Welcome to the Books, Brands, and Business podcast with your host, Chris O’Byrne, from JETLAUNCH.net.
My guest today is Polly Letofsky, the author of Buzz Bites: 121 Book Marketing Nibbles, Buzz: Your Super Sticky Book Marketing Plan, and 3mph: The Adventures of One Woman’s Walk Around the World.
Polly is also the owner and founder of My Word Publishing. As she says on her website, “At My Word Publishing, we want authors to birth the book of their vision seamlessly, swiftly, and affordably.”
However, the main focus of our talk today is her walk around the world from 1999–2004, where she walked 14,124 miles through 22 countries and 4 continents, and raised $250k in 13 currencies for breast cancer research.
Chris: Hey, so hello everybody. I am super excited to introduce my guest today, Polly Letofsky. She went on a short walk a few years ago, a short walk that lasted from 1999 to 2004. She put on over 14,000 miles walking around the world. And today she’s going to talk a little bit about that and then how that transitioned into her current business, a publishing company that she owns and runs. And I think we’re going to get some excellent insight. So Polly, take it away.
Polly: That’s the introduction. I know it’s funny to think about now when you’re giving that introduction how on earth my walk around the world, a childhood dream ended up giving me a career I’m passionate about. So who knew? But it did start when I was 12 years old. I was 12 years old and I was living a pretty idyllic childhood growing up in Minneapolis, in that era right as the baby boomers were turning into the gen xers, that’s when I was born. So neighborhood full of kids and we always were running around, climbing trees, playing kickball, stickball, spud, having a good life. And when I was 12, I started to read the newspaper and started to discover that the world was a very different place outside of my Minneapolis neighborhood full of kids and having a good time. And it was 1974, so there was a lot going on in the world back then.
Polly: And when I started reading the paper, and that was of course Vietnam and a bunch of other things, but I was seeing that 12 year olds were not living the same life as me and my buddies. And it got me really curious about the world, and how it ticks, and asking the whys. So one day reading the Minneapolis Star in Tribune, I saw this story in the paper, actually it was a photo. It was a big black and white photo and I leaned in to read the caption and it said David Kunst walking around the world. And David Kunst, there was big photo of him walking down an empty highway and the caption read that it was highway six in Colorado, on his way home to Minnesota to become the first man to walk around the world. And I thought, wow, well I could do that. I can afford that, I remember thinking. So in fact I went out and walked around the house for like three hours saying, “Yeah, I can do that. Okay, next stop the world.”
Chris: They’re very similar.
Polly: Yeah. I can walk around the house. I don’t remember anyone asking me about it either. And of course my mother says, “No, you never talked about it.” I think even then I was thinking that’s way outside the box for a 12-year-old girl from Minnesota in 1974. So I did tuck that idea away in the back of my head, but it was always sneaking up into the forefront from time to time going oh yeah, that dream to go walk around the world. That’d be a hoot. You know? And as it turns out, life happens. And I was quite the explorer. I did want to go explore the world and never had any money to do so. So it was always on a dime. I think I went out when I was 20, 21, 22 years old to Europe. And had a day pack, not a backpack, a day pack that lasted me five months on $1,200.
Polly: So I think that was, as I look back and put the dots together, that was sort of a practice round. Can I do this? Can I feel comfortable out and about on my own in foreign lands? So yeah. Cutting ahead, gosh, 20-plus years from that 12-year-old girl from Minnesota. I was living in Colorado and I remember reading a story. It was an itty bitty one paragraph story in the newspaper, like page 13A, way in the depths. And it was this little paragraph that said that Fiona Campbell of England had just become the first woman to walk around the world. And I was like, “Oh man. Oh man, I was too late, but I could still do it.” I mean, the goal was never to be the first woman. I just wanted to go explore the world. Right.
Polly: But it gave me a little oomph. It’s like, okay, maybe it’s time. I was in my thirties now. Maybe it’s time to get serious about it. And then an article came out a few months after that saying that she had admitted to cheating. She had gotten rides across America and things like that. So I thought, hey, well if I’m ever going to do it, I best do it now. So that’s when I really got serious. And I was, I think 34 when I started really getting serious about it and started really putting more homework into it. This is now mid-nineties so the internet really wasn’t there yet.
Polly: I remember, oh, I had the fanciest of computers. It was called a laptop and it was only eight pounds. Oh, it was beautiful. And I could get on these things called www dot, and one really had websites yet. The state department did. So I could look up things about, can I get a visa and can I get through this country? But I had to still go get paper maps from the local bookstore and spread them across the living room floor. And let me take you back to maps if I could. Maps-
Polly: Do you remember the little red dots from intersection to intersection, right? And they give you the mileage between red dot to red dot-
Chris: The mileage yeah.
Polly: Oh yeah. I did the math from red dot to red dot around the world, man. I was sitting on my living room floor with maps spread out.
Chris: That must’ve taken a month at least.
