Sophia McDougall wrote a fascinating, thoughtful, painful article in the New Statesman about gender bias in UK booksellers, particularly among SF/F books and authors. In the article, she mentions surveying table after table of books of various types and finding among them ratios of 20:1 male to female authors. At-present in legacy publishing, female writers are most-often relegated to YA or children's writing, certain select nonfiction titles (i.e. Chelsea Handler - who has her E! show because she was sleeping with former Comcast CEO Ted Harbert), certain types of back of the table mysteries, cookbooks, weight loss and diet books, and of course: romance.
Earlier this year, readers and writers alike noticed "issues" with Waterstones SF/F promotional posters. No matter what the subgenre or category, the authors and books listed were, in the great majority, male. It's the UK so it should go without saying they were also all "white." Apparently Waterstone's promotional materials for SF/F, in addition to being hideously designed, listed 113 authors, of which 9 were female - i.e. 93% male, 7% female split. They were not even able to list more than a handful of female authors in urban fantasy -- despite the fact that in reality, this subgenre's bestsellers are by far, female.
For a number of years, McDougall has visited bookshops and talked to booksellers about this notable gender bias. According to her, "the bookshops blamed the publishers and the publishers blamed the bookshops, and nothing got better."
What an instructive statement.
I cannot imagine a more illustrative example than this. When questioned about what is essentially product ossification and selection of product based on limited knowledge and personal preference (Why are you listing long-dead Isaac Asimov and less-long dead, but equally dead Arthur C. Clarke and numerous others as major product categories - ignoring new product?) - the retailers blame the manufacturer, and the manufacturer blames the retailers.
So, a lot of people are writing letters and tweeting, etc.
McDougall says, "If you pick books from what you see around you and what you’ve grown up with and the names you see in the trade press, none of which requires any sort of malice, the monoculture persists."
But I'm not writing about the "monoculture" so much as I'm writing about the business of writing books, creating books, and selling books.
And again, such an instructive statement and such clear evidence of the lacks in the legacy publishing and bookselling industry, lacks that will not be rectified exclusively through self-publishing. "If you pick books from what you see around you and what you've grown up with ..."
How about this concept:
If you pick books responding to what the customers desire.
Dear Lord, what a concept.
This has to be carried throughout the enterprise. In what business, when a customer is asking for certain things (i.e. Guess what? I already READ THAT BOOK BY ISAAC ASIMOV - I'D LIKE A DIFFERENT ONE NOW) does the retailer say "Sorry, I have only been sent these same books by the publishers," and the manufacturer says, "Sorry, we do develop new product but we don't particularly care about the new product and besides - it fails all the time - so here is another reprint of THIS BOOK BY ISAAC ASIMOV."
Imagine if this were Oreos, which used to be one of my favorite cookies. "Sorry, we're out of Golden Oreos but we have regular Oreos -- it's Nabisco's fault." Nabisco's response is, "Sorry, we haven't made any more Golden Oreos lately -- the groceries aren't ordering them. We got some orders from convenience stores, but frankly, we're certain customers won't want them. So we didn't make them."
Yeah. Like that.
It's one step at a time. And it begins with valuing the only possible engine of manufacture: the writer. Writers are perforce, also readers. There is scarcely a writer working who hasn't read many, many books. It begins by valuing the customer: the all-important reader.
People wonder why the industry is struggling in its legacy form? I just told you. And the lessons as to how it may revitalize are all around us.