Shebooks Publishes Books by Women for Women
Digital publisher hopes to give women what they want.
Photo by Pat Mazzera
The founders of Shebooks believe every woman has a story. Launched a year ago, the online publisher has released 71 titles—short e-books, all by women, which can be downloaded and read in an hour or two.
“It’s been incredibly exciting to see how many women writers have wonderful short memoirs just sitting in their drawers, waiting to be published,” says Shebooks’ editorial director, Laura Fraser.
Fraser, a well-established San Francisco based journalist and book author, joined forces with Peggy Northrop and Rachel Greenfield, both veterans of the publishing world, to co-found Shebooks. The women knew first-hand the challenges female writers face. Although women read more books than men, men get published more. Research by VIDA, a grassroots organization that tracks gender disparity by manually counting who is writing, reviewing, and getting reviewed in major literary outlets, finds male writers are often represented three to one or more over women. VIDA board member Amy King says there is no one, simple reason for the uneven playing field in publishing.
Finding good women writers wasn’t the issue for Fraser and her colleagues. The disparity of women getting published and the dwindling number of viable outlets for women’s writing was. With the growing e-book market, the women saw an opportunity to right the publication gender bias and give women more access to what they presumably want to read. Soon Shebooks was publishing one or two original works each week authored by well-known and emerging women writers from around the country, including several from the Bay Area.
Why short e-books? “We wanted to publish something of high-quality reading value to fill those pockets of time in your day, whether it’s commuting or waiting to pick someone up,” Fraser says. “Everyone is busy, especially women, and e-books are perfect for mobile devices.”
Shebooks are novelettes—longer than an article or short story but shorter than a novel—something women can read without having to go on vacation to do it. And according to Pew Research, e-book reading is on the rise. Shebooks has an app to make it easy to peruse its titles, and the books can be purchased from Amazon, BN.com, or Kobo for $2.99 each.
“I like the Shebook concept of a good solid read,” says Berkeley-based writer and Shebook author Lucy Bledsoe. “As a writer I often need more words to tell my story, and readers have less time, so the short e-book length is perfect.”
Why books by women, for women? “Women like to hear other women’s stories,” Fraser says. Shebooks publishes fiction and journalism along with personal stories and memoir, and female-friendly topics like pregnancy, motherhood, love, marriage, and sex are well represented.
“I never planned on writing about such a feminine subject” says award-winning Oakland writer Faith Adiele. Her Shebook, Lady Problems, chronicles her struggles with uterine fibroids. “Writing about my womb was strange, but in truth, fibroids are a huge problem for black women, and nobody talks about it.”
“Shebooks has really set a high standard for the writing that they publish. I’m very proud to be included among these great women writers,” says Oakland resident Alison Luterman. She doesn’t like to put her writing in an all-female box, but she acknowledges that many of the themes that she explores, relationships and marriage in middle age, speak to women of her cohort.
Are the tides shifting for women writers? “2014 saw a huge increase in awareness of women writers,” says Fraser. She mentions the Twitter hashtag #readwomen2014 which highlighted great women writers who have been disproportionately ignored by reviewers and publishers. And VIDA reported some good news last year, too. The numbers for women writers on the pages of two of the lit journal giants, The Paris Review and New York Times Book Review, were up. “For top-tier publications to show this shift is a good sign,” says King, but she is not ready to say there has been a complete change in the literary landscape. Women writers’ representation in many of the other magazines that VIDA follows, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and San Francisco’s McSweeney’s, painted a less balanced picture. VIDA’s count is getting noticed, and King says she wants to stay optimistic. ”
3 East Bay Shebook Titles
The Nigerian-Nordic Girl’s Guide to Lady Problems by Faith Adiele: PEN memoir award recipient Faith Adiele has a long history of dealing with women’s issues, and in this e-book, she tackles her own as she navigates the health-care system in rural Iowa. She masterfully interweaves her clinical story with the stories of her Nigerian (from her father) and Nordic (from her mother) roots. Adiele’s trademark humor makes for delightful reading—she can make a fibroid funny.
The Found Child: A tale of Unauthorized Parenthood by Lucy Jane Bledsoe: Between the title and the first sentence of this fictional tale, John and Ray, a well-off gay couple from New York, who desperately want a child, find an abandoned baby boy in a “scruffy, angry little town” in Wyoming. Unlikely, yes, plausible, maybe, but made believable by Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s engaging characters.
Feral City: Scenes From a Second Marriage by Alison Luterman: The first essay in this charming collection places Alison Luterman at her ex’s memorial reminiscing alongside wives one and three, and things don’t get any less complicated as she transitions to the new love in her life. Very much an Oakland writer, her east-side neighborhood plays a role in her stories. Full of wild life and wild people, Luterman loves her city.