Polly: I was up all night, my maps across the living room counting my dots. But yeah, I remember still, even though I was getting more serious about it, I hadn’t said it out loud yet. To say it out loud is quite different than actually thinking it. And so I remember one night, well let me back up a touch. There was this year when I was living in Vail, Colorado, the mountains, and a number of women in my world, my immediate world were being diagnosed with breast cancer. So there was a friend in Denver and a colleague that I was working with and friends of friends and very prominent community member, and all of a sudden I’m hearing about this breast cancer thing all the time. And this was happening while I’m reading about this article about this woman who in fact had admitted to cheating walking around the world. So all these elements were coming together at the same time.
Polly: So I got nervous about this thing called breast cancer and I go to a doctor and I’m going to ask for a mammogram because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to be responsible and get a mammogram. And the doctor told me something that changed my life. He said, “You don’t need to worry about getting breast cancer because it doesn’t run on your mother’s side of the family. So you don’t need to get a mammogram.” And I said, “Well that’s fantastic news.” And I came back to work and all my friends, one who’s sister was going through breast cancer, she said, “Excuse me, a doctor told you what?” I said, “Yeah, I can’t get breast cancer. Doesn’t run on my mother’s side of the family. Don’t need to worry about it. Lucky me.” And boy, she let me have it. How dare a doctor tell you this? Of course you can get breast cancer. Every woman in the world is at risk for getting breast cancer. It doesn’t matter if it’s run on your mother’s side, your father’s side, et cetera.” Oh, she had me good.
Polly: And it was that night when I was walking home from work, I had a little two mile walk home every night, walking home at 10:00 o’clock at night. And I remember exactly where I was to this day when I had my light bulb moment. That’s what I’ll do that walk for that I’ve always wanted to do. Now is my time. And so it was that two miles walking home in the dark that I started to plan my walk. And when I started to get online and spread my maps across the floor, I said, “I’m ready to do it.” So it took about three years to get everything organized. And I left on August 1st, 1999. And in fact, if I could just tell you this is a funny little side note, is I had this job that I was working at a hotel in Vale. And I remember the general manager says to me, “You know we really want to promote you to a sales manager. Would you be interested?” And I said, “Yeah, I’d love to, but you need to know that on August 1st, 1999, I’m leaving.”
Polly: It was like a year and a half in advance, right? He’s like, “Yeah, that’s precious. You bet. No problem.” True story, true story. But I did set the date back far in advance and I finally said it out loud. I remember when I said it out loud to someone and it was no one like I was particularly close to. So it’s not like they were going to hold me to it, but I just remember that moment I was going to say it out loud and I did. And it’s like, okay, well now it’s real. So I better make it happen. So it took me about three years to get everything organized. And August 1st, 1999 with about 100 friends and family members, I headed West. And it started in the middle of the Rocky mountains.
Polly: So I went through the mountains and down through the high desert plains of Arizona, caught route 66, landed at the Pacific coast, just South of LA and carried on across 22 countries, four continents. And yeah, and just one day shy of five years. One day shy of five years. So that’s the story in a nutshell. Do you have any questions yet? You want me to carry on?
Chris: Oh yeah. No questions yet. I just want to let people know I read the book three miles per hour and I couldn’t put it down. I thought it was a relatively short book. I couldn’t, I mean two days and I was done. And then Polly tells me it’s, “No, it’s like 134,000 words.” But seriously, your story is, yeah, you just keep going.
Polly: Okay, fair enough. There were two big turning points in my journey. And one is I, well, I went down through New Zealand, which I’d lived in New Zealand in a previous life through the late eighties into the early and intimate nineties. So I had a terrific built in support system as I had arrived there. So that was really cool. And the breast cancer work just took off there. It was really special. But what happened was during all this time from when I was 12 and I initially got the idea in my head and throughout my twenties just thinking about it and into my thirties when I got serious, I had never ever envisioned that I would have crew support. I always had this picture in my head, it wasn’t to be a martyr, but I’d always pictured that I would be on my own. I would go alone.
Polly: Like first of all, who the heck are you going to talk into that? Right? You have to cater to my every need. And you know, that doesn’t work well for people. I just never even thought about it. But people kept landing in my lap saying, “That sounds like fun. I think I’ll go with you.” I was like, “Oh, sure, why not?” So I had crew support from the beginning and through the Western US, which was actually one of the tougher stretches because of the deserts. Okay. And it’s Indian reservation territory. You can’t camp out there. By law you can’t camp out there. So that was a really tough stretch. I was glad that I had crew support in that area. But the crew support never worked out. And of course now with 2020 vision, looking back, of course it didn’t work out because I had this vision it since I was 12. And I’ve had all those years of lifetime to think about it and nothing is going to get in my way. And preparing myself emotionally and physically and putting myself in various situations.
Polly: Yet someone is going to jump on board at the last minute and they don’t have that same agenda and that same mindset. So it never worked out. They naturally had another agenda. So at the end of New Zealand, I had to get really serious about going on my own and how would I do this and things like that. So I stopped my walk, went back to LA, because of course my home in Colorado, I’d rented out my place. I didn’t really have a “home to go back to.” But I got things reorganized. I stayed in LA with my dad and I got a buggy, a baby buggy and the brand name is Bob. Naturally, I started calling him Bob, to say nothing of the fact that they splashed a big logo across the front of him. You can’t help but call him Bob. But Bob really became a character.
