Spotlight: Brooke Warner, She Writes Press

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December 2014
by Linda Carlson

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Brooke WarnerNew to the IBPA board this year, Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and president of Warner Coaching Inc., both based in Berkeley, CA.

A native of San Juan Capistrano in southern California, Warner went east to George Washington University for her undergraduate degree and then returned west to San Francisco State University, where she earned a master’s. Then she got started in publishing at North Atlantic Books, a Berkeley-based publisher of alternative health, martial arts, and spiritual titles.

In between East and West Coasts, however, she had an 18-month stay in Europe, where her experiences included working as a nanny in Paris and working at Shakespeare & Co. in return for 50 francs a day and a bed.

After four years of handling acquisitions at North Atlantic, Warner moved to Seal Press, starting there in acquisitions and working her way up to executive editor during eight years that were a period of significant transition for Seal— the kind of transition that many indie publishers experience.

Originally a feminist press headquartered in Seattle, Seal had just been acquired by Avalon and moved to Berkeley when Warner joined it. “The women who worked for Seal in Seattle were still very involved, and the company had a real indie feel to it,” she recalls, adding, “That suited me, having come from North Atlantic.”

Avalon was soon acquired by Perseus, bringing dramatic change. “Despite the staff staying small, the environment became very corporate,” Warner reports. “Although the core staff at Seal has been consistent and that has allowed it to retain its identity, there was a lot more pressure on me as an editor.”

While she was still at Seal, she got started as a writing coach and publishing consultant. Then, in 2012, she left Seal to devote all her working time to coaching, consulting, and running She Writes Press with co-founder Kamy Wicoff.

Today, Warner is also the author and publisher of a pair of e-books, What’s Your Book? A Step-by-Step Guide to Get You from Inspiration to Published Author (2012), and How to Sell Your Memoir: 12 Steps to a Perfect Book Proposal (2013).

She Writes Press, which Warner and Wicoff describe as a hybrid publisher, is an affiliate of She Writes, which Wicoff established in 2009 as a social media network for women who identify as writers. (For more about this kind of hybrid see “Partnership Publishing: The Continuing (and Controversial) Revolution”)

Some 23,000 people now participate in the network. As Wicoff and Warner said in a Publishers Weeklyf feature, “It serves as a hub for writers to connect, communicate, and collaborate with each other. Although the focus is of course on women writers, men would not be turned away.”

The press was created to provide opportunities for authors whom Warner saw being turned away at Seal. “I was seeing all these great writers, but mostly with no platform, and therefore no hope of getting a publishing deal,” she explains.” I wanted to return to not measuring a book’s worth by an author’s platform, and that’s what SWP does. Our books are chosen for publication on merit alone.”

By year’s end, She Writes Press will have published 85 titles, most of them memoirs or fiction. The only genre it does not publish is children’s books. Its website describes the firm as “a curated press …, aiming to serve writers who wish to maintain greater ownership and control of their projects while still getting the highest quality editorial help possible for their work,” adding “Whether you end up publishing with SWP or not, we can provide you with expert coaching and editorial services to get your manuscript publish-ready.”

In her role as a writing coach, both in person and through online courses, Warner works with many people who struggle at the keyboard, and she has advice that applies whether the challenge is a personal memoir, a manuscript for publication, a media release, or a book blurb. “The most effective way to overcome writing blocks is to give yourself permission—permission to play, to let it be fun, to not be burdened by perfect, to not worry about other people’s version of the truth, or that others are better than you, or that someone else is going to write your book, or write it better.”

When interviewed for an October New York Times article called “Appeal of Writing Memoirs Grows, as Do Publishing Options,” Warner offered advice for memoir writers. Among the recommendations that may lead to greater productivity for every writer: Turn off your Internet connection, e-mail and telephone; keep a daily journal of your progress, concluding with a list of your goals for the next day; and find a writing partner, someone you notify when you start to write each day and when you stop.

Especially with a book, she advises, “To get out a first draft you have to know that you’re going to need to revise, and you have to be okay with that. Give yourself time and to be gentle with yourself in the process of generating that first draft.”

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