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Why I started #Womentoread

So, yesterday I decided to indulge in another round of that intermittent habit, poking the internet with a stick, by starting a hashtag -- #womentoread -- over on Twitter. I asked people to recommend sff by women. The response was astonishing: I'd hoped that some of my friends would pick it up, but... One of the very first to do so was seanan_mcguire (Thank you, Seanan!) and it just took off. All afternoon (my timezone) and well into the evening, people were naming their favourites, exchanging names and recommendations and ideas. It was huge fun and the enthusiasm and engagement and excitement was just wonderful. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who joined in and help this happen. Towards the end of the day (my time) writer Harry Connolly (burger_eater) gave me the idea of capitalising on all this momentum by linking it to a series of blogposts about specific women writers and post links to these pieces on twitter using the hashtag. (You can read Harry's article here.) I've written about women writers whose work I love before, of course, but the problem has been that relatively few people saw them -- mainly my existing social circle and readers. And that is a key issue for many women writers: underexposure. But the hashtag, as I said, has some momentum, so this seems like an opportunity to try and raise the profile of writing by women and to address that underexposure to some degree.
But why now, exactly. I've done something like this before (last year with the fantasy by women thing). That's part of it. I am an activist to my bones: it's coded into me to try and *do* something when I see an injustice. And I know far too many really great women writers who are underrated, under-reviewed, under-recognised. I see male writers praised for doing things in books which women did before them, which women are doing as well as them -- but the women are ignored and sidelined. It is a fact that books by women are reviewed less frequently than books by men, and that prestigious review locales pay less attention to women than men.
This year's review survey came out two days ago. During the day, my twitter feed was full of men -- many of them high-profile and influential -- decrying the under-representation of women writers in reviews (and I am very glad to see them recognising this and commenting on it) but immediately going back to talking about, promoting and praising works by other men. Last week, jemck found ourselves in a major branch of a major UK book-chain in Oxford and noticed a promo table for fantasy. We're both fantasy authors, we took a look. The theme was clearly 'If you like George R R Martin, try this". It was a table about 4 foot x 4 foot square, piled high with fantasy. Great.
Except... all but three of the writers represented were men. And of the remaining 3 -- the women -- two were not epic fantasy writers but established Big Name Bestsellers -- Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins and the books by them on that table were both sf. That's fine. I love sf by women. But those two books -- The Host and The Hunger Games weren't there because they were 'like' A Game of Thrones; they were there because they're already bestsellers in a related field. The other women present was an epic fantasy author and a good one -- Robin Hobb. Who has a gender-neutral name.
I'm not saying the men on that table aren't good: there were some excellent books there, by excellent writers. There were also books by men I've never heard of, which are quite probably also excellent books. But the overall impression was 'This is A Man's World'. Jules and I started making a list of who was *not* on that table, of women who are epic fantasy writers and published in the UK.

Kate Elliott
Judith Tarr
Freda Warrington
Gail Z Martin
Trudy Canavan
Karen Miller/K E Mills
Glenda Larke
Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Gaie Sebold
Juliet E McKenna
Tanith Lee
Amanda Downum

