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Mr Flibble
05-20-2014, 09:04 PM
So there's been a bit of a thing over here in the UK SFF scene just lately. Specifically the prominence of promo for male SFF authors when there as many female authors writing the same stuff. For example, a bookshop leaflet recommending great epic fantasy -- 12 authors and I think two were female (and one of those writes under a gender neutral name) A couple of authors contacted Waterstone's (basically the one big national bookshop chain) about it.

Now, the fantabulous Juliet McKenna (http://www.julietemckenna.com/) decided to conduct a survey with the help of peeps all over the country. Basically going into their local Waterstone's, checking out the promotional display tables/we recommend shelves and seeing what the split was across genres (to see if this was specific to SFF)

Well I did my bit today. And holy hell!

Anyway I thought I'd share my findings (and if anyone else feels like doing a count and posting theirs...)

*drum roll*

Firstly note that in my local shop, all fiction except kids/YA and SFF is rolled into General Fiction (on the display tables at least. there is a small separate shelving unit for historical fiction an a larger section for Crime, bit even on the shelves the rest is all lumped together)

So - general fiction tables, including "we recommend" and "Buy one get one half price" - 157 books. 76 male authors, 69 female authors, 12 ambiguous authors who I couldn't tell without googling.

Crime -- three author specific tables, 2 male, 1 female

YA - 66 books, 30 male, 35 female, one co-authored book with a male and female author (so much for YA being dominated by women! Also for some reason I keep switching that figure in my head!)

So far so reasonably evenly split.

SFF - 40 books. 33 male, 7 female (this included 3 by Robin Hobb and 2 by Ursula Le Guin so only 4 actual female authors)

Uh-huh

Anyway, spurred by this I went and did historical non fic (pretty big section they have here). Holy crap! 234 books. 206 by male authors (206!!!) 27 by female authors, 1 husband and wife team

So, pretty glad I don't write historical non fic!

Anyway, so why this split in just these genres? Most of the non fic was about war, so perhaps there's the perception that women don't write about it? (Most of the female authored books were say biographies rather than about a specific event) I know there's that perception about fantasy (Women don't write epic fantasy, or dark fantasy. Really? Really really? I know as many published female authors in fantasy as men!) Is it the perception that fantasy is only read by young men that leads this? The fact that there are men who won't pick up a book by a female fantasy writer because it "won't be dark" or "might be a romance in disguise" (There was a poll recently by a big name author and the result was 25% admitted they'd not have picked up his book if his name had been female. That's not including any subconscious bias, the effect of book covers etc). Go to any fantasy forum on the net, ask for recommendations and the same 5 or 6 guys will be recced every single time. Later, after that's all been exhausted, maybe you'll get a female author or two mentioned (the exception to this seems to be Robin Hobb)

Is this just in SFF? It's hard to tell because the general fiction section pretty much everything that isn't SFF so without further study I can't be sure.

Any thoughts?

Samsonet
05-20-2014, 10:12 PM
Do you think it has something to do with those guys that go "don't judge me for liking fantasy", and then proceed to judge everyone else?

waylander
05-20-2014, 10:16 PM
WRT to historical non-fic: is the preponderance of war books possibly because of the effect of the centenary of WW1?

Mr Flibble
05-20-2014, 10:52 PM
Do you think it has something to do with those guys that go "don't judge me for liking fantasy", and then proceed to judge everyone else?

I think they don't have much control over what gets onto the table :p However the people that do might be catering to the misconception that only guys read fantasy


WRT to historical non-fic: is the preponderance of war books possibly because of the effect of the centenary of WW1?

Possibly, though there as many books about WWII and Afghanistan as WWI, I think (I didn't count! But it looked roughly equal between the two WWs - a table each, with a healthy dose of Afghanistan as well) That might need a bit more study than I had time for. To be fair, the do usually have a historical non fic section about older history as well (which might include more women?) but there was some special display on that table today.

