Beautifully written ... An ambitious and moving debut novel.—LILY KING, author of the award-winning national bestseller, "Euphoria"
... a thought-provoking and timely novel.—THE ADVOCATE
... an extraordinarily pertinent novel dripping in suspense and powerful scenes of political discourse … a must-read ....—FOREWORD (starred review)
Working with She Writes Press
Almost every week I get lovely notes from writers who are thinking about working with the publisher of my novel, This Is How It Begins: She Writes Press. These writers always have terrific questions for me, smart questions that every writer should ask before jumping in to sign on with a publisher. After a time, I realized that it might be helpful to put together a list of frequently asked questions that anyone can refer to—I hope these help!
Did you have a good experience working with SWP?
Yes. She Writes Press is a professionally run, serious publisher that’s well-respected in the world of not only hybrid publishing, but all of publishing. Brooke Warner, the publisher, is a trailblazer in the rapidly-changing world of publishing, and she’s always advocating on behalf of indie authors. She’s always in your corner as an author. While Brooke as publisher is always wildly busy, if you work with the press you’ll have a direct project manager you can reach out to at any time, and Brooke will jump in if necessary. SWP, though, has a comprehensive on-boarding process that takes you through every step of your publishing journey so you always know what’s what.
One of the top reasons I went with SWP is distribution: their books are distributed in exactly the same way books are distributed by traditional, Big Five publishers, as as such they are easily purchased by bookstores and libraries. Ingram Publisher Services is the distributor, and they are recognized by every entity that buys books, which gives SWP a leg up on other hybrid publishers. SWP also has an Ingram sales team which helps get word out about your book. Bear in mind, though, that nearly all of the marketing will still fall to you, and that’s true nowadays about every publisher (unless you’re one of their bestselling authors).
SWP is expensive. Will I recoup my investment?
Because I published in 2017, my initial costs were lower than what they are now, so keep that in mind. At this point—three years post-publication—I have recouped my investment in publishing through SWP. Honestly, though, I didn’t publish with SWP thinking I would make money on my novel. I invested because I’m building a career as a writer and I wanted to get my debut novel out into the world quickly and effectively to make my mark. In that, SWP was the perfect publisher for me—between SWP’s reputation, some marketing on their behalf, and their traditional distribution through Ingram, I was able to get attention for my novel and get my book into bookstores and libraries.
If you’re thinking that you’ll invest in publishing with SWP and quickly recoup your investment and start making good royalties, you’ll want to do some serious number-crunching before you sign on the dotted line. Yes, SWP gives you a bigger cut than traditional publishers from each book you sell, and you won’t need to pay a literary agent, but you still need to keep in mind just how many books you’ll need to sell to break even and start earning. Reach out to SWP and ask them for a chart that shows how many books you’ll have to sell—I know they used to have that and it’s very helpful for you to see just how many books you have to sell. Do the math.
And keep in mind that selling books is awfully hard work! You’ll need to focus almost full time on selling in order to see good sales. I’ve worked my ass off and have sold shy of 5,000 copies since Oct 2017, and from what I hear, that’s unusual. So . . . do the math!
Also, look at the other FAQs—there are a lot of other costs to consider.
Did you hire a publicist? Was it expensive?
Yes. I worked with Caitlin Hamilton Summie and love, love, love her! I have referred many SWP writers to Caitlin and highly recommend her.
More generally, I know you’re asking if you need to hire a publicist, and what that publicist can do for you. I can tell you this. I’m a savvy online marketer with years of experience selling things online and I could not have done what my publicist did for me. A publicist has connections you wouldn’t even think about. They can help you with the following: secure book reviews in print and online media; book appearances at bookstores; find speaking gigs or festival appearances; and get press attention via print, online, blogs, podcasts, radio, TV. They have connections that make these things easy for them (and hard for you if you were trying to do it on your own).
Most of the well-known authors I know, even those who are traditionally-published with well-known top 5 publishers, hire a publicist. If you’re serious about getting your book out there, you need someone in your corner to help you push it out there.
Is it expensive? Yes. You’re paying a professional to advocate for you and your work—you’re paying for their time, expertise, and years of connections; they are worth the investment. Like anything, there are a range of fees, depending on who you work with, so do your homework, interview at least three publicists, and crunch the numbers to determine whether it’s worth it for you. SWP has a list of recommended publicists you can check out.
