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Self publishing is about self respect, not vanity

2 January 2017

From author Darcy Conroy via Medium:

As a woman, a writer and recently published author, I read Kamila Shamsie’s “provocation” calling for 2018 to be a year of publishing only women with great interest. I admit that my gut response to the headline was one of concern — Do we really need to exclude male authors? — but I know headlines can be misleading so I read on with an open mind. Her summary of statistics showing that the publishing industry is not serving women well was familiar. I need no convincing that we are second-class citizens in the publishing industry as writers, readers and even characters, so when she began her crescendo toward her challenge, I was right there with her.

“Enough. Across the board, enough. Let’s agree that things have improved over the last 50 years, even over the last 20, and then let’s start to ask why. Was it simply the passage of time? Should we all sit around while the world continues on its slow upward trend towards equality? Or should we step outside that fictional narrative of progress and ask what actually helped to change literary culture in the UK? Two things come to mind: the literary presses of the 70s, of which Virago is the most notable; and the women’s prize for fiction. In part, what both the presses and the prize did was to create a space for women in a male-dominated world, giving voice and space to those who wouldn’t find them elsewhere.”

Yes! I thought. We do need to take example from the suffragettes, we do need to stop being so polite and seize our own power, raise our voices and… That’s when she lost me. Because what Shamsie suggested we raise our voices to say to the publishing industry was, essentially, “Please let us in. You’re being unfair. Just for one year without any boys in the way and see if the readers like us. It doesn’t have to be right away, 2018 is fine, but give us a go? Please?”

I don’t see the spirit of the independent presses of the 70s and 80s in that. What I see is a spirit of dependence on an industry that infantilizes writers, making them grateful for any morsel of approval and attention, convincing them that a publishing house is the only way to ‘real’ publication.

Link to the rest at Medium and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Here’s a link to Darcy Conroy’s book. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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52 Comments to “Self publishing is about self respect, not vanity”

  1. Not a bad manifesto.
    I may not be of the female persuasion but I can buy into the core premise, too.
    Self respect, plain and simple; the ability to stand up and say this is mine. I did this. Good or bad, popular or shunned, it is my effort and I’ll gladly reap praise or scorn.

    Of course, the very first comment at the OP misses the point entirely.

    • Of course, the very first comment at the OP misses the point entirely.

      Having read the OP and the comments, I checked out first commenter Mrinal Bose’s blog. It reminded me of Ms. Gough’s OP from the other day–someone who’s been writing for some time, has been traditional published, has not tried indie publishing, and is quite bitter they have not had the success these upstart indies have.

      I hope someone kicks my a** if I ever get that bitter about writing. Art of any type should be fun, not torture.

  2. I love this. I always thought the idea of publishing women-only for a year was ridiculous and would be seriously counter-productive if ever implemented, (which it never would be). You don’t encourage equality by invading the boys-only clubhouse and pushing the boys out of it.

  3. Good article.

  4. Any writer who wants their voice to be heard is now free to stand up, take control of their career, and publish her- (or him-) self. No one needs to be locked out by the gatekeepers any more.

    But maybe that’s the hangup. Taking control means the responsibility is on your head, which means you can’t blame anyone else for what happens. I think there are people who just prefer to depend on and blame others rather than actually take the risk and responsibility of acting for themselves.

  5. I don’t rely on an industry to serve me. I serve myself.

    But then I’m not the kind of person that’ll blame others for my problems, as so many in society like to do today.

  6. Women are under-served in terms of reading material? Really? It certainly doesn’t seem that way to me when I pull up Amazon’s best sellers.

    • They also make up the vast majority of editors and authors to, but don’t let the facts get in the way of the narrative.
      Women are obviously underserved in publishing because reasons, to dis agree Is tantamount to painting a Target on your back.

      • “the gender imbalance that exists in publishing houses, in terms of reviews, top positions in publishing houses, literary prizes etc.”

        Women do NOT make up the vast majority of top positions in publishing houses that make the important decisions, they are in fact a minority. Women are seriously under-represented in newspaper and magazine reviews and literary prizes.

        But don’t let facts get in the way of your narrative.

        • If women are the majority of editors, authors, and readers, what would change if they were also the majority of the top positions that make the important decisions?

          What is the value of an insider review when the vast majority of readers are not insiders?

