When you first enter the world of book writing and publishing, the options can feel overwhelming. That’s why I’m excited to welcome Karen McNally of Girl Friday Productions (GFP) to talk all things publishing.
Karen has been with GFP for eight years. Prior to joining, she worked for Amazon Publishing, as well as Amazon’s retail division. She’s passionate about helping authors achieve their goals and ensuring an excellent client experience. Areas of expertise include end-to-end book production, distribution, complex book design, and illustration management, as well as all stripes of print management.
In this episode, we discuss:
- How she accidentally ended up in publishing
- Tips for selecting the right publishing route for you
- What hybrid publishing is and how to know if it’s a good option for you
- Why you have to run your book like a business
- Three things she wishes every new author knew about publishing
This is a great episode with a lot of heart and useful information. Don’t miss it!
Learn more about Karen and GFP:
- Girl Friday Productions website: https://www.girlfridayproductions.com/who-we-are
- Facebook @girlfridayproductions
- YouTube @girlfridayproductions9620
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Transcripts for Episode 107
These transcripts were generated by robots, not writers.
Stacy: Welcome. I am really excited about this week’s episode because I get to talk about one of the topics that I’m really passionate about, which is publishing. Obviously, I work within the writing realm of publishing. My core focus is on writing a great book. But if that great book gets written and then nobody gets the opportunity to read it, I think we have a missed opportunity there. So I’m really passionate about helping authors find the right publishing route for them. And as you’ll learn in today’s conversation, there are a number of different routes that you can take when it comes to publishing. Some that you have more control over, some that are harder to kind of get into, and every type has pros and cons to it.
Stacy: So I’m really thrilled to get to bring you some really important information. If you are in the thick of decision making, if you’re exploring publishing, or even if you’re really early stages and haven’t even started your book, it’s good to have this information now. So I’m pleased to introduce you to this week’s guest her name is Karen McNally Upson. She is with Girl Friday Productions. She’s been with Girl Friday Productions for eight years, joining GFP Girl Friday Productions after working with the GFP team from the client side. Prior to joining, she worked for Amazon Publishing as well as Amazon’s retail division. She is passionate about helping authors achieve their goals and ensuring an excellent client experience. Areas of expertise include end to end book production, distribution, an important piece. There complex book design and illustration management, as well as all stripes of print management. Karen, welcome.
Stacy: I’m so glad to have you today.
Karen: I’m so glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Stacy: I want to start with your background because you have a really interesting journey into publishing and into the work that you do today with Girl Friday Productions. And I think it will add a lot of layers to the conversation that we’re going to have for the rest of this episode. So give us a little bit about your background, what led you into publishing and then eventually into the work that you do today with Girl Friday Productions.
Karen: Yeah, well, it is an interesting journey. I had been working at Amazon on the product side, on the hardline side. So at Amazon, that was a term for anything that wasn’t a book or a CD. So I was definitely not in the book space at that time. And so I started my family. I had a daughter at home and a husband who was traveling all over the world for his work. And it was a really intense position that demanded a lot of time, late hours, and it was a lot. And I realized for me personally, while Amazon has a lot of excellent aspects about what they offer their employees in terms of opportunity, and I was realizing that I wasn’t doing either job well by my standards. And so I decided to take a break. And so I was home with my daughter and had a son.
Karen: So it was about five and a half years, six years I was home. And then I decided as my son was going into about to go into kindergarten, I was like, you know, it’s really time to put my toe back in the water and think about working. So I thought, well, maybe I’ll do some freelance work. And I had not been on LinkedIn at all. So I put up my profile and was trying to get it polished. And a friend of mine who I’d worked with before, who was at Amazon, gave me a call and said, hey, come back to Amazon. I was like, no way. And she, you know, Listen, this is different. I’m working for Amazon Publishing. We just launched and I don’t know how many books they’d published by that time, but I was like, Wait, hold on. Let’s talk about this.
