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This is how it happens

I took my son downtown to see a movie and we missed the start. So, to kill some time, we wandered into the Barnes & Noble to browse around and pick up some books. This is what we came back with:

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EX-HEROES was for my kid; I’ve been pretty upfront about my distaste for zombies in all forms. The others were for me. You know what I didn’t realize until later that night when I took them out of the bag? They were all books by dudes.

It’s just too easy to stay in a comfort zone. It’s easy to stick with habits that we don’t even recognize as habits. I don’t talk about it much, but some time ago I decided that I was going to be more mindful about my book purchases; it’s super-easy to just buy books by all men. It’s pretty much the path of least resistance. Oops.

So I’m going to pull Dark Places off the shelf next. And I’m not doing it because it’s the right thing to do (although it is) or that it’s what other people think I should do (they don’t actually care). I’m doing it because carelessly limiting myself will weaken me when I need to make my writing stronger.

If you’re someone who only reads one type of writer, you should try new things, too.

Mirrored from Twenty Palaces. You can comment here but not there.

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
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burger_eater
Feb. 20th, 2014 06:18 am (UTC)
I'm way behind on everything. I have never read an award-nominated book in the sff field in the year it was eligible. It's just impossible to keep current.

And you're right about foreign novels. It's a very good idea.
jemck
Feb. 20th, 2014 07:05 am (UTC)
I'm assuming from what you say these were buying decisions made in the shop rather than pre planned purchases? Do say if I misunderstood.

If I'm correct, do you recall how prominently these books were displayed? Do you think you might have ended up with some/more books by women if they were equally visible?

I'd be very interested to know, and any other observations you might have on the gender balance of display in B&N, thanks
burger_eater
Feb. 20th, 2014 07:14 am (UTC)
Sorry, I wasn't clear. These were decisions made in the shop, but I forgot that I'm supposed to be breaking bad habits. Instead I let myself be distracted by a whole bunch of things (like taking my kid for a doctor's appt and annoyance at missing the film) and did not leave headspace (as my wife calls it) for thoughtful buying.

The two mmpb were bought out of the sff section, which is just a row of bookshelves along the wall. The other three were plucked from a "Buy 2 Get the 3rd Free" table after I checked for three books I was willing to buy.

Thoughtless.
jemck
Feb. 20th, 2014 08:32 am (UTC)
Out with your lad, a whole lot of other life going on - in other words, you were a representative example of a typical book buyer - and consequently your choices skewed male because I'm guessing the vast majority of books offered in that 3-for-2 offer were written by men. This is a useful case study.

Made all the more useful because you noticed and you're mentioning it. Thanks.
mizkit
Feb. 20th, 2014 09:04 am (UTC)
This is genuinely a question and not a OMG HOW COULD YOU YOU AWFUL CREATURE OF THE PATRIARCH accusation:

How does that happen? After the recent discussion of this (for which I cannot even find a link right now), I'm honestly curious. The guy who came under fire hadn't read a book by a woman in at least 2 years, and he said (in what was an almost comically stereotypical response) that it wasn't bias, it was just that he picked up whatever happened to look good at the time and read it.

And I believe that. I don't think he's being deliberately sexist or thoughtless. It just boggles my mind that for two years, not one single book that appealed to him was by a woman.

Now, I know *I* have a bias in that I'm *more* likely to give a book by an unknown woman a chance if I'm idly browsing and there are two books I'm considering and I can (god forbid) only get one. I also know I've been paying what is apparently an unusual amount of attention to things like who publishes female writers for a *very* long time--since my early teens. So I'm definitely coming in with a bias myself. But even so, it's nearly impossible for me to imagine picking up only books by women for even two bookstore visits in a row, much less two years in a row.

So--how does it happen that you end up defaulting to books by men, do you know? Is it cover art? Is it a (probably unconscious, which makes this a very difficult question) bias toward male names? If that might be part of it, how do so-called gender neutral names, like initials or "Andre" or what-have-you, figure in? Is it the cover copy? Is there anything you can point to, in other words, that makes it more likely that you're going to accidentally pick up books by all men, and have to keep an eye out to make sure you don't?

Because we obviously have a terrible, terrible marketing problem here. It's obviously also a social problem, but there's clearly something going horribly wrong with marketing. I'm sure part of it has got to be that essentially girls are conditioned/allowed to like/admire Boy Things, but not the other way around, and the idea of marketing with covers Aimed At Boys makes me crazy, but OTOH...I don't know what else to do.
burger_eater
Feb. 20th, 2014 04:22 pm (UTC)
Actual thought process on those books, as I remember it:

The two mmpb were simply because I've been writing second world fantasy and expect to in the future. Those two authors are on Twitter and I'm under the impression that they are successful; I'm curious why.

To be honest, I don't expect to finish either of those books. I stalled out and gave up on Scott Lynch's books, which suggests my tastes are way outside the genre mainstream.

My son likes Ex-Heroes but hates super-hero comics. I knew it was post-apocalyptic (which used to be his fave until I gave him Hyperbole and a Half and The Bloggess's book) and when I saw zombies I offered it. He accepted.

