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Female Disruptors: How Brooke Warner is shaking up how books get published

My movement would be to create a platform for women to share what holds them back and in doing so to set themselves free. What I see with women writers is that there’s always something that creates a hesitation, a fear, a knee-jerk reaction. “I’m not good enough,” and “I’m not worthy” are two of […]


My movement would be to create a platform for women to share what holds them back and in doing so to set themselves free. What I see with women writers is that there’s always something that creates a hesitation, a fear, a knee-jerk reaction. “I’m not good enough,” and “I’m not worthy” are two of the biggest inner critic messages I hear from women writers. I imagine a social media campaign where women can post their writing, a video, or a photograph sharing whatever that thing is that catches them by the throat or seizes them by the gut — the fear of other people’s reactions, perfectionism, imposter syndrome, that someone else has already done it better. I know that one of the most powerful ways to free ourselves from these fears is to release them, and sometimes to see that we’re not alone. I would love to support women to post these messages as a way to release them — to say I’m turning these over to my community, to my sisters, because when we hold them collectively they don’t have as much power over us.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Brooke Warner, Publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress. Brooke is the author of Write On, Sisters!, Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, and three books on memoir. She’s a TEDx speaker, weekly podcaster (Write-minded with co-host Grant Faulkner of NaNoWriMo), and the former Executive Editor of Seal Press.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Brooke! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I came to book publishing in 2000, my first real job out of college. I decided to try to get a job in the publishing industry when it clicked for me that it was possible to work on books for a living. In 2007, I was exposed to self-publishing for the first time when I started working with an author outside of my 9-to-5 job who wanted to publish non-traditionally. I spent next five years pretty deeply immersed in both sides of the industry — working as an acquiring editor in my day job and moonlighting as a coach to authors who were open to pursuing alternate paths to publishing. I co-founded She Writes Press in 2012 as a response to the barriers to entry to traditional publishing. As someone straddling two publishing worlds, I saw that traditional publishing wasn’t the only way, not even the best way, to publish for certain authors. And most importantly, I saw that self-published authors were writing and publishing work that was as good or better as some traditionally published books. It was a bit of a light-bulb moment for me when I realized that all a non-traditionally published author needed to succeed was access, and I’ve been working to level the playing field for authors ever since.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I mentioned access. In the world of book publishing, you have two distinct camps, so to speak — traditionally published authors and self-published authors. The traditionally published folks have a publisher behind them that opens all the channels so that they’re books can get into the marketplace in an effective way. The publisher is responsible for production and quality control and selling the book into bookstores and other retail outlets. Self-published authors have to figure all this out themselves — and mostly they can’t because they don’t have the mechanisms in place for effective distribution and sales. They might write and produce a beautiful book, but the book comes out and all they can do is get it up for sale on Amazon. The work we’re doing is giving true access — a level playing field — to those authors who are outside of the traditional publishing world, whether by choice or due to barriers to entry which include things like not being well-known enough, not having enough followers, having a book project that’s so niche, and many other arbitrary issues that can keep writers from getting a book deal. What’s disruptive about She Writes Press and SparkPress is that we’ve penetrated a very insular and elitist industry with a new model which insists that books are not “good” or “worthy” because they are chosen by a gatekeeper, or because they’re offered an advance; they’re good or worthy based on their content and their editorial and production value. In this model, a worthy book is not rejected because the author doesn’t have a brand. What we’re doing is disruptive because we’re giving access to any author who’s written a book that they believe has merit. We then assess those books, we curate our list, and beyond editorial and production (which any self-published author can do well), we distribute and sell. Our authors are non-traditionally published, but they get to play in the same sandbox as traditionally published authors, and we’ve had to fight for and earn our right to be there as a company.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share how they made an impact?

