Views of What’s Needed and Possible
We welcome diverse views about what the LDS Publishing Professionals Association is and could become—its mission, vision, guiding values, potential benefits to members, and potential impact in the world. Pasted below is an initial essay by Christopher Robbins (one of the founders of LDSPPA) to get the discussion started. If you have comments on Christopher’s essay or want to submit your own essay, please send them here.
Why Do We Need an LDS Publishing Association?
Written by Christopher Robbins, founder and president of Familius publishing and CEO of American West Books
When Steve Piersanti of Berrett-Koehler Publishers suggested we create a professional organization for those in the publishing industry, we sent out a survey gathering information from our LDS publishing contacts throughout the country. One response to the survey was significant relative to the organization’s purpose:
“If there are no jobs in publishing, why should we create a publishing organization to help people in the industry?”
First, there are jobs in publishing. We know there are always jobs for those who are at the top of their game. And while publishing changes daily, the continuous stream of startups in the publishing industry is a testament that disruption brings opportunity and new jobs. I continue to hear and experience that there has never been a better time to be involved in publishing.
Second, regarding an organization such as the LDSPPA, there are three reasons why such an organization is a significant and important step for an LDS member currently working in or having interest in the publishing industry: first, to improve professional skills; second, to network and broaden our publishing connections; and third, and in my opinion most important, to play an increasingly vital and undervalued role in disseminating ideas that have the power to make the world a better place for all.
One cannot have enough access to professional training to find and learn new skills to create competitive advantages. While Digital Book World, PubWest, BEA, ABA, IBPA, and many other publishing and book organizations provide professional training, the LDSPPA could offer a unique and fertile ground to share best practices and identify innovative ideas that can help publishers better leverage their content. Such shifts and opportunities include using big data, leveraging analytics, exploring subscription models, understanding the current trend toward social share rather than SEO, managing market-driven metadata, building one’s own tribe, finding viable booktubers. . . the list goes on. And, an organization of LDS professionals can provide a unique environment for that exploration.
To fully leverage the opportunity the LDSPPA provides, it requires a foundational paradigm that we are colleagues and not competitors and that withholding quality ideas and innovative practices from each other does not create competitive advantages. Publishing has always been about sending ideas out into the world and there is no end to good ideas. Our global sandbox is sufficiently large and competitive ideas sufficiently plentiful that we need not be intimidated by sharing. Some might suggest this ideal is naive. I disagree. We should reject the false maxim that recommends we gather as much information as possible and reveal nothing. Such behavior is myopic and dwarfs the long-term value inherent in ideas. If there is one thing that publishing has proven it is that intellectual property is hollow unless shared.
Uniquely, LDS church membership is raised on a principle to “. . . seek . . . diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” While there are far more LDS real estate agents and multi-level marketers than publishing professionals (clearly a shame and something the LDSPPA could ameliorate), the truth is that there are far more of us in publishing than believed, and our experience is tremendously broad and deep. We all know creative and intelligent LDS members in this industry and intelligent LDS members not yet in this industry. Attracting more talented and creative people to this industry will help the industry be more efficient, nimble, and strong. Further, diversifying the community’s background will add tremendous value to our publishing paradigms. In one way or another we all can teach one another from our experiences and even from our own books and publications.
While we are often from the same pioneer stock, our publishing experience is as diverse as BISAC codes. Within our network we include best practices in LDS publishing to global business leadership to educational textbook publishing to magazine publishing to blog publishing to wholesaling to design to finance to law to metadata to newspapers to video to SEO to social media marketing to app development . . . . Each of these disciplines provides transferable ideas and networking can provide opportunities for jobs, for internships, for entrepreneurship, for new products, for efficiencies, and for revenue growth.
LDS professionals have in their DNA a thirst to find truth wherever it can be found and also to share that truth with others. A gathering of LDS publishing professionals promises to nurture an exploration and training of skills that could be unmatched by other organizations. I recall one experience while riding an elevator at Scholastic in New York while whistling the LDS primary song “I Am A Child of God.” A woman in the elevator said, “I know that song.” And she did. She was an estranged member of the church. Through that connection I found a book club deal that eventually sold more than 300,000 copies.
Meeting each other and networking could provide a much richer opportunity for those of us who wish to work internationally or outside the Rocky Mountains but want to stay in publishing. Exploring each other’s networks can provide a rich field to harvest the very best LDS talent available.
We all obviously understand the importance of networking. But as the world deviates from truth and religious moorings, the need is stronger than ever for LDS publishing professionals to be connected, to help each other, to stand together in a world and industry that is increasingly more hostile to what we believe to be true and valuable. For years the church has grown one of a family and two of a city. LDS publishing professionals should consciously resist being separated and silenced. There is strength in numbers.
