Tag Archives: women authors

Diversity Writings That Still Echo

Under a bit of a time crunch today, so I am offering up some links of writing I have found good and interesting on diversity and discrimination that came out earlier this year or previously.

People of color, women, and gays — who now have greater access to the centers of influence that ever before — are under pressure to be well-behaved when talking about their struggles. There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as “racially charged” even in those cases when it would be more honest to say “racist”; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative. Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse. — Teju Cole

Kelly Thompson, author, comics writer, and journalist, at the GoodComics blog did a seminal piece about diversity issues and sexism in the comics, for her column “She Has No Head,” entitled “No It’s Not Equal.” (Thompson just had her graphic novel The Girl Who Would Be King optioned for film.)

Foz Meadows did a blog post about exclusion of women as the default in female geekery.

A few months ago, journalist Jessica Valenti did a piece for the UK’s The Guardian about how the notion of a women’s confidence gap is a sham used to justify and continue excluding women from the fields of endeavor.

Liz Bourke did a piece last year for Tor.com that I find particularly relevant these days too, entitled “Sleeping with Monsters.”

The definitive overview on cover whitewashing from TheBookSmugglers.com — definitely one of the biggest problems facing fiction publishing, especially YA, and SFFH publishing.

Saeed Jones at Buzzfeed.com takes an illuminating survey of things that women writers are sick of hearing in interviews and events.

Owen Lloyd explains why the main arguments of the men’s rights movement are mainly false.

Macy Sto Domingo at ThoughtCatalog.com looks at white privilege based communication blocks.

At Salon.com, Soraya Chemaly tackles the sexual harassment of insisting women smile.

 

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Filed under book publishing, Life, Social Equality, Women

Reality and the Welcome Sign — Gender and SFFH

A few days ago apparently, Julie Crisp, Editorial Director at Tor UK, put up a Tor blog post about how Tor UK is totally open to submissions from female authors, including of course hard SF, but they just aren’t getting as many submissions from women authors as from men. She even offers a handy chart of submission statistics to show this. She just wants to assure women authors that their submissions are welcome at Tor UK.

Which is great, and she seems very sharp and Tor is a highly effective publisher on both sides of the big ocean. But Crisp is nonetheless going ye old route of blaming the women for the systemic obstacles placed in front of them and for the choices of publishers like Tor UK. If the women would just step up, goes the argument, problem solved.

Except women authors trying to break in, who would mostly love to be published by Tor or Tor UK, know it’s not that simple. They have eyes. And what they see is SFFH publishers not publishing as many women, not promoting them as much as male authors, giving them feminized book covers or scantily clad ladies in leather, describing and marketing urban mysteries as paranormal romance, and so forth. In fact, Crisp couldn’t even manage to separate urban fantasy from paranormal romance on her submissions chart. And other editors in the field, as some explained to Crisp and Patty Jansen explained in her blog, are telling women quite clearly that they can’t sell and don’t want hard SF and other types of spec fiction from female authors.

Here, for example, is Tor UK’s book cover for female writer Leigh Evans’ contemporary fantasy The Trouble with Fate: 

the-trouble-with-fate-l-evans

 

It’s given a delicate treatment of lacy trees and wolf silhouette with lovely colors of purple and cornflower blue against white, a partial of a woman’s face and the elegant cursive script. All of which says women’s novel or romance. You will never, ever see the cover of a contemporary fantasy novel by a man get a cover like this. And a large portion of the male fantasy audience (and some of the female audience,) won’t buy a book that looks like this, will assume it’s full of romance and of no interest to them (because men like to pretend they aren’t interested in romance while writing up a storm of it.) In contrast, here’s what Ms. Crisp gave her male author Mark Charon Newton’s book The Broken Isles:

Notice the difference? It’s not that either cover is bad (and both authors are excellent.) It’s that female authors tend to more often be given covers like Evans did, or the twisty, half-naked women, no matter what sort of story they are writing. They are marketed as women authors first, fantasy or science fiction or sometimes horror authors second, and their books are so frequently marketed as for women only. And that means that their ability to reach the widest possible audience is curtailed.

There are thousands of women authors trying to break into SFFH magazines and books, and when they see a real opportunity to do so, they pile in. But when publishers and booksellers show that the opportunity is not really there, then they are likely to go searching elsewhere. In suspense, back in the 1980’s, for instance, women writing thrillers were not getting the support or attention most of the time of their male counterparts. They had better luck in “cozy” amateur mysteries, which were considered lesser and got less attention and promotion. The rule was girls will read boy books, but boys won’t read girl books and so boy books were always better and got more money and muscle behind them. When a woman did well in harder suspense, it was often considered a fluke and a one-off, even in Britain.

Then Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton built success writing hard boiled thrillers, followed by some others. Women authors started pouring into suspense like the sea and publishers finally decided that they wanted them. (Whereupon some male authors and fans started grumbling that women were getting all the slots — which wasn’t true — and destroying the integrity of the field with their girl cooties and women characters lusting over men instead of the far more proper men lusting after women.)

