“...the crisis of American fiction is that there are no women in it.”
June 5, 2015 7:12 AM   Subscribe

"Let’s have a year of publishing only women." ~ Kamila Shamsie [The Guardian] [Books]
It is clear that there is a gender bias in publishing houses and the world of books. Well, enough. Why not try something radical? Make 2018 the Year of Publishing Women, in which no new titles should be by men.

Baileys prize winner Ali Smith: 'The canon is traditionally male. That is what this book is about'. [The Guardian] [Books]
That award was established in 2013 to celebrate formally innovative novels. “It is exciting to me that these two books that came through that experimental prize, are by us, are by women,” says Smith. “On Tuesday night we [the Baileys shortlisted authors] all read at the Royal Festival Hall, and the range, the versatility, was exhilarating. It ran right the way across the scale of what fiction can do. All by writers who happen to be women.”
Previously. Previously.
posted by Fizz (93 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Related: Does an Award Like the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Help or Hurt the Cause of Women Writers? Zoë Heller and Dana Stevens debate the merit of literary prizes for which only women compete.
[New York Times]
posted by Fizz at 7:14 AM on June 5, 2015


Related: Submit Like a Man: How Women Writers Can Become More Successful. There are a lot of places where systemic bias weeds out women in preference of men, from the point of publication to reviews to marketing. But the problem of bias begins in a woman's own heart when she's trying to work up the confidence to try to get published at all. Self-editing is a dirty bastard.

This is a problem with many hydra-like heads, is what I'm saying. I've seen a lot of agents and publishers of late make a point of saying they're especially open to diverse voices, specifically to combat this phenomenon.
posted by Andrhia at 7:20 AM on June 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I often feel actively guilty when I look at my book queue and see that women are vastly outnumbered by the male authors. I should totally try a year of reading nothing but female authors!
posted by Kitteh at 7:23 AM on June 5, 2015 [6 favorites]




Yeah, Kitteh, same-same. I've been trying to read at least equal numbers of white-dude books and not-white-dude books, and even lumping in women and racial minorities into one big group, it's hard to do. Discouraging to discover what your own habits really were. Jeez, at this rate I will never get to read The Peripheral.
posted by Andrhia at 7:27 AM on June 5, 2015


What this will be in practice: sorry women and men of color, you've had enough chances, time for more old white ladies to get published!
posted by barnacles at 7:27 AM on June 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


A little while ago, the small lit mag Armchair/Shotgun* got some attention for publishing an all-women issue... by accident, due to their anonymous submission/review protocol.


*In their words: Good writing does not know one MFA program from another. It does not know a PhD from a high school drop-out. Good writing does not know your interstate exit or your subway stop, and it does not care what you’ve written before. Good writing knows only story.
posted by entropone at 7:32 AM on June 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


I've been trying to read at least equal numbers of white-dude books and not-white-dude books, and even lumping in women and racial minorities into one big group, it's hard to do.

I'm a big fan of SFF and I've been going back and (re)discovering all of these wonderful female/minority writers that I feel badly for having overlooked and some how missed. A wealth of literature out there. Just have to dig beneath that mainstream surface and know where to look.
posted by Fizz at 7:33 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fizz, could you share some of your favorite female or minority authors in SFF? I made a promise to myself only to read books by female authors this month, and while I've got a huge backlog of "books to re-read", I could use some fresh ones. Plus I'm considering doing writers-of-color month next month, and I don't even know where to start there.
posted by specialagentwebb at 7:38 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think my problem is that I am a bit of magpie in terms of choosing what to read. I am not much a sci-fi reader but the Hive Mind swears by Octavia Butler (so she is on the to-read list), but other than that, I would take any and all suggestion about women writers of colour and otherwise about some of my favourite subjects: food and travel. I also read a lot of Anglophilia but that pretty much makes that Honkyshire, Population: Mostly Dudes.
posted by Kitteh at 7:42 AM on June 5, 2015


I did a study of the New York Times Adult Fiction Bestseller List and found that women have had the number one bestseller during the 2010s more often than men. This contrasts with the period of 1960 to 1990 when male authors dominated with 80% of the weeks.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:42 AM on June 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


and even lumping in women and racial minorities into one big group, it's hard to do.

I read almost a book a day, almost all by women (I only read books by male authors when forced to by a book club or if it's an author I REALLY like and will make an exception for). A lot are genre or romance or YA (because of library e-book selection), but many aren't. It's possible for sure!
posted by leesh at 7:46 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


specialagentwebb: I've been fond of Karen Lord's works.
posted by zabuni at 7:46 AM on June 5, 2015


specialagentwebb, there are tons of great recommendations of female & minority SFF authors in this thread -- highlights include Octavia Butler, Jo Walton, Caitlin Kiernan, Ann Leckie, etc. I put a whole bunch of books on my to-be-read list based on that thread. :)

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice was excellent, as was Caitlin Kiernan's Drowning Girl and Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. I was disappointed by Jo Walton's The Just City.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:47 AM on June 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oh, I have been a fan of Cait Kiernan for, oh, going on twenty years now, and she remains a remarkable writer. I definitely recommend her.
posted by Kitteh at 7:51 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fizz, could you share some of your favorite female or minority authors in SFF?

