Berrett-Koehler Publishers can be summed up in one word: “Connection.” It’s not the cynical, exclusivist “it’s all who you know” kind of connection, but it’s more the “we’re all in this together” sense of the word. The business you run, the work you do, the community you live in, the cause you believe in—none of them exist in a vacuum. They all depend on people coming together within a group to achieve a goal, and the actions of that group, in turn, have an impact on the wider community. Connections.
It is this underlying theme of social responsibility that turned Foreword Reviews on to the idea that there is something about this publisher that exemplifies the best of independent publishing. From its own Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for BK Authors, which focuses on concepts like collaboration, community, and communication, to books that find hundreds of ways of putting these ideals into practice, Berrett-Koehler embodies what is best about being independent. It’s why we are happy to name them our INDIEFAB 2015 Publisher of the Year.
I was curious how BK manages to meet its high ideals while also remaining a successful publisher. So, I connected with Publisher Steven Piersanti, who explained how they do it.
Berrett-Koehler’s books emphasize business not purely for profit, but as a way of bringing people and ideas together. Should we all change the way we think about what “business” means?
Berrett-Koehler’s publishing agenda includes business but it is much broader. Our mission is “Connecting People and Ideas to Create a World That Works for All.” We believe that to truly create a better world, action is needed at all levels: individual, organizational, and societal. Therefore, we publish groundbreaking books focused on each of these three levels:
BK Life books support individual change and personal development;
BK Business books advance socially responsible approaches to business as well as new approaches to leadership and management in all types of public, private, and nonprofit organizations;
And BK Currents books promote positive change, including economic and social justice, at the community, national, and global levels.
Within these broad agendas, one of our focuses is on changing the purpose of business to serve the common good and the interests of all stakeholder groups—not just the interests of one stakeholder group (shareholders). This is why we have been such a big supporter of the B Corp movement and the Benefit Corporation movement—and why we have become the first book publishing company to become both a certified B Corp and a legally chartered Benefit Corporation.
Tell me about your Expert Directory and the BK Community and the thinking behind them. These are features that go beyond the services of the average publisher.
Where do you draw the boundaries of an organization? When we say “Berrett-Koehler,” we mean not just the BK staff but also all of the other stakeholder groups that contribute to our success, including authors, readers, suppliers, service providers, sales partners, shareholders, and the local communities around us. So it is only natural that we would take many steps to connect with and serve these communities, including the BK Expert Directory, the BK Community on our website, the Berrett-Koehler Foundation, BK Authors Inc. (also known as the BK Authors Cooperative), BK Authors Retreats, BK Marketing Workshops, BK Leadership Exchanges, BK Community Dialogues, and BK strategic planning processes that include all of our stakeholder groups.
Aside from publishing great books, you’ve also perfected the art of the e-mail newsletter in the BK Communique. Aside from highlighting a BK book or author, it contains cleverly written tidbits from the publishing world and links to great blogs. How important is this kind of outreach to readers?
Yes, many people in publishing consider the BK Communique to be the best newsletter from any publisher. The BK Communique is a wonderful vehicle for communicating with the broader BK community described in the response to the question above. It works because it is fun, interesting, engaging, and surprising besides providing lots of useful information.
Through technology, we all seem to be taking our work home with us, or in the “gig economy,” work seems to last 24 hours a day. Should we all just keep our smart phones turned on and give up on work-life balance?
No, we should certainly not give up on work-life balance. But we need to rethink many dimensions of our work and life, including what is work-life balance and how we seek it. Among the recent Berrett-Koehler books that contribute to this discussion are Affluenza, Sustainable Happiness, Singletasking, Work Reimagined, The Daily Edge, and What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do.
Last year, I interviewed one of your authors, Maya Schenwar, whose BK book, Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, expertly weaves the story of her sister’s plight with a broader picture of the mass incarceration epidemic. How does an issue like this fit into BK’s mission?
Thank you very much for interviewing and featuring Locked Down, Locked Out. This book fits into our BK Currents publishing agenda referenced above: promoting positive change, including economic and social justice, at the community, national, and global levels.
World and US government leaders, all have problems communicating at times, leading to potentially disastrous consequences. Name one (or a few) Berrett-Koehler books they should be reading.
Every season we publish books that would be of great value to US and world leaders. For example, new books described in our Spring 2016 Catalog are Negotiating the Impossible, The Outward Mindset, The Reunited States of America, When Money Talks, Building the Future, Doing the Right Things Right, Shakti Leadership, The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman, and From Crisis to Calling: Finding Your Moral Center in the Toughest Decisions.
In your “10 Secrets of Berrett-Koehler’s Success,” you write that “BK has remained fiercely independent.” It’s a sentiment that our readers would applaud, since we focus entirely on independent publishing. What does “independent” mean to you?
What we mean by “independent” is that Berrett-Koehler is owned by approximately 250 members of the BK community (employees, authors, customers, service providers, sales partners, suppliers, and other supporters) rather than by a big multinational conglomerate or other big company.
Howard Lovy is executive editor at Foreword Reviews. You can follow him on Twitter @Howard_Lovy