Meet Chelsea Green, Part 3: Hello, Out There

Posted on Friday, August 12th, 2005 at 7:52 am by Chelsea Green Publishing

In a sense, publishing and printing 1,000 copies of a book is the easy part. If you can’t convince 1,000 people that the book is worth buying, here’s what you’ve got:

Ballast.

Boxes of stuff that’s good for keeping a ship from keeling over, perhaps, but not much good at saving the world – or, for that matter, paying the bills.

That’s where publicity and marketing come in. About 20 years ago, a newly divorced Alice Blackmer (who had studied art at Bennington College), moved from northern New Hampshire to the Upper Valley to work as an illustrator for a local magazine, which soon went out of business. With two young kids and limited job skills and experience, she found work as a waitress.

Then fate intervened, or something. The Chelsea Green publisher who had taken the helm when Margo Baldwin tried to retire needed a sales manager, and a mutual friend mentioned her name. A lifelong environmentalist, “I wanted to work at fields where I could contribute to keeping Vermont the way it is.”

Bingo: sales manager at Chelsea Green. Over the next 10 years, as the technology of publishing went through its back-flips, summersaults and half-gainers, her job evolved into a smorgasbord of sales, marketing and publicity.

“Ten years ago, sales for a small publishing company was a completely different job than it is today,” she explains. “So much of it is being done over the Internet; it’s amazing. All of the jobs within a publishing company have changed radically.”

As the need to raise Chelsea Green’s profile became more obvious, publicity took up more of Blackmer’s time. About two years ago, the change in her job title became official.

Meanwhile, her two kids, Jared and Juliet Duval, grew up and were off to college, both sharing their mother’s enthusiasm for environmental issues. In the short version, she met a man who worked for a publisher in Washington, D.C., they became an item, and he urged her to join him in the D.C. area. Kids gave blessing; Blackmer headed south.

“That’s how I ended up in beautiful, historic Leesburg, Va.,” she says.

The Internet isn’t the only thing that enables Blackmer to operate by remote control.

“Because of the incredible talents and abilities of Minda, Kelly and Erin (you’ll meet them shortly), I really don’t have any trouble at al,” she says. “In fact, I’m able to be much more productive. Spending so much time on the telephone, it’s important not to have interruptions.”

Blackmer joins the chorus of Chelsea Greeners who delight in the natural fusion of their employer’s focus and their own values. “I’ve been able to focus on food issues, the politics of food,” she says. “We really need to come back to local food. It’s one of the most important things I can do: make public as much information as I can about … what’s in the food, where does it come from, how much does it really cost?”

Then comes the not-just-a-job part. “People have asked me if I’d be interested in taking on a project from other companies,” she says. “But I can’t do it for romance novels; I couldn’t possibly do it.”

Blackmer is, of course, part of a David facing a whole lot of Goliaths. “That doesn’t faze me a bit,” she says. “We have the most compelling and timely message, and I don’t think it matters if the company is big or little. We need this information, and we need it now.”

Not that there isn’t time to have a life. “I’m a flea market hound,” Blackmer admits. She’s also learning to sail on the Chesapeake Bay. “My weekends are being fought over between all the cool flea markets in this area and all the interesting ports of call.”

□□□

The “Erin” in Blackmer’s salute to her fellow workers is fellow publicity worker bee Erin Hanrahan – who does work out of the home office.

“I do media contact when new books come out, l and try to get things noticed,” says Hanrahan says, who could be described as one of the employees who, in publisher Baldwin’s words, fell “out of the sky.”

A year and a half ago, as a freshly minted graduate of Colby College in Maine (she had taken a course in publishing and worked for a monthly environmental magazine), she was well aware of Chelsea Green’s mission and reputation.

“I wanted to work in publishing, and work for an independent press, so I had been looking around,” she says. She had a job offer from a New York City publisher, but “I didn’t want to live there. I wanted to work in a smaller environment. I thought if I went to work in New York, it would be a little bit daunting. I just wrote to Margo, and asked if they were hiring, and she said, ‘Come on up for an interview.’ ” She adds, laughing, “That was on a Friday, and I think I moved here the next Tuesday.”

