AND BLUE SKIES FROM PAIN by Stina LeichtThe subject of female authors and bloggers, and the tendency for their work to often be overlooked, has been spreading through the blogosphere over the past couple of days. I want to point you towards two that I feel are worth reading.

The first is from Lady Business, which examines the reviewing habits of bloggers in 2011 and the ration of male:female authors reviewed on each blog. The results are not surprising, but disheartening nonetheless.

Are there answers in these numbers? I’m only finding more questions. There are no good, easy answers. Of course, some like to pretend there are easy answers and that’s where I’ve watched this debate fall apart in the past whenever it’s cropped up. It goes to Disasterland immediately and becomes a shame spiral. Someone inevitably shows up and starts talking about why quotas are bad and no, no, how dare you call them sexist and a game of Defensive Assholes is launched. The entire situation devolves into Don’t Read the Comments™ and it’s Gender Catastrophe Theater and general badness, which accomplishes less than nothing, because if we go back to the beginning, no one called anyone any names at all. I want to avoid that as much as possible. Reading diversity is a complicated subject and book selection often a process that we’re not conscious of. We’re impacted on all sides by a myriad of things influencing our decisions. But reviewing and talking about titles on public blogs and journals is an active decision that we’re making every time we put a book down and go, “I’m going to write 1000 words about that and share it with the Internet!”

As friends finalized this data for me, made the graphs you see above and I started thinking about what to say about them, VIDA released The 2011 Count. It’s not specific to SF/F like my project and and it’s professionally focused, but I think it’s fascinating to look and see the same trends in an unrelated sphere repeated in this one.

What are we saying to those who trust our reading choices? What are we saying to the publishers who send us materials to review about the books that deserve that kind of virtual hand-selling? Does it impact what they think is relevant and sellable? What does it mean when we review that book by a man, and that one, and that other one and pass over the women writing the same kind of story? There’s worth in examining the reviewing choices we’re making. There’s worth in thinking about what messages we’re sending when our promotional energies favor the dominant gender without letting ourselves get mired in arguments grounded in gender essentialism.

The real meat of the discussion is just getting underway in the comments section, with one reader analyzing the ratio of male:female novels being published and selling well in the genres. A Dribble of Ink was included in the research (listed as article ‘A’ in the charts), and I’ll keep any explanation to a minimum, in fear of coming off as defensive and petulant. Bottom line, my male:female reviewing ration in 2011 was poor, something I will consider heavily as we move into 2012. I hope that other bloggers/critics will do the same.

The second is from Fantasy Cafe, spurred by this article from Stefan Raets and this one from Justin Landon, concerning the recent push for Blogs and Bloggers to be nominated for the Hugo Award. She hopes that a similar trend won’t creep its way into male Hugo-voting patterns:

As I’ve seen this topic come up, there has been one thing that has sort of bothered me about it. I’ve seen a few lists of book bloggers worthy of nomination, and they are all very heavily dominated by men. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen even one blog run by a woman mentioned. It’s not like I’ve seen a huge number of people post lists of their recommended blogs for Hugo nominations, and all the blogs I’ve seen mentioned are wonderful blogs that are worthy of recognition. However, I find it a worrying trend that just like female authors, female book bloggers are also being overlooked.

I’m wondering if it may partially be because female book bloggers seem to be more eclectic than a lot of male book bloggers. Most of the blogs run by men I read almost exclusively read and review science fiction and fantasy while most of the blogs by women I read review some fantasy and/or science fiction but tend to read and review books in other genres as well. Even if they don’t necessarily review SFF 100% of the time, there are a lot of great blogs run women raising awareness about great science fiction and fantasy authors. I’d love to see some book blogs run by women who read and write great reviews covering a lot of SFF books nominated, such as The Book Smugglers, Calico Reaction, Bookworm Blues, or The Little Red Reviewer.

To counter my pathetic male:female reviewing ration, I’m proud to notice that 2/5 bloggers I have on my Hugo ballot are females. Similarly, 4/5 novels in my ‘Best Novel’ nominations are written by female authors; it’s interesting to see such a high ‘slugging percentage’ for the female authors, considering how many more novels by male authors I read last year. These nominations were decided before I read the two above posts, so it’s not a reaction to this sudden debate. Tune in tomorrow to see who they are.

  • YetiStomper March 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I would be interested to see which other blogs were sampled for the analysis.

