Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Category: rants (page 1 of 5)

Beyond the Boys’ Club

When I was but a wean, maxing out my library card every week, I never noticed the gender of the authors I read. There were just books, and new friends to be found within their pages who would take me on amazing adventures.

Then I grew up, and eventually started my own adventure. Round about the time I  realised I had an actual book on my hands, whether or not I was prepared to speak its true name out loud, I looked up and noticed that all the other fantasy authors seemed to be men. Men on the shelves at the bookstore. Men on posters for signing events, men being raved about, men being recommended to me. All men, all the time.

Fantasy was a boys’ club, it said to me. Don’t even try.

So I didn’t, for a long time. Almost as long as it took me to figure out that Julian May and Robin Hobb were actually women.

Fantasy was a boys’ club, it said to me. Don’t even try.

But then I did try, and got published, and learned about the various studies of representation across spec fic, like VIDA’s The Count, Ladybusiness and Strange Horizons’ annual SF Count. This showed me that fantasy only looked like a boys’ club, because of systemic biases on multiple social and professional axes that gave the boys better PR.

By better PR I mean the boys are talked about more. What’s talked about gets recommended more, sells more, gets talked about even more, and round and round we go. Then we end up with “What should I read next?” requests that are too often answered with a combination of the same dozen or so names, or all-male lists (bar a token le Guin or Hobb). And if you ask why there aren’t more non-male authors being mentioned, the recommenders say “Well, there’s just not that many women writing fantasy.” *


This is one of the most pernicious genre myths, along with “fantasy written by women is full of romance” (but that’s a rant for another day). And it’s just not true at all. There’s a roughly 55:45 male:female split in SFF author gender, 1, 2 which is a very long way from “not that many”.

Yet I still keep running across that argument. It’s everywhere, and defies eradication, like Japanese knotweed. So I decided to start making a list of every non-male fantasy author I could think of, and called it Beyond the Boys’ Club. As of today, it’s at about 280+ names and rising. You can find it here.

About the list

Obviously, it’s incomplete. I’m updating it as and when I can, but I have zero time right now as I have a book to finish. I don’t even have time to be writing this post, yet here we are.

I haven’t de-duped it, so there is bound to be a couple of authors on it more than once. Neither have I broken it down into sub-genres, or by type of publication. There’s a mix of trad, indie, novels, novellas, classics and upcoming releases. I don’t discriminate, and as I said, time is an issue.

So why create it at all?

Because I wanted to. Because I was tired of hearing bullshit “everyone knows” being repeated so widely and so uncritically that it acquires the status of fact. Because it makes me sad that so many great voices in fantasy are overlooked because of stupid genre myths and unsubstantiated assertions. Because whatever I do or say to try to counter those myths is never enough**, so I went for something big and colourful because I have to keep trying anyway.

Why use Pinterest when it’s a horrible, no good, very bad website?

Well, I’d already made a start there, with my own books. It seemed like the easiest and quickest way to build a list that would let me include cover pictures instead of just dry text – I’m as weak for a pretty cover as the next person.

Pinterest has problems – the charming habit of not showing you any content unless you first sign up being just one of them – but I was primarily creating the list for myself, so wider accessibility wasn’t a priority.

One thing I have done, though, is ensure all the pins on this board link to Goodreads when clicked – even the ones that use my photos. Not everyone on Pinterest does this, thus contributing to its reputation, but I don’t have the spoons to worry about others abusing what is, after all, a free tool. Over my years in IT, one thing I have learned is that the users of any system will find a way to misuse it – especially if they can do so for gain. It’s human nature.

Maybe one day, when I don’t have a book to finish and an editor very patiently waiting on it, I will convert my list into another format for wider dissemination. Maybe I’ll even be able to tag the entries with epic, YA, #ownvoices etc to make it a searchable resource. For now, it is what it is. If it proves useful to someone besides me, that’s a bonus.


* I think what they really mean is “there’s just not that many women writing my type of fantasy, which is epic and manly and full of battles, treachery and blood.” Which would be fine if they just said what they meant in the first place, but yanno? Still not true.