Out in the world, Hanrahan lives in West Woodstock and is in charge of safety for Woodstock’s ambulance service, for which she is on call one day a week and every fifth weekend. “That’s been taking up a lot of my time,” she says. “I also do a lot of swimming, riding and training.”

As for Chelsea Green: just another job? “The kind of books we publish – it’s important to have a mission like that, as opposed to publishing anything that comes along,” she says.

□□□

The Internet, of course, has become an essential part of doing business. And since Internet presence doesn’t happen by itself, every Web-savvy company had better have a Minda Kauffman.

In addition to numerous marketing duties, Kaufmann keeps Chelsea Green’s Web site up and running. It’s Kauffman who figures out what to do when something crashes and burns; if it weren’t for her, your humble correspondent would have to drive 20 miles to White River Junction from his rural home every time he had to post something on the Flaming Grasshopper.

Married in June 2004, she and husband Tom did some traveling. They went to Europe for a month, then came to the Upper Valley to stay with Tom’s brother while they sought work in New York City. “I was looking for just temporary work, because I thought we were going to be moving,” she says.

When Tom found movie production work in New Hampshire, his wife began the process of being absorbed by Chelsea Green in the usual way. A friend of graphic designer Janet North (we’ll get to her, too), she sent in a resume.

“I started working two days a week, and doing a lot of what I’m doing now,” she recalls. “In January I started working full-time. We just didn’t make it to New York. But we always thought we might live here anyway someday.”

Ask Chelsea Green employees about the work environment, and the overlap of the company’s values with their own, you get a sort of serial chorus that sounds as though everyone has just received an e-mail from the boss saying, “Say something nice to the interviewer, and I won’t kill your dog.”

“I felt like I was finally at a publishing place where I really felt good about what we were doing, and that it was very important to get out there and let people know about the books we publish.” Kauffman says. “It really fit very nicely with my own personal philosophy.”

The interviewer has hung around the place long enough to realize that Kauffman speaks the truth. (For one thing, only at a place where it’s true would that gag about the dog have survived the managerial delete key.)

Besides keeping the Web site breathing, Kauffman prepares and sends out electronic press kits. She lives in Hartford village, and is one of the few Vermonters who can say, “I can walk to work.” She loves being outside – hiking, traveling – and to cook.

“I make a mean spinach lasagna,” she boasts quietly.

□□□

Pretty much inseparable from publicity is marketing, which brings us to Kelly Manning.

“I spend my time in contact with our outside sales reps,” Manning explains. “We have (reps) around the country, so I send out updates, and make sure they have all the information about our books that they need.”

She also coordinates “special sales” to organizations interested in purchasing multiple copies, handles advertising, updates the catalog and arranges exhibits at such trade shows as Book Expo America, the nation’s largest, which was held in New York City in June.

A Chelsea Greener since October 2004, Manning was working for an online education company in Denver before husband Chris (a Dartmouth College graduate) found a job in the Upper Valley.

“I really wanted to get back into publishing, but I never thought of it as a possibility in this area,” she says. She had applied for a job at Chelsea Green earlier that year, but there were no openings. Settling for employment at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, she didn’t reckon with the Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny.

“One day Erin (Hanrahan) came out to the orchard to buy apples for the office,” Manning says. “We just struck up a conversation, and the very next day there was an opening, and that’s how I came to Chelsea Green.

“I’m really interested in the books they publish,” she adds. “I used to be in promotions and PR, and I wanted to get into sales. So it really did turn out to be ideal, because this is what I like to do.”

Manning also handles special requests from customers. “If somebody called and wanted to get an autographed copy of a book – it’s not really part of my job, but at the same time it is. It’s kind of in sales.”

Her hobbies include running, sewing and reading.

Then there’s the whole work-environment thing. “It’s very open as far as communication, because it is an open office,” Manning explains. “It’s easy to have conversations and share ideas and information. You can overhear everything that’s going on – which can be a bad thing, but here I think it’s a really good thing.”

Next: graphic design, the tech trek, and “fulfillment.”

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