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The argument ... in pieces

I probably should have waited till I had all the bits of the maths in my hands and not said anything in advance. My intention is not to sit and point at men and say how much they suck and how sexist they are. Or how sexist male editors are - that's not remotely interesting to me as an argument. A lot of my closest friends are male editors (heh) and it's not the point, you know? I don't think male editors look at names and dismiss female authors. I don't think they set out to only like stories written by men. That's a boring position in the argument to take.

I blogged my comments earlier because I was looking at the big name overseas markets, many of which struggle to hit 25% female authorship across a bunch of issues in a single year. I was depressed because that's not a lot of places for female writers to be competing with and doesn't leave many spots for new female writers to break in. For new voices to be heard.

My argument was going to be more looking at the business model. Taking into consideration the drop in circulation of the top mags, I thought I would look into various stats. Here's the thing, they struggle to publish women. It's possible that then, they also struggle to appeal to female readers. If you look at the last two publishing phenonemona that swept the world - JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyers - the one thing you can't deny --> they sell. The other thing you'll note is that women read. Two somewhat important factors, I would think, when looking at markets. If it were me, I'd want to look into why those sold and how I can get a piece of the action.

What's interesting to me is that the female audience is never ever (at least publicly) considered. It's not even allowed to be openly discussed without defensive males (editors) jumping up and down and telling you it's not a problem. But what if it IS? What if declining readership could be correlated to declining or low numbers of stories appealing to female readers? Why wouldn't you look at your product and see what market you want or could target it to?

It seems to me, that female writers tend to write female stories - not always, and not necessarily overtly or through only using female protagonists. But ... can men really argue that they write so well that they can write *for* women and thus we don't need to give voice and page space to them in order to hear what they have to say? For me, it's not about needing gender equality in ToCs to show that we're all fair and equal or that sexism is dead. It's actually about there being products out there that appeal to ME, that are made with ME in mind and that give voice to issues and concerns that affect ME. And I don't think you can effectively argue that magazine and anthology after magazine and anthology that only print stories written by white men can do that.

You might not care. You might not want to produce that kind of product. And I don't have to pay for products like that. But the thing is? When I look around at what I have actually handed cash over for lately? It's novels written by women. I used to subscribe to several mags - online and print. And I used to hunt others down in the newsagent. But the truth is, they bored me and they felt like a waste of money for me because I am clearly not the target audience. So when you talk about declining circulations and you wonder why, why not ask around and why not take notice of the answers? Because I am included in many of those stats for readers taking their money elsewhere.


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punkrocker1991
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:18 am (UTC)
so why aren't you writing your phd on this? It's a big question, and really needs to be broken down into bits, readership stats etc. Given that HP has a male protagonist, does this alter things? Lots to look at here.
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:32 am (UTC)
Because I have half a PhD in engineering?

HP also has a lot of strong female lead characters.
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punkrocker1991
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:19 am (UTC)
is there also room to look at various major mags when they were edited by women, e.g OMNI/Scifiction, and F&SF when KKR was editor?
callistra
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:23 am (UTC)
Russell, how come you're not interested in this research?
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>That's the feeling I get too. - doctor_k_ - Jan. 12th, 2009 09:19 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: >That's the feeling I get too. - callistra - Jan. 12th, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
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editormum
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:24 am (UTC)
Interestingly, I think one of the regulars over at Dear Author (an excellent blog that primarily examines romance novels in all their genre incarnations but also speaks eloquently and provocatively about many issues in publishing, and is very positive about e-publishing...) blogged about this a while ago. Because they focus on romance, they know that most romance novels (whether contemporary, historical, paranormal, erotic or other) are written by women. PARTICULARLY the most popular ones. They even talked about the erotic male/male novels by women, and how believable they are.

Romance is a massive aspect of publishing, and romance novellists are possibly more successful financially than any other authors. Who buys romance? Mostly women. That's not to say that mostly women READ romance, because it's strongly argued that a great many men do too, but women are the primary purchasers.

How does this fit into your discussion? I have no idea, but I thought of it when I read this post and wanted to say so :)

A quick archive search turned up this:

http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/pollsarchive/?poll_page=3
A poll about gender bias among readers - nearly 500 votes.

http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/10/15/gender-bias/#comments

A discussion about why readers may read with a gender bias.

Archive search "gender" at Dear Author if you're interested in more, as there's been quite a bit of discussion on this topic over there.
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:34 am (UTC)
I think you sent me to those articles at the time and I agree they were at the back of my mind when I was writing this. Because also there is a massive market in electronic material for the genre - ie romance is selling and readers don't mind reading online. And that actually I am working in the wrong genre entirely.

cassiphone
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:33 am (UTC)
*nods* it comes down to respect and inclusion. And it doesn't matter whether it's deliberate or not, the disrespect and exclusion. It's still there. The point is that most editors - most male editors - don't think about this stuff. I am always overjoyed and fascinated to hear about markets where the female reader is considered. I look at Tables of Contents and the gender parity, always, and have been thoroughly mocked for doing so. But it is important.

