Business name: She Writes Press
Book Title(s): What’s Your Book? and then two ebooks, How to Sell Your Memoir and Breaking Ground on Your Memoir
Tell us about your business: In my coaching practice, my work is focused on helping authors get published. I work with authors at every level—whether they have a new idea and want help from the beginning, or whether they are finished with a manuscript and trying to shop it and want help figuring out why agents and editors aren’t biting. I also co-founded and am the publisher of She Writes Press, a hybrid publishing company that caters to authors who want to have a traditional press experience but keep more of the control and profits for themselves. She Writes Press publishes all kinds of books, but we publish heavily in fiction and memoir. We have a fantastic roster of authors. Very talented women!
What is one of the most common pieces of advice you offer to coaching clients? To believe in your work even when you feel like giving up. Most of the writers I work with suffer crises of confidence at some point—or multiple points—during the writing process, and then again later when it’s time to publish. It’s very exposing to write a book, and authors are afraid of how their work will be received. They’re also oftentimes resistant to spending money on themselves, which is an extension (oftentimes) of doubting how worthy their projects are. I believe that everyone has a book in them. I am a firm believer in standards, and I work with every author to have what I call a “publish-ready” book, and I believe that with enough commitment and dedication every author can get there. I love hand-holding authors through the process of writing a book because it can be such a gut- and heart-wrenching process, and yet it comes with such tremendous rewards as well.
What is your latest book about? Right now I’m working on a new book that’s tentatively called Green-light Your Book. It’s about this exact topic, of championing people to publish their work. A lot of what I write focuses on understanding the publishing landscape that exists today, and how to work in it instead of against it. So many people are holding onto a traditional publishing dream that doesn’t really exist for most authors anymore. The concept of green-lighting is to wrap your mind around the idea that you can and should green-light yourself, but how to do that well so that you set yourself up for success as an author.
What inspired you to write your book? This book is inspired by all of the authors who contact me feeling afraid to self-publish; or who’ve self-published and made some pretty big mistakes. It’s for those authors who would have gotten a traditional deal ten years ago, but who can’t or won’t now because the landscape is so different than it was. So much more competitive. I want writers to publish! I work with many authors who simply won’t publish if they don’t get a traditional deal. They may have a manuscript they’ve been sitting on for ten years. I think that the publishing experience today is about much more than getting a stamp of approval from an agent or an editor. Those industry professionals are much more interested in the author as a brand than an author’s work. The importance of the author platform has now risen to a level that it actually factors more heavily into an agent or editor’s acquisitions decision than the quality of the book itself. Because of this I think we need a new paradigm. We have one in self-publishing, but self-publishing has brought its own set of problems. So Green-light is about all of this—encouraging authors to publish, and to publish well.
Your latest title, What’s Your Book?, helps authors overcome challenges to getting their book published. What is one major pitfall you see to authors achieving publishing success? The biggest pitfall I see is authors trying to go it alone. Authors who don’t solicit support or feedback. There are so many excuses writers make: they don’t have enough money; they want to just “test the waters” with agents and editors to see what feedback they can get; they don’t know what they don’t know. But I see writers sabotaging their chances of getting published all the time just because they don’t ask the right questions, or because they haven’t taken the time to educate themselves about the industry and how it works. So this is a big challenge because it’s a mindset issue—which is the subject of one of the chapters in this book.
How did you come to do what you’re doing today? I got into publishing by luck. I wanted to work with books and I didn’t know what options were out there. A family friend worked in book publishing and I was intrigued. I had an informational interview with him and he told me that my best chance of breaking into publishing was to try to get an internship and he recommended that I sent out my resume everywhere, even to houses who weren’t officially looking for interns. I heeded that advice and ended up getting a job interview and a job as a project editor. I learned a lot during those five years, working for a small Berkeley house, and eventually moved to Seal Press, where I was an acquiring editor and eventually Executive Editor. I left Seal after eight years to co-found She Writes Press, and to try my hand at something a little different. It’s been three years since I struck out on my own and this is a good spot for me out on the new publishing frontier. I like being a trailblazer.
Can you describe a typical day in your life? This is a tough one because it varies a lot. I’m a coach and a publisher. My days are busy and long. I wake up at 5am or earlier to try to get a handle on my email before my four-year-old son wakes up. Once he’s up, it’s all about him and getting him to school. My days are one-part creation, one-part author/writer-management. There are a lot of details to hold in this job and a lot of book creation is about pushing things through the publication process. I love the work, but I also feel like a juggler who has 100 balls in the air at any given time. Email itself can become a full-time job, so I have to force myself away in order to attend to the real work of helping the writers I work with create books. It’s a balance for sure.
What do you most enjoy about what you do? I love the book production process, getting a book from idea to actual book. It’s exciting, like midwifing people’s dreams. I also appreciate and enjoy my relationships with my authors. Some of those relationships last for a lifetime, and when you’re an editor you are helping authors to bring a lifelong dream to fruition. Any time I think my work is really stressful I remind myself how lucky I am to do what I do. This line of work is creative, inspiring, and fulfilling. And it always has been for me.
Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey? A first and early inspiration was Toni Morrison. I fell in love with her books in college and realized I was a reader and lover of books. Falling in love with her work led me to read the classics and other works of literary fiction. Later, working at Seal, there were a handful of memoirs that opened the door to my love of memoir: Lucy Greeley’s Autobiography of Face; Caroline Knapp’s Drinking, A Love Story. I fell in love with memoir and never looked back. I’m pretty forthcoming about the fact that memoir is my favorite genre. Mark Nepo has also been a big inspiration of mine. We work together and he’s opened new spaces for me to explore in my career. He’s influenced me as an author and as a person and a friend.
Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you? Wow, hard question. I think maybe that I’m playful and quick to laugh. I think the authors I work with probably think I’m very intense and business-driven, which I have to be just because of how much I manage. But I can be pretty silly, and I don’t take myself too seriously.
What’s next for you? I will be doing what I’m doing for as long as I can do it. One of the beautiful things about being an entrepreneur is that you get to set your own course. I’m doing what I love, and the businesses I am working in are ones that I created. So the passion and the drive is pretty limitless. I am sometimes overwhelmed, but never bored or apathetic. I want to finish the book I have in progress and write more books. I look forward to growing more in this industry and continuing to create more visibility for She Writes Press. What’s next is cultivating and making better the things I already have. This includes the memoir classes I teach with Linda Joy Myers of The National Association of Memoir Writers. Together we have a pretty successful series of memoir programs at Write Your Memoir in Six Months, and those courses (and our students) inspire me.
Is there anything else you would like to add? I always like to leave aspiring authors with a note of encouragement. The publishing industry is turned upside down right now, so getting rejections from agents and editors is not necessarily a sign that your book shouldn’t be published. If publishing a book is either a career ambition or a life-long dream, do it! You will never regret having published your work, and it always opens up new opportunities, possibilities, and friendships and connections.