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Chilling Effects

When Charlie offered a guest blogging slot, I didn't plan on writing a women-in-science-fiction post. It's not a subject I address very often. As some who commented on Judith's post have mentioned, the issue is complicated--more so now, I think, than when I started writing back in the 80s.

Back then, it never occurred to me to use a man's name. It never occurred to me I couldn't succeed as a woman writing the hard stuff. Of course I knew that any kind of success was a long shot--writing is a tough gig--but I didn't see my name as a liability that could hold me back.

But after six US-published hard SF novels (only one UK-published), I finally started to wonder if I'd been a bit naïve. My work had convinced agents, editors, and reviewers. It won a couple of awards. But outside of a small, albeit devoted, readership, my novels remained invisible to most SF fans. My sixth novel, Memory, is the one in the Women-in-SciFi Storybundle; it was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. And it was my last novel for a long time. I just didn't see the point of writing another, so I stopped. Hey, sometimes books and authors just don't hit, right?

But many years later I was told that I was used as an example of why it is unwise to write hard SF under a woman's name. I have to imagine that a warning like that must be a very discouraging thing for a young and ambitious woman writer to hear. And that's what I want to talk about today: the chilling effect of all the negative statistics regarding women and science fiction, particularly high-tech, hard SF.

Judith has addressed the past and present of the genre. I want to consider the future.

In the current climate, any logical young woman, no matter how predisposed she might be to write at the technically plausible end of the SF field, will surely pause to seriously consider the wisdom of a foray into high-tech/hard SF--and if she decides to focus her talents elsewhere, what will we have missed?

I can already hear the objections. After all, if someone isn't interested enough in our genre to take some risks, why worry about it? There are plenty of other writers out there.

But I do worry about it, because the best writers can write in any field they choose, and if they don't choose our field, that's potentially great work that will never exist.

Don't think the risk is real? Consider this. After a ten-year hiatus, I finally returned to writing. I was shocked to learn that, a decade into the 21st century, women were still using pseudonymous names to sell SF. One writer related how an editor had told her bluntly that hard SF would not sell under a woman's name. And social media is full of negative statements and stories--enough to convince any sensible woman to be wary of science fiction, and of hard SF in particular. This is my field, and I was wary of it!

The climate had gotten so bad that by the time I got around to writing a new hard SF novel--more precisely, a near-future, high-tech military novel written in first person from a male point of view, because why not max out the degree of difficulty?--I had no doubt I was making an illogical choice. I knew this was not what I should be writing if the goal was to further my career and grow my audience.

I wrote the novel anyway, because I needed to write it. And then I self-published it, because I didn't want to deal with what I perceived as the negative environment of traditional publishing. Two years ago I was here on Charlie's blog with a guest post about that decision. Since then, The Red: First Light was nominated for both the Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial awards, and went on to sell to Simon & Schuster's new SFF imprint, Saga Press, with the sequel, The Trials, just out. It would be easy to say my fears were baseless and it all turned out okay--but how many of you have actually heard of these books, or read them?

And more to the point, how many talented women more sensible than me will decide not to bother writing a hard SF novel after considering the statistics and realizing that the odds of success are so very slim?

I want to see our genre thrive. I want to see amazing work that addresses our world in a way that is exciting, thought provoking, meaningful. I want our genre to welcome terrific new writers, not frighten them off. And a lot of those terrific new writers could be women and they could bring women readers with them, growing our genre to the benefit of everyone--but that's only going to happen if we can figure out a way to change both the climate and the reputation surrounding science fiction.

The easiest first step is for fans of the genre to seek out both books and writers new to them. It's never been easier to sample a new book. With ebooks you can usually read at least ten percent for free, and that's generally enough to know if the book is for you. And if you do find books you like? Talk about them. Especially for lesser-known writers, word of mouth is the best promotion there is. Also consider giving those books you like a positive review at online vendors. And the next time there's a request for writer recommendations, volunteer the names of women writers whose work you've enjoyed, as several commenters have already done on Judith's post. No more invisible ink. Right?

129 Comments

1:

The first edition of The Red went way up in price; so I decided not to buy it. The new editions slipped under my radar, but I will take a gander now that you've reminded me.

Welcome back, Charlie's getting the whole gang back on this interlude. Might Joan Slonczewski be next?

2:

How I purchase a book:

I look along the shelves and find something with a likely-sounding title. Titles are important.

Next, I make note of the author. If I've read any of the author's other work it will strongly influence my purchase decision.

Next, I look at the blurb on the back. If there's nothing but a giant picture of someone's face, the book goes back on the shelf.

If the blurb tells me nothing of interest, the book goes back on the shelf.

Next, I look at the cover. If it's offensively bad, the book goes back on the shelf. That tells me the publisher thought so little of the book they put forth minimal effort.

Each endorsement by another author or some newsletter reduces my interest. Same for awards.

I might open the cover and look at the flyleaf as a tiebreaker. If it's nothing but a bunch of endorsements, it goes back on the shelf.


tl;dr: the title and author will induce me to pick the book up. The back-cover blurb is very important. After that, there are only chances to lose.

3:

I think this question would go better here.

The last 3 posts have been well structured. The first asked the audience to list female writers they read to emphasize the disparity. The second covered the statistics. So I guess the theme of this post is what to do about it?

I'm not sure what the solution is. Calling (mostly) male readers to be less sexists hasn't really worked over the past decades because most sincerely don't see themselves as such. Most readers who have either conscious or unconscious sexist at seminars will just nod their heads in agreement and then go back to what they were doing before. This is largely because either they rationalize their behavior into believing the lecture doesn't apply to them, they dismiss the lecturer as a "crazy feminist", or both.

At the same time, there are probably other macro trends in the industry that discourage women writers. Most discussions on this topic focus on identifying them, not actually reducing if not eliminating them.

Linda's suggestions are a good first step. What next?

4:

Just a brief question. I get the impression that high-tech/hard SF is a shrinking market as a percentage of SF as a whole. I used to read nothing but, now I avoid it completely. Is my impression true?

5:

More broadly, I get the distinct impression that book sales in general are on a downward trend. I suspect that female SF authors are a canary in a coal mine. The vulnerable are being driven out of the business and the comfortable are becoming increasingly vulnerable. I could be wrong.

6:

I was that woman who was told by a mainstream editor that hard SF by women doesn't sell. I don't know if I was the one Linda referred to, because sadly it wouldn't surprise me if there was more than one case. I have since decided to self-publish everything, even if I've sold to Analog and could well have gotten deals from large genre publishers seeing the types of responses I was getting at the time. Instead, I withdrew everything from consideration, found my own editors and self-published.

I'm doing reasonably OK. Not great, but OK.

Yet when I look at the science fiction category at retailers especially in space-based SF, which is what I write, the only women in there are the authors of accidentally mis-categorised with man-boobs on the cover. It's a sad, sad world. The bias comes from both sides, and to be honest, not a day goes by that I wonder what would happen if I were to simple take my name off the cover and replace it by a male name.

7:

Remove photos. Everyone go by initials. Author blurbs are silly too.

Honestly, I think it's the editors having a 'model' of what sells, and how they market it. Or of who can do what's going to sell. For instance, they smell the coming trend being X, they're going to look at who writes well selling X already, and try and get more of those.

Which in a field like SFF, means the male authors are viewed as the safe bet. Which is stupid, and means you're just being another follow the leader publisher.

8:

The other question is if your developmental early work, or if its marketing theories based on your gender.

Easy way to test it is throwing out a pseudonym. Worked well for John G. Hemry re-branding as Jack Campbell.

9:

Hi Linda,

I saw your Big Idea piece over on John Scalzi's blog. In combination with Judith Tarr's post here, I thought: "Why not check this out?" I bought your two currently published Red novels, and enjoyed them both greatly.

I'll definitely be looking at your back catalogue! Thanks, and keep them coming.

10:

Personally, I sometimes pay attention to author blurbs. Not the content, but I usually estimate that I'd like the book being blurbed slightly less that I've liked books by the author writing the blurb. As rules of thumb go, it seems to work. It's based on the idea that if the publisher thought it was worth bothering an A-lister to blurb the book, the publisher probably honestly thought it was at least a B-list book. It's a slightly costly signal.

11:

Thanks, Linda.

Unconscious bias is something I grew up with...and something I have to consciously, actively fight against. It would be all to easy to fall into just reading white male authors without a thought, and leave books like yours by the wayside.

I fear that a lot of people don't want to put in that effort, or feel that they have to. How do we fight against unconscious biases? I don't know. I know what solution works for me, but it takes spoons others may not want to invest.

12:

More broadly, I get the distinct impression that book sales in general are on a downward trend.

Not actually true even in the anglophone world; globally book sales are rising.

13:

Remove photos. Everyone go by initials. Author blurbs are silly too.

That just contributes to the problem.

(Is the solution to white racism to encourage people of colour to pass as white? Or to fix the underlying pathology? I hope you can see the analogy here.)

14:

In the U.S., bookstore revenues seem to be down about 36% between 2007 and 2014 (U.S. Census data, available at http://www.census.gov/retail/mrts/www/data/excel/mrtssales92-present.xls ). Adjusting for inflation, it's more like 44%. That's total annual revenue for "general bookstores" (NAICS code 451211), although they're increasingly turning into toy stores and the Census makes no attempt to separate the revenue streams.

Amazon takes up much of the slack in sales, but Amazon is built for searching, not browsing. For an author who isn't established, that's a problem.

15:

The dirty secret about unconscious bias is knowledge of them and even acceptance that you yourself are so bias doesn't actually do much to suppress the bias. No one knows anything that actually works other then to hide the source of the bias, which works fantastically

Wish Amazon offered an option to first letter the name

16:

Sorry, I don't agree. I prefer the analogy of medical conditions like depression or some autoimmune disorders: there are numerous hypotheses as to what causes them but in the end it comes down to "nobody really knows" and so we cannot cure them nor even necessarily know whether the possibility of a cure exists; but what we can do is treat the symptoms, and thereby significantly relieve present distress, while still continuing research into the causes and possible actual cures.

Very little can be concluded from the two previous such threads but one thing that does emerge is that there are positive feedback mechanisms in operation: publishers think female authors are inappropriate for certain genres, so they don't publish their books in those genres, so male authors are more successful in those genres, so publishers think women are not appropriate... etc. and a similar loop applying in the case of some readers. It is apparent that it is necessary to break the feedback loop. Some people have suggested doing this at the "readers" point in the path, by recommending a disproportionate number of female authors to others, or by buying the books of female authors even if you don't like them; to me at least it is obvious that neither suggestion will be effective.

elfey1's suggestion breaks the loop at the "publishers" point in the chain, attacking the element with the highest gain, as it were. Prejudice against particular authors over irrelevant information is only possible if the irrelevant information is supplied in the first place. It is hard to think of a better way to convince publishers that their prejudice is irrational than denying them the opportunity to exercise it and so demonstrating that it makes no difference - and then keeping that up for long enough for the lesson to stick, which means at least a couple of generations.

I am reminded of the changes in online communities: back in the days when userids were of the form {initials}{number} and domain names were back to front, and you had no idea of the sex or race of whoever was behind the keyboard, expressions of prejudice were pretty rare, and there were often comments about how this would bring about the death of sexism/racism because online it was too obvious that it was bollocks. Whereas these days it's all over the place, and while a good part of this must be due simply to the wider availability of network access, the wider use of indicative userids must surely also play a part, and it seems to me that the problem has got worse since sites such as Facebook promoted the iniquitous idea of posting your "real" name (for suitable values of "real"), your photos, and a raft of other personal detail for the world to see. I think it would have made a significant difference to attitudes in general had things developed such that two or three generations became accustomed to online communication as a norm before any fashion for indicative names and photos arose.