Marlys
05-21-2014, 12:45 AM
Promo spots in bookstores, including being featured in leaflets, is paid for by the publishers. Tables, endcaps, window displays, wire racks--virtually any prime real estate in a bookstore is paid for. There's an article here (http://dearauthor.com/ebooks/bookstores-recommended-books-are-paid-for-by-publisher/) that gives some info on Waterstone specifically, but i worked at Borders years ago and things were very similar. We received a merchandising plan every month that specified which titles would go where. There would often still be a few endcaps left over to do what we wanted (staff picks, displays related to current events, etc.), but most of the store displays were planned. Only if we ran out of the things Borders had been paid to feature did we fill in tables or endcaps with other books.

Just out of curiosity, was there no romance section? That's one spot where you'll find the balance tilted well in the other direction--and lots of paranormal and urban fantasy written by women ends up shelved in romance when it could conceivably go into SFF as well.

Mr Flibble
05-21-2014, 12:58 AM
yeah, I was sure that a lot of it comes down to that, which again begs the question of why. Apparently the "we recommend" tables/shelves are directed from on high but my local peeps aren't sure if it's their executives making the decisions or whether they are paid for or a mix. At least some of the recommended are via Waterstones from what I gather (Another chain, Foyles, has been very receptive the idea of promoting more female SFF authors, so presumably it's not all publisher driven.) Ofc pubs are going to go for the highest likely ROI, so a leaflet about "Just like Game Of Thrones" might be seen to appeal more to guys? And like I say, I know that a lot of people just won't pick up a book with a female name on the cover, and publishers have to think of that too? That said, my publisher is keen for me to go with a female name for my next series (It's epic, books in my sig aren't) so it's not like they're trying to male-wash me or anything.



Just out of curiosity, was there no romance section?

Nope, the only adult fiction that has separate shelving is SFF, Crime and Historical (That last is a tiny section and isn't really signposted like the others) I did notice that on the larger gen fic tables where there was a good split included several romances/women's fic novels -- well, OK, that I think were based on title/cover/name I recognised because I didn't have time to look at them all! But there were say plenty of crime/lit fic novels by female authors etc.

ETA: Funnily PNR is often shelved next to SFF under "dark fantasy" along with horror :) Can't say there's a huge amount of it though. Except in the YA section. It's everywhere there!

Roxxsmom
05-21-2014, 01:27 AM
I haven't been to my local B&N lately, but you've piqued my curiosity. Now that classes are out, I may wander over there. I live in the US, but there's no reason to believe things would be any different here, though urban fantasy is pretty popular in the States, and many of its authors and readers are known to be women.

It never ceases to amaze (and dismay) me how many fantasy readers of both genders can only name a couple of female fantasy (and SF) authors, even though there are tons. I also get a bit annoyed by all the people (many of them women again) who insist they don't pay attention to the names or genders of their favorite authors at all.

I find that hard to believe. If you don't know the name of your favorite authors, then how do you find their latest books in bookshops, libraries or online? And humans tend to make assumptions about people's gender based on their name at the very least. Sometimes we're wrong, of course, and it's not surprising that many women who write fantasy use their initials or have first names that could go either way (like Robin or Francis).

But here in the US at least, many women have been conditioned to not discuss or focus on gender issues, because doing so gets you labeled as a "feminist," which unfortunately is usually stigmatized (it's supposed to mean you're unfeminine, have a chip on your shoulder, and dislike men).

I'm really puzzled why a publisher would give a woman author a contract to write a fantasy series, then not promote her books as aggressively as they promote a male author's books. That just seems stupid. Why publish someone at all if you're going to doom their efforts to mediocre sales at best?

I suppose I shouldn't say that at all, huh? :(

On a positive note, all the Nebula awards this year for fiction seem to have gone to women. They were SF titles, but there's no question that SF has the same problem with the underpromotion of female authors.

Mr Flibble
05-21-2014, 01:46 AM
OK -- thinking as I type warning.

