by Susan Wittig Albert
Last week we published part one of our interview with our Stories from the Heart Conference keynote speaker, Brooke Warner. Want to see Brooke in person? Make sure and sign up early for the conference!
Brooke Warner is the keynote speaker at Stories From the Heart VIII. She is the founder of Warner Coaching Inc., publisher at She Writes Press, and author of What’s Your Book? A Step-by-Step Guide to Get You from Inspiration to Published Author. In her fourteen years in the publishing industry, including eight years as Executive Editor at Seal Press, Brooke has shepherded hundreds of books through the publication process. As a teacher, coach, author, and publisher, she is a champion of women writers, with a special commitment to memoirists.
Susan: At SCN, we believe that the act of telling the story is very much its own reward—and for many of us, that is our chief goal. We want to develop a mature writing practice that we can enjoy and that allows us to tell our story with a creative passion. But some of us also want to publish our work. As a teacher/coach, how do you know when a writer is ready to consider that move?
Brooke: Great question. I work closely with the writer to determine when they’re ready based on what’s going on with them. Because writers come in all different forms, some are very eager, too eager, to get their work out before it’s really ready. Others are overly hesitant. I have worked with authors who’ve been stuck in revision land for upwards of ten years because they’re stuck in fear of outcome, whether it’s positive or negative. They’re unwilling to let go of the project. If an author is overly anxious and I don’t think she’s ready, I tell her that gently, but I also can’t stop her from querying agents and editors if that’s what she wants to do. If an author is on the other side of the equation, I try to work with her to consider what it would look like to get her work out into the world. Readiness varies so much, and I give really honest feedback to anyone who hires me to look at the work. Sometimes a work is “publish ready” but not commercial, meaning that it’s a great book but one that a traditional publisher is unlikely to acquire. I help authors determine what their books need in order to be publish-ready, and work with writers to improve their books, to tighten and polish and get the books ready for publication. It’s a somewhat subjective question you’re posing, but the work of all teachers, coaches, and editors is to help a client get her book in the best shape it can be. And generally a person who’s in this field as a coach or editor does have a clear sense of a manuscript’s viability and should be able to convey that to the writer.
You’ve said that you and Kamy Wicoff founded She Writes Press because the barriers to traditional publishing were getting higher and higher for authors. Why were you interested in starting a press that would publish only women? What interests you in working with women writers?
I was interested in continuing to work with women authors after my eight years at Seal Press. I had been immersed in women’s publishing and the advocacy issues that come along with that. Although I do have male clients, I wasn’t interested in founding a press that would serve both men and women after having been in women’s publishing for as long as I had been. I was proud of the work Seal Press was doing championing women and giving women a voice, and I saw how I could leverage this even more at She Writes Press. I founded SWP for all those women I had to turn down at Seal.
She Writes Press is known as a “hybrid” publishing house. What does this mean? Why is it important? What do authors need to know about this kind of publishing model?
To me, hybrid is anything in the gray zone between a traditional publishing model [where the publisher is responsible for underwriting the full cost of editing, producing, and distributing the book] and self-publishing [where the author underwrites the cost and does or manages the work of editing, production, and distribution]. She Writes Press is a hybrid; we’re also a partnership publishing model. We are a publishing company, and our authors pay to publish under our imprint. The authors absorb the financial risk of their publishing endeavor; in return, they keep a high percentage of their royalties. We curate and have a selective acquisitions process. We have a publisher at the helm—me—making sure that here’s a cohesive vision and that all of the books are adhering to a level of quality that’s on a par with traditional publishing. We offer traditional distribution and the extra benefits that brings, including preordering and data management. Our authors, like those working with traditional publishers, qualify to submit their books to the traditional review channels, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal. This is a boon to authors who depend on reviews to drive sales—namely novelists and memoirists.
I think the main thing authors need to know about hybrid models is that not all companies are created equal, and that publishing a book is not a reliable way to make money. There are companies out there taking advantage of authors, making false promises, and delivering substandard services. Many of these companies are not transparent about costs or possibilities for earnings. Some of our authors are earning back their initial investment and even earn a profit, but it’s not part of what we promise. What we promise is the opportunity to play in the big leagues and to produce a book that can rival its competition. But there’s no sure bet in publishing—not in traditional publishing and not in hybrid publishing.
As a publisher, in what way do you think She Writes can be an “industry game-changer”?
I think we already are a game-changer because we’re forging new ground in the hybrid space. We’re doing the hybrid thing at least as well as anyone else out there, if not better. Our covers are superb, and that matters in today’s publishing climate. We have all the right elements in place to have a breakout book or two—and I believe that will happen for us. When it does, it will raise the bar on what we’re doing even more. In the interim, I’m very focused on advocacy issues. I write a lot about the prejudice against authors who pay to publish. The traditional publishing industry is looking for ways to classify “us against them” and I’m fundamentally opposed to this concept because it’s archaic and it doesn’t hold up. Authors subsidize their work at all different points in the process. Traditionally published authors may pay for their work to be edited before they land deals, and the savvy ones have their own publicist. No one balks at this. So the notion that a book is lesser because the author pays to publish (never mind the fact that selfpublished and hybrid authors reap the reward of much higher royalties) really gets to me. But the discrimination goes way past this, extending into book reviews, association membership, contests, and more. I feel that She Writes Press is a trailblazer because we’re not trying to hide the fact that our authors invest in themselves. We’re proud of this partnership, and the authors have earned a right to publish with us because we’re not publishing just anyone. That’s what should matter—the book’s quality. We have begun to make some progress in leading this conversation and we have a lot of support for what we’re doing. There’s a surprising amount of controversy in publishing, though, and strong feelings about almost every issue. This keeps it challenging—and interesting.