          As for literary prizes, I think setting up a girls-only prize doesn’t promote equality. I also think all literary prizes are popularity contests of some clique or other and have no real value.

          Finally, what is the value storming the castle when it is so easy to bypass it? Let ’em rot.

        • We should be able to test this by looking at the publishing firms that were headed by women. Industries don’t produce books. Individual companies do.

          So, were those firms different from firms headed by men? How?

          • The first one that jumps to mind is Baen. And, yeah, they’re a little different. More costumer friendly prices, less customer unfriendly DRM, better than standard terms for authors.

            I’m sure it will take the group mind all of five minutes to come up with a counter-example; a firm headed by a woman that is worse than industry standard. If we include small presses, I’d nominate Ellora’s Cave and Samhain.

            ETA: My opinion is that character is far more important than gender, and gender does not determine character.

            • “More costumer friendly prices, less customer unfriendly DRM, better than standard terms for authors.”

              But wasn’t all of that established while Jim Baen was running the place?

              • The underlying tone, yes, but Toni Weisskopf hasn’t weakened it and in fact has strengthened it in some ways, such as raising author royalties during the shift to Amazon distribution at the end of 2012.

                • Prices, DRM, and royalties are great. But do we see Baen treating women differently than the other publishers? Did Baen change when a woman took over? How?

                • @Terrance,

                  No, Baen didn’t change when Weisskopf took over. Not surprising as she had been Jim Baen’s right hand before. It was a succession, not a takeover.

                  In Baen we have both an example of a significant publisher run by a woman that behaves better than the standard for the industry and a publisher that did not change significantly in character when a woman took over from a man.

                  As for whether Baen treats women differently, I’m not privy to Baen contracts, but I have heard anecdotes that they are generally good to everyone. 15 of the 41 prominent authors listed in Baen’s Wikipedia entry under the heading “Baen’s authors include:” are women. In a genre supposedly dominated by men. But is it?

                  My opinion is that the gender of the person at the top does not make a significant difference. The character of the person in charge is important. Character is not dependent on gender. I’m confident anyone who has been associated with publishing for a length of time has experienced evil women in publishing as well as evil men, and good women and men both.

          • Judy Lynn Del Rey.

  7. I am an enthusiastic supporter of making 2018 a woman only year for publishers. It would be great fun.

    Even if Douglas Preston and all the politically correct male authors and publishers complied, the independent male authors would have a wonderful time publishing whatever they chose. When opportunity knocks, answer the door…

    This could then lead to a whole year of name-calling and vicious attacks on the men who dared to defy the ban. Let the games begin…

    • It would be a good time to do a couple of tough guy car chase books. 😉

    • Hillary got a 14 million dollar advance for Hard Choices, the second-highest in history.
      Bill Clinton got a 15 million dollar advance for his book, the Highest in history.
      But, he’s a man.

      • In my opinion, The problem with arguments like this is that They automatically assume that there is a bias against women, when other factors can help explain the disparity.
        I don’t know about this case in particular, but have you considered that the extra money could’ve been because of the word counts of the books, The relative theme of the individuals writing then, and the fact that Bill Clinton was a President of the United States While his wife was not.

        • Inflation.

        • They automatically assume that there is a bias against women, when other factors can help explain the disparity.

          Bill Clinton ran for president and won twice. Hillary Clinton ran for president and lost twice. Big difference.

          • But to the apologists, that’s because she was a woman, so that’s not really an effective argument in this particular case.

            • People get paid for what they did, not what they didn’t do, and not for what they think they deserve to have done.

              I think this is why my Quarterback: My Life In The NFL has had such disappointing sales.

        • I kinda suspect that neither figure [the advances for the Clinton books] has as much to do with the merits of the work or the sex of the author as it did to do with political influence and that the book advance was a species of a campaign donation

    • But Terrence, this is [current year]. We men don’t have to defy the ban in order to publish. Gender is just a social construct that has nothing to do with biology. After all, if a person born as a man can win the woman of the year award, then surely such a ban wouldn’t apply to me if I self-identify as a woman.

      Better yet, if I self-identify as gender-fluid, I can be a woman for purposes of publishing and a man for everything else. How convenient!

  8. The complaint about imbalance between the sexes never has made much sense to me because no one seems to offer a good reason why such a situation may exist.

