She Writes Press: What the Heck Is Curated Self Publishing?

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Ever since I started working on editing the parent blogger anthology Sleep Is for the Weak in 2006, I've been following the publishing industry with great interest. And huh, it's doing some ground-breaking stuff. But now what's most fascinating to me is the way some authors are taking the business into their own hands: digitally self-publishing direct to Barnes & Noble's PubIt or Amazon's Kindle; print-on-demand self-publishing, such as Lulu; and hybrid publishers, such as the brand-new She Writes Press, helmed by online writing community She Writes founder and author Kamy Wicoff and former Seal Press executive editor Brooke Warner. Because I've known Kamy for several years, I asked for an interview with the founders of She Writes Press to learn what differentiates it from other hybrid publishers.

Kamy Wicoff and Brooke Warner of She Writes Press

Going into the interview, here's what I understood about publishing. There are different categories of presses, or there were, and now it's getting hazy. There are Big Six publishers (and there are actually more than six of them, because each publisher has a zillion imprints). An example of a Big Six publisher is Penguin USA, which we work with here at BlogHer for BlogHer Book Club. To approach a Big Six publisher, you really need an agent. Then there are mid-sized and smaller presses, including Sleep Is for the Weak's publisher, Chicago Review Press. I approached Chicago Review Press without an agent and was able to sell my book, and though I've heard some people do use agents for smaller presses, my own agent wouldn't approach them because the advances are not big enough (remember, agents don't get paid until you do, and then they get around 15%). Finally, there are self-publishing presses, which used to be called vanity presses, presumably because you are totally vain if you want to publish your own work. RIGHT? That's changing. During my Big Six portion of trying to get a publisher for Sleep Is for the Weak, I looked into a we-only-accept-three-percent-of-submissions self-publishing press. Guess how much they wanted to print 15,000 copies? $67k.

So that was my only experience with a hybrid publisher -- meaning a self-publishing service that offers editorial and design assistance to an author for a price and vets submissions so they are not printing everything that comes through the door like a true vanity press -- going into my interview with Kamy and Brooke, who recently started She Writes Press, a hybrid curated publisher of sorts with a basic package starting at less than $4k.

Brooke and Kamy both consider themselves to be advocates for traditional and self-publishing. Brooke left Seal Press to pursue writing coaching full-time and says she was seeing authors who either wanted to self-publish in the first place or were disillusioned with their experience with traditional publishing. She approached Kamy with the idea for She Writes Press in order to fill a need she saw in the industry.

Brooke differentiates She Writes Press from other self-publishing presses in terms of handholding. "It takes quite a bit to figure out all the different self-publishing systems, and many authors feel they're in over their heads. It takes a lot of management to hire your own team leading up to publication and also after the fact. A lot of authors don't know what they don't know and they end up with any degree of problems -- not using Chicago Manual of Style, bad formatting, unattractive covers -- the quality in self-publishing varies a lot," she said.

Kamy and Brooke say they'll try to put out 10 books this fall and no more than 40 this year. Kamy and Brooke will each be publishing one of their own books and using this first year as a pilot to tweak the process. "She Writes.com is a community, it's always been a collaborative space with an emphasis on learning together," she said.

I'll be watching with interest to see how She Writes Press does this year, just as I am watching the entire industry morph and change what seems like with every Publisher's Lunch newsletter I get. Interesting times, writers. Interesting times.

Rita Arens authors Surrender, Dorothy and is the editor of the award-winning parenting anthology Sleep is for the Weak. She is the senior editor for BlogHer.com.

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