Polly: And they had this guy named, his name was Chris and he helps design backpacks intense for once of expeditions for North Face. And he got involved and created this sort of once of backpack on wheels. So it was a Bob baby stroller and they took out the baby sling and created this great sort of backpack on wheels. And I remember sitting at the drafting table with him and saying, “Well, what do you need? Where do you need some water bottle?” Say, “Okay, let’s put water bottle holdovers all over here. And well you need a place to put your map where it’s protected from the rain,” because this is before smartphones. “And you need a rain jacket for Bob and you need this and that.” So yeah. So we created this fabulous Bob. And Bob really became quite a character around the world actually.
Polly: So I went back to where I’d left. Well I’d left at the end of New Zealand and Bob and I then carried on from Southern Australia and carried on with no crew support. So one of those big turning points in my walk was this point where I decided to go on my own. And I worked with the breast cancer network Australia there in Australia. And I said, “Well, if any funds can be raised here, they go to you guys and I’ll pass out brochures and if I get press interviews I’ll talk about you. And that’s the extent. Because I don’t know anyone in Australia and I certainly don’t have crew support to help me anymore. So if funds are raised, they go to you.” Okay.
Polly: So first night, second night, third night, the ladies of the breast cancer network would come and pluck me off the road and water me and feed me. But by the time I got the fourth night out, I was just too far outside Melbourne for anyone to come and help me anymore. So now I was truly on my own, right? Just North of Melbourne, Australia heading into the desert land of Australia. And that is the night-
Chris: That’s the first time you were completely alone.
Polly: Exactly. Yeah. So it’s now virtually seven months into my walk. Okay. Minus the time going back to LA to get reorganized. So I’m seven months in now. I’m truly on my own that first night. And that is the night that changed the course of this walk. Because what happened is I walked into this little itty bitty town that grew tomatoes. That was their big thing. A small farming community in Southern Australia. No place to stay. There’s not a campground or a youth hostel or a pub to stay in, nothing like that. So I thought, well man, if I can’t handle a little farming community in Southern Australia by myself, well then I’m in big trouble. So I need to buck up and figure this out.
Polly: So there was an idea. Every town has a park. Well, I will find the town park and I will camp there. I have the best camping gear possible. So I was wandering about town looking for the town park when this woman came up behind me and she said, “Honey, you look lost. Can I help you?” And I said, “Well, I was looking for the town park if you had one.” At which point she heard my funny accent. She said, “Well, where are you from?” I told her what I was doing and who I was. She said, “Well, fancy that.” She said, “Let me introduce myself. My name is Margaret, and I’m the president of the local Lions Club. Oh, the Lions Clubs have got to get involved with this. Why don’t you come home with me?” And I said, “Okay.” So I pushed my little buggy Bob, and we followed Margaret home. And she got me all organized with my own bed, my own hot shower and the internet access. Oh, this was so exciting. And she called all of her Lions Club buddies in town, said, “Meet us at the pub.”
Polly: So if anyone’s been to Australia, everything happens at the pub. It’s like date night. It’s guys night out, everything happens at the pub. It’s the community center is really what it is. So we go to the pub and everyone in town is at the pub. And this woman Margaret stood up on a stool and got everyone’s attention and she said, “Let me introduce Polly. And this is what she’s doing and all the funds raised here stay here and help Australian women. So let’s show her a little Ozzie spirit.” And she leaned over and she just plucked the hat right off a guy’s head and started passing this hat around. And it’s nothing you can get a picture of, but this hat is floating through the pool hall, through the bar, through the restaurant, back to the bar tender and people throwing money into it. And the bartender announced to the cheering crowd that we’ve just raised $332 for the breast cancer network Australia, and they’re cheering. Yay. They pat me on the back telling me what a great job I’d just done.
Polly: I was like, “Thank you. I stand on street corners looking oblivious with great skill. Thank you very much.” So the next morning, Margaret called the next Lions Club up the road and they said, well, she said, “Can you help her out?””Sure. Send her up.” So I walked my 15 miles and the Lions Clubs greeted me and said, “Let’s go to the pub.” And we went to the pub and they passed a hat around and we went to the next Lions Club and we went to the next Lions Club. And next thing you know I’m doing a 2000 mile pub crawl up the East coast of Australia. And is that … So if you’re ever in Australia, here’s the tip. It’s pubs and Lions Clubs. All right? You’re taken care of. So the breast cancer network in Australia called me in the middle of nowhere. I would just have this memory of an endless road and getting a phone call and it’s the executive director of the breast cancer network Australia going, “What on earth is going on out there?
Polly: You told us you don’t know anyone in Australia. And we are getting a check every day coming in from these Lions Clubs and pubs up the East coast of Australia.” Well, gosh, we must have raised, gosh, 30, $40,000 up through Australia just bypassing ahead around in the pubs of Australia. So not only did the Lions Clubs help me stay safe, but with the press that the Lions Clubs now started to generate across the country. It was now as if this entire country was rallying at my back. And everyone passing by, the truckers and the farmers were getting involved and sending, throwing food out the window and meeting me for lunch and picking up my check at the diner. And the police were just terrific from village to village, town to town. And the police would keep an eye on me and let me sit in their air conditioned patrol cars as the temperatures were rising up to, gosh it was 105 in most portions there.
