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Meet Polly Letofsky

Today we’d like to introduce you to Polly Letofsky.

Polly, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In the summer of 1974, when I was a 12-year-old girl growing up in Minnesota, I saw an article in the newspaper about a man walking down an empty highway pulling a cart behind him. I leaned in to read the caption, and it said, “David Kunst, walking down Highway 6 in Colorado on his way home to Minnesota to become the first man to walk around the world.”

That fascinated me. I realized that all this man was doing was putting one step in front of the other, and each small, seemingly insignificant step, when chained together, became so powerful that it could serve as his transportation around the world. Those tiny steps — when persistent — took him across borders and through different cultures with different religions, languages, foods, and histories. I decided then that that was how I would go see the world one day. I would walk. But even then, I knew that I was thinking way outside the box for a 12-year-old girl from Minnesota in 1974. So, I kept the dream to myself.

Fast-forward ahead 20-plus years, and life’s journey brought me to live in Colorado. There was a year in my life when a number of women in my world were being diagnosed with breast cancer. So, one night while walking home, I was thinking about all these women going through this disease, and I was hit with my a-ha moment. “THAT’S why I’ll do that walk that I’ve always wanted to do! I will walk for the women of the world!”

For the next three years, I got myself organized. And on August 1, 1999, I headed west by foot out of my home in Vail, Colorado, and walked across four continents, 22 countries, and over 14,000 miles. In each country, I worked with a local breast cancer organization for advocacy work, and any funds I raised in that country, stayed in that country. During my five-year journey, I wrote a blog — although the word “blog” didn’t exist at the time — and I wrote every day. My writing became my confidant, my therapy. I submitted articles to magazines and newspapers along the way, and of course, my website.

On July 30, 2004, I walked back into Vail, bringing this GlobalWalk to a full circle, then immediately got settled in nearby Denver, Colorado. Of course, I had to rebuild: get a job, find a place to live in this new city I’d chosen, and make friends. And I also started to write a book about my journey. It took me five years to walk around the world, six years to write the book about it, and then I handed my manuscript — my life story — off to a crooked publisher.

The self-publishing world was just seeding at the time and wasn’t yet an option for me. The traditional publishing world was asking me to add a romantic element — and there wasn’t any! “Do you just want me to make it up?!” and they said yes. So that wasn’t an honest option. I chose a happy medium in publishing: a small, independent publisher. “Hybrid publishing” and “partner publishing” were the names tossed around for this model. And I fell for it.

It was a catastrophic mistake. I had spent a lifetime dreaming, three years planning, five years walking, six years writing the book, and now someone else owned my story — and did not have my best intentions at heart. I was horrified that I could have made such a horrible mistake.

After months of trying to get out of the deal, my attorney told me I had a choice: “Try to work things out with the publisher, or walk away.” I chose to walk away. But now what? I did not want anyone ever again to have control over my story, my rights, my royalties. But I didn’t know anything about how to publish by myself, and I didn’t like the look of those self-published books. They looked so… so… meh. One weekend, shortly after my walk away from the publisher, I saw an ad for a two-day class about self-publishing. I walked into the room with an attitude of “Convince me.” I took a seat in the back as if I were a fly on the wall.

It was my awakening. My heart blew up with the possibilities. I felt as if I had arrived at my life’s purpose. After lunch, I moved to the front of the room and raised my hand again and again and again, lapping up every morsel of information. Chills ran up my arms and down my spine. I was home.

For the next year, I republished my own book the way I wanted it. I could make the decisions. I got the RIGHT editor, layout designer, and cover designer. I wasn’t forced to throw in fictitious romantic encounters to satisfy the market. And I learned a lot more lessons.

My book, 3mph: The Adventures of One Woman’s Walk Around the World, was republished under my own publishing imprint and went on to do pretty well, winning six national awards.

Once my book came out, and my friends heard my painful publishing story, they kept sending their friends to me to guide them through their self-publishing journeys, as the industry was starting to pick up speed. I became passionate about helping authors through this process without giving their precious rights away or making expensive, painful mistakes as I did. Soon, I was meeting with these authors and showing them flow charts, lists of proven service providers, how-to templates, and more.

After two years of meeting authors at Panera with flow charts and how-to tutorials, I decided to look into starting a publishing model where I manage an author’s book project but have no ownership. I set up a system where we have our authors start their own publishing companies, we set up all their accounts in their name so they get 100% of their royalties, and manage every step of their project. Essentially, doing everything a publisher does, but without the ownership.

Our first author, Barbara Oliverio, who was my beta girl, went on to win two national awards and have her book made into a movie on the Hallmark Channel! Both of us recognize the day we met at Panera as the opening day of My Word Publishing.

The phone kept ringing, the self-publishing world kept exploding, and I kept diving deep into learning every aspect of this new industry. We were well on our way before we even had a name, a website, or any marketing tools at all.

Now, seven years later, we have six Publishing Consultants trained to do what I do with OUR special system to protect authors and give them a custom-designed plan. We have 25 editors, four cover designers, layout designers, audiobook specialists, even a children’s book specialist. To date, we’ve published over 400 books, each with their own publishing company, we’ve won well over 200 national awards, and of course, get some credit for Barbara’s movie.

To help protect this relatively new and fast-growing industry, we have also started a Publishing Consultant Certification Training Program to train people to become professional publishing consultants in this industry. One of our biggest kudos just came from ALLi, a national self-publishing watchdog group, that gave My Word Publishing an Excellence rating.

How does a walk around the world lead you to own a publishing company?
The parallels are similar: we both stand at the starting line wondering what’s ahead but only take a day at a time. Your clear vision keeps you going. Sometimes you have to back up, take turns, pivot, reach out, ask for help, and always, always accept the forks in the road and the stormy days as part of the journey, not the exit point. But the biggest lesson I take with me is that one of the worst things that ever happened to me — someone hijacking my life story —has turned into the best thing in my life. It introduced me to my passion.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Ongoing challenges in growing a business in this fast-growing industry are:

  1. Keeping up to date on the knowledge and changes going on, while not overwhelming the author with alllll the information. It’s our job as a publishing coach to flush through all the information we have and bring them the two or three choices that are best for their project and goals.
  2. Because we customize every single book project, that means no two are alike. It’s fun and interesting, and some people might call it a challenge, but we think of it as nailing down one more situation and welcome it to happen again!

My Word Publishing – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
At My Word Publishing we help authors professionally self-publish their books. We can help them from conception through book launch, or they can cherry pick their services. We also have DIY classes if you’re a do-it-yourselfer.

What sets My Word Publishing apart from all the other publishing companies is three things:
1. We don’t have “packages’” but rather we customize every single book project.
2. We don’t do contracts. You never ever have to stay with us. So even when you sign up with us, we have to work to keep your business every single day.
3. You keep 100% of all our rights and royalties.

What we’re most proud of at My Word Publishing is the tribe we’ve created. We don’t just end our relationship with an author at the end of the project; they stay with us, share their experiences, celebrations, wins, and warnings with the rest of our team on our Facebook group. It’s like we become a family and all look out for each other.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
We are very proud of our Excellence rating from ALLi, a national self-publishing watch-dog group. They did their homework independently of my prodding, in fact, I had no idea they were doing so. And ultimately, it’s testimonials like this that confirm to me that we’re succeeding at our mission: “Thanks for all you, Shelly, and Andrea have done for me. I appreciate your company that did what it promised!!”

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Polly Letofsky

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