By Barbara Fister
Let’s do the numbers:
Mystery reviews in The New York Times
• 1987: 6% female authors
• 2010: 35% female authors
Edgar best novel winners:
• Pre-1986: 17% female
• Since 1986: 31% female
Mystery authors published in the US:
• 1986: 38% female
• 2010: 50% female
(source: Edgar submissions)
Percentage of consumers in the U.S. who buy mysteries, 2010:
• 68% female
(source: SinC/Bowker study)
One of the first projects established by Sisters in Crime 25 years ago was the task of monitoring and reporting on the gender of the mystery authors whose books were reviewed in the media. At the time, The New York Times was paying scant attention to women authors. In 1987, the year that Sara Paretsky, Margaret Maron, Nancy Pickard and other SinC founders gathered at Sandra Scoppottone’s loft in New York to strategize, the Times reviewed 97 mysteries written by men and only seven authored by women. In those days, approximately 38% of the published mysteries were written by women.
Things have improved. In 2010, the Times reviewed 96 mysteries by men and 47 by women. (However, since about half of the mysteries published that year were written by women, the number of published reviews remained skewed toward male writers.) And, in recent years, pre-publication and mystery-focused review sources are more balanced in terms of gender than the mainstream media. One publication – Romantic Times – has consistently reviewed more mysteries by women than men.
Since 1985, we’ve seen enormous shifts in the publishing industry, including a steep decline in the number of book reviews appearing in the mainstream media – even as the number of published books has increased, particularly in the area of non-traditional publishing. According to Bowker, there were more than three million new books published in the U.S. last year, with non-traditional titles outnumbering traditional titles eight to one.
In 2012, we hope to shift gears with the monitoring project to create a dashboard of indicators that reflects changes in the publishing environment. We’re cutting back on monitoring print sources and will be adding online review sources to see how we’re doing over time as the mystery landscape changes.
Is the monitoring project still relevant? Well, to answer that, we need numbers. If we ever get to the point that the number of published reviews reflects the percentage of published books written by women, we might consider our work done. For now, though, that’s still not the case. In the shrinking hole for book reviews in newspapers and magazines, male authors are still twice as likely to get a review as female authors.
Sisters in Crime needs volunteers for the review monitoring project for 2012! If you would be willing and able to monitor reviews published by online sources or in one of the publications listed below, please contact me – bfister @ hickorytech[dot]net.
• The Boston Globe
• Deadly Pleasures
• Entertainment Weekly
• The Wall Street Journal
Questions? Comments? Feel free to weigh in.
Barbara Fister is the author of the Anni Koskinen mysteries. The most recent title in the series is Through the Cracks. She is an academic librarian and serves on the SinC board as Coordinator of the SinC Review Monitoring Project.