Where both the above comparison and your racism analogy are weak is that in the context of general, "unlimited" social interaction, matters of sex or race are more or less bound to crop up sooner or later, and offline of course it is entirely impractical to make them the subject of concealment. But the context of authorship and readership is highly constrained: the communication is purely textual, unidirectional, and under the author's control. Moreover it is not the author who is the subject of communication: what is significant is the body of text they have created, and the significance of the author's identity is solely a matter of providing a search key to assist in finding similar bodies of text. An MD5 hash of the author's name would do just as well as the actual name were it not hopelessly unmemorable. All the other stuff you get on the lines of what the author looks like, where they went to school, where they live now, how many children they have, what their dog's favourite dog food is, etc. is - with no disrespect to any author intended! - simply guff, extraneous to the story, not required for its enjoyment, and (importantly in this context) tacked on by the publisher in the hope of short-circuiting the reader's process of decision to buy the book by introducing the irrelevant factors of (among other things) sex/race to trigger the reader's preconceptions.

In short, much of the justification for publishers including indicative names, author photos, blurbs, etc. is to help the reader make a quick decision to buy the book (or not) based not on their idea of the quality of the writing, but on their snap judgements of the author based on the stuff inside the back cover. They put that stuff there so as to invoke the "people like us"/"people not like us", "tribal" response for commercial reasons. The purpose of its existence is connected with promoting the very thing that these discussions are about trying to abolish, and so getting rid of it seems to me to be an excellent place to start.

(FWIW if I was to try and publish a book myself I would insist on an elfey1-style presentation - no blurb, no photo, and no indicative identifier - purely and simply on the grounds that anything more was irrelevant, and only the content of the book was of any importance.)

17:

Good points.

However, I don't think that delaying the use of real names would have changed anything in online communities. As soon as it became viable to identify the person's race or gender, these prejudices would have entered and demolished whatever etiquette had existed previously.

18:

Pigeon
Good points
If I could go back in time, I would advise any author to publish under the name L.Hepworth
You would get sandwiched between Herbert and Heinlien

Linda
As one of the few female authors I did go back and buy their back catalogue, I can't thank you enough for Vast, will try and post something longer to express my gratitude later

19:

I suggested something similar in the last thread, tongue-in-cheek. However, I don't think it would work in the real world. Author tours, interviews, appearances in the media — all of these seem to be part of the publicity machine for publishing. Keeping an author's identity secret seems a very chancy thing.

However, it should be possible for publishers to screen the identity of prospective authors from editors. If the author has no track record, there is no point in knowing their identity, so there is no reason not to remove their name from the manuscript before deciding whether it is worth purchasing. Does anyone know if they in fact do this, or do manuscripts go to purchasing editors with names attached?

20:

That's a good analogy, which has several answers, some less palatable. Note that I'm not trying to derail the discussion to one of race. This will be my last post on the analogy. However, I want to bring up the fact that the analogy has an uglier answer.

The answer that "black people shouldn't pass themselves off as white" assumes that people are actually trying to solve the underlying pathology. Oh sure, people make noises towards solving it, but to my knowledge the primary method used to actually solve this problem is wait for the older generation to die out. To misquote: "racial relations and gender relations progress one funeral at a time". To my limited understanding, this holds true for Europe and East Asia as much as it holds true for the US and Canada.

I'll turn the analogy around a bit by using the Onion:

http://www.theonion.com/article/baltimore-residents-urged-to-stay-indoors-until-so-38511

To rewrite that headline to this topic:
"Women Sci-fi writers are urged to not write Sci-fi or to resign themselves to less name recognition/lower sales until the pathology is eradicated, whenever that happens".

I know that's not how you intended it, but that's a logical conclusion from your argument.

That is the point I was trying (and failing) to make above. Few people are actually proposing an effective way to fight the pathology, since the pathology has evolved resistance if not immunity to the previous method of eradication: educating people on their sexism or racism.

I'm not saying things are hopeless, I'm just saying that so far an effective vaccine or antidote against this pathology has not actually been created. Perhaps I'm wrong?

21:

I'm not sure what the solution is. Calling (mostly) male readers to be less sexists hasn't really worked over the past decades because most sincerely don't see themselves as such.


Ah, this is an easy one.

"Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man"

You'll want to look into the commercialization of children, gender enforcement and so on. Not to mention the rise of Academy / Faith schools and so forth... oh, and not teaching your children about sex.

An entire generation of men raised on Ayn Rand, the artificial linking of emotional/organic drives with consumer products and the notion that Shame / Disgrace vrs Openness / Honesty are consequences of being caught, not mental schema or morals/ethics, or attached to that "myth" called Society, coupled with advanced jingoistic nationalism and ignorance about sex.

Of course it's going to have an impact.

Putting aside my usual fluff, the USA has quite deliberately crafted a society that produces a quite distinct type of mind:

It's not a female mind. In fact, it's barely male anymore. Your society is geared to produce monsters. They really like the whole autism thing, as it's easier to push the model on those who aren't hurt by the mind-bending psychosis involved if they have no normative emotional binds.


Cui Bono?


The reactionaries, a la Puppies have a point: they don't have the answers, but they're not reacting against nothing. They're hopelessly misinformed and have all the wrong targets, but at least they're struggling.


I had hopes that there would be better thinkers, meta-thinkers who could rise above the mud, and join the two together, but hey.


@OP


I sympathize with you.


25% of all women in America will use anti-depression / anxiety drugs in their life times.


And those are the ones who can afford it.

22:

The closer you get to the "four Fs", the less education tends to change behavior. The parts of the brain that drive those behaviors are ancient and deeply wired.

For those who don't know, the four F's are fighting, fleeing, feeding, and mating - primitive, reptile-brain stuff.

23:

Sad to say, I put off reading The Red for a long time because despite being a huge fan, I don't really like military SF, and it sounded depressing. I was surprised when I finally read it, probably as a result of you blogging about it, how much different it was than I expected. It's a really fantastic read, and I'm looking forward to the sequel, although haven't had time to pick it up yet. I think I will probably have to read the first book again, because my recollection is that it was so packed with ideas that if I don't, I'll appreciate the second book less.

24:

Please refer to the post above yours for my reply.

The short version is that children under 7 make a small portion of the population, and even as they grow older it will take decades for them to be in large enough numbers to make a difference. Hence my funeral comment.

As for the US mentality, I would argue against that. The US mind has always been anti-communal. Note that I didn't say anti-communist. I mean that the US always had a mentality that society was dragging down the individual. That lay behind the appeal to the frontier: go to a place where you can live with no societal restraint a-la cowboys.

What has happened over the past 60 years or so has been that the restraints on this mentality have been eliminated, largely by wealth. It used to be that before WWII, you had to cooperate with a union to improve your living standards. Before Vietnam, you had to learn to cooperate with society either in the army or in protesting the draft. Before the 1980s, you had to cooperate within the hierarchy of a large company if you wanted more wealth. Now you can take your ball and go to a Venture Capitalist if you feel constrained.

In short, this monster wasn't created recently. It has existed since Jamestown. It just broke free of the chains fashioned by the 20th century. Good luck trying to create new chains, let alone getting the monster into it. I would be surprised if a similar monster doesn't exist in the minds of Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and Russians (the expansion into Siberia), among others.

In a way, people who support Trump want to remove one of the few remaining chains that still constrain this mentality.

25:

You're not wrong, but you're only telling half the story. The rest involves a conscious effort, mainly on the left of the political spectrum, to tear down traditional morality and replace it with a morality based on ... actually, we could never really agree about what to base our new morality on, so it's incredibly superficial and totally insufficient to check our worst impulses.

26:

Traditional morality reduces to "dominant men get what they want"; it lacks most characteristics of justice.

Morality in general is an inadequate mechanism; it requires a stable environment, and we haven't had one for two hundred years and aren't going to for the next century, either. (Wherever we wind up with respect to the malthusian trap.) It also requires an idea of normative propriety, which is obviously false on its face. (We have an explanation for variation and variety; we don't have an explanation for ideals, and indeed can't support any notion of an uncontexted ideal and it's actually very hard to define "ideal" even with a context.)

The systems rule that you can have success or control, but not both, applies to human social systems just as much as anything else. Morals are reaching after control.

The reason white supremacy persists and the reason sexism persists is very simple; it's actively advantageous to enough of the population. What is actively advantageous to them people will defend.

There isn't a clever hack for this; the only thing that will change it is to change the basis of advantage.

27:

I never said that "traditional morality" was a good moral code. It was, in many ways, horrible. Still, it enforced some basic requirements: support your family, support your community, at least pay lip service to the Golden Rule, etc*. People who didn't meet the basic requirements were disrespected with enough vigor that most people felt obliged to meet the requirements most of the time. Those customs are gone, not entirely lamentably, and our new customs do not fulfill the old functions.

*Yes, also some less basic requirements, like don't be gay or Jewish. Like I said, kind of horrible.

28:

you can have success or control

But neither is guaranteed, and giving up one does not necessarily produce the other.

29:

Posting somewhat anonymously, since OGH can easily figure out who I am based on IP History, but I still want this semi-anonymous. Apologies for the length, but I don't want what I view as a problem to be ignored because it's posted by some random Dudebro (and as such, the username is deliberate)

Sidebar: I have read Linda's stuff, some I've liked and some I didn't. I wish the Kindle of First Light was cheaper than the PB). I liked the Big Idea that Linda wrote so First Light is in my Amazon cart, and whenever I hit my $35 I'll be reading it.

Here's the problem as _I_ see it Right Now. Maybe I'm wrong:
Several years ago, the "Supernatural Romance" category came in full force, and there were a ton of books released in it that were largely written by female authors, or at least female-named authors, and featured Fabio-as-vampire-or-werewolf, a plucky Shapeshifter/Sorceress/Werewolf who winds up falling in love with aforementioned werewolf despite herself... and since then it has been somewhat difficult to walk through a bookstore and tell which female author's are worth reading. As OGH can attest, the cover art and blurbs are largely out of the authors control, so you wind up with Serious Science Fiction with Barechested Men/Women on the Cover (*cough* *cough* Saturn's Children *cough*). Yes, reading the blurbs can help, but not always, and as a Generic White Male I'll flat out say it makes it more difficult to find the worthwhile books by female authors - I have to dig more to find the interesting stuff, since picking out 4 books may mean immediately putting back 2 because they're SR books. (Remember, all you see initially is the spine with the name and title - pulling it out to look at the book itself constitutes work) Which means when I'm lazy I wind up gravitating to the menfolk. Lose/lose proposition.

That being said, I (and probably many men like me) would honestly LOVE to read more Hard SciFi by female authors, as it means there must be a decent number of authors I would like that I've ignored because "Too Hard To Find amongst all the corsets and Twilight knockoffs".

So, (a) where does one start?

But the (b) bigger question is: how do you (aka SFWA, publishers, etc) make it easier to find those authors? I've always hated that Medical Thriller and Horror are lumped into Science Fiction, and much like SR it makes it harder to find the subgenres one likes. (which sort-of-refutes my earlier point, except the covers of those genres typically make them easier to separate out). Or alternatively, how do I go randomly flipping through books and filter out the SRs so that I give each author a fair shot?

