NEW YORK • Self-described sci-fi fangirl Ashley Eckstein believes women like her are often overlooked. So she started a company to sell apparel featuring brands such as Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars to fangirls.
Now, believing these women need a voice, she is expanding into publishing.
"Liking Star Wars is not a trend, it's part of who you are," she said, adding that she was disturbed to see women harassed for liking sci-fi and fantasy. "It was troubling to me. It was painful for fangirls."
She started her company, Her Universe, in 2009 after searching for a Star Wars T-shirt at a comic book convention. Unable to find anything suited for women, she instead saw an opportunity to target an overlooked consumer.
Her company has since included retail partners such as Hot Topic and, starting in March, Kohl's, which will sell a line of Her Universe activewear.
Ms Eckstein now sees another opportunity as a publisher of sci-fi novels written by women. She said she got the idea after receiving unsolicited manuscripts at conventions.
"Fans would hand me a book and say, 'I wrote a story and could not get it published'. I'd come home with stacks of books," she said.
She wanted to help, but realised she lacked the experience as "the publishing world is completely different from the fashion world".
So she met Permuted Press, a publisher known for zombie and post-apocalyptic novels.
Its publisher, Mr Anthony Zic- cardi, said that coincidentally, a growing number of Permuted Press readers were women and it had been looking for an opportunity to go into sci-fi and fantasy to attract pre-teenagers and young adults.
Sales of children's books, which include young adult fiction, grew 12.6 per cent in the United States from January to September last year, according to Nielsen. Print sales of adult fiction and non- fiction have dropped in the US, but the juvenile market has grown 40 per cent in the past decade, it said.
Permuted Press, said Mr Ziccardi, has scaled back on zombie tales to focus on the Her Universe Press imprint.
Since the announcement of the partnership last October, he has been receiving three to five submissions a week. Ms Eckstein reads every one, along with two other editors at Permuted Press.
Mr Ziccardi added: "There are a lot of talented authors who want to get discovered. A lot of Ashley's fan base trusts her and likes her."
That connection to her fan base has been one of the keys to her success.
An actress known for her voice- over work on the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, she said she tried to meet fans at conventions and through social networks to find out what they wanted from Her Universe.
"Our secret is asking them," she said. "When it comes to the stories, we chose the same strategy."
Her Universe Press has six novels lined up for this year. The first one, Weirdest, was written by Heather Nuhfer, who writes for comic books such as My Little Pony, Scooby-Doo and Wonder Woman.
Despite her success in comic books, Nuhfer said she was grateful for the opportunity to work with Her Universe Press because of its focus on strong female characters.
"I feel like I've had a hard time breaking into publishing as a woman," she said.
But her agent was reluctant to take the novel to Her Universe Press and wanted to go to an established publisher instead.
"We had talked about taking it to other publishers," she said, "but for me, it seemed like a no-brainer to push through with Ashley because of her passion for making it a great project."
NEW YORK TIMES