Thursday, May 6, 2010

Book Publishing: Women Vs. Men

When you walk down the halls of a publishing house, you think three things:
1. Damn, that's a lot of paper.

2. Oooh free book shelves!

3. Where are all the men?
The book biz is notorious for being an industry of mostly women, with some gay men thrown in and the rare straight man off in some corner hiding from the hoards of ladies who look at him like the eighth wonder of the world.

As a result, some people blame the fairer sex's presence in the editorial world for the stastical descrepancy between male and female readers. In 2008, for example, "44 percent of women read more than ten books a year compared to three in ten (29%) men" (Harris Interactive).

It's said by some that us female editors gear our publications towards women simply because we are women, though quite frankly, it only makes sense when the majority of your readership is female. Plenty of male-oriented books are published on a regular basis, and when they sell well, we'll put out more of the like. But if they don't, then well, uhh, we won't. It's just logic.

Laura Miller from had some interesting points to make on the subject though, also getting into the nitty-gritty as to why publishing is mostly women:

Much as I enjoyed Roman Polanski's suave political thriller "The Ghost Writer," one early scene struck me as egregiously off. The main character, a scribe-for-hire played by Ewan McGregor, takes a meeting to discuss writing the memoirs of a politician. The other attendees are the head of the book publishing company, one of the editors, the writer's agent and a representative of the politician. Five people in a room discussing a book deal, and all of them men.

This is not, to say the least, very realistic, as Jason Pinter would no doubt concur. Writing last week in the Huffington Post, Pinter, an author whose résumé includes jobs in publishing at "several major houses," recounted his difficulties in persuading his female colleagues to publish a book by Chris Jericho, a professional wrestler.

"Pitching Jericho's book to my editorial board was like pitching iPads to the Amish," he complains, despite the fact that Jericho had an enviable "platform" -- the publishing-world term for regular TV and radio gigs. His co-workers had simply never heard of the guy.

It wasn't until the 15-year-old nephew of one of the editors confirmed Jericho's fame that the board agreed to take the plunge; the book became a bestseller. For Pinter, this experience demonstrates that one of publishing's truisms -- men don't read books -- has become self-fulfilling. Few men work in book publishing, so there are few supporters in the industry for books that men in particular might like, causing fewer such books to be published or promoted and finally leading men to think that books are not for them.


It's worth asking, then, why there are so few men in publishing. Could it be the low pay, low status and ridiculous hours? (Remember that book editors seldom get to read manuscripts in the office -- that's what weekends are for.) Apart from a handful of celebrated figures, it's the rare editor who gets paid more than a secondary school teacher in a middle-class district. The profession has come to look a lot like a skilled, pink-collar ghetto, albeit garnished with a thin dusting of reflected glamor.


Book editing, by contrast, increasingly resembles those "caring professions," nursing and teaching, where the joy of laboring selflessly on behalf of a noble cause -- in this case, literature -- is supposed to make up for the lack of profits and respect. And we all know who does that kind of job, don't we?

Read the entire article HERE

Miller's article is sad but true for the most part. She raises some interesting points, particularly when she explains the responsibilities and financial ramifications of working in the book biz. Men in our society are generally encouraged to make more money and have more power and status than they would on a lowly editorial salary.

However, I'd like to mention that the primary reason for the female-dominated industry goes way back to its inception when women from wealthy families were sent to work in publishing just to give them something to do. It was at some point accepted as a career of "leisure,' though it most certainly isn't that way any longer. But some trends never die, so the gender scale has stayed women-heavy, even though the reasoning has shifted drastically (we are all broke, for one LOL).

Just some food for thought.

1 comment:

  1. The interesting thing about publishing is that while offices and cubicles are chock-full of women employees, many of the corner offices and executive chairs are filled with men. It's a strange power structure.