Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Ageism and sexism in publishing

This is going to be a free-form pondering post to which I would welcome any sort of input!

We have heard today in the UK that the ex presenter of a TV show called Countryfile has won her case, in that she argued she had been removed for being too old. It is not the first example we've seen on TV and movie screen where certain people are picked over others thanks to age.

So today I am talking about ageism and sexism - and how it affects/does not affect publishing.

First ageism.

My personal thought was that ageism was non-existent in the book world. After all, writers of all ages are being published! But then I considered the fantasy arena - if an author goes to a publisher with an exciting new ten-book series, but they are in their sixties, would the publisher take the risk on beginning the cycle where an older author might (god forbid) perish during the writing?

If we look at YA fiction, it strikes me that publishers would prefer younger authors to push, since they can talk with a great degree of understanding to the teens who are reading their books.

I don't think any publisher would state directly that they'd prefer younger authors - and this is proved, in the fact that they will take on older authors as well - but do you think age presents any sort of consideration for the publisher?

Relating to sexism, Adam Roberts has written an interesting article on the Booker Prize. He crunched the numbers of the shortlisted/winning authors and discovered that the shortlisted authors have, in the majority, been men. We've also seen a lot of discussion from Niall Harrison at Torque Control about women in the SF arena and the fact that the field is dominated by men.

Is there sexism in publishing? Is it that men are picked over women, or is it that more men are writing novels? Obviously, in a genre such as women's fiction, the reverse could said to be true - authors such as Mike Gayle are very much in the minority and therefore seen as unusual. I'm sure the fact he is a guy is considered a unique selling point by his publisher, since he can write accurately about the way men feel during relationships!

I can't pull any conclusions out of this, which is why I would welcome your impressions on publishing and whether they are affected by ageism and sexism!


  1. Interesting that you're commenting on sexism today, as Maura McHugh picked up on Mark Millar's upcoming comics convention doesn't have a single female guest. Not one.


    If you go to the Kapow! website, scroll down the page of guests. It's actually quite shocking: I know comics are often seen as a boys' industry, and OK - there are a lot of men involved in it, but there are women too. And they're not just working on small indie comics: take Jill Thompson as a single example: she's worked on a huge number of big titles.

    Aside from crunching the statistics, it seems a shame that as yet there are no representatives of women as a creative force in comics at this con: maybe that'll change, because 0% representation is just sad.

  2. Hmm. I think the sexism probably rears its ugly head in publishing more than the ageism one does.

    About the sexism. I think publishers are coming round SLOWLY and realizing that not only is it terrible to exclude an author due to their sex, but also that women can write just as well as men, especially genre books. I can list off probably ten female writers who paved the way for that change (Robin Hobb, Katherine Kerr, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Ursula K. LeGuin chief among them) certainly paved the way for some of the current heavyweights.

    It's funny, but I think if you ask sci-fi fantasy fans if they care (whether the authors they read are male or female), then I think it would be a resounding no. Janny Wurts, Mercedes Lackey, Kage Baker (afore she sadly passed on), Christie Golden, Alex Bell, Jennifer Fallon, Kate Elliot, Elizabeth Haydon, Patricia Briggs...all enjoy a fair amount of success and seem to have healthy amounts of both male and female fans. I think that may actually be at the crux of the publishers needing to be more open in what they accept and produce. Their audiences are clamoring for "good" sci-fi and fantasy...who writes it is neither here nor there to us as fans. Look at me, I am a card carrying Sanderson fan-boy, Malazan books-die hard, and Joe Abercrombie pusher....but my favourite book of 2010 was actually Suzanne Collins THE HUNGER GAMES. A book I mention because I feel that it traverses the distance between male and female fans by equally pleasing both.

    I don't think we are all the way there yet, as I DO feel that female authors have to struggle still, but I think we live in a far easier day than we did in the 780's and 80's where folks like the women I first mentioned had to probably deal with A LOT more sexism when trying to get published than they do today and that certainly should be recognized.

  3. Edit: The 70's...not the 780's. LOL

  4. It certainly seems that sexism has existed in the past. At least there was a perception of it that prompted some (Andre Norton, James Tiptree, Jr. for example) female authors to adopt male pen names.
    Luckily, this seems to me to be passing away.

  5. I've found, at least in the fantasy genre, there is a greater wealth of material written by women (though that might just be the way my bookshelf has ended up) though men tend to get the multi book series deals. I've not considered ageism in publishing, though; it never occurred to me.

  6. This is a complex question that breaks down I suspect, when you talk about genre.

    In the areas of literary fiction and hard-science fiction, I think there is an absolute bias towards male authors.

    In urban fantasy and traditional romance on the other hand, I expect the numbers are either much closer or even skewed towards female authors. It is hard to know without a lot of digging in, as the prevalence of authors using pseudonyms in these sub-genres is high, and the sex of the author not always readily apparent.

    In general for fantasy, I think the numbers are still weighted towards male authors, but see above for the caveat and I suspect (and hope) this is changing.

    As for agism - I'm at a loss. I hope it plays little part in the process as the difficulties of getting published are enough as they are.


  7. Curious that you would use the Booker as an example; Roberts concludes that women do better under its auspices than they do elsewhere.

    I think much of this discussion is aimed at the wrong stages of the writing process. Publishers, for instance, step in towards the end. Words have already been written when they start talking.

    I think the majority of any damage sexism can do is done long before they got anywhere near.

    If you want to think about sexism's influence on writers and writing I would be thinking about the opinions of parents, teachers, friends, workmates and partners.

    I think that it is these opinions that most influence a person's desire and ability to write.

    If there is sexism in writing then look for it where it is most likely to be powerful. A parent at the breakfast table condemning (gently or not) a 13yr old's "stupid" or "foolish" attempts to write a story is a very powerful exercise in influence.

    A publisher is just another adult. Think about how many authors have to go through strings of them to get a good book published?

    Better stop now before I really get going. :D I'll leave ageism alone.

  8. Isn't the Orange prize for fiction women only? If that's not sexist then what is?

    Ageism i know less about, i don't think i have ever thought about the age of an author while i was reading