Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Tag: other people’s books (page 1 of 7)

But there’s just not that many . . .

29.08.19 – EC – article edited to clarify male authors account for about 55% of fantasy *titles*, rather than 55% of books, which could be misinterpreted as books *sold*. That is an entirely different discussion and outwith the scope of this post.

Some of you may know that I’ve had a little side-project on the go over the last year or so, called Beyond the Boys’ Club.

Fantasy as a genre has tended to present as by blokes, for blokes. Blokes tend to dominate the recommendations from bookshops, the shelves in airports, the best-of-year lists and all those 25 Fantasy Books To Read If You Liked Game of Thrones listicles. Despite this, male authors account for only about 55% of fantasy titles published in a year (as of the most recent authoritative stats I’ve got).

And if readers and writers challenge all those lists that skew so heavily male (bar a token Le Guin or Hobb), sure as sunshine someone will pop up in the comments with the tired old refrain of “But there’s just not that many . . .”

That sound you can hear? That’s my teeth grinding.

So I started Beyond The Boys’ Club out of sheer spite. I wanted a list that I could shove in the face of the next person to “not that many” me. I started with the fantasy books I owned or wanted to read that were not by men, then began paying attention to publisher announcements, recommendation threads on social media, and what my friends and follows on Goodreads were reading.

Then I put the results into a Google sheet, and as of today, 27th August 2019, I have a list of 653 fantasy authors who are not men. You can see them here.

Each entry has a Goodreads link to an example of the writer’s work, and the book’s GR genre tags. I even did a couple of simple charts that will update automatically as I add more data. And there will be more; I have a feeling I’m just getting started.

653 fantasy authors who are not men . . . I have a feeling I’m just getting started

Some takeaways from the list so far

Highlights that jumped out at me as I wrote this post:

  • About 45% of the works listed are tagged YA, although there’s some crossover with middle-grade in that category, I note. This is by far the most populous subgenre in the list so far, but it’s still not the majority. That’s a genre myth busted – you know, the one that says only men write fantasy for adults.
  • Only around 28% of the list is categorised as romantic. So much for another genre myth, that non-male authors only write romance.
  • Just under 16% is categorised as epic/high fantasy.
  • Over 9% has QUILTBAG themes.
  • It trends series-heavy vs standalones, by about 3:1.
  • Over 21% of the list was tagged as SF-ish by Goodreads users
  • Anyone who says “I bet it’s all self-published” is getting a smack: 93% of the list is trad pubbed.
  • I clearly need to add more columns – ‘fantasy of manners’ is starting to pop up, and I had to omit a whole bunch of others like ‘mythology’, ‘Arthurian’ etc. Maybe I need to add more hours to the day while I’m at it.

Obviously as the list grows, these figures will change, but I think 650+ is a reasonable sample from which to start seeing trends. At times like this, I kind of wish I still had access to the database & software development tools I used to work with in Ye Olde Day Jobbe. I could pull out much more complex reports on this dataset and have fun *for DAYS*.

But yeah. 653. Not that many of us at all, right?

 

Caveat emptor!

1) This sheet is a WORK IN PROGRESS. There are new authors being added to GR every day. Every week, publishers launch more debuts. I’ll try to keep up, but see above re: fallible human with limited time.

2) Let me be perfectly clear: this is in no way meant to be a rigorous statistical analysis of the genre. It was a project I started on the spur of the moment, purely for myself, and it will continue as long as I’m still having fun with it. I do not expect it to satisfy the internet rules-lawyers for whom no source is authoritative enough, no numbers hard enough, no lived experience valid enough – especially if it tells them something they don’t want to hear.

 

The crunchy stuff

Here’s all the TMI about my data source, limitations and assumptions.

Source

This list is compiled from Goodreads entries, and uses the GR genre tags listed under each book. This is the wisdom of crowds writ large, with all that that entails. I am entirely dependent on third parties for the quality of the data. For example: books that have 3000+ user tags have probably got their subgenres broadly correct. Books with only 20-odd shelvings? Eh, not so much. The smaller the sample, the greater the effect of outliers and user errors.

Books

For each author, I have listed one book to represent their work. This was either:

  • the title that had been recommended
  • where a series was recommended, the first book in the series
  • where only the author was recommended, a title I had heard of
  • where only the author was recommended and I had not heard of their work, a title that was well-rated on GR

Definitions

1) I have had to limit the number of columns I used, because GR is hardly prescriptive in its subgenres, and it was not practical to attempt to reproduce the same degree of granularity. SFF subgenre definitions are notoriously blurry anyway, so I took a broad-brush approach.

2) Every entry on the list has Fantasy as one of its genres.

3) Many books have been assigned genre labels on GR which amount to a dozen different ways of saying the same thing. For example:

  • Fiction > Young Adult
  • Fantasy > Young Adult
  • Fiction > Young Adult > Teen

have all been counted in Column E as YA. I’ve done similarly with all varieties of Steampunk, Historical etc to keep the number of columns manageable.

In a similar vein, Epic Fantasy and High Fantasy were aggregated, and Dark Fantasy and Horror.

4) One particular column that has bugged me to no end has been the SF one. I’ve seen an awful lot of what I would class as traditional Epic Fantasy listed also as Science Fiction Fantasy. Is this different to fantasy with SF-nal elements, like time-travel or steampunk? Is this people just classifying all fantasy as a subgenre of Science Fiction, the way bookshops do sometimes?

I don’t know, and there’s no way tell, so if any variant of Science Fiction was included in the book’s genre list, it got a tick in that column.

 

Errors & Omissions

I have not read every book in the list, much as I would like to, and neither have I applied my own interpretations/used my discretion over genre tags. Any mistakes/omissions I will gladly hold my hand up to; I am, after all, only human and I have but one life to give.

 

Featured image: Free photo 117112301 © creativecommonsstockphotos – Dreamstime.com

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.” *

Argh.

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.

footnotes

* 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.

Sources

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.

 

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