The problem of gender bias in publishing 1 Comment

There seems to be a significant gender bias in publishing in this country. We ask if the UK publishing world is one ruled by sexism?

Unfair attitudes

In 2015, The Guardian published the story of a female author who showed that gender was getting more consideration than talent.

Catherine submitted her novel to fifty agents and got two half-hearted replies. She then submitted the same novel under a man’s name and received three times the responses – all of which were much more enthusiastic. The problem, she concluded, was not her novel it was her gender.

The article went on to mention a call for 2018 to be a year of only publishing women authors. 2018 arrived and everyone quietly forgot about that.

The problem has not gone away

A more recent Guardian article suggests that sexism (and racism) have become more entrenched in publishing. Unless you are an able-bodied, white, middle-class male, then a career in publishing might be a long shot.

Simple sexism is not the sole cause of the problem: mergers have left most of British publishing in the hands of three large, global media companies – Hachette, Bertelsmann-owned PRH, and HarperCollins, which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire.

The problem, it seems, is not just attitudes but the shrinking of the publishing world. Something Brexit is only going to make worse.

It is not just the national newspapers that are commenting on this gender bias in publishing. A lot of blogs are doing so too.

We even have a name for gender bias in publishing

Sexism in publishing is so common we have a word for it. Remember that 2015 Guardian article we mentioned earlier. Here is a quote from it.

In 1998, Prose had dubbed bias against women’s writing “gynobibliophobia”, citing Norman Mailer’s comment that “I can only say that the sniffs I get from the ink of the women are always fey, old-hat, Quaintsy Goysy, tiny, too dykily psychotic, crippled, creepish, fashionable, frigid, outer-Baroque, maquillé in mannequin’s whimsy, or else bright and stillborn”.

Gynobibliophobia n. The bias against women’s writing.

Damning figures on gender bias in publishing

The figures seem to highlight just how bad the problem of sexism is. Twice as many books are published that were written by men than stories that were written by women. More stories are about men, more stories by men win prizes. Twice as many in almost all cases.

Could industry sexism be self-sustaining?

However, Julie Crisp of Pan Macmillan has published figures showing another side to this problem. With few exceptions, for every female submitting work there are at least two men sending in a submission. The Science Fiction genre is by far the most extreme of these while YA is the only genre to exhibit the inverse.

Where are the female sci-fi writers? Where are the women submitting fresh new takes on horror or high fantasy?

Either the bias towards male writers has put them off, agents have filtered them out, or boys love those genres more. Which seems more likely? Because, at this stage of the article, I’m guessing.

Encouraging women authors?

What can we do to encourage more women authors to submit to male-dominated genres? Is there anything we can do to fairly balance the books on genre submissions?

I have nothing but questions. Does anyone have any answers?


About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.

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