[SWP: Behind the Book] My Path to Partnership Publishing

Like many writers I started down the route to the publication of my book, Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage, in the traditional way. I bought a copy of The Writer’s Handbook and highlighted all the agents working in my genre. I scoured the acknowledgments sections of books I thought were akin to mine, looking for mention of the author’s agent’s name. I subscribed to Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog. And then I started querying.

This went on for a year and a half in fits and starts, dictated in part by the demands of my “real life” and in part by how encouraged or discouraged I was feeling about my prospects at any given time.  With regard to the latter, the querying had started well, with two requests for partial manuscripts. Both were swiftly rejected once I submitted the partials, which taught me my first lesson: my query letter was better than my manuscript. Still, at least I knew I had a hook. I took some time to get feedback from readers, which I should have done in the first place, edited, and resumed.

From there the response from agents became more mixed. I was both ignored and rejected repeatedly, but I also continued to get that encouraging trickle of interest in the form of requests for both proposals and full manuscripts. And there was a consistent theme emerging in the feedback I got from those agents: while my manuscript was well-written, the odds of selling a travel memoir were almost non-existent unless it was written by a celebrity.

It may seem odd to spend so much time telling you about my experience querying agents in a piece that is supposed to be about partnership, aka hybrid, publishing, but there is a reason.  Despite never landing an agent, that year and a half was time well spent and a critical building block in the partnership publication process. The editorial and commercial feedback I got from agents helped me make my manuscript stronger and to better prepare for the platform building I would have to do on my own when I eventually did partner publish. For this reason alone, I would encourage any author who is considering a partnership press, like She Writes Press, to go through the process of trying to get an agent first.

The turning point for me in deciding to pursue partnership publishing was a tweet. It arrived one day as I was looking over my ever-dwindling list of potential agents to query. I don’t remember the exact wording, but my former writing teacher and friend, Sam Dunn, had quipped that most self-publishing amounts to nothing more than vanity projects, but a new contender, She Writes Press, just might change her mind. I had never heard of She Writes Press, a community-driven, partnership press, but immediately went and looked it up. On impulse, I submitted my manuscript.

As the process with She Writes Press began, I was somewhat ambivalent. It helped my pride that She Writes Press vetted submissions and was run by someone with a strong background in traditional publishing, but I still preferred to have a traditionally published book. Then the rejection came in for the last copy of my manuscript that had been floating around in agent purgatory, and I had a decision to make. In the end it came down to this: When I talked to She Writes Press publisher, Brooke Warner, about the possibility of publishing with her, I felt happy. The next day I signed the contract.

Six months later—She Writes Press could have gone faster, but I took my time in some areas—I had a book out, and I still felt happy. I’d had a say in many aspects of production that I wouldn’t have in traditional publishing, from interior illustrations to cover design, and had gotten a remarkable education along the way—not just from the publisher, but from the nine other women who were also pilot authors for She Writes Press.

Now two months have passed since my book’s publication, and my expectations have admittedly been tempered. My original goal of breaking even on the project (which I wrote about here) seems unrealistic, and I am hard at work on the more achievable goal of using Americashire as a platform-building exercise. Most important of all to me, I still feel happy about my book and I don’t have any regrets about not doing it. Instead of a manuscript in the drawer, I have a book on the shelf.

JENNIFER RICHARDSON is the author of Americashire: A Field Guide to a Marriage, the 2013 Indie Reader Discovery Award winner for travel writing. The book chronicles her decision to give up city life for the bucolic pleasures of the British countryside. Americashire is out now from She Writes Press, and you can find Jennifer online at:


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  • Rossandra White

    What a terrific account of your process and decision to go with SWP, Jennifer! I didn't find it negative at all. I liked the way you spelled it out, kept it "real." With the publishing climate such as it is, this can only be helpful to those trying to decide which path to take. My MFA teacher pal is steering her graduates toward SWP.

  • Thanks, Kamy. Reading the post back I think it sounds more negative than I feel, but I did want to ensure I was keeping it real! I too am glad I invested in my book with SWP. It continues to be a lively journey with new doors opening every week.

  • Jennifer I love this post for your candor and for its frank evaluation of partnership publishing.  Part of why we started SWP was because so many writers I know, with terrific manuscripts, are told that they won't sell -- and, as you point out here, perhaps the publishers are right -- but then some work that really should be in the world ends up stuck in the proverbial drawer.  There should be another way!  And I for one am so glad you invested in your book with us, and that it's in the world, as it should be.  Readers like Petrea are obviously glad too.

  • Petrea Burchard

    I agree. There are good and not-so-good points to self- and partnership (I like that better than hybrid) publishing, but the longevity potential of a book is one of the many good points.

  • Thanks, Petrea! Me too -- breaking even is still a goal in the long run, it's just not THE goal. Thankfully, as my publicist points out, we're no longer in a situation where it's all over if you haven't hit your sales targets three months after your publication date. Social media is giving us all a much longer lease on life. Now that I have the book (and you have yours), it can always be a part of our writing tag lines for anything we get out there.

  • Petrea Burchard

    And just to add my two cents:
    I highly recommend this book, especially if you're an anglophile. I don't know Ms. Richardson but I really wanted to read Americashire, based on its description, so I entered a contest on SheWrites to win a copy. I won, and I was not disappointed. I hope you do break even, Jennifer, at the very least.