Publishing and Prejudice; Did Female Authors Set the Precedent in Circumventing Big Publishing Companies?
A woman with an incredible novel must be in want of a good publisher. In the age of self-published works, amazon books and online sharing, the age of circumventing traditional publishing houses when it comes to literary works is coming to a head- and from a historical standpoint, we have the original female authors of the United Kingdom to thank for that.
When one thinks Fanny Bryce, or Jane Austen, one usually considers the idyllic British landscape, conventions of time, and most of all, romance. Acquiring wealth and the exploitation of talent, the behind the scenes struggle of publishing outside of gender politics is never quite brought into the discussion. And yet, perhaps it should be. Notably, the Statute of Anne was brought into the mainstream in 1710, creating a fairer playing field between publisher and private individuals- it was meant to wholly revolutionise the bookseller’s market.
Opinions on self publishing within the industry differs- we have seen incredible successes in indie authors who were originally self published (Becky Chambers, anyone?), to social media moguls getting book deals from works they themselves marketed and having amassed their own audience before any publishing house thought to sign them up. Yet, ultimately, there is still the query ‘are you published, published, though?’
Jane Austen was not initially self published, and her exploration into copyright assignments proved costly (to her!) but her own foray into self publishing saw her destitute, ultimately dying a poor woman, but a popular author. There has, in the past few years, been a great call to arms by institutions such as the Society of Authors to ensure that creators share in the success of the work; fee-based contract, assignment, or otherwise. The increase in demand for royalty escalators and origination fees on rights sales means that creators, no matter the initial circumstance of being published, can regularly share in a success of a work, and sometimes it relies less on their own marketing, their own relationships, than a traditional advance-royalty author contract.
This is not a bad thing.
It is an interesting thing to consider when regarding self publishing, which is ultimately much less complicated but generally factors less financial ‘success’ without back breaking hard work and a LOT of scheduled tweets and instagram posts, heavy on the hashtags and dollops of individuality. How can a creator factor in escalators on their own royalty? Who can they negotiate with? What is a ‘fair’ royalty when they are competing with companies who not only have an industry’s worth of history and connections behind them, but teams upon teams of experts from all things sales, marketing, contracts, finance, and design?
If Jane Austen was a man, would she have been free to socialise with other great (male) authors of her time? Would she have been able to amass a mysterious and dark reputation a la Byron, a subject of scandal that everyone had to read and take to dinner and bring on holiday? Would she have been able to write a books worth of verses calling out her competitors and her very own publishers and be applauded for it? Would her appearance in Bath have had the same effect as Beyonce’s next impromptu album drop?
I think, this line of thought brings us to a topic that has plagued the publishing industry for quite some time. Accessibility to marginalised classes, whether that be gender, lower socio-economic backgrounds, race or ethnicity, sexuality or all of the above- it is well known that creating something to be published, and getting published, is a concept to those who come from such backgrounds has not ever be seen as something that is easily or deservedly accomplished. Indie publishing houses have popped up over the last decade. Companies like ‘Knights Of’ leading the way in terms of intersectionality in the publishing industry- from authors, illustrators, to within its own walls- editorially and sales wise. The increase of indie publishing alongside self-publishing is showing us something fantastic- that as long as you have an idea, there are tools out there to help you on the journey. Self-publishing is not always necessarily the right way of doing it; if your goal is financial stability (as a creator deserves from their work), but it has shown some incredible success stories in recent years (Mike Omer!).
It is no coincidence that a majority of self published individuals do not fit the ‘traditional publishing’ stereotypes, and commonly fall outside the ‘norm’ that is expected (although this is changing- but too slowly!). Like Jane Austen, who could be considered marginalised in her time, self published individuals are usually non-white, women or gender binary non-conforming, and LGBT+. If your goal is proving publishing can be open to all, indie publishing houses with strong backing and hard working teams might be who to approach. Either way, the industry as it is changing in the UK can be led back to Jane Austen, Fanny Bryce, and Mary Wollenscraft.
Please do reach out if you have any thoughts or want to bring your own point of view regarding the publishing industry or being self published! We would love to hear about your experiences.