Community Connection

Strive Publishing: Growing Community Uplifts African-American Stories & Dreams

by Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito

“Sometimes our dreams touch other people’s dreams,” says Mary Taris, founder of Strive Publishing.

Mary’s dream is to uplift emergent African-American authors and to publish picture books and young adult novels that inspire African-American youth to achieve their dreams.

“When I meet with an author, my dream is for this person to have her dream. And then when this person’s book is published, how many other dreamers will that book touch?” says Mary. “When you have a dream, you almost have an obligation to do something about it.”

Mary looks to the community around her, professionally and personally, to help her realize her vision for Strive Publishing.

Local Publishing Community

On a snowy evening in January, the monthly gathering of the Midwest Independent Publishing Association (MIPA) convenes at the home of Pat Morris, past-president and a member for more than twenty-five years.

The living room overflows with three dozen or so authors, editors, and independent publishers, both seasoned and new, including Mary Taris. Mary has been coming to MIPA meetings since founding Strive Publishing two years ago. “The learning curve [for becoming a publisher] is huge,” she says, “I spent most of my first year observing and taking notes.”

As the meeting begins, Pat pauses the self-introductions to make sure two men sitting near each other purposely connect.

“You both grew up not far from one another on the east side of St. Paul at about the same time, and you both went on to earn PhDs,” Pat tells them. “You two should talk.”

Knowing the importance of connections that take place at MIPA meetings, Pat often connects the dots between what members say aloud about their experience and other bits of information she knows about them. She says she was eager to connect these two men because “one has written two books already; the other is a newbie. I thought they would enjoy talking to one another, and Scott could help answer some of Ron’s questions about publishing.”

MIPA’s primary purpose is to connect and educate indie publishers. “Organizations like MIPA provide a place to network, learn what others are doing to market their books, strike up partnerships,” says Pat.

On this evening, Lee Wind, director of marketing and programming for Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA)—the national organization of which MIPA is a regional affiliate, has flown in from Los Angeles to share his insights about marketing, beginning with: “I published a book is not a marketing plan.”

Lee Wind, director of marketing and programming for Independent Book Publishers Association, shares book marketing insights with regional affiliate Midwest Book Publishing Association members.

Lee Wind, director of marketing and programming for Independent Book Publishers Association, shares book marketing insights with regional affiliate Midwest Book Publishing Association members.

As Lee walks the group through an activity to narrow the audience of a book, publishers share examples of marketing strategies that have worked for them. In the back of the room, Mary takes notes and listens to other publishers’ trials and successes. One talks about her partnerships in the community. Mary thinks this publisher might make a good mentor.

Mary now feels confident enough to reach out to mentors and community partners and to talk about her dreams, which are page by page becoming reality.

Encouragement from fellow publishers in both the local Midwest affiliate and the national association keeps her moving forward.

“At the core, so much of what we do as publishers is about building community,” says Lee. “Each book needs to find its community to be successful. Likewise, we publishers need community, too. Connecting with our fellow publishers lets us see outside our own box, ask questions, learn best practices, and grow—all the while knowing we’re not alone on the adventure.”

An author himself, Lee has long-valued the benefits of participating in writer and publisher communities. He says this type of gathering is valuable and important, in part, because “people know your name and story, and they add accountability and the unity of a tribe-within-a-tribe.”

Like many in the room that night, Mary founded her publishing company around her passions and her desire to create community and make a difference.

Teacher Turned Publisher
“The name Strive Publishing represents the continuous effort and resiliency it takes to turn dreams into reality,” she says.

Born in the 1960s, Mary grew up in North Minneapolis, one of three kids raised by her single mom. Mary dreamed of being a teacher one day, but she kept the idea to herself for many years because she didn’t see teachers that looked like her. “I think about my little girl self and if, out of all the books I’d read, I had seen someone who looked like me and read about someone who had the same dreams and struggles, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me until I was forty years old to become a teacher,” she says.

“It took me eight years—while working full time, raising three children, re-marrying and divorcing, and having another baby—to get through the weekend college program [for a BA in elementary education].”

Now a teacher for thirteen years, with a Masters’ in education and a post-Baccalaureate certificate in entrepreneurism, Mary’s experience has led her to a new dream—children’s book publishing.

"Students need books that are more contemporary and relatable—books about families that look like them, doing things that they do, or things they dream of doing. Our kids should be saturated with literature that reflects who they are..." Mary Taris, Strive Publishing“Teaching has made me more keenly aware of the lack of books that represent everyday African-Americans,” she explains. “For years, I have had to go to public libraries, bookstores, and the internet to search for books by and about African-Americans. Even using these resources would lead me to more of the same—books about slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and famous African-Americans. I love everybody who made a way for us, but there are people making a way today. There’ll be people making a way tomorrow. Students need books that are more contemporary and relatable—books about families that look like them, doing things that they do, or things they dream of doing. Our kids should be saturated with literature that reflects who they are and where they come from. Not just from slavery. Where they come from in their community today,” says Mary.

Over the past decade, she has spent invaluable time and money to bring more culturally relevant and relatable books and experiences to her students. “I have even written for numerous grants to pay for books, guest artists, and field trips to supplement school resources and lesson plans,” she says. “Then it occurred to me that all this effort was like having another job, so why not make it my job to get more culturally relevant books to the students? That is how I made the turn to becoming a children’s book publisher.”

Engaging a Growing Community

As Mary began applying her new knowledge about publishing, she realized she could not achieve her dream on her own. First, she looked to her own family.

