebook, this high-end entourage may have seemed impressive. Now, it’s a desperate call for attention.

Can you think of other types of offenders to add to this "alternate" list?


Welcome to the Age of Living Books

Michael Larsen is one half of Larsen-Pomada, the oldest literary agency in Northern California. Since starting in 1972, the agency has entered into agreements with over one hundred different publishers.

In this piece to authors, Michael addresses the importance of the e-book revolution and how e-books are creating the next great literary revolution:

There’s a New Yorker cartoon that shows a dejected guy, holding a brief case, who has just come home after work, and he’s saying to his wife: “Bad news, hon. I got replaced by an app.”

As a writer, you don’t have to worry about being replaced by an app. But one way e-books can replace p-(rinted)books is clear. As screens of all sizes are returning our focus from words to images, e-books are reinventing reading and writing for new generations of book buyers.

Computer technology created the greatest revolution in publishing since the printing press. E-books are creating the next revolution by giving you two ways to write living books:

• E-readers connected to the Web can have links to anything that already exists and you and your publisher produce. This is an amazing opportunity for you to use an exploding multimodal universe to provide new ways to enhance your readers’ experience and entice Web-centric readers.

• E-books can link to social networks, the ultimate book club: a community of readers who can email you links to what they find or create to which you and other readers can respond. This conversation creates living books, endless works in progress that continue to improve and stay up to date.

Groupsourcing with Your Readers

is embedding videos in in a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. But video is only one medium, and you’re only limited by your imagination and what you and your readers can find and create. In narrative nonfiction, you can embed links to music, photographs, or video to create a sense of the period and setting in which the narrative takes place. You can dramatize part of it to draw readers into your story and use the video as a promotional trailer.

Links empower your readers to contribute a video of how they used a gardening book, for example, and show the results. In addition to responding to what readers submit, you can decide whether to make use of what readers send in for your e-book or just let it be part of the conversation. Either way, readers will offer testimonials, which on the Web, are golden. You can also make your e-book interactive by including tests and assessments to which you can provide automated responses.

The author Dorothy Parker once said: “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” It’s also the soul of writing on the Web. When you can download anything you want into your book instantly, you will need to build a list of links from something in the text, with one-line descriptions to help readers decide whether to click on them. This will prevent your e-book from becoming too long.

The collaboration between you and your readers can begin while you’re developing your book as a blog and articles, and giving talks. You can test the effectiveness of links as you integrate them into your text and change or add to them as you discover new links. Book buyers will benefit because they will always buy the best version of your e-book, which means that responses to it will continue to be more glowing, which in turn will generate more sales for your book and everything else you create.

Making your readers’ feedback part of a conversation makes them members of your book community. Building communities, online and off, of people you need to help you is essential to everything you do as a writer. And as social networks prove, community is one of the fundamental forces driving the Web.

Your readers will also ask questions and send ideas you can make use of for talks, articles, videos, and books that they will look forward to seeing. They will help you create your career and remain part of it as long as you serve them well. Indeed, everything what you write is your answer to the fundamental question: How can you best serve your writers?

Adding text to your e-book will change the pagination, index, and table of contents, so updates will require planning. But in time, new software will make it easy for you to insert changes whenever you wish.

A New Kind of Book for New Generations of Readers

E-readers and will continue to grow in quality and acceptance. They will become full-fledged computers with voice recognition. Computers will have the same information, whether you’re accessing it at home, in your car, or on your phone. Simultaneous translation of voice and text is coming.

Pricing and technical standards will emerge. But a unique, enhanced e-book that only you can write and that continues to grow in value justifies a higher price than just the text. Prices will also have to reflect the cost of creating and licensing content.

E-books will enable your books to do what only they can: provide the best, newest, in-depth information available in all media. However, don’t despair about p-books. You can list links in the back of the printed book by page number and update them on your Web site, and p-book readers can contribute to the online conversation.
Technology guru Ray Kurzweil predicts devices will be placed in our brains and “the Web will take over everyhing, including our minds.” But the longevity of technology is unknowable. Books have proven their worth for more than 500 years. As publishing visionary Jason Epstein noted in The New York Review of Books, printed books “will continue to be the irreplaceable repository of our collective wisdom.

But e-books will bring life to your books by bringing your books to life for new generations of readers. They are one of the most promising signs for your future as a writer. So keep writing and think links!

