My memoir, Runway: Confessions of a not-so supermodel, was recently released by a new company called Shebooks, which publishes high-quality 10,000-word ebooks written by women. This week I want to share with you an interview with New York Times bestselling author and Shebooks co-founder Laura Fraser. In two weeks, I will share with you what I have learned about networking during these first three months of publication.
MW: Can you tell us a little about Shebooks? What is it and why did you co-found it?
LF: Shebooks is a new digital publisher of short e-books by and for women, which you can subscribe to or download singly at shebooks.net. Each of the reads is about an hour or two long--or 10,000 words if you're a writer. I started the company with Peggy Northrop, an editor-in-chief who has won two National Magazine Awards for General Excellence, when we realized that magazine space is shrinking for great reads by and for women, it's harder for women authors to get published, and top-shelf magazines still publish 75% male bylines—and the same thing was happening in the e-publishing space.
So we decided to create a publishing platform of our own that would take advantage of the opportunities of digital publishing and finally give great women writers an advantage.
MW: Why do you think top-shelf magazines still publish 75% male bylines? Is it because not enough women are submitting to those publications?
LF: This is 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," where 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 San Francisco Writers' Grotto for 15 years, 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 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 I think he might have said to a guy. And, well, a guy would have had the "guy" part down. 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 had no idea of his deep prejudices. Now, maybe it had to do with me and my writing. That's always a possibility. But his answer seemed automatic.
MW: How does Shebooks hope to change sexism in the publishing industry?
LF: I don't know that we are going to change sexism in the publishing industry, but we are giving great women writers a platform where there are fewer barriers to entry. We are as determined to publish only high-quality writing as the best magazines, but without that element of sexism. This isn't a "separate but equal" situation, but rather a platform from which women writers can be published and show the world what amazing writers they are, to raise their visibility and to be taken more seriously. We are helping them stand up and be noticed.
MW: Kindle Singles, The Atavist, Byliner, Longreads, and not Shebooks are all publishing novella-length works of fiction and nonfiction. How do you explain this new trend? Do people no longer have the attention span to read 300-page books?
LF: People are certainly busier than ever, and want good reads that fit their lives. If you're going to a swim meet, you don't want to lug along The Goldfinch. You want something you can read on your device. But you still want a satisfying read.
MW: Can you tell us a little about the Shebooks themselves? Are they fiction? Nonfiction?
LF: We have a mix of fiction, non-fiction, and memoir. Short memoir is our sweet spot. Too often, memoirs feel padded because there is this object called a book that has to be about 220 pages long. For many personal stories, 10,000 words is a satisfying length. Right now there's a vast middle ground between personal essays and memoirs—and both our readers and writers love it.
MW: How can I read these memoirs?
LF: Just go to Shebooks.net and you can subscribe to read our entire library (40 books and growing at a rate of at least two a week), or you can download them one by one on any device. (Editors note: To do this, download the free Kindle app onto your device and buy the book through Amazon).
MW: Where should I begin? Which Shebooks are your favorites?
LF: You're asking me to pick among my babies! I'd say dive in to whatever topic and mood suits you. I will say that the two that launched this week are amazing—Ethel Rohan's memoir about a difficult childhood, Out of Dublin, and Mary Jo McConahay's journalistic memoir of being a war reporter in Central America, called Ricochet: Two women war reporters and a friendship under fire.
MW: How does one submit to Shebooks? What are you looking for in particular? Memoir, fiction, or journalism?
LF: You can submit a polished manuscript of about 10,000 words to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a small staff so don't do much developmental editing. We are looking for narrative memoir and nonfiction, as well as short stories, which can also be a package of a few on a theme. My best advice is to go onto the site a read our Shebooks to get a feeling for what we like. We pay our authors a smallish advance, depending on the genre, and a 50-50 revenue share of the proceeds.
MW: How are Shebooks authors promoting their books? Is social media enough, or are your authors taking other steps to get the word out?
LF: At Shebooks our authors are partners in promoting their books. So they certainly get the word out with social media, but we also use a lot of other ways to market our books. We push excerpts of our content out to other places on the web, which draws readers back to our site and to their books. We also send content out to special audiences that would welcome the topics our authors have written about in the books. Shebooks does a lot of brand marketing for our books as a company, and our authors zero in on particular books. That said, we do a lot of marketing of individual books, too. But it's a 50-50 revenue split with the authors, so they do their share.
MW: Thank you! I've read six Shebooks and can't wait to read more!
LF: Thank you!