The other day, meeting with a publicist from a scholarly publishing house, I asked her a question: Does the press she works for think about the gender breakdown of its authors?
I asked because I often do an informal VIDA-style count of the number of male and female authors represented in book catalogs. I do the same thing with magazines, whose tables of contents and contributors’ lists I will often scan to get a sense of how near or far they are to a more or less even split.
This is often–I could say usually–an exercise in frustration. I don’t insist on an absolute 50-50 split. But when the numbers are lopsided, as they too often are, it makes me wonder what’s going on. It can be depressing as hell if you let it get to you. (Which you can’t, honestly, because that will only get in the way of getting your work out there. But by all means get mad or, better still, get even by publishing everywhere you can.)
Why were there more men than women on this particular press’s list of authors? In response to my question, the publicist said that the gender breakdown had been a topic of conversation around her office. Nobody seemed to know for sure. Then she raised a question: Do women just not write as many Big Idea books as men do?
The conversation moved on. But her question has been vexing me ever since. I don’t believe that women don’t have Big Ideas or that we don’t write ambitious books. But are we publishing fewer of them than our male counterparts? Are we writing them in such a way that they don’t get labeled Big? Or is this another gender-related blind spot in the publishing world? What makes a book a Big Idea book anyway? Is it a ridiculous category altogether? When I floated the Vexing Question on Twitter, I got some intriguing responses that suggested all of those possibilities.
Let me know what you think, and please share your favorite Big Idea books–however defined–by female authors.