The fiction publishing industry suffers from a huge gender gap, according to an article from Gawker. That gap becomes wider when it comes to science fiction and space opera novels. The industry joins the ranks of the many professional fields dominated by men including professions in news, technology, politics, finance and comedy.
News of the gender gap in fiction publishing is jarring and also surprising, given the hugely successful female writers who have recently revolutionized the genre of fiction including J.K Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, and most recently, E.L James.
But don't let these big names in fiction fool you; there appear to be far fewer females publishing their manuscripts than male authors. The male domination of the industry comes as even more of a shock given that "multiple surveys indicate that women buy and read far more books than men do," according to a "Reading At Risk" report by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The discussion about the gender gap was sparked by a post by Julie Crisp, Editorial Director at Tor UK, in which she revealed that despite the company's switch to an "open-submission policy," "out of 503 submissions — only 32% have been from female writers."
A breakdown of the specific fiction categories reveals more striking gaps; while men submitted 83% of horror book submissions, females accounted for only 17%; in the science fiction genre, too, women were responsible for just 22% of submissions.
A slew of responses to Crisp's post revealed that the gender gap extends beyond Tor UK. Gillian Redfearn, Deputy Publishing Director of Gollancz, a second major UK-based publishing house, said in a tweet, "I am looking at the sales for the past year in SF/F. Only 25% of the top 20 titles are by women. In the top 50 and 100 titles, it's 23%."
Although Crisp's post reignited interest in the topic, the male-dominance of the fiction industry is no new discovery. An article from Salon back in 2011 took a look at the gender gap in literature. A survey of 14 American and British literary publications which "counted up the percentage of female contributors, female book reviewers and, finally, reviews of books by women" revealed the results that fewer books are published by women.
The survey may come as a surprise because the largest publishing companies like Random House, for example, are less male-dominated. But for the average publishing company in the survey, "women accounted for around 30 percent of the list."
Given the statistics, the question becomes why women authors are not publishing as much as men. One explanation boils down to readers' tastes; while women are likely to read a book regardless of the author's gender, men tend to read books written by authors of their own gender. As Salon put it, "Publishers can assume that a book written by a man will sell to both men and women, but a book by a woman is a less reliable bet."
Perhaps aware of the stigmas and male preferences working against them, female authors are deterred from publishing. Sophie McDougall, a British author, wrote in response to Crisp that she has been told that “If there’s a woman on the cover, the book won’t sell.” And she has been asked “can you turn your 50/50 male/female cast to 75% male?” The most surprising part is that McDougall received this criticism from fellow women.
McDougall said she is commonly been told "trying to succeed in spite of sexism could only be done by stealth and by making a lot of concessions to it. By talking about sexism, I will damage my reputation and saleability."
Closing the gender gap in literature will not happen overnight, but it must begin with overturning the stereotypes and stigmas attached to female authors. Female authors cannot sit back and accept that their voices will only be heard by half of the population. They must continue to write the imaginative, impressive books that men and women alike will be eager to read. Responsibility falls in the hands as publishers as well; rather than perpetuate the current gender gap, publishing companies must make more of an effort to equally publish male and female writers.