This post from a while back on a blogger who only read books written by authors of colour is a great place to start. And I made up this list, which I'll share here again for anyone who wants to dig into women and women of colour in the SFF genre.
posted by Fizz at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


You know, it's not like you have to go through the gatekeepers anymore. If you don't like their biases, then tell them to stuff their biases and route around them.

There are a hell of a lot of authors out there who are just publishing stuff. And believe me, a LOT of them are women.
posted by Naberius at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


My reaction to this as a thought piece is "huh, I need to read more women." I like provocative pieces. Especially ones that make me feel all defensive since that usually means I'm about to learn something.

But my reaction to this as an actual proposal is "ehhh....." I'll admit, my reaction is colored [read: HEAVILY BIASED] by the fact that I'm a writer trying to get myself published. It's already a draining, difficult, scary process. I don't really think any writers need any more discouragement. It also brings up a question of the value of character: is it more valuable in this context to have a book written by a woman with a male protagonist or a book written by a man with a female protagonist? Presuming that they're life-like, "true" characters, I'm not really sure.

But I come away from this thinking that a Year of Only Reading Women is an excellent idea. I really think the best way to change the literary landscape is to change writers' (publishers', agents', editors') influences. in other words: change the output by changing the input.

To that end: here are some Women Authors I've read and enjoyed: Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Zadie Smith.

I've been reading N. K. Jemisin though haven't been much in the high-fantasy mode recently.

And I'm disappointed with myself that that's all I can come up with off the top of my head... : /
posted by ghostiger at 8:03 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Comment and reply removed. If you're finding yourself regularly posting one-liner dismissals to threads, you need to recalibrate your own filter for participation.]
posted by cortex at 8:05 AM on June 5, 2015 [20 favorites]


I completely support this proposal and what it would do to the American publishing industry. How can we work to make this a reality?
posted by just another scurvy brother at 8:12 AM on June 5, 2015


Also, because it fits into this discussion: Elisa Gabbert's piece for Electric Literature
posted by ghostiger at 8:14 AM on June 5, 2015


It also brings up a question: .... is it more valuable in this context to have a book written by a woman with a male protagonist or a book written by a man with a female protagonist? Presuming that they're life-like, "true" characters, I'm not really sure.

I agree that this is an interesting question, and if it doesn't nudge us too far off topic, I'd like to hear who people think are the best female characters written by authors who aren't female.
posted by puddledork at 8:17 AM on June 5, 2015


I completely support this proposal and what it would do to the American publishing industry. How can we work to make this a reality?

With our money and our choices. Change obviously needs to come from within the industry with regard to how they represent and market more women and people of colour and other minority representations. But we should also let our wallets shape that industry and how they react too. The more money we spend, the more likely they are to see that it is a worthwhile thing to represent points of view, genre, and writers who are not the mainstream status quo.
posted by Fizz at 8:19 AM on June 5, 2015


The James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council's website has more good suggestions on what next to read from (mostly) women authors. "The Tiptree Award is intended to reward those women and men who are bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles, a fundamental aspect of any society."

The 2014 winners and top picks are mostly women, with a few men who have written well about gender, so it might hit a variety of points brought up in this thread so far.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:25 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


In college, I decided that all reading for pleasure would be women writers only and it was really wonderful. It forced me out of the literary canon and I discovered a lot of writers I might not have looked into before - especially since they were also from between 1800 - 1950.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon is worth reading. It's a biography about Alice's adventures and contributions to the field of SFF and her double-life as a pseudonymous writer.
posted by Fizz at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Puddledork, I was amazed by the depth of the female characters in the Palliser novels by Trollope, especially Madame Max Goesler (introduced in Phineas Finn, she re-marries and is afterwards known as Marie Finn).
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:37 AM on June 5, 2015


I agree that this is an interesting question, and if it doesn't nudge us too far off topic, I'd like to hear who people think are the best female characters written by authors who aren't female.

Heh, I don't think this thread is the best place to start listing male authors, but a talk thread might be in order.
posted by ghostiger at 8:38 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


A while ago I got a little peeved that when you ask for science fiction and fantasy writers of color, you get a million people telling you 'Octavia Butler and Chip Delany.' Because that doesn't help to support writers in genre *right now* who need sales and readers and word of mouth. So I asked Twitter for some more current recommendations, and I got a metric ton of them.
posted by Andrhia at 8:38 AM on June 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


I wonder, does this disparity in gender cut across all forms and genres, or is it particular to novels? I read mostly short fiction, and according to Amazon my purchasing history over the last couple of years has skewed 70% female (Amy Hempel, Joy Williams, Karen Russell, Kelly Link, Yoko Ogawa, Cynthia Ozick, Alice Munro) to 30% male writers (Sam Lipsyte, Robert Aikman, Larry Brown). I don't select authors based on gender, it's just kind of worked out that way. Usually I'll find or be recommended a story in a journal, magazine, or anthology and buy collections based on what I like. The article seems to be more about awards, recognition, and promotion, none of which really affect my buying habits, but maybe I'm an outlier?