I think maybe they use different methods for female writers? Because perhaps of the bias of the readers (or some readers anyway)? To an extent they have to work with their audience, and I get that. But it's also not just them -- bloggers and reviewers (who help hype a book) often go for male authored books, at least in SFF. And perhaps that leaks over? Dunnow. I don't think the whole blame can be laid at publishing's door (frex, I was surprised to go to a few websites I usually frequent just before my book came out, and saw the cover plastered everywhere. Which was a nice surprise. As was the "excerpt promo leaflet" they did for a con, with an excerpt from Fade to Black and on the other side, an excerpt from Kate Griffin's latest -- she's quite big in UF over here. They did some other great stuff too. And like I say they want the next series to be under a female name)

But I would expect that paying for Waterstones or whoever to promo a book is pretty damned expensive, and maybe reserved for those that already have a reasonable ROI inorder to make it bigger, or are being hyped up elsewhere, so as to capitalise on that? They say it takes three mentions of a book to get people to pick it up and recognise in the bookshop. so they're bound to try to capitalise on the ones that people may have seen recced on blogs/reviews site etc. Book gets a bit of buzz, try to make something of it. But if all the books getting a buzz are by guys....

It's a very thorny and complex issue. But the bookshops could really help if they made sure that those places that aren't publisher driven are more equally split?

ETAFWIW I don't think this is down to any overt malicious "keep the womens down", more of a reaction to market forces. I know my editor wants my books to do well, and does all she can in that regard. But it still needs addressing I think.

Roxxsmom
05-21-2014, 03:19 AM
ETAFWIW I don't think this is down to any overt malicious "keep the womens down", more of a reaction to market forces. I know my editor wants my books to do well, and does all she can in that regard. But it still needs addressing I think.

Oh, definitely not. It wouldn't make any commercial sense for them to want woman writers to fail, and to be honest, in spite of occasional sexist rants that one sees on the web (and which get nipped firmly in the bud when they happen here), I don't think most readers and writers of fantasy are consciously sexist or think women can't write good stories that appeal to both genders. But yeah, that old subconscious thing, and of course confirmation bias, are real problems.

I hate that double standard too, where male epic fantasy writers, like Brandon Sanderson, can have romantic arcs in their stories without getting the "Yuck, this is just a romance posing as fantasy!" response.

Still, I can think of several male authors who discuss gender issues as they relate to writing SFF (and life in general) on their blogs and who do a good job of discussing and promoting the work of woman writers.

Hopefully things will get better as more and more people become aware of the issue.

Brightdreamer
05-21-2014, 03:58 AM
Potentially Stupid Question Alert:

What about pseudonyms? Are there any studies about whether gender-neutral or masculine pen names help a female author's placement in a male-dominated genre, or does it really all come from the top (the people who know whom they're cutting the checks to)?

onesecondglance
05-21-2014, 12:33 PM
I'm not surprised by your findings, Mr Flibble, but I am a touch depressed by just how far the skew is on SFF.

I know it's asking a lot, but it would mean a lot for the sample if we knew what the total titles that branch stocked were.

That is, if their overall shelving is more like a 70:30 split of male-to-female authors, then it would tell us the promo is disproportionately biased. But if the shelving matches or is actually more male-skewed than the promo sample, then it points to a wider problem (i.e. at the buying level).

Of course, this would require you to count all the books on their shelves, and to pick apart pseudonyms etc., which would be an utterly thankless task.

triceretops
05-21-2014, 12:40 PM
What about romance? That might come around to help even things out. But I see your point about the SFF genre and the male showing there.

tri

Once!
05-21-2014, 12:56 PM
Specifically the prominence of promo for male SFF authors when there as many female authors writing the same stuff.


Are we sure about that?

There are several possible explanations for what you have found. Promotional bias by Waterstone's. Promotional bias by the publishers. Sci fi/ fantasy being perceived as mostly being read by men/boys so women writers use pseudonyms or initials to try to attract more readers (Joanne = J.K. Rowling = Robert Galbraith?).

Or maybe it is because more sci fi and fantasy is being written by men, if that is the case. I don't know. Is there any way we could find out? Before we start assuming sexism we ought to check if there is a simpler explanation.

I'm not a betting man, but if I was I'd say that the real explanation includes a little bit of all those possible scenarios.

