I'm a huge fan of Sisters in Crime. No, it's not a group of rampaging nuns. It's an international organization of mystery writers and readers, open to women and men (our "misters" in crime). But it was founded some 25 years ago by author Sara Paretsky when she found that twice as many male writers were getting reviewed in major publications, when women wrote, and continue to write, the vast majority of mysteries in print.
I'm a big believer in this organization. By networking with other authors when I was still a newbie and as yet unpublished, I learned the ropes and avoided the pitfalls of publishing if I made a go of it alone (as I had done for ten years before joining--and NOT getting published). I credit SinC for helping me get published at last and I pay it forward every chance I get. I served as President of the Orange County chapter for two years and now I serve as the Vice President of the Los Angeles chapter, the biggest chapter in the country.
Early on, a monitoring project was instigated by SinC to keep an eye on publications and to let them know if they are still behind in reviewing women authors. You wouldn't think that in this day and age that would still be a problem. You wouldn't think that it mattered one wit whether a woman wrote a compelling mystery or thriller or if a man penned it. Well, you'd be wrong. There are even male reviewers who flat out refuse to review female writers. Huh? you say? I say it too. But here are the numbers, stolen right out of the SinC national newsletter:
To start, they looked at the Big Four review publications, the ones booksellers and librarians peruse to make their choice on what books to put on their shelves. They are Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, and Booklist.
It happens that this year the highest number of reviews of books written by women were in both Library Journal and Kirkus. The newsletter said that more than half of their mystery reviews were on books penned by women with Publishers Weekly coming close at 48% and Booklist slinking in the rear with 41%.
Mystery zines like Deadly Pleasures gave women 38% of reviews; RT Reviews (Romantic Times Magazine) seemed to naturally favor women authors, with 69%.
But newspapers are still the worst and though there are fewer opportunities for reviews at all in the shrinking market of newspapers, they still tend to favor male authors far above that of women. Local newspapers, however, showed an increase with 40% being reviewed. According to the newsletter, newspapers such as "the Houston Chronicle review(ed) 21 mysteries by women compared to only 17 by men. National newspapers were less generous to women writers. Slightly over a third of mysteries reviewed in the New York Times Book Review in 2011 were by women. The Washington Post and Toronto’s Globe and Mail were slightly higher, at 36 and 39 percent respectively. The lowest figures were for the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed only six mysteries by women compared to 34 by male authors."
Blog review sites written by and for readers seemed the most even-handed of all with 51% of women authors reviewed.
What does it all mean and why does it matter? Well, it matters in the wallet. When a book is reviewed by a reputable source like a newspaper there is a spike in sales. If male writers are continually shoved into that spotlight, that leaves women authors literally in the dark. If you don't know about our books how will you be compelled to buy them? It's a big deal and more needs to be done. Why are women authors not taken seriously? You got me. After all, I don't write books only women read. I have a male protagonist who is all man and I've never heard a complaint that he sounds like a testosterone-infused woman. (He'd better not hear you say that!)
I suppose one way to tip the scales to perfect balance might be to write to these papers and magazines and tell them of your displeasure. Let them know this is not all right. It's about visability. It's about marketing. It's still about equality.