That was in about a minute. Now, you can argue, very reasonably, that some of those women are out-of-print here (but you might like to think about how they came to fall out of print in this context, given that contracts depend on sales, sales depend on exposure -- and women do not get the exposure).
A table that censored women from a genre.
A twitter feed that decried a wrong -- and then went back to the male default
I saw red. At some point on the 22nd April, I asked, rather wistfully, if we could declare the next day -- yesterday -- promote women writers day. I got two responses, both from women, saying, yes, lets, and so...
I did.
You can see some of the responses and recommendations here. You can find more by going to twitter and hunting for the hashtag #womentoread.
You can share the idea. You can write a review of a book by a woman. You can blog about a woman writer you admire. You can post a list of links to the websites of women writers you love. It doesn't have to be ep;ic fantasy or even sff. It can be any genre. And then, please, go to twitter and tweet that link with the #womentoread hashtag. If you're not on twitter, post the link here in the comments and I will tweet it for you.
This isn't about me. I know how it can look, I'm a fantasy writer. But really, it isn't. This is about all those fantastic women writers whose books I've treasured for years, about Tanith Lee and Evangeline Walton, Judith Tarr and Kate Elliott, Anne Gay, Storm Constantine, Sherwood Smith, Rumer Godden, Juliet McKenna, Barabar Michaels, Elizabeth Goudge, Liz WIlliams, Dion Fortune, Sheila Gilluly, R A McAvoy, Barbara Hambly, Leah Bobet, Sarah Monette, Justina Robson, Amanda Downum, Claudia J Edwards, Sharan Newman, Freda Warrington, Stephanie Saulter, Lisanne Norman, Jaine Fenn... I could go on and one and on. Some of those writers are long-established, some are out of print and out of contract, some are new, some are dead. But they are all great.
And me? Later today I'll be blogging here and on my website about a woman whose books were a lightning bolt to my writing world, Nancy Springer.

PS: another interesting piece on the gender imbalance in reviews here


( 53 comments — Leave a comment )
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Apr. 25th, 2013 12:03 pm (UTC)
And neither your SF nor your epic fantasy list have my favorite - a woman who writes both - Elizabeth Moon.
Apr. 25th, 2013 12:20 pm (UTC)
She's wonderful, and yes, she's another one who should have been on that table.
(no subject) - valydiarosada - Apr. 25th, 2013 12:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 25th, 2013 12:06 pm (UTC)
i'd just like to thank you for #womentoread, for doing this, for the names i hadnt heard of (and those i had) and for Living With Ghosts & The Grass King's Concubine :)

i'm grateful too, to the women who write awesome sff (whatever sub-genre) and to the libraries i use/d for stocking their books!
Apr. 25th, 2013 12:20 pm (UTC)
Thank *you* (embarrassed now).
Apr. 25th, 2013 12:07 pm (UTC)
I believe that the way books get onto the promo tables in major chains is that the publishers pay for it - which is a whole other can of worms (and a fraud on the reading public, but that's a quite different grievance).
Apr. 25th, 2013 12:21 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. And the bulk of the promotional spend goes on male writers... Part of the vicious circle.
Apr. 25th, 2013 12:33 pm (UTC)
Nancy Springer. Love her books and the amazing covers don't hurt either. Looking forward to reading what you have to say about them.
Apr. 25th, 2013 01:12 pm (UTC)
She's brilliant. And yes, those covers... Wow.
Apr. 25th, 2013 12:41 pm (UTC)
I started a thread on Kindle Boards, a forum of e-book addicts. I'm curious to see what other names pop up: http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,149540.msg2169907.html#msg2169907

Thanks for starting this
Apr. 25th, 2013 01:27 pm (UTC)
Thank *you*. That's wonderful.
Apr. 25th, 2013 01:12 pm (UTC)
Kate Griffin, who started writing about magical London well before Ben Aaronovitch and a number of his inferior imitators. Waterstones in Piccadilly did shelve her prominently as a London writer, though.
Apr. 25th, 2013 01:26 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes.
Apr. 25th, 2013 01:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you for doing this. Has anyone mentioned Linda Nagata, who is now writing again after an economically-induced hiatus? Also Lisa Tuttle and C J Cherryh - may have been mentioned already but I could not see them.
Apr. 25th, 2013 03:05 pm (UTC)
I think so, but more mentions help and links to articles, reviews etc are also good.
And thank *you*
Btw, might I phone you this evening?
(no subject) - mevennen - Apr. 25th, 2013 06:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 25th, 2013 01:54 pm (UTC)
Bujold has written some wonderful fantasy, of course. Violette Malan? And I can't see mentions of Katherine Kerr or Robin Hobb...
Apr. 25th, 2013 03:06 pm (UTC)
Please add them, and any links about them.
Apr. 25th, 2013 02:01 pm (UTC)
Athena Andreadis just edited an anthology (The Other Half of the Sky) featuring women protagonists in science fiction, and many of the contributors are up-and-coming or established women writers in the genre, including Aliette de Bodard, who was much-nominated recently, and Nisi Shawl and Alex Dally McFarlane. My own reading of all these writers is very limited--but the anthology itself seems like a great thing.

