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Self-publishing lets women break book industry’s glass ceiling, survey finds

While men still dominate the traditional books world, among DIY writers women are publishing and selling more

  Friday 6 March 2015 13.37 GMT

If a woman writing fiction needs “money and a room of her own”, as Virginia Woolf suggested, writers at the beginning of the 21st century should perhaps insist the room comes with an internet connection, after a new study has found that the proportion of self-published bestsellers written by women is almost twice as large as in traditional publishing.

The DIY sector of the books market is currently booming, both in terms of numbers of books created, and numbers bought. In 2013, Nielsen Book found that 18m self-published books were purchased by UK readers, up 79% on 2012, while according to Bowker, there were over 458,000 titles self-published in the US in 2013, up 17% on 2012 and 437% on 2008.

Now, a report from online publishing platform FicShelf has found that the authors doing best in the medium tend to be women. Looking at the most popular titles across the top self-publishing platforms Blurb, Wattpad, CreateSpace and Smashwords, FicShelf found that 67% of top-ranking titles were written by women. This compares with the top 100 traditionally-published titles on Amazon, of which FicShelf discovered that 61% are written by men.

The study did not include self-published titles on the Kindle, because Amazon does not separate them out from traditionally-published books in its bestseller lists. But FicShelf is confident the survey’s results are representative of the market as a whole, adding that the platforms considered are “growing at an impressive rate”, with Wattpad boasting 35m members.

“More and more female writers are seeing success in self-publishing,” said Monique Duarte, chief executive of FicShelf, which released the results to mark International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March. “It’s a level playing field.”

FicShelf also found, it said, that “men are more likely to receive recognition for their work … with preconceived notions of a ‘literary canon’ and curated lists of top titles still dominated by male writers”. Male authors account for 80% of titles in the Telegraph’s “100 Novels Everyone Should Read”, 85% of the Guardian’s “100 Greatest Novels of all Time”, and 70% of the Telegraph’s “The Best Books of 2014”, it found.

Self-published author Alison Morton said: “There’s definitely a gender disparity among traditionally-published authors. More women buy, write and read books in numerical terms, but more ‘weight’ and status is given by publishers to books by male authors. With self-publishing, it’s the effort by the individual that counts, irrespective of gender.”

In total, FicShelf looked at 227 bestselling self-published titles, a mix of fiction and non-fiction. When it focused on novels, the results were even more skewed: of 134 fiction titles, 109, or 81%, were by women, 11 were by men, and 14 were unknown.

“The scale of the discrepancy shows that women writers aren’t being treated equally in traditional publishing,” said the author Roz Morris. “We’re usually pigeonholed into obviously feminine genres such as chick-lit and romance, but not generally allowed to be complex artistes, to write the unusual books that break new ground. These figures show a huge vote of confidence for the writer in charge of their artistic destiny – and indicate that the literary world should take more notice of what women writers are publishing.”

Morris has recently worked with six other female authors to self-publish the ebook anthology Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, a collection of seven novels featuring “strong female characters” which the writers are making available for a limited period, until May.

“While mainstream publishing plays safe with predictable stories and heroines who repeat the same familiar tropes, where are today’s most ground-breaking authors? The answer is that they are self-publishing,” say the writers, who include Orna Ross, an author who has previously been traditionally-published but who went on to found the Alliance of Independent Authors, Joni Rodgers, author of the bestselling cancer memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair, the award-winning Jane Davis, Carol Cooper, Kathleen Jones and Jessica Bell.

“For me, these writers are the real superstars of self-publishing. They’re storytellers dedicated to their craft, who have proved their worth with awards, fellowships and, of course, commercial success,” said Morris.

Dan Holloway, columnist for the Guardian books pages and publisher, said that the anthology authors were “at the forefront of a strong cohort of ground-breaking, boundary-pushing women writing and self-publishing literary fiction”.

“The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Make It Happen’, and our study proves that self-publishing is making it happen for female writers across the globe,” said FicShelf’s Duarte. “In self-publishing, there is no glass ceiling to smash through – it’s about the individual rather than the usual old boy’s club mentality. It’s not about who you know, but what you can do – and what you can write.”


