The Current Inequality

Every reader is entitled to like what they like.

Even authors.

However, when a successful author talks about books he’s reading and authors that influenced him and lists well over two dozen and every single one of those influences is male, it isn’t surprising that people will raise an eyebrow. It also isn’t surprising for there to be a bit of a knee-jerk response.

 

Is sexism alive and well in publishing? Yes, it is. And incidents like the one that happened last weekend, with George Pelecanos’ long list of men to read and one named female author he was sure to point out did not influence him, are sure to ruffle feathers on Twitter and elsewhere.

 

If Pelecanos had presented this information here, for example, it wouldn’t have smarted quite so much. The New York Times is the major platform for book media in the U.S. and perhaps the only source that will generate more sales would be Oprah’s Book Club.

 

Is Pelecanos allowed to read and like whatever he wants? Yes. But does this indicate women authors are still not on equal ground? Yes, it definitely does.

 

Female authors typically earn less for published books than male authors do. And they aren’t taken very seriously by a great number of people, as evidenced in this Huffington Post article citing tweets such as these:

Tehlor Kay Mejia @tehlorkay

“what a great way to make a little money while you’re home with your daughter.” #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear

“Aww, what’s a sweet/nice/gentle/dainty person like you doing writing crime novels?” #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear

Samples from that twitter thread are also posted here.
There is a problem with how women are viewed and treated in crime fiction and publishing. It’s 2018, not 1958. There shouldn’t be any publishing organization that has an all-male board. There shouldn’t be conventions with male-dominated panels. There shouldn’t be higher rates of pay for male authors just based on gender, but studies show women earn 45% less than men.
Must I tell the girl-child that if she’d like a level playing field she’d best pick an appropriately girly profession, like teacher or nurse or nanny or secretary? Are we really okay with this discrimination? Apparently. I know male authors who admitted they just weren’t that bothered by this. It was a non-issue to them. Others were more focused on criticizing me, because I did have a knee-jerk response, which extended to disappointment in more than Pelecanos. There are people with influence in the genre who routinely talk about women being respected in publishing. There are people in the genre who regularly talk about pushing for diversity in publishing. I looked to them to say something. But the primary response was from outside the genre. Yes, the link to the article was passed around on listserves and other sites… No, nobody was talking about the endorsements being all male.
When we see evidence of the issue it’s the time to speak. It isn’t the time to pull your punches because you think Pelecanos is a nice guy (and from my limited experiences at Harrogate years ago I’d say he seems to be). Yes, Pelecanos has instigated this, but it isn’t about him. It’s about the evidence that this still happens. How is he not talking about Sara Gran (whose brilliant Come Closer remains the scariest thing I’ve ever read, just to name one of her works) or Sara Paretsky or Denise Mina or Laura Lippman or any of dozens of prominent female authors, never mind noir goddesses like Vicki Hendricks and Megan Abbott? I’m not even asking for some deep bench reading here, and as an author I know how many books I’m sent by publishers each year for reviews or blurbs. I’m sure Pelecanos gets the best from the biggest publishers.
What message are we sending to readers and authors when we sit silently by and accept this, like it’s perfectly normal for a male author’s reading and influence list-containing more than two dozen authors-to be all men?
At least they weren’t all white.
I want to be in a day and age when nobody has to wonder how many women authors they’re reading or if they’re reading minorities because it’s just natural and infused in their habits and works by women and minorities are as accessible as works by white males. I want to be there… but I acknowledge we aren’t.
It makes me question if there’s a place for women in this genre. Or are there just a few reserved seats for cute/popular writer gals to fill a quota?
I acknowledge I have a problem. I’ve been having a terrible time trying to set up author features with women here. It’s been harder for me to get contact information in some cases. Maybe that’s because women get harassed online. When I can get the information the majority don’t respond. People are busy, so I’d never expect a 100% return, but I’ve given up on interviewing a great number of female authors I’ve read extensively. And I’m always trying to actually get the interviews with people I have read, because they’re more interesting. But even publicists seem more interested in getting me a review copy than connecting me for interviews. Very few even offer to try. I have a few wonderful ones who do come through, but they are few and far between.
The overwhelming majority of the profile pieces I’ve run here have been on male authors. Now, I’ve been fortunate to get authors like Chanel Hardy and Barbara Winkes and Jo Perry and Anne Frasier and Tracy Clark, but the women I have been able to feature don’t represent a tenth of the number I’ve reached out to.
When it comes to reviewing, I don’t sit down and keep score, but I’ve tried to ensure that there are a healthy percentage of books by women that are on my TBR pile. This is why I’ve been able to review works featuring Nancy Springer, Kasey Lansdale, Carrie Ryan, Teresa Solana, Val McDermid, as well as works by female authors that I’ve reviewed on Goodreads and Underground Book Reviews. (I’ve also been reading The Dame Was Trouble, an anthology of stories all by female crime authors.)
Is it enough? No. I can’t fix the problem on my own. There are only two things I can definitely do about this issue. One is to ensure that I’m reading and reviewing plenty of books by women. The other is to speak up when I see evidence of the problem.
I am not a NYC insider. I don’t go to all the conventions and it’s unlikely they’re in my future. It’s been a couple years since I did a book event and I have no plans to schedule any. I’m comfortable with being an author who’s more recluse than social butterfly. I would love nothing more than to go back to the bar at Harrogate with my wonderful friends from before I was published and just kick back and enjoy the fun, but that’s not in the cards, either.
I’ve always been inspired by what I’m passionate about, and I’m passionate about great stories. When I read something that entertains or enlightens me, I want to pass on the word. I don’t care if the author is rich. I don’t care if they’re pretty. I don’t care if they’re popular. I don’t care if nobody’s ever heard of them (Have you heard of Guillermo Stitch?) before.
However, I am going to have to consider if I want to keep doing profiles and interviews here if I can’t get a more diverse representation of authors, because this is an important issue. It’s important to me, both as an author and a reader. It’s been on my mind for several weeks, and it continues to weigh on me even more now, in light of recent issues that have underscored the problem with how women are often treated in publishing. Although I know I’ve been trying to get more women featured, it hasn’t been enough, and I don’t like the optics. In the wake of the Pelecanos piece I called for recommendations of books by female authors on Twitter. I can count the number I got on one hand.
For those who are insiders, who do have influence? Those who so often speak out but were silent this time? If they don’t speak up in times like this, when the issue is relevant, nothing will ever change. An unfair burden for them? Perhaps, but with great power comes great responsibility.
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