The one enormous gender gap on my bookshelf is in the areas of history, philosophy, and politics, which seems far more problematic to me.
posted by echocollate at 8:43 AM on June 5, 2015


I'm viscerally opposed to fighting fire with fire, (that is, fighting the exclusion of female authors by excluding male authors or any other variation of this approach) but all in favor of personally branching out in terms of what I read and who wrote it. People who love to read aren't really peculiar about this, I find. To this end I find Metafilter a remarkably useful resource for building up my to-read queue to well beyond the years I have left to read books, and that's not even including the books that haven't yet been written that I am sure I will want to read.
posted by chavenet at 8:55 AM on June 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


To this end I find Metafilter a remarkably useful resource for building up my to-read queue to well beyond the years I have left to read books, and that's not even including the books that haven't yet been written that I am sure I will want to read.

No doubt. I love weird, ambiguous, vaguely creepy stories and was embarrassed I'd never heard of Robert Aikman until someone on Metafilter (muddgirl maybe?) recommended him in another thread.
posted by echocollate at 9:00 AM on June 5, 2015


I wonder, does this disparity in gender cut across all forms and genres.

Pretty sure certain genres (like romantic fiction and whodunnit style crime fiction) have long been dominated by women.

Also, in the UK at least, women bookbuyers hugely outnumber male bookbuyers. I'd be surprised if the same wasn't true of the USA as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:01 AM on June 5, 2015


I unknowingly started reading books by non-white-dudes authors this year. So far I finished 1Q84 and Bad Feminist, and now I'm reading The Kite Runner. I'm planning on continuing this trend now that I've realized it, but with more women authors. Up next is Mindy Kaling's "Is Everyone Having Fun Without Me", and in my Amazon cart is Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.
posted by numaner at 9:07 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


After the last discussion we had about this, I started keeping track of my reading in a spreadsheet, including gender, what country or countries the author is from, and whether they are a POC. I'm finding this way easier than goodreads, which I never got into. So far of the 20 books I've read since February, I have 70% female authors, seven different countries and 25% POC. Interestingly, all the books I noted that I loved are by women too.

I noted that my reaction to that article was that the Booker Prize numbers seemed pretty good for women, before I realized that 50% more men were winning than women. I guess that's like the fact that gets bandied about about how groups that are more than a third women get interpreted as majority women. The point about protagonists being mostly male in prize winning books was something I hadn't thought about. No new published titles written by men for a year seems a bit extreme though, even though she says that's the point.

Some of my favourite books by female authors that I've read recently are: everything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, and Euphoria by Lily King.
posted by carolr at 9:13 AM on June 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I had the same problem as an author way back in 2012. I had an exciting idea for a novel called The World's Most Dangerous Woman about a female global consultant a la Mycroft Holmes and could not find a publisher who liked her or my matriarchal storytelling style as it was and there would have been some serious meddling and rewriting and so, I struck it out on my own writing books, novellas and short stories almost exclusively with female protagonists. I have a female assassin who writes trashy novels as coded reports on her hits; I have a dream detective, an eccentric psychologist walking through war zones in World War II, an amnesiac journalist who solves Jane Doe murders, a obscenely rich detective who goes undercover in mundane jobs, a Goditor (a single mom whose job it is to audit gods with the power to strip them of theirs), and a whole slew of other female-centric stories including a series of seventeen teenage girls who build their own town from scratch.

You can bypass the traditional publisher. You can build your own castle instead of trying to break down a crumbling one. Make a new path instead of lamenting about the condition of the old one because those publishers aren't visionaries or innovators.

If you truly want control, you have to be willing to make a system that is natural to you and fight like hell to get your voice out the way you need it to be heard.

I have been doing it since 2013 and I haven't looked back.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:15 AM on June 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


After the last discussion we had about this, I started keeping track of my reading in a spreadsheet,

I love spreadsheets. And just in case you didn't know, Good Reads is also a handy way to keep track of the books you've read and the ones you want to read. Or just keep on enjoying your spreadsheets.
posted by Fizz at 9:18 AM on June 5, 2015


Yes yes yes A Tale for the Time Being was such an astonishingly good book. It's so hard to get other people to read it because "double-narrator books about suicide and zen and quantum physics" isn't a genre that most of my friends read.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:18 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


For people looking for recommendations that aren't in the fantasy or scifi genres:

Kamila Shamsie's own novels are well worth reading. I particularly recommend Kartography, which gives wonderful insight into Karachi in the 1990s. I haven't read her latest, yet.

Jhumpa Lahiri (mentioned in the article) is good.

If I had to pick one by Bapsi Sidhwa, it would be The Ice Candy Man, but she's written other good stuff, too.

Barbara Kingsolver doesn't seem like she should need recommendation, but just in case she does, read her.

Recently read An Isolated Incident by Soniah Kamal (disclosure: I know her), and thought it was pretty good for a first novel.

If you haven't yet read Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), you should.

All of those, save Kingsolver, are women of colour.
posted by bardophile at 9:21 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Not current current, but I really enjoyed Zoo City, a 2010 novel of "weird noir, set in contemporary Johannesburg, featuring an ex-junkie protagonist named Zinzi December and her magic sloth. The unconvential pair is caught in a web of intrigue involving murder, 419 email scams, and a missing kwaito/afropop teen star." There is a heavy bit of violence towards the end, but the ending is nice enough that I felt it balanced out well, and I now see it made the 2011 Tiptree award long list.

It was written by South African novelist, short story writer, journalist and television scriptwriter Lauren Beukes, and it looks like she has published two novels since then (The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters), which I'll be adding to my To Read list.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:30 AM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


My favorite book of the last couple years is Boneshaker, which is just phenomenally good, and has set me on a mission to read everything by Cherie Priest.