Delirious about this inclusion in The Bookseller

Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller!

Independent author preview

Our first independent author preview takes a look at some of the top titles on offer

It’s a huge pleasure to introduce the first ever Bookseller preview of books by independent and self-published authors.Here’s how it works. Nook supplies us with a range of recent Nook Press titles and I then preview the ones I like. The process is identical to the way in which traditional publishers supply us with books for our monthly New Titles previews. Nook as a distribution platform, has a range that is far greater than any publisher, but acts as funnel so that we are not overwhelmed.These regular independent author previews are the solution we have devised to a changing market. I’m confident that the titles selected here represent some of the best of those available. They are well edited, professionally presented and written with a flair equal to anything you might find on the list of a traditional publishing house. I also saw some that were poorly presented, riddled with typos and in want of a thorough edit. And some authors published their books without a copyright acknowledgement.Nevertheless, seeing so many good writers grasping new opportunities, and navigating the new routes to their readers is cause for celebration. And I say that as a writer myself.We believe the previews will be useful for publishers and agents who might spot something interesting, booksellers who may see a title that would work for their local audience (not all are e-book only titles), and of course to the authors themselves who can use our endorsement in their marketing and PR. Many writers are finding satisfaction, and more, by doing it for themselves—we hope to reflect this each month.Caroline Sanderson

Editor’s Choice
(Three altogether, in a list of 18 finalists)SUCCESSIO cover_sm2Alison Morton
p/b 9781781322185/e-book 2940149637508Carina Mitela is the heir within a leading family, but has chosen the life of an officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces. When a blackmailing letter arrives from a woman claiming to be her husband’s lost daughter, a youthful indiscretion turns into a nightmare which threatens to attack the core of the imperial family itself.I thoroughly enjoyed this classy thriller, the third in Morton’s epic series set in Roma Nova, a breakaway Roman colony established in AD395, which has survived to the present day. The series came about because the author—a self-confessed “Ancient Roman nut”—wondered what a modern Roman society run by women would look like.

Flirting with romance or serious relationship?

On the Romantic Novelists’ Association blog – August 2020

I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association because it embraced every type and sub-genre of romance and romantic fiction, from the sweet, inspirational, gritty contemporary through gay romance and historical to high epic adventure. 

Of course, there are pert misses and stubborn dukes as well as modern fairy-tale romances, but also urban and paranormal, spy stories, tough women coping with harsh dilemmas whether in the Lancashire mills, as emigrants or in modern life with its multiple juggling acts.  But there’s always a girl/boy meets girl/boy, a strong emotional relationship that somehow makes it through all the problems and leads to a happy ending or at least a ‘happy/hopeful for now’ ending.

But what about stories that really belong to another genre such as thrillers or crime where the main, er, thrust is a conspiracy, whodunnit or psychological drama? At one end of the scale, the romantic element is almost superficial; at the other end, the story is a full-blown romantic suspense where the thriller element can be subservient to the love story. Nesting in the middle are stories where the two elements twist round each other and neither can work independently of the other. 

The essential conflict of crime and thrillers mostly reflecting external events seems irreconcilable with romance where theinternal world of feelings is often more important. But this conflict is a gift for a writer. Both have similarities in the framework and essential elements. Both need conflict and tension between characters and environment, a black moment and high point in tension at around seven-eighths of the way through making a double climax of emotion and plot. Winding the decisive point in the relationship into the crucial make-or-break moment of the conspiracy gives the reader no chance to doze off even at 2.a.m.

As in the real world, human relationships in novels are at the heart of the characters’ actions; they drive the plot. Self-empowerment, betrayal, conspiracy, breakdown and a race against time wouldn’t be anywhere near as gripping for readers if there was no fundamental emotional connection. Take a look at J D Robb (Nora Roberts)’s detective series featuring Eve Dallas. While the plots grip you and sharp, succinct dialogue blows you away, where would the stories be without the (sometimes steamy) relationship between Eve and the enigmatic and incredibly sexy Roarke? 

