I recently tweeted a thread of the books in my Read list written by women. Out of 145 e-books that I had assigned to the list, I was disappointed to find that only 45 were written or edited by women.
I'm going to go through the 145 Read books in my Libreture library and shout out the ones written/edited by women.— Libreture (@libreture) October 13, 2017
I mentioned this in a brief Twitter conversation with the fantasy author Juliet E. McKenna, of whom I am a big fan. Juliet pointed out that my collection was basically 'on trend' for author split, which is roughly 30% women to 70% men.
Given reviews, sales promotion, online mentions run consistently around the 70% mark for male authors, 30% for women, that's on the trend...— Juliet E McKenna (@JulietEMcKenna) October 13, 2017
When I looked at my Favourite 10 list, the split there was exactly 30/70, women to men!
What the actual...?!
At this point, every woman is shrugging, "Yeah, we know."
I know you know. And I thought I did too, but not according to my book collection. My tweet about not considering the author's gender when buying books is a clumsy, 140-character reduction of my actual thoughts, but Juliet's response is clear enough: Not actively changing my behaviour is just supporting the "status quo". Unconscious bias right there.
Not that I didn't believe it, but seeing it reflected SO EXACTLY in my library when I practically ignore 'author' while buying books is bad.— Libreture (@libreture) October 13, 2017
Exactly why 'oh I don't take any notice of gender' attitude to the diversity/representation issue actually means 'I accept the status quo.'— Juliet E McKenna (@JulietEMcKenna) October 13, 2017
This very website is testament enough to my thoughts on the status quo. So, how do I turn my shame-faced disappointment into an affirmative selection process?
Balancing the books (ahem)
Let's work through what my options are.
My overall goal should be to have a 50/50 women/men author split in my entire book collection. Considering the population of the planet, it should be within the ability of any reader in the developed world to access books by women, right?
Yeah, not so easy. As Juliet points out, the entire publishing and marketing process isn't exactly a balanced starting point. She mentions "reviews, sales promotion, online mentions..." as being skewed towards men. With the system not supporting women, even when they represent such a large part of the author population, what can a reader do?
As someone who boycotts Amazon; who boycotts Amazon and other tax-dodging bookshops; who boycotts Amazon and other tax-dodging bookshops and only buys e-books; who boycotts Amazon and other tax-dodging bookshops and only buys e-books that are DRM-free, I should be able to manage this.
I already apply self-imposed, principle-based limits on my book-buying. This must not be any different.
To only read books authored or edited by women until I achieve a 50:50 balance in my Read list by December 2018. I will then consistently maintain this balance.
I have 816 books in my To Read list. There are enough there to choose from. But my entire selection process is obviously biased. Look at my Next 10 To Read list - exactly three books by women. It's that bloody 30/70 split again!
Adjusting the Next 10 list is straightforward. My next book to read becomes The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein. After that it's the remaining two books in the Split Worlds series by Emma Newman. After that? It will be time to dig through my To Read list and discover what it says about my book buying.
There are a number of cases where this is going to raise some interesting points. I tend to buy quite a few bundles from the likes of Storybundle. They support independent authors and sell their e-books DRM-free, but I must ensure that I take every included author into account when considering a particular bundle. (This is going to save me a fortune. Or should I say 'bundle'? No. No I shouldn't.)
Buying books to simply make up the numbers is certainly something I must avoid. I buy books to read, not for vanity. This must not be any different. It would also be an arsehole move.
Finally, Libreture allows me to specify where I bought each DRM-free e-book. This will illustrate which retailers proportionately stock women authors. Some of my recent book hauls demonstrate the issue in non-fiction retail, and it's definitely not good. Scholarly publishing is another sector in a similar state of gender disparity.
I'll follow up with regular updates on my journey to author parity.
In the meantime:
- I will tweet and toot about my progress and any helpful links I discover along the way.
- I will investigate how to help Libreture users find and buy DRM-free e-books by women more easily. There are plenty of reports out there. Expect links soon.
I apologise for not spotting the trend in my reading and buying sooner. I made the incorrect assumption that my reading was more balanced than it was. It's time to fix that disparity. I hope you will investigate your own collections and take action as well.
Many thanks to Juliet E. McKenna for pointing out the trend ratio, and for the metaphorical kick in the arse.
I have updated my Next 10 To Read list with books by women.
Narrowing your selection criteria can help you find some really interesting books. On top of my DRM-free criteria, only selecting books by women has thrown up some really intriguing gems from my To Read list. And of course it contains a book by Juliet E. McKenna. :)
Image credit: Creative Commons - Mind the Gap