Women seem better represented and better acknowledged in fantasy, maybe?
Apr. 25th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, I have that on my wish list.
Sadly, the exclusion crosses both sf and fantasy -- women get less promotion, fewer reviews and far less attention.
Apr. 25th, 2013 02:09 pm (UTC)
Ursula Leguin
Gwyneth Jones
Apr. 25th, 2013 04:39 pm (UTC)
Both fabulous writers
Rose Prescott
Apr. 25th, 2013 03:19 pm (UTC)
Having started decades ago with the mysteries, fantasy, and science fiction of Andre Norton I am always ready to read any woman author who's books and stories I see. Currently reading one by Mercedes Lackey given to me.
Apr. 25th, 2013 04:38 pm (UTC)
Re: #Womentoread
Norton was a great writer and a real pioneer in sf. I love how she creates such believable aliens and worlds.
Apr. 25th, 2013 06:02 pm (UTC)
To think just of books published in Britain during the last twelve months - why wasn't Mary Gentle's Black Opera on that table? Didn't they have it in stock? (And if not, why not?) Or did they just not think of it? Even if it's not her strongest work, it's still good - and, ten years ago, any recently-published Mary Gentle book would have been a strong candidate for inclusion in that kind of promotion.

So far as Jo Walton's Among Others and Cat Valente's Deathless (and for that matter The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland...) are concerned, the reasoning would presumably by that, while they are fantasy, they are not epic fantasy. But even so...

Though, while I doubt that I'm going to have time to do any significant blogging in the next few days, if I do write about anyone, it's likely to be about an author most of whose works never received British publication - Paula Volsky (now, I believe, writing as Paula Brandon).
Apr. 25th, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
Mary Gentle should definitely have been there. I guess the promotions budget wasn't there for her book.
And the idea is international, so Paula Volsky is a fine candidate.
Apr. 25th, 2013 06:42 pm (UTC)
Hooray, hooray, for you for doing this!
Apr. 25th, 2013 07:54 pm (UTC)
You and Sherwood and others have been tirelessly doing this for years already.
Apr. 25th, 2013 09:30 pm (UTC)
You are so right to point out that publishers have to pay to put books on those tables,as well as on the end-of-aisle displays, and of course, they pay for any decorated cardboard bins at the front of the store. And to put books on the counter near the cash registers.

I've heard over and over that they'll only spend on male writers because "men don't buy books by women". That women buy books seems irrelevant to some marketing people, or so it seems. And certain many men DO buy books by women.

So if they don't promote a woman's books, and if those books therefore don't sell as well as a man's books that they do promote, the marketers then take that as a sign they were right all along to not "waste money" on promoting women. The circle is very vicious indeed.
Apr. 25th, 2013 09:52 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. The privilege trips us at every turn.
Your books belonged on that table, d*mn it. All the best epic fantasy writers I'm aware of are women and not one of them were there. Plus there's the whole issue of things men get credit for -- complex interpersonal relationships in fiction, political depth, real consequences -- which women also do (and in some cases, as with Mieville and Mary Gentle, did first) but are ignored or forgotten or even upbraided for it.
Apr. 25th, 2013 10:23 pm (UTC)
I would like to add:
Diana Wynne Jones
Nora Jemisin
Lois McMaster Bujold
Karen Mahoney
A.C. Crispin
Juliette Marilier
Jacqueline Carey
Tamora Pierce
Michelle West Sagara
Janny Wurts
Apr. 26th, 2013 11:09 am (UTC)
Those are all excellent writers. And Carey and Jemison belonged on that table in the bookshop. (Diana Wynne Jones and Tamora Pierce are marketed as YA or childrens', and the others on that list aren't currently published in the UK.)
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