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!


Beth Kephart said...

I have now read a number of the Shebooks and they are WONDERFUL. SO happy to also have a piece set to run soon. It's a fantastic opportunity for both readers and writers.

Maggie May said...

I am loving each Shebook I read.

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