e-Lit for the Ladies

e-Lit for the Ladies

By Samantha Schoech

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Because we all love stories about murder and money and men — but new Shebooks says e-books have been missing one other big thing: women. 

By Samantha Schoech

If you’re reading this you are probably female. According to Shebooks, the first e-book publisher specifically for and by women, women make up 70 percent of e-book buyers and two-thirds of magazine subscribers. Formats aside, if you are reading anything aside from ESPN.com or a Viagra pamphlet, statistically speaking, you are most likely a woman.

If you’re a publishing writer, however, it’s a different story.  A perusal of the lauded digital publishing platform Atavist shows 34 stories, only seven of which are by women. Last week’s New York Times magazine has 11 bylined stories. None of them are by women.

Which is why a new venture like Shebooks is both a great and a terrible thing. Great because it has some major publishing chops behind it, an impressive lineup of all female authors, and titles that strike that balance between readable and literary. And terrible because, well, why can’t we all just get along?

Best-selling author and Shebooks co-founder Laura Fraser was at a panel discussion on e-book publishing about a year ago, together with her friend and veteran publishing professional Peggy Northrop, editor-in-chief of Sunset magazine, when they decided to do something about this disparity. “It was all the same guys,” Fraser says, “and it was very frustrating that this kind of bias toward male writers was being duplicated in the short e-book world. Peggy leaned over and said, ‘Someone should do this for women.’” The lightbulb went off.

Shebooks kicked off with a soft launch in December with eight original titles — six works of memoir and two works of fiction— from the likes of Hope Edelman, Marion Winik and Fraser herself. Topics range from Winik’s sexual coming-of-age-in-suburbia story, to Fraser’s The Risotto Guru: Adventures in Eating Italian. Each 10,000-word piece — shorter than a traditional book, longer than a magazine feature — is available for $2.99. In March, Shebooks will launch its subscription service with 30 titles with more to come each week. For $7.99 a month you’ll have access to everything, including reading group guides.

Shebooks are intended to be one- to two-hour reads. A book club that doesn’t stress you out because you haven’t finished the 400-page tome in time?! A book club where everyone has actually read the whole book!? Sign us up.

“The reality is a lot of people want to read really good things but don’t have the time,” says Fraser. “We’re providing book club guides so people can have really meaty discussions.”  

A year from now, Fraser and Northrop’s goal is to have a million Shebook addicts. “We’re not trying to do anything small here,” says Fraser from her office at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, where she has been a member for 15 years. “We want Shebooks to become a noun — a noun that means a really great short read for women.”

Which begs the question, what is a read for women, anyway? “For us, it’s all about story,” explains Fraser. “It’s fair to say that women tend to like stories that have more of an emotional drive than men. We value that, whether it’s in memoir or in fiction.”

Please just don’t call it chick-lit. Unless, laughs Fraser, “they start calling writing by men dick lit.”