First, there was this wonderful post about how review bloggers need to be included in the Hugo Awards by the ever-interesting Stefan Raets. I totally agree with this, and I've been meaning to feature this post on my blog for a couple of days now.
NOTE: Yes, it's $50 to be a "supporting member," and vote on the Hugos, but let's remember that you get cool stuff. Just look at this post from last year about what they got.
This post inadvertently got some negative attention when it was pointed out that Stefan only included male bloggers in his examples of recommendations. Now, I don't think there was anything behind that at all, but it did get people started talking about women authors and their representation in our wonderful little corner of the internet (review blogs).
That talk (and there are several posts that I should link to, but i'm trying my damndest to be brief) led to this post about gender issues with regard to how many female authors get reviewed by male bloggers. While I don't think the data can give us very many conclusions, it did cause quite a stir. It certainly got me thinking about how many reviews I've done of female authors versus male authors, and the numbers are pretty pathetic.
My Awful Reviews currently has two full-time reviewers that have submitted content. Between nrlymrtl and I, we've managed to do something along the lines of 31 reviews this year. 28 of those reviews were male authors. Now, one of those reviews was for a trilogy of books by a female author, so the numbers are a bit skewed, but not by much.
When I started talking to other bloggers on twitter about it (or reading their comments on the above posts), I noticed several things
- Many male bloggers complained that they were sent an overwhelming number of review copies by male authors, but relatively few female authors.
- Urban fantasy was pointed at a number of times as being something very different in the fantasy world (primarily female writers and readers, with more female reviews than male reviews).
- I got some disturbing information in the form of links that led me to believe this disparity in male vs female reviewing was VERY widespread. Read them here and here and here
- authorship is about 50/50 between males and females each year in publishing. (this one still needs verified in a major way, but I'm letting it slide while I await their sources).
- Women get roughly 1/3 the review representation that men get.
- A random selection of 25 bloggers can pretty quickly show striking similarities to that 1/3 rule from the previous bullet point.
The biggest question I'm left with is WHY? Why does there seem to be so much more promotion and reviewing of male authors? Do female writers all suck horribly? I can't imagine that's the case. Are all the readers male? Nope, can't imagine that's right either. Even more strangely, all the publicists that I have worked with are female, yet of the 5 books I've gotten unsolicited from publishers (stop laughing right this instant! The blog is a work in progress, damn it!) 3 were male authors, and one was co-written by a husband and wife. Six authors, four of them men. I don't have enough personal data to prove there's a disparity, but I'm sure that some older blogs do, and I'd love to see it.
How can we change this depressing trend?
Regardless of the reason that this disparity exists (is it the bloggers? The publishers? The Flying Spaghetti Monster?) the important thing to remember is review blogs have a unique opportunity to strike a dent in the disparity between male and female authors and their publicity. We are the people suggesting the books, after all. So, why don't we take some time to ask around and get a feel for some of the great women writing in the genres that we know and love? I know that going forward, I'm going to be paying special attention to books that catch my eye and have a female author, and maybe you should, too. I'm not saying go incredibly far out of your way, or read and review ONLY female authors. That would be a whole new mess that I don't want my dear blog associated with at all. I'm just saying look around, and see if maybe there aren't some great female authors doing something that interests you. If there are, ask them or their publicist for a review copy. Simple, and effective. In fact, if you really like what you read, buy a copy. Capitalism can definitely help even the score here. If we all change just a little, we can really make an impact on what looks like a big problem.
I'd like to end on a person note. I think the thing that hit closest to home for me in studying out all of this is the number of opportunities I've likely missed to read great books by female authors, simply because they went unnoticed. It's depressing thinking back on some of the mediocre books I've waded through in the past few years. All that time there was a much better book, written by a woman, that no one talked about enough to catch my eye. Instead, I read some by-the-numbers fantasy plot that had me yawning and struggling to finish, simply because it got more press. We (reviewers) are the press now. Let's change up our reading habits, if for no other reason than we all hate reading crappy books when there's something better out there.