Karen: I’ve not worked in publishing. And she goes, but you are a voracious reader and you know, systems, you know, how to produce things. That was where I was really strong. And they said, we want to bring people in who have not worked in traditional publishing and bring them together with people who have and see what we can do. And so I couldn’t pass up the offer. It was a really incredible group of people. And I got the chance to work with authors and really work with an incredible group of people who were passionate about books and passionate about authors. And as I was working there, I was working a lot with Girl Friday. They were someone who helped Amazon Publishing and continues to help Amazon Publishing produce their books. So I really saw in Girl Friday an incredible company and group of women, and I thought, wow, that’s a dream job over there.
Karen: So I got into a place where I was know, I’m really ready to mix things up. I left Amazon and I called Leslie Miller at Girl Friday. I was like, hey, I give my notice. It’s time to do something new. And if Girl Friday is looking to hire, I’d love to work for you guys. And so within a couple of weeks, I was working for Girl Friday.
Stacy: I love that. And a couple things that stuck out in your story for me. One, the love of books. Everybody in this industry can they have an origin story with this love of books, and I love that we share that. But what I think is really cool about all of the different stages that you just shared about your career is that there was something inside of you that was like, this is not quite what I want. And you had that courage to let go of the thing that was good, to make space for a thing that could be even better. And I love that because I think that is so hard for so many of us to recognize that a stage is not serving us in the capacity that it could and then to take that step. So thank you for sharing that in your work at Girl Friday.
Stacy: Obviously, you’re in the world of publishing. And I find so again, my work, anybody who follows my work or has a sense of what I do knows that I am really tightly in the writing realm. That is my world. My goal is to help people write a great book. What I find a lot is that there’s a couple of things that people get really attached to really early on in the process. And part of my coaching is helping them make decisions at the right stage of their book. So one thing I find people get really attached to is the title, I think because it’s something that it’s short, it’s something that they feel like they can have some control over and start developing early. But I think it’s a little distracting. It’s a distraction from what they should actually be focusing on because often it changes right in the publishing process.
Stacy: And the other one is trying to figure out what pathway for publishing they should take. And I find that a lot of people come to me and they’re dead set on traditional publishing. Like, this is the path I want to take. And then once they start to learn about the process and specifically about the timeline, that’s the big one for a lot of people, and they start to be open to other options. And personally, I’m a huge fan of all methods of publishing. I think it depends on the person and what’s right for them and their goals and their dreams. But I’d love to hear you, as a publisher talk about the different options. Talk to us about where your work fits in and maybe some of the things that people should consider as they are looking at their own decision making process and how should they think about that as they’re also trying to write the Dang book, which is its own big thing that needs to be taken care of.
Karen: Yeah. Well. I think one of the things that you do so well, Stacey, is you keep your authors focused on getting the work on the page and really just teasing out what is their story, what is it, and how can they put it together so that it is telling their story or delivering their message in a way that’s very compelling? That is first and foremost the most important thing any author needs to do. So that is their job. At that stage, it is natural to start thinking about what’s next. And in a lot of ways, it’s what keeps authors going. If they can’t imagine it out in the world, they can get stuck at times, and it can be hard to keep going through that writing process. So it’s natural to imagine it out in the world. Now, there are a few things that I think are important for authors to understand.
Karen: There’s what’s real and what’s not real about the publishing process. There’s perception and then there’s reality. So there are a lot of perceptions. The perception that traditional publishing is the way to go. It’s the only legitimate path to publishing. That’s an old idea, and it’s not true anymore. The other perception is, well, if I pay for my book to be produced, then it’s less than because I wasn’t chosen, so to speak. That is also a misconception. And then there’s the misconception that self publishing means that you can’t produce a good book and no one will read it, no one will find it, no one will hear about it. All of those things are not true. So it is true that with traditional publishing, the publisher invests all of their money in producing your book. They take on all the risk, which is why in traditional publishing, there’s a lot of control that the publisher has to have because they need that book to do certain things for them.