Polly: And yeah, Australia was just a fantastic success. And by the time I hit about eight, no, about six months into my eight month journey up the coast, I was working very heavily with the Mackay Lions Club. Mackay as a town there. And they invited me to become a member of their Lions Club. So I did with the understanding I might not be at too many meetings. But they loved the idea of being involved with an international event. And I loved the idea that I always had someone to turn to, especially in the region. And sure enough, my Lions Club called the Lions Club up in Singapore and Malaysia where they started to prepare for my journey. And I arrived and Lions Clubs just kept passing me village to village around the world. So that was obviously a big turning point when I decided to go on my own and sort of be willing to accept with good decision making, what came at me, and that was the Lions Clubs.
Polly: The second big turning point was early on then in Southeast Asia. I was in Malaysia, which is my first Muslim country when 911 struck. And that was also a big game changer in my walk. The Lions Clubs were very protective, but now the American embassy started to get involved and make sure I was safe. And that was without my prodding. But yeah, it was a little dodgy. And I had to be careful and make decisions not on a knee jerk reaction, but on a relatively well researched decision, especially right after 911. If you can go back to those days, we didn’t know what was going on the first few days. So do I continue? What’s going on? So those are the big turning points. And of course I carried on through a very, very stunningly difficult India. I mean that’s a game changer. That is a game changer walking through India as a woman right through the tribal areas and everything else. So I always thought that would be a really good reality show. Just line up-
Chris: Oh, man.
Polly: Right, wouldn’t it? Just lineup 10 women in Calcutta without a dime and just say, “First one to Mumbai wins. Go.” And just follow the journey.
Chris: The amazing race.
Polly: That’s right. That’s right. No motor vehicles, no dime, no nothing. So because that’s essentially what I did. So it’s like I always gauge that. Did I do better than the normal person or worse? Because I really got grumpy. Not my most graceful time I’ll tell you. So it was tough, but it was a game changer and it’s … You know what I’ve discovered all these years later now is that tough times plus time equals comedy, right? So now I can look back at those things I was just humiliated and horrified with, like some things I did there out of frustration and being sent to the edge. Now I can laugh at, especially if I’ve had a glass of wine. Like the people that know where you’re sleeping at night, so they’ll break in just to touch you in the middle of the night. Of course I’m horrified at the time and I got to tell you, laugh about it now.
Chris: Yeah, what else can you do?
Polly: Exactly. So anyway. And then I came up through Europe right after they changed to the Euro and their economy was just in a kerfuffle there for a while. About a year or two after that change, because you’re going from a drachma, which is, I don’t know if I’m making this up, but like 40 drachma to a dollar versus in the Italian Lira, it’s something else and all of a sudden they’re in the same currency. Really threw it into a kerfuffle where you’re paying $15 for a cup of tea. Something’s wrong here guys. But then I came up through Britain and England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and back across the US and a little bit of Canada.
Polly: And I arrived back into Vail at 14,124 miles, 22 countries, four continents. And it was about $250,000, US dollars raised in eight different currencies and 13 different breast cancer organizations funded throughout this walk. The reason I had to finish a day short of five years is because the point where I started, there was a big event going on, on that day. So, and this is planned like eight months in advance. It’s like I’m going to be there on August 1st, 2004. But there was an event already planned so I was like, “Okay, well I will make it July 30th.”
Chris: Oh, man.
Polly: So yeah, it was a day shy. But yeah. So what happened next is I was keeping a journal throughout. So the years from 1999 to 2004 going back to those years technologically, okay, quite stunning. Because that’s really when things started changing faster. Okay. I left when the flip phone didn’t even exist yet when I left. It was still a block phone. The Nokias, remember the Nokia and Ericsson?
Chris: Oh yeah.
Polly: Remember these guys? So I had one of those. Texting didn’t exist yet. That happened while I was on my walk. And I didn’t have a laptop that well, the laptops again were like, ooh, yay. It’s a two hour battery life, that was exciting and it’s only six pounds now. Oh, that’s exciting. I couldn’t take that with me. So I found what was called, it was a Hewlett Packard device called the Jornada. It was a Jornada. By today’s standards looks like a notebook, but it didn’t have a hard drive. You had to save everything on a little ScanDisk. Right. But that’s how I kept all my notes every night. I would write in that Jornada. And the software had pocket Word and pocket Excel where I could both bold and italicize. Right. This was-
Chris: I remember that.
Polly: You do not. Really?
Chris: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I was a geek early on. Definitely remember that.
