When Will Female Authors Get the Respect They Deserve?

5 years ago

When my children are home during the summer, the only way I can get any writing done is to post a sign outside my office door that reads, “DO NOT ENTER. MOTHER WORKING!!!” This is usually effective until one child or another tip-toes in, apologizes profusely, and then asks a life-or-death questions such as, “Where are my shorts?” Or, “What’s for lunch?” Or, my all time favorite, “Are you done yet?” Apparently, my three teenagers can’t read.

But the other day, my youngest came bursting in with a major announcement,   “Mom, I’ve got great news! We’re gonna be rich!” 

Now I am always a fan of being rich so I asked him the obvious question, “How?”

“Well, you’re a writer and I just read an article about how women writers are making gobs of money these days,” he said. Phew, my thirteen-year-old can read. He went on, “All you have to do is write a book series like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games and lots of people will read them and movies will be made and then we’ll be millionaires!” 

Mmm.. not a bad idea, except it’s not really that easy for a writer, and in particular a woman writer, to make money. Or is it? For the first time in history, women writers are actually making “gobs of money.” We all know billionaire author, JK Rowling, is richer than the Queen. Well now, she of the amazing imagination, has landed an $8 million deal for her new adult book, The Casual Vacancy.

Credit: © D. Long/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com

Add that to the blockbuster The Hunger Games empire (Suzanne Collins is reported to have made $20 million this year on book sales alone) and the seething success E.L. James can claim for her Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy (James is reportedly making $1.3 million per week and just secured a $5 million movie deal) and it’s no surprise Forbes is advising James Patterson to “watch your back.”

Women writers have been raking it in for decades in at least one genre: romance. As any lover of romance fiction knows, the vast majority of romance novelists are women. The category accounted for 14% of titles sold last year and beat industry trends. In fact, the Romance Writers of America states that while “consumer book publishing industry’s net revenue decreased from $10.27 billion in 2009 to $10.11 billion in 2010... Romance fiction sales remained relatively steady in 2010 at $1.358 billion.” 

We writers of the female persuasion have also done well in the young adult/fantasy genre, but that only accounts for 9% of industry sales. We are almost non-existent in science fiction (13% of the industry) and the only female writer to make it into the top ten earners in crime/mystery (11% of the industry) is Patricia Cornwell

General fiction? Puhleeze. They created a new category just to ghettoize us: “Chick Lit.” Hell, even the name is infantilizing. 

But we women writers want more than simply money, we also want respect. For the past two years, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts has published their analysis of the dearth of women in the literary world called The Count. The numbers aren’t pretty. Name any category -- awards, publishing deals, books reviewed -- and women lag far behind men.

For example, in 2010, of the 364 books reviewed by the influential New York Book Review, only seventy-one were written by women. The New Republic reviewed ninety-two books, seventeen of them were written by women. Harpers? Nineteen books written by women reviewed versus fifty-three books written by men. The New York Times? A whopping 753 books reviewed; 233 written by women. This imbalance holds true for every major book reviewer in the United States and Great Britain.  

Why do we care? First, these reviews lead to awards. In 106 years of the Nobel prize, only eleven winners have been female. Women have only been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction twenty-seven times in it’s sixty-year history. The National Book Award? It has been awarded every year for the last fifty-seven, but women only won fifteen times. 

More importantly, these reviews lead book distributors such as Walmart, Barnes and Noble, and even Amazon, to determine which books they will add to their distribution and marketing lists. This means these reviews also lead to money.  

As Anna Clark says in her article, The Ambition Condition, “Whether they write novels or cover stories or op-eds, even the most talented women writers often aren’t validated in the same way that their male counterparts are.”

But here is the good news... just as blogging upended the notion of what it means to be a writer, self-publishing and fan sites such as FanFiction.net are forcing the traditional publishing industry’s to get their tighty-whities in a twist. Where once a small cadre of (male) editors decided what was “good enough” to be published, now readers are the decision makers. And guess who the readers are? Women.

We are also the buyers. Women make up 68% of print book buyers and surpassed men in 2011 as the majority of ebook buyers, the SNL Mother’s Day skit notwithstanding.

And finally, we’re the writers, too. Of the top 20 self-published authors (those whose titles have sold more than 200,000 copies) more than half are women. This list doesn’t even include E.L. James who is a category unto herself.

So perhaps Stephen King should, as Forbes suggested, be afraid, be very afraid. Women writers might not get the respect we deserve, but one day in the not-too-distant future, it won’t matter because we will be skipping, laughing, and perhaps even gloating, our way to the bank.

BlogHer and self-published author, Joanne Lewis wonders, “What I don’t understand is how come self publishing, which is the same as being self employed, is given a bad rap?"

Blogger and self-publishing wunderkund, Maria Murnane, says, “Don’t let failure hold you back!” Her book, Perfect on Paper, was selected as on of Amazon Encore’s original imprints. I had the pleasure of interviewing her at the Peninsula Parlour earlier this year. 

Gloria Steinem once said, "The first problem for all of us, women and men, is not to learn but to unlearn." I am working on unlearning each and every day. How about you? - Lisen www.prismwork.com

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