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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Shebooks: By Women, For Women

Posted By on Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge WENDY MACNAUGHTON
  • Wendy MacNaughton

San Francisco-based publishers Laura Fraser and Peggy Northrop noticed an alarming gender gap in new literary works. The duo is in the process of filling this void with Shebooks: an online library of short stories, journalism, and memoir, made by women, for women.

The company has already generated a loyal and growing fanbase, despite being brand-spanking-new. And they aren't done; with an ambitious $50,000 Kickstarter campaign, Shebooks looks to impact the ebook market in a big way. SF Weekly caught up with Fraser to find out a little more about the project.

You're the author of an impressive number of books and articles. Can you tell us a little about your background?

Fraser: I've been a journalist based in San Francisco for a long time - -I even had a column in the SF Weekly at some point, called Venus Envy. I've been a freelance writer forever, and have written for everything from Mother Jones and the New York Times to Vogue and Gourmet. I've done a lot of teaching and have been a member of the San Francisco Writers' Grotto collective for about 15 years. I've written three books -- and investigative expose called Losing It, about the diet industry, and two memoirs, All Over the Map and An Italian Affair, which was a NYT bestseller. Now I'm the Editorial Director of Shebooks!

What about the backgrounds of your team members at Shebooks?

I've worked with Peggy Northrop as an editor for many years, on such publications as Health, Vogue, Glamour, and More. She's been the editor-in-chief of four magazines--most recently, Sunset. She's an amazing editor who inspires everyone around her, and now she's the President of Shebooks. Our third partner is Rachel Greenfield, a publishing expert who was Executive Vice President of Martha Stewart Omnimedia and a Harvard MBA who knows everything about subscriptions, which is our model. It's a fabulous team.

And how did you come up with the idea for Shebooks?

Peggy and I were at a journalism conference at Berkeley in 2012, where we were excited by the talk about the explosion of digital media, which is giving readers new ways to find compelling stories. And we were pleased to see writers find fresh ways to work and make money outside the usual channels. But it became clear to us that female authors, journalists, editors -- and ultimately female readers -- were being shut out of the revolution.

Our "aha!" moment came at a panel where there were all guys onstage announcing their new companies to an audience that was nearly all women. I turned to Peggy and said, "It's all the same guys." She nodded and said, "Someone should do this for women." Then she went back to her hotel and started registering website names.

So we decided not to wait for our invitation to the party. Shebooks was the result: a new media format, real money for writers (our writers all share in our profits), and engaging stories that women can't wait to read, that fit the corners of their busy lives. We also applied for and received an early grant from the New Media Women's Entrepreneurial Fund at the Journalism Lab at American University, which put us into business.

Alright, so what exactly is Shebooks?

Shebooks is a collection of short digital books by and for women. We have a growing library of high-quality reads that you can download on any device. Our website is shebooks.net, where you can browse our books, and then download our app to read them on your smartphone or tablet. We've already published 46 really great women writers--including Bay Area writers Susan Ito, Meghan Ward, Frances Stroh, Lucy Bledsoe, Barbara Graham, Ethel Rohan, Mary Jo McConahay, Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, Micah Perks, and many others. This week, we published an original novella by Jennifer Finney Boylan called "I'll Give You Something to Cry About," which I think is the only novel written by a trans writer about a trans teenager.

click to enlarge SHEBOOKS
  • Shebooks

What's the importance of having an entire library by women for women -- What makes Shebooks different than browsing any other ebook collection?

Most e-book collections are like paid library cards -- there's a vast amount of stuff, and you have no idea what to read. Instead, we're a curated collection, so you know whatever you've read is really well-written.

I pretty much reject anything that I don't feel absolutely compelled to keep reading because it's that good. Second, our short e-books are mostly original, unlike other sites that recycle content. Third, no one else is publishing what has become our sweet spot: short memoirs. People love to read stories from other people's lives, but those stories don't always add up to this object called a book, with 220+ pages. A lot of them are great at about 50 pages. Many memoirs published these days are padded just to fill out a book. I want to make a T-shirt that says "no padding."

As for the importance of having a library by women for women -- we want to give great women visibility, since they've been frankly discriminated against in the literary and journalism worlds. Places like the New Yorker and the Atlantic are--in 20154!-- still publishing 75 percernt male bylines. We welcome male readers, but our focus is on women's lives and experience, because it has been denigrated in society and publishing as a whole.

Shebooks is currently looking to raise $50,000 through a Kickstarter campaign. What does that money go towards?

All the money we raise goes directly to paying women writers. With $50,000 we will fund several original journalism pieces about women's lives, as well stories from established and emerging fiction writers. I really want to get more journalism in Shebooks, and reporting costs money.

You can create an account, buy an ebook, or and set up a subscription at Shebooks.net.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Laura Jaye Cramer at @laurajayecramer, and like us on Facebook.

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