Not enough women are able to get their work published today—even the best women writers. Almost three-quarters of the bylines in leading print and digital publications belong to men. Shebooks.net decided to do something about this problem: Publish more stories by women.
Co-founder Laura Fraser tells us more about Shebook.net‘s origin.
I’m the Editorial Director and co-founder of Shebooks.net, which publishes short e-books by and for women. I’ve been a journalist and author for 30 years, and while I’ve been relatively successful—one of my books was a NYT bestseller—I’ve experienced how increasingly difficult it is to be published.
One of my cofounders, Peggy Northrop, has been the editor-in-chief of four magazines, and a senior editor at many more, and she’s seen the space for women’s writing shrink and shrink. Getting published is difficult for everyone, of course, as content has been considered free on the Internet, and publishers are putting all their money into their top earners and basically ignoring the rest. But it’s particularly hard for women.
Why is that? It’s a complicated question, having to do with both socialization and sexism. On the one hand, we have what people call the “confidence gap,” where women are reluctant to pitch to magazines–they don’t have the sense that their work is worthy. And there has been some research that shows that if women do pitch, if they are turned down, they tend to personalize that, and think, “the magazine doesn’t want me,” whereas men might think, “they answered my email; I’ll nail it next time.”
But the other factor is plain old sexism. It’s still very much a boys’ club, where male editors tend to trust male writers because they’re part of the tribe. I’ve been in the writers’ collective called the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto for 15 years, for instance, and I’ve seen equally talented men and women approach male editors at top-shelf magazines, and guys get the upper hand. I’ve had many personal instances of sexism in my career.
One recent one was when an editor on a panel was describing a story in Italy he was considering. I approached him and said I’d like to pitch him on it–I speak fluent Italian and know Italy well. His immediate response was, “Oh, I was kind of looking for a science guy.” He automatically assumed I don’t write about science–which I have done, quite a bit–which is not what he might have assumed about a guy. And, well, a guy would have had the “guy” part of his remark down.
Now, if you asked that editor if he was sexist and if he felt women should be equally published, he’s a nice liberal guy who would have said “of course,” and would have had no inkling of his deeper prejudices. Maybe it had to do with me and my writing. That’s certainly a possibility. But his answer seemed automatic. (I did persist and check out the story, calling Italian journalist friends to get the scoop, and it turned out to not be the story the editor thought it was.)
Shebooks wants to change inequities in publishing by giving great women writers a platform. We want to raise their visibility not only to our own readers but to other publications.
My partners and I—the third is Rachel Greenfield, who was the EVP of Martha Stewart Publishing–have been excited by the explosion of digital media, which is giving readers new ways to find compelling stories. And we’re pleased to see writers find fresh ways to work and make money outside the usual channels.
But even on these new media platforms, the problem has persisted that female authors, journalists, editors—and ultimately female readers—are being shut out of the revolution. Innovative digital publishing companies led by men and publishing mostly male writers are getting lots of investment and attention. But we know that women are voracious readers in every format—buying the majority of books and magazines and reading (and writing) the majority of blogs.
So we decided not to wait for our invitation to the party. Shebooks.net was the result: a new media format, real money for writers (our writers all share in our profits), and engaging stories that women can’t wait to read, that fit the corners of their busy lives. We’ve been amazed at the quality of writing we’ve been able to publish.
We hope lots of readers and writers will join our Equal Writes Campaign. We publish mainly seasoned writers, but if you’re an aspiring writer, you can pledge at our $35 level and one of our editors will take a look at your manuscript—for possible inclusion in a Shebooks anthology.
Please spread the word—and thanks so much!
Category: Contemporary Women Writers