UPOU panel: Writing and Publishing Women’s Narratives [Discussion notes]

I was so excited to have been invited to this! I’m a UPOU alumna (master of development communication), and took all the education electives that I could get, including a subject called Online Teaching and Learning. I designed #RomanceClass many years later using what I learned there as the foundation. It feels great to be back, in a Zoom kind of way. I hope the students see what they have access to and how it absolutely can be the beginning of helpful things. (RomanceClass readers may recognize Gantala Press as one of the beneficiaries of our Tropetastic Kindness bundle in 2021! Your donations helped a small press focusing on marginalized women’s narratives.)

These were the guide questions from the discussion and my thoughts about each. It’ll be partly what I remember from the session and a very edited version of what I may have said, with a dash of things I wish I had said.

What are your current projects and what are the themes of your work? Why did you choose those? 
As an author I still write romance but for the past few years now I’ve been focusing on writing Filipino main characters who are in their 40s. It’s been so fulfilling to do this and the reader feedback I get has been worth it. (If you don’t know this, most romances published have characters in their teens and 20s.) It’s nice to be able to convey to a person through my characters that it’s a great age, and romance that starts at 40 is its own kind of exciting.

What are the concerns/challenges in writing and publishing as, for, and by women? How do you ensure that other voices of women are heard?
It’s actually a joy to write and publish as a woman and for women. Most people I work with in self-publishing are women, from editors to artists, designers, photographers, printer…it just happens. We’re everywhere in publishing. The concern would probably be in finding publisher support for your story if it doesn’t fit what they think can sell. Which is why I also help people self-publish…the tools are available to distribute our work to the readers who need it. Yes publishing makes it difficult for us but I hope we use the tools available rather than stay discouraged for too long.

How should we work within traditional/independent/small presses? How important is building a community of readers and writers?
“Traditional publishers” employ people and I always try to remember that the publisher, the decision-makers, are people and not a nameless faceless entity who is never accountable for anything. If there’s a lack of support, a lack of interest, that is a person’s lack of interest and failure to provide support. The entire thing can change if people who care about the books know what to do when they become part of the industry. I’m optimistic that the people who have ideas, and care, and can open doors, will find each other — but we do have to let each other know that we exist. Panels like this are a chance to do that. I’ve been doing for this a while and am more aware of what my role is and where I can help. One of those ways is to not feel that I have to write or publish everything. I can find/support the ones who do.

We also have to be the kind of readers and authors who support fellow readers and authors. If #RomanceClass can serve as a model at all, it’s because we asked authors who want to benefit from the community’s resources to participate and read each other. Change in our reader habits = better environment for us as authors. Reading each other = more equipped to identify what’s missing, what needs lifting up and creating space for. We are now read in 37 countries, meaning there are people in those countries interested in a book by a Filipino author. The doors are open and they could and will read more than one. We should be present in the spaces where the doors have been opened. And let’s open more doors.

Why should women continue to create/write and publish stories? Can you share tips on developing and writing our stories? 
We have to first get rid of the feeling we have that our story isn’t groundbreaking or earth-shattering, that it’s too small so that means we shouldn’t write it. From experience a theme or moment that I’ve written that feels very personal to me always resonates with a reader, and that’s the point, right? Whatever it is, we’re reaching out to that reader and saying we understand. Yes even if it’s a small feeling. And speaking as a romance author, it’s always worth it to write romance especially if you have strong opinions about how people are treated in relationships, how our society has normalized many things that we should get rid of. To be able to show a Filipino reader (often at a very impressionable age) that these are the joys and consequences of our choices, and it’s great to have choices.

Thank you, Roda Tajon, for asking me to be part of this. Roda has been supporting RomanceClass, and my books, and many more Filipino authors, for years.

If the panel earlier and these notes made anyone curious about RomanceClass, the textbook is on Gumroad (cheaper in the Philippines because of purchasing power parity pricing), and (accepts Gcash/Maya/Grabpay).


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About Mina

Mina V. Esguerra writes and publishes romance novels. She founded #RomanceClass, a community of Filipino authors of romance in English.
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