Monday, June 11, 2012

Conferences...Women writers...wait. What?

I had a boring post all prepared about how I wished I could have been at last week's Book Expo America, or BEA, conference but then I re-read it before scheduling it, and fell asleep.

When I woke up, I rubbed the imprints of the letters P, O, L, and K off my cheek and decided that instead of asking you all which conferences you've been or not been to (thereby ensuring a mass click-away from the blog and zero comments), I should instead tell you what stuck in my mind last week as I watched all the BEA news.

Okay, I didn't watch a lot of BEA news. But I did hear about Jennifer Weiner's keynote speech at the BEA Blogger mini conference. In fact, I read it (Here's the text of her speech) AND I watched it (here's the You Tube video.) By the way, Jennifer Weiner is married to a lawyer who represents the husband of a lovely woman in my former writer's group; I'd like to say the girl and I really good friends but in fact we never did get together as promised--but the intent was there--anyway this connection obviously makes me Jennifer's BFF. Jen, as I like to call her in our BFF moments (shopping, pedicures, you know--actually I don't do shopping and pedicures with my BFFs, but sitting on my ass and gabbing, with a drinky drink in hand does feature highly), gave a great keynote and made many points, but one in particular stuck out more than any other. She said things are stacked against women writers when they publish. "Things" can include reviews, fair coverage and promotion in comparison with men and other genres, and really anything you want "things" to be if you're feeling feisty.

I did not know this. It makes sense, since so much else is stacked against women, like fair pay and maternity leave and respect and the right to birth control and the right not to have forced vaginal probe ultrasounds in Virginia. You know, "things."

Look, I'm not trying to sit here and say "poor women," but a few weeks ago on my RWA women's fiction loop, members of the group were outraged that women's fiction as a genre should be slagged off as being lesser fiction. I'm outraged, too, but I'm not surprised, I guess. Still, Jennifer's comments were a surprise because she said she knew what to expect, and it still surprised her.

I didn't want this post to be one that gives you tons of evidence for or against the case, but rather a discussion. If you're a female writer, have you experienced "things" -- and what are they? Have you, in fact, expected certain "things" or not expected them?





7 comments:

Jennifer Shirk said...

I'm not suprised but I am a little surprised. Especially because I thought that more women were readers than men, so I figured we would have at least this stacked on our favor. But maybe it's because publishing houses are run by men? LOL
I haven't experienced it but maybe things are different in the bigger publishing houses.

Linda G. said...

Interesting. Can't say as I've noticed being treated differently than the male writers in my genre (urban fantasy). Then again, how would I really know? I haven't compared contracts with anyone, much less the guys. And my first book hasn't been released, yet, so I have no way of comparing how I'm being treated by booksellers, reviewers, etc.

Hmmm. Guess I'll have to keep my antennae up. Not that I'm sure there's anything I could do, should I notice a disparity.

Beverly Diehl said...

Yes, even before Jen's speech (which was great, IMO) I was aware of this - can't call it a trend, more like a mindset.

I'm not sure if it's against women, per se, as against how women think. Let me explain - women generally, write things in a lighter, more conversational style. We write about relationships, more often than not - romantic, friendships, family. More than men (except for non-fiction), we tend to write comedic material (but when men write comedic material, fiction or not, they too tend to be disregarded by most critics).

It is extremely difficult to write about serious subjects in a light vein, and many of my favorite books by female authors manage to do exactly that, but most critics don't "get" that. Comedic movies almost never win Best Picture at the Oscars, nor Awards for Best Actor or Actress. (Supporting, sure, but Lead? Oh hell no.) Even though every actor will tell you, every writer and director will tell you it is MUCH harder to do good comedy than to do good drama, the awards go to the life-and-death or disease stuff (just don't do "the full retard," per Tropic Thunder).

People LIKE comedy, people BUY comedy, but critics don't respect comedy. It takes four syllable words, repeated frequently, for most critics to feel that the material is worthy of acknowledgment. As I understand it, Shakespeare (in his time) was considered "low" entertainment - too accessible to the common man.

I'm not a snob - I like "litr'ry fiction" too. And sci-fi-fantasy (also a difficult genre to write well, also a genre sniffed at by critics). But what CRITICS like, and what garners respect in the literary community, is not what most women write. It's the cheap and easy romance that SELLS which allows them to publish their deep dark litr'ry fiction oeuvres (that rarely sell well, regardless of how many rave reviews they get).

Sierra Godfrey said...

Jennifer and Linda, I'm really glad you haven't noticed anything. That makes me happy. I was thinking after Jennifer's speech that it was something you'd be conscious of. So while it may be an issue, I'm glad it's not staring you down and spitting on you.

Beverly, thanks for you wonderful, thoughtful comment. You make such good points about comedy and feelings and what sells. I didn't know this. But it makes so much sense. Thank you!

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

Until I started reading about publishing in the last several months, I had no idea about the bias against women writers. I find it sad that they aren't reviewed as much. That kind of shocked me, but it didn't, at the same time. It seems there are small steps being taken to change this around.

Meghan Ward said...

I think you still have to be a published author to get into BEA but that they are talking about opening it up to the public in the next year or two? I'm going to watch Weiner's video right now and then I'll be back to comment AGAIN! (By the way, I always thought her name was pronounced "Weener.")

Meghan Ward said...

Great video! The articles about women getting fewer reviews than men were widely circulated a few months ago, but I loved hearing about Jennifer Wiener's experiences with the NY Times and how snobby critics view her involvement in social media as a detractor from being a serious writer. As for the reviews, it seems that women tend to write more women's lit and less literary fiction and that it's the literary fiction that gets reviewed more. That doesn't surprise me. Sci fi is in the same boat, and that's mostly written by men. Same for YA. "Genre" writing just doesn't get as much respect as literary fiction. On the other hand, I bet Jennifer Wiener is making a whole lot more money than Curtis Sittenfeld by cranking out 10 books in twelve years vs two. I know some really awesome writers who've gotten great reviews and won awards - even Pulitzers - who are having trouble paying their bills. It's not easy to be a bestseller and get great reviews, too.

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