If you like some rompy fantasy, do check out Trudi Canavan.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:34 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Zoo City is a book I read over and over. Co-sign that recommendation SO HARD. I just want boat loads of fanfic about that world if there's never going to be another book in the series.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:35 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Haven't read it just yet, but Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells is currently beating up the sci-fi category on Amazon like it owes her money. Buckets of good reviews.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:42 AM on June 5, 2015


I'm all for this! More than half of the authors on my Goodreads list are women but not many women of color, though, so thank you all for the recommendations.

Since we're recommending books by women, may I suggest Dietland, a debut novel by Sarai Walker. It was not what I thought it would be, and I loved it.
posted by lyssabee at 9:47 AM on June 5, 2015


As an aside: very frustrating being a fairly new/up-and-coming straight white male author, seeing all of this and knowing it very much needs to happen...while also not wanting to advocate myself out of my own chances. Realistically, I know I'm not going to hurt myself, but yes, the conflict does sit right there in that spot in my brain making itself known.

But at this point, I'm a "hybrid" between self- and traditional publishing, so if 2018 turns out to be the year I can only self-publish, I guess I'll be okay.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:48 AM on June 5, 2015


As a consumer, I have a little bit of power, so I decided this year to eschew buying books written by white men.
As a member of internet communities, such as goodreads and amazon reviews, book riot and so forth, I have a little power as well, to promote through commentary, the books that I love,in hopes that others will buy and read them.
If many people follow this path, then the power to change things grows as publishers will see a trend toward books written by a more diverse set of voices than simply white men and the industry should react and we will see the change we want.
YMMV, but this is how I think it should work.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:52 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


After realigning how much of a sausage fest my own reading list was, I chose to start a year of reading only women back in April. So far I've found several writers I'd previously overlooked and appreciate. A successful experiment and I'm barely two months into it.

A year of publishing only women won't happen, but it seems like a nifty idea.
posted by sotonohito at 10:20 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am on a personal mission to get more people reading Valerie Martin's work.

Wanted: Readers for a good book. Valerie Martin's 'Trespass' is the latest of 12 books by the author. So why haven't readers noticed despite the favorable reviews?
How should we think of a writing career like Valerie Martin's? One way -- call it the glass-half-full scenario -- would be to start by pointing out that most writers would kill for her career.

She has published 12 books: 11 works of fiction and a biography of St. Francis. Her 1990 novel, "Mary Reilly," was made into a major motion picture. Her 2003 novel, "Property," won the Orange Prize, awarded to the year's best novel by a woman writing in English. She lives comfortably in upstate New York with her longtime partner, translator John Cullen.

The other way to look at Martin's career, for all you glass-half-empty types, might start with the first sentence of Sue Halpern's otherwise laudatory review of "Trespass" in the Sept. 16 New York Times Book Review:

"Over the past 30 years," Halpern wrote, "Valerie Martin's novels and stories, although well received by critics, have made little dent in the public consciousness." The reviewer, a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, noted that the library of this prestigious institution seemed not to own any of Martin's books.

Ouch.
posted by jaguar at 10:22 AM on June 5, 2015


With the exception of re-reads (because I can't imagine going a year without re-reading His Dark Materials), I'm doing a self-imposed Only Women Authors In 2015 reading list thing. It's been really fun!! My favorites so far this year are Americanah, Station Eleven, Parable of the Sower, and Dietland.

People told me it would be "hard" to read all women, but boy were they wrong. You literally just type "science fiction books by black women" or some-such into a search engine. I'm already close to 60 books for the year and, like I said, it's been *so* much fun.
posted by sc114 at 10:27 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


is there data on how many women and how many men are submitting manuscripts to publishing houses? could fewer women submitting manuscripts account for the disparity in women versus men authors?
posted by jayder at 10:28 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have never kept track of whether the book I have read was written by a man or a woman - I just read the description, think "hey that sounds awesome" and read it.

I just took a look - of the 29 books I've read this year so far, 15 were authored by men and 14 by women.

If you divide it by fiction/non fiction, I've read more fiction by women than by men (11 v. 8), but vice versa for non-fiction (7 v. 3).

I think I'm on a fairly decent track.
posted by Lucinda at 10:33 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm in favor of it.

Sure, a lot of Mefites are the type of reader who are likely to consciously go and seek out authors of different backgrounds, but there are still plenty of folks out there who pick a vacation book the same way they pick a Saturday night movie: by grabbing what the big presses are pushing and the magazines are reviewing.

And it's not like John Quincy Maleman's novel is never going to see the light of day as a result; if it's any good, it'll get picked up in 2019. But if the status quo at the big houses gets challenged, U.T. Russ's book has a chance of getting read by more people than the ones out there specifically looking for it.

It's not like anyone's saying books written by men should never be published again, any more than movies without swimming pools are never shown again when they have an Esther Williams theme week on Turner Classic Movies.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, when I wrote my book, I knew I wouldn't even bother submitting. Would have (I assume, realizing this is an assumption, but nonetheless based on a lot of real-life experience) just been rejected. "Protagonist: a single hetero woman living alone with her two cats, story: a few dates gone bad and the intraconnectedness of it with her abusive past and voyage of healing through it? *rejection bin*"

The real-life experience bit: all my public school life, teachers lauded my writing. I won loads of writing awards. Soon as I graduated, though, I noticed something: if I didn't attach my name to my writing, it was still lauded. If my obviously-feminine name was attached, though... good Lord, first time in my life I had people telling me I didn't know how to write.

