It's not where you live. It's about the contacts you make, the smart marketing you do and the publicity you generate,” publisher Carlene Sippola insists, as we sit in her office on a gloomy stretch of street in downtown Duluth, Minn., named Bob Dylan Way, in honor of that city's most famous native son. “To be able to talk to and relate to other publishers,” she adds, “that's such an important piece of this industry.”

In addition to heading Whole Person Associates, which publishes stress management and wellness books and tapes for mental health professionals, educators and consumers, at the end of June Sippola will take over as president of the 14-member board of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), formerly known as the Publishers Marketing Association, the trade association of independent publishers headquartered in California.

While IBPA's slogan reminds its members that they should be “helping each other to achieve and succeed,” Sippola has plans to turn that phrase into something more concrete by creating a more structured “mentoring community” during her two-year term, encouraging mentoring relationships among IBPA members. She's intent on having well-established, midsize publishers either join IBPA or retain their current memberships, enabling them to “pass on to smaller, struggling publishers just starting out the wealth of information they have.”

Such interactions could benefit both parties, Sippola thinks. After all, she says, “I can learn a lot from someone who's just started their company, and knows all about the Internet and social marketing. We can learn from each other.”

For Sippola, it's always been about making the most of opportunities presented through networking as she “kind of grew” with the fledgling company she joined more than 25 years ago and has run for the past decade. In 1983, while raising four children as a stay-at-home mother, Sippola took a temporary job placing stickers on promotional brochures for Don and Nancy Tubesing, who were trying to build Whole Person Associates, the publishing company they'd run out of their home since 1970. “I learned the business as I went,” she says. “[The Tubesings] were incredible mentors to me.”

When the Tubesings launched a trade imprint, Pfeifer-Hamilton, to publish regional nonfiction, Sippola added trade marketing to her responsibilities for executing Whole Person's direct-mail marketing strategy. “That's where IBPA came in,” she explains. “We all learned everything there was to know about trade publishing” by attending educational workshops sponsored by the organization. It wasn't just IBPA's workshops that taught Sippola how to effectively market to the trade; it was also “input, good advice and a lot of good information over the years from people at IBPA,” Sippola says. In fact, after consulting with one fellow IBPA member on a marketing plan and hiring another as a publicist, Pfeifer-Hamilton released its first children's book, Old Turtle, in 1992.

The title went on to sell more than one million copies. Pfeifer-Hamilton, which sold the rights to Old Turtle to Scholastic in 2000, had several other bestsellers in quick succession, including The Duct Tape Book (1995) and The Quiltmaker's Gift (1999). When the Tubesings retired about 10 years ago, they divided up their company, selling Whole Person to Sippola and keeping the Pfeifer-Hamilton name. While focusing on her new responsibilities, Sippola's involvement with IBPA lapsed for several years, until she was asked to join IBPA's board in 2004, as her former employer, Don Tubesing, ended his term as board president.

Sippola is taking over the IPBA presidency as the organization continues to go through a transition period two years after the death of Jan Nathan, the organization's charismatic executive director who had led the association since its inception. Since Nathan's death, her son, Terry, has been executive director. Sippola's mission is to reconfigure the organization to make it more relevant to 21st-century publishers, while coping with a drop in membership in the past 18 months from 4,300 members to 3,500. She likens the organization's current status to that of her own company after its founders handed it off to her. “[The Tubesings] mentored me all the way through, wanted me to end up with this company. When it was actually mine, after they left, at first I thought I'd lost the heart of the company. But I hadn't.

“I've recreated a bit of this company. And that has to happen with IBPA.”

Name: Carlene Sippola

Age: 56

Company: Whole Person Associates

Title: President and publisher

First job: dental assistant, Springfield, Ill.

Publishing in the future will be… “challenging, but will continue to flourish, especially for independent publishers.”