Amazon doesn't do subgenres from what I can tell.
Goodreads does, but it's not intuitive. So I'm back to reading threads on Tor/IO9/BoingBoing about what's worth reading - and doesn't even cover 1/10th of the books coming out. Even Whatever isn't great, since most of the time the Big Idea doesn't tell you what the book is like or about, just the genesis of the idea or some meandering by the author (to which I must give a hearty THANK YOU to both OGH and Linda, because both Big Ideas tackled what the actual plot/story/feel of their books was).

Thanks. As a Random DudeBro, I want to change my ways somewhat. I'm just at a loss as to how.

30:

Shit. I just reread the moderation policy. I'm not Sealioning. I do want actual answers.

31:

As I read Ms. Nagata post, I can't help but see some of it as a bit whiny.

The biggest problem that this comments didn't really adress is the ability to make our own choices, and accept the consequences.

Nowadays, in my opinion, nothing prevents female SF authors to be identified as such, since we have so many ways to publish our work.

The problem is, I believe, that far too few women actually use a female name for their work in these genres, and since most don't see a lot of success, it encourages publishers to believe that female SF work doesn't sell.

We need to understand that people DON'T have to change their views to appeal to a segment of the population just to please them, especially when it's something non-threatening (meaning physically), because, guess what? people don't have to like you. People don't have to read male or female work. Why ? because people have a choice.

Female SF authors have (and some could even argue had) the choice of choosing their name. You want money ? Ok, then you have the "easy" choice of choosing a male pseudonym to increase your odds. No one will blame you, after all we all got to eat. You want to give a chance to future generations of female writers,I think you know what to do, and you'll have to deal with the consequences of that.

As an a aspirant male author who seek to self-publish his work, I want both male and female authors to thrive, especially when it's hard to make ends meet. Recommendations and all, I agree 100 %, but not when we want to skewer the debate towards gender. We also need to accept that there's genre preference between male and female authors, and I believe there's nothing wrong with that. We don't need parity everywhere.

The ability to make choices is the greatest power we have, and let's not muddy it into some slanted perception someone may have, but instead turn this power into something greater than ourselves, for the future of humanity. The question is: What are we ready to sacrifice to make BETTER CHOICES?

32:

Nowadays, in my opinion, nothing prevents female SF authors to be identified as such, since we have so many ways to publish our work.

That wooshing sound you hear is Ms. Nagata's point hurtling over your head. She wasn't writing about women being prevented from publishing under their own names (or at least female-gendered pseudonyms) but rather the systemic sexism that causes these books to sink and disappear soon after publishing when they do use their own names.

It's not as simple as simply saying that there are more options for writers these days, since more options does not automatically translate to an easy shortcut around a long-standing cultural snarl of systemic misogyny.

And it's not just in hard SF, though hard SF is probably one of the fields where the problem most aggressively materializes.

33:

I find military SF as a sub-genre a bit dreary these days, and I used to read a lot of it. Maybe it's because I tried writing some stuff in a sort of parallel setting, and was drawn in by elements that don't get into the big stories. I saw the PTSD (they used to call it "shell-shock") and the effects on the civilians trapped in it. And I'm the sort of guy who watched the first Rambo movie and saw the mentally scarred veteran, not the superhero soldier of the later movies.

In a way, the sad puppies may be a good thing, if they kill off that sub-sub-genre by their actions.

But some of that comes from a different, almost un-American, perspective. You have had wars fought in your country, though it's too easy to point at your Civil War as a cause of trauma and racism. I think that gets cause and effect out of order. But it's plausible to me that the USA sees war as something that happens somewhere else, and that's not so easy in Europe.

I was checking something in Google Earth recently, and it's possible to see in England the signs of a Norman motte-and-bailey a few hundred yards from those of a WW2 anti-aircraft battery. It's harder to see war as something remote in time and space.

But I doubt I am typical.

Nevertheless, although it seems to be falling apart, Europe seems to be built on the idea of avoiding past horrors. And it shouldn't be a surprise that the label for the bad guys of the current economic crisis (mostly over Greece) has become "the Germans", when the cause seems to be yet another wunch of bankers.

In the early days, Amazon used to be fairly good at suggesting books. They suggested a lot of books I already had, but it was stuff I liked. On what I see now, they don't care to push books in the traditional publishing chain. They almost spam me with offers for self-published e-books. The good stuff, I didn't hear about from Amazon.

The book-marketing system, as a whole, maybe reached its best around the turn of the century, partly through the application of computer analysis. Direct sales gave a chance to build up pictures of individual buyers, and promote to them items they were likely to like.

But it depends on using good labels, on getting good links between content/product items that are more than just a brand (an author's name is just a brand), and suddenly it seemed that the content being sold was adverts rather than products.

I do get promotional material from publishers. Tor does good stuff. It's apparent that the people in the business care. I'm not saying other people in other businesses don't care, but it's possible that the sociopaths have won.

And if nobody is a person, it might not matter about your gender or race, unless it is a label they use in their model of the world.

34:

I'm constantly disappointed by the lack of SF - of any variety - on the shelves in my local bookstores here in Australia. My experience over the past 50 years of reading 'hard' SF has been that the problem exists in the gap between the authors and readers. Note that I say authors - not male or female writers...

The people in the middle clearly filter what is presented for sale on the shelves - i.e. publishers and bookstore owners - and probably many others in the publishing, distribution and retail trade too, for all I know.

This no doubt illustrates an economic reality, but the truth is I will read any well written SF, regardless of the author's gender. I suspect that I am not alone either and I encourage you to keep on writing and exploring new ways to get your stories read.

Now that I know you are around, I for one will go out and give your work a try Linda. The deciding factor in the end for me? Is it any good?
Cheers all.

35:

I was shocked to learn that, a decade into the 21st century, women were still using pseudonymous names to sell SF. One writer related how an editor had told her bluntly that hard SF would not sell under a woman's name.

Question: do you care more about publishing a novel under your real name then publishing it at all?

36:

Linda, I just downloaded a sample and also bought a couple of your older books. I'm always on the lookout for interesting hard-edged SF and these sound like I might enjoy them.
That said, I want to talk about an experience I had only this morning. It relates to sampling a novel, which is very easy now, as Linda said. It doesn't really have anything to do with female writers specifically.
I look for new books mainly by word of mouth and trawling a few blogs and websites. So the way I encounter books is with a description, and that description has to hook me somehow. Self-aware ships with hive-minds composed of their own zombified soldiers. Murder mystery in the aztec Empire, complete with magic and gods. A tale set in modern south Africa, in a world almost like our own, only people who commit sins get magically saddled with a companion animal. I need to be sold on how cool and unique a novel (and/or its setting) is.
So a couple of days ago I ran into a description of a novel that sounded cool:
"The Glittering Edge duology describes the clash of forces when an advanced society that has filled a solar system with flesh and blood life meets the near-AI’s that it banished long ago"
This is exactly the kind of thing I'm into, so I immediately downloaded a sample.
But the sample didn't have an AI or other really advanced tech or strangeness in it. It was old-fashioned planetary SF. People on an alien planet, contending with the local wildlife using firearms, that sort of thing. I didn't do the job of selling me on the premise.
So my point it, I guess, a sample is also an ad. it should be selected carefully to reflect the more interesting aspects of the book. if your novel begins slow and builds up, there's always the option of a short tantalizing/enigmatic prologue. I know it sounds as if I'm telling authors to reshape their novels to be more addictive, but what can I say? that's how you get people's interest.

37:

To my ear, no human voice is whinier than the voice of the "men's rights" anti-feminist backlash. Straight, cisgendered white men (like me, to be clear) all seem to expect the drumsticks and the parson's nose, and demand an explanation when someone else might have a fair claim on these.

The point here is that sure, everyone has the same issue around being the lucky one from hundreds to make it in publishing, but that does not account for the existing empirical gender imbalance. No a priori rational argument can change that. When the experimental data refutes the hypothesis you need to revise the hypothesis, not fall back on anecdotes about everyone really doing nicely TYVM.

38:

"Ah, this is an easy one."

Sort of, and it was the topic of a previous post of mine that I was told not to pursue, but I will risk it again. I am an obsessive society-watcher, and have been following this with increasing horror for the past half century (yes, really). It's actually worse in the UK, because we started from a better baseline, but I had reasons to say that the first major move in that direction started about 1980, and there have been others since.

But Jay also hints at a key point. Most people seem to assume this is simple male sexism, but there is no reason to believe that the issues in the publishing and publicity area are the same as among the readership, and I have seen research indicating that at least some 'anti-women' discriminations are as common among women as among men. And we don't have any real idea (at any level) whether the biases are simply discrimination, biases that are inherent in human nature, or (especially with awards) a system that is set up to reward something that (on a population average) men do disproportionately better than women.

The point is that viable solutions are entirely different according to where the problems arise and what they are due to.

39:

Vanzetti wrote:

Question: do you care more about publishing a novel under your real name then publishing it at all?

Many authors use pen names that aren't their given name, for many reasons. Heck, I can think of numerous authors that use different names for their work in different genres. That is a very different thing from pressure to deny and negate something which is fundamental to who you are. And, it's not just about the name on the cover but all the interactions with the system.

I saw this article recently, an anecdotal account but an interesting one: Writing under a male name makes you eight times more likely to get published, one female author finds

40:
The easiest first step is for fans of the genre to seek out both books and writers new to them. It's never been easier to sample a new book. With ebooks you can usually read at least ten percent for free, and that's generally enough to know if the book is for you. And if you do find books you like? Talk about them. Especially for lesser-known writers, word of mouth is the best promotion there is. Also consider giving those books you like a positive review at online vendors. And the next time there's a request for writer recommendations, volunteer the names of women writers whose work you've enjoyed, as several commenters have already done on Judith's post. No more invisible ink. Right?

Right.

That sounds like a sound plan to me. Personally, and even selfishly, I would like to do that — because I'm obviously missing out on good books. And I like good books.

On Judith's post I said:

"… seriously pondering having a year-of-reading-women. Because after breaking down the numbers of the folk I'd read over the last year, and looking at the names I could remember from that year, I find that my discovery mechanisms for new authors and books are apparently borked."

I also just noticed that it's Mary Shelley's birthday at the end of the month. Which seems like an appropriate time to start. I'm thinking of something like 12 new women authors in a year — which is a low enough bar even for my occasionally erratic reading habits.

Being sad and techie I just bought yearofreadingwomen.com. It's just the domain holding page ATM. I'll stick something up there later this weekend so others can join in if they like. If anybody wants to help ping me at @adrianh on the twitters or email me at yearofreadingwomen@quietstars.com.

(oh god please let this go better than my side projects normally go ;-)

41:

(Actually - ping me at the new twitter account @YoReadingWomen — if a Friendly Moderator could change the @adrianh in the previous post that would be lovely. Or not. I was the idiot after all ;-)

42:

To start with, you might want to read Martin Wisse's booklog:

http://cloggie.org/wissewords2/a-year-of-reading-women/

43:

Hello All. :) Linda, I haven't bought any new SF in years, I've been buying military history and biographies, but 'The Red:First Light' is now in my Amazon cart pending my next payday.

I've always enjoyed MilSF, Space Opera, and especially Cyberpunk. Walter Jon Williams is my favorite author, and I re-read his 'Voice of the Whirlwind' once a year. I got burned out on SF a few years ago, I was tired of 'Honor Harrington' and just not seeing anything that grabbed me from anyone.

'The Red' seems like something I will enjoy, and I think I'll try and sample some of the other female authors mentioned or guesting on OGH's blog recently.

Thanx all, for getting me interested again. :)

44:

The first edition of The Red went way up in price

The result of pricing algorithms after the original edition was pulled from publication. Thanks for checking it out again.