    But if you are looking to increase your female coverage, here are a few of the best SFF writers that also happen to be women. Most are newer authors whose debut novels have come out in the past 3 years.

    Lauren Beukes
    N.K. Jemisin
    Nnedi Okafor
    Kameron Hurley
    Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire
    Mary Robinette Kowal
    Rachel Swirsky
    Kaaron Warren
    Stina Leicht
    Elspeth Cooper
    Naomi Novik
    Audrey Niffenegger
    Erin Morgenstern
    Genevieve Valentine
    Livia Llewellyn

  • aidan March 8, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    The list of blogs can be found here:

    Also, great list of authors. Another thing to note is that many of those authors are also well-regarded short fiction writers, which is a good place to introduce yourself to them. Search by name on Free SF Online.

  • neth March 8, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Aidan, thanks for pointing this one out. Being Twitter-free for the past couple of days seems to be bad timing and keeping me out of touch. Oh well, I’ll have access tomorrow.

    This is a very real issue and one I’ve been aware of for some time (I actually keep pretty detailed stats about my reading/reviewing and I share a few of those in my year-end posts, including number of female writers read). I’m certainly guilty with over the entire history of my blog, about 80% male authors vs. 20% female.

    I would really like to see a full-blown statistical analysis by a true expert. I think it could be quite revealing, of course it would muddy the water quite a bit by revealing a lot of the other factors at work. Things are never as simple as they seem, though I don’t mean to try and detract from what I see as a very read and troubling trend.

  • Justin March 8, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    I need to look at my list, but I read quite a few female authors last year *I think* and they’re also pretty well represented in my best of lists. Interestingly, I find myself reading more women as I get older, not because I’m “trying to”, although there is some of that, but because I’m a more mature reader. A lot of the themes and such that I spurned as a young man, chalking them up to things women write about, are now far more relevant to me.

  • SkynJay March 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I am not a blogger, but about a year ago a discussion had me looking at my reading habits. I realized that when not reading YA, I was at about 80% male author for the last year(at the time). I have tried to remedy that in the last year, and found some great authors in the process. What makes it hard is the sheer volume of books some of my favorite male authors have put out(Pratchett, Abercrombie, Cook, etc). Meanwhile, Hurley, Beukes, and Micklem have two each.

    I have not hit a 50/50 split, and may never. But I am so glad I have challenged myself a bit, because it has seriously diversified my reading habits even within the genre.

    I foresee this topic being discussed more and more in the coming weeks, thanks for the article link.

  • Dave Wagner March 8, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    As a reader and occasional reviewer, gender means next-to-nothing to me. If it looks interesting, I’ll give it a read, regardless of the name of the author. Not sure I could be “guilted” into reading more female authors just because they are women. Seems a non-issue to me.

  • sqt March 8, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Something to think about. My blog was on the list and it did come in as one that weighted heavily to the male side. That said, two out of three reviewers are male and I think we gravitate to what interests us. I’m sure my personal list included more women. (In fact, after checking my list, I’m almost even).

    That said, I don’t read by gender- writer or character. I just read what seems interesting. I’m not a big fan of gender politics, so I doubt my habits are going to change anytime soon.

  • sqt March 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Oh, as a woman blogger– I hate to say it because it sounds whiny– but I do feel like we’re less noticeable in the fantasy/scifi community. But I suspect if we were to look at the overall gender representation, there are probably a lot more male bloggers. I don’t tend to get nominated for awards, but I don’t want to raise my hand and say I should be just because I’m female.

  • Kathleen March 9, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Thanks Aidan for covering this issue and taking it seriously. And not being defensive. It can be hard, but it is really appreciated. A great example of why I keep coming back to this blog.

    Whenever someone says they don’t pay attention to gender (yet somehow always seem to read almost only male authors – shocker!) I only hear Stephen Colbert saying “I don’t see race”. that is not a compliment.

    sqt – why don’t you raise your hand and say you should be nominated because you are awesome? male bloggers are doing that. And – frankly because that is how life works – there are plenty of people who aren’t reading you and other women bloggers simply because you are a woman (though I am sure they say “I don’t notice the gender of bloggers I read”). You don’t think that shouldn’t be weighted against through efforts to specifically promote women bloggers? I do.

