EHC: Can you please explain what you do as a Publisher?
Dawn: There are many types of publishing including vanity, self-publishing, traditional, and hybrid. I am an independent, or hybrid, publisher, which I would describe as in between self-publishing and traditional.
With traditional publishers, authors typically have an agent, and a different person is responsible for each piece of the publishing process such as editing and cover design; however, I am a small publisher and do everything. I work with editors and graphic artists, but I find authors, read manuscripts, and make the decision whether or not to publish a book.
I also help authors through developmental editing (which ensures the story flows well), copy-editing to check grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure, and proofreading for the final version of a book. I also find the printer. In contrast to traditional publishers, I provide the authors I work with a lot of options as to how they want to print (a big or small run). Marketing is another key component I manage, which includes everything that has to do with selling, distribution, and warehousing.
EHC: How many books do your authors typically sell?
Dawn: It depends. The industry standard is that “successful” authors sell at least three hundred books; however, obviously, authors who work with traditional New York publishers sell thousands of books.
When I work with an author, I start by asking what their goals are in order to make sure I am a good fit. My best clients typically have a built-in audience. For example, one of the authors I am currently working with, who has published three books with me, teaches for a university, so her audience is students. She has sold 500-600 books. Another client simply published as a way to market her work, but her book happened to be selected by a college as a required textbook.
In general, the number of books sold really depends on how authors market and promote their books. Interestingly, my daughter wrote a book in April and, with a lot of marketing, she sold 45 books in just one day.
EHC: How many authors do you work with at one time?
Dawn: Well, it’s important to note that I stagger my work with each author. Currently, I have three new authors on contract and am pursuing three others, which is a lot for an independent press. A lot of times authors will contact me but aren’t quite ready to publish yet and haven’t signed with me, so I serve as an advisor to them.
EHC: What type of degree or experience do you need for this career?
Dawn: You don’t need a degree to go into publishing, but gaining experience in fields that involve a lot of writing, such as journalism or communications, would be helpful. Loving to read is essential, too! Publishing is essentially a project-management job because you are managing a project with a lot of components, but you don’t have to know how to do each task. For example, you don’t have to know how to do graphic design, but you have to be able to work with a graphic designer and manage that piece of the process.
My degree is in psychology, but it was my 28 years in the Air Force that prepared me for this career because I gained a great deal of experience managing people and projects. Publishing also requires a lot of self-learning since the industry constantly changes; so, I consistently take online classes, attend training sessions, and learn about trends. This isn’t dissimilar to the Air Force; as a second lieutenant, acknowledging when I didn’t know something and being able to find a subject matter expert was key. As I grew in rank, my responsibility increased, but I also gained the ability to manage complex projects by finding people with the appropriate skills and talents for each project.
The wisdom I took away from my tenure in the Air Force is that it is give-and-take, and you have to learn to be a leader but also a follower. As a hybrid publisher, I give authors a lot more say in the project–they have a great deal of say over the title, layout, and cover art. I won’t let them do anything “wrong,” but I let them make a lot of decisions. Just like in the Air Force, sometimes I lead, and sometimes I follow.
EHC: What steps did you take to get into this career?
Dawn: I did a lot of research! There is a lot of information on the web about how to do things, and it was just a matter of sifting through all of it. I am still learning, but I love sharing what I have learned with others. In fact, I wrote “The Road to Publishing” to lay out my knowledge and resources for others.
I started my publishing company,Blue Dragon Publishing, in 2010 and didn’t retire from the military until 2016. Between 2010 and 2016, I was publishing about six books. Since I’ve retired, I’ve stepped up my writing and publishing. My ninth book, “Tammy Tries Baseball,” comes out in September, and I now publish about 12 books a year.
EHC: What is your favorite part of your career?
Dawn: Hands down, it’s helping writers realize their dreams. After finishing my first book in 2010 and looking for publishers, I quickly realized it would take years to go through a New York publisher–not to mention they would take about ninety-two percent of my profit.
My military can-do attitude helped me realize that I could do this on my own. So I did! Then, people started coming to me, and now, my company,Blue Dragon Publishing, has three divisions:publishing,education, andcommunity service. Through education, I teach writers how to become published authors. I also speak in schools and am involved with Girl Scouts. I love to teach! Within the community, I am the President of theWilliamsburg Book Festival, a nonprofit for authors to get their books in the hands of readers! For the past two years, I have also worked with the city of Williamsburg to help launchNaNoWRIMO, a national program executed locally that encourages authors to write and offers an opportunity for them to speak in local libraries and encourages writing as well.
EHC: What do you find most challenging?
Dawn: Honestly. . . figuring out how to charge people and marketing. Figuring out what my time is worth is always a challenge. I recently switched to á la carte pricing to package pricing, and that has helped. Telling people I won’t publish their book is also very challenging because that hurts and, clearly, isn’t fun!
EHC: How important is networking to your success?
Dawn: Networking is extremely important. The key to networking is to make it all about the other person, not about you. Your networking efforts should be focused on others and how you can help them. When you are genuinely interested in others, they will also be interested in you. I belong to a lot of networking groups to learn, share helpful tidbits, and build authentic relationships.
Interestingly, about 80% of people want to write a book someday. Having a real, authentic connection to people based on a real relationship helps them think of me when someone expresses an interest in publishing. But, I always try to add value for others–it is so important to me!
EHC: What advice would you offer to young women exploring careers?
Dawn: I would offer the same advice I tell my daughters: Do something you love! Don’t chase the money. If you go into a career because you make a lot of money, but it’s something you hate, it will be painful. Instead, do something you love and budget your money well. You will find life a lot more rewarding.
Another piece of advice is that it’s never too early to invest. In fact, my daughters already have Roth IRAs and contribute to them when they earn money from various jobs. I have also taught my daughters to save their money and never buy on credit. If you don’t have the money, then you don’t buy it. Work for it and get it when you have the money.