“No Complaining on the Yacht”: Women in Writing and Publishing

The following is a review written by Brenna Crotty of CALYX, Inc., covering the “Women in Writing and Publishing” panel that took place on October 27th. The panel is part of an ongoing series of lectures and conversations called Transmit Culture, presented by Ooligan Press. Rhonda Hughes, publisher and editor at Hawthorne Books, moderated a lively panel discussion covering the work that remains to be done to achieve literary equality, even in a female-dominated industry. Click here to see the original post and read more from the CALYX, Inc. blog.

Last night I attended “Transmit Culture: Women in Writing and Publishing” at Portland State University. It was a panel featuring author Karen Karbo, Tin House Press editor Masie Cochran, and our own Alicia Bublitz.

There was a lot of discussion about what it means to be a woman in publishing and how marketing women’s writing has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. (Anyone else remember chick lit and its candy-pink covers? Good luck being taken seriously!)

All three of the panelists did a great job of talking about the VIDA numbers and their own numbers on the diversity that goes into their reading lists, teaching lists, or publication schedules. A lot of statistics were brought up to illustrate what most of us already know: women are underrepresented in publishing across the board. So are trans writers, LGBTQ writers, writers of color, and impoverished writers. But what I heard at the heart of the discussion wasn’t really numbers; it was the sense of unfairness, the sense that in small and not easily identifiable ways, women are being reduced and pigeonholed in the writing world.

I could discuss the panel at length because it was fascinating, but I want instead to just list a few of the points that stuck out to me and generate some discussion. In the comments section or on Facebook, I’d like to know if these sensations ring true to you, if you have your own anecdotal evidence, or if you feel strongly to the contrary.

  • The idea of “Dinner Party Names” vs. “Bedside Table Names.” When Masie asked her interns at Tin House why they became interested in writing, most of them initially listed Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner, etc. before admitting that what they’re currently reading is actually Roxanne Gay or Mindy Kaling. Does anyone else find themselves doing this—listing “classic” male authors to impress others?
  • Foundational sexism in the way we read. Who else read predominately white male authors in high school (with other classes for women or writers of color) and learned to use those authors as the barometer for what constituted a classic?
  • The one-way street of reading. Women are encouraged to read books by both men and women, but men are expected to only read books by or about men and are even shamed for reading books by or about women. That could certainly explain the disparity in the publishing numbers!
  • The aforementioned “book shaming” is enforced by society at large rather than one sex in particular. Karen had an ugly anecdote about a male participant winning a free copy of the book she wrote about Katherine Hepburn. When he went to pick it up, the woman handing it to him said, “You’ll want to give this to your wife.” Seriously, WTF is that?
  • Social media presence. Are men just allowed to live in caves and leave their personal lives out of their art? Can they brood on their book jacket cover and be sort of homely and still make it in the writing world? Related question: Are women allowed the same opportunity?

At some point in the discussion, Karen said, “There’s no complaining on the yacht,” because everyone on that panel was a professional publisher, editor, or writer. It takes privilege (money, time, education, opportunity) to get to that point, which many talented people don’t have. But I think “don’t complain” is a common thing to say to women, so I say, “Let’s discuss,” instead.

Social Media Marketing Tips: Make a Book Trailer

What keeps a novel from getting noticed? Hint: it ain’t necessarily talent alone. In a recent post on Powellsbooksblog.com, veteran novelist Karen Karbo contrasted ideas about what keeps novels from getting noticed. To highlight these myths and truths, Karbo describes her blockades to literary success in the 1990s versus similar blockades now. To Karbo, there were only two reasons why novels failed to breakout twenty years ago—the novel was poorly written or the novelist failed to actually complete the manuscript—while there are more fifteen different reasons today. Some of Karbo’s choicest points:

  • You think platforms are shoes.
  • You think branding is best left to cattle.
  • You look like a basset hound on Skype and thus shun the all-important Skype book club appearances.
  • You have less than 3,000 Twitter followers.
  • Your Facebook author page has less than 1,000 followers.
  • Your LinkedIn… [frick], you don’t even know what that is.

Even though her reasons are tongue-in-cheek, there’s truth amid the jokes. These cavities of commercial failure share a common cause: lack of cutting-edge multimedia marketing techniques! (Gasp!)

Through multimedia marketing, authors can transform their novel’s PR and sell their books like never before. In today’s blog post, I’m going to take a look at one social media marketing technique in particular: using video-sharing sites to launch your book trailer.

Video-sharing sites take the transmedia advertising element of image-sharing sites and blow it way, way, way up—especially with this platform’s most engaging product: book trailers. Producing and uploading a stellar book trailer to YouTube or Vimeo offers writers a chance to break their book out of the mold.

Take megahit Fifty Shades of Grey for example. Perhaps romance novels aren’t your cup of rosé, but let’s pretend they are. The PR math is simple here. Why offer your readers a simple synopsis and one steaming-hot book cover (hubba hubba) when you can get them screaming and straight-up twerking for your book with an entire montage of sizzling images taken from the book? That’s a cheesy example, no doubt, but that’s the power of the book trailer: it allows the author (and publisher) to expand the brand ecology of the novel and lure in an audience that otherwise wouldn’t take interest in the book. And even though most book trailers are only viewed by industry professionals, having a book trailer might just help an author break into the big time (via viral sites like Buzzfeed or Huffington Post), or at least improve an author’s chances of getting noticed by publishers.

Bonus: book trailers also offer authors opportunities to demonstrate how weird, artsy, or toad-lickin’ crazy they are.

Bonus bonus: there’s a small yet devoted crowd of YouTubers who do nothing but vlog about their favorite books—running a generic YouTube search for “Top Books of 20xx” yields videos with hundreds of thousands of view counts—and considering devotees (and their followers) usually make the best consumers, having a book trailer could help land your book in a vlogger’s lap and vault it to the top of the bestsellers list.