A Conversation with Brooke Warner
Brooke Warner is changing the way books get published. She’s a triple threat: a writing coach, a publisher, and an author. In 2012, she cofounded She Writes Press, and wrote and published What’s Your Book? A Step-By-Step Guide to Get You From Inspiration to Published Author. In it she shares her knowledge of the publishing industry and what she’s learned to help writers achieve their goals while enjoying the process. Warner lives in Berkeley with her partner and their two-year-old son, and is also a stepmother to two teenage boys.
Freelance writer Marianne Lonsdale sat down with Brooke to learn more about her.
Marianne Lonsdale: Tell me about your background in publishing. You left a job that a lot of women would jump to have and became an entrepreneur. Why?
Brooke Warner: I worked as an editor for 13 years for two different publishing houses in Berkeley. I started at North Atlantic Books, an indie press that’s been around for over 30 years, as a project editor. I learned how to do acquisitions there. I moved to Seal Books, a press that specializes in books by women, where I worked for eight years as an acquiring editor, moving up from senior editor to executive editor.
I left for two main reasons. First, I discovered I liked being an entrepreneur. I started my writing coaching business while still working at Seal Press and loved the work. Second, I gained so much experience in publishing during a decade of tremendous change. Now I wanted to help create the future, to be part of shaping the industry.
ML: How’s it going?
BW: Busy! I’ve grown my coaching business, launched a publishing venture, and am promoting my first book. I love how it’s going.
ML: Let’s talk about your different business interests. How do you coach writers? What services do you provide?
BW: My services involve both coaching and consulting, and I tailor what I do to each client’s individual needs. I find that most clients fall into one of three scenarios:
One scenario is a writer with an idea they can’t let go of, and they need help with how to get their idea on paper, and then how to navigate publishing options.
Another scenario is a very motivated writer who needs a coach, a collaborator. This writer mostly needs my assistance to prioritize the work and determine next steps for landing an agent or book deal, or to decide if self-publishing works for her.
A third scenario is a writer who is just way too busy with their day job or business to write and really needs help establishing a writing schedule and a content road map for completing her project. In all of the scenarios, but especially this one, having a coach to support you and hold you accountable is one of the most important things a writer can do.
ML: When did you start up She Writes Press?
BW: I cofounded this publishing company with SheWrites.com founder Kamy Wicoff to serve women writers. We just launched in June 2012 and already have 20 books in the queue to publish. We expect to publish 40 books in 2013.
ML: Wow, that’s impressive. But I guess the self-publishing process moves much quicker than traditional publishing houses?
BW: Yes, that’s true, but our process does very much mirror a traditional publishing house, and we are a self-publisher. Our intent is to offer a third way, to bring the best of self-publishing and traditional publishing to authors. We offer the services of a traditional press — editing, design, proof reading, marketing support — and of a self-publisher — e-book conversion and print-on-demand set up. The books are author-subsidized and authors have more control than in a traditional process.
ML: What genres are She Writes Press publishing?
BW: So far mostly memoir and fiction. And we’re publishing two cookbooks. We’re only not handling children’s books right now.
ML: The She Writes Press website mentions in several places that the press is community oriented. What does this mean?
BW: We understand that women thrive with the support of other women. SheWrites.com has 21,000 members, and we’re growing every day. One of the driving messages there is something Deborah Siegel wrote: “Writers don’t let writers write alone.” We understand that women want the support of other women writers, and writing can be so isolating that it’s important to seek out and create community. We provide a lot of hand holding, community and support to all of our authors.
ML: Your own book, What’s Your Book? A Step-By-Step Guide to Get You From Inspiration to Published Author, was part of the She Writes Press pilot. How did that go?
BW: Great, for the most part. We found a few glitches that we’ve corrected. In the beginning, there were a lot of process-oriented things that needed to be rectified. There are so many things that go into publishing a book, and I hold a lot of that information in my head because I’ve been in the industry for so long. Authors were asking the same questions over and over, and wanting to understand certain processes and how things worked. I realized I needed to create an author’s handbook to guide writers through the process. It’s amazing the things you don’t think of until you realize how many balls there are to juggle.
ML: Why did you decide to write your book?
BW: I wanted to support writers, whether I personally coach them or not. My book does that by showing writers how to go from inspiration to published author. The book is also a platform for my writing coaching business. And I needed to show that I could do what I teach. I call this walking my talk — I wrote the book and then published with the She Writes Press process as well, so I really understand what the authors are going through.
I did not really consider myself a writer when I started my book even though my jobs have always involved writing. But the writing came pretty easy because I was getting on paper a topic I know well, and I’d been blogging monthly on writing and publishing for three years.
I do advocate outlining and I mapped out my chapters and content before I wrote. Of course, some of the planned order and content changed along the way.
ML: Did you do your own editing?
BW: No way. Everyone needs another pair, preferably pairs, of eyes on their work. I used a copy editor and two proofreaders.
ML: So no surprises about the writing process?
BW: One big surprise — it takes a lot of discipline! Getting myself into that chair on a regular basis was tough, especially because I have a two-year-old son.
ML: Do you have any tips for writing mothers? What works for you?
BW: For me, it works best to have a routine workday. My son is in day care but I still had to do my writing before he woke up or after he went to bed. It’s a tough balance as we all know. I’m still figuring it out.
ML: One concern I used to have about self-publishing was risking not being able to get my book into a brick-and-mortar bookstore. But now it seems like the traditional route still doesn’t guarantee I’ll see my novel on a nice wood shelf.
BW: You’re right. Unless you have confirmed media and publicity, or are a known writer, getting books into bookstores is tough no matter who publishes you. I recommend that authors establish relationships with their local bookstores and that they sell on consignment. Many authors sell most of their books themselves at promotional events.
ML: I’m not familiar with how books are sold on consignment. Can you explain how this works?
BW: You simply walk into the bookstore and ask them to carry your book. I did this at Book Passage, and I think they’re carrying about five or six copies, and they’ll reorder if and when they want more. They keep a percentage of sales and cut you a check when they sell your book. There’s no distributor involved.
ML: So with all the time you spend in bookstores and surrounded by books, can you still read just for pleasure?
ML: What books have you enjoyed in the last year or so?
BW: I have a stack of books I am trying to get to, but it’s tough. I used to read a lot more when my son was an infant. All the books I’ve read in the past six months have been my clients’ work and the children’s classics: Where the Wild Things Are; The Big Orange Splot; and Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town, are among my son’s favorites.
ML: What will you be up to in 2013?
BW: I’m teaching an online course called Write Your Memoir in Six Months, with Linda Joy Myers, president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, a class aimed towards memoirists who are serious about finishing their books.
I’m set to keep growing both businesses. I know what my next book is going to be about, but I’m not ready to discuss the topic and I need to find the time to write. My goal for She Writes Press is to grow from a fledgling enterprise to a stable, established business.
Read the Literary Mama review of Warner’s book here.
1 reply on “A Conversation with Brooke Warner”
Good stuff Brooke. I didn’t realize when I was working with you that I was amidst such writing royalty! Seriously, it was a pleasure working with you and the success I’m having with my book is a testimony to our work together and my decision to do it right the first time.
My book is in it’s second printing and we’re having to order a bunch more. I’m finding I enjoy the marketing part of the game almost as much, and in some cases, more than the writing!
Best to you