Self-Publishing Platforms: Women’s Playground or Last Resort?

Literary publishing is a notoriously cutthroat business. The industry is alarmingly subjective and there are an increasing number of books published each year, making it more difficult than ever to cut through the clutter. But if you look more closely at the numbers, the challenge of having a literary work published is particularly difficult for women.

Literature’s gender gap has been criticized for decades, and it finds its roots in a much larger historic societal context. Studies from organizations like VIDA track the number of women vs. men that are covered and reviewed by major literary publications, and the numbers are almost always in favor of males. We could point to a growing list of female authors who have opted for male pen names from the days of Charlotte Brontë to today’s most successful female writer, J.K. Rowling.

Recently, there’s been discussion about the self-publishing world in which women seem to thrive. A recent study from the online publishing platform FicShelf revealed that 67 percent of top-ranking titles across self-publishing platforms were authored by women. This is in contrast to 61 percent of traditionally published hosted on Amazon, which are authored by men.

The 50 Shades of Grey series by E.L. James is often mentioned in discussion about the self-publishing world. While many can debate whether or not the book series is an example of eloquent modern literature, there’s no denying its mass-market appeal. While seeing women like James see great success through the self-publishing platform, I see a major issue that most others seem to overlook.

More and more women are turning to self-publishing because they have been shut out of more traditional publishing avenues. I commend their resourcefulness, but think it is unfair that women feel they have to shell out money from their own pocket — an average of $2,500-$4,000 — to have their work distributed. Even then, it is unlikely that their work will be read by a mainstream audience, critically reviewed or backed by industry influencers. Much of the self-published work by women may also end up colonizing specific genres of literature, and in effect, have an even greater negative impact on women’s written works.

So, how can we make a change?

We need to create access to traditional agents and publishers for female authors. We need to debunk the myth that there isn’t enough consistent and compelling literature authored by women. This isn’t about affirmative action. This isn’t about taking anything away from male authors. It’s about leveling the playing field and ensuring that the industry is publishing and promoting work that is based on merit.

My organization, Pen and Brush, aims to break down these barriers in order to help talented women find success in the arts and literature. However, we can’t do this without your help. Distribution channels are important, as are quality works — without them, real change cannot be effected in the marketplace.