45:

Thank you! Good to hear.

46:

Calling (mostly) male readers to be less sexists hasn't really worked over the past decades because most sincerely don't see themselves as such.

It IS a complex issue. I've always had a large portion of male readers who've been fantastically supportive-- but they do tend to be at the core of the genre. How to reach out to the wider world?

Notably, books like STATION ELEVEN (which I haven't read) and THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST (which I have read and is excellent) seem to be marketed primarily outside the genre.

47:

You would get sandwiched between Herbert and Heinlien

My books used to sit very close to Larry Niven's, though I'm not sure how much that helped...

And thank you!

48:

Books samples at the major vendors are always the first 10% or so of the work. But a good opening has always been a strong sales tool.

49:

However, it should be possible for publishers to screen the identity of prospective authors from editors.

I'm watching this thread with growing incredulity.

That sentence, above, I pulled out because it's so full of misconceptions that I'm not sure where to begin dissecting it -- for one thing, this is a business based on personal author/editor relations, many or most "prospective authors" are well-known professionals, and editors are actually acquisitions managers and what they're trying to acquire is success -- so your suggestion would tend to prevent them from differentiating between, say, J. K. Rowling firing up a new pseudonym and some random never-published-before case.

Manuscripts don't go to "purchasing editors". Rather, manuscripts are screened by an intern and the obvious no-hopers -- somewhere around 90% of them -- are rejected on the spot. (Hint: there are a lot of schizophrenics with hypergraphia, and spamming publishers with their word salad is a common activity.) Then if the intern can read the first chapter without bursting into tears it maybe ends on an editor's desk, at which point the editor has to decide whether they like it enough to champion it, and then they have to contact the author and figure out if they can work with this person and if this person can be relied on to produce more manuscripts on a regular basis, because publishers aren't about buying a book at a time, they're about buying careers. And careers have people attached. You can't double-blind an ongoing business relationship with a new supplier as if it's a standardized widget you're testing.

More to the point, most of the male commentators here seem to think that the answer to endemic sexism is for female authors to hide from it, not to tackle the problem at source. The actual problem seems to be not a single point of failure where one stage of the publishing process places unfair obstacles before one category of authors, but a whole bunch of low-level biases at every stage -- if you've got a pipeline of processes and each step is biased 52/48 in favour of male authors, then after about five steps you've got a bias somewhere north of 60/40.

50:

I've read Kindle samples that didn't start at the beginning of the book, so apparently it can be done. The ones that work best to sell the book, for me, usually give the end of the first act. A sample that reveals the central narrative tension of the book while throwing in a bit of action works well. It doesn't need to establish character or setting, it just needs to convince me that something interesting will happen in the book.

51:

I'll give you a pass this once.

The paranormal romance subgenre used to be part of the main romance genre; it got so big it acquired its own shelves, and then got smushed up with urban fantasy (that section of the fantasy genre that's set more or less in the present).

Here's a hint: you could do worse than subscribe to Locus, the trade magazine of the written SF/F field. They carry reviews and the reviews are written by relatively clueful folks who understand the genre. But Locus have a noteworthy bias towards male authors -- they're showing signs of growing aware of this but corrective action in review curation takes time to show up.

Another thing you could track is James Nicoll's reviews website -- he's a sometime publisher's reader (the guy who screens the cold submissions and writes reports on the basis of which books might be acquired) and reviewer. Yes, he has a Patreon: I suggest subscribing to it, because he's totally on top of these issues. Then there's Tansy Rainer Roberts' SF women of the 20th century project, another Patreon-backed work in progress tracking down and examining those female authors who keep getting airbrushed out of the narrative.

But I'm at a worldcon and I have places to be, so I'm going to cut this short now.

52:

Probably not as much as it would have done 20 years ago. Another author past his sell-by date, as are nearly all of my once favorite writers.

53:

Thanks for all this. It has led to some useful introspection and I've learned from it.

54:

I'll admit I'm horribly confused by now, and it's certainly due to my ignorance.

There seem to be a fair number of women agents and editors. If a manuscript is going through multiple stages, are there places where male chauvinists hang out that jams the whole process and causes a bias to permeate back through the entire organization, or is it a semi- or unconscious cultural bias that people don't realize they have?

55:

I think this is fundamentally a marketing problem.

Yes, its almost certainly the case that the ultimate root cause of this is that many hard SF readers are sexist. But most of them arent "hard-core" sexist in some ideological sense, they're just social conservatives who have a tendency to look at female professionals skeptically, let alone female hard SF authors, for reasons that have little to with SF itself. But their sexism is in the "background" of their mind, as it were, with the right kind of presentation you could influence them to give more female authors a chance.

This is on the publishers. History pretty clearly shows that if the big money decide to get behind a particular author or sub-genre, the sales of that author or sub-genre go up. If more professionally made trailers on Youtube featured more female authors, if ad space on Google were purchased to for support female author sales, if the first thing you saw as you entered Barnes and Nobles was a poster for a female hard SF author- sales would go up.

The real question here is very simple and quantitative- what percentage of the ad budget of the big five publishers go toward female SF authors, and what percentage do we think would be fair? Once that gap is identified, the goal would be to close it, presumably through some sort of organized action (of the kind we have seen work in the past).

56:

There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.

I think it's a mistake to treat something endemic like cultural sexism like something that can be fixed by addressing one little thing; it can seem incredibly condescending for those on the wrong side of that sexism. If it was that easy to fix, don't you think we'd have fixed it by now?

Unfortunately, we have internalised sexism, and we have institutionalised sexism, and we have unconsious bias and none of these things have proven tractable to facile solutions.

If you haven't read at least a little about these things, you may do well to go find an introduction / 101 / FAQ about sexism and feminism before trying to engage in a this kind of discussion. It'll be good for you, honest; at the very least you'll understand a bit more of the context of what's being discussed, and you'll avoid looking like you're JAQing off.

57:

Linda, thanks for posting here & @scalzi. I look forward to reading your work. (I don't buy books midweek to avoid dragging into work on 4 hrs sleep)

Charlie, thanks for the pointer to Nicoll & Roberts. I appreciate the help in finding good authors. I've gotten burned by blind wandering through amazon's self-pub section.

I have the problem that I love MilSF, but despise jingoism. In my experience, there's a lot of overlap between the authors of MilSF or HardSF that are pretty blatantly sexist & the authors that tend to write paper-thin characters.

Now, if I could just find a way to filter out Hard SF writes who write chapters where a character is floating weightless in the cargo bay of a spaceship that is burning towards an orbital rendezvous...

58:

The approach that I suggested wasn't intended as a solution to sexism. There is probably little female hard SF authors can do to change that, unfortunately. "Small c conservatives" are ornery people, they don't like changing their minds, esp. when someone else tells them to. The whole point is that they don't think they like the kind of society we want to create, asking them to help us create it probably wont help.

But what I suggested almost certainly would increase the sales of female hard SF authors, and that seems like a goal worth pursuing. After all, the more books are out there, the larger the footprint, the less likely the next generation will grow up resenting the presence of females in what was once a male-dominated genre. Until then, how about making some extra money?

59:

By analogy with other fields, I'd say that it's most probably unconscious bias: there are any number of studies where "blinding" a selection panel to the gender of the applicant results in a higher success rate for females, regardless of the gender composition of the panel, in situations where it seems unlikely that the panel members are overtly sexist.

There are also interesting second-order effects: a study of peer review for a medical journal concluded that papers from female authors were more likely to be assigned to female editors, and that female editors were more likely to reject papers out of hand, without sending them for peer review (irrespective of the gender of the author). This could lead to female authors' papers being rejected more often because they were more likely to be assigned to female editors, a practice that the senior editor might consciously or unconsciously adopt to try to reduce such bias. (In point of fact, the paper found no significant overall difference between genders in the overall success rate, but that might be an accidental cancellation of two competing effects: female editors also made more use of female reviewers, who were less likely to use the top and bottom grades for reviews, so perhaps papers handled by female editors that didn't get rejected before peer review were more likely to be accepted after peer review. Such a cancellation would probably not happen in other situations.)

I see Charlie's point about blinding initial submissions, but I'm not wholly convinced: yes, eventually you have to work together, but maybe a large fraction of the gender bias occurs before personal contact is made, in which case blinding initial submission is a good idea (orchestras now routinely blind auditions, even though the subsequent relationship between the members of the orchestra and their conductor has to be personal).

I also see the point that disguising gender at any stage is treating the symptoms, not the disease – but just treating the symptoms does sometimes lead to recovery from the disease. JK Rowling was originally advised to use initials by her publisher, to avoid putting off male readers, but sales of later books weren't dented by their knowing her gender. Nora Robert's use of the gender-neutral pseudonym "JD Robb" for her "In Death" books might have been chosen for the same reason (I don't know), but if so that's been effectively derailed by the fact that the books are now badged as "Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb". If there were more successful female writers of hard SF, maybe agents/publishers would be less likely to exhibit unconscious (or indeed conscious) bias – does it matter if that greater number initially has to be "stealthed" in by use of gender-neutral author names?

60:

Thanks Susan.

Another thing that confuses me is that we seem to be blurring and shifting fields. Is the problem in all of SF, or in gear-head hard SF? You have to realize, I come from a family of engineers where an uncle read more romance novels than my mom the gear-head did, so I'm hopelessly confused about what appropriate behavior is supposed to look like. I suppose in just trying to be myself, I've ended up being sexist by accident.

We seem to be bouncing around so much that examples are being pulled from one genre to talk about problems in another, and I'm not sure we're getting anywhere.

Still, I keep wondering about the gender stereotypes, of "lad's hard SF," where the intricacies of the technologies are the sparkly bits and the relationships are tacked on. And there's the converse, the "girl's romance SF," where the the intricacies of the relationships are the sparkly bits and the tech is tacked on. Apparently it's a pain in the ass for authors of minority genders to break into either group and stay profitable there, let alone cross the streams and put a story in the middle.

Is this even approximately correct?

And our goal is to understand all these biases so that we can end them, and anyone can write anything and profit from it if it's good enough?

Is there any way in which this isn't a difficult problem?

61:

That sentence, above, I pulled out because it's so full of misconceptions that I'm not sure where to begin dissecting it

Oh, you did a nice job of dissecting it :-) You should probably add part of the dissection to your Misconceptions About Publishing series.

Somewhere, probably decades ago, I picked up the idea that part of an editor's job was reading the manuscripts that arrived over the transom, and that whether or not they liked them at this 'cold' reading was crucial in getting a foot in the door. Obviously a wrong impression.

The actual problem seems to be not a single point of failure where one stage of the publishing process places unfair obstacles before one category of authors, but a whole bunch of low-level biases at every stage

But this does raise the question of how to deal with the matter at hand. If the problem is small, cumulative biases, then tackling them is liable to be like herding cats — especially if they are unconscious biases*. If they are small enough biases, and the populations dealt with by each individual are small**, then at each stage of the process they may not be statistically significant. A small bias sounds like it should be easier to correct than a large one, but it's easier to deny, too.

most of the male commentators here seem to think that the answer to endemic sexism is for female authors to hide from it

Not the impression I'm getting.

In the last three blog posts I counted five people suggesting that. Two (Greg and Elderly Cynic) said that it wasn't a solution to the problem, but might be a logical choice for an individual author. I suggested it tongue-in-cheek, and again a bit more seriously above***. Then effey1 and Pigeon above.

That's three guys and two unknowns. A long way from most****.

