This month, we counted the number of books reviewed by authors’ gender in the 2010 issues of Publishers Weekly (through the August 23 issue). We hope you’ll join us in wondering aloud what these numbers can tell us about current publishing trends.
We heartily welcome answers to a few questions inspired by the charts below:
1.) Fiction books are reviewed in close to equal numbers, which may indicate women are writing as much or more fiction than men. However when we look to see who is receiving the prizes, grants, and awards for fiction, the numbers tell a very different story: male authors receive the majority of prizes. Consider the “Best of 2009” lists (here) selected by the L.A. Times, Library Journal, Salon, Washington Post, as well as historical awards for fiction such as the L.A. Times Book Prize (23 Men / 6 Women), the National Book Awards (18 Men / 8 Women), THE PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (24 Men / 5 Women), the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (40 Men / 16 Women), and the list goes on (click here for the “Historical Count“). If women are equally reviewed for their work in fiction, why doesn’t the distribution of prizes reflect that balance?
2.) Nonfiction reviews are overwhelmingly dominated by men, but women’s nonfiction seems often to be funneled into subcategories such as “Lifestyle” which contains Parenting, Gardening, Cooking, and Health. Are these subcategories indicative of the balkanization of nonfiction written by women? Is “Lifestyle” nonfiction-lite? Which subject matter defines the general category of nonfiction?
3.) Though fiction written by women is reviewed equally with men’s, the leap from book to audio is made largely by male-authored titles. Does the selection of books to audio reflect prize-worthy picks or are the audio books simply targeted towards a male audience?
4.) Poetry is one genre where women seem to be well received these days, and yet, the reviews evidence a primary interest in poetry written by men. Is the attention women poets seem to be receiving merely reflective of an increase in awareness of women’s poetry but not in equal measure?
5.) Are more men defining and interpreting religion in books than women? Or are female-friendly religions like Wicca and neo-paganism only coming into their own and making their way from the New Age niche onto Christianity-dominated Religion lists?
6.) In conversation with women who write Children’s Literature, I’ve learned that the genre is considered, by some, a warm up for writing adult fiction and should not be noted on resumes or in conversation in lieu of more “serious, adult” work. Does this prejudice reflect the fact that these books are predominantly authored by women? Are fewer men writing children’s books because the work of rearing children still presumably falls within the female sphere?
Reviewed books tallied by author’s / co-authors’ genders