VIDA assesses Publishers Weekly in 2010

September 1, 2010 | by | 3

This month, we tallied 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

LIFESTYLE (Includes Food, Parenting, Health & Gardening)

3 Comments to 'VIDA assesses Publishers Weekly in 2010'

  • R! says:

    “if women are equally reviewed for their work in fiction, why doesn’t the distribution of prizes reflect that balance?”

    You said it all with that one, Amy King

  • There was a good piece on the Huff Post recently about the attention, born from sexism, that J. Franzen received for his new work. It seems to me that sales and marketing drives a lot of what’s put in front of us, and since there’s still so much sexism in our society in general, it’s depressing and true that this would corrupt even something that requires little “heavy lifting” such as literature.

    My answers to your questions above:

    1) Old boys network still entrenched in the orgs that vote for the big prizes, and the still prevalent thinking that women are not serious artists because you cannot piss against a wall.

    2)Yes. Yes. War and politics, which are “clearly” arenas still belonging to men.

    3)I think audio books marketing is much more conservative than print publishing and reflects the older entrenched attitudes of publishers.

    4)Poetry is in a ghetto that most general readers are afraid to enter. Most heterosexual male readers are terrified of being seen reading a book of poetry, so I think it’s butched up by the publishing industry – as much as they can anyway.

    5) Religion is something I cannot comment on since I just have no idea what books are published on the subject these days.

    6)I bet men tend to stay away from writing children’s literature because it is seen as “woman’s work” or because they are afraid of never being taken seriously as writers if they dare to write a book for kids. (This doesn’t explain the strange world of sci-fi and fantasy, however.)

    I hope I didn’t go on too long here. In general, I think there is still a bias against women writers in all but a few genres. Things are improving, no doubt, but I’d be willing to bet that a female writer who takes a male identity would have better success than if she allows her true identity known, and thinking that makes me sad.

    Thanks for such an informative and challenging article.

  • Medusa says:

    I agree with Amy and Tim about the continuing bias against books written by women (plus the judging likely being done by men and/or there being a possibly unconscious bias in favor of books resembling the male canon). I have the most personal experience with your question 5: ” 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?”

    There was a spate of books related to Goddess religion, Wicca and Paganism beginning in the late 1970s. The ground-breaking books were by women (e.g. Margot Adler, Starhawk, Carol Christ & Judith Plaskow). These are considered, by those involved in the religious/spiritual paths they cover, as separate from New Age. A good article on the difference between them was in the first issue of Goddess Pages, an online and print journal edited in Britain. Bookstores have a difficult time knowing where to put these books. Some do not feel comfortable putting them in religion, some don’t take time to find out that they are different from New Age, some place them with women’s studies. It is also true that some of these books have become more scholarly, as more information becomes available especially from archeological digs. The trend in the last few years is there are more men being published in these field. Many more men in the Pagan, Wicca area, which often means that the feminist angle gets left out. There are also books by men telling how they found the Goddess. In fact, some women who have been active in this field for oh say 20 years or more, feel that it is now easier for men to get published in this field than women–though I don’t know of any stats. Don’t know if it is easier for them to get reviewed. That may depend on the venue. What IS difficult to get published is books on Paganism, Wicca, and Goddess religions that are written by women and reflect a feminist or woman-centrist point of view. I understand that this is also true of books on other subjects that have a feminist point of view. However, perhaps paradoxically, there is some progress. For example, while Goddess books are most commonly categorized in “spirituality” rather than “religion” one of my Goddess books won first place in the comparative religion category (where most of the “religion” books were Christian)of a contest last year. Also, national and international scholarly interfaith groups have begun to include Paganism and Goddess religions.

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