The publishing world has always shown a bias against women authors.
In the 19th century, literary sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë published their first works under the names of Curren, Ellis, and Acton Bell, in a desire to be “taken seriously”. George Eliot was, in fact, the male pseudonym of the talented Mary Ann Evans.
Even Joanne Rowling was told by her publisher that the Harry Potter series wouldn’t be as popular among boys if it became known that it was written by a woman, so she adopted a set of ambiguous initials – J. K. Rowling – for the cover.
Nowadays, the playing field is beginning to even out, and, yes, there are now literary prizes specifically aimed at women authors, but change is still slow to bloom.
Laurie Garrison, the editor of Looking For Xanadu (a blog and course-finder for women writers), tells The Guardian that “there ‘seem[s] to be a gaping hole, when there is such an abundance of women attendees of writing and literature courses, in writers’ groups and at literary festivals.”
Her comments, which are supported by research that shows women remain under-represented both as book reviewers and as reviewed authors, paint a worrying picture; if successful women authors are struggling to make a name for themselves, how on earth are fledgling female writers supposed to break into the sexist world of publishing?
In a bid to provide a safe space online for budding authors to talk about their literary dreams, passions, careers, and frustrations, Garrison has spearheaded a new campaign under the hashtag #women_writers.
Using the inclusive hashtag as a launchpad, she has organised monthly chats on Twitter, which actively discuss everything from self-publication, to DIY methods on online marketing, to the sexist online culture that surrounds reading and writing.
The hashtag has also evolved into a wider conversation, allowing women writers to meet around the virtual water-cooler and recommend books and authors, build their skills in a non-competitive environment, and critique and gain feedback on their own projects.
“We need dedicated spaces for women writers to improve their technique in a non-competitive environment, learn resilience to deal with all the rejection and criticism involved in professional writing and to be able to show vulnerability without being judged,” explains Garrison.
“If we can create spaces for women writers where these things can be discussed and put into perspective, I think it could go a long way toward levelling the playing field.”
Inspired by the success of #women_writers, Garrison has also created a manifesto entitled Women Writers in the Twenty First Century: How We Can make Online Learning, Marketing, and Publishing Work For Us.
Available for 99p on Amazon.co.uk, it aims to “take a hard look at the traditional publishing world’s bias against women writers”, and help readers “have more influence over the publication and promotion of their work”.
This, she explains, can be achieved if they learn how to "use the online world to complete, publish and promote books.
“Online teaching and training can be tailored to suit the needs of women writers; online marketing techniques naturally lend themselves to developing specialist communities of women writers; and a variety of new publishing options provide alternatives to traditional publishing.”
If you would like to find out more details on the next scheduled #women_writers talk on Twitter, which is due to kick off at 5pm on 24 August, visit Laurie Garrison’s feed now.