When I met with Brooke Warner of She Writes Press (SWP) at the Mendocino Writers Conference last August, I thought this would be just a brain-storming kind of consult. I had been asked to submit a synopsis and the first chapter of my novel ahead of time, but I didn’t realize that when I walked away from that meeting I would have more or less been offered a chance to publish my book. If I shortened it. One of the questions I had for Brooke was whether the 120,000 word count limit was an absolute maximum. “Pretty much,” she said. “You don’t want it to be longer” – for all sorts of reasons which she enumerated. But overall, she was enthusiastic about my novel, and told me that SWP had achieved a lot of success with historical fiction.
I came away on Cloud Nine. “Holy, moly,” my friends attending the conference with me said. “They don’t take just anyone, you know.” I let that sink in. I was familiar with SWP’s ‘hybrid’ model; I had heard Brooke speak at several events, including the Path to Publishing workshop at the Book Passage the year before. You get the benefit of professional design and proofreading, plus traditional distribution – but as an author you have to finance this yourself. In return, you get to have more control over every stage of the process, and receive significantly higher royalties than in the traditional publishing model. I knew I didn’t want to just slap my novel up on the web in a slip-shod self-publishing style, so maybe this was ideal for me.
And yet… Couldn’t I hold off a bit longer and see if I could find an agent to sell my book to a traditional publishing house? Part of me wanted to do that, to get the full validation for my work that this would entail. But then I remembered stories I had heard from other writers: tales of signing with an agent only to have a manuscript languish on his desk for months, years; reports of an editor committing to a book but then being unable to sell it – or getting fired from the publishing house. Did I really want to go through all the agent-querying business again and have that sort of outcome? And how much longer did I want to wait? It was already eleven years since I had first started work on this novel.
And did I really want to spend the money? I was fortunate in that I knew I could come up with the funds; many people can’t, I understand that. But if I can spend money on an expensive trip to Alaska to celebrate my retirement from my day job; if I can help put my daughter through graduate school; if I can dip into our home equity line of credit to finance our back yard redesign: why not fulfil my dream of publishing my novel?
So I came away from my meeting with Brooke inspired to work on it once again, and get it down to the 120,000 word limit. Worked on it in a mad rush, night and day, and did it in a week. And then I signed the deal! My novel will be published in the fall.