Polly: Oh gosh. I still have my little Jornada. Yeah, that’s what I wrote on. And that little thing, again, it’s like a little notebook size, but it was only a couple of pounds. So that’s what I took with me. So I was able to write and I was not a writer prior to leaving, but I started writing. I was loosened up enough in my writing that I could be myself. I wasn’t writing for someone, I wasn’t getting graded on it. So I wasn’t writing for a school where there are rules. So I was just writing, being myself. And I’ll tell you, that is the greatest gift to be free to write how you want to write and no one’s grading you or anything else. So that really loosened me up. And there is a writing-
Chris: Sorry, were you thinking about turning it into a book at that time? Or were you strictly writing-
Polly: No expectations. Zero expectation. I was not a writer. I’d barely written a memo. Okay. Nothing. Now to be fair, there is a writing gene hanging around my family. Mom’s a writer. Dad’s a writer. Okay. But I’d never written anything. But I started to write because I had this little computer and I had … I needed a sort of a confidant, if you will. So this computer became my confidant and my writing became my confidant. And I started putting them up online. The word blog didn’t exist yet and I certainly couldn’t do it from, that technology didn’t exist yet. But I had to email my journals to someone and they would put it up for me. Okay. That’s where we were with these things called websites. So anyway, it started to create a following and I actually entered one of my stories into a writing contest about women’s travel. Well, I won it and I won a trip to Costa Rica. So I had to stop my walk, go to Costa Rica. That was good time. Isn’t that funny?
Chris: Nice. That wasn’t in the book.
Polly: No, no, I didn’t put that in the book. And then I entered another contest when I was in Australia and I won that one and that was also a national writing competition. And then I just a little something, something into the Reader’s Digest. Right. And I won that. So I was like, it gave me enough confidence that I could continue to be myself and write about the silliest things that I want to do, the minutia. And that always cracked me up. Minutia. Minutia kills me. So when I got done with my walk and I had all these journals, I didn’t know how to write a book. So I started with my journals and then filled in the blanks and that’s how I started. And I remember doing the final check, and the end. It’s only 13, what was it, 1300 pages long. That’s what it was.
Polly: Well, no one wants me to read a 1300 page book. So I was like, “Okay, I suppose I should cut this down.” So I cut it down in half. Oh man, I thought that was the business, and now it’s only 650 pages. I could do that. Well, no one is interested in a 650 page book. So I had to cut it down again and again and again. So things had to keep coming out and got it down to 416 pages and there’s not another damn comma coming out of that book. Do you hear me? There was not another comma coming out. So this is my life story. Starting from the age of 12 and the dream and the finally going and the kerfuffles along the way and the wars breaking out and turning left because of the darn war and all this stuff. And I get done and I write my 1300 page book and narrow it down to 416 pages, and I handed it over to a crooked publisher.
Chris: Oh no.
Polly: Yes. Oh, it was horrible. So this was now probably in the 2008, 2009 neighborhood. And I started to think, how do I want to publish? Initially I started, I was getting interest with agents and stuff, but they were reading and saying, “You know, there’s no romance in here. We need some romance.” I was like, “Well, there wasn’t any, what do you want me to just make this up? I’m happy to do for you. But no.” So what occurred to me is that if I go this traditional route, now, again, this was very early years of self-publishing, so it really was nowhere near where it is today. So think 2008, 2009, I start my search on how I want to publish it. And it occurred to me if I go this traditional route, they really do own my material and they own the story and they are going to force me to put romance in here again. Got no problem with that. But it ain’t true. So I mean I think the true story is pretty silly.
Polly: So that would … I got serious about going another route. So I found this small independent publisher, which she called Partner Publishing. Well that sounds lovely. Full of collaboration and joy. And she has the knowledge and I had the content, this will be a beautiful partnership. And it was not. Without going into all the detail, this woman was brilliant and mentally ill and that is a tough combination. And I had to get out of that situation, and I had signed a contract. When you sign a contract with a publisher, it is very much a one way street. Meaning it’s like a marriage where there’s a start date with no end date. Right? And so I had signed a contract. I was in deep trouble and I knew it. Should I go to an attorney? And here’s my $15,000 lesson. All right? I think of it as a seminar that I took that was $15,000. This helps me get through it.
Polly: Everyone has always said, “You got to keep your copyrights, you got to keep your copyrights.” I’m like, “All right, already, I’ll get my copyrights.” So I asked her, “Can I keep my copyright?” She says, “Yeah, you bet.” Well, there are a lot of other rights that I didn’t know about that snuck up too late. And that is your sales rights, your distribution rights, your foreign rights, your digital rights. And I’d given all those away. And now I’m dealing with someone who has a mental illness. And God help them, I’m not dissing those people. But it wasn’t something I wanted to work with. I was in flat-out danger. Okay. So I go to an attorney and I said, “You got to help me get out of this situation.” So she sends certified mail and then she never answers the mail. And months go by.