The same thing happened in fantasy in the early oughts. Women in the 1980’s and 1990’s were in the minority when it came to contemporary fantasy. They instead pushed most of their efforts into secondary world epic fantasy. Charlaine Harris was rejected by both suspense and fantasy when she brought them a Southern small town mystery novel with vampires because they didn’t think they could sell it. When she did get it sold, it was published with a romance chick-lit style cover and first sold outside of SFF in general fiction. But the series did well and so did several other women in contemporary fantasy like Kelly Armstrong and Kim Harrison. Publishers decided they wanted the women authors and women authors rushed in because they knew they had a shot, whereas in secondary world epic fantasy, they were getting more and more shut out in favor of male authors.

At the same time, romance publishers were expanding paranormal romance lists. A lot of women went to romance so that they could write fantasy and get it published. The same with YA in the wake of Harry Potter. Women authors were long welcomed in children’s by teachers and school libraries, and so women came to YA in great numbers. So it’s not really a surprise that women make up the larger number of submissions that Tor UK gets for YA and urban fantasy and paranormal romance. That’s where they think they can get in because they see the publishers actually buying female authors and supporting them in those sectors. (And consequently, many males in the field or as fans have complained that female authors are taking all the slots — which isn’t true — and disrupting the integrity of the field with their girl cooties.)

So it’s not enough to simply say that women are welcome. You have to show it’s actually true out in the market. If Crisp seriously wants more women, she’s going to have to go get them, because far from having a welcome sign, the field in general has a “we will barely tolerate you” sign out. If the number of women submitting is smaller, that doesn’t mean that the number of acquisitions from those submissions has to go down. If publishers like Tor UK take more chances on women authors from the submissions they do get, they will extend their market and show women authors it’s worth it to submit because Tor might actually buy more than once in a blue moon.

And if the number of submissions from woman is too low, particularly in fields like hard SF, then publishers should be actively looking for women and soliciting them for submissions. Women do manage to publish short stories with magazines like Analog — go after them. This is what publishers used to do and I’m sure that Tor UK still does, but we also know publishers have less time to do that sort of searching these days. But if publishers really do want to improve the stats with women authors (and minority authors, etc.), aggressive searching is going to be necessary. The magazines have gone through this battle too, and the first response of a lot of editors was just like Ms. Crisp’s — that the problem was that women didn’t submit enough; that it was their fault and their misunderstanding. But Black Gate editor John O’Neill realized the fallacies of that approach after his initial defensiveness, as he talks about in his post “Solaris is Rising, Women Falling.” There are some good tips there if Ms. Crisp is serious about having her staff seek more female authors and putting behind them the same resources and marketing as the male authors.

This is a process. And how fast the process goes depends not on the authors but on the institutions — the publishers and the booksellers — to create the opportunities and to seek to expand their market. Otherwise only a very few women will attempt to beat their heads against what appears to be a pretty solid brick wall. So kudos to Ms. Crisp for taking the first steps to knock a brick out of the wall for her house.

But it’s not enough to simply say that women are welcome. You have to prove it. Prove it better. As the movie saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.”

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Interesting Writings for a World Gone Mad with Tiger Blood

Regarding the long running conversation about women-written fiction, Percival Everett has some astute observations for Vida:

http://vidaweb.org/freedom%E2%80%99s-just-another-word-for-nothing-left-to-lose

And then there’s this interesting piece on how women are portrayed in fiction and society:

http://www.rofmag.com/folkroots/folkroots-the-femme-fatale-at-the-fin-de-siecle/

And this article by Dr. Yvonne Fulbright debunking various myths about differences between male and female communication, which relates to the rather flimsy arguments about how women writers supposedly always write:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-yvonne-k-fulbright/male-female-communication_b_813095.html

And no, not all the articles are about women studies issues. This one, from Slate, by Christopher Beam, is about our increased fears even as crime rates fall drastically:

http://www.slate.com/id/2284662/

Next, an interesting article about interesting things happening in the e-book market that again points out that during the big Macmillan-Amazon brouhaha, they really were just negotiating and neither company is or considered the other to be evil. So Kindle customers can just please relax:

http://mhpbooks.com/mobylives/?p=27654

And another book industry article on the wholesale market. For awhile now, I’ve been keeping an eye out on books showing up in non-bookstore locales and have noticed an increase in at least smaller stores of various kinds like computer and music stores carrying books as well. This article from the New York Times looks at some of what’s going on:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/business/media/28bookstores.html?_r=3

Lastly, not an article at all, but something that will instead pleasantly waste huge amounts of your time: actor, comic, writer, all round good guy Kevin Pollak has a Web chat show where he interviews various other actors and performers for an hour or two, with the help of some friends. For the Firefly contingent, check out his episode with Nathan Fillion. There’s also a podcast of the show, which might be more efficient:

http://www.kevinpollakschatshow.com/

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