On this quiet winter evening I did decide to check on my reading by gender for the past 12 months. I dislike yearly polls or lists that are for 11 months usually excluding December. For this post I went through the mysteries I have read and reviewed through the past year including December of 2012.
Overall I read 47 mysteries and thrillers. Of that total 13 were by woman authors or 25% of my mystery reading.
I did a breakdown between Canadian books and the Rest of the World.
For Canada 5 of the 13 mysteries or 38% were by female writers.
The Rest of the World had 8 of 34 books or 23%.
The numbers and percentages were lower than I expected. I had thought I was reading more women authors.
I realize my numbers, as a reflection of my reading, can certainly be skewed by the small sample size. Another evening I may go through 5 years of reading to come up with a more representative sample size.
While there is abundant information that a significant majority of the readers of mysteries are women I did not find reliable online information on the percentage of published mysteries being written by women. In Barbara Fister’s 2011 paper, Sisters in Crime atthe Quarter Century: Advocacy, Community, and Change she refers to an analysis of the books submitted for the Edgar Awards being about 50% written by women.
In The New Republic in February of 2011 there was an article, A Literary Glass Ceiling, by Ruth Franklin which, after showing the disproportionate number of male professional book reviewers, stated with regard to publishing:
But let’s slow down for a moment. There’s some essential data missing from these moan-inducing statistics. What’s the gender breakdown in books published last year? It’s crucial to both of the categories VIDA explores, because freelance book reviewers, who make up the majority of the reviewing population, tend to be authors themselves. If more men than women are publishing books, then it stands to reason that more books by men are getting reviewed and more men are reviewing books. So TNR’s Eliza Gray, Laura Stampler, and I crunched some numbers. Our sample was small and did not pretend to be comprehensive, and it may not represent a cross-section of the industry, because we did not include genre books and others with primarily commercial appeal. But it gave us a snapshot. And what we found helps explain VIDA’s mystery.
We looked at fall 2010 catalogs from 13 publishing houses, big and small. Discarding the books that were unlikely to get reviewed—self-help, cooking, art—we tallied up how many were by men and how many were by women. Only one of the houses we investigated—the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent—Norton, Little Brown, and Harper—and the rest 25 percent and below, including the elite literary houses Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent). Harvard University Press, the sole academic press we considered, came in at just 15 percent.
Franklin concluded by saying 33% of the book reviews she had written in 2010 were of books by women.