  • Dave Wagner March 9, 2012 at 11:42 am

    You know, Kathleen, it could possibly be that some people just read things that interest them, without reference to gender. What kind of imbecile would avoid a good book or blog because the author is female? Please, point one out, because I’m more apt to think such a person is an urban legend than a reality. You know such people, do you? As for me, with all due respect to Stephen Colbert, I read what looks good, I don’t give a crap about the gender… statistics be damned.

  • Kathleen March 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I see that you didn’t actually read the ladybusiness blog post, Dave.
    Or are you trying to be ironic:
    “Of course, some like to pretend there are easy answers and that’s where I’ve watched this debate fall apart in the past whenever it’s cropped up. It goes to Disasterland immediately …. Someone inevitably shows up and starts talking about why quotas are bad and no, no, how dare you call them sexist…”

    Believe what you want, I’m sure it’s all an urban legend. That certainly explains: “men review 80% male authors on average”

  • helen March 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    I was quite sad when floor to ceiling books closed. There was a good female blogger who had a good male/female writer ratio

  • Kat Hooper March 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Interesting topic. Even though I’m a female running an SFF blog, it has never bothered me that the field may be “dominated” by men. On average, men and women have different tastes in reading material — it’s just part of what makes us different.

    All the same, I do make an effort to keep our team of reviewers balanced. We’re half male and half female. That way we make sure to cover all areas of SFF.

  • FrChris March 10, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Sorry but I’m with Dave, I really don’t give a damn about the writer’s gender.

    I read a review on a blog and if I found something interesting, I download a sample in my Kindle.

    Friend recommandation is an other source :

    When I was younger a friend said to me : You have to read Farseer trilogy it’s awesome.
    And indeed it was, and I’ve read every other books of Ms Hobb since.
    I don’t care she is a women, I care the is a great writer.

    It was the same process for Martin, Brett, Rice or Collins.
    Hook me up with the firt chapters, it’s my only criteria.

    Is it possible that fewer women are published in SF ?

    I’m pretty sure there are a lot more women writing romance/erotica than men (and I’m sure it shows in romance blogs).

    PS : Sorry for wrecking your language, my english is not so good.

  • Elspeth Cooper March 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Whenever a blogger says they don’t care about the gender of the author, they just read what interests them, I go and look at what they’ve been reading/reviewing. If that list of books includes *one* female author (and KJ Parker) in a list of 2011 reads, and none so far for 2012 (sorry Dave, I’m using you as an example here – please don’t think I’m picking on you) I can’t help but wonder why that is.

    Is it an isolated case? Well, no, because the stats from VIDA and LadyBusiness indicate there is rather a trend, both across the heavyweight journals and across the SFF genre blogs – so what’s causing it? Are women not writing books that men find interesting? Are female authors not getting the promotion and publicity that male authors do, so they’re just not coming to the attention of male readers? Are there simply fewer female authors being published?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating quotas, nor do I think that anyone who reviews and blogs on their own time for the sheer love of it should feel obliged to change their reading habits. If they want to, that’s great. But I am curious why this gender disparity persists, when so many claim to be gender-blind.

  • Dave Wagner March 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    No worries, Elspeth. I guess I set myself up to be used as an example (not intentionally, of course).

    But the numbers are a little misleading, in my case, since they are incomplete. They don’t reflect books that I started but didn’t finish, for whatever reason. It also doesn’t include the free Kindle samples of books that I read, which I read and then either dismiss (because they didn’t hook me or interest me enough to want to read further) or they get added to a list of “Books I Want To Get And Read When The Price Is Right”. Plus, I have many books and free samples awaiting my attention in my digital library as well. In each of these cases, female writers are represented (as it turns out) quite well, thank you. While the gender numbers lean toward male authors in each of these cases, that also means I dismiss a larger number of male authors as well.

    I have samples/books waiting for me by Rachel Aaron, Carol Berg, Kristen Britain, Rae Carson, Rachel D’Aigle, Marina Dyachenko, CS Friedman, Kay Kenyon, Karen Hancock, KC May, Kelly McCullough, Courtney Schafer and others with initials instead of first names that may or may not be female.

    So I sample a lot. I see a cool book talked about here or other blogs, I go grab a free sample (or buy it outright if it’s cheap enough) and file it away for future enjoyment. If I don’t like it, I don’t buy/read it, easy as that. I bought “Of Blood and Honey” (S. Leicht) based entirely on Aiden’s praise of it here. Started it sometime in late February of this year and shelved it after the prison rape scene. I’m more of a traditional fantasy fan rather than urban. But I was ready to like it… I just didn’t. Should I make a list of those titles/authors?

