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Indie Groundbreaking Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

B-K Crash-Publishes Declaration of Independence from Wall Street in 50 Days

50 days. An offset-printed book, from concept to the street in 50 days. Unheard of, right?

Yes, it’s unheard of, but it happened. San Francisco-based Berrett-Koehler published Agenda for a New Economy, by David Korten, in just seven weeks and two days -- just in time for the inauguration of President Obama. The book questions the Wall Street bailout and argues that our hope lies not with Wall Street but with Main Street, creating real wealth from real resources to meet real needs, and returning to an economy firmly rooted in the long-term health of people and the planet.

How the Berrett-Koehler team accomplished this feat is a tribute to the energy and resourcefulness of a dedicated independent publisher, the expertise of a brilliant author, and the technical abilities of a cutting-edge book printer.

It all began back in the fall of 2008, when best-selling author Korten, whose previous books, When Corporations Rule the World and The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community are considered must-reads for understanding our global economy, was asked by YES! magazine to write an article about the big Wall Street bailout. The piece argues that the bailout was a mistake, and calls out to President Obama for a “basic redesign of our economic institutions.”

Meanwhile, Steve Piersanti, president and publisher at Berrett-Koehler, found himself awaiting jury duty in his Contra Costa County, California courthouse, and having brought along some reading material, read Korten’s article. It must have had a big impact. By the next evening Piersanti and Korten had brokered an agreement -- with one important stipulation – books had to be ready in time for a major presentation by Korten on January 23 at the Trinity Institute on Wall Street.

“Here is one of the most important, most timely, and most exciting books on which I have worked during my 27-year career as a book editor,” Piersanti recalls thinking. "Would such a timeframe even be a possibility?"

In order to get the book from concept to finished product as quickly as possible, Piersanti knew he would need an extraordinarily fast printing schedule. Enter Malloy Incorporated, the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based, family-owned printer that offers a new express offset printing service for this kind of "rush job."

“We understand the value to Berrett-Koehler of getting this time sensitive book out when the new administration takes office” said Bill Upton, president of Malloy. “We saw this last year with a biography of Sarah Palin when she was picked by John McCain, and the overnight success last June of the memoir by former White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan.”

“Publishers need to capitalize on sales opportunities that suddenly materialize due to events beyond their control. We introduced Express Service for the publisher who needs more than a few hundred books right away. They come out ahead going with offset printing at Malloy versus a digital printing solution.”

Upton notes that their Express Service may entail some additional cost to the publisher—overtime, expediting materials, etc.

It made sense to Piersanti and B-K took advantage. “We had the right book for the right time by the right author” says Piersanti. “Knowing that Malloy could print and bind this book in less than a week enabled us to devote more time to the quality of the content. This book had the possibility of generating a national discussion, so we went for it.”

Piersanti and Korten began planning in earnest, outlining a production schedule to have the book ready to launch on January 23, 2009, immediately following the inauguration. “This was the day I was scheduled to deliver a keynote address for a conference at the historic Trinity Church, located in the heart of Wall Street,” says Korton. The event was a theological conference sponsored by the historic church, where 300 participating ministers, theologians, and lay leaders made the case that the Wall Street financial crisis is at its core “a spiritual crisis born of a violation of the biblical injunction against the worship of Mammon, the false god of money.”

“We found it difficult to imagine a more propitious time and place to launch a book calling for an end to Wall Street and the altar of mammon.”

Korten would have four weeks to produce the manuscript and Berrett-Koehler would have roughly five weeks to edit, publish, and deliver the initial copies to the Trinity Church event.

“Once I got started, the book took on a life of its own, and the elements came together as a far more integrated, distinctive, and powerful whole than any of us had dreamed possible,” says Korten. “Great credit for this goes to the tremendous support I received from the Berrett-Koehler team, (my wife) Fran, and my other colleagues. Steve Piersanti read every chapter as I drafted it and provided invaluable feedback.”

“The four week deadline helped to focus the mind, as did the book’s drive to a clear bottom line: shut down Wall Street and build a new economy on the foundation of Main Street with a new financial system dedicated to serving its needs.”

“David Korten is a wonderful author with whom to work because he has such broad and deep expertise and is able to develop his arguments in a clear, coherent, and strong way,” says Piersanti. “He was highly responsive to my editorial suggestions throughout the writing process. We talked and/or emailed each other five or six days a week during the four-week period that he was writing the manuscript; each day he would send a new draft chapter, then I would offer editorial suggestions for revisions to it, then he would run it by me again and I would offer a few more suggestions. In short, David Korten is a publisher’s and editor’s dream author.”

"From a P.R. standpoint the unusually short production schedule posed a host of challenges, says B-K Publicity Manager, Peter Cavagnaro. "The biggest challenge is dealing with not having the typical long lead time to try to generate publicity. Typically, we would prepare galleys three to four months ahead of the pub date, and much of the ground work is set with those. The short incubation period also makes it difficult to schedule events, as most bookstores prefer to book events at least three months in advance so that they can be promoted properly. We were fortunate in the sense that David already had a full speaking schedule mapped out before this book was even conceived, so he’ll be able to fold the topic of Agenda for a New Economy into most of his existing speaking and media commitments."

"The most difficult aspect has been how to squeeze such a major undertaking into a workload that’s already quite full. Everyone down the line who’s worked on this is facing the same set of challenges. The real surprise is that the actual publication process has been is so efficient and the the final project so exceptional. There were never any hiccups, which is really a testament to the excellent work of our production/design staff and our printing partner Malloy."

"It’s a truly important book. Regardless of how quickly David wrote it, it fits perfectly into his canon of works. If anything, he may have benefited from the short schedule, as it was written in a moment of genuine inspiration and clarity," muses Cavagnaro.

Korten agrees. “As I reached the end of this sprint to the publication finishing line, I realized the extent to which I have been preparing my whole life to write this book. I grew up in a conservative small town where I learned to value family, community, and nature and the special character of America as a middle-class democracy, free from the extremes of wealth and poverty that I was led to believe characterized the world’s less advanced nations. In my childhood, my dad, a local retail merchant, taught me that if your primary business purpose is not to serve your customers and community, then you have no business being in business.”

That sentiment sounds similar to what motivates Berrett-Kohler and other successful independent publishers -- strive for a bottom line driven by excellence and service, not just profit. In fact, the longtime B-K company motto is, “Creating a World that Works for All.”

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Visit the Trinity website to see David Korten's presentation: http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/calendar/index.php?event_id=42759

See David Korten on PBS NOW: Let Wall Street Fail

See all of David Korten’s books: http://www.davidkorten.org/books

Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, by David C. Korten
(Berrett-Koehler Publishers) January 2009
$14.95; Paperback Original
ISBN 9781605092898