I’ve already mentioned much of what I learned at this year’s Matera Women’s Fiction Festival in Part 1.

In that post, I covered issues related to  electronic publishing, the newly-coined term   ‘dicoverability’, and the role of agents today in a quickly-shifting marketplace.

But just to prove all my time wasn’t spent wandering the steep and winding streets of Matera’s lovely cave district or seeking refreshment in one of the town’s many picturesque restaurants, here’s part 2 of what I learned about the rapidly changing publishing industry.

The Women’s Fiction genre – “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

The panelists agreed that British novelist Ian McEwan’s words paint an accurate portrait of today’s reading public: from young adult to mainstream adult fiction, women simply read more than men. Although most of the bosses are men, most of those employed by the publishing industry are women. And a whopping 95% of blogs dedicated to books and literature are authored by – you guessed it – women.

And yet, male authors garner more respect. There’s been much debate recently that they receive a disproportionate amount of reviews in mainstream press, that their works are considered literature with a capital L, while women exploring similar themes are often relegated to a much lower rung on the ladder. At the risk of sounding flippant, I’m guessing women working in many sectors will find this a fairly familiar pattern, and not just relegated to the publishing world.

My frescoed room in the beautiful Hotel Gattini

There has even been discussion about whether female authors should reject the term women’s fiction – a rather broad title that covers many genres and generally tends to be written for a primarily female audience, with a female protagonist, and addressing issues of interest to female readers. After all, there’s no ‘men’s fiction’, goes the argument.

I appreciated the observations of Isabella Spanu, of Italian publishing house Leggereditore , when she said “If these differences [between women’s fiction and general fiction] exist, we should embrace them and use them to our advantage.” I agree with this. Women are the majority of the reading public.

Women like reading stories with female protagonists overcoming difficulties and growing as individuals. If men read the novels, great. But I think we should concentrate our efforts on the large, enthusiastic female reading public that already exists, promote our fellow female authors, and stop making apologies for writing the kinds of books that the majority of the reading public is eager to read.

The importance of social media – French publisher Stéphane Marsan cited a recent study in France that showed that readers intrigued by a book and its author, most often said that they wondered if the author would be someone with whom they would like to sit down and have a glass of wine and a chat.

Mural detail of the poverty of Matera’s sassi district by Carlo Levi, Italian artist and author of ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’ (Palazzo Lanfranchi)

This is the type of experience social media can replicate. Young adult author and social media expert Beth Barany spoke to us about the importance of social media for authors seeking to share information and build relationships. Specifically, Beth discussed Twitter with us, highlighting the benefits of building communities, connecting with other authors, and promoting one another’s work.

While I’m not a fan of Facebook, I do see the benefits of Twitter. One of these days, I may even getting around to using it…

Brainstorming- Okay, this was a real discovery! Last year, I didn’t sign up for this, so this year I made up for lost time by attending both sessions. Although I’m in two writing groups, I’ve never done group brainstorming before, and it’s truly useful.

Jane Correy, an English author who writes in several genres in multiple pen names, walked us through the session and offered us helpful tips and advice.

Authors raised problems they were facing in their books – characters who were flat, a problem that wasn’t resolving itself, the need to introduce more tension. You name it, we discussed it. And it really is helpful to get a group of authors, writing in a  variety of genres, just throwing ideas out and trying to help resolve the author’s problems.

Perhaps books can’t be written my committee, but plot holes can certainly be hammered out in group work. This is something I’d love to do more of. Maybe some of you already do this in your writing groups? If so, I’d love to hear your experiences…

There’s obviously lots more that we discussed during our sessions, but I think I raised the main points that may be of interest to other writers. But it you’re really eager to learn more… just join me at next year’s conference.

The poverty of the sassi – Photo collection Palazzo Lanfranchi

See you next September in Matera!

Old Matera – photo collection in Palazzo Lanfranchi