Tag Archives: VIDA

Gender Bias Strikes Again in the Lit World

6 Mar

VIDA charted the number of male-versus-female book reviewers and authors reviewed—and it doesn’t look good. By and large, men are reviewing and getting reviewed much more often than women. And yet, according to this old article on NPR, women read more than men. Go figure.

Two years ago, I presented the argument I’d heard that women aren’t submitting as often as men to the big-name publications. I’ve heard it said that this is because men are more likely to take risks or feel like they could actually get published in these magazines and journals, while in contrast women feel like they aren’t good enough writers yet and so don’t query as often in general and that when they do it’s to smaller, lesser-known publications. I’d still like to see some hard evidence of this.

Tin House responded to this year’s VIDA report, with editor Rob Spillman saying:

Our unsolicited submissions are nearly 50/50 consistently year to year, and our acceptance rate is also 50/50. Agented submissions average closer to 2/3 men versus 1/3 women, with acceptance rates around 60/40. Interestingly, the number of agents who are sending these submissions are 2/3 women versus 1/3 men. We were also surprised to find that although we solicited equal numbers of men and women, men were more than twice as likely to submit after being solicited. This even applies to writers I’ve previously published.

History has taught us to read “dead white men” so I don’t think it’s all that surprising that even female agents would pass along more male writers than female. What I do find curious is that, according to Spillman, women writers are less likely to send work in when it’s directly asked for.

 

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Behind the Curtain: A Magazine Roundtable

8 Mar

Everyone complains about the cost of living in New York City, but I’ve never lived in any other town or city that offered such amazing free events.  It was a Leap Day miracle when McNally Jackson’s Bookstore held a free literary event featuring the esteemed literary editors of top magazines.  Behind the Curtain: A Magazine Roundtable brought together Deborah Treisman of The New Yorker, James Marcus of Harper’s, and Ellah Allfrey of Granta for a conversation moderated by Granta editor John Freeman.

 

 

And like all worthwhile free events, this one was PACKED!  Even many who got there early had to stand in the aisles of bookshelves because there were so many attendees.  Those who got there late listened from the stairs.  It was worth it.

The editors discussed using interns—MFA candidates, mind you, not undergrad students—to read through the slush pile (unsolicited manuscripts).  The result was that some interns turned away some really great work before the editors had a chance to see it, while other interns erred on the side of caution, passing too many candidates along to the editors.  I’ve read through slush piles for my grad school’s lit mag and for the children’s book department at my office, and what struck me was how patient the panelists were.  Reading through slush piles is a lot like panning for gold: most of it is just dirt that should be tossed out.

 

 

The panelist of editors were genuinely excited about working with new authors—even to the point of overlooking cover letters with the nebulous “Dear Editor/Reader.”  At one point, Freeman asked Granta’s associate editor Patrick Ryan, who was in the audience, to come up and share heartfelt stories of giving first-time contributors their big break.  For those looking to break into lit mags, it’s reassuring to know that the editors really do want to find great, undiscovered writers and are even willing to go through several rounds—one editor mentioned an astounding twenty-one!—of revisions to get a solid piece of work from a writer just starting out in his or her career.

Treisman, Marcus, and Allfrey also talked about what sort of writing they’re looking for, and while responses and desires ranged it was clear that they’re looking not only for high-quality writing (in fact, they admitted to sometimes having to turn away well-written pieces simply because the timing wasn’t right) but for writing that is unique, that covers an area that is has been underserved.  This includes writers from areas of the world where literature isn’t being promoted in the United States or England.

 

 

The magazine editors addressed the VIDA controversy, admitting that magazines are failing when it comes to representing women writers.  Treisman said there is a generational divide.  Older women weren’t submitting work to The New Yorker at the same rate as their male counterparts.  Today’s younger generation of women writers, though, are more apt to submit their work to bigger magazines earlier on in their writing careers.  The practical application here is that women writers should be submitting their work to big-name publications.

The big take-away from the night was that the short-story form is not dead.  As someone with a book publishing background, I’ve been taught to be leery of short-story collections.  They just don’t sell.  I’ve repeated this to hopeful writer friends of mine, perhaps crushing their tender, creative spirits.  However, it was clear from the Behind the Curtain discussion that, though the amount of publications have diminished, there are still beloved magazines publishing works of short fiction.  A lot of these magazines also publish personal essays.

