Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Women Writers–Where are they?

I suppose the title is a bit misleading. There are plenty of women writers and plenty of successful women writers. The richest woman in the world is a woman writer.

However, I hear and see some conflicting data when looking at “the big picture.”

For a long time, 80% of readers of fiction were women. From what I gather, this is still true. For non-fiction the reverse was true (80% of non-fiction readers are male). There are trends away from this, as more women become the primary bread winners and their reading is more and more focused on business and technical books. Yet, women still find time to read a good novel once in a while, while men drift over to the TV, or magazine, or video game. Yeah, I am stereotyping a bit, but the general statistics for fiction, my passion, remain heavily in women do the reading.

Yet, the number of women writers, as a percentage of all writers, remains significantly below men. Is this trend changing? I think so, but I have no firm data. It is all anecdotal. The number of women in MFA programs seems to be reflecting college degree seekers as a whole.  Women are now the majority. Yet, for published books (by publishers) the data from 2010 shows that by and large women are published less than men. This does not delve into submissions, but rather published books (by 13 publishers see: A Literary Glass Ceiling?).

A totally inaccurate look at our own submissions at New Libri Press shows that out of the past 25 submissions, only 4 were from women. This seems to mesh pretty well with the actual accepted and published rate cited in A Literary Glass Ceiling?  So, what gives?

I really don’t know. When I look at “Independent Authors Guild” forums, it seems (in a completely unscientific way) that there are more women authors on the forum then men. When one looks at the success of self-published authors, the success is dominated by women.

My guess is that the answer to “what gives?” is a complex one. Is is possible that women are discouraged and go straight to self publishing.  Certainly, a similar phenomena exists for small business owners. Small business owners are dominated by women, but (at least historically) it was because of barriers in corporate America.

It is also possible that women tend to strive for perfections in their writing more and not feel it is worth submitting until it is “perfect.” I don’t know if that is true, it is a weird extrapolation on my part of self image stereotypes.

(Above picture found here.)

Men may simply submit more, no matter how crappy, less polished <grin>.

I do know that of the number of manuscripts we have accepted over the past 18 months, the majority are by women and the two primary editors (us founders) are men. So, I lean toward the second theory.

I have heard, from a published author (male) that the average advance for a woman is higher than for a man and that the publicity a large press puts behind a new author is higher for women than men. I suspect, IF TRUE, this supports my theory that submissions by women are generally lower volume. Publishers WANT to find more women authors.

Given my unscientific data (more submissions are from men by a 4:1 margin) I would love to hear what WOMEN authors think. Or, if you don’t want to comment, then start submitting manuscripts to those publishers!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Editing is Subjective

Recently we were editing a piece and the author was “surprised” that we didn’t catch a number of errors that a friend of his caught. However, when asked what those errors were, none of them were grammar, or spelling, but all were subjective. Word order. Word choice. We (my co-editor and I) laughed a bit at this. We didn’t catch it because both of us liked it the way it was.

Editing is subjective, especially meta editing, but even line editing. Some editors hate point of view changes within a chapter, others don’t mind if it is done right. Some will harp on lack of detail in areas where another will think too much detail slows down the manuscript.

An editor provides a subjective critique of your work. It is up to you to decide if that subjective critique is good. Agreeing with it, or not, is not the best criteria. Rather, if after a few days of stewing over editorial comments you find yourself saying “I can’t believe that he thinks that, but I really want to make it clear to him without changing my tone too much,” then your editor has probably done his job.

Even line editing is subjective. When do you break the rules? Does it work in this case? Was there a joke I missed in principal versus principle in this short story?

In general, and this is my subjective criteria, if you find yourself listening to 40% of what your editor tells you, then you editor is doing a good job. Listening does not mean doing exactly what he suggests. Listening means you act on the suggestion in some way.

An editor will not make terrible writing good, no matter how great the plot is. An editor is not a co-author.

With a publisher, it is very hard to tell where the hand of the editor touched the manuscript. In general, with a publisher, look at any books (even if it is a small publisher with only a couple of books) and if you like the book, than there is a chance the editor did his job.

For independent editors, many will offer a free analysis of 5 pages. This is a weak sample, but better than nothing. For a full length novel, the meta edit may take reading 50 pages to form an opinion. If they are established, the job is easier by examining the finished work of cited clients. However, many good editors are not well known. Just like an unknown author, it takes a bit of time to break in. BookBaby has a decent article on independent editing. Of course that is my subjective opinion.