Sarah Hendess and her sister, Charissa Howe, were on a family trip in England when they hatched their plot to start a publishing company for independent authors.
They sat inside an English pub, forming the idea for Two Sisters Press into a solid plan. “I jokingly call us a PUBlishing company considering where we were when we had the bright idea,” said Hendess, laughing.
Independent authors don’t have to worry. Their decision to dive into the publishing business wasn’t inspired by too much ale. As readers, they found themselves frustrated over the inability to find the specific types of books they enjoyed and wanted to have options.
“Starting our own press just seemed like a good solution to the problem,” said Hendess.
A pledge to deliver a better experience
As an author herself, Hendess is a huge fan of independent publishing companies. She worked with a small family press (Wild Rose Press) to publish her historical novel, Second Chances in Hollywood. “I was in a weird space,” she said. “I wasn’t having any luck with agents because no one was sure how to position my book in the market, even though it’s clearly a historical novel.”
That’s when she ended up on Wild Rose Press’s proverbial doorstep and had decidedly better luck. Hendess said she’s happy with her publisher and has signed on with them to exclusively publish her second book, A Capital Christmas. The historical romance takes place at the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C.
Hendess and Howe hope to provide the same kind of service to the independent authors they hand-select for publication with Two Sisters Press.
“One of the biggest frustrations I had as an aspiring author was how long it took to get a response from a press or an agent,” said Hendess. “The standard is to wait four to six months, and if you don’t hear from them, then assume it’s a no.”
They don’t want authors querying their press to ever experience that level of aggravation. “We want every single author who submits something to us to get an answer one way or the other within four weeks. We feel it’s considerate and respectful of the author’s time. Even if it’s a no, we’re going to tell them.”
How the publishing process works
The publishing process for Two Sisters Press is straightforward. Any author of adult historical fiction, young adult fiction, and middle-grade fiction can submit a partial or full manuscript for consideration. A full list of genres is on their website under the publishing tab.
“It’s a shorter list of things we don’t take,” said Hendess. “We’re not doing nonfiction except for memoirs. We’re not interested in graphic violence or Stephen King-style submissions. We’re both big fans of historical novels and specifically seek out rom-coms and other romance novels.”
Hendess said the sisters prioritize lesser-heard voices when they have a waiting list for publication.
Two Sisters Press currently is in a holding pattern for new submissions until January 2024 because it has reached capacity, she said. Because of their small size, they can only publish between six and eight full-length novels and 15 to 20 picture books per year at this time.
“When we are accepting new manuscripts, you can find a form on our website to fill out that asks for a synopsis, contact information, and the first five to 10 pages of the manuscript. We then review it to decide if it’s a good fit for our press. If we think it is, then the next step is for us to ask for the full manuscript.”
Sending the full manuscript isn’t a guarantee of publication, Hendess warned. “Sometimes once we get the full manuscript, we can see that the premise is good, but the manuscript is lacking somewhere.”
As a traditional royalty publishing house, authors won’t pay anything upfront if the sisters accept their manuscript for publication. “Our rates are 40 percent on eBooks and 10 percent on print sales,” Hendess said.
From submission to publication takes approximately 12 months. Shorter books or those that need less polishing before printing can get out the door faster. “We don’t want to do it too fast because we want to have time to hype up the book and do a proper book launch,” Hendess said.
A few words of advice to new authors
Always do your research before submitting your manuscript to agents or publishing houses. Hendess said that’s the number one piece of advice she can offer aspiring authors to increase their chances of success.
“We sometimes get submissions from authors who clearly haven’t done their research on what we accept and don’t accept,” she said. “You’re setting yourself up for failure when you blindly submit your manuscript. A rejection from us doesn’t mean your book is bad. It just means you queried the wrong person.”
Another tip she offered was to find critique partners who will tell you the truth about your manuscript and help you make it better before you submit it for publishing. “My critique partners are the reason that I have a published book,” said Hendess.
If you’re an author who partakes in the NaNoWriMo challenge to complete a manuscript in 30 days during National Writing Month in November, Hendess begs you not to submit that manuscript on the first day of December to any publishing houses or agents. “Trust me, they’re not ready for query. Do yourself a favor and hire a freelance editor first to do some polishing and line checks. A lot of (small presses) are doing this on the side, so if it needs more work than we have time to put into it, then we may take a pass.”
Lastly, don’t be afraid of small presses as an independent author because the benefits are numerous, she said. “It’s a good way to get noticed by the big five (publishing houses) if it’s your goal in life, especially if you win any awards.”
Visit 2sisterspress.com to learn more about submission requirements or to check out their list of published authors.
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