I used a pen name.
If you're interested: Behind the Façades. 'Tis a novella I wrote on my eeePC whilst riding to and fro from work on our bus through the French Riviera foothills of the Alps. Every time I think of it, I remember stopping to look through the bus' wall of windows during the stretch we could see the mountain peaks, then happily going back to writing. And yeah, self-editing. Wut. I once held a day job as an editor, okay?! Heh.
posted by fraula at 10:59 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Goodreads allows you to both import and export lists of books (via CSV, XLS, etc.) so you can move from one to the other with relative ease. Once you're logged in, go to: https://www.goodreads.com/review/import
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:01 AM on June 5, 2015


99% of working authors who make their living exclusively from writing could not survive a year without pay. This is a stupid idea, and not merely stupid but cruel.

And ideas like this only serve to fuel the V*x D*ys of the world. Please don't do that.

Eight of the top 20 fiction authors of all time are women, by the by. And four of the top ten of the 21st century. And ten of the top 20 by volume in the UK in the 21st century.

There may be a gender bias in publishing, but there's no apparent gender bias in what's being bought.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:04 AM on June 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


There may be a gender bias in publishing, but there's no apparent gender bias in what's being bought.

And you don't believe that the gender bias in publishing leads to fewer books by women on the shelves to be bought?
posted by Etrigan at 11:19 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I didn't speak to that. I did say that there may be a gender bias in publishing, but I haven't done enough research to draw a conclusion. There is, as shown, no apparent bias in what's being bought.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:26 AM on June 5, 2015


>the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

I read the first one recently and it was so good, it bumped the rest of them up the to-read list. I also came across this Vine yesterday and apparently John Waters is a fan too!
posted by edeezy at 11:38 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


How about a Both/And Year?
posted by resurrexit at 11:47 AM on June 5, 2015


Having a year of publishing only women would only reinforce the idea that women could not compete on their own.

What would be more interesting would be to have a system where the gatekeepers did not know the names of the authors they were going to publish. Each author gets some kind of ID number and the editor just gets a manuscript by Author #24601. And they'd only get to find out the person's name/gender/race after making the decision of whether to publish or not.
posted by JDHarper at 12:04 PM on June 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


What I was going to say, JDHarper. I like solutions that might actually get adopted.
posted by Cassford at 12:06 PM on June 5, 2015


Speaking of Author #24601...
posted by Andrhia at 12:12 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


99% of working authors who make their living exclusively from writing could not survive a year without pay. This is a stupid idea, and not merely stupid but cruel.

I find it hard not to agree with this. Not that I can't see some kind of need for leveling the playing field (or however one wishes to put it). The problem I've always had with quotas is that they can't help but be political. That is, they will be used by some to not just push an agenda (we've all got agendas), but to trump all other agendas. Which on some sociopolitical level may seem entirely fair and correct, but what about the individual humans that caught up in it?

The basic thrust of this thread makes it feel like nobody (hardly anybody anyway) cares too much whether any white, male writers get published next year. Having just completed a fairly high end writing program, I don't see these guys as stats, I see their faces. I know how hard they work at their stuff. I know how very good much of it is. I know how beneficial it would be for the culture.

So there's the stupid part.

I took a few conflict resolution courses a a few years back and one maxim which has stuck with me is that you can't negotiate the past. That is, you don't ignore it but what's done is done. The past we're collectively stuck with in this culture is that white males have generally had all the breaks for way too long. I don't see anyone disputing this. The singular problem with instituting something like a who-gets-published quota is that the current generation of young men will suddenly have to pay for all of this unfairness.

This is the cruel part.
posted by philip-random at 12:31 PM on June 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


[A few comments removed; sarcastic thank you type stuff is not a great way to help the thread go well, please find a more constructive way to broach an objection if you feel like it's an important part of the discussion.]
posted by cortex at 12:35 PM on June 5, 2015


The basic thrust of this thread makes it feel like nobody (hardly anybody anyway) cares too much whether any white, male writers get published next year.

No, I think it's just that people also care that writers who don't fit that description as well. If only a set number of books can be published in a year, I fail to see why the dreams and careers of those aspiring white male authors should be given more weight than those of the people who would be replacing them.
posted by Gygesringtone at 12:43 PM on June 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Fizz, could you share some of your favorite female or minority authors in SFF?

I'm not Fizz, but going through the list of stuff I've read recently and liked: Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, NK Jemisin, Naomi Novik, Rachel Hartman, Mary Robinette Kowal, Kelly Link, Shirley Jackson (horror), Jacqueline Carey, Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, Kage Baker, Kate Elliott, Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey, Claudia Gray, Haruki Murakami, Rosamund Hodge, Ursula LeGuin. I haven't read everything by all of these writers but I've enjoyed what I've read. If you have specific things you're into I'd gladly point you in the right direction to find more of that kind of stuff. (Or you could post an AskMe about it, in which case you should link it here so I do not miss it.)