Samsonet
05-21-2014, 01:08 PM
But those scenarios are the result of sexism? Except the more men writing SciFi, but I don't know how we'd figure that out.

Roxxsmom
05-21-2014, 01:18 PM
What about romance? That might come around to help even things out. But I see your point about the SFF genre and the male showing there.

tri

Well, it's my understanding that the majority of both romance writers and readers are female (91 percent of romance books are bought by women, according to the RWA (http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=582)), and the few males who write romance do so under female pseudonyms or use their initials. So it would be expected that the end-table displays for romance will be close to 100% female or gender-neutral names.

But SF and fantasy has a large number of female readers, at least 40% of SF and F readers total (http://www.sfwa.org/2014/01/reads-science-fiction/), and it's my understanding that the membership of the SFWA (writers with a certain number of pro sales in the genre) is quite high also. A decent number of the Hugo and Nebula awards as well over the past 20 years or so have been women as well.

It's hard to get exact data on the percentage of traditionally published SF and F novelists who are women, but 30% or more is certainly a reasonable estimate, based on these data (http://broaduniverse.org/statistics/) (which are a number of years old now)

So it's a mistake to think of SF and F as the male equivalent of romance, in terms of either reader or writer demographics.

This article (http://www.sfwa.org/2011/06/guest-post-checking-the-gender-balance/) is interesting, as it discusses the problem with female SFF writers being overlooked by readers. For some reason, SF and F fans consistently have trouble coming up with the names of female SF and F authors and the names of SF and F books written by women. Women make up far more than 4% of SF and F authors, and they win far more than 4% of the Hugos and Nebulas in the past 20 years or so. But only 4% of the books listed as influential works of SF and F are by women in reader surveys.

The link in the OP might be a hint as to why this is. Books by women authors are maybe not being made as visible ones by as male authors to the SF and F reading public.

AVS
05-21-2014, 01:31 PM
Before assuming anything I'd echo researching what is the actual supply and the demand.

If 80 out of every 100 SFF books submitted to publishers are written by men then everything else remaining equal one would expect that to translate to 80 out of every 100 books in SFF published being by men.
If 80 out of every 100 SFF books are bought by men then that will also have a skewing effect.
I imagine most romance novels submitted are by women. I would not be surprised to find a similar gender imbalance the other way.

Those might be the bald facts. After that one is into more subjective territory, is SFF more inherently appealing to men than women? Is Romance more inherently appealing to women than men? Is it tradition or is it partly hardwired?

onesecondglance
05-21-2014, 02:00 PM
This is why I asked about the shelving. If for SFF, we know there's approximately 30% female authors total (from Roxxsmom's numbers above), yet the promotional selection Mr Flibble saw is only 17.5% female, we need to ask if that's because that bookshop shelves less than 30% female SFF authors (i.e. there's no promo bias, instead it's more a buying/stock issue), or if there is a promo bias in play.

AVS
05-21-2014, 02:04 PM
This is why I asked about the shelving. If for SFF, we know there's approximately 30% female authors total (from Roxxsmom's numbers above), yet the promotional selection Mr Flibble saw is only 17.5% female, we need to ask if that's because that bookshop shelves less than 30% female SFF authors (i.e. there's no promo bias, instead it's more a buying/stock issue), or if there is a promo bias in play.

True. We also need to consider sample size. 40 books in one store where 7 are written by female authors is a very small sample. A survey over multiple book stores and multiple time periods would give you a good idea of published v promoted ratios.

Mr Flibble
05-21-2014, 05:17 PM
In fantasy it is actually pretty evenly split re published authors and gender

(SF IS more skewed male, and most pubs say because not as many women send them SF, but that could only be half the story. Who knows? Not me. However, this table and recc shelf was pure fantasy)

So this:


If 80 out of every 100 SFF books submitted to publishers are written by men then everything else remaining equal one would expect that to translate to 80 out of every 100 books in SFF published being by men.