Stay up to date on publishing with Michael's blog


iPads, Amazon, E-Books, and What It All Means

"With the promise of another e-book source and pricing scheme to accompany the iPad, and the recent fracas between Mcmillan and Amazon about e-book pricing, what is the future of e-books and what does this mean for BK?"

Johanna Vondeling, Berrett-Koehler VP for Editorial and Digital responds:

Given all the recent media attention to developments with e-readers, we thought now would be a good opportunity to update you on Berrett-Koehler’s efforts in the digital publishing arena. Below are some highlights. Please know that we are pursuing a host of additional initiatives not addressed in this post, and that we would be happy to respond to any questions you might have.

As many of you know, on January 27, 2010, Apple announced the forthcoming release of the iPad, along with plans for an online bookstore. This is an exciting development for digital publishing, as the device holds the promise of a quantum leap forward in the e-reading experience. It is our hope to have Berrett-Koehler content available via Apple’s iBookstore as soon as possible. We are in conversation with Apple representatives about establishing procedures for incorporating content into their programs, many dimensions of which are still under construction. And we are accelerating efforts to convert content into the ePub format they have identified as required for participation.

Separately, we will be experimenting this year with developing media-rich applications (“apps”) for Apple devices. We are developing these apps in tandem with selected forthcoming BK print publications, for simultaneous launch. It is our hope that these experiments with apps will provide lessons and guidance that we can apply to the entire BK digital portfolio in 2011.

Also, last week we signed an agreement with Google that will ensure BK content will be available for sale via their Google Editions program, currently slated for launch in the second quarter of 2010. Much Berrett-Koehler content is already available for free preview through Google’s Book Search program; please feel free to visit to see your content’s presence in that program, and let us know if you have questions. Once Google Editions launches, readers who wish to access BK works in their entirety through Google’s infrastructure will be able to do so for a fee. Please note that Google Editions is a separate concern from the ongoing lawsuit between Google and the Authors Guild over so-called “orphan works” —- works that are under copyright but no longer commercially available for sale. The content that we will make available for purchase through Google Editions is content BK authors have granted us permission to sell or license to others.

We also continue to make your content available for sale through a growing stable of other valued retail and licensing partners, including (but not limited to) Amazon’s Kindle program,, Books24X7, ReadHowYouWant, Safari Books Online, NetLibrary, Ebrary,, Scribd, and Docstoc. And, of course, more than 230 e-books and 220 whitepapers are available for purchase via Our goal is to ensure your content is available through as many channels as possible, as we recognize and respect the great diversity of preferences regarding stores, formats, and devices within the worldwide community of readers.

Note: For books that are commercially available for sale, BK will continue to manage the relationship with all of these partners, as provided for in the Grant of Rights in the BK publication agreement. BK authors do not need to submit their in-print books directly to Google, Apple, or any other third party. BK will fulfill that role as part of our publication and marketing responsibilities.

In sum, BK is investing aggressively in building the relationships and infrastructure necessary to make your assets available to customers who would like to access content through digital means. Our immediate plans are to prioritize converting available and forthcoming publications into ePub. Developing new, media-rich publications (or revisiting existing publications to enhance them with new, media-rich features—about which some of you have inquired) is an expensive and complex endeavor that we plan to consider only after we have executed on our ePub conversion initiatives. At 5% of overall BK revenues in 2009, digital sales are still a small slice of the pie relative to print sales and translation rights revenue; however, we share the widely-held belief that demand for digital content will continue to grow dramatically in 2010 and beyond.


Four Things You Shouldn't Say In Your Book Proposal

Over the years I have enjoyed the opportunity to review thousands of book proposals. I realize that every proposal must contain some sales pitch-type statements to make the project more attractive to publishing houses, but some of these declarations don't really help your case. Here are four statements to avoid in your proposals (and why):

1. "There's presently no other book that covers what my book covers." In some sense, this bodes true of everything anyone writes. We are all individuals and so each project presents a unique individual's voice and approach. Authors sometimes define the uniqueness of their work a little too narrowly. The truth is that there's little that is really new (if the Bible said it back then, it's truer than ever now). A book arguing how leaders must be visionaries first, practical second, and leaders third offers little different from another book arguing that leaders should be leaders first, practical second, and visionaries third. Authors shouldn't try so hard because publishers know that there is little that is truly new out there, but publishers do want to see how authors can take something and put a compelling and new spin on it.

