Why aspiring non-fiction female authors should self-publish

By   Hannah Bickerton 6 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

Women are 65% more likely to read a non-fiction book written by the opposite sex than men are. Let’s talk about why this needs to change.

If you look at the non-fiction section in your local bookshop, you’ll find the shelves filled with subjects catered more towards a male readership. Books on history, sports, business, even memoirs, will most likely be authored by a man. It makes sense when you look at the fact that in the United States alone, only 8% of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs, with less than 1% being Black. Women hold just 29% of science and engineering jobs and fill only 27% of seats in the U.S. Congress. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 208 years for the U.S. to close its gender gap. How are more women supposed to publish books on topics in these fields if they’re not being granted the opportunities to enter and progress in such professions in the first place?

Women may be conquering the world of fiction, but an unconscious, ingrained stereotype still exists within the publishing industry. The traditional assumption is that women write fiction, they write the fanciful, the whimsical and the romantic. Men, however, are far more logical, academic and realistic, perfectly suited to write non-fiction. This biased gatekeeping therefore diminishes and undervalues the voices, expertise and vital experiences of women, whether they are creators, politicians, athletes, historians, activists or entrepreneurs. So, how do we break the bias? Self-publishing is one solution. And here’s why.

Self-publishing can empower & elevate women’s voices

Self-publishing provides women the freedom and resources they need to take charge and elevate their own voices within the non-fiction boys club. There is no need for your manuscript to acquire the stamp of approval from an agent or publisher to succeed, or even to alter your name to increase your chances of people showing more interest in your work. Self-publishing breaks down the barriers of traditional publishing so more women can engage in important discussions and write about topics yet to be explored. 

If you have the ideas and the motivation to self-publish, then getting your book onto shelves can be accomplished in half the time it would take a traditional publisher. You control the timeline. You have final say over what takes priority. So if you want a book in time for a big upcoming event or need to spend a few more months focusing on your professional and personal life, the process works around you rather than around the publisher’s other commitments. And at the end of the process, your book will be completely yours – an extension of your look, tone and audience focus. It will be your passion for your project that drives any marketing activity, so it’s down to you to curate how you unveil your book to the world.

Self-publishing can help establish authority & create further opportunities

A book provides a platform to share your ideas, knowledge and experiences and acts as a testament to what you have already accomplished. Becoming an author – with the expertise that it implies – can lead to further opportunities and propel your career to new heights. For example, former Nike vice president Lisa MacCallum and former Nike Foundation creative director Emily Brew realised their own entrepreneurial ambitions through self-publishing a book with whitefox. They wanted to inspire a new model of corporate business, leading to their management consultancy, Inspired Companies. They wrote Inspired INC to share their idea with the world, resulting in multiple business opportunities. They achieved all of this while retaining the complete creative and commercial ownership of their work. 

In the traditional publishing world, Lisa and Emily’s initial idea might have been ‘tweaked’ to fit with industry targets and trends – of course, that’s assuming they managed to get their foot in the door in the first place. Their courage to make the move and self-publish, to tell their story and share their unique insights, has not only benefited their readers and valuably contributed to the business genre, but has helped to progress their careers and validate their expertise. And who knows, it might just encourage more women innovators and entrepreneurs to add their own voices into the mix.

Self-publishing grants authors complete control

Self-publishing allows authors to have total say over their book project. This is especially important to women, removing the risk of their ideas being filtered, restricted or altered in any way. Their relatable voice and identity will remain because they have complete control over the narrative both within and surrounding their book. While traditional publishers will have their marketing efforts split across a number of different books, most likely devoting more attention to books authored by men, self-publishing allows the author to take control of the marketing process and utilise their existing platform, connections and following. 

During the creation of culinary company founder Pauline Parry’s cookbook-meets-memoir My Culinary Love Story with whitefox, every decision was down to her. Not only did she have total control over her personal stories and narrative in the book, but she was able to commission an illustrator to design the enchanting watercolour food illustrations that appear throughout her book, across the jacket and beside her delicious recipes. The result is a truly special and unique book that is completely her own.

Self-publishing encourages unique perspectives & self-promotion

Women have incredibly individual perspectives and experiences that can be truly enriching and valuable to others. However, women are taught early on in their lives not to be ‘pushy’, and instead to downplay or even hide their accomplishments. Women have a deep discomfort and genuine difficulty promoting themselves and their work, conditioned not to ‘brag’, nevermind how proud or passionate they are about a topic or achievement.

The process of writing and self-publishing a book that expresses knowledge and talents in a particular field can help overcome this entrenched fear, while positioning more women as respected authors, leaders and experts. A book can help share the diverse, unique and valuable insights women have to offer, ones that have been missing from our shelves for far too long.

Self-publishing can make change

Ultimately, women want to write, to share, to publish – and they deserve to be heard and celebrated. Some may argue that with women making up 64% of the workforce in publishing, holding over half of the executive leadership and senior management positions, that there isn’t a problem. But this doesn’t mean systemic bias has vanished, that it has been eradicated overnight. If anything, we need to do more to challenge the inequality that still exists within the industry in order for women in these roles to truly thrive, and help others to do so too. 

Self-publishing removes the traditional gatekeepers and instead encourages innovation and equal opportunity, allowing authors to express their ideas and messages that can incite real change. At whitefox, we truly believe that self-publishing empowers authors of any background, race and gender to share ideas with the world. But, as the non-fiction category continues to undersell and undervalue female authors, we hope women across all industries will realise the appetite and value of their stories and experience and unleash these to inspire a new generation of successful non-fiction female authors.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.