    Anyway, the point is that the list of books I actually finished is not the best judge of my willingness to try books/authors of either gender. It just never really enters my mind to let gender impact that decision. Some of the worst writing I’ve ever forced myself to endure has been from male authors.

  • Kat Hooper March 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I’m not at all trying to lessen the impact of Dave’s response (I think he SHOULD read whatever naturally interests him) — I just want to point out that Kelly McCullough is a man, just in case it matters to Mr. McCullough.

  • Dave Wagner March 11, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    It dawned on me (finally) that not only have I missed the point of the thread to begin with, but I’m not really qualified to comment on it. In fact, I may actually support the original premise, though not in the way I imagined. Guess that’s what happens when I respond first and think afterwards (what some might call a typical male trait, eh?)

    I’m just a guy with a blog who talks about a lot of stuff, including the occasional book review. Certainly not a genre-specific blog whose purpose is to focus on SFF. I don’t receive ARCs for review, I just read and respond to what interests me. The fact that I get the majority of my info and recommendations from legit SFF blogs could actually illustrate the point that my apparent “bias” reflects what I am exposed to on those very blogs. So rather than feel like I’m being accused of a bias that I know doesn’t willfully exist in me, that doesn’t mean that I’m not part of the problem, on the receiving end anyway.

    That being said, more and more I investigate titles that pop up as suggestions when I download something from Amazon for my Kindle. “People that bought this book also bought these…” etc. I’ve found some gems this way, without reference to a blog of any kind. Honestly, I think I’m more likely to be guilty of bias when it comes to cover design than author gender. If I see a cover that (I want to say “sucks”) is sub-par, it’s a stumbling block for me. I might then glance at the average review rating, then scan the reader reviews themselves to see what the consensus is… a lame cover can be overcome sometimes, but I have to admit, it’s an issue with me. Then again, I’m a graphic artist by trade.

    Sorry for hijacking the thread with my thinly-veiled narcissism.

  • Raphael March 13, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I only skimmed the linked article so I might have missed something, but I can not find anything in the numbers that is disturbing per se.

    First, what is the gender ratio of authors in the considered genre(s)? If it is 20% women, then women are the “culprits” because they neglect men. If it is 40% both genders are biased to roughly the same extent. And so on.

    Now, assume there is gender bias. So what? Is it so crazy to think that men might like what men produce with higher probability (and similar for women)? Gender does (in expectation) affect mentality.

    For example, I know that many books written by women just don’t interest me because they are sappy in a way I have yet to see a man write. That is not to say I do not enjoy some: J.V. Jones, Robin Hobb and Anne Bishop are among my top 10 favorite authors.

  • If only they could write... March 18, 2012 at 9:02 am

    So, here’s the conclusion I’ve come to from reading comments that say things like “I have no bias, I only read good books.”
    If men and women publish in equal quantities (which seems to be the case), and if people (and book blogs) have no unconscious or institutional biases against women, then there’s only one possible explanation to the 80/20 split:

    Men write better than women.

    Because IF gender does not matter, one would presume that the objective list of “good” books would be about 50/50 male-female (since gender doesn’t matter). And therefore, people who don’t care about gender, and who only read “good” books would end up reading a 50/50 male-female split (or thereabouts). But since people are NOT reading at a 50/50 rate, and we’ve already ruled out unconscious or institutional biases… then women don’t write good books at the same frequency as men do.

    It’s the only possible conclusion.


    My point is simply that if you think you’re only reading based on quality, but your reading list is significantly weighted more towards one gender, there’s probably some kind of bias involved. And maybe it’s an unconscious bias. Or maybe it’s a bias because you read blogs and reviews where most of the people reviewed are men. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having an unconscious bias. There is something wrong with refusing to recognize it. Because if there is no unconscious bias in the book reviewing world, then women just don’t write as well as men do, and I… don’t think that’s true.

  • DPirate March 29, 2012 at 7:11 am

    I think that a great many people are like myself and have absolutely no idea whether a blogger is male or female. The same goes for books, of course, simply due to pen-names, provided one knows what that is.

  • Raphael March 29, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Good point. I never knew which gender this “Aidan Moher” had as apparently the name can be used for both.

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