I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar(and Write!)

by Erin Brown

“Women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems.” 

                           -- Virginia Wolf, A Room of One’s Own

Not so fast, Ms. Wolf. Over the past fifteen years (wow, I am gettin’ up there, eh?) that I’ve been editing women’s fiction, both at publishing houses and as a freelance editor, I’ve seen publishing trends for female writers come and go and have worked with some incredible female bestselling authors, yet never have I been more excited for my fellow woman than I am right now. To view the changes taking place on the literary landscape for female writers is to witness history, and I’m thrilled to be a very small part of it with every edit I make and female author that I encourage.

So for all you ladies out there—this is your moment to shine! So burn your bras, read some old volumes of Ms. magazine, and stock up on Susan B. Anthony coins, ‘cause now is the time to rule the world! Okay, I’ve taken a breath and I’m back in reality. I’ve just been getting a little excited over all of this.

For the first time, we have female authors consistently breaking genre barriers, dominating a literary space once ruled by men. Don’t get me wrong—we’ve always seen brilliant and successful female authors. However, many times we’ve seen them take over the more traditional “female” genres, such as romance. There’s no shame in that at all, of course. I edited my share of bodice-rippers (and am proud of it!) and saw them surge to the top of bestseller lists. Based on sales, the success stories of the past have been Danielle Steel, Jackie Collins, Nora Roberts. Of course, there was also a little gal named Agatha Christie who mixed it up a bit, and Anne Rice bit into (pun intended) a nice chunk of sales in her genre, but beyond that, men have governed the bestseller list over the years. And as far as future earnings potential in the crossover from books to movies, no female had mastered that until Ms. Rowling.

We had a resurgence of the female author a few years back with “chick lit,” but again, female authors were mostly (but not always) shining in the romance category. But now ladies are getting the attention and sales they deserve in many genres . . . including fantasy! That’s right, women are now speaking a publisher’s language: money! Dollars, pesos, euros, rupees, the ringgit (what, like they don’t read Fifty Shades of Grey in Malaysia??) J.K. Rowling broke into the fantasy genre, with approximately 400 million copies of her books sold. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight novels have sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Meyer was the bestselling author of 2008 and 2009 in America. Suzanne Collins and her Hunger Games have close to 40 million copies in print. And those numbers don’t even include the impact and sales that these books have made as films in Hollywood. We’re talking eight Harry Potter movies! Five Twilight movies! Katniss Everdeen kicked serious butt at the box office!

What this means is that not only are female writers getting respect in genres that were previously dominated by men, but these women are now bankable! And this, my friends, is the reality of publishing. Publishers want to make money. And finally, they’re seeing that female writers can make them money—and a hell of a lot of it. But it’s not just fantasy. Let’s go back to that solid romance category and discuss (again) Fifty Shades of Grey. This is a worldwide phenomenon. It’s now the bestselling book of 2012, capturing 25% of the adult fiction market. Yes, you read that right, my self-publishing junkies! Everyone is reading this book: young, old, worldwide. My gosh, grandmothers are now well-versed in S&M! Okay, maybe this isn’t such a good thing. And millions were plunked down for the movie rights, while debates rage online about who will be cast (are you on Team Skarsgard or Somerhalder?).

The point is that the time is right, ladies. Women are being taken seriously right now as big moneymakers. So if you’re writing fantasy or mystery or science fiction or even sticking with “women’s fiction,” that broad category we so love, this is your moment to be taken seriously as a potential moneymaker. Take advantage and get out there. Sell the hell out of yourself and your book, because now when publishers look at you, they see potential earnings. That might sound crass, but that’s how publishing works. Be smart and ride that trend all the way to the bank, and you could just be the next Suzanne Collins or E.L. James (but maybe with fewer handcuff scenes). 


Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at www.erinedits.com

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