G is for gender in books and publishing

Author: Anne

Date Published: Jul 15th 2017, 9:48pm

In 2016 64% of the books I read were by female authors - I made quite a good guess when I originally wrote this blog in 2015 !


It is pretty well established that the publishing and literary world is sexist. If you look at the number of number of books published by male and female writers, the gender of the winners of literary awards, the number of women in senior positions in publishing houses and even the numbers of reviews of books by women in literary publications (and the number of reviewers who are women) it all points to the same conclusion. Women have fewer opportunities and less power than men in the book world (and elsewhere too, of course, but I’m not blogging about that here).

There is plenty of sexual stereotyping which goes on in the book world too. Women write under gender neutral names or initials only to try and increase their general appeal (see JK Rowling, JR Ward, PD James, and even poor old George Eliot as examples). Men writing romance and chick lit use female names for precisely the same reasons. It appears that the gender of the person writing the book is important to readers and that effort is made to overcome perceptions.

Looking at my reading, I would estimate that about two thirds of it is by women authors. I don’t think that is particularly because I favour women’s writing, although it may be, but because of the genres that I read. I don’t think that I make a judgement about whether or not to read a book because of the gender of the writer but it is always possible that I do – the unconscious mind is a strange thing.

I enjoy books with female main characters but I also enjoy them when they mainly feature men. I loved “The Martian” for example, written by and mainly featuring a man. I do tend to favour books written with a female main character and that may, of course, be why so many books I read are written by women, but I certainly don’t read books about women exclusively. I have noted, however, that many books have just one main female character and then most of the rest of the people are men, or alternatively, they are ensemble books featuring a connected group of women. There isn’t much between these such as a book with a set of main characters who are from both genres without one token man or one token woman.

To ignore the issue of gender in books would be to be blind to a real truth in the literary world, but what it means to the average reader or how anybody changes this situation is a bit more of a problem. If you don’t already do this then it might be interesting to log books read and the gender of the author and the distribution of main characters between the sexes to see what your reading pattern is. Of course, once you start doing this you begin to notice inequality in races, faith groups, those with different sexual preferences, disabled characters, age range of characters, etc. etc. But those are the subject of other blogs.