Karen: They have to pay the bills. So they’re producing a book on speculation, so they really do need that book to perform well. So there are trade offs for the author in that scenario. And then there are two other types of publishing. So that’s hybrid publishing and self publishing. With hybrid publishing, the author is paying for their book to be produced. They’re working with a publisher who is discerning about what they’re producing. Hopefully they are choosing the book based on what they are able to do for it and the merits of the book itself. And then they’re offering traditional book distribution, which is really important in terms of what you’re getting when you’re working with a hybrid publisher. And then there’s self publishing, also known by some as independent publishing. So I’ll use the term self publishing here. So self publishing is again, the author is producing the work by funding it.
Karen: And they get to choose if they are working with a firm or a company who helps them produce the book, or are they doing it completely on their own and using some of the tools and platforms that are out there to print and distribute their book. So those are the three different publishing pathways. And when an author is considering how they’re going to get their book out into the world, they need to look at the realities of what they can do. So do they have the time and do they have the persistence to try to get a traditional publishing deal? It’s a long road and again, those publishers only have so much money to invest, so they can’t produce every book that no matter how great the book is, they might not be able to acquire it because they’ve got other books on the list that are the same or they are taking a different path.
Karen: So it’s unfortunate that a lot of authors feel rejected by traditional publishing. If they don’t get a deal, they think that it can be a criticism of their work, which is not always the case, I think, when considering a publishing path, if you don’t have the time and you’re not willing to give up the Author control. Or maybe you’ve just traveled the traditional path and not had any luck. Then looking at the other two options, they’re not less than, they’re just different. When you go to buy a book for yourself, how often are you looking to see, oh, I wonder how this book was published? Was it self published or was it published through a hybrid model or was it published independently? You don’t know, you don’t care. You’re like, oh, this looks like a great book. So I really want authors to think about their readers and how their readers are discovering their book.
Karen: And so it’s all about the quality of the book. If you can get a great quality book by investing in those production services, whether you’re self publishing or whether you’re working with a hybrid publisher, that is an excellent way to go.
Stacy: Thank you for that very clear breakdown of all the different routes. I know each of those has. We could spend an hour talking about each route. There are a couple of things that I’d like to narrow in on that I think are very important. And when I look out at the education that’s available on publishing, these don’t get talked about enough. So number one is self imposed timelines, and number two is distribution. So let me give you my framing on both of those and I’ll hand it over to you. You mentioned this idea of trying the traditional route, and if that doesn’t work, potentially going the self publishing or hybrid route, which I agree sometimes for certain people that feels really important to them to try, but I always advise them to give themselves a set period of time and kind of like a deadline.
Stacy: Because what I have seen over the years is this can just be like, oh, maybe it’s the next one. And at some point, if you believe in your work, then why can we not bet on ourselves and invest in our own story and our own idea? I deeply believe that we don’t need somebody else to bestow it on us, that we can absolutely create a beautiful book and put it out into the world. Then when you get into that decision making process, distribution is a massive consideration and people don’t really understand what that means. So I want to give this back to you to talk a little bit about those two things, because I think those are critical in the decision making process in the time to market and then how my book is going to get into the hands of readers.
Karen: Yeah, so there are myriad ways to get books out into the market. So there is the digital route. And what that means is not necessarily ebook. What it means is that a book is produced and its formats, whether it’s ebook and print and even paperback hardcover, they are produced and they are printed, print on demand. Those books are sold online in the online retail bookstores and even online retail stores that sell more than books. So not talking about just Amazon, but I’m also talking about Walmart.com, Target, they’re selling books online. So the digital distribution is to their websites. And it also includes books.org, Indiebound, all of those places online where people can buy books. And so that is digital distribution. And then the traditional book distribution includes digital distribution, but also it includes the warehousing of physical books and a distribution company that has a group of salespeople that are selling into the trade.