Is not the case (maybe -- maybe -- the female contingent is as low as say 45%. I think it's unlikely, but for the sake of argument). It's not the case with aspiring writers in fantasy -- if you head on down the SFF forum you'll see as many women posting as men (sometimes more i think). In the UK most cons run a panel parity thing -- equal number of male and female panelists. And to start with a few people rumbled that there weren't enough female published authors to fill those slots without the same faces appearing again and again etc. Funnily though, they seem to have turned up. They were there all along they just weren't being asked onto panels
ETA: I have checked Orbit's site and their list of authors is 30% female though as noted above, SF is more dominated by men (and Orbit publish SF and F). If you took out the SF authors I think it'd be 40% + but I'm not entirely sure what genre a few of the authors are!

There are plenty of female authors spine out on the shelves in this particular SFF section of this shop. But they are not on the tables/reccc shelves. I've been counting just that one table in SFF for the last month, and out of the 40 books it holds, 7 is the most it's been. There were 4 authors this week, when usually there's 3 (Hobb, Le Guin and Stella Gemmel)



40 books in one store where 7 are written by female authors is a very small sample. A survey over multiple book stores and multiple time periods would give you a good idea of published v promoted ratios.

This is an ongoing project. Maybe next week I'll count all the SFF books and how many are female (if I get the chance, work is being a bugger atm)


What about pseudonyms? Are there any studies about whether gender-neutral or masculine pen names help a female author's placement in a male-dominated genre, or does it really all come from the top (the people who know whom they're cutting the checks to)?

It's going to be pretty hard to determine a absolute number on it, because books are not all equal -- and they don't put out the same book with two different names to see if there's a hard difference.

alexaherself
05-21-2014, 09:33 PM
Most of the non fic was about war, so perhaps there's the perception that women don't write about it?

Might that be a reality, rather than just a perception?

(I know almost nothing about science fiction/fantasy. The only female author I know who writes in that genre writes under a male pen-name. I'm wondering whether that might be quite common?).

onesecondglance
05-21-2014, 11:28 PM
(Realised I never said thank you, Mr Flibble, for going out and doing the counting!)

Mr Flibble
05-22-2014, 12:54 AM
Might that be a reality, rather than just a perception?



I know very little about historical non-fic - for all I know it's all pseuds! In the SFF section I know a lot of the pseuds (eitehr have met or know something about them. Exception is KJ Parker No-one knows about him/her. Except a very few people. I really must get my editor drunkl and find out :D).


But then you get the question, do men write about war and women write biographies because hey know they can sell that/it's expected? Or is it because that's what they are interested in? Or what? Without a major poll of the authors it's impossible to tell. But it does seem that if I, under my name, write a bio about...I dunnow, Queen Philippa (first black queen of England, 1328) then I would get less promo than a male author rehashing WWII. Which seems...not right to me. I mean, yeah, the world wars get some extra interest, but older history is quite big in this store too


(Realised I never said thank you, Mr Flibble, for going out and doing the counting!) You have no need to thank me for something I did off my own bat. :D It was mentioned a couple of months ago and I've kept an eye on the SFF table since. This is just the first time I've related it to other genres. I'm not sure what to make of the findings tbh, except as they relate to the genre I know (SFF) and how skewed it seems compared to the authors I know (both IRL and from the bookshelf and online).

slhuang
05-22-2014, 03:17 AM
If 80 out of every 100 SFF books submitted to publishers are written by men then everything else remaining equal one would expect that to translate to 80 out of every 100 books in SFF published being by men.

Actually, nope, I would not expect this.

Clarkesworld published stats (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/clarke_06_12/) showing that their submissions are 70 percent male / 30 percent female, but what they choose to publish (without any especial effort to select women) ends up almost exactly 50/50. The most obvious conclusion from this, IMHO, is that women and men are equally talented at writing SFF but that men, for whatever reason, are far more likely to submit unpublishable (or not-yet-publishable) work.

(Remember that only the top top top percentage of works achieve publication; they aren't randomly selected.)



If 80 out of every 100 SFF books are bought by men then that will also have a skewing effect.I think this dances on dangerous ground, because you seem to be assuming that men (as a whole) aren't as interested in reading things by female authors (as a whole), which I am very, very skeptical about. Why wouldn't men be just as interested in a good story written by a woman as they would be in a good story written by a man?