    Many are content just to say, “Not enough women get published [by traditional publishing houses, usually literary ones].” Okay. Let’s accept that premise.

    The strange thing is that the large majority of agents and editors working with and for these houses are women. Even though the houses may have mostly men on the top rungs, those men don’t choose the authors and manuscripts. That occurs lower on the ladder. They generally don’t see anything that hasn’t passed muster with the mainly-female agents and editors.

    Are we to assume that those women are biased against women writers? I suppose a few, eccentrically, might be, but it’s more likely that, if there’s bias, it’s in favor of women writers. Maybe there’s no measurable bias at all, in terms of preferring one sex over the other.

    Then what’s the cause of the disparity? That never really seems to be explained. If the disparity doesn’t grow out of the selection process itself–that is, if the selection process is more or less indifferent to the sex of the writer–then what’s responsible?

    Perhaps it’s at the writing end and not the publishing end. Perhaps female writers aren’t writing (or enough of them aren’t writing) the sorts of books that these publishing houses want to publish. If that’s the case, then fine.

    I’m confident that publishers of books on engineering find that the overwhelming majority of manuscript submissions are from men, the result being that most engineering books on the shelves are by men. So what? Conversely, nearly all romance books are by women. Again, so what?

    The complaints referenced in the original post imply, when they don’t outright say, that there is an anti-woman plot afoot–a plot that, if it exists, would seem to be run by women. I’ve never seen that even remotely established. The simplest answer is that, for whatever reason, more men than women write the kinds of books these publishing houses want to publish, and that the same books would be published if they had been written by women instead of men.

    There is no dark, infernal conspiracy to keep women’s names off the shelves, but some people seem to have a need to think that there is.

    • I think the term you’re looking for is internalised misogyny, A basic get out of jail free card for any feminist who find a woman who disagrees with her.
      While painting anyone who disagrees with you As self hating is frankly ridiculous, it’s a great tactic for ideologues To dismiss other peoples opinions, because if the person you’re talking to hates themselves, how can there ideas be taken seriously.

    • Karl, I’ve been thinking the same thing. I’m a younger male author who is in the process of submitting a fantasy novel to the major publishing houses before moving on to self-publishing (for the TPV crowd, I’m simply knocking on the door, not groveling at the castle walls). When I go to the book section at Target or Walmart, all of the titles in that genre that made it to the shelves seem to be women–Sarah J. Maas, Sabaa Tahir. And most of the fantasy books also seem to feature a female assassin on the cover. Maybe that’s just my observation bias, but it seems like the narrative of women being unfairly treated by a female dominated industry (once again, my observation bias) seems to be a fallacy.

  9. I wonder. It seems to me from decades at former BEA, now Book Expo, that the small presses, medium presses, run by women, [or not] pose the same issues found at huge pubs. Limited money to promote. No reviews that are in big MSM presses. Limited number of books pub’d each year. Cliques. Narrow focus that would bar a great book because of…. lack of room in their ‘list’ … and because of one’s gender? What if a man wrote under a female pseudo. That prob wouldnt fly either … as it does in big pub

    The bottom line of women’s presses, those that are still standing, might publish a few women each year. But that wont usually bring more than self pub would, given the poor budgets and lack of star quality rollodex.

    An award for women only. Well, there’s the American Book Award which is narrowly defined. Others are too. But given the poor track record of the public pawing the ground to read man booker, natl book award, puliz, nobel [except for bob dylan who was already followed by millions]… I just dont see it.

    If one could see the inside of publishing, any of it, one would have to seriously weigh that personality not only ms, plays a part. To be engaging and not an aholie, AND a good ms, is a winning combo. People in pub often bend over backward to reward the lesser writer because he/she comes in an appealing package, and same eds may just not give a s to help a creep author who believes their every thought golden, and whose ego cant get down 5th ave without knocking down buildings, lol.

    Saw two authors in particular who were so disliked and despised by eds they were shrugged off even though their work was decent. The sales people hated them also, and the sales people have a say so about next contracts offered.

    There’s a lot to publishing that is far far beyond the ms.

  10. This article reminded me of something I read – must be a few years ago now – that observed that in self-pub, the female gender seemed to be making more money. More of the very top sellers were women – mostly because of the huge impact of Romance – and a lot of the Amazon ‘mid-list’ too.

    Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what you should do if you think (correctly or not) that you’re being discriminated against by BigPub because of your lady parts.

