Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Who You Are

I read a couple things that really annoyed me this week. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm thankful to my friends that posted links... better to know what is what than to be oblivious—at least broadly speaking (sometimes in the specific, I prefer oblivion, but that's another matter).

So what am I talking about? Being a female over 40 screws me over! Dammit! (and not in a good way) *cough*


One Blog and one Facebook post brought me news that really riled my middle aged feminist (which is to say...ME.)

Jane, at Jane's Ride, talked about gender-biased reviews and how slanted toward men the VOLUME of reviews was—which frankly just isn't fair—the mix of books out there is far more balanced. But besides that, she discussed the different attributions made for the same content written by a man versus a woman. If a man writes a novel dealing with wrenching family issues, it is literary fiction or main stream. If a woman does, it is chick-lit.

Now there are some genres women dominate: chick lit... obviously. Romance. Cozy mystery (though I'd argue there are mystery sub-genres men dominate, and overall, mystery is probably one of the most balanced genres). And there are genres men dominate that DON'T take over the book shelves: science fiction, adult fantasy... but the big money genres... men tend to dominate even though they don't DOMINATE, if you know what I mean. I'm talking THRILLERS (and Mystery, too... even though the NUMBERS don't bear it out. SALES do. ADVANCES do.)

So I offer up this: Why, if our experience HERE is that there are a lot more women TRYING to get published, and if it is about equal numbers of men and women GETTING published, do men dominate sales, reviews, and dollars?


Talk about something that is UNFAIR!!!

And I don't posit that men, by definition write better than women. If I only count living authors, my list of favorites is about evenly split (I admit to favoring males among the dead, but that has to do with preferring grittier to social commentary—I like a Dickens over an Austen... and I loves me some dead Russians... and Les Miserables is about the best book ever written besides War & Peace—but those guys are... you know... DEAD (and couldn't get published today because they write 1200 page books that meander))... But among the living... Give me Kingsolver, Diamont, ROWLING... I like them as well as King, Straub... almost as well as Tom Robbins, but that is because Tom is a Tart...

SO WHY!?


I'll tell you why! (because I have a pretty good idea)  Women are equal opportunity readers. We read more genres, and more of us read fiction, and we like both men and women as authors. Men read men. Oh, there are exceptions, but not truckloads of them. So men are more likely to sell to EVERYONE than women. And those projections on sales affect advances...


BUT SHOULD THEY AFFECT REVIEWS? HELL NO!!! In fact I would argue the contrary. The media has an obligation to expose people to a broad variety of authors and genres--letting us know what we might be MISSING, not just what everybody and their dog is BUYING, and the reviews should reflect what is out there. I will grant them some genre bias, as genre fiction tends to find its readers anyway, but the percentage in the papers should reflect the percentage on the shelves. And if a man writes chick lit (aka: a moving family story) CALL IT THAT, or else DON'T call it that if a woman writes it. Sheesh!



And along those lines...

Megan posted this link from the Huffington Post on Facebook yesterday about AGISM!

Michener wrote 40 books, his first when he was 40...  -->

We peak in our 30s? Who the hell do they think they're KIDDING?! I will grant that often DEBUT novels are sometimes the best... you know WHY? Because they HAVE TO BE or they'd never get published, where later novels are let to slide more easily (especially if the first sold a lot). But there is nothing special about the 30s... I didn't start to write regularly until I was 38 because my ENTIRE LIFE I've had to work full time, and I decided to have CHILDREN, so there was no time until then. (okay, so sometimes not being a princess makes me bitter).

Oh, sure, maybe if I was SERIOUS about writing I would have prostituted myself out to one of those boarish businessy types (I can't stomach because they are bossy and arrogant), so I could be SUPPORTED while I wrote (but that would have made me the stay-at-home mom which probably would have made me suicidal... and the hubby would have made me HOMICIDAL--believe me, I dated a few—though I suppose there are some genres well-fed by depression or violent tendencies).

I happen to think age at entry to the craft makes some difference in genre chosen. But I think MOSTLY I'd prefer to read books by people who know something I don't (that is not to say they have to be smarter than me, though that delights me, but have some areas they can teach me something... about life, about plot twists, about myself...  And that is NOT to say I can't learn something from young people--often their imaginations are greater and their view of the world is fresher... But that isn't ALWAYS what I want) I particularly love great philosophy woven in... and I don't think many twenty-somethings are up to that... no offense.

I DO think it takes 5-10 years of writing to get your legs under you... and starting earlier means hitting the stride earlier... But I also happen to think LIVING makes people more interesting.


I've also seen bizillions of blogs on the racism in the industry, but none this week... I just thought maybe it was time to get riled up about stuff.

As your activist take home, next time you are debating what book to buy? Read a little about the author. Choose a female over 40. If it's an option in your genre, make her one of color. We have some wrongs to right in the reading, so that publishing and reviewing will know THEY have some wrongs to right.