I'd be shocked if there was an 80/20 skew in SFF fans, though, as that's never been my personal experience.



Those might be the bald facts.Er, what's the point of throwing something out without any citations and then saying that "might be" facts? (I'm puzzled, not angry.) I can say that about anything -- it "might be the bald facts" that [something inflammatory about a sexist conspiracy in SFF that I can't be bothered to make up]. Personally I think it's far more likely that the same institutional/systemic sexism that causes things like mentors preferring male mentees in the sciences rather than female ones (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/unofficial-prognosis/2012/09/23/study-shows-gender-bias-in-science-is-real-heres-why-it-matters/) or orchestra directors picking more men than they would pick under blind auditions even when they swear they're being objective (http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2013/oct/14/blind-auditions-orchestras-gender-bias) (paper (http://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/5903.html)) pervades SFF as well (because why wouldn't it?), and it causes an unconscious bias against female writers at all steps in the process (publishing, distributing, bookstore placement, etc.).

Roxxsmom
05-22-2014, 03:59 AM
I'd be shocked if there was an 80/20 skew in SFF fans, though, as that's never been my personal experience.


This source (http://www.sfwa.org/2014/01/reads-science-fiction/) suggest that it's not, and in fact the percentage of SFF readers who are women is around 40%. Women also tend to read and purchase more fiction books overall than men (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14175229), so it's possible that the actual purchasers of SFF novels is close to equal or favoring women.

Of course, there are likely differences between different what each gender reads most often in SF and F. So some subgenres are likely to be much more popular with women than men.

Madeleines
05-22-2014, 08:27 AM
But then you get the question, do men write about war and women write biographies because hey know they can sell that/it's expected? Or is it because that's what they are interested in? Or what? Without a major poll of the authors it's impossible to tell. But it does seem that if I, under my name, write a bio about...I dunnow, Queen Philippa (first black queen of England, 1328) then I would get less promo than a male author rehashing WWII. Which seems...not right to me.

This actually keeps me up at night. I'm not so sure about nonfic, but I'm querying a rather masculine historical war novel and every time I picture the agent cringing at the sight of my name, thinking "well, hope she has a good pseudonym in store." Interestingly, I've had near equal interest from both male and female agents, and much more than when I was forcing myself to write about more feminine topics that I felt people "expected" of me. Not sure if that's because I'm writing what I want to write, or writing for some sort of market force that prefers male-centric topics. Should be interesting to see how this all plays out. I haven't decided yet if, were I asked, I would take on a male pseudo or fight back violently, haha.

Once!
05-22-2014, 11:29 AM
(http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/clarke_06_12/)Clarkesworld published stats (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/clarke_06_12/) showing that their submissions are 70 percent male / 30 percent female, but what they choose to publish (without any especial effort to select women) ends up almost exactly 50/50. The most obvious conclusion from this, IMHO, is that women and men are equally talented at writing SFF but that men, for whatever reason, are far more likely to submit unpublishable (or not-yet-publishable) work.
(http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/clarke_06_12/)

Well, that is one explanation, but I don't think it's the only one. There are several points in the process where a bias towards male or female writers could happen. It could come in the writing process, the selection by the publisher or the promotional decisions made by the book seller. It could be related to the quality of the manuscript or the size of the likely audience.



I think this dances on dangerous ground, because you seem to be assuming that men (as a whole) aren't as interested in reading things by female authors (as a whole), which I am very, very skeptical about. Why wouldn't men be just as interested in a good story written by a woman as they would be in a good story written by a man?


It happens. I'm sorry, but it does. That's why we had George Eliot and J.K. Rowling. This is what Wikipedia has to say:



Anticipating that the target audience of young boys might not want to read a book written by a woman, her publishers asked that she use two initials, rather than her full name.


