Sunday, March 3, 2013

Brooke Warner: tips and tales of the publishing trade at Left Coast Writers Literary Salon

Brooke Warner is like "the aspiring author's go-to guide," said Linda Watanabe McFerrin in her introduction to February's featured speaker at Left Coast Writers Literary Salon, held each month at Book Passage bookstore.

With more than 13 years of experience as an acquiring editor in traditional publishing--most recently as Executive Editor of independent and feminist Seal Press--Warner has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about the process of getting a book from inception to shelf. The author of What's Your Book: A Step-by-Step Guide to Get You from Inspiration to Published Author, published by her own She Writes Press, says the greatest hurdle to writing tends to be oneself.

"Almost everyone struggles in some capacity with mindset," says Warner, who now helps writers at her company, Warner Coaching. She claims that 50% of the challenge of writing is the craft. The remaining half is the psychology of it, citing that nasty inner critic who often gets in the way.

Book chapters like "Anyone Can Do It" and "Challenging Your Mindset" are designed to address the latter. Others, like "The Almighty Author Platform" and "Your Publishing Plan," provide writers with a road map to making their work public.

Warner says there are "platform writers" (those driven to be published) and "passion writers" (those for whom writing is a precious baby), but either way one needs to value one's writing to get it into readers' hands. Keeping a writing schedule and a sense of accountability (whether blogging for a readership or checking in with a writing buddy) help maintain a structure all writers need.

The path to publication (as well as maintaining a platform via social media) were topics the audience asked about more than the writing process. Warner, who left traditional publishing after feeling worn out from "the sky is falling mentality of the industry," says even at Seal Press only a fraction of their front-list books made it to bookstores. However, as a coach she's an equal advocate for either route, with 80% of her clients still aiming for the traditional path.

"The playing field is much more level than it's ever been," says Warner, who notes that many wonder why they'd want to give a publisher 93% of the profits when they can make more self-publishing, which no longer carries the same stigma it once did.

In an industry where a book is returned to the publisher if it doesn't sell for a couple of months, and where the success of a book's sales depend largely on reviews and publicity rather than its quality alone, self-publishing is an increasingly popular option. She says royalty reports are depressing; you're lucky if you earn out your advance.

Ranging from Create Space to Balboa Press to her very own She Writes Press (where if you invest the $5,000 needed to sell 500 copies you'll break even), the self-publishing options are vast. Warner calls She Writes Press a "hybrid publisher"--author-subsidized publishing based on a traditional press model, which includes book distribution. She also recommends Lightning Source for professional quality print-on-demand books where you become your own publisher.

You just have to know how to market it.

As if the process of writing and publishing a book isn't enough to navigate, one must also develop an author platform--essential for publicizing your work in a climate of shrinking marketing budgets.

"If you want to be published traditionally--and even if self-published--you really need to embrace social media," claims Warner, who got comfortable reading her work aloud and creating video clips on YouTube, like the one below. She even hired someone to turn her book into a series of Twitter posts.

The good news, she says, is it's not too late any point in your career to start. Create a fan page on Facebook where you can post on your writing themes (historical fiction, romance, etc.). Start a blog on a free site like Wordpress or blogger and build your readership with consistent posts (at least once a month). Get your own Wordpress URL for an author website (only $7-15 per year; just don't search for the name unless you intend to buy it, as others can see your search and take it so you have to buy it back at a high cost).

For a more in-depth look, join Left Coast Writers Monday, March 4, for a panel on self-publishing!



Mary Wallace said...

I got a LOT out of Brooke's talk at Left Coast Writers... I was stunned that most agented, publishing contracted writers never get into bookstores... What's the point, then, in my personal opinion? Better to have slow low sales and build up to a good strong readership over time, on my energy, than to give all rights away and have books returned from bookstores because the industry is changing and there aren't enough sales. I'd rather retain my rights and have my success be dependent on me.

Nicole R. Zimmerman said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective -- the publishing world is a fascinating and ever-changing landscape to navigate.

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