31 comments:

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Better to be a woman writer in her 40's than an actress. Sad but to agents and studio's (except for a lucky few), male stars mature, female stage age (and not gracefully, at least in the eyes of the studio heads.)

I read authors who interest me : age or sex do not enter into my thinking. I read Patricia Briggs because her Mercy Thompson series really draws me in.

I read Charlaine Harris's SHAKESPEARE murder series because her protagonist draws me in. Her SOOKIE novels have irritated me so I have stopped reading them.

Robert B. Parker made me both laugh and think with his private detective series starring SPENSER (and his one love, Susan Silverman, a psychologist.)

Christopher Moore made me laugh out loud all through the book LAMB (the forgotten gospel of Jesus told through the eyes of his childhood pal, Biff -- which was a nickname based on the sound his head made when it was smacked by his mother -- which was often.)

If an author can make me laugh, think, and puzzle out a mystery, I will read every book they write.

As always, you have a fascinating post, Roland

Cruella Collett said...

Your favouring males of the dead ones probably also has to do with the fact that there are more dead males. Dead male authors. Male authors who died? Authors of the era that should make them dead were usually men. Oh, you know what I mean...

And yes. It's a sad fact. I can't tell you how many times I've had men shake their heads at a book I've been recommending because it was written by a woman. There are probably many more who are just too polite to let me know it is because the book was written by a woman they didn't want to read it. I think it has to do with the genre thing, as you said, because men seem to think that everything women write is "chick lit". The only female writers I can think of that have a steady fanbase among men are mystery writers. And even there I have heard the occasional "are you sure this isn't some kind of feminist crap?". Bah!

And I hear you on the age thing. I have battled my "youngness" as a writer for a long time. I am not sure if I am ready to write the kind of things I want to write (of course I don't intend to let that distract me from writing other things, but the really deep stuff - I'm not there yet).

Cold As Heaven said...

The world is not fair, and never will be, unfortunately.

I think I would fit into your statistics; I read more male than female authors. Maybe it's because I like reading classics, and more men than women reached classic status in 19th and (first half of) 20th century? When it comes to crime novels, I think I'm reading more like 50/50 men/women authors.

Cold As Heaven

Jessica Carmen Bell said...

It's funny isn't it, re the family sagas written by men? It's like when men screw a lot of women, they are studs, but when women screw a lot of men. They are sluts. I don't think that view is ever gonna change - unfortunately.

Hart Johnson said...

Roland--yes, the acting piece is VERY unfair. Older women can get away with comedy (Betty White has had some fantastic parts in the last few years) and someone like a Meryl Streep, well known for her acting chops, will still get roles, but the former 'beauties' don't get anything. Where as a 50 year old George Clooney is just HOT. Sounds like I look for similar things in books to what you do (I also couldn't read the Sookies--bugged me, though I watch the show... visual campy I can handle, but the voice bugged me to read)

Mari-I can't believe they blatently SAY they won't read it! GA! Actually, on the dead people though--it is volume, yes, but it really IS content, too- Books like Jane Eyre or Rebecca? Just not interested in the domestic affairs, even if it involves a dead wife and such. Give me Dumas and some wildly plotted revenge...

CaH, that makes me agree with you on the classics thing--anything written before 1950, I tend to prefer males. Even the Virginia Wolfs don't do it for me (though as a teen I liked Taylor Caldwell)

Jessica-good analogy (one I worked hard to fight as a college student *shifty* I figured what is good for the gander... you know what I mean...And I've been known to call men sluts... LOVE Grey's Anatomy and all the women calling Mark a 'Man Whore'. Still gunna fight to change it!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I agree a writer who's 40 has more to offer in terms of experience than an author who's 20.
As far as more women being reviewed - I'm sorry, I didn't do it!

Liz said...

like in most areas, Women have to defer happiness, whether it be via writing, owning their company, brewing beer or other things, for the Greater Good of Furthering the Species in a positive way. That is to say, we bear the children, giving up a year of our lives for that (in my experience) horrifically nasty experience, but can't just drop them off at the nearest Raise Your Child Here location. We need to spend, oh, about the nest 10-20 years paying attention to their needs, homework, friends, paperwork, zits, boy/girl friends, etc. in order to make sure they don't turn out to be ax murderers, or politicians but functioning and contributing members of society. Then we hit 40-ish and it's Our Turn, y golly. And the men in our lives watch in wonder. . . . . .or at least mine do! cheers all!

gae polisner said...

great blog post, Hart! I think you should send it out to a few places... get some thoughts... put the word out, out there... get some feedback. Rally the troops! Even the playing field!!!! RAH!!!!! RAH!!!! RAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

seriously.

Nathan? See what he has to say about it -- send him a link. Send it to the NY Times.

