For most of her career, Brooke Warner, Publisher of She Writes Press, went the traditional route. She worked for independent Seal Press, a publisher for women that I profiled in February. Warner, age 36, was the executive editor with Seal (whom she speaks of warmly), but, when asked why she left that position, she said that she couldn’t see herself at “the hamster wheel of acquisitions” for much longer.
“So much of your focus is on the next big project,” she said. “I brought in a lot of amazing books, but I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I couldn’t see myself there for another ten to fifteen years.”
Over the past year, Warner has managed the running of She Writes Press, the “vetted self-publishing” complement to She Writes. Warner had been aware of She Writes since its inception in 2009, and said that it was clear that the community needed to have a press associated with it.
(If you have not yet taken the hint from previous profiles where I mentioned She Writes and visited the website, I’ll summarize the site’s offerings for you: She Writes offers women writers a place to network, offer editorial or writing services, support each other through online groups, and read blog posts on an astoundingly diverse array of topics.)
“There is no other press out there that has an established community like this one,” Warner said of SWP connection to She Writes. “We have 22,000 members at She Writes, and our authors will benefit from that community. We pay attention to the unique needs of the author; that really comes from my own feelings of how I like to be in relationships with authors. I want the authors to feel like they have a relationship with their publisher.”
Warner’s ethic of providing supportive relationships to authors, she said, is part of her mission to “change the face of self-publishing.”
“I want to be out and proud about it. Just because you fund your own publishing doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer. She Writes Press is about democracy and being able to publish well without being bound by the gate-keeping that prohibits great projects from being traditionally published.”
The problem, Warner said of traditional publishing, is that publishers often discriminate against the author who lacks an online presence, or a “platform,” the industry buzz word that means you have to have a big following in order to get published.
“The traditional press is like, ‘Wow, you’re great, but I haven’t heard of you.’ There’s something wrong with the excessive amount of pressure authors face to have an enormous following just to get a book published. People don’t go into writing because they’re social media experts—and people need a book to build a platform. I think we’re offering a sophisticated, smart thing to authors who, for whatever reason, are barred from traditional publishing.”
“The biggest problem of any traditional publishing is that there’s a big difference between the big players and the mid players,” Warner said. “The extreme focus traditional publishers place on an author’s platform creates barriers to entry that are so high that it’s actually hurting the quality of work. Snooki and Paris Hilton can get book deals, but really amazing memoirists can’t. In Warner’s opinion, the traditional model of publishing is broken. Publishers may throw big advances at books that will never earn out and then treat that author as a pariah later for not having lived up to impossible expectations.
“That’s not a sustainable model,” she said.
Last month, SWP was present at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference and received a very positive reception, Warner said. “We were putting it out front that the authors pay and people were still stoked about it.”
While the new experience of working across the many “moving parts” of She Writes Press has proved to come with a steep learning curve, the press put out 30 books in its first year and Warner expects to do about as many in its next year.
And this young publisher is on a mission: “I really want to change the mentality out there that traditional is necessarily better. I also want to teach authors how to use their books to bring readers to them,” Warner told me.
The purpose of the PDXX Collective is also to build the platforms of new women writers, so this discussion with Brooke Warner was a fitting addition to my publisher profiles.
And now, you undiscovered women writers have some homework: Sign up with She Writes!