WoMentoring, a new way to open doors for women

Having attended literary events and worked in bookshops for many years, I think I’m on safe ground saying that women outnumber men in the paying audience for literature. However fewer women are published than men, with a lower output, fewer reviews and less remuneration. Just because a few high-profile authors like JK Rowling, Danielle Steel and Suzanne Collins make it on to the authors’ rich list, it doesn’t mean the battle for equality has been won. The arguments Virginia Woolf put forward in A Room of One’s Own still hold true for many women 85 years on, as The Atlantic recently pointed out.

So, today a group of women in publishing has launched The WoMentoring Project “to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities”. It’s organised by Kerry Hudson, author of the wonderfully titled Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, who says its mission is

“to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors”.

There are so far 60 volunteer mentors, all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Kerry says: “Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.”

Shelley Harris, the author of Jubilee who first alerted us to the project describes why she got involved:

“The reason I’m doing this is simple: mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project.”

Marie Phillips, the author of Gods Behaving Badly and, out later this year, The Table of Less Valued Knights, says:

“I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don’t have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give.”

Although they say they’d love to give everyone who applies a mentor, they simply don’t have enough people, so applications will be made to individual mentors, who will choose who they want to look after.

“Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time.”

There are more details on the official site www.womentoringproject.co.uk

And don’t forget it’s not just other writers who are volunteering their time. One of the most difficult parts of getting a book in print is to be noticed by a publisher, and what better way to avoid your manuscript ending up in a slush pile than getting to know people like Francesca Main, the editorial director at Picador, who says:

“My career as an editor has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out. The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it.”

Finally, if you’re wondering about the lovely illustrations here and on their site, they were donated by comics artist and writer Sally Jane Thompson. Go have a look, there’s free comics!


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