Polly: And finally my attorney says to me, “Listen, you have a choice. You can stay and work with her or you can run for your life.” I chose to run. So I run and she never did come after me. And there was a clause in my contract that said something like, if you don’t receive any royalties by X date, then this is considered null void. And that date came man and I was like 11:58-
Polly: 11:58, 11:59, midnight, boom, I’m free. So I did find out through that big kerfuffle that among other things you cannot copyright a title so I could keep my same title. I had the rights to my cover. So I changed the cover and I could make the decisions that I wanted. I wanted a prologue, I wanted a map in it. I wanted this word, not that word, et cetera. So I went to a self-publishing class and now we’re talking about 2010, 2011. I went to a self publishing class. It was a two day full weekend thing and a passion was unleashed. I’m now moving to the front, raising my hand, being that annoying person. Well, what about, well, what about, well, what about, and I was on fire. This is how I’m going to do my book. And I’m not going to have anyone own any rights anymore. I’m going to have full control.
Polly: So I did a deep dive into the industry, and again, this is early days. I don’t even think CreateSpace existed yet. But anyway, I was now learning and reading and studying and going to the seminars so much that now it was to that point where now I knew more than the instructors and now I’m the one sitting on the panels helping organize this new industry that is getting ready to explode. Okay. So I released my own book under my own publishing company and went on to market it and have a good time with that. But in the meantime, my friends are sending their friends to me. Polly’s learned how to do this and keep you protected. So go talk to her. So now I’m meeting people, swear to God two, three times a week, sitting at the Panera’s.
Polly: Now I have flow charts. I’ve got lists of timelines and handing it to people. Here’s what you got to do, here’s who you got to work with to do your layout, your editing and da da da. So that goes on for a couple of years. And then this is as true story as I’m standing here talking to you right now. I’m having coffee with a colleague who does the layouts. And we’re just chatting and getting caught up like girly girls do. And I said, “You know, I’m giving serious thought to starting a company where I help manage an author’s project, but I have no ownership rights whatsoever. Because people keep making the same mistakes over and over again and accidentally inadvertently giving their rights away because they don’t know otherwise. And I would manage all the details so they do it right, et cetera.” So she says, “You know what, you should do that because God, they’re asking me and I don’t want to do it.”
Polly: Okay. So the next day, Barbara Oliveira me. Now, that’s not unusual because people are calling me two, three times a week anyway. But I say to her … Well, she says, “I understand you can help me self published my book.” I said, “Yeah, let’s go meet at the Panera. And I have a proposal for you.” So I meet with her. I said, “Listen, I’ve been doing this now for a couple of years, but I want to make it a business. But I don’t know how long these things are going to take or blah, blah, blah. Would you be my first beta test girl?” She says, “You bet you.” Well, that book went on to become, I think it went to national awards and went on to become a movie at the Hallmark channel. So that’s our first book. And it was a romantic comedy as the Hallmark channel would have.
Polly: And the phone kept ringing and now I don’t even have a name of my company at that point. I certainly don’t have a website or a brochure or a business card and the phone keeps ringing. And so that was now seven plus years ago. That was November of 2012 that I met with Barbara. So we always call each other right around those times. How you doing honey, you’re my anniversary. She’s now done five books with us. At any rate, so that was over seven years ago. I’ve now built My Word Publishing into a company where I’ve trained people to do what I do, help authors through the process while maintaining all their rights and their royalties, et cetera. We don’t have any ownership over anything. You just hire us like you would a general contractor to manage a project.
Polly: Okay. So now we have five publishing consultants. We have 25 editors, cover designers, layout designers, et cetera. And have published, I got to do another count, but it’s over 350 at this point. And that’s My Word Publishing. And we were just voted best publishing company and in Colorado in 2019. And-
Polly: Yeah and I won business woman of the year, I think it was 2013. So that’s where that sits. And I think it’s just a scream that these different skill sets that I developed over the course of my walk, heading off into the unknown at the age of 37. I was 37 when I left. Not getting paid for anything, not knowing where it would take me, doing really nothing. Honestly, nothing but following this compass, this drive in my head that wouldn’t let go. During my prime earning years, if you will. But what it did teach me, it taught me, I was forced to start giving talks on what I was doing because these Lions Clubs were helping me and they’d say, “Well, we’re meeting tonight. Can you come and talk to us?” I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know. Who’s going to be there?””Well, it’s 12 old men over the age of 80.”” Well, gee, I don’t know.” It was a little scary, but I started doing that very early on. And just then it’s five nights a week I was doing that, became very comfortable with it.
Polly: And of course promotion, it was constant promotion, constantly dealing with people I’d never met before. Okay. Because you’re always, when you’re on a walk around the world, you’re always living with one foot outside the comfort zone, if not both feet every single day. I’m not boohooing trust me, but this is just the reality every day waking up in a place you haven’t been, walking down a road you’ve never been on before. Meeting people at the end of the day who you’ve never seen and not seeing a familiar face for five years. So those things taught me certain skills that I can see are helping me become a business leader in my chosen industry. Certainly the talking and the promotion and the feeling comfortable with strangers and working with the media as well.
Polly: So I don’t know how on earth it could have happened any other way than if I had had the, I don’t know if you want to call it guts or naivety. It falls in between there somewhere to just say, “Sure, I’ll go walk around the world by myself into the unknown.” But it’s been filled with skillsets that have brought me where I am. And certainly the writing, I hadn’t done any writing prior to leaving on my walk.
Chris: So you could recommend that anyone who wants to start their own publishing company should just merely walk around the world.