How to Murder a Woman’s Sense of Worth

20 May

The other night I watched the 1965 film How to Murder Your Wife.  First of all, the dancing was outrageous!  I wish I could travel back in time and attend parties in the 1960s.  Okay, but second of all, the clincher of the movie is that a comic-strip writer is on trial for supposedly killing his wife and sets out to prove that she—and all wives—deserve to be murdered.  The all-male jury acquits him on those grounds!  A quick Internet search and I discovered it wasn’t until 1975 that the Supreme Court ruled that women could not be excluded from the jury pool.  (Marissa N. Batt wrote an enlightening article on this in 2004 for Ms.)

1975!  That’s not that long ago.

Close to five decades after How to Murder Your Wife, the comedy Bridesmaids has just come out.  I was talking to a guy I respect the other day about wanting to see it, and he verbally rolled his eyes about it being a chick flick.  I disagreed saying it’s supposed to be like The Hangover but with women as the leads.  I’m not so sure my argument won him over.

As much backlash as there has been over feminism and as much as people think women have obtained equal rights, it seems that that’s just not the case.  Women and girls will watch movies with men as the central character, but if a movie has a female lead it’s denounced a chick flick, unsuitable for guys.

According to a new study released this month, 31% of children’s books have a female central character.

Only 31%.

Are the VIDA findings so surprising then?

30 Rock, Franzenfreude, and VIDA: Women Writers

1 Mar

Last week’s 30 Rock was an episode titled “TGS Hates Women,” a commentary on late summer’s “Franzenfreude” and the recent findings by VIDA that women writers don’t get as much attention as male writers.

When I look around the publishing house I work in and the classroom at the MFA program I attend, I see women.  Lots of them.  That’s not to say there aren’t any guys.  There are.  I see them in their windowed offices, I attend the lectures they organize, and I read the newsletters they write.  That isn’t to say there aren’t women in high-level, high-visibility roles.  There are.  But the percentage of men versus women in these upper-management roles is significantly skewed.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I read VIDA’s “The Count 2010.”

The short take is that men far outnumber women in getting published in lit mags and having their books reviewed.  I definitely agree with the commenters that the statistics are inconclusive without the facts of how many women versus men submit manuscripts. My editor friend Elizabeth sent me this follow up to the article, in which the editors responded to the criticism that their publications don’t publish an equal ratio of women to men.

Part of the problem is that women do not submit to well-known, “gender-neutral” publications at the same rate as men.  A few months ago, I went with my writer friend Jane to hear Lorrie Moore (Birds of America) talk with fiction editor Deborah Treisman at the wonderfully designed (hello, tilting fish-tank!) (le) Poisson Rouge for The New Yorker Festival. One of the comments that stuck out the most for me (Elissa Bassist, with whom I took class taught by Susan Shapiro, offers further notes on The Rumpus) was that men more often than women submit stories to The New Yorker, which is why men, more often than women, get published in The New Yorker.

I am a feminist, not a whiner.  I don’t believe in railing against the injustices of this or that without actually doing something positive to enact change.  Dialogue itself is useful but dialogue without action is meaningless.  It reminds me of the whole Christian debate of faith versus works, which is solved quite eloquently by the phrase “faith without works is dead.”  In other words, we can talk until we’re blue in the face about how more women should be published but unless more women are submitting quality work and unless more women are studying and working hard to become editors and unless we get over the silly notion that matters of politics are for men and the world at large and matters of domestic life are for women exclusively then all our philosophizing is for naught.  (Yes, I just said “for naught.”)

Women, if you want to be taken seriously as writers and if you want to get published then study writing, write, revise, and submit to publications!  Aim high.  If you get a rejection, try to find out why.  Then find another publication that you believe is a good fit for your writing style (remember there’s a huge difference between Cosmo and The Times) and submit.  Take classes, form writing groups, seek out professional freelance editors, and work on your craft, continually submitting high-quality work.  Make your writing so good they can’t say no!

Let’s not end up like Elaine Mozell in Meg Wolitzer‘s The Wife. Let’s look at the example Tina Fey set by becoming the first female head writer of Saturday Night Live.   And wouldn’t you know it, she’s a Greek!