Thursday, December 19, 2013

Introducing Shebooks, a smart new e-publishing venture

Laura Fraser is the  Editorial Director and confound of SheBooks, an exciting new e-publisher of short stories and memoir written by women for women, at length "that respects their time." I was thrilled to be able to interview Laura for Shebooks, which launches December 20 (that's NOW.) Take a look at these great titles.

Why Shebooks? What is your vision for this kind of publishing and why do you feel the time is right for it? At a time when the term "women's fiction" often has a derogatory tone to it,  how do you feel that "books by women for women" might change these misconceptions? 

Peggy Northrop (former editor in chief of More, Reader's Digest, now Sunset) and I came up with the idea for Shebooks at a conference on journalism and new media, where panelists were unrolling ideas for publishing e-singles as a way of saving long-form journalism, which is a great idea. But I turned to Peggy and said, "It's all the same guys," and she said, "Someone should do this for women." That's when the light bulbs turned on. The problem is that here in 2013, bylines at the top-shelf magazines that publish long-form journalism and short fiction are still overwhelmingly male--about 70%, according to the group VIDA. It's still a boy's club, and there's still a perception that women's writing--be it in magazines or in fiction--is fluffy and inconsequential, i.e. "chick lit." No one ever talks about "dick lit," and men with comparable narrative chops are routinely considered better and more serious than women, whose work is trivialized. We decided that it was time to stop knocking on the glass ceiling in the publishing world and become our own publishers. Peggy and I have vast experience in women's magazines, memoir, and journalism, and we decided we should put that to use. We definitely hope to change that derogatory perception of women's writing. So far, we have been overwhelmed by the high quality of the stories we've received from terrific women writers.

Why are you publishing shorter works? 

Shorter works are ideal for mobile devices, and they fit into the busy lifestyles of many readers. No one is trying to take away the pleasure of curling up for an afternoon with a long book--I just finished Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch and am now plowing through Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers, both of which are fabulous. But space in magazines for long-form journalism has shrunk to the point where most pieces are what I call "charticles," and they aren't satisfying reads. Both women writers and readers crave the shorter e-book--a one to two hour read. There are very few venues now for publishing the novella or the short memoir. They're perfect for reading before bed, on an airplane, waiting to pick up kids, wherever. And honestly, a lot of books that are published at 220 pages or more to fulfill the requirements of publishing are just padded. Why not cut the excess and just have a good, quick story? I am all in favor cutting excess.

I understand Shebooks will have its own reading app. How will that work and why did you design it that way?

We created our own reading app because we want to create a lovely place for readers to come in, look around, and have a lot of great books to choose from, like a virtual bookstore that is highly curated. Plus, there are financial reasons to get people to read from our app instead of downloading from big websites--which they can still do, if they choose. Our financial partner and guru, Rachel Greenfield, former EVP of Martha Stewart Omnimedia, managed to navigate the very complicated terrain of creating our own e-reader, and we're really excited about it.

How do you see the future of Shebooks? 

Right now it's hard to see beyond the launch--our soft launch is December 20, and then we'll have our e-reader up by March. But we basically want "Shebook" to become a noun, so women everywhere will be asking each other what great Shebook they've read lately, and will be talking about them in their book groups.

How can writers can involved? What kinds of stories are you looking for and why? 

My main criterion is quality. I want a story that draws me in to a different world, that is seamlessly well-crafted. We are looking for short memoir, long journalism, and short fiction--a diversity of subjects and writers. We're not looking for self-help books or anything with a lot of bullet points. Writers can submit a completed manuscript to It's fair to say that most of our writers have been published before, but there are some exceptions.

What's obsessing you now?

Figuring out my own next Shebook to write.

What question did I forget to ask?

I have a question: Will you write for us? Do you have any stories that you have the rights to that we could package into a Shebook? Or something new? We would be so happy!

Catherine Tidd, author of Confessions of a Mediocre Widow, writes about natural highs, creative Gods, and connecting the dots

Catherine Tidd's smart essay about what it means to be a writer. I'm honored to have her here. Thank you, Catherine!

Natural Highs, Creative Gods, and Connecting the Dots
I once read a quote by Stephen Markley (and I’m paraphrasing here) that said that the most euphoric feeling in the world is when you get lost in your own writing and lose all sense of time.
I think that is absolutely true.
There is no better high (natural or otherwise) than submerging yourself into your own story and only breaking the surface of reality when you need to catch a breath. Characters come to life and your fingers can’t keep up with the scene that’s unfolding in your mind. That perfect phrase that you didn’t know you had in you to create shows up on the screen and you think, “Wow. Did I come up with that?” You stop writing for the day and realize that you’ve skipped lunch and didn’t even need that afternoon cup of coffee because your body has been so energized by the world in your head.
Not every day is like that, of course. Some are definitely better than others. There are mornings when I wake up, just knowing that I am going to make major progress on a project. And then there are others when I struggle to show up to the page.
To be honest, when I get bogged down, it’s usually because I’ve spent too much time in my own head with only my computer keeping me company. And that’s my signal to pause the writing for a few days – maybe even a week or more if I have to – and actually get dressed, go outside, and live life. And inevitably something will happen that will spark an idea and another scene will click into place.
And if, for some reason, I’ve gotten out there and done some living and still nothing is percolating…then I have to go to Plan B.
Get out of my own way. Which is harder than it sounds.
There have been times when pages and even whole sections of a book have happened so fast, I can’t sleep well at night, knowing what I want to write the next day. And then, inevitably, I will get to the end of the scene that played itself out so vividly in my head and end up staring at the blinking curser on my computer screen, wondering why it isn’t moving.
Usually I know something that’s going to happen to some character later in the book. Usually I know something that’s going to happen to some character later in the story…but I can’t figure out an interesting way to get from point A to point D. And so I’ll stop, stuck and frustrated, scared that the creative juices have permanently stopped flowing.
In order to keep myself from breathing into a paper bag, I’ll write the scene that I know is coming later, praying to the creative god (who I’ve named Joey) that it will all work out in the end. And as I’m writing, a magical thing will suddenly happen.
I’ll figure out how to connect the dots in order to get where I was to what I’m writing in the moment.

As I’m filling in the middle, that feeling of euphoria will visit me once more. And then the only thing I have left to do is pray to the publishing god (George) that someone will feel as euphoric reading it as I did writing it.