Polly: I think that’s a fair.
Chris: I love it. I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever heard.
Polly: How did you do that? Well, here’s how I usually do it. Pack your sleeping bag and head out into the world. I think is that the sort of universal truths are that if you sort of trust in the drives that are in your brain, in your gut, in your heart, you trust those, then it will take you to a passion. Right? And where does passion lead? It will eventually get you where you want to go. I mean for years, for a couple of years, I was out there at Panera restaurants two, three times a week, helping people. Again, having my nice normal job at that time. But I was meeting with people because of the passion and the passion led me to this. So and there are so many stories out there of people with the same. They start with that passion and it drives them and then drives them into the calling. So I do believe that this is a calling. I feel like, okay, you going to think I’m a little cray cray. Okay. So hear me out. Swear to God. You already know I’m cray cray. Right?
Chris: Yeah. Sorry, it’s too late for that.
Polly: But I remember through my twenties when I was just, we hadn’t talked about this yet, but I went on this travel thing where I just went and ended up being five years of just traveling and being sort of the vagabond nomad person. And it wasn’t like I was out looking force or running from something. I was out exploring. And I always thought in those days when I was doing that, that I would eventually for somehow some way I was going to run a company, but the world had to sort of catch up with me. And that was self-publishing. Self-publishing couldn’t have happened in the 80s, in the 90s. Right. So it just had this magical collision right when I needed it. And almost like I had always suspected something was going to be there, but it had to catch up to me or I had to catch up to it, but it was landing at the same time.
Polly: I heard this statistic not too long ago that it’s predicted that 50% of people graduated from college today will retire in an industry that doesn’t even exist right now. And I’m like, “Wow, that happened to me.” So I guess the industry had to be invented by the time I’d catch up to it and magically land at the same time. And that is how I envisioned it happened. So I sort of trusted those passions, trusted that at the age of 37 heading out into no man’s land with really no other agenda than making sure I finished this walk. That was it. I wasn’t going to write a book. I wasn’t a writer that was going to eat, pray, love, kind of celebrate. It was not that scenario. And that’s the answer.
Chris: That is the short answer. That is, oh man, this is phenomenal. So as I’ve been looking at your website, you have something called a marketing or well, I know there are two separate ones. The publishing consultant. Curious, what’s involved in that?
Polly: Do you mean a consultation or do you mean to become a publishing consultant?
Chris: No. So for an author or aspiring author who would like some help, what are they going to get when they hire a publishing consultant?
Polly: Oh, I see what you’re saying. Okay. Well what we do is, again, we manage the entire project. So let’s say I spoke with someone this morning. She’s written a fiction book and she’s had friends read it. She’s gone through the beta test, beta rounds, beta reader, and she’s had a friend edit it and she is ready to get serious. So she wanted to talk to me about what steps are next because she doesn’t know. Okay. So in that case I said, “Well, first of all, what are your goals with the book? Now, if your goals are to write a book for the family, I’m not going to put you through a really expensive development edit. Okay. Which could cost 3, $4,000.” But if someone wants to become a writer and they have a series in mind and this is they want to do the best job possible.
Polly: So I ask them those questions, “What are your goals with it?” Well, she wants to become a writer and do the best job she can. Great. Okay. So what I’m going to do is send it off to three different editors and get their views on what this needs and give you a sample edit and then we can review that and then make a decision on your editor. In the meantime, let’s discuss the title. Where does the market sit for a genre like this? Where should we categorize it? Let’s get a cover designer. Let’s do the layout. I’m managing the project and taking her through every step of the way. Managing all the elements on a copyright page. Sure. A copyright page can be a template, but if you’re doing it right, there are various elements that really need to be honed in on.
Polly: And how should we do the printing and distribution? Should we use KDP, which is Amazon’s print on demand service or IngramSpark, which is better for you? Should we use both? Should we use neither? So we make those decisions together and I’m the advisor. They can take my advice or not. If it’s something I really disagree with as a publishing consultant, I will bring my debate to the table. I will be armed and ready. I really don’t want you to do this because A, B, C, here’s the research. Please don’t do it. And they can still disagree with me. And then I let it go and it’s their decision. I figure if someone’s hiring me to be the advisor, at least I should put up a fight if I think one is necessary. But they can disagree because it is their book and part of what we do is guide them through the entire process of starting their own publishing company.
Polly: Again, that’s my $15,000 lesson. So I’m passing that on for nothing. So we help them figure out a good publishing company name. It shouldn’t be named after them. It shouldn’t be named after their genre. It should be sound like a professional, independent press. So we guide them through that, which doesn’t have to be a drama. It is in some states. We primarily, I would say 40% of our authors are from Colorado because that’s where our consultants are too. But 60% are in other areas of the country. So we’ve discovered over the years then that some states have easier ways to start your business and buy a trade name than others.
Chris: Oh yes.
Polly: Have you discovered that too?
Chris: Absolutely. Arizona makes it very easy.
Polly: Yes, yes. Colorado too. It’s like 20 bucks and five minutes. Bada bing, bada boom, you’re a business owner. California-
Chris: Yeah, tell me about it. Oh, man. Yeah.
