Women’s online writing network She Writes, which has about 20,000 members including well-known authors like Francine Prose and Roxana Robinson, is now a book publisher, too. The company has launched She Writes Press, which it calls a hybrid between traditional and self-publishing models. “She Writes Press is not a platform for writers who can’t make it in the ‘real world of publishing’,” says She Writes founder Kamy Wicoff. “It’s for writers searching for a model that actually makes sense in a radically changed publishing landscape.”
She Writes Press is headed by Brooke Warner, formerly the executive editor of independent publisher Seal Press, and aimed at authors who want to try publishing outside the traditional system, but also want to be part of a “high-quality, curated imprint.” Warner tells me, “We are in our infancy at this stage of the game, but both of us understand publishing and our contacts run deep. We will advocate for our authors just as traditional presses advocate for theirs.”
The company explains how the model works:
Authors pay She Writes Press to edit, print and distribute their work, but are required to undergo a vetting process: manuscripts must be submitted and assessed before publication commences, and if they are deemed not yet ready for publication, recommendations (including editorial feedback) are offered on how to proceed. We are committed to bringing viable projects into the marketplace, and are confident that this process will ensure the quality of our projects and ongoing list.
Authors begin by submitting a book proposal to She Writes Press. The fee for that is $25. The vetting process is done by “professional readers, agents and editors,” Warner told me. “We’re then giving the authors feedback about what track we’re putting them on. Track 1 is good to go, Track 2 is needs a copyedit, and Track 3 is needs a developmental edit. Any Track 2 or 3 author who is open and wanting to take their manuscript to the next level can ultimately qualify to publish on the press. But the work will need to be up to the industry editorial standard.” Factors the vetting team looks at, she says, vary depending on the book’s genre but include “character development, pacing, sequencing, description, ability to draw in the reader, takeaways, structure, narrative voice and story arc.”
When an author’s book is accepted, she signs an agreement and buys the basic “She Publishes” package, which costs $3,900 and includes services like interior design, cover design, ebook production, proofreading, distribution via Ingram and some marketing. Authors can pay extra for services like copyediting and galleys. Each year, She Writes will also choose one to two “passion projects” each year, whose authors get the package for free.
Digital-only publishing is not available. “We are a full-service press that’s committed to e-book offerings, but our primary mission is to publish our authors in print,” the website explains. Authors can choose print-on-demand through Lightning Source, included in the basic package, or can pay extra for a print run.
Once books are published, She Writes Press says it is “committed to helping women establish and build a platform—arguably the most important factor in getting traditionally published—by promoting our authors’ works in a biannual catalog that will be mailed out to reviewers, booksellers, and media; announcing new publications to our existing network; and eventually selling our authors’ books in a She Writes Press online bookstore.”
She Writes Press takes a fee for each sale — 20 percent of each sale on a printed book, and 15 percent of each sale on POD and ebooks. The fee on printed books is for distribution and warehousing, Warner says, and the fee on POD and ebooks is for managing the accounts. “In my experience, the self-publishing biggies, like [Lightning Source], CreateSpace, and Lulu, don’t give authors much hand-holding,” Warner says. “We strive to function like a traditional press in that sense. Authors can contact us with problems and we will make sure their accounts are running smoothly.”
Last year, traditional publisher Penguin added self-publishing services to its community writing site Book Country. Those services range in price from $99 to $549, and like She Writes Press, Penguin takes a cut from each book sold. Penguin faced backlash from some self-published authors who called the initiative overpriced and claimed it took advantage of inexperienced authors who didn’t know how easy it was to self-publish on their own.
She Writes plans to avoid similar criticism by vetting the titles it accepts, though it obviously can’t guarantee their success, and by promoting them once they are published. Self-publishing is easy now, Wicoff admits, but “what’s hard is help you need to make your book the best book it can possibly be, and not feeling alone and without support from experienced people in the process. It’s also pretty much impossible, when you self-publish, to have the credibility that only affiliation with a professionally run press can provide. So we are leveraging the easy part, and providing support for what’s actually hard.”
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