    And certainly you don’t need to be female to get screwed by trad-pubs and their nasty grabby contracts.

  11. A few years ago, Tor UK posted a gender breakdown of the writers for all of their submissions during a single year. Overall, men submitted two-thirds of all manuscripts and over three-quarters of all science fiction manuscripts. Female authors only represented the majority in paranormal romance and young adult. There’s a link below for those who want to check my sources.

    Assuming the pool of male and female writers are equally talented, men were twice as likely to get published by Tor UK as women simply because they submitted more stuff. I’m sure some true-blue feminist can find a way to blame misogyny for the smaller pool of female writers, but I refuse to torture logic sufficiently to figure out how.


    • The logic isn’t that complicated. I’m not claiming its accurate, but its certainly not complicated:

      Small girls see that 2/3 of books published are by men.
      Small girl internalizes that writing is a man’s profession, with a few exceptions.
      Small girl does not view herself as exceptional.
      Small girl does not grow up and try to write and publish.

      That’s the logic. I personally think the solution is, you know, better parenting, not running a business with stockholders into the ground in an attempt to encourage the next generation of female writers, but what do I know.

      • While I understand what you’re saying, I doubt that small girl will find that 2/3 of the books published are written by men. She’ll probably begin with children’s books, where more women than men are published. At some point, she’ll probably read at least a few romance novels, where the authors are close to 80% female. Only if she wanders over to the science fiction section will she find a lot more men than women. When you consider that fantasy, where the balance between men and women is pretty even, is also shelved with science fiction, I honestly don’t see how this small girl will possibly get the idea women cannot be successful writers.

        • Girls who are reading books aren’t compiling statistics or keeping publishing-house score as they go. They’re just reading stories they like, and in time some of them will write stories that they, and others, will like.

          • I don’t disagree with your assessment, but I was responding to the scenario submitted by Anthony Pero (who also said he didn’t claim it was a true scenario).

    • I’m lazy. Did Tor UK also publish a gender breakdown of all writers they published? If, for example, men submitted three-quarters of all science-fiction manuscripts but represented one-half of all published manuscripts, then three times as many women who submit are published. (A submission rate of 3:1, a publication rate of 1:1.) If men represent seven-eights of all published manuscripts, then more than twice as many men who submit are published. (A submission rate of 3:1, a publication rate of 7:1.)

      Of course, comparison is complicated by:
      A) While the number of writers who submit is large enough to be statistically significant, the number published by any one imprint of any one publisher is probably not except for the largest publishers, and
      B) It takes a lifetime to make a writer, but manuscript selection is very much of the moment. Norms and expectations in publishing change much faster than writers who match those norms develop.

  12. If small girl grows up with parent(s) like the OP who hammer into her head that the world is unfair to girls and women, she is doomed regardless of any statistics.

    Some make excuses, others make things happen. All writers need to smash through 10 brick walls to achieve success in a highly competitive marketplace. Women and minorities perhaps 15-20 such walls. Not fair, but what is?

    OP complains after knocking down 0 said walls.

    • If small girl grows up with parent(s) like the OP who hammer into her head that the world is unfair to girls and women, she is doomed regardless of any statistics.

      Pretty much this. Grievance mongering is not designed to help anyone. It’s designed to tell people they are victims and that the world is out to get them. If the Sith can do mind tricks, this one is theirs. And it works on the weak of mind.

  13. I am married to a top selling female indie writer. There was a time when she was rejected by trad pubs on a regular basis, NEVER did she succumb to this ‘victim’ line of thinking like the OP.

    You really see what people are made of in how they deal with adversity when their lifelong dreams hit a roadblock or two or five. Often times it is a learned response derived from a particular S** parenting style. Shocker.

    I got news for you lady, even if all trad pub only promotes women in 2017, you will still be left by the side of the road.

  14. Here’s how you properly fight against such discrimination:

    1.) Organize a boycott against the major publishing houses that women feel are responsible for said discrimination. Women make up the majority of readers, correct? Are women readers not concerned with this? Get major women authors to speak out against the injustices perpetuated by their own publishing houses.

    2.) Create your own publishing house, with a proper, representative demographic split in authors (and their respective sales) between all genders, nationalities, etc.

    3.) Self-publish and show you truly do not need any special treatment to be successful.

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