More to the point, hiding potentially biasing information is a technique that is routinely used to combat bias. There are lots of questions you can't ask on an employment application, for example. Think of it like those orchestra auditions mentioned in the last blog thread: it would be ideal if there was no bias against female musicians, but given that bias exists then blind auditions seem to help female musicians get gigs. Blind auditions don't solve the problem, but they do mitigate part of it.

It's one technique I use myself when marking papers: I make a stack aligned so that the names covered, mark the stack writing the marks on the paper, then record the marks. It's not perfect — by the end of the year I frequently recognize students by style — but I do my best to remove the possibility that I might subconsciously be biased for or against a particular student when I mark their paper.

If the problem really is "a whole bunch of low-level biases at every stage", then solving it will require reworking society (in the long term) or a whole bunch of mitigation strategies (in the short term). Making the slushpile filtering a blind process seemed to be a good place to start. And it still seems doable — even if the editor needs to know who the author is, at least the intern reading the slushpile doesn't, they just need to know if the manuscript is good or not. That would be one possible point of bias removed.


*I recall reading a study several years ago. The researchers had German judges review cases and determine sentences based on the evidence. Ostensibly this was testing consistency in sentencing. They also primed the judges by having them look at a random number before making their decision. The higher the random number, the longer the sentence or larger the fine. Bias from a totally unrelated event. How does one control something like that, even if one is aware it can happen?

**How many authors would the typical editor manage, anyway?

*** Based on a misconception about book acquisition from new authors, and the study that showed that blind auditions in orchestras reduced bias, Admittedly I should have referenced the study when making the suggestion.

****Yes, I really did spend a couple of hours rereading the comments. There were some people arguing strongly that they aren't biased and their reading choices shouldn't be restricted, and a weird tangent on sex-linked writing styles that sounded dodgy, but unless there were a lot of deleted comments I'm not seeing anything like "most" there.

62:

I see Charlie's point about blinding initial submissions, but I'm not wholly convinced: yes, eventually you have to work together, but maybe a large fraction of the gender bias occurs before personal contact is made, in which case blinding initial submission is a good idea (orchestras now routinely blind auditions, even though the subsequent relationship between the members of the orchestra and their conductor has to be personal).

What I was trying to say, but much clearer.

63:

What I don't see is how this can possibly be fixed. Or, at least, fixed without first entirely fixing the entirety of society.

I mean, I've heard people say sexist things. I've even read a few online comments[1] that were appallingly misogynistic. But I've never heard someone so much as suggest that they care about the gender of the author one whit[2]. I suspect that all book readers who'd cop to it, even under the conditions of absolute anonymity, wouldn't be much more than a drop in the bucket. Or have I lived a strangely sheltered life?

I can only presume it is an unconscious bias, and the thing about being told to correct your unconscious biases is that it, at best, produces bewilderment. I don't know how you fix unconscious biases[3] and I've not heard any suggestions either.

I mean, maybe you could do it crudely? What's the disparity? Could you simply commit to buying X hard-SF books by women each year and thus offset the average per-reader bias? Do women readers need to do the same/similar? Has anyone checked? I mean it wouldn't be doing much, but it would be doing something.

Also: What about those female authors who succeed? Ann Leckie writes hard-ish SF[4] and she's certainly not hurting for visibility and her name is prominent on her book covers. What's different in her case? I'm not saying that Leckie's case[5] makes it all Officially Better. I'm just curious if it can be replicated indefinitely.

[1] Of the actual-sentences-with-discoverable-meaning sort. I'm not counting the walls of ALLCAPs swearing.
[2] Except those who suggest that they/we should read more female authors.
[3] Except by denying yourself/people the information they need for the bias to manifest itself. But Charlie says that's entirely impossible, so there's that gone.
[4] Well, okay, it's really Banksian space opera, but that's not exactly a genre in which there's an overwhelming female presence. Yet, at any rate.
[5] Or Le Guin's. Or Cherryh's? Or &c.

64:

I just finished TR:FL and enjoyed it very much. After reading your Whatever big idea, I realized I had recently read two of your short stories in Baen's Years Best Military SF and Space Opera and really liked your writing. That did it for me - bought First Light immediately and look forward to the rest of Red, in spite of the price. Seems that writing sells writing.

65:

Another commenter noted that he bought new books based on suggestions from blogs. I think the last batch of new books that I bought, from authors I hadn't read before, was from a lot of suggestions on this blog. IIRC, almost all were male authors.

While I like to think I am not sexist, with some introspection about my choices I think I do tend to demand a higher standard of quality from women authors than men. Some women authors easily overcome that standard, most notably Ann Leckie, whose Ancillary Justice was outstanding and has committed me to reading the trilogy. I have read Andreadis' collection of stories by mostly women authors of women protagonists - "The Other Half of the Sky" - and enjoyed many of the stories.

Two points to note about this last book. Firstly it obviously didn't sell well based on the few Amazon US ratings. Is that due to a marketing issue? I certainly don't recall it ever making the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble.
Secondly, I personally liked Jack McDevitt's story the best. I don't think personally that McDevitt is a great author, but this story certainly appealed to me more than most of the others. I can't pin it to any one factor, but possibly writing style?

When I think back to the really great women SF authors of the past, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) really stands out. The pseudonym might have helped, but even early on I had a sense that this was not a man writing. But the stories were brilliant and I maintain a collection of her books in my library which I occasionally reread.

What do these vague impressions mean for Linda Nagata? My first suggestion is find a way to get noticed more. For example, I read Clarkesworld and if I read a good short story there, I will likely look out for more, especially a novel that excites my interest (It doesn't look like you have published there). Secondly, maybe a male or non-specific name might help overcome my biases in choosing a book to buy. But most importantly, write well and target your stories to the male reader, especially if we are your main market (today). This may mean trying different styles of writing to achieve commercial success.

66:

A purely sales-driven approach recapitulates the social status quo.

Every argument against recapitulating the status quo is an argument for losing money.

(You know that Unwin quote about acquiring Lord of the Rings? "IF it is a work of genius, THEN you may lose a thousand pounds"? It's well known because it really really paid off. Statistically all similar decisions didn't, and don't.)

So the problem, in the dubious sense in which there is a the problem, is that the status quo is witheringly male supremacist. There's the mostly unchallenged presumption that male voices are more important than female ones.

That's a tough problem for an acquiring editor; an editor wants to have their career, and that means they're stuck with being mostly status-quo because otherwise they're that editor who loses the most money.

So, useful mechanisms of social change in the SF field -- every single time a male author gets interviewed, question two (after "tell us about your latest book") is "which women writers are better writers than you, and why?" As readers, start asking this at cons; start insisting that interviews include it.

(CJ Cherryh -- tangible mood you can stub your toes on. Pamela Dean -- depth and coherency of setting. It doesn't just arise from its past it implies its future and its present distances throughout. Patricia McKillip -- prose style; just saying "lyrical" isn't enough, but I'm not sure what would be; it seems like an ability to move the point at which density of evocation collapses into poetry.)

67:

"A purely sales-driven approach recapitulates the social status quo.

Every argument against recapitulating the status quo is an argument for losing money."

Hmm, yes and no. Organizing against the publishers threatens to cause them to lose more than if they make certain changes themselves. They wont make more by doing the right thing, but they could lose less than if they continue doing things the same way. That's how things change. It's worked before.

If you wait until the population at large sees the light and overcomes their antiquated ways of thinking you are going to be waiting a very long time. Sometimes change happens incrementally, and sometimes the first increments involve using what leverage you have. We cant convince sexist readers that they are wrong and should change their buying habits (at least not in the short term). We can pressure publishers to market certain people. Don't overlook any opportunity to effect change.

68:

Addendum I just bought teh eBook with the two stories "Nahiki West" and "Nightside on Callisto". Both very good and exactly the sort of stories I want to read. You have a new fan. I hope that you can build a larger audience soon. You deserve one.

69:

Mr./Ms April_D:

First of all I never implied that women were prevented them from publishing under their own names.
I believe that the word sexism and mysogyny are being thrown way too easily nowadays, especially in issues of preference. Do publishers exhibit sexist tendancies when they're not giving the same chances to a female writer ? Maybe, but I wouldn't say it for sure because they are too many parameters to take in account here. Does it have to be fixed ? of course, everyone deserves the same chances from the start, regardless of the book meeting its public or not. But we have to see things from a publisher's perspective. They're in a business to make money, and if they see that female names in some genre fiction don't sell (hopefully after they gave it a try multiple times), then obviously they'll try to change gears and adopt another strategy (eg. using a male pseudonym). Personally I don't like it, but I understand it.

If we see things that way, does that mean that there's some systemic sexism/mysogyny at hand in this case ? No, I don't think so.

Mr. Damian:

For the anti-feminist backlash thing, personally I'm not, but to answer in general, I think some men may believe that while advancing women's rights is great, we do not see the repercussions it has on men, but that's another issue.

Existing gender imbalance ? There's gender imbalance everywhere, does it mean it's necessarily bad ? No. In general, parity isn't the answer to everything. Feminism is best when it strives to give women better opportunities, new and better choices to make and equal chances on the starting block and prevent female abuse of any kind, not when it confuses choices with almost absolute parity.

Overall my point is: let's not automatically assume that there's sexism when a female author writing with her name isn't having the same success as a man. Other factors come into play, and let's not forget choice. As I said, although I'm fine reading female SF novels, other men don't have to, and I believe that's doesn't necessarily make then sexist, nor does it mean they're internalizing it. And I also believe that making men consider / promote female SF authors almost for the sake of it isn't the solution. It should be natural. After all, not everyone is on the same level of personal evolution, which is why mentalities take a long time to change, especially when we're over 40, where habits tend to crystallize.

70:

A non-intuitive suggestion -
Look for a publisher that tends to cater to the market you want - for mil-SF, Baen.
Have you tried Baen ?
Or more extreme, a publisher who is an ace at generating publicity like Castalia, and in a triumph of reverse psychology (which may amuse the publisher) would put your book (or your backlist) on the radar of the sort of people most likely to be prejudiced against you. Should you sell to them, you would do more to change minds, should minds need changing, than any complaints in a friendly venue.
To fight the dragon, or even make a persuasive argument to the dragon, one must go to the dragons den.

71:

That's how things change. It's worked before.


I'd suggest looking into the emancipation of female participation in the work force, 1946-1953 then 1969-1981 (USA, CCCP, UK, Northern EU works).

Instead of a more equal society, now it requires two working parents to pay for a family apart from states where sovereign wealth funds or oil was used to off-set the effects with social support.

It wasn't an accident that wages stagnated, credit was offered and incremental inflation made the single-provider family impossible for anyone not in the white-collared work force[1].

Again, something the reactionaries are against (well, some of them), for various reasons. The worst (the 'quiver-full' people) for Religious / Ideological reasons - the somewhat more sane because they can recognize that a stable society is based on the family / social groups.


Arguments about who is included in that statement are largely irrelevant if you end up with a Mad Max situation (or De Caprio lounging on a beach with six fashion models held up as the dream. Harems and data hacks of illicit affair websites. It's all linked).


[1] Look into
The Childless Millennial Atlantic piece, 29th April, 2015 - horribly wrong, but a neutral enough source.

72:

To fight the dragon, or even make a persuasive argument to the dragon, one must go to the dragons den.


Without causing a spat or breach of neutrality, Baen is about as far away from 'dragon' as you can get.


Watchweyr, maybe.

But, thanks for the laugh.

73:

If we see things that way, does that mean that there's some systemic sexism/mysogyny at hand in this case ? No, I don't think so.

That, in effect, is claiming that it's OK to be sexist because everone else is, and you'll suffer if you don't copy them. It's not realism, it's at best sloping shoulders, and at least collaboration.The right thing to do isn't always easy; the easy thing to do isn't always right.

