Q&A with Kristin Mehus-Roe of Girl Friday Productions
Girl Friday Productions is a full-service book production company based in Seattle that helps authors bring their projects to market—whether they're working with a traditional publisher or publishing independently. We spoke to one of their directors about the changing needs in the publishing world and her best advice for authors looking to build their platform.
GG: Why and how was GFP established, and how has it evolved since its inception? Have you found your services changing/expanding in recent years? If so, why?
Mehus-Roe: GFP was founded in 2006 by Ingrid Emerick and Leslie Miller, and it’s changed a great deal in those ten years. Yet, the underlying principles remain the same: provide high-quality editorial services and transformative client relationships. Over the years, GFP has expanded from focusing specifically on developmental editing, book doctoring, and ghostwriting to providing full book production. We work with a range of clients, including self-publishers, looking to present specialized knowledge in a polished package and large publishers who need editors and designers to support their in-house staff.
It’s been an exciting time in the industry. The rise of independent publishing, coupled with the shifting landscape of traditional publishing and the downsizing in large publishing houses, have meant an expansion of our services to better serve our clients.
GG: GFP offers a lot of services—from editing to social media to design to production. What are the most popular services you offer, and why do you think that is? Have you noticed a growth in interest in a particular area since you’ve worked there?
Mehus-Roe: The greatest change since I’ve been at GFP has definitely been in the self-publishing world. Even in the last four years, there has been a 20-fold increase in the number of clients looking to publish independently versus those wanting help finding a traditional publisher. More clients understand that independent publishing has become an ever-more-viable way of getting books into the hands of readers, sometimes the best way, depending on your publishing goals and platform.
While GFP has always provided top-quality editing and writing, we now take on more full production packages, sometimes shepherding a book through editorial production (copyediting, proofreading, and design), or taking on the entire process, from manuscript through to the printer.
GG: You also offer self-publishing services. When it’s easier than ever to self-publish (at least digitally) these days, why would an author benefit from working with GFP? What should an author who is planning to self-publish know before entering the ring?
Mehus-Roe: It is easier than ever to publish your manuscript, yes. Print-on-demand (POD) technology has made it simple to upload a document with a cover and make it available for sale on Amazon and other online retailers. However, good came with the bad. The advent of POD technology ushered in an absolute glut of poorly produced content, because the bar of entry was so low—which is part of what gave self-published books a “less than” reputation for so long. Over the last several years, successful self-publishers have recognized that if they’re to be competitive in a landscape where 4,500 new books are published every day, their books’ quality should be on par with that of traditional publishers from edit to interior to cover. And the work that goes into an industry-standard publication requires a team of no fewer than 6-7 professionals.
Girl Friday’s program supports self-publishers who want an integrated team that replicates a traditional publishing experience, with one important exception: the author is in charge and keeps 100% of their royalties. We talk to prospective self-publishers every day, and the best fit for GFP are those who recognize the importance of quality book production and are willing to be engaged in their own success in marketing their books. A huge red flag is when authors believe readers will simply flock to their book with no work on their part. That’s just not the reality of the book publishing marketplace—it’s a scrappy business! Go in with your eyes wide open; put your best work out there and bring an entrepreneurial spirit to connect with readers.
GG: Publishing folk—both in and out of house—will tell any aspiring author that promoting and selling your book is all about platform, platform, platform. At what point should an author start thinking about his/her platform? Is this different in self-publishing vs. traditional publishing? What advice do you give to authors looking to build their platforms from the ground up?
Mehus-Roe: What we’ve found during these start-up self-publishing years is that authors who publish independently need a platform as much as authors being traditionally published. We try to convey to authors that their work doesn’t start or end with writing the book—they also need to sell themselves and their expertise (or voice or characters, depending on the genre in which they are writing). It’s a clichéd story for those of us who have been in publishing for more than five or ten years, but we really did used to write proposals that included a marketing section that said something along the lines of “author is willing to go on book tours and will make themselves available for TV and radio interviews.” The idea is laughable now, because every author really needs to sell themselves as a thought leader, as an influencer, as someone who can connect and help sell books.
Our initial advice for authors looking to develop a platform is to get out there in those ways appropriate to them and to their work, social media being one of the big ones. They need to establish a voice on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn… and be active there. That means posting regularly, engaging their audience, reaching out to other authors or area experts. Getting to know their peers—whether that’s fellow sci-fi writers or motivational speakers/authors—is crucial, as are relationships with influencers who can promote their books and pass on the word of mouth. We also suggest authors seek out opportunities to expand their message, from becoming part of their local book community to offering guest posts and articles.
GG: You’ve worked with a lot of companies to develop books to help them promote their brand. Why can a book be a useful brand-building tool? What makes a good branded book?
Mehus-Roe: Ideally, a book relates to the ideals of that company in a way that resonates with a reader. This will vary depending on the type of company and the audience. For example, we worked on the Boeing Centennial book, which was created primarily for Boeing workers and Boeing friends and families, but also for a general audience. It was really important that that book convey the principles and values of Boeing through the years, but also spoke to each reader’s connection to the company. We tried to do this by including anecdotal stories about projects and the individuals who worked on these projects. Our hope was that readers would recognize themselves or their parents in these stories and in the featured historical photographs.
When we created a children’s book about the Seattle Great Wheel, our audience was both locals and out-of-town visitors to the Wheel, and here our goal was to convey the fun of the experience and the brand while showing its very strong connection to the rest of Seattle, particularly the downtown area. The book identifies the Wheel as an iconic part of the Seattle experience, while providing a whimsical story that kids can relate to (and hopefully their parents want to read to them!). Our hope with both these books, and our other branded books, is that readers finish each book with a better idea of the company and an increased sense of brand loyalty.
Kristin Mehus-Roe is the executive director of publishing initiatives at Girl Friday Productions. For more information, visit www.girlfridayproductions.com.