If this were a normal year, the American Book Producers Association would have held a party to mark its 40th anniversary. But since 2020 is a year in which nothing has gone as planned, the ABPA has turned to virtual events as a way to keep in touch with its members and to keep the association in front of the industry.

Long known for holding brown-bag lunches and other panels in New York City that covered different aspects of the book business, the ABPA has been holding Zoom happy hours that feature prominent leaders discussing their views of the industry. Speakers have included Jackie DeLeo and Mike Smith of Barnes & Noble; Tyrell Mahoney, president of Chronicle Books; Kirsty Melville, president and publisher of Andrew McMeel Publishing; and, most recently, Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks.

Though the pivot to online events has removed some of the intimacy of the in-person lunches, it has opened up ABPA events to members across the United States and Canada, said Richard Rothschild, president of Print Matters Productions and president of the ABPA. “More of our members are outside of New York City now,” he noted.

Christopher Navratil, a book producer and member of the ABPA board of directors, said the happy hours help facilitate networking among members and lure in new and former members based outside of New York.

Current core ABPA membership stands at about 25 companies. At the beginning of the year, the group opened up an affiliates category for freelancers, which is open to independent providers of book-publishing-related services. To qualify, an applicant must be nominated by an ABPA member whom they have worked on at least one project with.

Navratil said that one objective of the ABPA is to make the organization a home for a variety of publishing professionals, especially as the industry is being disrupted by the pandemic. Among the 20 affiliated members are designers, copy editors, indexers, and production specialists.

Since the ABPA was created in 1980, the role of producers hasn’t changed all that much, with most companies offering a range of services. “The key to being a good book producer is to be flexible,” Rothschild said. Some producers pitch proposals to editors, while others take on special projects. He noted that this type of work ebbs and flows according to the needs of publishers. Sometimes, publishers are looking to outsource, and at other times they are looking for new ideas and are more open to pitches. Currently, with many publishers seeking to control costs, outsourcing seems to be the trend.

Rothschild said that, personally, he tends to work on illustrated titles and other books “that can be hard to do and take up a lot of time.” Producers, he added, can do anything in the life cycle of a book, from submitting a proposal to delivering print-ready files. And though producers are behind some of the industry’s best-known works, another key to success, he said, is refraining from stealing the spotlight from publishers. “Work seamlessly and invisibly with publishers,” he advised.

Though some ABPA members specialize in children’s, education, and religion books, most members are generalists and work on all types of projects. Navratil said his firm, Stoney End, draws on his background at publishers such as Running Press and Chronicle to do gift books and impulse items.

In another effort to lift the ABPA profile, Navratil, Rothschild (who has been ABPA president for 10 years), and other board members are preparing to bring back a seminar that has not been held over the past few years. According to Navratil, the reinstated Master Class series will feature six sessions on the basics of book producing; it is tentatively scheduled to run from January 21 through March 11, 2021.

All book producers have integrated the newest technology tools into their operations, and some work on digital products, but for many the sweet spot remains creating quality print books. “Books should be seen as beautiful objects,” Rothschild said.