The situation is demonstrably biased. Wearing an intellectual blindfold and earplugs doesn't change that.

I think some men may believe that while advancing women's rights is great, we do not see the repercussions it has on men

Equality? Tolerance? Having to give up innate advantages? How awful.

Any man who can't cope with the thought of a level playing field, with equality of opportunity, is a immature type who needs to suck it up and grow a pair.

Because it's the same whining I hear from the insecure types whenever they lose their echo chambers: "oh noes, women in the boardroom / golf club / officers' mess; we iz losing our comfy place where we can hide from the scary gender".

Challenge yourself. Educate the next generation. Don't tolerate bigotry in your presence.

Oh, and stop making excuses - denying the issue, or using weasel words to claim "oh, you just have to understand" or "it's not really unfair" is intellectually dishonest.

74:

Well, at least it's equally dismal. I cant claim to be an expert on those time periods, those places, or that topic. You have a resource you could link me to?

But looking at the small picture, short term, I dont think we want to do nothing because of the possibility of unintended consequences. That's the status quo. When you play poker, you gotta' take chances.

One thing in our favor, I dont think it's the religious, ideological reactionaries who control the marketing departments of the largest publishers.

And what's wrong with harems? As long as they're gender neutral?

75:

And what's wrong with harems? As long as they're gender neutral?

I'm not sure how to process this.

It's such a bizarrely framed concept, laden with questions, I'm simply stumped. I can't process if you're really totally without knowledge of bathos or are pretending that power as a concept doesn't exist.

I can't figure out whether to raise an eyebrow for the irony or cut your liver out of your body for an elite paying patron as you're part of his (economic) harem.


It's a tough one.

Repo Men [YouTube: film: 3:52 - TRIGGER WARNING: Ultra Violent. I didn't link the end scene though... which is where my mind is looking at yours]


You have a resource you could link me to?


Yes.

It's called the history of the USA, CCCP, UK and EU in those time periods.

There's many books, but a good start would be any number of places. I'd suggest pinging a decent university and looking at their reading lists.


I dont think we want to do nothing because of the possibility of unintended consequences.


Capital is inherent conservative. Risk analysis on new concepts is a tough one.

~


Ah, I get it.


You don't accept the premise.


Spread your wings and learn to fly.

76:

Oh, and: Trigger Warning.


This is the Repo Men link [YouTube: film : 2:23] - not in entirety.

Want your harem now, mr meat-man?

77:

Is there an Excel spreadsheet somewhere listing all SF/F authors (male and female) showing a bit of detail re: story plot line, level of tech, types of main characters, etc.? Because, I really do have some idea as what types of plot lines, characters, level of technology, etc. that I do and do not like.


And I do want some author bio info ...
I first read Elizabeth Moon because she was recommended by a friend. Moon's personal military background gave her military fantasy more heft (realism) on many levels, and this time from the lowest rank perspective. (Everyone else's military protagonist is at least a general it seems.) So I bought/read all of her Gird/Paks fantasies. And when she went into space opera, I followed ... and felt that the only difference was of setting. But still an enjoyable read. Then I was floored when I picked up Speed of Dark ... so unlike any of her previous work .. but by then I knew I could rely on her as a story-teller. Speed of Dark was phenomenal. Later I found out why: it too was based on personal knowledge/ experience.

That said, I realize that authors don't always write what they do/know. But in the SF/F field, I feel that I can tell when I'm getting a glimpse of personal insight. This is what I want ... to get a true insight into an area that I am unlikely to ever personally experience.

Stephen Baxter is a favorite hard SF author because I can trust him to get his science right. Neal Stephenson is not a working scientist but may as well be because he exhaustively researches whatever he's writing. So, I routinely check for anything new from both of them. (Actually, I start at A and go through Z picking up every 'favorite' author's new book.)

Aside ...
I also read some science (non-fiction). When CERN was powering up I wanted to get some basic understanding of what was going on. After visiting the local library (including inter-library loans) and the mega bookstores, I found Lisa Randall.* She's a great explainer which is exactly what I needed/wanted. [Professor Lisa Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University.] And, like every new favorite author I discover, I've now purchased all of her books.

* She was on the NYT Best Seller list ... which I do not usually check for potential reading material. Reason being ... some of what made it to this list was utter rubbish, i.e., DaVinci's Code, Dianetics, etc. So, not a sufficiently reliable source.

Lastly, I'd probably buy any neuroscience-based (real science) SF/F because this science is still relatively new, but it's confused with the psychobabble from earlier days ... sorta like writing about chemistry but because of insufficient technical detail/explanation the result is that the average non-techie SF/F reader is likely to continue to perceive it as alchemy. Very frustrating. Any author who can break through this wall is guaranteed to get my $.

78:

I'd probably buy any neuroscience-based (real science) SF/F

Have you read any Peter Watts? If you want neuroscience, I'd suggest him especially Blindsight and Echopraxia. Trained biologist, and he keeps up with the field. His backlist is available on his website, free last time I checked, so risk-free to check him out.

http://www.rifters.com/index.htm

79:

Blindsight is good. Echopraxia is terrible.


And he doesn't keep up with the cutting edge. (Echopraxia is a lazy, lazy book, and has logic gaps the size of Pluto in it).


~


Apologies. Blood rises, fangs bared, this audience, not predators at all. I was hoping I'd get some play from the poster above, but the out-classing is so clear it'd be like shoving the sheep carcass into the tiger's den at a Zoo.

Which is part of the point: men protect their inadequacies through power structures, and will over-compensate when challenged. If challenged sufficiently, they either burn out or disappear.


The highest insult a man can have from a woman (in your binary universe) is that she's bored with you:

Bored of your conversation
Bored of your sexual prowess (and stupidly feigns an orgasm)
Bored of your society
Bored of your rules
Bored of your existence

And so, and so forth.

*shrug*


I'm bored of your modern females as well. But not in the same way, I view them as autistic, but in the mirror image way.


~

Shrug.


SF forum, no-one but host imagines tings like squid neuronetworked communities.


MEDIOCRE.

p.s.


Look up magnetic wormholes. German crew just made one. You iz slooooow.

80:

Nope. You're skipping between the general and the specific in ways that don't follow. Any position you reach at the end of your rant isn't coherent enough to be called a conclusion.

I suppose I have a general baseline that suggests anyone arguing in favor of inequality occupies an especially low status in an unequal world. Certainly I look down on such people, but that could be prejudice.

81:

Off-topic comments will be removed.

For an idea of what is on-topic, read Linda's post.

82:

Linda, I just wanted to drop in and thank you for posting this. I've just been catching up on these last few posts and it's interesting to see the drop-off in comment levels between Judith's initial post and this one, where you ask people to actually think about their buying habits.

For me the key issue is moving the conversation forward beyond the point of 'do we have a problem?' It's the same thing over and over again, being asked to prove the 'problem' is 'real' and then by the time talk gets around to doing anything about it, everyone has had their fill and sort of shrugs.

You and I started publishing novels at roughly the same time, and with the same house. We are both, twenty years on, still marginalized. It kind of breaks my heart to see you up here saying, 'Hey guys, maybe you could consider buying hard SF by women'and realizing that it's just the same old thing, still. Again. Seems like always.

Especially when I know one reason you are doing it is for the future, the younger ones coming along--and there will always be women in SF because THERE ALWAYS HAVE BEEN. It's like the whole history of the genre is full of these suspicious, woman-shaped holes and it's really kind of creepy.

I think this subject for a lot of people is a talking point and nothing more. And when women writers such as ourselves are constantly being expected to beg for the smallest bit of attention, it gives the impression that we can't actually be all that good. But we are.

You are the real deal. You're an excellent writer. You've had awards, you've had endorsements from some serious SF writers, you're taken seriously by big name dudes who write the stuff, and I understand you have devoted fans who have managed to find their way to your work. Yet your presence has not broken through the larger public consciousness, even after so. Many. Years. And. So. Many. Conversations.

There's this giant cognitive dissonance with a lot of people and it's in evidence any time any woman says anything like what you just said in public. I salute you for saying it.

But you really shouldn't have to. You shouldn't have to keep proving yourself. It's frankly ridiculous.

83:

"And what's wrong with harems? So long as they're gender neutral?"

They're massively wasteful of human potential, turning real people into property and pets.

The real question here is how come (presumably) you think a gender-neutral harem is acceptable but a gender-specific harem is bad?

84:

Damn, I keep getting Repo Men confused with Repo Man. Ugh, pretty sure I don't want to see the former if that clip's anything to go by.

85:

Yeah, this thread has been very useful. It's reminded me of why I got so tired of SF to the point I stopped buying.

Linda, Tricia - you've got me interested in trying your books, and I like the way you've both presented yourselves here.

Be seein' ya.

86:

Charlie @13:

(Is the solution to white racism to encourage people of colour to pass as white? Or to fix the underlying pathology? I hope you can see the analogy here.)

THANK YOU for saying this. Seriously, I was close to banging my head on the table, the wall, anything when reading the responses to Judith Tarr's post which were seriously suggesting that for women to succeed, we should disguise ourselves as men. It's like... dude, (what the flying fazackers) are you THINKING?

The problem is that women (and people with non-western names, and people who aren't white, and people who are openly genderqueer/non-heterosexual, and people who are disabled and people who aren't from the USA or the UK, and so on and so on) aren't selling because there's a lot of unacknowledged bias: among agents when selecting authors to represent; in the manuscript-purchasing divisions at large publishers; in the bulk purchasing divisions of book-selling chains; and, eventually, among the individual book purchasing public[0]. The marketroids at the top of the chain have got hold of the process, and they're saying very loudly "thou shalt not take risks with our money" - which is what leads to white, male, middle class, middle-of-the-political-road, USA-dwelling authors getting multi-million dollar, multi-book publishing contracts[1] while writers of equal literary and artistic merit, but less obvious "saleability" (in that they aren't white, male, USA-dwelling everymen) wind up taking their chances on the vagaries of the market, with less promotion, less marketing support, and less assistance all around. "More of the same" is rewarded at present. Risks aren't.

Writing-while-female is apparently a genuine risk outside certain highly specific genres[2].

eBob @34:

I'd just give a decent amount (if I had it) to have a local book store. My nearest one is about 20 minutes drive away in any direction. Fortunately the local library is only 10 minutes drive away.

However, I can support your point. I noticed the rot setting in back in the early 2000s, back before the collapse of Angus & Robertsons - the science fiction/fantasy section of most book stores (but particularly A&R) tended to be one shelf of Tolkien, one shelf of Pratchett, one shelf of Eddings, one shelf of Herbert, one shelf of Sara Douglass, one shelf of tie-in novels and everything else sort of shovelled in wherever they fitted around that, and the whole section was about two bookshelves in total. Dymocks is marginally better - they tend to extend to four shelves, but then they've taken to shuffling horror into the same shelves as SFF these days, so it's still one shelf each to Pratchett, Tolkien, Herbert, 2 shelves of George RR Martin, one shelf of Stephen King, 2 shelves of tie-ins, and then shovel everything else in wherever it can fit. If you want anything which isn't on the "more of the same" list (including most US authors) you have to go to a specialist SFF bookshop... if you have one of those available (my nearest: better part of an hour away by train).

Don't get me started about the "selection"[3] on offer in places like Target, Big W and so on.