As I read it, I thought of how true it is that if a man wrote a piece like my women's fiction ms, Swim Back to Me, it would get a whole lot more consideration (Joseph O'Neill's Netherland comes to mind -- it is a beautiful, brilliant look at marriage, but little more (I LOVED it). Oh sure, there's cricket in there which allowed them to call it literary, which bored the crap out of me and everyone else (come on, after the third cricket-related scene, EVERYONE was skipping over that part to get to the quiet musings on marriage)...

but anyway, I rant and rave. I think you make some great points here.

Jan Morrison said...

We're the tiniest bit better about this in Canada - we've just had such stellar women writers - Atwood and Lawrence (both Margarets), Alice Munro, Ann-Marie MacDonald et al...but man I had steam coming out of my ears when I read Jane's piece. What to do about though?!
Let's talk and talk and talk about it until everyone groans when they see us enter a room. hmmm....

Hart Johnson said...

Alex-teehee--I know you didn't do it! I know you WOULDN'T do it! And not just because you fear the cyber-wedgie.

Liz-yeah--that raising kids thing *rolls eyes* I at least have a 'wife' so am not stuck with the cooking or shopping, but I HAVE been on kid patrol in all non-working hours since the beginning of time.

Gae-thank you so much! Think I ought to raise a ruckus, eh? That's an excellent example and point with Swim Back to Me vs. Netherland... I think too, of things like Nicholas Sparks and his romances and how much acclaim they get, when in reality, they are mostly just CUTE. Sure, The Notebook with the Alzheimers had an extra layer, but most of his stuff... why is that so acclaimed? Because he is a MAN writing love stories.

Hart Johnson said...

Jan, you snuck in there on me! Yeah, Margaret Atwood makes classics lists! It is good to have some prominent people. But you're right--what to do? Targeted letters to reviewers possibly? A huge stink makes us look like sour grapes... unless we can get the MEN to make a big stink about the unfairness!

M.J. Nicholls said...

This is why I generally avoid looking at author names on book jackets and focussing on the content. One of my favourite all-time authors is an American woman over 40 (Lucy Ellmann) who is ALSO fond of using the CAPS in her work. Her stuff is marketed to look chick-litty, when in fact it is nothing of the sort! Blame the publishers!

Boonie S said...

Generalisations and stereotyping seem to me to be contrary to all common sense and experience. I try to avoid them.

Have a nice day, Boonie

ViolaNut said...

Aha, you at least mention Sparks in the comments. ;-) He writes ROMANCE. Seriously, it has bugged me for at least a decade that he's shelved in regular ol' fiction; but, looking at the book business from inside (well, inside the vestibule, anyway, if not the inner sanctum) there are quite a few authors who I personally would bung into one of the genres (it also ticks me off that Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwell, and Lee Child are in fiction rather than mystery). If they sell enough, they're frequently broken out into mainstream where they theoretically sell even better.

The whole thing about men read men/women read anything, it goes on with kids too, although with a little bit of a slant - with most kids, it depends not as much on the sex of the writer, but that of the main character(s). I'll be describing the plot to a 10-year-old, he's getting all excited, sits down to read a bit and 5 minutes later gives me the book back like it's a dead fish and says "It's got GIRLS in it!" like he's contaminated now or something. :-P

Major exception that I've seen lately - Hunger Games. Female author, female protagonist, HUGE appeal all over the place. Props to Suzanne Collins! (I met her, she's nice. :-) )

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Thanks for the mention and for elaborating on the topic. It is frustrating that in the already difficult world of writing, some authors have additional obstacles to hurdle including gender, age and race.

Shoe said...

I'm sorry, I didn't actually get around to reading this article... although I probably would've had you been a man.

(There's so much intelligent commentary here, I figured it needed to be grounded in some garden-variety idiocy.)

Hart Johnson said...

Mark-good policy! I will have to look for Lucy...

Boonie-always wisest to avoid them if possible.

Leanne-great point on the kids and the protag--my son is VERY difficult to get to read a female protag, when in reality, it is GOOD for them.

Jane-and thank YOU for pulling out some stats! That always gets me riled up, and YES, frustrating!

Shoe--that you, Lance? Your buff muscles make all thoughts go right out of my head *teehee*

KarenG said...

This was a good rant. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I'm with you all the way. Rock on sistah!

Dawn said...

@Violanut - I was so gonna bring up the Sparks thing and see you beat me to it. Not only does he write romance, it isn't especially that great :-(
Awesome post Hart. I hear you loud and clear.

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

The funny thing is when I pick up a new book to read I look at the title, the cover, the content. The author never enters my mind – let alone his or her gender.

Hart Johnson said...

Karen-feels sort of good to have a righteous rant on occasion, eh? Thank you!

And Thanks, Dawn!

