My ex-husband’s uncle was a World War II fighter pilot who went down with the plane. A true hero. Several years ago, the family paid someone to write Uncle Dante’s story. They had about 100 books made and distributed them to family and friends. Everyone cherished those books, and Uncle Dante’s heroism was memorialized. To me, that’s one of the very best examples of self-publishing.
In many cases, however, having your book published by a vanity press, as the name implies, carries something of a stigma. After all, if your book is any good, wouldn’t one of the reputable publishing houses want the honor of bringing it into the world and pay you for the privilege?
Not necessarily. As the publishing world becomes increasingly competitive and the purse strings ever more tightly drawn, it’s become harder and harder to get a contract with a traditional publisher. To meet the needs of writers dying to get their work out, a new crop of hybrid publishers has sprung up. It’s a whole new game out there.
One of the most robust and well-regarded is She Writes Press, co-founded by Berkeleyites Kamy Wicoff and Brooke Warner in 2012 as a response to the formidable barriers to traditional publishing.
Warner, the executive editor at Berkeley-based Seal Press for eight years, had become disillusioned as she rejected books she loved because the submitting author didn’t have a strong enough “author platform.”
An author platform, for those not in the know, means having a strong online presence: a highly visited website, big Twitter following, a popular podcast, etc. I hear J.D. Salinger shuddering in his grave.
She Writes, by the way, deals with literary fiction, memoirs and some self-help written by women. Its sister company, SparkPress, publishes more commercial work by both men and women.
The gist of it is this: A writer submits work to She Writes, and the staff evaluates the book’s promise. She Writes receives 30 to 40 submissions a month, but last year the press published only 80 books. If a work is accepted, She Writes handles production, design, distribution and marketing. (The distribution piece is important, as that’s how books get into bookstores and requires networks that most writers do not have.)
The author pays She Writes $7,500 to publish her book. If extensive editing is needed, that’s outsourced at an additional cost to the author. The writer then receives 60 percent of any royalties. This differs from the traditional publishing model, where the author is paid an advance (which varies widely depending on perceived marketability) and 7.5 percent of royalties — but shells out no money of her own.
So, is it worth it? The fee of $7,500 is a big hunk of cash. It seems clear that, if a writer has the choice to go the traditional route, that would be preferable. Many writers turn to crowdsourcing to raise the $7,500 price tag.
If, however, a writer has a file full of rejections and a book that she is convinced has merit, and she has the cash, why not go for it? There are also those who claim they turn to the hybrid publishers because their work doesn’t fit any “accepted” genre or “convention” of marketable fiction. The big publishing houses, they claim, are too narrow-minded to risk working with material that’s outside the box.
She Writes’ biggest success by far has been “The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge,” by Beatrice Chestnut, which sold about 20,000 copies. For those without the resources to engage with a hybrid press, there’s always the DIY self-publishing route, using services like Amazon KDP, Draft2Digital and IngramSpark, hiring only the freelance assistance you need, and working directly with retailers and distributors to sell your book. That’s a tough road.
You can also go the middle route and hire a service company (such as Matador, Radius Book Group, Scribe Media and Girl Friday Productions) to produce your book. Most of these books are never stocked in physical bookstores.
In case it all sounds hopeless, there are some self-published books that have been picked up by the big publishing houses, among them: “The Celestine Prophecy,” by James Redfield; “Still Alice,” by Lisa Genova; and, perhaps most famously, “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James. And Marcel Proust, after countless rejections, reportedly paid a publishing house to publish “Swann’s Way.” Miracles do happen.
But I wouldn’t bet on it.
All this discussion begs the question of why someone wants to get a book published. Is it ego, recognition from others, the catharsis of a journey of self-discovery or the conviction the information contained in the book is something the world desperately needs? That’s a complicated question. I can attest there’s something very gratifying about seeing your name in print. It just depends on what it’s worth to you.
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