TRANSITIONS: A Note from Mountaineers Books Publisher, Helen Cherullo

As Mountaineers Books reaches its 60th anniversary, Publisher Helen Cherullo reflects on the organization's legacy, enduring impact, and the path forward.
Helen Cherullo Helen Cherullo
Mountaineers Books Publisher
February 12, 2020

In 2020, Mountaineers Books celebrates 60 years of nonprofit publishing and award-winning books by and for the outdoor, mountain, and conservation communities. At the same time, I am personally celebrating 20 gratifying years as Publisher. I have learned more about myself, relationships, and what truly matters in life through guiding our staff—and working with authors and photographers to share their voices and stories with enthusiastic readers and dreamers. During my tenure, we have published more than 750 books, many of which are still in print today.

Reflecting on these milestones, I’ve spent long hours thinking about how I can best continue to contribute to this publishing house I love. People frequently ask me how I spend my time, and I reply: "1/2 of it running Mountaineers Books, 1/2 fundraising, and 1/2 running Braided River (our conservation imprint)." Of course, they laugh. But this increasingly challenging schedule made me realize that it’s time to find better balance and to refocus in order to do work that matters and reflects my best abilities—and yet still supports colleagues, authors, photographers, nonprofit partners, donors, and our parent organization, The Mountaineers.

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With this in mind, I've made the decision to step aside as Publisher. Many of you are aware of my deep passion and commitment to the environment, and I now plan to throw my energy wholeheartedly into my other role as executive director of Braided River and work to build that program. For those of you unfamiliar with Braided River, it is the conservation “imprint” (meaning, a collection of similarly focused titles) of Mountaineers Books. Braided River titles are large-format, full-color books driven by photography and sweeping stories of beauty that also explore the threats facing our last wild places in western North America. These books provide the foundation for ambitious, strategic conservation partnerships and campaigns with a defined advocacy goal—such as protecting the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling, or restoring ecological balance to the Salish Sea.

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Through working on Braided River books and their outreach, which often includes traveling to museum exhibits, films, and events, I learned how truly impactful media and engagement campaigns require funding outside what is possible through book sales alone. Over time, I became an accidental fundraiser. Through partnerships with funders, books not only get into the hands of readers but also into the hands of Presidents, members of Congress, the media, schools, conservation organizations, influencers, scientists, libraries, and more. To help a book achieve its purpose and expose crucial and timely work to the broadest possible audience elevates our reason for being as a nonprofit, mission-based publisher.

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Making this decision would not have been possible without Tom Helleberg, our current Director of Finance and Operations, who has agreed to take on the role of Publisher. Tom is a financial maestro and will continue to manage finance and operations, as well as the day-to-day activities of Mountaineers Books and its staff. Tom’s verve, extensive knowledge of the publishing industry, and pure love for books are palpable. He has both an MFA and an MBA which is a rarity in and of itself, but makes him perfectly suited to our publishing house. His comprehensive grasp begins with the soul of a book, and goes on to encompass the practical knowledge of what it is going to take to make that book successful. I know the company under his leadership will flourish.

Before enacting this transition for myself and Tom, I also assessed the ever-changing and dynamic landscape of discoverability—the attention needed to make readers aware of our books in a highly competitive marketplace. As a result, I have conflated the sales and marketing departments into one entity, in order to provide more strategic integration and more focused support for our authors, media, and customers. Darryl Booker has agreed to expand his role from Director of Sales to the new Director of Sales and Marketing. His energy, knowledge, and enthusiasm will provide a strong base for continued growth of book sales.

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In terms of continuity, this mighty management team includes our Editor in Chief, Kate Rogers, who will continue to build our lists and produce our books in creative, exciting ways that no one else, in my opinion, can do as well as she can.

I know that amplifying the impact of books through philanthropic support, partnerships, and media campaigns is possible for our conservation books and our other titles as well. The titles from our Skipstone imprint, books designed to complement a committed outdoor lifestyle of sustainable living, as well as our books about mountaineering achievements, biographies of adventure and exploration, guidebooks to introduce urban families to the outdoors, and many more will all benefit from this extra attention.

In my refocused role, I will build capacity and patronage for Mountaineers Books titles through establishing a stronger and more stable base for philanthropic support—largely through ongoing Braided River projects, but also by exploring other avenues such as building a "Friends of Mountaineers Books" yearly giving program.  

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Mountaineers Books reflects the values of the overall organization—The Mountaineers and its mission remain our North Star, and that relationship has never been stronger! I will continue to work in concert with Tom Vogl, The Mountaineers CEO, and Amber Carrigan, Director of Development, and The Mountaineers Board of Directors, to secure funding to support our shared values. Mountaineers Books expands our org’s mission beyond the membership to readers and organizations around North America. Our flagship title Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills—first published in 1960 and now in its 9th Edition—is still written and updated by Mountaineers volunteers, and through foreign language translations of it and other titles, we have shared evolving mountaineering skills and knowledge around the world for generations.

This change in leadership and my transition will take effect March 1, 2020. I believe this new structure will energize our staff, and provide greater impact for our books, our authors, and our conservation mission. Thank you for 20 incredible years at the helm of Mountaineers Books, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in the next 20 years and beyond.

Helen Cherullo, Publisher
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Photo at top: (From left) Tom Helleberg, Kate Rogers, Darryl Booker, and Helen Cherullo.

 


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David Maltz
David Maltz says:
Mar 03, 2020 08:08 AM

Helen, thank you so much for your years of service to the Mountaineers, the community, and the world we all live in. You have accomplished great and amazing things, and the books you shepherded into print have touched hearts and changed minds. Best wishes for success in your renewed focus on Braided River, as all of will benefit, and congratulations to our new leaders at Mountaineers Books!