The other two books are things I've heard of several times in several places (esp NPR--yes, I'm a totebagger) and I picked them up because I want to be reading outside of genre in general.

It wasn't until I got home that I realized they were all dudes (although I did hope the IQ84 author's name might be female).

So, basically, it's that they were in my awareness, plus whatever unconscious biases I brought through the door.
mizkit
Feb. 20th, 2014 06:02 pm (UTC)
I'd also read your response to Juliet up above and saw about the 3-for-2, which as she says is often male-writer-heavy.

That's actually a really useful and thoughtful answer, Harry. Thank you.
dsrtao
Feb. 20th, 2014 01:30 pm (UTC)
Some particularly good books to try -- Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice; Linda Nagata's Skye Object 3270a; Susan Matthews' An Exchange of Hostages.
burger_eater
Feb. 20th, 2014 03:43 pm (UTC)
At this point, I'm more likely to read mystery than science fiction. I don't think I read any sf last year. I have Gillian Flynn and Val McDermid on my shelf right now, so those are likely to be next.
alwaysoptimistc
Feb. 22nd, 2014 02:34 am (UTC)
I've been averaging three books a month by female authors for over a year. My suggested process may not work for you, but here is what I would advise.

Gather a list of female authors who're you're interested in, who write in whatever genres you enjoy. Perhaps solicit some names. I'd gather as many as you can. Then set aside some time.

Open a window/tab, type in one author's name and find a free first look/chapter of one of their works that you think would serve as a good introduction to them. Don't read, just scroll down to where the story begins and then repeat the process with another tab/window. Then walk away. Come back after enough time that you don't think you'll connect the name, and whatever their name/reputation might mean to you, to each tab/window. Then start reading.

Hopefully absent any other judging criteria, you'll most effectively be able to determine what interests you and then make a note of them in whatever categories best serve your style. "Yes and no". "Yes, no, maybe". "Excited, some interest, little interest, no interest". It doesn't matter.

Hopefully you'll find books you actually want to read. Where you can then create a list that you're interested in and excited about, rather than just a general desire to find something written by someone with ovaries. I think the first will be much more effective than the second. Maybe you can order one, or three, or more right then, or maybe create a list to be easily accessed the next time you go to the bookstore. Whatever works for you.

I think my method requires a little more effort then some, but the benefit is worth it. Why waste time and money on authors you may not like? Instead be prepared, focused and motivated with a list that you know will excite you and hopefully expose you to some authors whom you might enjoy for years to come.

Edited at 2014-02-22 02:35 am (UTC)
burger_eater
Feb. 22nd, 2014 08:02 am (UTC)
That's an interesting idea for any sort of author. Thank you.
alwaysoptimistc
Feb. 23rd, 2014 02:24 am (UTC)
You're welcome.

I'd say that I hope it helps (and I do), but a quick glance shows me that I need to cut down on my use of "hopefully". I have zero aspirations of being a writer, but still, two paragraphs in a row beginning with "hopefully"? Good grief.
burger_eater
Feb. 23rd, 2014 02:46 am (UTC)
As a writer myself, I'll confess that word echoes is one of my major issues. Some bad habits are impossible to break.
alwaysoptimistc
Feb. 23rd, 2014 04:10 am (UTC)
I used to have a devil of a time with a few key phrases, primarily "basically" and some variation of "sat there and said that", but speech communications classes cured me of those ills. I don't recall the details, but iirc you should identify the repeating words or phrases (if they exist) and then be as aware as possible of not saying/writing them in order to best self censor, or eliminate them, if they do slip through.

And if that doesn't work there's always self-flagellation. As an artist it's always good to sacrifice for the work and even if it isn't effective then it can do nothing but make your bio more interesting.*

*Intended to be humorous, which was hopefully obvious, but disclaimer just in case
I wasn't as obvious as I believe myself to be.

Edited at 2014-02-23 04:13 am (UTC)
signokayos
Feb. 25th, 2014 05:49 pm (UTC)
RE: Female Writers in the Urban Fantasy Genre
There's been a flood of female writers into the market with the popularity of the teen/tween and adult supernatural franchises on the rise. I find that there are very few female authors to read in the urban fantasy genre because it all seems like romance stories set against a supernatural backdrop. Its a lot of crap to sift through and unfortunately rather than waste the time picking through them for the good ones I usually skip them altogether. Though with the number of them using unisex names and monikers sometimes you get 4 or 5 chapters in and wonder who wrote the crap so you read up on the author and yep its a woman.

That being said, there are some pleasant surprises out there like Rob(Robyn) Thurman and K A Stewart who deliver really well.
burger_eater
Feb. 25th, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Female Writers in the Urban Fantasy Genre
Well, I don't much like the idea of equating romance with crap: it's a matter of personal tastes.

That said, googling "Urban fantasy without romance" brought several helpful-looking lists including this one:

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1134815-looking-for-recs-female-leads-that-focus-on-plot-not-romance

I know more than one UF author who is incredibly frustrated to labeled a romance author just because of her genre.
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