Ultimately I think it's the lack of interest in the issue of the female reader that is leading to the death of the short story scene, particularly at a pro level internationally. If you look at all the areas of massive growth in speculative fiction publishing over the last ten years, almost all of them involve a huge female readership. Hell, a key element of the success of the new Doctor Who was an acknowledgement of a female part of the audience, and a deliberate attempt to cater to them.

Not everything a woman writes will be of interest to me. But that doesn't mean I am happy to only read work by male writers. Diversity is the only way for any genre to grow and develop.

girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:37 am (UTC)
Which is exactly it - we're not arguing that we don't like stories written by men. We just want more stories written by women too.

When I pick up a book/mag and the front shows all male writers inside I have to really really like those writers to buy it. Mostly I don't.
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purrdence
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:36 am (UTC)
Don't forget that J.K. Rowling was asked to use 'J.K.' rather than 'Joanne' because her publisher thought a story written by a woman wouldn't appeal to boy readers. *headdesks*
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:38 am (UTC)
Yes. But luckily she has shown them to be wrong.

And on that, the two readers in my daily life who are reading the Twilight series along with me are men.
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cassiphone
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:50 am (UTC)
http://www.broaduniverse.org/stats.html

A good place to start. They've been counting this stuff for years, and if you're doing stats about NOW, here are some good comparisons from earlier years.
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:54 am (UTC)
Thanks for this!
ex_benpayne119
Jan. 11th, 2009 10:12 am (UTC)
I think that's all true.
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)
Heh. Now you're just saying that!
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suibhne_geilt
Jan. 11th, 2009 01:17 pm (UTC)
Here's one you may be interested in. Strange Horizons was actually getting guff for publishing more female than male authors, with people crying foul and discrimination against men (!!!) and all that.

Here's the Editor in Chief's response, basically covering the fact that they're not intentionally publishing more women than men. However, she does admit that their editorial bias covers stories that women are more likely to write than men.

http://www.susangroppi.com/2007/11/a-quick-correction/
benpeek
Jan. 11th, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC)
And I don't think you can effectively argue that magazine and anthology after magazine and anthology that only print stories written by white men can do that.

and those things are?

and lets face it, aren't jk rowling and stephenie meyers addressing your concerns so well. glittering vampires and schools for wizards. i know i lie awake at night thinking about it.
girliejones
Jan. 11th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
No they aren't. But I do buy and read them. Meyers more for watching a train crash more than anything.

but ... I want to read stories with women in them occasionally.
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davefreer
Jan. 12th, 2009 08:09 am (UTC)
Hmm. Well while I agree that leaving 50% of the possible audience feeling like this is not for them doesn't make best use of the commercial space, there is one basic flaw in your argument: we've been looking at declining circulation over tha last 50 years -- at the same time as we have seen slowly increasing numbers of female writers. Now, as more than half of my 20 favourite authors are female, I can't say I believe that the sex of the writer makes any real difference as to whether they can write well. Which leaves me to conclude that declining circulation is neither the fault of there being more female writers nor because women don't connect to males on the TOC. They're purely spurious correlations, and there are other reasons for decline. The other possible conclusion is that increasing the female part of the TOC has failed to capture a new female audience and alienated part of the male audience. That's possible. There are males whose masculinity is so fragile they're scared of girl cooties, just as there are women who believe male = eeeevil (and stupid and nasty and out to exploit them). But I suspect these are 10% loony fringe on either extreme, and that short fiction is selling less for other reasons.

On the hand it would be great to see genre fiction making the best possible use of the possible commercial space by appealing both to males and females - just as it would be great to see pollution and the consumption of resources reduced. Naturally, for the latter, the countries of the world have looked to the leading consumers and polluters to lead by example. Small countries get very peeved when they make efforts and get told they ought to do more, while the big ones aren't - especially when it's people from big ones telling them they ought to do more. The big one in genre fiction is, of course, romance - more than twice the size of any other. Its readership is 90% female, its editors and writers are almost entirely female. If 10% of their readers are already male(RWA figures:-))isn't it time that those who want to see a more equal TOC in sf/fantasy pressured them to lead by example? Surely they could at least move to 10% male authors and editors? If there was some effort there, women writers would be in a morally stronger position to say the writers and editors of other genres need to attract more women writers and readers. I'd like to see that - but I'd like to see the big one open up. I'd like to be able to submit under my own name. As it is, it sounds like 'we have 52% of the cake. Now we want at least 50% of the rest.'

