June 22, 2015
And Other Stories takes on Shamsie’s “Year of Publishing Women” challenge
by Taylor Sperry
Last week, we reported on novelist Kamila Shamsie’s call to make 2018 “The Year of Publishing Women”–a year in which publishers around the world agree to publish only books by women, as an effort to redress widespread gender inequality within the industry. Since then, at least one publisher has taken up her “provocation.”
Stefan Tobler, publisher of the British press And Other Stories, told The Guardian this is a problem he’s been thinking about for a while: “I think we can do it . . . And if we don’t do it, what is going to change?” Senior editor Sophie Lewis said And Other Stories is currently in the process of “rescheduling male writers’ books for other years [and] digging harder and further than usual, in order to find the really good women’s writing that we want to publish.” She went on:
By taking on the challenge we will expose our systems and the paths of recommendation and investigation that brings books to us, and we will end up becoming a kind of small-scale model for a much bigger inquiry about why women’s writing is consistently sidelined or secondary, the poor cousin rather than the equal of men’s writing.
But the path to publication only makes up half of the problem, and as Foyles bookseller Marion Rankine wrote, also, elsewhere, for The Guardian, “There are numerous ways gender bias manifests itself in a bookshop, from the decisions about which books to stock to the decisions about which to discount and which to feature as a staff pick. Then there’s choosing which books to display, promote, or put on overstock tables.” These factors, of course, influence sales; and sales potential—whether we like it or not—influences who’s published and who’s not.
“But never underestimate the importance of consciousness raising,” Rankine says. Since reading an article by Sophia McDougall in the New Statesman last year, she has actively read more books by more women (not to mention more books in translation, and more books by writers from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds), which has then been reflected in her staff picks, and she’s also added a column for gender her store’s database, so they can track whose work is being showcased and where.
Still, for Shamsie, consciousness-raising doesn’t feel like enough: despite the “largely positive” reactions to her article, she said she was “struck by the number of people who’ve assured me that they know I was just trying to start a conversation and didn’t intend anyone to take a Year of Publishing Women seriously.” And Other Stories publisher Stefan Tobler, too, says he had “hoped other publishers would join in.”
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.