Crime and thrillers occupy harsher environments which gives the writer plenty of room for fights, chases, conspiracies and life and death decisions. Romance under these circumstances can be more a matter of instant loss and lengthy regret, snap decisions to take risks, snatched moments of personal connection. My own series of nine books are bound together by epic love stories as well as betrayal, conspiracy and high courage. 

Some practical thoughts

Mixed-genre fiction has the huge advantage of potentially reaching more readers by appealing to multiple audiences and readers who might never have picked up a single themed book in the other genre.

Excluding an emotional relationship from the most intense thriller can make it seem a series of continuous bashes-and-crashes. Allowing time for the characters to explore their fears and reactions, and their anticipation about what could happen next, enriches the story and brings in emotional rather than mere physical punch.

When you integrate other genres, keep an eye out for their conventions or you’ll annoy readers who know those genres well. Raised stakes and drama, dynamic speech and body language as well as technical details create a vivid picture in thrillers.

However alien or unfamiliar the setting, the core emotional relationship must resonate with readers and link with their own actual or wished-for experiences. They have to root for the heroine and hero, flinch with them and celebrate with them. Readers want to smile and sigh at the heroine and hero’s tender moments and agonise when they argue or misunderstand each other as well as feel satisfied by a strong plot resolution.

The permissions, social attitudes and constraints of the crime or thriller environment should make additional trouble for characters and their relationship. Personal proximity and a conflict worth fighting for in a strange or difficult situation can spark antipathy or attraction – probably both!

Crime and thriller fiction is often stigmatised for having rather flat characters who are only there to populate a fabulously clever plot, but by adding a strong relationship or potential relationship, you can bring many layers and dimensions into the writing which result in a richer and more satisfying read. 

So I’m holding it up for the inherent romantic relationship in crime and thrillers. The joy of the RNA is that mixed genres can sit happily side-by-side under its umbrella. And that’s why I’m still enjoying my RNA membership ten years after I wrote that first thriller when sparky Carina met the incredibly sexy but vulnerable special forces officer Conrad…

Full article here:



Expat romantic novelists inspired by real life

Thinking of writing a book about your life overseas? These published authors have some advice …

woman in bookshop reaching up for a book on shelf

Dreaming of seeing your name in print? There are advantages and disadvantages to writing your book abroad Photo: Heathcliff O’Malley

Do you ever toy with the idea of drawing on your expat experience to write a romantic novel? If so, there’s one storyline that must tempt you: British girl meets Man From Elsewhere, and moves to his country, leading, after some hiccups, to their very own happy ever after.

Romantic novelist Angela Britnell (left) has lived this plot. She is originally from Cornwall, but she met her own tall, dark, handsome stranger when she was working for Nato in Denmark. He is American and the couple now live in Nashville – the setting for Angela’s novel What Happens in Nashville (

She said: “A British girl abroad meeting a foreign man is a great story, so why not use it? Most of my books feature mixed couples drawing on my own experiences in marrying my American husband. There’s an inherent sense of romance about stories set in distant countries, with foreign characters.”

Janet Woods has a different backstory. She met her husband at school in the UK when they were three years old. They were born a day apart, lived in the same street, attended the same schools, married when they were 19 and migrated to Australia in the 1960s as “ten pound Poms”.

Janet agrees that placing a heroine far from home has advantages, and most of her novels, including her Dorset trilogy, feature split UK/Australian settings ( She said: “It’s good to get family and friends out of the way for a while. Having no relatives to fall back on when there is trouble makes for a resourceful heroine.”

Liz Fenwick ( is an American who moved to England, married a Brit, lived with him along the way in Calgary, Moscow, Jakarta and Houston, and finally moved to Dubai, where she writes novels about Cornwall. She is wary of using expat settings. Her novel A Cornish Affair begins on Cape Cod but apart from that is set in a crumbling Cornish clifftop mansion.

