As you read this, I am in Pennsylvania at Seton Hill University where I am joining authors Juliet Blackwell and Rachael Herron as guest lecturers in the popular fiction program. One of our topics is “Gender in Publishing.” As you might suppose, there are many ways to come at this subject, and we all bring our own biases. I wanted to be sure to prepare with care, so I was as fair and thorough as possible. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts and findings today.
Before I start, though, I’ll just say that I never felt much gender bias in my early days as an aspiring writer. I think that’s largely due to the fact that I joined Romance Writers of America twenty years ago and did my apprenticeship among a group of smart women. I wasn’t anti-man – in fact, I’d guess that the majority of my favorite authors at that time were men, and those few I’d actually met struck me as perfectly reasonable characters. As I got rolling, got an agent and sold my first book, I was neither pleased nor displeased to find that my team (agent, editor, publicist) consisted of all women. I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying that my own gender would affect my chances.
I *was* certainly aware of a pervasive and enduring anti-romance bias, however. But, surrounded by strong and independent female romance authors, I just dismissed all those voices – male and female – as belonging to idiots. I joined SistersInCrime, aware that it had been formed to address concerns about bias two decades ago, but figured they’d gotten it all worked out by now.
If I had paid attention to the numbers, I would have been in for a surprise. Let’s start with some bracing statistics about reviews: how many male vs. female reviewers there are in top publications – and how many male vs. female authors are reviewed. Go ahead, click here – I’ll wait. (Thanks to VIDA, the online publication of Women in Literary Arts.)
The Atlantic! Harpers! The New York Times! The New York Review of Books! Oh, my fallen idols. Is it really so hard to find books written by women to review? Or is the problem that women are reluctant to share their opinions? Seriously, given numbers like those, I think not.
What about the publishing industry itself? Neither authors nor reviewers, there are many roles to be filled in the production of a book, from agents to editors to marketing and productions and art experts, to management. According to Publisher’s Weekly’s salary survey, 85% of publishing employees with less than three years are women. Great for women, right? Well – yes and no.
For one thing, those 85% are making far less, on average, than their male counterparts. To quote the survey, “The overall gap between men and women in 2009 was roughly $40,000, about $10,000 higher than in 2008…The only area where men outnumber women is in management, where the highest paying jobs are found.”
So the answer to that’s easy, right? Head for those management positions, sisters! – only it’s kind of hard to get there, especially if you want your career path to wend through the ranks of the publishing house. Those early-stage salaries are famously low. Granted, most of us in publishing are earning less than we could in other disciplines – in many cases, far less – but I don’t think it behooves us to construct our industry on a foundation of salaries that cannot support people. How many of you authors have had a beloved editor or publicist leave because she needed to earn more money? I certainly have, and I wished her well, and missed her ever after.
Please note that I’m not pointing the blame cannon – yet. I am vociferous in my opinion that the business of publishing should attend to its own interests – and act like a business. The more profitable they are, the more likely they’ll continue to employ me. (Granted, we are bound to continue to disagree, argue over, and negotiate many of the finer and not-so-fine points, like changing royalty rates, etc. But that doesn’t mean I see them as the enemy.) I have not seen evidence of gender bias from the top down in the publishing houses for whom I write, except on a case-by-case basis that has, in my opinion, a lot more to do with individual douchebaggery than with broad-brush generalizations.
However…I have seen gender bias of a far more insidious sort. It has to do with reader behavior, and there’s data to back it up. It starts with the problem of getting young boys to read. It takes side trips into surveys that show that in certain genres, readers shy away from female authors. It continues through a maturing population in which the majority of book purchasers are women, but expectations of writers vary depending on their gender. I’m collecting my thoughts on the subject, and I hope to learn from my colleagues and the students in the Seton Hill program, and to return here in a future post to explore this subject some more.
Meanwhile, I’ll end on a positive note. If you’ve never seen the Romstat survey, you’re in for a treat. Take a few minutes to read about yourselves, because romance readers – it can now be proved! – do indeed rock.
Because I’m on the road, I may not be able to respond to comments. But I have just received my advance copies of HORIZON, the third in the Aftertime series! I’ll choose a random commenter to receive a signed copy. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above – even if you take issue with the statistics. There’s plenty of room for discussion, and I have a feeling that this subject isn’t going away any time soon!