Holly-I don't tend to think about it as much as I probably SHOULD, because often I wait to read until I HEAR something, and all this stuff implies (ne, PROVES) men have an easier time building buzz.

Ellie said...

Bravo, Well Done~ I think this should go viral~
Age discrimination is an excuse in a lot of fields, not all. I understand the mind is fresher, bigger imagination, more optimism. Age thang is hitting below the belt. More life experience equals a wider range, an unique voice, insight into cracks in the universe.

Great writing is great writing, why does it matter the tone, pitch of the voice. Who recently was a women writing as a man...?! Oh, probably I read this in a book ;-D

Damn, now I have to go change my name:
Ethan, Evan, Eric, Edward Lawrence Wilson; nah...The fish were biting as I trudged my bait n' hook mentality to the bar. Belly up, I ordered the usual, the mermaids began to gather. Pierced bodies, carny chicks, and cougars appeared. Nope, I like my female voice~

Helen Ginger said...

I also think that younger women get picked up by a house more often than older women because they tend to be more salable to the media. Young and cute gets more notice than older and wrinkled (unless you're a man). So publishers feel they can sell more with a younger author, both immediately and over the long-term. That, in this day of Internet marketing, is changing a bit.

LTM said...

First, had to stop--WHAT has got the Tart so riled up??? Next, I have to say you're so wise Tart. I agree that older writers tend to be more interesting writers on the basis of life experience alone...

Do you really think men only read men? I'm just wondering b/c in my experience, true readers of both genders will read a good book regardless of who wrote it. But that's my limited experience...

I would like to note that once again you + me = same person! I didn't start writing FT til 38 either. There's hope~ :D

Hart Johnson said...

*giggles* Ellie, I love your brainstorming of boy names. And there ARE women who write as men. I think Nora Roberts as JD Robb, that was her intention, though she came out of the closet, as she had had success with both.

Helen--that is the big giant SUCK that the face on the cover could work against us! NOT FAIR!!!

Leigh-I do think men who read quite a bit read both (though I suspect they 'lean male' because of the genres they read, but men that read a few books a year ONLY read men. That's my opinion on the matter. Pretty sure my husband has never read any book by a woman.

*giggles at being Leigh's alter ego* Makes sense though, since you share an exact birthday with one of my twins.

Simon C. Larter said...

Ah, well said, good lady. Any kind of -ism in publishing sucks. And I'm not just saying that 'cause I'm staring down the barrel of 40 myself in not too many years.

Old Kitty said...

You know I used to get so riled up with these articles (the silly silly silly Guardian one as quoted in the Huffington Post for eg)that tell me that I'm past it, I'm unmarketable, I'm all things negative because of my age, my gender, my identity.

Nowadays (and this is where I think my age has worked to my advantage), I wish the writers of these riduculous articles ugly children and bad breath. Ever watched Too Wong Foo..? "Step 2 to true queenliness and utter fabulousness? Ignore adversity."

Take care
x

Helena said...

What a huge, frustrating topic! But I love that you love Dumas' revenge stuff (Count of Monte Cristo forever)!

I've read time and again that the sexism and agism in Hollywood is not only hurting the actresses, but a ton of writers. Some of the best older women AND men can't get writing jobs on TV shows or sell their film scripts. As for women novel writers? Hell, J.K. Rowling was advised by her publisher to go by the name of J.K. instead of Joanne so that boys and not just girls would read her Potter books. How ridiculous is that? But in all honesty I've actually had a book in my head for a couple months (and a couple rough first chapters) that could really get male readers, but I figured from the beginning that my name on the book should be H.T. instead of Helena. And my photo won't be anywhere on it.

Maybe that way it'll get some good reviews.

Ted Cross said...

I don't know enough about this to say. I know that I don't care what sex an author is when I pick up their book to read the blurb. I wonder if the fact that such a huge percentage of books sold are romance might have something to do with skewing the numbers? I know so many man, well actually EVERY man that I know including me, who will never buy a romance novel. I would never even consider it. You could pay me money and I still wouldn't read them (unless it was a LOT of money).

Missed Periods said...

Interesting what you said about women being more equal opportunity readers. That might be true.

Hart Johnson said...

Simon-the only ism not bad is a Tartism or a Nudism, eh?

Jenny-there is really something to that 'ignoring adversity' thing. If you couldn't do that at least part of the time, it would be debilitating.

Helena--that is a huge part of why I am 'Hart' instead of using my first name--though I am not trying to HIDE anything. Still, the name is ambiguous. Sadly, I think JK Rowling's publicist was probably right.

Ted, I don't like romance AT ALL. I don't mind an adventure that INCLUDES a romance, or romantic suspense, but straight romance--no thanks. so it isn't just men. I don't think though, romance alone is adequate to skew the reading difference as much as it is.

MP--*nods* Exactly!