Liz (left) said: “I worry publishers and agents think they can’t sell expat fiction, unless you, the author, already have a following. I think the realities of expat life are far away from the UK reader’s experience. So unless it’s a book that naturally fits in an expat setting like a thriller then possibly it’s less appealing to publishers than UK-based books.

“I could see opening a novel in Dubai and then moving the story back to Cornwall but not setting one entirely here.”

On top of that, leaping from unpublished to published novelist generally requires networking, which can be hard for expats. Alison Morton is originally from Tunbridge Wells, but now lives in south-west France, from where she has self-published three romances ( She said: “If I need to be at a business meeting at short notice in the UK, it can be a scramble finding a flight or train.”

The problems are multiplied the further you live from London, but Alison pointed out distance is becoming less of an obstacle with the Internet and digital communication: “My agent took me on after a FaceTime conversation,” she explained.

Indeed, technology is revolutionising the publishing industry. If you can’t find a conventional publisher for your expat novel, you might consider self-publishing. Angela thinks the broadening of the publishing business is a positive thing for everyone, including expat authors. However, she warns: “Self-publishing can be a minefield and it isn’t something to undertake without a lot of research; it takes much hard work to produce a quality product.”

You can lose a lot of money if you pursue self-publication, especially if you want to produce physical rather than electronic copies of your books. Nonetheless there are advantages to physical copies, as many readers still prefer them.

Alison said: “For paperbacks, I‘ve found it easier to have them edited, formatted and published in the UK, my prime market. But these days a paperback can be printed on demand in the UK and be dispatched anywhere in the world, which is great for expats.”

If you are inspired to write an expat romance, The UK-based Romantic Novelists’ Association is ready with support and advice, and is happy to welcome expat members (

Rosie Milne, who is originally from London, lives in Singapore where she runs Asian Books Blog (



Don’t turn your back on feminism

3 July 2014

Feminism has become a dirty word but it really shouldn’t be, after all it is just about equal rights for all, men and women alike.

Author Alison Morton is known for writing Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

More here:


In the MENSA SEMantics magazine – August 2014

Alison_TW Library

Photo courtesy of Bob Cherry

From Inceptio(n) to Successio(n)
Since leaving these shores for France a few years ago, talented one time West Kent LocSec Alison Morton has embarked upon a career as a writer of alternate history novels. In March last year, Olive and I were honoured to be invited to the launch of the first of the novels in this series, Inceptio and we thoroughly enjoyed reading and immersing ourselves in this unusual thriller. Alison is very modest about the success of this absorbing tale but we understand that a reprint was necessitated to meet demand.

Never one to allow grass to grow under her feet, Alison then set to and produced the second in the series, Perfiditas which continues to be set in the fictional country of Roma Nova but, being unable to keep up with Alison’s prodigious output, I confess that I still have to get around to reading this follow-up tale, but Olive has beaten me to it and she thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Astonishingly, we recently received yet another invitation from Alison to launch her very latest in the series, entitled Successio, in Tunbridge Wells library on a sunny June evening. Instead of introducing her book with readings of selected passages,

Alison chose instead to subject herself to a grilling from writer friend Denise, who concentrated mainly upon the dramatis personae. This was followed by questions from the audience prior to signing of the books that many of us purchased. Although remaining fairly tight-lipped upon the subject, Alison let it slip that book number 4 is already under way with yet more to come in the future!

Bob Cherry

Tunbridge Wells author Alison Morton will be signing copies of her new book at Tunbridge Wells LibraryKM

04 June 2014 by Kent Messenger reporter
Alison Morton has released the third book “Successio” in her thrilling “Roma Nova” series.The Tunbridge Wells born author found success with the first two parts of her series, Inceptio and Perfiditas.The captivating books invite the reader into an world of 21st century romans, alternate history and heroines set in the mysterious “Roma Nova”.She said: “It’s exciting that this is the third book in the series. I like the excitement and didn’t want to let the fans down.”After spending six years in uniform with the Territorial Army, Alison has a thorough and detailed understanding of military life that she utilises and embeds within her writing. She said: “The military provides you with a sense of self discipline, purpose and timing. Anything latent comes out of you.“You learn how to work with a team, by yourself, and how to deal with down times. It’s like being in a marriage with a corporation.“My experience in the military really helped me get inside the head of the heroine in Successio.”‘Successio’ has a strong focus on the feminine role in society and the military.Alison believes that women should be provided the opportunity to fight on the front line subject to the same tests as male soldiers. She said: “Believe you me, women can look after themselves just as well as men.”

