The Whole Elephant: Why Indie Publishing Roots Make GFP an Excellent Publishing Partner

Back in the day when Ingrid and I worked for Seal Press, our jobs lacked the glamour of big-house cred. That was a time when “independent publishing” didn’t mean self-publishing. It meant you were small and scrappy, trying to live your values and save the world, while making no money doing it.  

What Ingrid and I did have, in addition to nothing-to-sneeze-at indie and feminist cred, was the knowledge and expertise of what a publishing house does. By that I mean what everyone in a publishing house does, from the person on the phone doing fulfillment to the person attending sales conferences with the distributor to the person managing the slush pile to the person scheduling readings and events to the person writing back-cover copy to the person collating corrections . . . I won’t go on because the list is already bordering on tedium. And that’s my point—I’ve barely scratched the surface. It takes a village, my friends, to write, acquire, edit, design, produce, distribute, and publicize a book.

How was it that we knew what each person did at every stage as those beautiful change-the-world books went from idea to endcap? Because more than likely, we were the ones doing the work, or two of ten people doing the job of fifty. Was it stressful? (Sure. We drank.) Did it teach us everything we needed to know about publishing, including hard lessons that stay burned in our brains forevermore? (Why, yes it did.) At an indie publisher, everyone commits to keeping the book on schedule, staying within budget, and creating the most amazing book possible. There’s no other department to push off work to or blame for the book falling behind or for a bad edit or the wrong title. You know the parable about the blind men and the elephant, where each feels only a piece of the elephant and thus gets a skewed vision of what it really looks like? Well, in indie publishing we weren’t relegated to just a tail or a toenail or the trunk. We saw that whole beautiful animal and took complete responsibility for its care.

This holistic vision and passion for each book are the roots of Girl Friday. More than that, as a small firm committed to quality and relationships, those are our values. The same lessons so many Girls Friday learned working in-house—the constraints of a P&L or the fires that pop up in legal review—allow us to see and care for the whole elephant today, whether we’re working with individual authors or with major publishers who want to replicate their production pipeline out-of-house, giving them greater flexibility with their lists.

It’s because of our indie background that we believe so strongly in working on the whole book on our clients’ behalf: We match the perfect developmental editor with experience in that subgenre to each book. We carefully review each step in editorial production. We liaise with outside design teams or stakeholders internal to organizations, always keeping the project at the heart of our decisions. We weigh in on covers and titles and marketing plans and write back-cover copy. Above all, our team investment in the whole book allows us to deliver flawless books of the same quality we would have been proud to produce back in the day and manage to have a little fun while doing it. Even as we grow, we’ve been careful not to lose that small-team, whole-book approach we learned back in our salad days and to stay focused on the whole elephant.