A Light to the World
While developing additional skill sets and networking are critical to our publishing success, for me the most important reason to gather as LDS publishing colleagues is to recognize and acknowledge the inescapable and sacred role we play in the world as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the only true and living church on the earth, and act on that foundational truth by ensuring that we, in our own unique publishing way, stand as a beacon of light to a very troubled world.
I recently published a book called The Turning: Why the Family Matters and What the World Can Do About It. While I have long believed that the family was important and that the Proclamation to the World was an inspired document, it wasn’t until publishing The Turning that I better understood the foundational value that the traditional family plays on the global economy. Further, I did not appreciate the tremendous role the family plays in education, in civic responsibilities, in health and wellness, and many other areas that are key to our social wellbeing.
We published this book in a somewhat secular voice but filled with principles of truth. It’s been an interesting and enlarging experience to see interaction with this book, knowing that the book provides statistical evidence to why the breakdown of the traditional family is the root cause to many of the challenges we see in the world. To have secular reviewers read this and comment that the information was well researched, that the evidence was disturbing, and that the book had progressive and good ideas supported my belief that a publisher can use the values, principles, and ideas we hold to be true to influence the world without having to always do so in a religious context.
My point? That as members of the Church we have a responsibility to defend truth and the principles that have proven to have eternal value. We live in a world where basic Judeo-Christian values like the sanctity of marriage, the importance of families, the wealth of children, the value of education, the need for non-violence, the constitutional rights of freedoms of speech and exercise of religion are under attack. In a recent visit to a social media company’s corporate headquarters, my host proudly communicated that the company was paying their female employees to freeze their eggs to ensure that they could work unencumbered from children. He was proud of this “humanitarian benefit” and saw it as a progressive advantage to recruiting the best global talent available. Yes, I saw his point, but I was disheartened as a father of nine that they were living to work rather than working to live and that many who took advantage of the company’s“benefit” would experience inescapable temporal and spiritual consequence of choosing to not marry or have a family.
Without members of the Church working to defend truth through our publishing role as disseminators of information and ideas, we live far below The Lord’s expectations of us. Publishing provides a tremendous tool to communicate best practices. We have at our disposal global connections and resources to ensure we provide a key counterpoint to the existential viewpoints all around us. Some of us may choose to actively promote gospel truths through a religious voice. Others may choose to communicate gospel truths through a secular voice and call them best practices. Stephen R. Covey was famous for this. Still others may not choose at all to publish content that promotes any type of gospel principle. However, they may publish things that are consistent with the thirteenth article of faith, content that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy. . .” and help make a more beautiful world.
And all of us, whether employers or employees, can stand for principles of light and truth to those around us, treating all with dignity and respect while never sacrificing our values or defense of what is right. The LDSPPA can be a lighthouse in our publishing lives to not lose sight of additional meaning behind our labors.
I recall a chef’s dinner I enjoyed in the kitchen of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. I had been invited to attend this event as we were working to acquire a cookbook from the famed hotel. It was a fourteen course meal and each course was served with a different wine. The sommelier proudly spoke of each wine, its region, its year, and its importance in the wine industry. Each time he came to me I refused to drink. By the fifth course, he stopped his presentation and loudly chastised me for being rude and what possible reason did I have for rejecting the wine. All eyes turned to me. I looked from table to table and then to the sommelier. “I am sorry,” I said, sincerely. “I do not mean to be rude. I am enjoying the history and what you are sharing. However, I cannot drink your wine. I am a Mormon and we do not drink alcohol.”
He looked at me and then smiled. “Of course,” he said. “I understand.” He then continued to explain the wine and engaged me in additional conversation. For the rest of the evening, my table asked me questions about the Church and our beliefs, about Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, the Word of Wisdom, marriage, our history, and many other common questions from those only lightly familiar with the Church. These were sophisticated men and women. They listened respectfully as I answered their questions.
At the end of the evening I said, “You’ve asked me many questions and I’ve enjoyed the discussion. Before we leave each other I want to share one last thing with you. With all that we’ve discussed we haven’t touched on what we consider the most important principle of the Church. And that is this—that Jesus is the Christ. I want you to know that I know he is the promised Messiah and that he lives and loves us.” They nodded and smiled, shook my hand, and gave me a hug. The Spirit was at that small table in the kitchen of that famous hotel.
That experience and many others has taught me that as members of the Church we have a sacred responsibility to share what we know to be true, to defend the truth, and stand for what is right while simultaneously being a respectful and tolerant friend to all. I can think of no better trade to do this than in publishing.
Christopher Robbins is the founder and president of Familius publishing and is the CEO of American West Books. He is married to his college sweetheart and is the father of nine children. He resides in Sanger, California.