Karen: So those are bookstore accounts and it can also be by industry. So the academic industry, the specialty book market or specialty store market, and then it’s all of the stores that sell books. So they are working together with its sellers and buyers. And then when the books are orders are placed, they’re wholesale orders, and they’re shipped from a warehouse to those stores and distributed there throughout. So those are big stores and small stores. So that is traditional book distribution, and it requires also marketing to the trade, so helping the salespeople sell into those accounts. So the advantage of traditional distribution is that you have an opportunity to get into brick and mortar bookstores. Every author has the opportunity to have their book digitally distributed, whether they’re working with a hybrid publisher or if they’re self publishing. And so thinking about where yourself buy books and where your readers are likely to buy their books should be an important part of your decision making process as an author about what distribution you need.
Stacy: Yes, I agree with all of that, Karen. There’s so many considerations. If your audience is, let’s say you have a social media presence and your audience is engaging with you exclusively online, that’s a really important piece to be aware of that you’re probably not as concerned about being in a bookstore. However, I know with the last book that I co authored, we really considered the fact that we wanted to be in bookstores, we wanted to be in airports. And so that was for us, that was a really important piece. So I love that consideration. Can you talk a little bit about the timeline as well on each of the different methods of publishing? Because I think people are very well not. I think I’ve seen many people are kind of shocked, actually, at the timeline of traditional publishing, and that tends to be a motivator for them to start considering other options.
Stacy: So talk a little bit of best case scenario in traditional publishing, what that looks like and then what it can look like in the other routes. Yeah.
Karen: So for traditional publishing, the first thing you have to do is get an agent. That can take months. It can take years. Getting an agent is really hard. But once you’ve got an agent, then they are going to be working for months to try and engage with publishers to see if they can get you a deal. That can take a really long time. Then once, let’s say, you get your publishing deal, your agent helps you negotiate that, then that publisher is going to be a minimum of 18 months out before your book would be out in the world. And they might take longer because again, they have to balance their list and decide how and when is best for that book to come out. So with traditional publishing, you’re talking a couple of years. In terms of your best case scenario with hybrid publishing, a hybrid publisher that is supported by traditional book distribution, that whole marketing and selling to the trade, they are working within the seasonal calendar of the industry.
Karen: So there’s a spring list and a summer list. And because there are sales meetings that take place where the publisher and the distribution sales folks are getting together and talking about the books that are forthcoming, those meetings happen at specific times of the year. So you’ve got to have a book ready for that, at least the idea behind a book ready for those sales conferences. And then there’s printing and then there’s distribution. So that seasonal calendar can be about depending on the author’s. Timing can take about 18 months, maybe less. Again, depending on the timing and what’s required to produce the book. Printing is an issue because most hybrid publishers are doing a print run that takes time to schedule. It’s much shorter than traditional book distribution than the traditional route. Hybrid publishing is more nimble, but they are still working within that seasonal calendar.
Karen: Self publishing has a lot more flexibility. They’re not relegated to the publishing industry seasonal calendar. So that process assuming that we’re starting from a draft manuscript, that can take eight to ten months, and that includes some reader marketing time in there. So self publishing is the most nimble and the fastest to market. Hybrid publishing is a little bit longer and is subject to that seasonal calendar. And traditional publishing, it can take years.
Stacy: Yes, and I find there’s also the risk of discouragement, which is why I always suggest that people give themselves a set time frame if they want to go the traditional route. Six to nine months I think is reasonable. Give yourself six to nine months, keep a spreadsheet, be really aggressive. If at the end of, let’s say, nine months, you haven’t had any movement, any bite on your book, then have a next plan already ready to go. Because otherwise we run the risk of it being five years to market because of all of the kind of slowness that can exist. So I’m a planner. I’m like, I want to achieve this goal. It’s on me to set up all the dominoes so that they’re falling in the way that they need to. And I think people underestimate in publishing just the many pieces and moving parts and just things that are involved to do it really well.
