There are a lot of difficult and frustrating things about existing as a woman, period, let alone as a woman in the publishing world.
It’s a strange and particularly maddening state of affairs. More readers are women, more of the money spent on books (as on entertainment in general) is spent by women, and more of the people working in publishing houses are women. And yet — Men still occupy most of the top-level positions at publishing houses, and the pay gap is a very real thing for everyone from authors to editors to publicists to booksellers. That’s aggravation enough, without considering media coverage of male-authored versus female-authored books, or disparity in speaking fees, or panel representation at conventions, or how women get treated on those panels by male colleagues and moderators.
I could go on and on about all of that. I do go on about them on my personal blog. But honestly? With all that’s going on in the news these days, I am exhausted of negativity. So instead, I’m going to focus on my favorite thing about publishing as a woman: the community it’s given me.
I’m a pack animal by nature. I like feeling a part of something, not just out on my own. I don’t like operating in isolation. So for as long as I’ve been a writer, I’ve looked for other writers to run with. When I was a kid, I hung out on AOL chat boards for aspiring authors. A little later in life, I joined LJ communities to trade fanfic. I’m part of some writing-oriented Facebook groups, and I’m plugged in to writing Twitter. Very few of the communities I’ve joined have been formed exclusively for women (or all those who identify as not-cis-men), but most of them have nonetheless been composed primarily of women.
I think there are a couple of reasons for that: women are socialized differently than men, and we’re socialized in a way that encourages us to create and seek out community bonds. Men are often discouraged from showing softer and more compassionate emotions, so the bonds they build are, I think, often different as well.
But I also think women in the publishing community glom together because we have to, for all of the reasons I listed at the top of this post. Women enter the publishing world on a higher difficulty level than men (and if you’re a member of other marginalized communities, as elsewhere in life, the difficulty level keeps going up). There are certainly a few female authors who buy into the Highlander theory — y’know, “there can be only one”? But the vast majority of the women writers I know are folk who don’t see other women as the competition. Rather, we’re all trying to lift each other up. We know that the more of us who succeed, the more of us who can succeed.
The Debs are a fantastic example of this, and so is Sirens, the conference that I’ve mentioned before, which features not just writers, but other women involved in publishing as well — editors, agents, librarians, teachers, booksellers, readers, all coming together to celebrate the awesomeness of female-focused SFF. It is brilliant to have a cadre of women all cheerleading for each other, and the emotional high of that event is unparalleled. When I first attended in 2016, I arrived knowing no one, and I left feeling like I had a hundred new friends. I had found my people.
I reach for that sense of supportive network of women in From Unseen Fire, too — and I’m really proud that readers have noticed. I love the comments I’ve gotten about how the women in From Unseen Fire are many and varied, and how they work together and support each other. Developing that theme is a major component of Book Two. The women don’t all get along all the time or necessarily even like each other, but they’re not playing the Highlander game, and none of them try to get a leg-up by being “not like the other girls”. And by the gods, they can pull together and achieve incredible things.
Just like we women writers can do.
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