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Confessions of a Female Publisher

To support our Library appeal, Katie Isbester delves into the positive effects of reading at an early age and the inspiration it provided.

Women dominate publishing. While there is an enormous push to include more Blacks, Asians and those from minority ethnic backgrounds, the real minority is men. Wages unfortunately reflect that. Industries dominated by women have lower rates of pay. Publishing is no exception.

As I grew into adulthood not much changed, including my income. Yet here I am, an otherwise intelligent person voluntarily committing myself to a career in publishing. You got to ask yourself why.

Here’s one reason: women and books are a perfect marriage. Our culture celebrates too narrow a range of women’s experiences. Women can broaden their access to other “realities” reading them and/or writing them and/or publishing them. Books can strip us of our false and weak narratives, reclothing us in garb that fits. It’s gratifying to part of that process.

But there’s another reason and it’s how I came to publishing: books permitted me to parent. My partner travels for work, usually for weeks sometimes for months. Then he’s back, unemployed, a little anxious about the next contract and reconnecting with his kids and me.

Working freelance as an editor meant that I could press the pause button on my own search for work or hit deadlines early. No one needed to know when exactly I was working or in which room or wearing what outfit. When he was away I could single-parent it, editing late in the night. When he was back, I could arrange my schedule around family outings and romantic dinners. Talk about being in control of my schedule.

My freelance editing morphed into small-scale publishing, driven by the need to be part of the solution to the problem of corporate publishing, which is driven by data-mining engineers and marketeers. Again, I get control over my schedule. It’s true I rarely take that fabled holiday (I’m writing this blog on my August hols when the rest of the world is camping) but since I like what I do, I can’t complain. It also means I get to take off time to help my kids or care for my elderly mother or babysit a two-year-old while his mother cares for her cancer-ridden sister, which is how I spent last week.

Here’s another reason why book editing and publishing are tailor-made for women: it’s more of a group practice than any author wants to admit. We have made a fetish of the lonely genius toiling over an ink-stained manuscript. In reality, even my little publishing house requires an editor, a copy editor, a proof reader, a book designer, and a supervisor to put it all together. We pitch ideas at the author, rewrite sentences, tweak the plotting, correct language usage. The author is involved in every step of the production but as a team member, not even as team leader. Many authors are confused by that. And then profoundly grateful for it. As am I. It’s just such a pleasure to work with people who are equally committed to creating stories that expand and then share the breadth and depth of the human experience.

The issue, to be blunt, is doing all this in a financially lucrative manner. I hesitate to suggest that make money from publishing only requires hard work and commitment. In reality, it also requires good luck and a good economy.

Like every other business, financially successful publishers have found a hole in the marketplace and filled it with their own unique books. If you’re a reader and can’t get enough of one kind of book despite your best efforts, you might be on to a winning formula. If so, create a schedule that works for you and your family, then surround yourself with a fabulous team to help implement your vision.

Then publishing becomes a love story for the female entrepreneur.


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