[0] That said, when you're being offered a choice of only "salt and vinegar potato crisps", or "vinegar and salt potato chips" as a purchaser, it's pretty hard to see where your purchasing power actually comes into things, or how it could have an influence save by abstaining from purchase altogether. For further examples of what I'm talking about here, consider the almost aggressive similarity of competing newspapers to each other, and competing television programs to each other.
[1] I have nothing against John Scalzi, and I think it's great he now has a degree of income security a lot of people don't have. But he serves as a useful example here.
[2] Young Adult, Children's, Romance, Supernatural Romance, Urban Fantasy, etc.
[3] One shelf of SFF dominated largely by supernatural romance/50 Shades-alikes is NOT a selection.

87:

So I've just been reminded how the same term can be used in entirely different ways in different literary contexts. I am so used to what "harem" refers to in anime I actually forgot there is a more literal meaning.

Anyway, you seemed to be making a claim that there is some obvious historical reason why we couldn't pressure publishers to promote female hard SF works more. I'm reasonably familiar with history, but I cant think of any.

There's an argument that if you only solve one small problem in the world, you haven't solved the real problem, underlying all the others, which is true. There is also the argument that you cant solve all the world's true underlying problems, at least at any one time, you can only solve a small piece of it, which is also true.

Two steps forward, one step back. That's the way of it.

The risk of doing nothing while we argue about it is pretty clear.

88:

At the risk of getting piled on, I will point out that the "don't be angry" and "write under a pseudonym" crowd do have a really good point.

White male heteronormative writers simply have to struggle to get their work published in the highly competitive and small market of hard SF, and to make a living thereby.

Every other writer has three struggles:

1. Getting their work published in a highly competitive and small market of hard SF and making a living thereby.

2. Dealing with all the prejudices and problems they believe they face,

3. Dealing with their own responses to the prejudices and problems they believe they face.

Note that "believe" is not denigrating: no one is an objective being, and we've all got to deal with the problems we believe we face, whatever their reality. The difference between perception and reality bites down hard when the problem you believe you face turns out to be different than the problem you actually face, especially when your actions to solve your perceived problem make the real problem worse (and don't read a subtext into this, it's an abstract statement only).

Assuming you agree with my analysis (and you may not), this raises other points:

With regard to Problem 3, internalizing the trauma and prejudices can get in the way of writing, as a number of people have testified. Dealing with the internal mess takes time and resources. Getting the world to give you some measure of justice is another struggle that takes time and resources. If you want to pursue either of these goals, you need extra time and resources.

With respect to Problem 2, part of the issue here is trying to figure out what problems you actually face, which again takes time and resources. But this is necessary, if you want to take actions that lead to a better outcome, rather than a worse one.

And then, after all that, you've still got to sell your writing and make a living, so that you have that extra time and those resources.

Now, this isn't a counsel of despair, but it's worth looking at things like using a pseudonym or picking which genre you want to struggle in as AVOIDANCE TACTICS.

In martial arts, they pay lip service to the idea of avoiding fights and dodging attacks as the best defenses, before spending years teaching you all the tactics to deal with a "fair fight," because that's what their art is really about. The US Military doesn't believe in fair fights, because they lose too many people that way. Guerrillas avoid fair fights as doctrine. There's a reason for this, and it's why you shouldn't use the martial arts metaphor of the good struggle as the way to prevail in an uneven conflict where you've got more problems to deal with than your perceived opponents do.

There's a lot to be said for avoiding the fight. In publishing, that means going around or away from the gatekeepers, building your own audience and publishing infrastructure. And yes, if making a living is the most important thing to you, writing under pseudonyms, in favorable genres, or in existing universes where the pay is good even if there's little control.

This sucks, but it's a matter of priorities. What are you writing for? How much does making a living as a writer matter on your scale of things? How much does making your personal art matter on your scale of things? How much does creating a more equitable situation for everyone matter on your scale of things?

I can't answer any of those, because I'm not you. For people who prioritize making a living above the others, avoidance strategies are useful.

In regard to this topic, I think it's great to publicize the stereotypical prejudices of readers and the industry, because self-reflective people who are able to change may well do so, and that will ameliorate the situation a bit without too much work on your part. But that's the easy stuff. What comes after this is increasingly difficult, and all I can say is, good luck, and I hope you make it (again, or for a third or fourth time).

89:

There's a lot to be said for avoiding the fight. In publishing, that means going around or away from the gatekeepers, building your own audience and publishing infrastructure.

This is exactly the approach taken by Hollywood actresses unable to get good roles in movies, especially after they had had established themselves but were deemed "too old". Find a way to bypass the gatekeepers to reach your audience.
Hollywood pitches movies primarily for the young adult male audience, and we've seen the result in the movie theaters - a lot of dumbed down, action oriented movies. The public can either pay to see those movies or not, but we cannot easily change the supply.

From what I read above, this seems to be the same problem facing writers in hard SF. Bypassing the gate keepers seems like a good strategy that has worked [somewhat] for actors.

90:

And sometimes there is something to be said about throwing yourself into the fight, headlong into the faces of the people who are exploiting you. Avoidance only works (to the extent it does) just so long as no one notices you. How long do you think it would be before sexist readers figure out that anyone using initials is probably a woman (whether that is an accurate assessment or not)?


Better to attack. Just make certain you attack them in a weak spot. And make sure you have the right enemy. Don't take on the world, take on the weakest link. In this case, that's the publishers.

91:

Well, there you go Demarquis.
Except this may not actually be a fight. Or require a fight.
A lot of all this is just a lack of communication or miscommunication.
Best thing to do is target your desired market and speak directly to them. Maybe you will find they don't actually hate you, and that you can get to like them. It's hard to sell to people you despise, hate or mistrust.
Best book to learn selling that I know of is Carnegie's "How to win friends and influence people".

92:

I didnt explain myself clearly- I'm not advocating expressions of hate toward even sexist readers- what would that accomplish? I'm advocating organizing to pressure publishers to support female authors with larger promotion budgets. That's still "Fighting" in a fashion, even though emotional-based messages may be unnecessary.

93:

I'm so sorry to see this kind of thing from female SF authors, and Linda Nagata in particular. Linda, I consider you one of the very best authors I have ever read - having started with Red... and then working backwards, including your fantasy as well as hard science and military. It shocks me that you might have become so demoralised at one point as to stop writing the stuff and I sincerely hope you continue writing Fantasy, where you do read like a 'female' author, and none the worse for that (something indefinably earthy and intimate) and hard or any other kind of SF - where I would be very hard pressed to judge whether I was reading a male or a female author if I didn't know in advance. The truth of the matter is that I just don't give a damn. There may well be too many idiot male chauvinists around, some of whom are unnecessarily noisy and some of whom may have undesrved influence in the field. But I just hope, for purely selfish reasons, that you and other female authors continue with your amazingly good contributions to the field. It'd be such a shame and a loss if onanistic bullshitters of either gender, but particularly the male ones, succeed in shutting you down...

94:

There is a promotions budget ?
Do they still have that ?
I though the thing now was to pull a Hugh Howey and self-promote. The talking is to readers, not to editors.
There are also other publishers that would be in a better position to get to the right kind of readers. The old bookstore channel is going away.
Baen seems right for the kind of readers you want.
Or a hail Mary play to someone like Castalia, that has those readers also plus an ability to market through internet publicity.

95:

As I noted, this is a problem of resources. Everyone wants to get in a fight, but the problem is that, if you're losing money, time, energy, and possibly reputation by turning it into a fight, while the other side is not, you'd better have deep pockets.

Again, I'm not saying that fighting back is wrong. What I am saying is that it's better to really think about your goals and resources and figure out whether fighting is the best way to go, or whether there's a strategy (perhaps involving avoidance) that works better for you than fighting does.

Thing is, I'm not going to condemn someone who puts family above fame, nor am I going to condemn someone who puts fame above family and decides to flame brilliantly before burning out. Since as an environmentalist I'm getting to be a veteran of dealing with unsought conflicts against rich idiots (aka developers and normal civilians) and fighting the long defeat against the Sixth Mass Extinction, I will say that it's extremely smart to figure all this out before plunging in, powered only by righteous fury. You may or may not think of this as the voice of bitter experience.

96:

I’ve been at Worldcon and am presently on the long journey home, which is why I’ve been mostly absent here. I do want to say thank you for all the kind comments. Very much appreciated.

This isn’t just about my own career though. I used my experience as an example because I know it well. But it’s a general problem that goes to the future of the genre, and whether we can thrive and grow.

Regarding the numerous suggestions of hiding one’s identity, writing under a male name, a gender neutral name, etc.—it’s a strategy that might help an individual, but it perpetuates the base problem. Beyond that, there is/has been abusive backlash when a woman is “found out”--as incredibly absurd as that seems.

Regarding the suggestion of trying harder to get noticed…well, here we are, invading Charlie’s blog for a week. Between myself, Judith, and Nicola, the last two years have seen novels published both traditionally and on our own, short stories published (and republished in best-of’s), award nominations, successful kickstarters, participation in popular podcasts, reviews in significant publications… we are not exactly quiet, but are we still invisible?

Buwaya (91) said: “Best thing to do is target your desired market and speak directly to them.”

This is why we’re here. Most of you are core readers in the field. It’s in your power to lead the way, widen your horizons—follow the resources Charlie suggested—and when you find worthy reads, spread the word. If you expand the roster of what’s popular, the wider readership will follow—and by wider readership I mean those who never look at review sites but just pick up a book they’ve “heard about” one way or another. Many of you already do promote the work you enjoy, no matter who wrote it, and on behalf of all lesser-known writers, thank you for that.

97:

Well speaking directly to me has worked. I bought your Nanotech Succession Omnibus last night and right now I'm dosed up on painkillers because I got very little sleep last night. It has a few more fantasy elements than I was expecting of a "hard" SF book but it's not clear yet if they're dream sequences or the fact that late 20th century US SF is steeped in a fundamentalist religious state and that might be showing through. Time will tell I suppose. Despite the slight unexpected start I expect I'll plow through your entire back catalogue over the next couple of weeks.

I don't think I'm a mover or shaker in the world of anything much let alone SF. So I'm not sure how a sale to me is going to influence anyone else. Hopefully it will, but I don't know how.

What I would say is that I would never have bought (or even considered) your books in the 1990's because they're a trilogy. In Australia you might find the first book of a trilogy (8-10 years after the copyright date), but it's unlikely you'd ever see the second or third. Series works are something that I've only had access to since ebooks. Anything with "Book X of the Y series" goes straight back on the shelf unconsidered.

98:

"This is why we’re here. "

But is this your core market ?
It may not be.
That's an important question.
When trying to sell something you have to know the consumer you are equipped to serve. Then you make a product to suit.
Mil SF probably, for the most part, isn't best sold here.
I will indeed pick up your work, but I suggest you give that a think.

99:

What, exactly, are you trying to say?

100:

To put it bluntly, you probably need to got to where the war freaks are. I am, to a degree, but the hardcore isn't here.
I'm just a passing pigeon, not native to this place.
You want the guys who look for Ringo and Kratman and the like.

101:

OK, Just bought your first "Red" book.
Purely a bit of consumer feedback -
The Kindle price at $8.99 is rather high vs the market for this genre - a very great deal out there these days in Mil SF for 4.99-6.99.
To put it bluntly, at the risk of being sexist, men are cheap bastards.

102:

Just bought The Red as the premise sounded interesting. Is there a UK Kindle release of Trials happening? If not then that's fine, I have plenty to read, but it would be good to know.

PS. As to the point at hand, I don't think I have ever said 'I won't read that because a woman wrote it'. However, it's hardly an onerous burden to check oneself from time to time and make sure you are choosing books based on interest and not gender of author. It's good to have this kind of discussion from time to time to remind ourselves (anyone really, not just us boring whitebread guys) of this.

