Is Gender Dividing The Digital Publishing Industry?

Last Friday morning, an eager audience of aspiring authors, editors, agents and publishers sat gripping cups of strong coffee and gazing upon a veritable smorgasbord of literary goodness. International best-selling author Kate Mosse, Orange Prize winner Linda Grant and award-winning young adult author Nicola Morgan were assembled to confess the joys and terrors of ‘Writing in a Digital Age’, the topic of a two-day conference from The Literary Consultancy – and confess they did.

Moderated by Guardian Books editor Claire Armitstead, the conversation focused on the degree to which writers should promote themselves and their books through social media. Linda Grant described how she overcame her initial skepticism to embrace Twitter’s eclecticism and “terseness of form”. Nicola Morgan explained that she veers between appreciating the huge value social visibility has brought her and feeling like she “loses a piece of my writer’s soul” in the process. Kate Mosse was defiant about her refusal to engage, maintaining that “my business as a writer is to get better as a writer and for that I need peace and quiet in my head”. The theme was the balance between a writer’s duty to build reader relationships versus her duty to her craft; the tone was one of authenticity and honesty about the emotional toll that such a balancing act can take.

The afternoon panel had a very different subject and feel. Experimental writer Tony White, creative director of online publishing platform Publit Jonas Lennermo, and Julian McCrae and Mike Jones from cross-platform production company Portal Entertainment, shared how they were using innovative multimedia approaches to bring stories to readers in new ways. The tone here was more conceptual and technical – how did the automated responses in White’s ivy4Evr, an SMS drama, actually work? How do Portal’s role-playing experiences differ from traditional online RPGs? – although no less interesting.

But the most provocative moment came at the end of the panel, when a feisty female audience member got hold of the microphone. “I couldn’t help but notice,” she said, “that all of you on this panel are men. This morning, when we were talking about the warm and fuzzy stuff, it was all women. Why do you think that is?”

Why indeed? Was it a coincidence? Does it even matter? Attempts to ask such questions have a tendency to lapse into gender generalistion and cliché. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth exploring. Working in a prominent position as a woman in a tech-led space, I am frequently treated with the suspicion-come-adulation of a flamingo in a fish tank. So, on an instinctive, anecdotal basis, do you think that digital’s increasing hold over the publishing industry is affecting the status and power of women – and if so, how?

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