** No list is ever long enough. No stats are ever authoritative enough, because industry-wide hard data is difficult to come by, sub-genre definitions are blurry, and whatever you quote will be nitpicked, rules-lawyered into irrelevance and ultimately dismissed. Which is also human nature: people would rather believe bullshit that supports their worldview than facts that challenge it. Just look at Fox News.


1: Strange Horizons’ The Count for 2013 showed a 55:45 male:female gender split over the whole of spec fic (closer to parity in the US, more 60:40 in the UK, and don’t even get me started on Australia and New Zealand which produce scads of top-drawer fantasy by women). I would love to have more up-to-date data, but the most recent SF Count for 2015 doesn’t show this figure.

2: On Reddit, author Courtney Schafer did an analysis over 9 months’ worth of Tor’s Fiction Affliction new release roundup posts in 2016, and noted very similar figures: 44% women. This link goes to her results post and discussion, which includes a link to her data.


(Mis)direct marketing

Picture of mailboxYou’re probably going to think I’m making something out of nothing, but this bugged me enough to write a post, so . . .

I get quite a few emails from strangers – readers asking when the next book’s out (I’m working on it, I promise!), moms who want to know if my stories are an age-appropriate gift for their 12-year-old’s birthday, and even a few from schoolkids who have to write to an author for their class project.

So far, so unremarkable.

The one that inspired this post was different. It was a message was from a new author, independently published by a digital-only small press, wanting me to do her a favour and tweet some links to her first book. Perfectly pleasant, with a short, well-polished pitch for her work.


This author is a complete stranger to me, someone I’ve never interacted with, who doesn’t follow me on social media (as far as I have been able to determine) and doesn’t appear to know anything about me or my books.

Our audiences don’t overlap much, if at all. She writes contemporary romance; I write epic fantasy.

She is asking me to asking me to take time away from my own work and write a tweet just for her. The effort is minor, but it’s still an interruption, an imposition on my day.

She gave me no reason why I might be moved to help her out, and no incentive to do so. Twitter works best when users network and interact, not when they just scream into the void “BUY MY BOOK!”. Yes, I know Sam Sykes likes to do just that, but he makes it amusing; others, with less imagination, become just noise.

So why pick me? It’s not like I’m John Scalzi or Neil Gaiman who command an audience of tens of thousands – or, in Gaiman’s case, 2.26 million – for their every utterance. And this isn’t even a one-click RT request for a worthy cause, which those authors field with grace on a daily basis. I’ve got less than 1,800 followers, and as already noted, write in a totally different genre, so she’s not only expecting effort on her behalf from a stranger, it’s likely to be a waste of time in any case.

“But it’s just a quick tweet; what harm could it do?”

Am I supposed to be flattered by the attention? That I’ve been noticed? I’d like to think she’s seen me on the Twitters and thinks I’m approachable. What I actually think is that I’m just one more entry on a list of people who got a scattergun form email from an author who thinks they’re entitled to someone else’s time and effort.

Which does not make me inclined to want to help them out.

Now I’m sure there’s people saying “But it’s just a quick tweet; what harm could it do?” and the answer is “None”. But that’s the thing with these types of requests. Once you’ve agreed to do it for one random stranger, it becomes very hard to say no to the next one who asks. And the one after that. And . . . you get the picture.

I’m also sure there’s going to be people saying “Typical trad-pub snob, thinks she’s too good to help out a fellow author!” To which I say, “Clearly you don’t know me any better than Ms Contemporary Romance does”. Yes, I’m traditionally published. No, I’m not a snob; I’m probably going to go hybrid at some point in the future, when I try my hand at some not-quite-so-long-form fiction, so I’m hardly likely to sneer at authors who’ve chosen to go the self/indie route from the start.

But here’s the other thing that I am.

I am so far behind on my fourth book it’s not even funny. I’m so far behind that I jealously guard every single minute I have that could possibly be spent finishing it. In fact, I’m so far behind that this blog post has actually taken me a couple of months to put together because I felt so guilty about taking any time away from my WIP. So the chances of me sparing a couple of minutes to Tweet – and by so doing, tacitly endorse – some unknown-to-me author’s unknown-to-me book, are nil.

I’m sorry, Ms Contemporary Romance. I wish you well; you’ve got a nice pitch and your book sounds like it might be a fun summer read, but I am not your market, nor your marketing department.


Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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