My first mentor helped me navigate the world of publishing early on. This is a complicated industry. It’s a legacy industry. He’s a family friend and when I decided to pursue publishing, he would take me to coffee and just talk shop with me. He treated me with such respect and nurtured my early interest. My first boss was a mentor, too, because he taught me what to look for in manuscripts — what made them commercially viable, what made the writing good. That knowledge comes from experience, but it’s instinct, too, and in my early days as a young editor he would ask me to write up editorial notes about various manuscripts and then he’d critique those notes. It was one of the most helpful exercises of my publishing career. I spent the majority of my thirteen years in traditional publishing at a women-only publisher, and there I had a lot of women role models — women who modeled for me what it looked like to be a leader, a boss, to be outspoken and fight for what you believe in. This was modeled through some of the women I worked with, but also by the authors I was working with at the time. My early years at Seal Press were hugely formative, and very inspiring. I think that’s where I learned how to be a disruptor because we were publishing such important work — feminist, often provocative, and truly meaningful and helpful to women.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Before I got my first job in publishing, my first mentor gave me a great piece of advice, which was not to limit my search to only those publishers that were hiring. He said to send my resume everywhere, and I did. And, in fact, I got a job at a company that had not posted a job listing but was ready to bring on a new editor. Another piece of advice came from my former boss at Seal Press, and it was simple: trust your instincts. In book publishing there’s no magic formula for what makes a book sell. I faced many instances at Seal Press where a higher-up wanted us to change a cover or title, and lots of times we didn’t. Many times the editorial team held its ground — to good results. What makes someone a good editor is trusting your own taste — in manuscripts, titles, covers. Trusting myself in this way is what ultimately led me to take the leap to start my own publishing company because I knew I had good taste in manuscripts, in the elements necessary to make good books. I could spot worthwhile writing, and I could also see that not all worthwhile manuscripts were going to get publishing deals. For me, this was the genesis of leaving traditional publishing. Finally, on a personal front with my own writing I got the advice to be myself in my writing, which to me translates into knowing that my voice will carry my writing. In my new book I share a story about Dani Shapiro, who’s definitely a mentor for me, though more of a heart mentor. She taught a class for She Writes University (which we hold annually) in which she said, “Voice is courage.” This is advice in its own way because she was encouraging students not to let other people tell you that you need to find your voice. You have a voice, you just need the courage to let you be you on the page.

How are you going to shake things up next?

Great question. My new book, Write On, Sisters!, is my next big thing, and I hope I can parlay it into a TEDWomen talk someday. It’s feminist and at times provocative. I want women to see the many legitimate barriers we face to getting our creative work out into the world, and how sometimes we ourselves are the barriers. There’s a lot to mine here, and women are embracing their power and their voices in unprecedented ways right now. We are living in such a tumultuous moment, and moments like these call for us to rise up, to speak our truths, to say and write and give voice to our experiences and ideas. I want to have these conversations with women and men, to encourage women to be brave in what they choose to write about and to follow their hearts and their curious minds. Our voices are powerful tools for shaking things up, and it really does require stamina and courage to write and to share — so I want to continue to hold space for women to have these conversations and to amplify their stories.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

For the past year I’ve been co-hosting the podcast, Write-Minded: Weekly Inspiration for Writers. It’s changed me because every week we interview amazing people — some very famous and some just getting their start. What I love about it is the depth of wisdom people have within them from their lived experiences. I also love the generosity of spirit that comes with these interviews. When you dive into people’s journeys to becoming a writer, to publication, you discover that everyone has faced big life decisions and challenges. Every person holds so much depth and passion and layers of experience. There’s a way in which this podcast has helped me to fall in love with humanity, and to realize that writers are all so similar. They want to be heard. They want to make sense of their experience. They want to mine the depths of their understanding of things, and they’re compelled to do that through the written word. The podcast has made me feel a little more tender and has confirmed what I already knew to be true — that each and every one of us has something important to say.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement would be to create a platform for women to share what holds them back and in doing so to set themselves free. What I see with women writers is that there’s always something that creates a hesitation, a fear, a knee-jerk reaction. “I’m not good enough,” and “I’m not worthy” are two of the biggest inner critic messages I hear from women writers. I imagine a social media campaign where women can post their writing, a video, or a photograph sharing whatever that thing is that catches them by the throat or seizes them by the gut — the fear of other people’s reactions, perfectionism, imposter syndrome, that someone else has already done it better. I know that one of the most powerful ways to free ourselves from these fears is to release them, and sometimes to see that we’re not alone. I would love to support women to post these messages as a way to release them — to say I’m turning these over to my community, to my sisters, because when we hold them collectively they don’t have as much power over us.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

For years I’ve had a quote from David Whyte in my signature line that reads: “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” For me these are words to live by because growth is uncomfortable — sometimes for the person who’s growing, but more often for other people. We have the opportunity in a single lifetime to shed our skins and to expand our lives, our interests, our pursuits. To be fully alive is a beautiful way to articulate what expression allows us to feel. We are fully alive when we speak our truths, when we give ourselves permission to be seen and heard. And when others cannot meet you there, when other people are threatened or resentful or dismissive of your efforts to be fully alive, then they are too small for you. I’ve experienced this in my own life and sometimes painful decisions come in the wake of such realizations, but it’s my great hope that women especially value themselves — and by extension their expression — and not let anyone (themselves included) keep them small.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thanks for asking. On Facebook at warnercoaching, on Twitter @brooke_warner, at Instagram @brooke_warner and @writemindedpodcast. I also hope readers will check out the many social media channels for She Writes Press and SparkPress.

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