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Industry news: Book review inequality is real

May 11, 2013

The first time I saw the headline, being politically right of center, I dismissed it as just whining. The second time I saw it, I looked into it. After that, I read the stories, but didn’t write about them.

When novelist JT Ellison, who’s writing doesn’t betray a radical political stance of any sort, linked to a story on it, I read and finally decided to write.

Men are far more likely to have their work reviewed in places like The New York Times Book Review than women.

JT Ellison

The numbers are there to support the accusation. From summer 2008 to summer 2010, 62% of the books reviewed in the New York Times Book Review were by male authors. During that time period, of the 101 books reviewed both in the Book Review and the daily edition, 72 were by men. During this time, Stephenie Meyer’s fourth book, Breaking Dawn was released, along with a Harry Potter short story, sold separately as its own work. Barbara Walters and Elizabeth Edwards published books, along with Michelle Malkin and Sarah Palin. Jodi Picoult released two books. Mark Sanford’s wife also published a book about her life with him, the cheating former governor of South Carolina.

What got me to write about this, though, was the story Ms. Ellison linked to. I don’t normally read The Nation. In fact, given my political stances, I may not be allowed to read The Nation.

In the article, Deborah Copaken Kogan speaks about how her latest novel, The Red Book, is on the list for the Britain’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. According to some, the prize is sexist, because men can’t win. Author Tim Lott called it a “sexist con-trick.” Some of the numbers he recites support his argument to a degree. But Kogan’s story is about more than numbers. It’s about marketing and niches and what she perceives as serious inequities in the way her books are treated relative to similar work by men.

Deborah Copaken Kogan

Sexism isn’t a comfortable subject to discuss. For every study that says women are paid x% of what men make, there are other studies that list some of the reasons that’s so–and many of those reasons don’t have to do with sexism. But you can’t read Ms. Kogan’s work without squirming at least a little.

I know I can’t fix this. I don’t tend to ready the New York Times book reviews anyway. I probably should, but if I did all the things I should, I would need a 96-hour day. But the complaint seems valid.

What’s your experience?

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5 Comments
  1. May 11, 2013 8:24 am

    Reblogged this on Sex and Relationships.

  2. May 11, 2013 4:03 pm

    Chris: a couple of thoughts right off the top of my head. One – what is the ratio of male published authors to female published authors? 12% does not strike me as a stat of epidemic proportions. Two – what types of books does the new york times review? I don’t know, but I would guess the NYT does not review children’s, young adult or romance novels or reviews very few of these genres. That said, what do you think women write? My guess is in YA and romance, 90% is probably written by women and for children’s books, my guess is probably 70-80% are written by women. With numbers like this skewing the marketplace; before crying foul and sexism by the NYT, I would first analyze what types of books they review. Sorry, I don’t have a 96 hour day to do that. Let not the knee jerk.

    • May 12, 2013 1:04 pm

      Your comment misses the point. I think that part of the issue is that genres that are heavily feminine–YA, children’s books, and the like–are given less prestige and thus, less big-name reviews. It might–just might, not necessarily–be because they are considered less “serious” literature. But who has historically decided what is “serious literature?” Men.

      And I’m usually a pretty old-fashioned, “Call me Mrs. not Ms.,” stay-at-home mother type.

  3. Chris Hamilton permalink
    May 12, 2013 10:11 am

    There’s the rub. It’s a lot of guesswork,as you say yourself. And the vast majority of the people who take the time to do the analysis have an agenda. But if you read the article by JT Ellison and the article by Ms. Kogan, it has to raise questions.

  4. May 12, 2013 5:25 pm

    The impression I got when querying publishers was that most fiction readers are women, so publishers were recruiting women authors and themes. The great thing about Kindle E-books is that authors no longer need to pander to big markets, but rather can write for niche markets.

    Now, it in financially viable to write books for guys.

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