I've been trying to read at least 2-3 books not by cishet white dudes for every book by a cishet white dude. It's really raising my standards, I think.
posted by NoraReed at 12:47 PM on June 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've co-directed a chapbook poetry publisher in Iceland since 2013 called Meðgönguljóð. In 2012 75-80% of books of poetry published in Iceland were by male poets. We decided to set ourselves a quota that at least 50% of our authors would be female. The reaction was very gendered. Male writers took it as a rejection. It wasn't until a year after our first publication that we got a poetry submission from a man (though we got some fiction from men who apparently hadn't noticed that we were a poetry publisher). However, we got a lot of poetry submission from women poets, some of whom had been reluctant to submit to anyone because they felt like they wouldn't get a fair chance. We got very few submission from men in the first two years. It wasn't until we published our first books by male writers last fall that we started to see an uptick in submission from male poets. Another thing I've noticed is that the media coverage we get is overwhelmingly from women producers and journalists, though that's changed a little bit this year. I wonder if it's got to do with us having published books by men.

But anyway, to get back on topic... I think it would be good to have a year of only publishing women. I'm a male novelist and poet who makes a non-negligible part of his living from writing, and I'd be fine with taking a year off to even the playing field. My personal opinion is that the situation of writers Europe and the Anglosphere who are not straight, white men is absolutely unacceptable. Right now it is much easier to get published as a straight, white male and I'm not comfortable working within a system that operates that way (though, of course, it's a part of a society-wide problem). I think that easing the difficulties people who aren't straight, white men have getting published is probably the most important ethical work to be done in literature. My reaction was to get together with likeminded colleagues and start Meðgönguljóð, but there are a million different ways of doing it.
posted by Kattullus at 12:48 PM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


This article is successful merely by provoking conversations like this. The fact that the solution is likely impossible and/or inadvisable is completely beside the point. (For one thing, it would be a problem for jscalzi's obligations under his 10-year contract [that's a joke, guys]). The point is that, as a whole, straight white male authors don't need anyone's help getting published (or read).

But for those who are calling the idea stupid and cruel, that strikes me exactly the same as when people say that we should feel worse for the straight white male student who does not (arguably) get into the college of his choice than for the minority who would not otherwise have been able to get into college without a thumb on the scale toward racial equality.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:49 PM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon is worth reading. It's a biography about Alice's adventures and contributions to the field of SFF and her double-life as a pseudonymous writer.

Yes, it is a fantastic telling of an amazing, and in the end tragic, life. It was the source of my post on Alice Bradley Sheldon, aka James Titpree, Jr., which has some links to her shot stories. The full biography is wonderful, and it had me in tears at the end.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:26 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Since 2010, the female authors who have been in first place on the NYT Adult Fiction Bestseller list for at least four weeks. (Book, author, number of weeks).

The Help, Kathryn Stockett, 21 weeks
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen, 8 weeks
Fifty Shades of Grey, E. L. James, 29 weeks
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, 7 weeks
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt, 4 weeks
Girl on a Train, Paula Hawkins, 15 weeks (plus?)

Compared to the males.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, Stieg Larsson, 9 weeks
Safe Haven, Nicholas Sparks, 7 weeks
Inferno, Dan Brown, 6 weeks
Sycamore Row, John Grisham, 7 weeks

June 7, 2015 NYT Adult Fiction, Top 15 Bestsellers List (10 of 17 authors/co-authors are women)
1 Radiant Angel, by Nelson Demille.
2 The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins.
3 Piranha, by Clive Cussler and Boyd Morrison.
4 All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.
5 Memory Man, by David Baldacci.
6 14th Deadly Sin, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro.
7 Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll.
8 The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah.
9 A Match for Marcus Cynster, by Stephanie Laurens.
10 The Marriage Season, by Linda Lael Miller.
11 Mended, by Sydney Landon.
12 Beautiful Sacrifice, by Jamie Mcguire
.
13 Gathering Prey, by John Sandford.
14 The House We Grew up In, by Lisa Jewell.
15 Against the Tide, by Kat Martin.

The women are already winning.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:37 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Some women whose writing I've been enjoying a lot recently:
Ann Leckie (Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword)
Alaya Dawn Johnson (Love is the Drug and The Summer Prince)
Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven)
Mary Anne Mohanraj (The Stars Change)
Nalo Hopkinson (anything really, most recently I read Report from Planet Midnight)
Donna Tartt (The Goldfinch)
Karen Joy Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves)
Claire North (The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and Touch)

I'd also like to shamelessly self-promote my anthology, Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good, which I co-edited with H. L. Nelson and which contains speculative fiction by Joyce Carol Oates, Aimee Bender, Diane Cook, Tina Connolly, Nisi Shawl, Cat Rambo, Amina Gautier and a bunch of others.

I've heard really good things about Zen Cho (Spirits Abroad) which I haven't read yet, but have enjoyed her writing in magazines (and have published her too, though not in the anthology above). N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor are in my to-read pile and their work is almost universally lauded.
posted by joannemerriam at 1:54 PM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wrote my previous comment quickly (long day at work) and felt bad about not having specific authors to recommend. If self-linking is ok, here are my favorite books of the last few years--pretty heavily women-authored works, and 2014 was actually all books by women.
posted by leesh at 1:58 PM on June 5, 2015


puddledork: Joyce Cary had some great female characters. Sara Monday narrates Herself Surprised, first volume in the trilogy that includes The Horse's Mouth (she's in the other two books as well. If you don't feel like tackling a trilogy, read A Fearful Joy, centered on the life of Tabitha Basket, another great female character.
FWIW, a few years back when that program was developed that supposedly could tell whether a writer was male or female, I entered excerpts from Cary's novels. The ones with female narrators or main characters came up as written by women, those with male narrators or main characters, the opposite.
posted by CCBC at 3:23 PM on June 5, 2015


"Since 2010, the female authors who have been in first place on the NYT Adult Fiction Bestseller list for at least four weeks."

