Sometimes we refuse to acknowledge the elephant in the room even when it craves for and deserves attention. My perception of the gender gap in the publishing industry qualified as one of them. I’m someone who can forget civilisation and consume multiple books in a day. Bar a precious few, I don’t have favourites and like to explore new authors and writing styles. Does the author’s gender play a part in my selection? Truth be told, now, yes.
However, when the reading bug hit me in college it didn’t occur to me then that I mostly read male authors. Mind you, it wasn’t a conscious choice. Availability, recommendations and price were the major influencing factors in picking up a book. There was no dearth of female writers although their percentage might’ve been lesser. Was I naïve or didn’t care about the obvious? Did others face the same issue as well? Has the gender gap always been so evident? Let’s discuss it focusing on Indian female writers.
Women have always been excellent storytellers (remember Nani’s and Dadi’s stories?). Be it social issues, politics, poems or love stories, women have always penned their hearts out. Where Amrita Pritam wrote a heartbreaking Punjabi poem Ajj aakhaan Waris Shah nu about the partition, Mahadevi Varma’s Hindi works have earned her the position of one of the four main pillars of Chhayawadi era in literature. Many regional female writers like Mahasweta Devi, Mamoni Raisom Goswami, etc have an amazing body of work. How many of us know and have read them? Sadly, not many.
The silver lining though is that of late there has been a steady surge of female writers on the writing circuit. Self-publishing and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) options help in testing waters before approaching publishing houses. Genres like horror, thrillers, crime that once were a male bastion are now being successfully dabbled into by women. A lot is left to be desired on pay gap and visibility but this is indeed a good start.
Readers aren’t swayed by the writer’s gender, they’ve grown up (or they were always mature?)! Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee, Sudha Murty have a loyal fan following while Preeti Shenoy hits the bestsellers list every year. Is this enough though? What can deserving female writers and we do to give them a boost? Can we help bridge the gender gap?
- Write, don’t appease! – First rule of writing, be honest to you and your pen (or keyboard, whatever). Women often have a sixth sense that tells them what works. Don’t be scared to dive into unknown waters or adopt a different writing style. Own your work by proudly putting your name on it. Also, remember that you’re your first audience and if you like your work, people will follow. Unless you’re commissioned to write something in particular, the stage is yours. Let your imagination take over!
- Marketing and Social Media – ‘Jo dikhta hai wo bikta hai’, no kidding! Aggressive marketing has helped turned the fortunes of many books and writers and is here to stay. Hire a team, if possible, and let them handle the job. Festivals, interviews, etc are great ways to put you and your baby out there. Social media helps you connect with readers and get instant feedback. Be gentle, receptive and take criticism with a chill pill. People can be unnecessarily harsh to women sometimes.
- Collaborate with bloggers/influencers – Book bloggers and reviewers have dedicated followers and that can work favourably for your book. This is a mutually beneficial relationship. Writers get publicity while bloggers/influencers get exclusive copies and commercials (depends) in exchange for an honest review. With social media their reach multiplies. Win-win situation for everyone, isn’t it?
- Request for reviews – People read and heed reviews. Even a couple of lines can sway a reader’s perception towards a book. Amazon or Goodreads are platforms where books and book discussions are aplenty. It doesn’t hurt to request people to add a review there. Feel free to explore and invest your time in other platforms or book clubs too. As readers, we can do the needful without asking, isn’t it? Interestingly, gender gap has no effect here. What a relief!
The gender gap between male and female writers is slowly fading but there’s still a long way to go. Small steps and measures like these will probably transform into success and bigger opportunities. I’m waiting for the day when a female writer will have multiple books turned into movies a.k.a Chetan Bhagat. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see women write books for a living and rule the bestsellers list? What do you think?