My 13 year old son is a case in point. He will pick a book because of its title, the cover picture and if the blurb interests him. But he will also tend to pick books mostly by male authors. He isn't around to ask at the moment, but I suspect he would say (right or wrong) that male authors tend to write the sort of stories that he likes to read. That's not something unique to him. I know several adults who think the same way.

Rhoda Nightingale
05-22-2014, 04:46 PM
I did a similar study at my local B&N not that long ago, although I wasn't running the numbers as thoroughly as you did. Mostly I was looking at the way the sections are divided and whether there's a perceived "women's fiction" genre and what sort of books wind up there.

This is what I found:

The display tables with seasonal themes--like "beach reads" or "summer reading"--have a fairly randomized mix of classics, thrillers, biographies, and new releases. There was one in the YA section for books with movie adaptations out or coming out soon. Pretty even ratio of male/female authors in both places, although again, I didn't count.

Then there are a few smaller tables promoting specific authors, and I noticed both male and female authors. Only one display table not promoting specific authors seemed dominated by male authors, and that was the Father's Day table. (The Mother's Day one skewed in the other direction, but most of those books have moved to the Bargain shelves on account of it being over.)

The Romance section--which has a separate shelf for Harlequin--is pretty well dominated by female authors. Graphic Novels are pretty well dominated by male authors, although there's a separate shelf for Manga and I can't parse Japanese names by gender so I have no idea what the ratio was there. The Graphic Novel section also had separate shelves promoting Marvel and DC--and Viz Media, which surprised me, because I didn't know Viz Media was that big a deal, but there ya go.

YA is more evenly distributed gender-wise than I expected, so I had my own moment of, "Huh, I guess it's not as female-dominated as I thought." The sections are divided into General, Fantasy/Adventure (as opposed to SFF) and Romance. One author has the same book in all three sections, by the way, which also surprised me, and fed into my growing belief that genre dividers are almost entirely arbitrary.

The biggest thing that surprised me were the number of authors I would have expected to find in Mystery or SFF that were actually in General Fiction. There was an even distribution of male/female in all three of those, although I found more women in Mystery than I expected to. Possibly because quite a few male authors I thought would be there were actually in General Fiction.

I'm not sure what to extract from all this, partly because I didn't run the numbers, but it was an interesting project.

AnneGlynn
05-23-2014, 06:19 AM
I have nothing to contribute here -- the only bookstore in my town has shuttered its windows -- but I've really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

Roxxsmom
05-23-2014, 06:43 AM
I have nothing to contribute here -- the only bookstore in my town has shuttered its windows -- but I've really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

This leads to another question: with more and more people getting their books online instead of book shops, is this issue of gender biased in-store displays going to be an issue for much longer?

Or, how does promotional bias play out on Amazon, B&N online and other online booksellers? They do "recommendations" based on your past purchases. I know they tend to recommend books by authors I've already purchased most often, but occasionally they toss something out there that's completely new (I assume based on some algorithm about people who buy X often buy Y). Now that I've bought Abercrombie's books, they think I want to buy all of Mark Lawrence's also, for instance. But they recommend some other authors (some female and less "grimdarkey") based on other writers I've read too.

But obviously, authors who have sold fewer books total in a genre (either because they're new or just haven't broken into mainstream consciousness) will likely be recommended less often by their algorithm, and I'm bound to miss some that I'd really like. It's sort of a rich getting richer and a poor getting poorer scenario, at least potentially.

I already know it's harder to discover new authors in an online environment where they keep recommending the same old stuff to me over and over, and this makes it harder for new writers to connect with potential readers, even within their preferred genre. Does this possibly affect the two genders differently? Or are readers less likely to notice or be biased for/against an author's gender when buying on line?

Brightdreamer
05-23-2014, 07:22 AM
I already know it's harder to discover new authors in an online environment where they keep recommending the same old stuff to me over and over, and this makes it harder for new writers to connect with potential readers, even within their preferred genre...

Actually, I have some decent luck ignoring the official recommendations on Amazon and skimming the "People who viewed this also viewed..." thing. A few clicks there and I can be steered off in some pretty odd directions, finding new-to-me authors along the way.