This is oddly specific. And it proves, if anything, merely that there is a thirst for work by women, not that that demand is being adequately supplied. That means women hit #1 for at least 84 of, what, 286 weeks? So what went on those other 200 weeks? How many 1-to-3 week #1 sellers were there, men vs. women? You figure James Patterson alone took, what, a dozen weeks or more, across various books.

And sales are largely beside the point, because few authors get on the NYT list in the first place. So looking at the top sellers is already looking at extreme outliers, by definition, and not the typical experience. So to address the point of the thread: what percentage of books by women were even published in the first place? How were they marketed, or were they? How were they reviewed, or were they? Perhaps if those numbers were perfectly equal, women might've spent 140, or even 180 weeks enjoying #1 NYT best seller status!
posted by Andrhia at 3:32 PM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Andrhia, I made another comment with the overall picture: women have been in the number one position 56.2% of the weeks during the 2010s, versus 20% of the weeks from 1960 to 1990. I tried not to reference my blog a second time for the second post. (Although there have been several very specific recent posts on the blue that have been related to questions I have been analyzing in my blog.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:41 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


99% of working authors who make their living exclusively from writing could not survive a year without pay. This is a stupid idea, and not merely stupid but cruel.

I wouldn't get too bent out of shape over something that's not going to happen. Independent publishers would pounce on this in a heartbeat, seeing an opportunity to gain market share, and you can bet that right wing publishers would leap at the chance to fill the void. There are other reasons why it won't happen (contracts, etc), but most can connect the dots themselves.
posted by Beholder at 4:31 PM on June 5, 2015


Are people seriously arguing about whether publishers should actually do this? It says "a provocation" right there in the title.

Women do dominate some popular genres - and comprise the majority of book buyers. But this really seems targeted at "literary" fiction and men definitely still get more attention in prestige categories. Nonfiction, too. And women seem to be benefiting most from self-publishing though I'm pretty sure a lot of self-published hits are in those genres - especially romance - that are heavy on women anyway.

Women are also much more numerous that men in the publishing industry, but not in executive positions. If you are a fan of yelling at your computer, check out these dudes talking about how we need more men in publishing so that male readers are not overlooked.
posted by atoxyl at 4:35 PM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Male authors can just use pseudo female names and vice versa, and then the theory crumbles.
posted by locidot at 4:57 PM on June 5, 2015


I tend to find new stuff to read based on reviews or "best of" lists, and of course there some authors I trust enough to order their new book sight unseen. I generally read more for escapism than moral improvement, so I'm not about to commit to not ordering a new Carl Hiaasen or Neal Stephenson book for a year. But Ali Smith is also on that sight-unseen list, and now Sarah Waters (Ali Smith deserved the award, but The Paying Guests was pretty amazing) -- because I read reviews that made me think "I've got to check that out".

Putting pressure on the places that do book reviews to do more reviews of books by women and people of color (with petitions, or just individuals sending them emails to that effect, or specific suggestions like "I just read such-and-such and think it really deserves a review on your site") might be a good way to move the needle. More reviews will generate more attention, more sales, and more awards...and that ought to get the attention of the publishers.
posted by uosuaq at 5:14 PM on June 5, 2015


I also read a lot of Anglophilia but that pretty much makes that Honkyshire, Population: Mostly Dudes.

My favourite writers are Wodehouse, Waugh and Amis (M), but I had no trouble dropping men from the reading list for a while. Why?

Some of my reading from last October until now: Muriel Spark, Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Nancy Mitford, Mary Renault, Doris Lessing, Angela Carter, Ali Smith, Sarah Waters, Kate Atkinson, Pat Barker, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel, Kiran Desai, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers

In the 2013 Granta Best of Young British Novelists, 12 out of 20 are women. Kamila Shamsie is one of the authors in it.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:42 PM on June 5, 2015


Putting pressure on the places that do book reviews to do more reviews of books by women and people of color (with petitions, or just individuals sending them emails to that effect, or specific suggestions like "I just read such-and-such and think it really deserves a review on your site") might be a good way to move the needle. More reviews will generate more attention, more sales, and more awards...and that ought to get the attention of the publishers.

Yeah, people have been working on that for years.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts
Each year The VIDA Count compiles over 1000 data points from the top tier, or “Tier 1” journals, publications, and press outlets by which the literary community defines and rewards its most valued arts workers, the “feeders” for grants, teaching positions, residencies, fellowships, further publication, and ultimately, propagation of artists’ work within the literary community. Volunteers from across the country dedicate thousands of combined hours to compile this information and release the results as our trademark blue and red pie charts. Learn about our VIDA Count Methodologies.

