When I started writing A Dream to Die For, the idea of actually publishing it seemed remote. I was a creative nonfiction writer trying my hand at something new, a novel that was a diversion from the memoir I had half-written. The memoir, about my years living in a village outside Dachau, Germany, was both daunting and crazy making. I didn’t really want to go back to many of those memories of a marriage gone wrong. I thought it might be more fun to make up someone else’s life than to keep digging down into my own past. A fiction writing friend gave me the advice to include some mystery or question in my novel. Though I’d never been a big mystery or thriller reader, I decided to take his advice and then some by turning the whole novel into a mystery. I learned as I wrote, largely from my writing group members who all had their second or third novels under way.
I also watched them struggling to get their wonderful works published. Finding an agent seemed daunting and time consuming. One gave up early and went on to self-publish four wonderful novels, including the Virtuosic Spy series, learning a lot in the process about how to design and publicize her own work. The others opted for Vermont small presses with mixed success. As the oldest member of the group, I didn’t have years to search for an agent who wanted a sixty-something- year-old author with only one book in the pipeline and no “platform” from which to launch it. I knew I didn’t have the perseverance or talent to self-publish successfully. Then I remembered stumbling upon a women’s writing community, She Writes, years earlier and thought I might find some advice there.
Instead, I discovered that She Writes had branched out and added She Writes Press (SWP) and from what I read, it sounded perfect for me:
“She Writes Press was founded by Brooke Warner and Kamy Wicoff in June 2012 for the purpose of providing an alternative publishing option to women writers. She Writes Press is for authors who want the freedom, control, and financial rewards of investing in their own books up front, without sacrificing the credibility and status that come with publishing under a highly selective imprint.”
Just what I’d been looking for! As a women’s rights advocate, I was thrilled there was an option just for women. As an older emerging writer, I felt valued by a publisher for the first time. Though my book was far from finished, I knew where it was headed and once I had this viable option, I wrote more seriously and finally got it done.
She Writes Press is a hybrid press that is leading the charge toward a new way of publishing as the traditional houses, like Random House and Penguin, consolidate and focus their resources on celebrity writers or younger, more edgy authors. As a hybrid press, SWP acts like a traditional house in several respects. First, submitted manuscripts are curated, not every book is accepted and not all are accepted at the same level. Some need help with major issues and authors are sent back to the drawing board with an option of editorial help for a fee from the publisher. Some need copyediting by SWP before they are ready for printing. Others are accepted for publication as is. She Writes then guides the author through the design and publication process, providing support at every step along the path to publication. Like many traditional and smaller presses, SWP uses Ingram Publishers Services to distribute the books to book stores across the country.
What sets SWP and other reputable hybrid publishers, like Rootstock in Vermont, is that the up-front costs are paid by the writer. In other words, the writer rather than the publisher takes the risk on the book, but also reaps higher rewards from sales than traditional publishers seeking to make back advances paid to the author. As the traditional, big house publishing world shrinks, options like nonprofit presses (think Graywolf), small indie presses (think Fomite Press), self-publishers and hybrids are emerging as the places to find unusual and diverse voices. They’re not looking for blockbusters, they’re looking for good writing, unusual stories, and authors whose work may not sell thousands of copies but add something new and daring to our cultural discussions.
Publisher Brooke Warner is leading the charge to give this hybrid publishing the respect it deserves. In her book, Green Light Your Book, and her TEDx talk she urges us to take charge of our own creativity:
“Green lighters are not sitting around waiting for someone else to say yes to their dreams. They are artists, creators and makers who know that their creativity comes from someplace within and not out there.”
Warner, formerly of Seal Press, is the champion for all the writers like me, who have a tale tell but may not fit the platform profile agents and the Big Five publishing houses are looking for.
Needless to say, I was thrilled when She Writes Press accepted my book as ready for publication, something only 5%-7% of manuscripts achieve. I have received much support in the form of group phone calls with the other authors in my cohort of Spring 2019 authors, webinars, and a helpful handbook. I find encouragement and tips on how to proceed and succeed from the She Writes community on a private Facebook page. I also had a chance to meet many of my fellow authors at the SWP retreat last fall. At She Writes Press, I found a home not just for my book, but for me as an author. And knowing She Writes is there, I dare to start my sequel!