Thursday 15 February 2018

The Year of Publishing Women?

Apparently in some quarters it's being suggested that 2018 should be the 'year of publishing women', the aim being to redress the 'gender imbalance' in the publishing industry, in literary award shortlists (quick question: how many women's literary awards are there, and how many for men only?), in space afforded to male rather than female reviewers on books pages, even in the sex of protagonists in prize-winning novels (more of them are men, apparently). Leading the campaign is the novelist Kamila Shamsie.
 The research cited 'reveals' that only 40 per cent of books submitted for the Booker Prize are by women – hardly surprising, I'd have thought, as it's perhaps the most masculine of the big prizes and publishers know it (though that hasn't stopped Eleanor Catton, Bernice Rubens, Anne Enright and Hilary Mantel (twice) winning it in recent years). The more female (and reader)-friendly Costa Book of the Year award has been won by the same number of women as men over the past decade (and it's 60:40 in favour of women across all the Costa awards).
 This whole campaign might seem somewhat mystifying to anyone who takes even the slightest notice of what's on the fiction shelves and in the windows of bookshops, or who occasionally glances at the bestseller lists. The fact is that fiction written by women is massively dominant in terms of sales, publicity and all-round success, to the point where nine out of the ten best-selling 'literary' authors in 2017 were women. Perhaps it's the male novelists who could do with a leg up (not a serious suggestion).
 One publisher has seriously taken up the challenge of the 'year of publishing women': Stefan Tobler of the excellent Sheffield-based small press And Other Stories will be publishing only women this year. I find this rather sad, but as he publishes barely a dozen titles a year it's hardly going to rock the industry.
 Meanwhile, this country somehow continues to do what it has, in my opinion, been doing for the best part of a century – producing rather more seriously good women novelists than men. Ivy Compton-Burnett, Muriel Spark, Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Bowen, Shirley Hazzard, Jean Rhys, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, Virginia Woolf if you must, Doris Lessing ditto... That's a gender imbalance that's absolutely fine by me.


  1. It's really very odd, this redressing business. I feel a bit apologetic about all these campaigns, not being much of a crusader, and I hardly ever read novels by men. I suspect that all those fine female novelists remain unread by the activists. Thanks to you, while I'm thinking about it, for your own bit of rebalancing - introducing me to Elizabeth Jenkins!

  2. Well thanks Mary - and there will be more on Elizabeth Jenkins in the course of the year....