Polly: But we help them through that and even down to how to keep your records. So we have record sheets on here are your sales, here are your taxes and stuff like that because of course it is a business, right? You don’t have to have it-
Chris: Hugely valuable.
Polly: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re thrilled about that. In fact, twice a year we have a class where my tax guy does a class for all our authors, scares the hell out of them. So how to keep those records and what the taxes are and et cetera. But, so we guide them through all of those kinds of details as well. And then I do have … I don’t do marketing for authors. Nobody does marketing for others as far as your various publishing options. But we do a marketing consultation. I love book marketing. I’ve written two books on book marketing. I love it, but I won’t do it for others. It’s a thankless, thankless job. But I do a consultation with them. It takes two to three hours and we really flush out who their market is, how to reach them and then they go do the leg work or hire people to help them do the legwork. But-
Chris: That’s smart. I found that the author themselves are usually the best person to do the actual marketing.
Polly: Yes. They really have to be. They really have to be. So yeah. And we do have, if anyone wants to go to our website and sign up for, we have super tip Tuesday. So every Tuesday we just send out a little marketing tip and it’s just like a one or two sentence thing with the … because people are busy, they’re not going to read a big blog or something. So-
Chris: Nice yeah. Smart-
Polly: And that’s ongoing. And if you sign up, it gives you one tip a week for like two and a half years is what I think we have that many tips in there now. And-
Chris: Oh, man.
Polly: Yeah, Super-Tip Tuesday, goes out at 2:00, well Mountain Time.
Chris: Somewhere around the world.
Polly: Yeah. That kitschy phrase doesn’t work everywhere. It does? Super-Tip Tuesday at 2:00.
Chris: I love it.
Polly: Yeah. So it’s been the joy of my life working with authors and yeah, yeah. I just am grateful to my walk and whatever gave me the naivety enough to move forward with that because it gave me the skillset and the direction to where I am now. I’m so grateful for that. And I’ve sort of become inadvertently this the mother of the … the matriarch of the long distance Walker, whether I’ve liked that or not. People will ask, “Can I take you to coffee? I want to go walk this or walk that.” And I’m very good at not really giving advice, but my only piece of advice is usually take every single opportunity that you can to not be stupid. That’s my greatest advice.
Chris: That’s sounds like a wise advice.
Polly: It really is. But these people will … I was doing a hike near the border of North Korea. It’s like, well then you’re just stupid. No, don’t do that.
Chris: Yes. There’s other things to do.
Polly: So that’s my only advice is just try not to be stupid. Go have your adventures. Stretch yourself. Where’s that line when you’ve crossed into stupid? And I’m not saying I haven’t done it, but I learned from it.
Chris: Oh yeah. It’s the only way you figure out where it is, unfortunately.
Polly: Yes, yes. We come with scars, don’t we? So I often, I do a lot of classes too, whether it’s publishing or book marketing or writing classes and this kind of thing. And especially with the publishing classes, I’m like, “I’ve made so many mistakes. Please just by joining us today, you’ve saved yourself $15,000. So you’re welcome.”
Chris: Be thankful.
Polly: Yes. I’m happy to give back after all those horrible, horrible decisions I made. So yeah, that’s where we land.
Chris: This has been great. I really appreciate it. So I’ll make sure that there are links to all of your books in the show notes as well as to your website, which is myworpublishing.com. And anything in particular other than your Tuesday tip and 2:00 that you just want to encourage people or a special place you want them to hook up with you or what are your thoughts on that?
Polly: Yeah. Well thank you for asking. Yeah, Super-Tip Tuesdays. Those are fun. And I would say if I understand the dream and the fantasy of wanting to get professionally, traditionally published, and that’s cool and I respect that. And I’ll even help you get there if that’s your dream. I want you to go in though with your eyes wide open and we can discuss what those are. So I’m happy to talk to people and flush out what their dream is and give them realities and pitfalls to be aware of. And certainly if you choose self-publishing or opening your own publishing company, true independent publishing is really what the model is. And I’m happy to walk through what that would look like as well.
Polly: So I’m really trying to have people’s backs both ways. If they want to go traditional, I want to respect that and get them to the right people that can help them do that as well. Okay. So you would just go to my website, mywordpublishing.com and then there’s a place, a little thing that pops up saying, certainly schedule a consultation with us in that. Of course it’s free. And yeah, we’ll kind of get you on the right path because really one of my missions is making sure authors stop making expensive, bad decisions, frankly, like I did. So it’s one of my missions. It sounds like it’s one of yours too, Chris, so thank you.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah, it absolutely is. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Polly: Yeah, we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Let’s put an end to that, so okay. Thank you for asking. Yeah.
Chris: Thank you. Thank you for being on. I appreciate that.
Thanks for coming along for the ride. If you want to be part of a tight-knit community of people learning how to make money with their books, join my FB group at jetlaunch.link/group. That’s the best place to ask me questions and get fast answers.
More about Polly Letofsky
To learn more about Polly Letofsky, head over to mywordpublishing.com to learn how they can help you navigate the new world of self-publishing.