If you are not that invested in making your mark with your book and don’t have the resources, you certainly can do without a publicist. But if you’re building your career as a writer, make the investment.
Are there other costs involved in publishing?
This isn’t about SWP, per se, but it’s important to consider all the costs involved in getting a book out into the world. In addition to investing in SWP, and a publicist should you go that route, you’ll need to think of all the other things that might cost money as you launch your book out into the world. For instance:
- Website design, hosting and maintenance
- Mailing list provider (like ConvertKit, MailChimp)
- Advertising costs for things like social media ads, Kirkus Reviews, BookBub reviews
- Book festival shelf/table space
- Book award entry fees
- Contest entry fees
- Fellowship entry fees
- Conference expenses
If you’re working to make your mark as a writer, you’ll want to get out into the world with your book in as many ways as you can, and often trying to do that costs money. Don’t forget to factor that in.
Will publishing with SWP open doors to traditional publishing?
Who knows?! I would not make a decision to apply to work with SWP because you think it’s a foot in the door to future traditional publishing. There are far too many unknown factors to predict whether having a book out with SWP will help you land a literary agent and then a publishing contract with a traditional publisher.
If your book does exceedingly well—meaning you get great professional and reader reviews, win awards, sell a lot of copies—that can help when you try to find an agent for your next book. But it’s far from a guarantee. When my novel, This Is How It Begin, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, I got some attention from agents who reached out to me based on that accolade. But I’ve not (yet?) landed an agent for my next novel.
Agents and traditional publishers are looking for one thing: books they love that they believe they can sell. You can have all kinds of amazing credentials and it won’t matter one bit if they don’t love the manuscript you’re trying to sell them.
If you had it to do over again, would you choose SWP?
Yes. All things being equal, I would do it again—my goal was to invest in myself as an author and get my novel out into the world as quickly as possible with a reputable publisher and traditional distribution to bookstores and libraries. In that, we succeeded, and SWP was central to that success.
Are you planning to publish with SWP for your next novel?
No. Not because of any bad experience, though—I love working with SWP and will continue to love it as my debut novel continues to sell through SWP.
I worked with SWP initially as an investment in launching my career as an author. I made that investment, accomplished the launch of my author career, and now don’t need to make a second investment in quite the same way.
Through my debut novel, I’ve built-up a sizable mailing list of interested readers who are waiting for my next novel, and I’m considering going the indie route and selling direct to readers, which is far more profitable. I’m also considering seeking agent representation because I’d like to sell my second novel and also sell foreign, audio and film rights for This Is How It Begins, and an agent could take care of all of that. The jury is still out on what I will do. I will hire a publicist again, though, no matter what route I take.
I will say, though, that I’ve seen plenty of other SWP authors who have published multiple books with SWP, and that speaks volumes about the experience of working with SWP.
Did anything surprise you about working with SWP?
Yes! I had completely underestimated how valuable it would be to join a generous and supportive community of women authors! SWP is a “sisterhood” of authors, and the private Facebook group of authors was amazingly helpful when I first started on the publishing journey, and I made friends and colleagues in my cohort (Fall 2017) that I am still in touch with today. Many SWP authors team up for appearances, joint advertising, all kinds of promotions, etc. That’s one thing you won’t get with a traditional publisher, that’s for sure; SWP authors are generous and supportive and will help you out with whatever you need.
Also, the SWP retreat (just for SWP authors) was amazing, and a great way to get to know other authors in the same boat with you.
Aside from royalties from book sales, what other book-related income can I expect?
If you like giving talks and readings, you can make money with those. Bookstores won’t pay you to come, of course, but libraries and book groups and community organizations will pay you.
Most of the writers I know don’t even ask to be paid when they get invited to appear at a library or book group or community group. But I feel strongly that my time is valuable, and that “exposure” and “book sales” are not enough compensation for my time. Think about how long it took you to write the book, and how much energy and money you’ve invested in getting the book out there, and how much time and energy it takes to make an appearance! You’re a professional author, so act like a professional who deserves to get paid for her time.
You might be surprised. In the past three years, I’ve had only one library and one book group decide they couldn’t pay me. Even the tiniest of libraries was able to come up with a stipend and money for mileage at the national standard rate, and book groups gave voluntary donations of usually around $20 per person (which is what I recommend as customary). If you don’t ask, you won’t get paid. But if you do . . .