PUBLISHED APRIL 2016
by Brooke Warner, Publisher, She Writes Press
Recently, I had dinner with several publishing colleagues. We were an industry mash-up: a traditional publisher, two independent publishers, two booksellers, an agent, a publicist, and a reporter. The conversation about the indie publishing landscape was largely encouraging, but a few disparaging comments about self-publishing inevitably slipped in. It’s a sad truth that many conventional players in the publishing industry still set themselves apart and above by clinging to an outdated notion that paying to publish makes an author’s book less-than. This is a prevailing mindset despite the fact that traditionally published authors pay for various aspects of their publishing endeavors, and have been for years.
This “us” versus “them” mentality persists between traditional publishing and self-publishing despite the incredible growth we’re seeing in author-subsidized publishing models, including the emergence of a whole new host of middle-ground publishing options that include hybrid and other author-assisted models that are different from standard DIY self-publishing. Now that author-subsidized models have matured as a viable option, using the fact that an author has paid to publish as the sole criteria for deciding whether a book qualifies for certain reviews, or whether an author qualifies for membership in certain organizations, is no longer justifiable. Right now, these review outlets and organizations are saying—by way of excusing themselves—that it’s too overwhelming to sort through hundreds of thousands of self-published titles. They then close the door and walk away. The only way for indie authors to change these practices is to advocate for themselves and to refuse to be treated as second-class citizens within their industry.
The old truism is to kill them with kindness. Where author subsidization is concerned, you must kill with quality, too. With this in mind, here are three ways indie authors can play hardball with the conventional industry, and stoke the indie revolution while they’re at it.
Be Better Than the Best
In my new book, Green-Light Your Book, I dedicate a chapter to our industry’s discrimination against author-subsidized books. I encourage authors to be better than their traditional counterparts if they want to have a fighting chance at success. Substandard editorial quality, bad cover design, amateur interiors, and rookie mistakes are reasons for the conventional industry to write you off. We must not only be aware of the industry standards we’re expected to adhere to, we must also walk the walk and publish books that are indistinguishable from—or better than—those of our traditional counterparts.
Conventional publishing is often referred to as “legacy” publishing, a term that speaks to the longevity of certain publishers. The “Big Five” publishers are names we are all familiar with, and it’s tough to gain visibility when you’re up against such Goliaths. And so, to make strides in this business—whether you’re writing, or publishing, or both—you need to write and publish more. Just as authors build their platforms by generating more and more content, publishers also grow and build their brand and visibility by publishing more. My press, She Writes Press, is just now starting to gain traction in the industry with nearly 200 books signed, just over half of those making up our backlist. Authors paying to publish their own work who want similar visibility need to publish often (at least a book every other year) to get—and keep—their names out there. This can feel grueling for writers whose pace is a bit slower, but there are workarounds. Write an e-book, publish other people’s work, edit an anthology, submit to collections. Content can be packaged in myriad ways.
Spread the Love
One of the things I most love about being the publisher of She Writes Press is my community of authors. As a hybrid publisher, often called a partnership publisher, we have gone out of our way to give our authors opportunities to connect and to get to know one another. We host monthly education calls to help the authors better understand this wild industry we’re part of so they can hold their own out in the world—at conferences, with booksellers and librarians, and even with their readers. As a result, we have ambassador authors who are well-equipped to talk about the nuances of the industry. Indie authors must share their experiences, be out and proud about their publishing journeys, and support others who are coming up in the ranks. We need to champion each other and work together to combat the remaining barriers we face.
Indie authors and publishers have a lot of work yet to do. We have been riding the wave of the independent revolution for a while, and yet still haven’t reached its crest. There is a ton of momentum among our ranks, but we need more effective ways to organize, advocate, and demand equal and fair treatment within our own industry. Until we do that, we are living in an “us” versus “them” paradigm set up by a legacy system which claims to be overwhelmed, but which is in fact actively resisting us. Be a voice for change. Viva la revolución.
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-Light Your Book (June 2016) and What’s Your Book? She is the former executive editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and shewrites.com. She lives and works in Berkeley, California.