103:

But would you choose the female name because you think it will sell better, or because you would be embarrassed to be caught writing "women's books"? Is this a perfect example of unconscious bias?

In the context of women writing under a male name in SFF, is this question -- Are men writing as women in romance materially "punished" when they're outed? -- strictly relevant? It's not an unreasonable question in the grand scheme of things, but within this type of discussion it always tends to derail into: But see, white male writers are discriminated against too!

104:

Let me get this right (warning: possible sarcasm to follow): You're theorizing about an action that you're not going to take, in a genre that you have no interest in, while trying to make it somehow relevant to an issue that you don't really seem to care about, in another genre which you no longer read widely in?

*sniffs the air* Ah I do love the smell of derailment in the morning!

(@Mods: Hoping I stayed within bounds of polite incredulity and mild sarcasm.)

105:

Yes, an ebook of THE TRIALS will be out in the UK, hopefully in a couple of weeks. Thanks for trying book 1.

106:

As a general response, this isn't about the best way to sell my books, but much more generally about ways to improve the visibility, consideration, and acceptance of women in a wider swath of the genre.

107:

I gather thats what you intended.
However, again at the risk of sexism, men are usually more concrete minded.
One can't treat a carabao like a cat, or vice versa.
"Do precisely this now" works much better, usually, than "think more like this sometime".

108:

Thanks - just looked up Peter Watts, sounds very much like what I'm interested in. Will start with 'Blindsight'. According to Wikipedia, Charlie liked it and it's available online under the Creative Commons license.

On-topic ... Recently received a Big River gift certificate which I'll put toward buying/trying some new-to-me female authored SF/F, starting with guest host Linda Nagata's 'Limit of Vision'. (Already read Judith Tarr.)


Recommendations, anyone? (Preference for hard SF ... although also like McCaffrey, Moon, etc.)

109:

A question:

Are there some topics, character depictions, points of view that would enrage a publisher/reading public if put forth by a female author (vs. a male author)?

For example ... some milSF is actually thinly veneered torture porn, and from scanning the book store shelves, mostly by male authors. My reaction to one such (NYT-BS) novel was: Memo-to-self: This guy's a real d*ck, do not read/buy anymore of his stuff.' I'm wondering whether I'd be even more disgusted if the author had been female.

110:

My first thought on reading this was Joan Slonczevski. My copy of The Wall Around Eden is gathering dust due to my difficulty in finding anyone I know who wants to read hard SF by a female writer.

First comment here, Joan Slonczevski! I had no idea she had contributed here. Nice coincidence, thanks LRon.

111:

I'm travelling at the moment or I would do it myself now, but if nothing progresses I'll high jack a thread later for it when I get back.

But I think a crowd sourced recommended SF reading list with a one line description of series or novels would be a valuable resource for the wider SF community.

Similar to the recommended fantasy authors list I linked in the previous thread.

If we tag authors or books with useful info then it becomes trivial to supply recommendations for similar works, potentially on a separate page to reduce clutter on a simple list which the main body should be.

The real problem here is authors dropping off the radar and their works sinking without a ripple. Let's get those names listed along with the greats, and a few pumice stones might just float back up again. BigRiver might carry the books, but it won't do shit for highlighting them if they aren't selling well.

112:

We could be forgiven for hoping things had improved since George Eliot's time.

113:

Yep, it'd be a lot easier if someone else did all the hard work and provided a nice clear set of instructions for us to follow. But adding "do all the guys' thinking about sexism for them" to the pile of work society expects women to do for free seems a bit... against the point of this whole affair, a touch. Maybe our poor male brains could think about it without insisting on having our hands held the whole way?

114:

Damn, I keep getting Repo Men confused with Repo Man. Ugh, pretty sure I don't want to see the former if that clip's anything to go by.

The director is Miguel Sapochnik, who went on to work on The Game of Thrones for HBO with two guest spots.

Hard SF to Hard Fantasy - I was perhaps hinting at something else (c.f. use of rape in GoT and GRRM's recent match-making activities) in the larger market.


In any case, the film is actually passable satire on the themes of humans-as-property in a P.K. Dick kind of way, if extremely violent. I'm not sure GoT can claim the same level of satire defense of exploitation (note: context in the film is everything - no spoilers, but it's not what you think it is).


I am so used to what "harem" refers to in anime I actually forgot there is a more literal meaning.

Well, you've hit a mark I never knew existed:

Harem, hāremumono (ハーレムもの ?) (from harem), broadly, is an ambiguously-defined subgenre of anime and manga with an emphasis on polygamous or love triangle-type relationships; characterized by a protagonist surrounded, usually amorously, by three or more members of the opposing gender, sex and/or love interests.


This walks into categories that are off topic. I'd suggest some Hatoful Boyfriend to clear it up (secret ending).


But no. Harem how I used it is how everyone outside of a tiny niche uses it.

115:

Well, I would hope so too, but as with the whole #blacklivesmatter movement, what we hope for and what we've managed to get so far are two annoyingly different things.

116:

Kratman, by some chance?

Anyway, Susan R Matthews for a female author dealing in torture. However, I don't recall the one book of hers I read (Prisoner of Conscience) as being torture porn; more about the depressing effects and failure modes of same.

117:

As to the point at hand, I don't think I have ever said 'I won't read that because a woman wrote it'. However, it's hardly an onerous burden to check oneself from time to time and make sure you are choosing books based on interest and not gender of author. It's good to have this kind of discussion from time to time to remind ourselves (anyone really, not just us boring whitebread guys) of this.

Well, that gets into trouble too. For example, I'm currently (re)reading a bunch of books on climate change, because I'm putting together a non-fiction book proposal, which is essentially a marketing campaign. One of the things you need to do is to assess the market and figure out how well your competition is doing, so you can talk about what you're doing that's different and better.

So, 10 books, of which two have female authors.

Does that make me a bigot? Depends on what metric you use, I guess. I don't think I've missed any female writers on the topic, but I could be wrong. I'll have to check again. Should I leave off some male writers to make the gender ratio more equal? I don't know that either.

118:

If you feel the need to balance that up, Rosemary Kirstein's "Steerswoman" series is available for less than $5 an ebook; they start off smelling like fantasy, but sooner or later you figure out it's SF; the fact the main character is more-or-less a naturalist, botanist, and geographer helps (the books could be subtitled "The Scientific Method; the series" - it's fantastic). I point them to you particularly because Book 2 features succession ecology as terraforming method...

119:

Thanks. I'll look it up.

120:

Another recommendation for you; Caitlyn Sweet.

http://caitlinsweet.com

OK, fantasy not SF, and marketed as YA. I think the marketing's off, as they are a lot grittier than YA generally is. (Not dystopian — dealing with heavy, sometimes nasty themes.)

But take a look at her web site, and decide if you think the books might interest you. I've added them to my queue, even though I don't normally enjoy fantasy, because I think they will be an exception.

121:

Whatever happened to? People find it hard to note an absence, female authors of a certain age just disappear out of the bookstore. From what you and several other authors I respect have said in these threads, it seems to have become a received wisdom in the industry to not promote or even publish ladies of a certain age. Once such things become the received wisdom, it is basically a self fulfilling prophecy.
Beating such things with the publishers is almost impossible so I am hoping you and your fellow authors see an uptick in sales which you can brandish in front of publishers
I just bought Red while writing this (probably wouldn't have as I don't think of MilSf as my thing) and I have a to read pile, but I will let you know what I think of it and recommend if I like

122:

"But I think a crowd sourced recommended SF reading list with a one line description of series or novels would be a valuable resource for the wider SF community."


Great, thanks! Looking forward to it!

This could also be later used to identify characteristics and segments for further analysis. Maybe even do a readership study --- what people have read, what they re-read, what they voted for in the Hugos?

123:

This sounds interesting to me too, thanks ... will add it my list!

124:

I read YA as well because quite a few good regular SF/F authors (e.g. Pratchett, Heinlein) have written for this market segment. A good storyteller is a good storyteller.

125:

I agree. Good YA is too good for the kids!

For YA fantasy, I strongly recommend Frances Hardinge. She's done half a dozen or so novels, and I've not had a duff one yet (though one is still in my unread pile, so I concede that one could be). Her typical protagonist may be a quarter my age and female to boot, but I get sucked straight in.

(Disclaimer: a friend of friends, so I've met her a few times. But I think that means she has to work harder to get the same acknowledgement of her skills from me, at least at first.)

126:

>As a general response, this isn't about the best way to sell my books, but much more generally about ways to improve the visibility, consideration, and acceptance of women in a wider swath of the genre.

Surely the one advantage you (that's 'you' writers who worry and/or suffer from the bias not 'you women') do have here is that one of the major joys of the genre to the readers is enabling the questioning of their own assumptions by removing them from day-to-day context.

Having established that a bias exists, you have now surely also established that there is a market for books that manage to expose it when read. Now you just need to persuade any authors who find the subject interesting enough to write a novel about, but haven't already, to go ahead an do so, in the safe knowledge that it should actually sell.

I though Ann Leckie did an OK starter job of examining certain aspects ofGender Prejudice in Ancillary Justice and showed you could be successful doing it. But for me Ancillary Sword then did a really good job - pushing me to think about why I really wanted to know character's gender as part of opinion forming. Then I had a very nice interesting time judging actions without said prejudice. Thinking back I can see how that was almost certainly the plan (and I'm glad I left a decent gap between the books so I could forget any previous knowledge of who was which gender which would have spoiled the impact of the second book somewhat).

On the previous blog there was much discussion of 'Great female sci-fi authors you might have missed' (in my case this has resulted in a few book sales because yes - I missed some of them). Now i'm, somewhat selfishly, wondering if we couldn't have a i've just read 'Ancillary Sword' and 'The Annihilation Score' and want more - where should I look thread.

Looking back over the comments I really also get the impression that someone (or someones) really needs to do a more overt of nailing the 'women think differently from men' aspect. Funnily best i've read on that recently is Rick Riordan who's doing an increasingly good job of it as Percy Jackson progresses (we're on the last book for bedtime reading here). In the first sequence it was less overt - (almost?) all told from the point of view of Percy, but he did give us a 'daughter of ares', Annabeth Chase is a very strong character and there is full equality of the sexes throughout) but the second sequence, which has worked up to rotating the view between a whole variety of people, is doing a spot on job.

127:

The last two SFF books I bought were Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice and Nina Allan's Race. I bought them about ten days ago and I didn't really consider the sex of the authors when I bought them. I hummed and hawed about whether I would like a book that had won every award in the field and decided I'd follow the crowd. I don't regeret that decision and book two is on it's way to me from the dreaded Amazon. The story behind Nina Allan is a bit more interesting. She wrote a short story in Interzone called 'Marielena', an apparently slight story that never left me. So, revised view, not slight at all.I searched her out, feels a bit wrong to be honest, and she had only published the one novel. So I bought it on the basis of a short story I admired.

I think, apart from the iconic authors, that it is through short fiction that I find long fiction. Or through buzz. On web sites like this.

Just my thoughts.

128:

Hi Linda, I am a big fan of yours. Limit of Vision is my favorite (by far - it's really a great novel, please write more like that), followed by The Bohr Maker and Tech Heaven. I found Vast and Deception Well fascinating but a bit too intense. I didn't like Memory much. I look forward to reading First Light.

But I won't recommend your books because you are a woman. I will recommend them because you are a great writer.

129:

Thanks for the pass, and thank you a lot for the recommendations.

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