Stacy: You could go on today, you could write something this week and publish it on Amazon. Don’t recommend that. But if you want to do things well, generally you’re going to need at least nine months for just the production of the book, even if you’re self publishing, just to do the marketing and all of that. Right. Which brings me to my next point that I have been so excited to talk to you about specifically, because I have a quote, I don’t remember where I got it from, maybe an email that we exchanged that you have to run your book like a business. And I think this is another myth with traditional publishing. Again, I’m a fan of all the routes. I am currently seeking an agent for my own book, so I am pursuing that route for my own current book that I’m working on. So it’s not to dis or dismiss that at all, but I think this idea that if I get picked up, the publisher magically is going to sell my book.
Stacy: And the truth is, in any route that you take, and I also have done all of the other routes of publishing as well, you have to take ownership over the awareness around your brand and around your book. So talk to me a little bit about the clients that you’ve worked with who have been super successful. And success can be measured in different ways, right. Depending on their individual goals. What have they done through the publishing process and the marketing process to reach their own defined level of success with their book?
Karen: Yeah. So going back to that idea of running your book as a business, one of the things that I think surprises first time authors the most is that they think the hard part is the writing and the producing of the book. And it’s not unlike child rearing where bringing your child into the world can be really hard, but then raising that child is actually the hardest part. Books are somewhat similar. Getting your book into the world is really hard, but the work absolutely comes in. Once your book is in the world, your publisher, whether that’s you a hybrid publisher or a traditional publisher, their job is to get your book, hopefully produce the highest quality book possible and get it out into the world and make it available for the reader to discover. It is the author’s job to drive readers to the book, whether that’s to the store, the online store, or to the brick and mortar store.
Karen: So the authors that we’ve worked with that have been most successful at this understand their reader’s journey to their book. They know where their readers are, they know the books that are similar, that their audience is reading, and they are really good at engaging in those places. So, for example, if we know that a book has a lot of readers or the target audience is on LinkedIn, one of the most important things the author can do is start engaging. If they’re not already engaging, start engaging on LinkedIn. Talk about themes in their book, talk about the aspects of their thought leadership on LinkedIn, and create an engaging following with a cadence of connection as part of that naturally brings their target audience to them and their book. We’ve seen a lot of authors have great success engaging and driving readers to their book using those platforms, making sure that you are engaging marketing professionals who can look at your target audience, look at the psychographics and demographics of that audience, and guide you on where to spend your marketing dollars.
Karen: Another example of that might be if your audience is really engaged on LinkedIn, not so much on Facebook, do not pay for Facebook ads, that’s not going to help you. So having the knowledge about who your target audience is and where they are and how they’re likely to discover your book will enable you to invest your time and your dollars in the right way. And when our authors do that, they see an uptick in engagement and in unit sales.
Stacy: Yeah, I love that advice, Karen. And just to build on that too. From my perspective in the writing process, I think a lot of that clarity also is really foundational to the book. So if in the writing process, you’re really clear about who your reader is. And when I walk people through the process of writing their books, we spend a lot of time on their one reader. It’s one person that’s a representative of their broader reader group. But what’s cool about that is they can then take that. They can give this persona that they’ve created to their editor, to their publisher, to their marketing person, to their potential PR person. And I think also it just shapes how they show up in different spaces. But I love your point because a lot of times I find that people get to the end of the draft and then they’re like, oh, I don’t have a website or a newsletter or I haven’t been active on social media.
Stacy: And then that feels really overwhelming. So I encourage people to start experimenting, start growing their audience, start also just like sharing their message. Because them also being successful after the book is published, meaning speaking engagements, business opportunities, all the things that they do through content sharing is going to help them be successful in the next phase of their life and leadership once their book comes out.
Karen: Absolutely. And it can be overwhelming for some authors to split their attention between writing their book and in many ways they’re also running their business and then thinking about, okay, what is my presence online? And thinking about their brand, what is that brand? It can be a lot. Sometimes knowing that it’s something you have to do is enough, especially if you really need to focus on writing the book. But there’s a lot that you can do. Spending some time on LinkedIn and figuring out who is engaging well and who are the people that are interesting to you, look at how they’re engaging. Maybe you can do that too. Spark some conversation, create some posts, talk about a couple of themes in your book, see what kind of engagement you get from that. That can be a great way to crystallize some of the things that you’re going to be creating in terms of that positioning of the book.
