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Feb 10, 2011

Publishing, One More Bastian of Male Chauvanist Pigs (Apparently)





In 1903... a disgruntled sorcerer in eastern New Guinea announced that within three days he was turning every man in the village into a woman, and every woman into a man.


The men were panic stricken, New Guinea being such a male dominated society, but, as the investigating white magistrate observed, “the women viewed the threat with supreme complacency.”*
Laura Miller, over on Salon, chips away at the issue of why there aren't more female authors.

Franklin, who was chagrined to find that only 33 percent of the books she reviewed last year were by women, concluded that "magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year. The question now becomes why more books by women are not getting published." Since publishing a book tends to burnish the reputation of a reviewer or essayist (just as publishing well-received reviews and essays in journals can lead to a book contract), the two situations are certainly intertwined.


...The imbalance in books published is indeed a puzzle; book publishers, like any other business, want to make money, and multiple surveys indicate that women buy and read far more books than men do. (This fact has long been established within the book business, but since some Salon readers have questioned it in the past, please see the National Endowment for the Arts "Reading at Risk" report.) If women were only -- or even primarily -- interested in books by women, the logic of the marketplace would dictate that publishers should release more titles by female authors.


And here's where we have to get anecdotal. There's really no hard data on how many books by male authors are read by women readers and vice versa, nor are we likely to ever see any. But try this: Ask six bookish friends -- three men and three women -- to list their favorite authors or favorite books, without explaining your motivation. Then see how many male authors the women list and whether the men list any female authors at all.
A couple of researchers at Queen Mary College in London did something along these lines in 2005. They asked "100 academics, critics and writers" to discuss the books they'd read most recently. According to the Guardian, "four out of five men said the last novel they read was by a man, whereas women were almost as likely to have read a book by a male author as a female. When asked what novel by a woman they had read most recently, a majority of men found it hard to recall or could not answer." When it comes to gender, women do seem to read more omnivorously than men. Publishers can assume that a book written by a man will sell to both men and women, but a book by a woman is a less reliable bet.


So not much has changed since 1903... men still freak out imagining themselves as women, but women are complacent about the reverse.


The only thing I can't figure out is if this study included geenre romance books. As far as I can tell, those are reviewed by most "serious" reviewers (fantasy and sf aren't either, with some notable exceptions), and I think most of the authors in that genre are female. Interestingly, when male romance authors usually use a female pen name--a fact that seems to imply female readers are looking for female authors.


There's still the issue of why a genre of predominantly female interest would be considered unsuitable for serious consideration.....


*(hat tip to Laura Anne Gilman, who posted that on Facebook.)


**I am really annoyed with Blogger's new formatting. 

8 comments:

Charlie said...

It's sexist of me to think this way, but I feel woman are probably able to honestly express their thoughts more then men. With this logic, I imagine the majority of writers would be women. Is that wrong?

Wow, After reading the above paragraph, I feel stupid that I even wrote it. It's just the males I know keep everything in, and the women are not shy about voicing their feelings. That's one reason why I respect women more.

Excuse the generalizations, but I'm a guy. Do I get a pass?

David said...

If the women were unafraid because in New Guinea their status might be improved by the change, that doesn't mean they're more open minded then men who reasonably believe the opposite. In a more modern context, I would wonder if some are more likely to imagine the grass is greener on the other side of the fence than others. What man would dare condemn so many with such a broad brush for their reading and imaginitive tastes?

Tara Maya said...

I included the word (apparently) because I'm not actually sure that what is going on is obvious. There are fewer female reviewers and fewer books by women reviewed, but why? Deliberate or unconscious bias is one possibility, but not the only one.

Interestingly, not long ago the question was raised whether male authors were at a disadvantage because so many agents and editors are women. The overrepresentation of females in publishing was then blamed for the dearth of male readers. Again, it's one possibility, but not the only one.

wannabuy said...

"The overrepresentation of females in publishing was then blamed for the dearth of male readers. "

More likely video games. ;)

Ok, trying to contribute... How much is the covers impacting the purchase? IMHO female authors are less likely to have an 'edgy', 'hardened' or 'strong' character in the cover. Rather the character is more artistic/romantic.

Before you beat me up Tara, your 'Tomorrow we Dance' cover is the exception to the rule. (Well done.) Your 'Unfinished Song: Initiate' is targeting women more.

Let's take your 'Painted World Stories.' I bought the book off the premise and not the cover. The cover is a bit too... romantic. The story is more adventure. I wonder if to a male audience if your cover was of the painted 'child' (as a full grown hunted man) or the woman hunting him...

Since I see Indie authors fairly evenly distributed by gender.

Now the issue is the NYTimes isn't ranking indie authors... Grrrr...

Neil

Tara Maya said...

Indeed, the cover of The Unfinished Song was deliberately targeted to the fantasy romance/young adult market, both favoring female readers. I wanted to entice the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance readers (mostly female) to give a straight fantasy a try. The verdict from PR reviewers is that some do like it; a few complained the world building was too complex. Since the richness of the worldbuilding is one of the dividing lines between epic fantasy and paranormal romance, this wasn't too surprising.

I have considered experimenting with another cover, that would be more action oriented.

The assumption in the article I quote is that female readers are more likely to read stuff marketed to males than vice versa. I'm not sure this is true.

Neil, what do you think about the cover of Tomorrow We Dance? Is that edgy or still more artistic in your opinion?

wannabuy said...

Tara,

Tomorrow we dance has a nice 'edgy' cover. Its a challenge to be non-edgy with two hands covered in gore. ;)

I'm not sure about the assumption that men are not as likely to read female authors... I've read a bunch, but I'll admit more of what I read is male authors. Than again, its usually men writing about starship battles. ;) But heck, maybe I'm being fooled by pen names. :)

Neil

Lindsay said...

Hi, Tara. Thanks for following on Twitter. :)

I've actually been surprised by the number of reviews and kind notes I've had from male readers. My two fantasy novels are written from the POVs of female heroines and one is quite obviously (from the book blurb) a romance.

It's been a pleasant surprise to have my preconceived notions messed with. :)

Nancy Beck said...

How much is the covers impacting the purchase? IMHO female authors are less likely to have an 'edgy', 'hardened' or 'strong' character in the cover. Rather the character is more artistic/romantic.

You haven't seen too many urban fantasy covers, have you? :-) They usually have a woman with a bad ass look that always come off as threatening to me. (And they look fantastic in leather, too. ;-) No, really.)

Maybe it's more of a genre or sub-genre thing? But I've been reading fantasy for quite a while, and most of the authors I've read recently have been female. (OK, the one I'm currently reading is by a guy, and one of the ones in my TBR pile is also a guy, but the other two still to be read are both female authors.)

Another thought, Maya: Were the reviewers you talk about reading mostly mainstream or lit fic? Just curious - because I know some people who read/review mainstream or lit fic look down on genre books as not worth their time.

Thanks for bringing this up; it's quite interesting.

P.S. If I can get my butt in gear, I'll be self publishing a novella that I've tagged as paranormal suspense (there's romance in it, but it's not the central idea). The cover I have in mind is of a guy in a suit holding a knife behind his back. Tells a lot about the antagonist in the story (that's the suspense part, heh).