“My oldest son, Jermaine, was instrumental in helping me to establish Strive as a business. Jermaine designed the business logo, and he started to build the Strive website,” says Mary. “My oldest daughter, LaToya started talking to her friends about Strive and from that, a young lady named Hana offered to finish building the Strive website for free!”

Mary then began talking about Strive at her church, which led to her connecting with Tim Schuster, founder of The Midtown Company. Tim offered to sponsor a community Friendraiser/Popup Think Tank event in February. Mary’s pastor heard about it and offered to gift Strive a video for the website.

“Sharing my dream and making connections led me to more community, where I have been inspired to work toward developing Strive into a publishing company that can inspire and uplift not only our readers and authors, but also build mutually beneficial community connections,” says Mary.

Tim’s company offers Popup Think Tank events for free to organizations like Strive Publishing. “We work with nonprofits, small businesses, new initiatives, causes, and creative projects like artists and musicians,” says Tim. He offers the collaborative events because “We know what it’s like to get a new project off the ground. And we know the importance of supportive relationships, coaching, mentors and, to be honest, just a few encouraging words now and then.”

A participant in the Popup Think Tank for Strive Publishing adds an idea to the board.

A participant in the Popup Think Tank for Strive Publishing adds an idea to the board.

Tim thought a Popup Think Tank could be a valuable way to connect Mary with a larger community of difference-makers. “We believe there are two kinds of people who define ‘success’ a little differently,” he explains. “First, there are those who want to make a difference. Then there are those who want to help the difference-makers. They are coaches, church leaders, consultants, financial advisors, and community organizers. Popup Think Tank brings these people together with thirty to forty others to celebrate, learn, challenge, and encourage the founders of the new organizations and movements our world needs.”

Mary says, “It was a joy to experience the Popup Think Tank, surrounded by family, long-time friends, new friends, coworkers, community members, and even people I didn’t know— all working together.”

Through facilitated discussions, six groups of community members brainstormed different aspects of Strive’s business: Organizations that might make good partners for Strive. Ideas for growing the publishing team, including ways for Mary to use volunteers, interns, college students, and Encore entrepreneurs. Small business tools, platforms, and resources, such as sharing resources with other small businesses, getting involved with Minority Women’s Business Enterprise, and tapping into local university startup resources. Marketing and ways to communicate Strive’s message and tell its story creatively and consistently from social media to video to school programs. Financial sustainability, ranging from accounting resources to responsible debt, cooperative ventures, and crowd sourcing. The sixth group tackled a range of miscellaneous topics, such as submissions, ezines, community authorship, youth writing programs, and community engagement. Hundreds of ideas and connections produced at the event were formatted into an ebook for Mary and the participants to reference going forward.

Tim says, “People who participate in Popup Think Tanks enjoy learning about creative and high-impact social ventures and are looking for a way to contribute ideas, stories, and connections.” Ideas need energy, so at the end of the Popup Think Tank for Strive Publishing, participants were challenged to continue their support by making an introduction, sharing networks, advising, encouraging, or otherwise offering to support an aspect of Strive’s business or a contributed idea they feel passionate about.

Mary says, “There was so much positive energy around the work tables. More than that, many meaningful connections were made, and I hope we can support each other in our various endeavors to make the world a better place.”

Dreaming Forward

Strive Publishing is getting its first young adult novel ready for publication. As Mary prepares to take the next big leap forward in her dream, she is also extending her reach to her national publishing community. Mary received a 2018 scholarship to attend IBPA’s annual Publishing University.

“IBPA affiliates like MIPA offer in-person connections and community in a locally-focused, smaller group, and ongoing way,” says Lee. At Pub U, Mary will connect and learn with 300 other publishers from all over the US.

“IBPA was thrilled to present one of our affiliate association scholarships to Mary,” says IBPA chief executive officer Angela Bole. “Through Strive Publishing, Mary is working hard to bring diversity into independent publishing with books that uplift and inspire African-American children and young adults. It’s an honor to be able to support her in this mission.”

As Mary considers the possibilities of what Strive can achieve with the support of her growing community, she remains focused on her students, her upcoming authors, and all the youth whose dreams will be touched by the dreams of another.

“Every time we illuminate someone’s story, every time we publish a book, it will inspire countless others,” she says. “Strive Publishing is a calling for me. It is also an opportunity for others. Strive Publishing can be a mirror for young readers but also a window for society to break stereotypes. As a teacher, I still see people who think just because a child comes from the inner city, that child doesn’t like to read. We read too. We have stories too. And we make a difference in our communities, and people need to know that.”

Strive Publishing logoStrive Publishing
Strive Publishing is a new traditional independent publisher whose mission is to publish contemporary and relatable African-American picture books and young adult novels with stories from African-American communities. “Through supporting emergent African-American authors, we aim to affirm our stories, and to inspire our readers to achieve their dreams for generations to come.”
Facebook: /StrivePublishing

Midwest Independent Publishing Association (MIPA)
Facebook: /MidwestPublishers
Twitter: /MIPA_org

Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA)
Facebook: /IPBAonline
Twitter: /IBPA
Linkedin: /company/independent-book-publishers-association
YouTube: /user/IBPAvideo

Popup Think Tank
Facebook: /MidtownMpls

Popup Think Tank photos and feature photo by Kelsey Schuster.
MIPA photo by Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito.

Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito is publisher of Books Make a Difference. She has been a member of MIPA, IBPA, and other writer and publisher communities for more than twenty years. An author and book publisher, Karen is slated to serve on the IBPA national board of directors beginning in July 2018 and has accepted the distinct honor of being Mary’s publishing mentor.

This article was first published March 2018.

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