I recently read some articles that indicated that there’s a major discrepancy regarding marketing for books written by men and books written by women. For instance, women’s books are far less likely to be reviewed by major outlets than men’s books are; women tend to receive less marketing support from their publishers; SF/F books written by men are far more likely to be shelved cover-up, and women’s spine-out.
I don’t go to chain bookstores very often, so when my spouse wanted to stop at one we stumbled across yesterday, I decided to run the experiment for myself.
It was true: I didn’t make a spreadsheet, but at least 80% of the books shelved cover-up were written by men.
Furthermore, of the few books that were written by women that were shelved cover-up, about half featured a male protagonist on the cover; the other half featured a scantily-clad or somewhat erotically-posed lady.
Perhaps most damning, I did find a single book that was shelved cover-up, was written by a lady, and had a female protagonist on the cover that was not designed to appeal to the male gaze.
The author? M.D. James.
Upon seeing this, I knew with cold-blooded certainty not only why I’d been alienated from those shelves over the course of my adolescence and twenties, but also why there are so many people out there who think that women simply don’t write science fiction and fantasy besides paranormal romance, or that they do but are some kind of rarity:
It’s because the sight of most SF/F bookstore shelves would lead one to believe that’s the case.
It’s a prejudice primarily borne of ignorance, rather than malice.
I would like to invite anyone who thinks this, though — that women just aren’t writing much speculative fiction — to have a look at my TBR pile. This year, see, I pledged to read and review only SF/F written by female authors.
And my TBR pile has become so large that it is probably close to achieving sentience, and were it primarily dead tree books rather than ones on cloud storage somewhere, it certainly would have caused an avalanche by now. It includes 2014 debut novels and books written well over a hundred years ago; hard sci-fi and sociological sci-fi; mythic fantasy and dark fantasy; books set in Africa and books set in interstellar space; celebrated award-winners and the barely known; space opera and magical realism; literary experiments and page-turners.
It’s not hard. There’s so much laudable SF/F written by women that my TBR pile is beginning to stress me out. What do I read next it’s all so good SEQUELS BUT WAIT MUST READ NEW AUTHORS FIRST *cue brain a’splode*.
This is just absurd, you know?
The real, gods-honest truth is that women have been writing speculative fiction as long as people have been reading it.
Perhaps you think J.R.R. Tolkien invented fantasy.
The origins of fantasy are difficult to trace (I mean, how far back do we go? Shakespeare? Homer?), but I can tell you this: Evangeline Walton was writing epic fantasy twenty years before Lord of the Rings was published.
Hope Mirrlees was writing high fantasy even before Walton. Her novels were published in the mid-1920’s by the press owned by Virginia Woolf and her husband. Woolf also published a fantasy novel, Orlando, in 1928.
Ann Radcliffe did not invent the gothic novel, but she sure as hell popularized it, and from her legacy we derive urban and dark fantasy.
Mary Shelley, of course, invented the science fiction novel with Frankenstein. She also wrote the first dystopian novel — The Last Man.
These are just the more well-known examples.
Dudebros and marketing executives have had a couple of hundred years to get used to it.
We’re here, and we’re not going away.