Roxxsmom
05-23-2014, 10:21 AM
Actually, I have some decent luck ignoring the official recommendations on Amazon and skimming the "People who viewed this also viewed..." thing. A few clicks there and I can be steered off in some pretty odd directions, finding new-to-me authors along the way.

That's what I've been using too, but of course, it's still possible that a new writer who isn't getting viewed by a lot of people at all might not come up, or a woman writer writing in a subgenre that's dominated or read by men might not get many kicks.

For instance, if I put The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie on B and N (I have a nook so get most of my new books there these days), the authors that come up (besides other titles by the same author) are:

Scott Lynch
Mark Lawrence
Brent Weeks
Glen Cook
Patrick Rothfuss
Peter V Brett
Brandon Sanderson
Guy Gavriel Kay
Brian Ruckley
David Anthony Durham


All darkish fantasy books by male authors. Does this mean that nearly all of the darkish fantasy out there was written by men? Or does this mean that once someone starts reading male authors, they're more likely to keep reading them, because there's a sort of feedback effect?

Now on the other hand, when I entered a recent book by Mercedes Lackey (a popular female fantasy writer, but one who I think is better liked by women than men overall), I get books by:

Erik Flint
Tanya Huff
George RR Martin
Jack Campbell
Piers Anthony
Jacqueline Carey
Jody Lynn Nye
Lois McMaster Bujold

A surprisingly even mix.

I entered King's Dragon by Kate Elliot (from an older Epic fantasy series), and I get books by:

Mercedes Lackey
Tad Williams
Kate Forsyth
Kristen Britain
Elizabeth Hayden
John Marco
Julie Cznerda (a new author to me)

Female weighted.

Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn:

Morgan Rhodes
Danielle Jensen
Amy Butler
Elizabeth May

This is it for the list, which sort of surprises me (all female though). I'd have expected more correlations with such a popular book, but for The Hero of Ages, I got:

Robert Jordan
Jennifer Fallon
Robin Hobb
Sarah Douglass
Mercedes Lackey
Gail Z Martin
Jim Butcher
LE Modesssitt Jr.
Joe Abercrombie
Brent Weeks

An even split of genders. So it looks like Sanderson fans read books by both male and female authors. Maybe it's because Mistborn had a female protagonist. That would have scared the really sexist folks off.

But books read by people who purchased Sanderson's Steelheart had a mix of genders as well, and a number of books that don't even look like fantasy (from the covers). Of course, Steelheart is set in some kind of future dystopian Earth, so it's not the same kind of fantasy as some of his other books.

Not a scientific survey, of course, but interesting. Also, I notice some differences between B and Ns and Amazon's "customers who bought this also bought that" lists and the B&N ones. Some overlap, but some differences too. Still, the gender breakdowns were similar for each author.

From this, I'm formulating a hypothesis that the readers of some male epic fantasy authors read close to 100% male authors, while readers of some female fantasy writers have a strong preference for female authors in general, but there are authors of both sex where fans read more of a mix. Not as grim as I feared, though I'm just scratching the surface.

Once!
05-23-2014, 11:28 AM
This leads to another question: with more and more people getting their books online instead of book shops, is this issue of gender biased in-store displays going to be an issue for much longer?


That's a really good point. My town has two shops selling books - Waterstones sells only books. WH Smiths sells newspapers, magazines, stationery and books.

WH Smiths are constantly reducing the amount of shop floorspace they give to novels. I spoke to the manager a few months ago. She said that the market has increased for magazines and books with pictures in them, but that they are selling far fewer paperback novels.

One trend is for people to browse the bookstore to decide what they want, but then to go home and order it online.

Whatever gripes we may have about bookstores and how they promote different books, we may have a bigger worry if many of them disappear.

Roxxsmom
05-23-2014, 11:50 AM
I agree. Reducing the ways that people can learn about and purchase books can't be good news for authors, nor for literacy rates overall. The percentage of people who actually read novels for pleasure is already woefully small. The publishing industry is really carried by a relatively small subset of the population that reads voraciously. Pleasure reading overall seems to be more and more of an all or nothing activity.