2."I am a Pulitzer-Prize/National Book award/award-winning/award-nominated author." Using the word "nominated" in this instance involves some creative wordplay. Anyone can apply to win the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, or just about any book award as long as they cough up submission fees and submit an application. So, yes, authors could simply submit an application for their own work and then refer to themselves as nominees, but for the reason mentioned above, such a declaration carries little weight. If an author is a finalist (or winner, of course), then that is a different matter entirely. Also, the phrase "award-winning author" carries minimal weight unless the author specifies the name of the award so that the publisher can verify its prestige. There are no legal requirements as to what constitutes an award, so I could be the recipient of the "Frick Peacemaker Award 2011," which sounds impressive until you realize that Frick is my wife's last name. (Of course this is pure fiction because my wife would never deem me worthy of any awards.)

3. "Upon the release of my book, I intend to aggressively sell and market the work."
Author marketing plans often show great drive and acumen. However, such marketing plans represent statements of intent, not statements of fact. With no way of knowing whether such statements or actions will actually translate into book sales, we can't rely too much on them. But telling us what you have already done in terms of media appearances, writing articles, features, networks, presentations, speeches, conferences, and so on proves far more helpful. If someone comes to us with a solid book idea and a list of previous achievements and affiliations, we can deem this author's plans as realistic given his or her previous achievements. However, sometimes authors think that a book is just the thing they need to build a solid platform. Unfortunately for them, books don't launch movements and careers, careers and movements launch books.

4. "This book is for everyone between the ages of 19 and 75/working in any size business in America/all people concerned with the current state of the world/etc." The myth of the general nonfiction reader remains just that -- a myth. Just because an author addresses millions of middle managers/working mothers/frazzled leaders in America, it doesn't mean those intended audiences will immediately run out and buy that author's book. People who go into bookstores online or in person most often go to a particular section that interests them. Within this particular section, they'll seek out a favorite subject, and within that subject matter, authors they like. Almost all readers have their favored literary niches, and this fact only reaffirms the importance of writing for a particular audience rather than a general one. Besides, when have you or anyone else you know ever wandered into a bookstore and asked for a book that could be for, well, anyone?

Right, now you know!


What I Look for in Authors

Books and websites abound advising authors on how to craft successful book proposals. Thousands of agents can guide authors on securing an editor’s attention. The many available resources do a fine job emphasizing the need for original, quality content, research on competitive titles, and direct connections with the community the author hopes to serve. But what’s missing from these guidelines? Here, Johanna Vondeling, BK’s Vice President for Editorial and Digital, offers curiosity as the professional characteristic most likely to secure an editor’s attention:

Curiosity About the Reader. I am always attracted to authors who place their readers’ needs first. Authors who have carefully researched the readers they want to serve -- and who know concretely what challenges those readers face -- are much more likely to design a project that serves a real market need. The first question on our proposal guidelines is, what is the need for your project? I suggest that, rather than responding to this question with the argument that no one has ever written on this subject before, it's more helpful when an author identifies a particular gap or unfilled need in the marketplace. What’s the author's pain point, or yet-to-be-realized opportunity? Editors appreciate author prospects who can help educate them (and their marketing and sales staff) about the dynamics at play in the target community. The more information and research you can provide, the better equipped your editor will be to help you craft a project that will effectively serve the intended audience.

Curiosity About the Industry. A well-educated author is a publisher’s best friend. It’s always extremely encouraging when author prospects ask questions about how publishing works. Myths about publishing abound; at Berrett-Koehler, we find we collaborate most effectively with authors who are willing and able to distinguish fact from fiction. We always share our 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing, to help explain some of the harsher realities publishers and authors are up against, and I am always heartened when author prospects read the list carefully and pose thoughtful questions about what the recent and rapid changes in the industry mean for their hopes and efforts to serve readers.

Curiosity About Mutual Expectations. I am always glad to answer questions that help clarify mutual expectations, especially expectations that apply to process. Good questions include, Who are the decision makers in this process, and what do they value? How long does it take the average author to write a draft? What happens if I miss a deadline? Authors who have read our publication agreement (publicly available here) are encouraged to ask for clarification of any clause they might find confusing. Authors who suspect they might be better off self-publishing should ask, point-blank, what value the publisher would bring to the project.

For further guidance on BK’s expectations of authors and on our reciprocal commitment to them, please feel free to review our Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for BK Authors.