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Publishing While Marginalized: Navigating the Literary Landscape for Women and Writers of Color

In the intricate and demanding landscape of the publishing industry, authors from marginalized communities, particularly women and writers of color, often face a multitude of challenges that hinder their success. From securing representation and obtaining fair compensation to maintaining creative control over their work, the path to publication can be fraught with obstacles. This article delves into the experiences of three authors—Kyla Zhao, Aparna Verma, and Shanti Hershenson—who have navigated the publishing industry as women and writers of color, shedding light on the systemic barriers that persist in the literary world and emphasizing the urgent need for change.

Systemic Barriers in Traditional Publishing

Limited Opportunities for Authors from Marginalized Communities

Kyla Zhao, the author of “The Fraud Squad,” encountered significant pressure from prospective agents to alter her novel’s setting and characters to make it more “marketable.” This experience, unfortunately, reflects a pervasive trend in publishing, where authors of color are frequently asked to conform to narrow and stereotypical representations of their communities, stifling their creative expression and limiting the diversity of voices in literature.

Price Disparities Based on Gender

A stark disparity exists in the pricing of books by female authors compared to their male counterparts. Studies have revealed that books by female authors are typically priced 45% lower, creating a “zero-sum game” that further restricts opportunities for diverse voices to be heard and appreciated by readers.

Homogenization of Marginalized Experiences

Publishers often perceive marginalized communities as monolithic entities, resulting in a lack of representation for the diverse experiences within these communities. This homogenization erases the individuality and nuance of marginalized authors’ stories, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and limiting the richness and complexity of the literary landscape.

Self-Publishing as an Alternative

Growing Popularity of Self-Publishing

In response to the challenges faced in traditional publishing, an increasing number of authors are turning to self-publishing as a means of bypassing gatekeepers and maintaining creative control over their work. The advent of digital platforms and online marketplaces has made self-publishing more accessible than ever before, empowering authors to take their stories directly to readers without the constraints of traditional publishing.

Aparna Verma’s Journey

Aparna Verma’s experience exemplifies the potential of self-publishing. Initially self-publishing her debut novel, “The Boy With Fire,” under the title “The Phoenix King,” Verma’s work gained popularity on social media, eventually catching the attention of Orbit Books, a traditional publisher. Verma’s journey highlights the importance of working with editors who understand and appreciate cultural authenticity, ensuring that marginalized authors’ stories are told with respect and sensitivity.

The Need for Change

Increased Representation in Positions of Power

Shanti Hershenson, a self-published teenage author, emphasizes the urgent need for more women and people of color to hold positions of power within the traditional publishing industry. Hershenson, who has faced sexism during book festivals and believes that her success has been hindered by her gender, calls for a fundamental shift in the industry’s power dynamics to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for all authors.

Challenging Gender Bias in Genre Fiction

Hershenson, who writes science fiction, brings attention to the genre’s persistent male dominance. Many male readers remain reluctant to read books written by women, perpetuating gender bias and limiting the success of female authors in the genre. This bias not only deprives readers of diverse and compelling stories but also reinforces harmful stereotypes that discourage women from pursuing careers in writing.


The experiences of Kyla Zhao, Aparna Verma, and Shanti Hershenson shed light on the challenges faced by women and writers of color in the publishing industry. Systemic barriers, limited opportunities, and gender bias continue to hinder their success, creating an environment that stifles diverse voices and perpetuates inequality. While self-publishing offers an alternative path for authors seeking greater control over their work, change is needed within the traditional publishing industry to create a more inclusive and equitable landscape for all authors. By increasing representation in positions of power, challenging gender bias, and promoting diverse voices, the publishing industry can open its doors to a wealth of untapped talent and enrich the literary world with a kaleidoscope of perspectives and experiences.