Green-light your book – Brooke Warner
By Brooke Warner
The following is an excerpt from Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing (She Writes Press) by She Writes Press publisher and co-founder Brooke Warner.♥
The term “indie,” which is short for “independent,” comes from the film and music world. To be indie has traditionally meant simply that an artist is not under contract, that they don’t belong to a major studio or to a label. In publishing, indie presses were originally presses operated by an individual or individuals. They were called independent to differentiate themselves from corporate.
But the sands have been shifting for some years now, and this indie movement (David) Vinjamuri writes about has been organizing itself for years, subtly but powerfully, and embedded in what it stands for are the values of an entire generation. It’s clear from where I sit, as a younger member of Generation X, that some of this shift has to do with how Gen Xers (born between 1960 and 1980) and millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) have been raised.
Largely, we want to work for ourselves. There’s more creativity, more money to be made more quickly (in the sense that you don’t necessarily have to work your way up), and more possibility for self-expression. Many, like I did, put in good years working for others, learning the ropes and figuring out how things work, before branching out on our own — often taking what we’ve learned and putting our own spin on it. The appetite among consumers for innovative ways of doing things is vast, and despite the initiative, resolve, and risk taking involved in entering this space, there seem only to be signs of growth in these independent movements. According to Vinjamuri’s article, in 2013 on Etsy.com alone, “indie craftspeople and artisans ran over 1 million active shops (listing 25 million products) that sold $1.35 billion dollars of merchandise.”
If you’re part of the indie revolution, you’re most likely straddling your indie passion with a full-time job, as many people are doing. Some of you will take the leap to pursue your indie passion full-time, while others will cobble together various ways to make a living — like Kirstin Jackson, author of It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese, who works as a cheesemonger at Solano Cellars in Berkeley, California, but also makes her own cheese, travels often to Europe to consult about cheese, works as a cheese consultant to local restaurateurs, and blogs on It’sAllAbouttheBrie.com. Her path is not uncommon, and she’s an example of someone who’s used her book to supplement and leverage the various things she does—and yet all of it is contained within a very specific area of expertise.
Those who do leave their day job to pursue their indie passions throw themselves into a brave new world of entrepreneurialism. Vinjamuri’s distinction between an indie and an entrepreneurial mindset is well articulated, but there are of course those who embrace both — authors who embody indie values but who very much want to make money, scale their businesses, and see book publishing as one piece of a larger pie that makes up the business of being an author.
In my experience with authors, I’ve seen that going indie starts with embracing passion. This is the thing that will get you out the gate and excited about what you’re doing. But the most successful authors I work with are those who spend the time to understand the business side of things. They have a goal to earn out their expenses first, then to turn a profit. For most authors, this goal alone is ambitious, depending on the amount of money going into the project. It’s typical for first-time authors not to earn out their expenses, but if publishing is coupled with a long-term vision that includes writing more books, developing expertise in your field, becoming a consultant or a teacher, growing your existing business, and/or getting speaking engagements and other kinds of gigs, then it behooves you to look at your book as a vehicle that will open doors and that, by extension, gives you a platform for your message, ideas, and/or creativity.
One of the keys to true indie success is to fully embrace it. A lot of authors out there are quietly publishing their books and going about their business. Maybe they don’t want people to know that they self-financed. Maybe publishing their book was just something to tick off their to-do list. Maybe they’re struggling with their own judgments about what they’re doing. I had a client, Sandy, whose writing was dragging. She could not, for the life of her, write more than maybe one thousand words per week. She would show up to our sessions often deflated, telling me that her family didn’t “let her write.” Her husband and two adult children were always hijacking her time. She had left a job in finance to pursue a later-in-life and new career as a psychic, and writing was supposed to be a part of that. Writing her book was going to support her business — bring her more clients and legitimize her work as a psychic to her husband. But she just couldn’t do it, and eventually she wanted to discontinue our work together.
What I think happened was that Sandy couldn’t legitimize her work to herself. She had left a big and important career to take this huge leap into the unknown. She had judgments about being a psychic, even though she was passionate about the work. She had grown up in a religious family, and her husband was conservative and didn’t understand Sandy’s “obsession,” as he called it, with “woo-woo stuff.” This perception was detrimental to Sandy, needless to say, but it also meant that shame was getting in the way of her ability to articulate her message. In the end, she was not in a place to embrace her DIY spirit, or to spread her message or write the book she felt called to write.
By contrast, another client of mine entered into a new business enterprise like a firecracker, full of ideas and enthusiasm for a new partnership she’d launched with an illustrator. Together, this writer-illustrator team, Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler, envisioned a funny parenting site called ScienceofParenthood.com, partnering illustrations with funny, quippy anecdotes and truisms about parenthood. This dynamic duo had their eye on the endgame from the moment they started working together. They focused on their platform and made an immediate name for themselves in the blogosphere with good content and high-level engagement with their audience. They did their research and decided they wanted to publish independently, and they fully embraced the spirit of the indie movement in everything they did. They were doing it all on their own — with good taste, high expectations for themselves, and persistence. They ultimately settled on publishing with She Writes Press, and they retained full creative control along the way. A year later (November 2015), their gorgeous book, Science of Parenthood, was out in the world. These coauthors never wavered, never felt guilty, never let anyone stand in their way. Theirs is a book that sings off the page and that was launched with a long-term vision in mind. I have no doubt these two have an amazing journey ahead of them, and Science of Parenthood is just the beginning.
Brooke Warner is the publisher of She Writes Press, president of Warner Coaching Inc., author of What’s Your Book?, How to Sell Your Memoir, co-author of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir and author of Green-Light Your Book. She is also a regular Huffington Post blogger and a master teacher of memoir who co-leads the popular course “Write Your Memoir in Six Months.” Her expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Memoir Writers, and the Bay Area Book Festival. Her website has been named by The Write Life as one of the Top 100 Best Websites for Writers. Warner lives and works in Berkeley, California.