Last year I had three novels published in quick succession. The Split Worlds series found fans. This made me happy. I did all I could to promote them without turning into some sort of horrific promo-beast. I did the usual; interviews, competitions, book launch events, readings, went to ten conventions in the UK and US, the kind of thing most SFF authors do these days. I wrote over fifty short stories set in the world of the novels and gave them away online for free. I run an email subscription service so people can get them delivered to their inbox if they prefer.
I felt it was my responsibility. Responsibility for my own career, responsibility for the success of my books. I knew my efforts couldn’t guarantee that, but I wanted to know that I had done all I could to give my books some decent modifiers on each roll. I love my publisher, and they have done a huge amount to support my efforts and my books were promoted through their channels too. I felt so lucky. So privileged. And I was and I still am.
Then I saw this. Foz Meadows drew attention to a leaflet produced by Waterstones and still in circulation in the store she went into in 2012 (and she has been told by others that it is still in circulation in some branches), designed to point people discovering fantasy via the Game of Thrones phenomenon towards more books they might like.
Out of 113 authors there were, wait for it, 9 women.
Nine. Women. And you won’t be surprised, I fear, to learn that all of the men they suggest are white. This is what Foz details:
“So, to be clear: of the one hundred and thirteen authors listed in the genre-specific sections, there are a grand total of nine women and, as far as I can tell, zero POC. In the final two pages – the “If you like this, you’ll love-” section, things are little better: of the ten authors with suggestions after their names, two are women; but of the 101 authors recommended as comparisons, only twelve are women – and, tellingly, of those twelve, a whopping eight are listed as being similar to another female author. As far as this list is concerned, women have essentially become a speciality category, almost exclusively recommended because their work resembles that of another female author, and not because of their contributions to various other genres. As for POC authors, as far I can tell, there’s not a single one on any of the lists.”
There’s been a tonne of sexism in SFF scandal online over the last week. I didn’t feel the need to add my noise to it all. But then I started to think about all the times over the past few years that I have been so furious about the way women are treated – not just in SFF but all over the fucking world. Last week I sobbed at my husband that I was part of the problem because I was too scared to speak up. Too scared I’d lose my quiet life behind my computer keyboard. Too scared that confrontation would find me. I have an anxiety disorder. I am terrified of any kind of conflict and confrontation. But the longer I stay silent, the longer I am part of the problem and the longer the noisiest, most bigoted, ignorant, sexist and quite frankly, disgusting specimens take centre stage.
I did an interview last year in which I said that writing Cathy, one of the main characters in the Split Worlds series, was almost like having a dialogue with myself. She is flawed and at times, deeply annoying, but in the end, she stands up and fights this sort of bullshit, at great personal risk.
And what do I do? I write novels. I cry in private, I shout at my computer and I confide my self-loathing to my husband for not standing up.
Even writing this is hard. Just writing one word after another in my safe, privileged life, is making me feel scared. And that is exactly why I have to do this.
What I want to see
And what is the first thing I thought as I typed that? “Who gives a fuck what you want to see, Emma?” I have internalised all of the behaviours society demands from me as a woman.
Well, this is my space, it says so at the top and everything, and so I believe I can write what I like here.
I don’t want to ask my readers to go into Waterstones and tell them they loved my books in an effort to battle this sort of promotional bias. I don’t want to ask those same readers, again and again, to shout about my books, to leave reviews and star ratings and all that stuff. If they want to, I am so delighted I could weep. All I want is for them to enjoy them and I have no right to ask anyone who has given up their time and money to read my work to do any more for me.
I don’t want to see a women’s prize in speculative fiction. I understand the arguments in favour, but fundamentally, if there are any prizes going I want everyone who is eligible to be so because of what they’ve written and not the gender they identify as and certainly not anything to do with their reproductive organs. I did not, at any point, consult my ovaries or breasts in the writing of my novels, therefore I do not want them to be a variable in relation to anything they might be eligible for.
What I do want to see is is TOP-DOWN change.
I want Waterstones to publicly commit to promoting male and female writers equally in all promotional materials written from now on. I don’t want all of them to be white. I want national newspapers and magazines and journals and major reviewing outlets to commit to reviewing male and female writers equally. I want libraries to commit to compiling recommendation lists with equal male and female representation. (I know that a friend of mine in America who is a librarian says this is a core policy of theirs. It should be the same everywhere.)
I’m not talking about book bloggers; people who give up their time for the love of books. I’m talking about organisations and companies who pride themselves on being ‘authorities’ and leading mainstream readerships to discovering new authors. I am especially directing this to those amongst them who make money from selling books.
You know what I want?
A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
This affects my livelihood and countless other authors
People have asked if there will be more Split Worlds novels. I have two more in my head that are getting louder by the day, but the simple answer is that my publisher would be delighted to commission more if the sales of the first three justify it. They published three books back to back. It was a huge up-front investment. I understand this.
Now I have done all I can, and of course, I still try to promote them without being ridiculous (it’s so much harder when they are not new and shiny). The thought that Waterstones and so many other sales and/or promotion outlets are this heavily biased towards men makes me feel like there’s no fucking point. It makes me fear that my books didn’t get the same crack at the whip beyond the areas I can reach directly.
And this isn’t restricted to my tiny niche in this world. Sexism is real and damaging in all levels of society, in all walks of life. Even now, I am annoyed at myself for being upset about this when there are women being beaten, raped, abused, sold, tortured, oppressed. It’s everywhere.
It has to stop.