While attending a writers conference recently the speaker, a literary agent, was asked what he viewed as a trend in the industry. His answer was publishers were looking for women who write about women. He predicted, like most trends, this was fleeting and would either end or balance out. I began to wonder if what he deems a trend is really just an adjustment in a long history of marginalization of women authors. Just cursory research shows women authors have been under-represented for awards. Since 1901, the Nobel Prize for Literature has only been awarded to 14 women. There have only been 35 women winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction since it was first awarded in 1917.
While disconcerting, it also doesn't match up with the trends in women readership. I was intrigued by all of this because I've been in a book club for over 15 years. As an author I've been invited to speak with several book clubs. All organized and attended by women. Just recently, I spoke to my largest audience ever - 140 ladies in Charlotte, NC - who call themselves the JULIETS (Just us ladies interested in learning, eating, talking and sharing).
And as an author, I've been privileged to be able to network with other women authors in such online forums and memberships groups as the Women Fiction Writers Association and Women Writers Women's Books. Both organizations have a strong following. They offer guidance, mentoring, educational and promotional opportunities for women from diverse backgrounds.
Which makes sense given that women are the biggest consumers of books. A study done by Penguin Random House in 2013 showed that more women buy books than men. Indeed, 60% of print book buyers are women. Sixty-five percent of ebook buyers are women. So it makes sense that women authors would be a popular choice.
A more recent survey of readers conducted by author M.K. Tod shows the power of the social connections have in driving reading preferences. According to her 2018 survey gender does make a difference - more women read than men - and FRIENDS ARE THE TOP SOURCE FOR BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS! As a book club member I've know this all along. Sharing the joy of reading a good book is just one such example of how women engage with each other socially.
I was recently approached by a group of women readers who call themselves BookWomen from St. Paul, MN to speak with them while they visit the Finger Lakes region as part of their Books A Foot trip which attracts other women readers from around the US. According to the leader, they "pick a destination, learn about women writers from the area and select books to read beforehand, then travel there for exploration and book discussion." They're visiting the Women's Rights National Park in Seneca Falls in the summer of 2019 and plan to read my novel set in the region - Ephemeral Summer.
I predict that the trend mentioned by the literary agent at the writer's conference will not only continue but outpace his expectations. Women will surpass men as award-winning authors. One only has to look at the data, the obvious, that women readers are outpacing men readers. Why wouldn't they want to read one of their own?
Sheila Myers is an award winning author and Professor at a small college in Upstate NY. She enjoys writing, swimming in lakes, and walking in nature. Not always in that order.
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