When asked about the inspiration for her stories, Alison said: “In ancient Rome there is no way women would have had a say in politics or any other societal issues. “It was a very male orientated society and it made me wonder what a world would be like if women ran it. My train of thought went from there. “Alternate history can be serious and academic or completely bonkers. You have to know history well to alternate it.” Alison, originally from Farmcombe Close, Tunbridge Wells currently lives in the beautiful Vallee du Thouet in France with her husband. However, she is in the UK until the middle of June holding talks across the South-East. She will be speaking and signing books at Tunbridge Wells Library on Tuesday June 10th at 7pm.

WritingMagMay2014_partIn Writing Magazine (May 2014, page WN17), a lovely piece about PERFIDITAS, including a photo of me with Simon Scarrow!

You can read the complete article here.










Female First very kindly interviewed me again, this time about PERFIDITAS. On 28 December I was in the books section in great company. Read more here…


RadioKent 017_smRadio Kent again!

Just before the launch of PERFIDITAS on 6 November 2013 at Waterstones Tunbridge Wells, I went back into the Radio Kent studies to talk to Pat Marsh again. Very relaxed and friendly, it was like popping round for a friendly chat.

And here’s our interview/chat…

On the radio!

IMG_3867_smOn 13 August 2013, Pat Marsh, from BBC Radio Kent invited me on to his afternoon radio show and let me burble on about INCEPTIO. Radio Kent is said to have around 200,000 listeners, a figure I didn’t pin down until afterwards. I think I might have been a little more nervous if I’d known.

IMG_3863_smVery friendly and quick to set me at my ease Pat and his team are keen to support Kent authors. And they’ve invited me back to talk about the next book, PERFIDITAS, out in mid-October.

And you can listen to the interview here!


A fab report in ROYAL magazine of the INCEPTIO launch at Waterstones Tunbridge Wells.

What a superb write-up. And yes, we had fun! Deepest thanks to Sarah Bond who wrote it, Gaynor Edwards who masterminded the PR for the evening and the Kent & Sussex Courier ROYAL team for the beautiful production. And to Steve Morton, of course, who took some of the photos.

(Click on picture to enlarge)

01_01_2001 CF - Royal Magazine May 13 S244 RGP


FemalefirstOn 19 June, I was delighted to be interviewed by Lucy Walton for Female First.

It’s a lively and very popular lifestyle blog brimming with information for the contemporary young woman.

Read more here…


I was thrilled to have a 3-page spread about alternate history in the UK’s premier writers’ monthly “Writing Magazine” (July 2013 issue). WMag_July2013


On 1 May 2013, Gaynor Edwards from Ozone Creative, a sparkly new agency, emailed me the link to SO Magazine’s Social Register in the May edition (middle of right-hand column):


The West Kent weekly newspaper, The Kent and Sussex Courier gave me a few column inches (and set the whole book in America instead of Roma Nova – love the Courier!)

K&S Courier_launch

  Local Tunbridge Wells  lifestyle magazine SO Magazine included me in their Culture Vulture section in April

SO Magazine_April_detail

Before the UK launch, local Tunbridge Wells magazine StayingInGoingOut, known as StayGo, ran a half page on INCEPTIO in their March edition. Fabulous!


  Le Courrier de l’Ouest which covers the French departments of Deux-Sévres 79 (where I live) and Maine-et-Loire 49 (Angers/Saumur) did a feature  about INCEPTIO and the French launch on 1 March.


courrier_launch article

And La Nouvelle République covered the event




Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.