I was all prepared to do a fun, cutesy (okay, quit laughing. I know I don’t do cutesy. It isn’t in my nature) post. Then I ran across something on The Passive Voice that caught my eye. So I clicked through and, even at this early hour, felt my blood pressure rising. The piece basically condemned publishing for not being woman-centric enough. Apparently, there are too many men in the business and women feel the pressure not to let readers know they are, you know, women. The problem? There’s not a current source cited for the post. Everything is at least two years old. If you’re trying to convince me of something, at least take the time to find current stats and facts to support your claims.
I know. I know. Me coming to the defense of traditional publishing is ironic. But I’m not so much defending trad pub as I am saying the article featured by TPV is flawed. So let’s get to the article itself and you make up your own mind.
Digital Pubbing posted a guest article by Hristina Nikolovska. Entitled “Is Employing Men Over Women A Nefarious Plot?”, the piece is one person’s take on sexism in publishing. I’ll let your read it for yourselves. But long story short, here are some of the complaints Nikolovska lays out against the industry:
- Only two of the top 30 publishers have a woman at the helm.
- Women fear recognition, so they publish under male names, allowing them to reach a male audience and “publish without prejudice”.
- Women get a larger number of responses if submitting their work under a male name.
- Books written by women sell for less than those written by men.
There’s more, but these are the high points–if you can call them that.
Now, I’ll admit I’ve seen this sort of accusation against trad pub for years. My problem with this particular post comes down to a lack of current cites to back the accusation and the way it ignores some basic truths about the industry and about writers as a whole.
So let’s look at the four complaints listed above.
Only two of the top 30 publishers have a woman at the helm. The author admits this stat comes from 2017. Has nothing changed or did she not include current stats because they don’t support her premise? Inquiring minds want to know. (Or, as I find myself wondering as I look at the other links in the post, is this something she wrote a year ormore ago and then simply sent to Digital Pubbing as a guest post? If this is the case, she does herself no favors by not taking a few minutes to update her post.)
Another problem I have with this is that it doesn’t take into account how many women fill key positions within a publishing company. How many are in key editorial roles? How many are in charge of acquisitions? Those are the roles that will have serious impact on what books are chosen and published. Then there’s the question of who is in charge of promotions? The question should be much more involved than simply who sits in the CEO or COO position.
Moving on. . . .
I’ll combine the next to points because they come down to why women write under a male pseudonym.
Yes, there are some genres or sub-genres where a reader is more likely to pick up a book written by a “man” than they are one by a “woman”. Military SF is an example. Westerns is another. But that doesn’t mean a woman can’t make a good living writing in either. But that is something that has been happening slowly, mainly with the influx of indie authors. But let’s be real here. Most romance readers don’t want to read a book written by a man. So there are a lot of male romance writers who use a female name for their books. Funny, but that isn’t mentioned in the OP.
But there is more to using a male name, or even just another name, for certain books. Publishers have long asked their authors to write under a new pseudonym if they are going to write in a different genre. The publisher looks at it as not wanting to weaken their brand. Then there’s the quandary writers have found themselves in where they might get their break writing Christian fiction or sweet romance and they want to break out into a new, more explicit, genre. Often they can’t write more explicit fiction under their name because of how their contract is written.
But more often than not, the author doesn’t want to write under the same name for fear of alienating their core group of fans. That is why some authors still have closed pen names. It has nothing to do with writing under a male name vs female name and everything to do with making sure you don’t piss off your readers and lose them–and the money they make for you.
The OP made a point of commenting on how J. K. Rowling used a man’s name when she branched out into mysteries. At least the OP notes Rowling did this to distance the new work from the Harry Potter books. Yet even that, somehow, shows sexism in publishing.
The last point I want to address is her allegation that books written by women sell for less than those written by men. That may or may not be true. For one, there is no link or cite in the paragraph where she makes that allegation to support her premise. For another, if that information is included in one of the sources she links to, none of that information is newer than two years old. So I go back to my earlier point of needing to support your premise with current data.
Then there are other issues with the statement. She doesn’t break it down any. Are wel talking all books published? And over what period of time? Are we talking only traditionally published books, books publishing only by the Big 5, etc?
There are a number of reasons why a book is priced what it is: the name recognition of the author, genre and subgenre, format (hard cover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, ebook, audio book), length of book, fiction or non-fiction. None of this is considered in the original article. So we are talking apples and oranges and pineapples instead of solid facts.
Is there sexism in publishing? Sure. Some of it is on the part of publishers and some is on the part of readers. But the only way to know exactly how much, what its impact might be and to decide how to fight it–if it even needs to be fought–is to have current data and clear picture of what is going on instead of starting with an agenda and going from there.
Now, before anyone jumps all over me for saying if sexism in publishing even needs to be fought, let me explain. Publishing is a business, something too many folks tend to forget. It is in the business of making money. So if women make up the majority of readers of romance, why shouldn’t publishers take that into account when they work with their authors on how best to market a new title in the genre? That includes the author name.
And why shouldn’t authors take that into account when shopping a book around for an agent or publisher? John Smith doesn’t have to become Jane Smith. He can write that steamy romance under the name J L Smith. Women, on the whole, won’t think twice about it because we often use our initials in a business setting. (Of course, so do men.) A woman can do the same if she’s writing in a traditionally “male” genre.
I guess I just don’t see the big deal here.
Again, if you want ot make a case that sexism is negatively impacting the profession, prove it. Give solild examples and solid data. I’ll add, PG’s comments at the end of the excerpt over on TPV pretty much mirror my own and the comments from his readers are worth taking a moment to look at.
Finally, traditional publishing is swirling around the toilet bowl. But if we’re going to hit it for anything, let’s choose something where we can show solid impact or writers and readers–something like the antiquated royalties being paid, overpriced ebooks, idiotic library purchase policies, etc. Trying to create a tempest in a teacup over sexism using outdated data isn’t the way to point out the industry’s flaws. (Or using data from your own company that doesn’t appear to have any solid cites behind it.)
Okay, switching gears, here’s a reminder that A Magical Portent comes out a week from today.
Storm clouds gather. An unknown danger nears, one that may spell the end of Mossy Creek, TX, and all those who live there.
Dr. Jax Powell and her best friends, her sisters from other misters, are determined to do whatever it takes to protect their town and loved ones. Each of them, once considered the town’s wayward children, have returned home. All but one: Magdalena “Maddy” Reyes. She’s not refused to return to Mossy Creek, but she appears to have dropped off the face of the Earth—or at least from the streets of Dublin.
Can they find Maddy and save their town or is it already too late?
A Magical Portent is novella-length story that follows Rogue’s Magic.