Publishing: What's "Good" and "Important"?

I say this book is "the best."
In researching further information on the apparent sexism in the publishing industry, I came across some more compelling evidence that the publishing world has a definite gender bias. I also answered the question I asked last fall: Why do male authors always get so much more press than their female counterparts?

If you're like me, I usually ask people around me for book recommendations before I shell out any money. I see what's at the library, read online book reviews and look at the used bookstore. A trip to the large bookstore chains can be dangerous because I usually spend far too much money; so many things look so appealing. In other words, I'm always on the look-out for something I might like to read. Otherwise, it's a little like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Now consider this. Just this month, Vida: Women in Literary Arts published some astonishing figures about the number of women working at major literary publications, the number of reviews women wrote and the number of women's books that were reviewed. Here's just a few statistics:

At the New Yorker in 2010
Number of reviews written by women: 8
Number of reviews written by men: 29
Number of women authors reviewed: 76
Number of men authors reviewed: 158

At the Times Literary Supplement in 2010
Number of reviews written by women: 341
Number of reviews written by men: 900
Number of women authors reviewed: 330
Number of men authors reviewed: 1,036

At the New York Times Book Review in 2010
Number of reviews written by women: 295
Number of reviews written by men: 438
Number of women authors reviewed: 283
Number of men authors reviewed: 524


In other words, books authored by men are reviewed more often, and there are substantially more men reviewing books. So the people who are telling us which books are "the best" and "important" and creating the hype are in most cases those with a "Y" chromosome.

I recently spoke with an author who told me that in the publishing world, it is often said that what women write about is often not considered "important." Yes, it's true that there are people with whom I've chosen not to discuss books because I wasn't sure that we could see eye to eye on what was "important." But in the end what is "important" and "the best" are completely maybe we should be looking for reviewers who hold similar views of what is "the best" and "important" to our own.

Other publishing-related posts:
CBC: The Elephant in the Room
Reads from Men



Anonymous | March 4, 2011 at 10:11 PM

"Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."
-- Jane Austen in Persuasion (1816)

Heather | March 6, 2011 at 9:51 AM

I love you! Thank you!

Anonymous | March 6, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Thank you for this wonderful post. I was wondering if you came across any statistics surrounding how many women vs. men work in the publishing industry itself? I worked as a publicist for years and would say that there is sexism within the publishing houses themselves but have never seen anything to back it up.

Heather | March 6, 2011 at 12:58 PM

An interesting question. At Source:, they have counted how many men and women work at major literary publications, in particular who is writing all the articles, at places like Granta, Harpers, the New Republic, the NYT book reviews, etc. I've just referred to who is reviewing the books and whose books are being reviewed. Thanks for your comments, and if you find out any further information about gender bias please drop me a line. H

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