The VIDA Count reveals major imbalances at premiere publications both in the US and abroad. For example: The New York Review of Books covered 306 titles by men in 2010 and only 59 by women; The New York Times Book Review covered 524 books by men compared to 283 books written by women (VIDA Count 2010).
Chick Lit v. the NYT [MeFi in 2010]
Best selling authors Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult speak out about how the New York Times treats "chick lit": "when a man writes about family and feelings, it's literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it's romance, or a beach book - in short, it's something unworthy of a serious critic's attention."
posted by jaguar at 6:46 PM on June 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sandra Cisneros, Yiyun Li, Louise Erdrich, Micheline Marcom, Clarice Lispector, Marguerite Duras, George Eliot, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larson, Kelly Link. Just a few of my favorite female authors. I don't like the idea of discouraging male authors from offering their works for publication for a year, but reviewers and publishing houses need to change. How can over half the population still be considered 'genre?'
posted by branravenraven at 12:47 AM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know if the list I made is relevant, because they are not all recent authors.
posted by branravenraven at 12:50 AM on June 6, 2015


I love the Submit Like A Man article. Women are so easily crushed somehow even by something intended to be encouraging. We feel like we're "too much" if we immediately send something else in--and why is that? What about this situation is a "tread through minefields" anyway? Though the "Do they really want to see more work, or were they just being nice?" certainly makes sense to me, because it is a rejection and "you're so close, send more" could very well be the equivalent of us trying to hedge when say, rejecting a guy for a date. It's not you, it's me! We're Guess Culture, we have to figure out how to read between the lines, and we see the "no" and it doesn't necessarily translate into "not this one, maybe the next one?" to us.

" I didn’t resubmit for years because an almost from the New Yorker was a win; it was good enough for me. And in fact, by resubmitting to the New Yorker, I might actually fail — I might get back a blank rejection as opposed to this feel-good-rejection-note I had just received. Why trade mediocrity for possible rejection? I must have been thinking. This thinking does not help any writer, as an almost is not a “win” in publication credits."

Wow.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:38 AM on June 6, 2015


dances_with_sneetches: Ah! Thanks for that, I'd missed the earlier link. I'd seen similar arguments about women "dominating" YA, and the numbers I'd seen don't bear that out.

It's comforting to think the deck isn't stacked against you as a woman author in quite the way it used to be. Even as things stand now, I had to do a lot of hard thinking about whether to use a pen name or an author photo. It's scary to be female in the public eye these days.
posted by Andrhia at 8:57 AM on June 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am a male author. I am rooting for female authors because I do believe they are underappreciated and for years they have been underrepresented in the bestsellers.
I do think things are changing. If the post was about passing over women in the awards, or about how "women's literature" is stereotyped, I would completely agree. But women are being read, which is one step forward.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:09 AM on June 6, 2015


If the post was about passing over women in the awards, or about how "women's literature" is stereotyped, I would completely agree.

From the first link, third paragraph:
As a snapshot, let’s look at the Man Booker prize over the last five years. Ever since the women’s prize for fiction – formerly the Orange, now the Baileys – was set up 20 years ago in response to an all–male Booker shortlist, the Booker has been the prize to which the most attention is paid in gender terms, and the question of the prize’s judges and gender came up last year when only three women were on a longlist of 13. In response, one of the judges Sarah Churchwell said: “We read what publishers submit to us … [If] publishers only submit a fraction of women, then that is a function of systemic institutional sexism in our culture.”
(and so on and so forth)

For that matter, the entire existence of the Orange/Bailey's prize is because of passing over women in the awards.
posted by Etrigan at 9:39 AM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


First step is to rename it the "Woman Booker Prize".

(sorry. really, really, really, really sorry)
posted by atoxyl at 5:56 PM on June 6, 2015


But how is the solution to ban men from publishing for a year? Female author here. It seems more like the literati and marketing need to get their collasal camel heads out of the sand. It is so intimidating to submit, and with the imposed culture upon women, of pleasing everybody, to the extent that you don't want to impose upon a publisher. I understand how women tend not to resubmit while men do. I have certainly experienced this, and was grateful to have it pointed out. This culture among female writers does needs to change, but even more so, that of reviewers and publishers who dismiss womens' work as less poignant, weighty, lofty, etc. It is really provocative to put forth the idea of banning male writing for a year, but hardly seems possible or in good spirit to other writers.
posted by branravenraven at 11:24 PM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


It would show sexists that they can survive reading without books by men. It would be a baby step to evening the playing field. It's less "banning men" and more "finally doing one tiny fucking thing for one goddamn year to promote non-men".

Also maybe the jump in quality, which I'm guessing would be significant in that year, would help in the long run, and maybe make it so that there are less shitty books riding on authorial privilege, or at least more good books that aren't.
posted by NoraReed at 11:36 PM on June 6, 2015


This couldn't possibly backfire.
posted by effugas at 2:06 AM on June 7, 2015


atoxyl: Women are also much more numerous that men in the publishing industry, but not in executive positions. If you are a fan of yelling at your computer, check out these dudes talking about how we need more men in publishing so that male readers are not overlooked.

That was a very interesting article. Thanks for the link!

There does seem to be a problem with men becoming disassociated from intellectual life. Not just fewer men in the publishing industry, but fewer men writing or even reading books. I realize that you aren't saying it's a problem, but I think it's a growing concern.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:47 PM on June 8, 2015




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