So, earlier this afternoon I tweeted some observations drawn from my experience as a female author in publishing, working alongside both female and male authors in publishing. The things I said were the result of YEARS of things I have witnessed. I did not, and will not, go into specifics, as that detracts from the point I was trying to make. Most of my points were generalized and universal. Because I’m followed by so many aspiring authors, readers, teachers, students, parents, etc, I periodically say things that I think people in those positions would find useful or interesting, or even relevant to their own lives.
Today the topic was the standard for male authors versus the standard for female authors in publishing. As all of you are probably well aware, I’m female, and I write books. I wanted to get a few things off my chest. I said what I had to say, and then, a few seconds later, I received an anonymous message that implied I had said all of those things out of jealousy for male authors. And that is why I am now writing this tumblr post, because you know what, maybe a few tweets isn’t enough. If a girl can’t express an opinion without it being reduced to jealousy for the opposite sex, we have some things to talk about as a society.
When I first entered publishing in early 2010, I was thrown into a world that was utterly alien to me. Fellow authors began following me on twitter (I was also new to social media). People wanted to acquire a galley of my book and review it. My publisher wanted me to travel and shake hands and talk about myself (I have extreme social anxiety and have never considered myself to be interesting, so this was a shock).
I also began to observe something about how I was treated now that the specifics of my publishing deal were making the rounds. At the start of 2010, I was nobody on the internet and in the publishing industry. Then my press release went wide. For those of you who don’t know, a press release is an announcement of a new book deal, with maybe a sentence about the book itself (if that), the author’s name, and which agent sold it to which publishing house. THAT’S IT. Immediately, based on just this miniscule bit of information, along with a photo taken from my bare bones website, I was accused of ripping off Twilight. There were no sample pages of my book available. I had given no interviews and cited no influences. There wasn’t even a full summary of my story available. All that WAS available was my name, and my photo, which clearly indicated that I was a female author.
In the excitement of my pre-publication buzz, I let this slide. I figured that once my book was out there, people could decide for themselves what they thought of it. And they did, and the response has been overwhelmingly unique. But month after month, as new book deals were announced, I saw the same thing. If a female author wrote a book, there was a Twilight comparison. Twilight is, apparently, the stereotype for any YA that is written by a female author. For male authors, on the other hand, I saw a press release, a summary, and some speculation from potential readers as to what the book would be about. No Twilight comparisons, and often no literary comparisons at all.
I see both male and female authors who write about women. But those female authors are very likely to be dismissed as writing fluff and romance; I cannot COUNT how many times my own books have been referred to as a romance, and how many emails I get to this day complaining that there wasn’t enough kissing. I see so many female authors rising to success these days, and they have to slog through a swamp of BS just to be taken seriously. And oh, they are scrutinized. If they’re proud, they’re too proud. If they’re demure, they’re snobs. They rise to success not because of society, but in spite of it. For females, telling a story is an act of defiance. It’s a means to survive, and to make a place in the world for not only herself, but for her fellow authors. It has to be. But when males reach or exceed this level of literary success, they are heroes. Even if they are trying to convey the same messages with their books. They are greeted by cheers. When they face criticism of any kind, it’s the critics, not the author, who are scrutinized.
This is not a bias. This is not me being jealous of male authors. This is an observation that I have taken from the publishing community. This is YOUR community. This is you and the peers who represent you.
In addition to this standard comparison for female authors, I have noticed something else, something far more damaging: The way female authors are perceived and the way they are treated. This, of course, is to be compared against the way male authors are perceived and treated. I’m not here to besmirch the talent or accomplishment of male authors. A lot of them are greatly talented, and are peers and friends of mine. But when I hear readers discuss male authors, I hear words like “handsome” “charming” “insightful” and “humble.” Female authors, on the other hand, are “braggers” or “fat” or “whiny” or “annoying,” and when they’re extremely successful, I hear that they’ve just ripped off some other popular book. I hear a great lot about the physical appearance of female authors as well, and it is critical at best, but appalling at its worst. I once stumbled upon a critical review for the book of a very popular and successful author, and attached to that review was a grotesque drawing of that author. It wasn’t even an author I knew personally and I felt violated just looking at it.
I wish I could say this was the only thing I have seen, but it isn’t. I’ve seen female authors criticized as parents and as spouses. I’ve seen readers say that a female author might write a better book is she got laid more. I’ve heard fat, stupid, ugly—opinions that have virtually NOTHING to do with the author’s writing in any way, and most always from readers who don’t know these authors on a personal level.
A few months ago, when I was on twitter, several of my followers came to me very upset, because a male author they admired had received some criticism and they didn’t think it was due. I read the criticism. It was based entirely on the perceived merit of his work. Not his looks. Not his ability to parent. And yet, his fans were more outraged about this than about that obscene drawing I saw, or those remarks about another author needing to get laid. Why is that? What is that? This is not a rhetorical question. It’s one that I would very much like to hear the publishing community answer for me.