I've got a few romance proposals. Send editors bearing cheques. :-)
cassiphone
Jan. 12th, 2009 08:30 am (UTC)
The lack of male representation in the romance genre is an interesting one, but it's a whole separate issue. Are you really suggesting that women writers universally need to *earn* the moral right to complain about their representation in the science fiction field by letting men into romance?

I'm hoping this post is at least partly intended as ironic, considering that it doesn't acknowledge the fact that a) writers do not control who do and do not get published in any one field b) for the most part, romance writers and science fiction writers are different people, and this tit for tat idea is either insulting, downright illogical or both... There is simply no connection.

Some effort? Really? You point to one of the few areas in publishing that is female dominated and suggest that women should give up that field in order to earn a place in a different one?

I'm all for male romance, I think it's a great idea. The male POV in romance novels is something I enjoy, and I think breaking down expectations and gender barriers is fantastic. But I don't think it's appropriate to suggest any kind of trade is in order here, or that women in any way have a morally weak position in this particular argument.

It really gnaws that me that any intelligent, educated person could suggest with a straight face that women should give something up before they can expect better treatment than they currently receive.

Whenever the subject of the disparity of female authors in science fiction is raised, the consensus almost always comes down to blaming the women writers - whether it is for writing what the editors do not want, for not writing or submitting enough, or for expecting some kind of free ride to get their substandard work published at the expense of a superior male writer. This is the first time I've seen it suggested that female writers of an entirely different genre may hold some responsibility for the matter!
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doctor_k_
Jan. 12th, 2009 09:22 am (UTC)
Just an aside:
I blogged my comments earlier because I was looking at the big name overseas markets, many of which struggle to hit 25% female authorship across a bunch of issues in a single year

If only you had clarified this earlier on!

I think a whole lot of heartache and needless offense and antagonism might have been avoided had you pointed out this was the area under your current spotlight, not local small press folk.
girliejones
Jan. 12th, 2009 10:17 am (UTC)
Re: Just an aside:
I don't think I ever gave any impression I was looking at local small press. I can't be responsible for people jumping to conclusions from a post of one sentence saying I was bummed out about the stats I was looking at.
mzmadmike
Jan. 12th, 2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
Interestingly (well, to me), I contribute to a series of YA anthologies because the author of the series said she wanted more male writers, not just a token couple.

I guess it depends where you look and what you look for, what you find.
futbol16_4
Jan. 13th, 2009 04:51 am (UTC)
If you look at strictly SF, and leave out Fantasy...
...I am running into that problem with books, as a reader, as well. There are incredibly few female SF writers that actually get put into circulation. Characters, combined with the setting, are what I look at and what I recall later. And I've become bored with the entire genre lately, because I see the exact same relationships, characters, and pressures with different window dressing. As an adolescent I connected with those characters, I escaped into them. The problem, as I see it, is that I changed. I hate that I have to go searching for a whole different genre, wade my way through it, to find characters that reflect me and who I identify with or who resonate with me. I actually kind of gave up on published books for a while there, and have been leaving fiction behind completely. I can still get the science, and I don't have to worry that I'll end up throwing the book across the room in disgust of the characters (although this does tend to happen when it comes to setting, too) in a study behind the history of the concept of zero. And all because I was the one who didn't fit anymore!

Sorry for the rant, your points are very well put, and I look forward to following your exploration in this subject.
Kudos
girliejones
Jan. 15th, 2009 11:10 am (UTC)
Re: If you look at strictly SF, and leave out Fantasy...
Thanks for your thoughts! It's good to hear I am not alone!
opheliastorn
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
Eep. Your post prompted me to do the maths for Semaphore, which I've always vaguely thought to have published a good many female writers and poets, only to find that not only do the men outnumber the women by 2 pieces in our first year of issues, our latest issue is all men. Bad editor, no biscuit ... but also, I and my two croneys are all female. We picked what we like.

In conclusion ... ??? I think I'll delve deeper into my records and find out the m:f ratio of submissions, and acceptances/rejections that we've been giving.

Guh. This gender disparity in f/sf is something that I really am interested in, but I'm cringing a bit at what my own record looks like. Ouch!
girliejones
Jan. 20th, 2009 04:45 am (UTC)
We gotta start somewhere. I'm interested in your stats though. If you are cool with it, I'd love to include them in the next piece I am writing looking at the numbers across as many outlets as I possibly can.

If so, I can be reached at twelfthplanetpress @ gmail dot com
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opheliastorn
Jan. 21st, 2009 12:15 am (UTC)
Well, the numbers, they have been crunched, and are heading your way now! Enjoy :)

(I was actually quite pleasantly surprised at how they came out, hurrah!)
girliejones
Jan. 21st, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
Thanks - looking forward to it!
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