Stacy: Yeah, I love that tip, Karen. And I’ve been really surprised just in my own content creation know? I think for a long time I felt like I had to. Have really highly curated, just certain type of content. But what I found with my content is actually just showing up authentically, sharing a story, sharing a message. That’s what resonates with people a lot more than these high pressure content that I felt like it all had to be perfect. And I think today, this day and age, people are very it’s endearing to see somebody show up and just be real and raw and authentic and kind off the cuff and share their ideas and share their opinion. And so I don’t think that I know it can feel scary for authors that maybe have never gone straight to camera before, they’ve never gotten on and produced a video and just shared an opinion.
Stacy: But I think that’s where our trends are going right now and the more you can get comfortable with it over time, by the time your book comes out, you’ll just be so much more comfortable. So thank you for that conversation. I know somebody needed to hear that today. I would love to close with your if you could wave a magic wand and everybody who dreams of writing a book and is ready to take action on their book, they could know just three things about the world of authorhood publishing. What would you magically bestow upon them knowledge wise?
Karen: The first thing I would bestow on them is that the work that goes into producing a high quality book is you have no idea until you go through the process how much work there is and the expertise that it takes to produce a high quality book. I would want them to know that it is a lot of work and it’s worth surrounding yourself with the best people to do it. Whether that’s the traditional route or whether that’s the self publishing route and you work or the hybrid route. Surround yourself with talented people because you don’t know what you don’t know. And in the end, I think of books as forever. And so you really want that book to be as good as it can be. So the second thing is think about your reader. Like you said, that one reader, not just who you’re trying to convey your message to.
Karen: So there’s that first and foremost, but then also how are they going to discover you in your book that is going to help you really know the best path for you to publishing. And then the third is be ready to run your book as a business. Think about what your return on investment really is. We know that in publishing it’s not an industry that makes a lot of money for most authors. So your return on investment has to be something that’s really meaningful to you. If it’s all about money and turning a profit, then that publishing endeavor may not be for you. So know that those are the wands I wish I could wave that would help an author really feel confident in their journey and excited to tell their story.
Stacy: I love all of those. I think that treating it like a business is so important. And I actually did a podcast episode a while back on the ROI of publishing a book. So we’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes, because there is a really complex conversation and kind of thought process that you need to go down that’s not so simple as I spent X and I need to sell X books. That’s actually the absolute wrong math. So we’ll include that in the show notes. Last question, Karen. What are you most excited about right now? And where can people learn more about you and Girl Friday productions?
Karen: Well, you can learn more about Girl Friday on our website, Girlfriendayproductions.com, and we are excited about supporting our self published authors as well as our hybrid program. So we’re somewhat unique in the market in that we are serving both types of clients. And we love authors, we love story, and so we’re really excited that we get to work on a wide range of books and with a wide range of authors. So that is what makes my job so great every day, is I’m talking to different authors. I talk to people who are writing cookbooks, I talk to people who are writing.
Karen: Their business leadership book. I talk to people writing fiction. I talk to people who are writing their children’s book. It is so wonderful that we can work with all these different types of authors and help them get their story into the world. So that’s what I’m most excited about.
Stacy: I love that so much. Karen, thank you for being with me today. It’s been such a great conversation. And thank you to you, our viewer. If you’re on YouTube or a listener in your podcast app, we’re so grateful for your time and energy today and just showing up and hanging out with us all the way to the end of the episode. One thing that you’ll learn as an author is that reviews are everything, and it’s the same with podcasting. So if you love this show, please take a moment to rate, review the podcast, subscribe to it, share it with a friend. It makes a huge difference, and I am so grateful. I will be back with you before you know it.