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Industry

Women in literature

Following reports of underrepresentation of women in literature, publishing houses are coming forward to make a change.

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Publishing houses are pledging to better represent women writers in their sales

According to VIDA Count, an organisation which highlights gender imbalances in publishing, in 2015, books by women made up less than 20% of books reviewed in the New York Review of Books, 30% in Harper’s, and 22% in the London Review of Books.

In 2016, VIDA Count, which gathers research by tallying genre, books reviewed, and journalistic by-lines, released similar findings that again demonstrated a gender imbalance in the literary world.

Author Kamila Shamsie has called for better representation of women in literature from publishing houses, claiming this is the starting point to see more women being reviewed and nominated for awards. The spotlight has been on publishing houses to provide more work written by women. 

Lots of publishers are becoming so risk-averse, they’re just replicating the successes they’ve already had. They’re not engaging or putting money into newer writers or older writers

However, just one publisher responded to Shamsie’s call to action. Not-for-profit publishing house And Other Stories only released books by women in 2018.

One year on and another publishing house has pledged to back Shamsie in her “year of publishing women” campaign. Yorkshire-based publisher, Bluemoose Books, is planning to only sell books written by women for the whole of 2020.

Speaking to Stylist, Kevin Duffy, co-founder of Bluemoose Books, says: “In an ideal world you wouldn’t have to put together a publishing schedule to challenge [the underrepresentation of women writers], but you do.

“Lots of publishers are becoming so risk-averse, they’re just replicating the successes they’ve already had. They’re not engaging or putting money into newer writers or older writers… But people want to read different books about different life experiences from people who have actually lived.”

People want to read different books about different life experiences from people who have actually lived

Despite VIDA Count’s 2017 report revealing that female writers accounted for less than 40% of content published, an analysis by The Bookseller of literary fiction book sales last year found that women dominated 2017’s literary bestsellers. Haruki Murakami was the only male writer to make the top ten bestselling literary authors of 2017 in the UK. Margaret Atwood was the bestselling literary novelist of the year with her novels The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace.

Should female writers be better represented by publishers? Email carys@linkpublishing.co.uk, or join in with the conversation on Twitter.


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