Barbara Fister ♦ Monitoring Project Coordinator ♦ January 15, 2015
The Sisters in Crime Monitoring Project, started when the organization was founded in 1986, takes an annual look at how much of the available book review space is given to women writers in the crime fiction genre. Volunteers collected data from over three dozen print and digital publications. The percentages of women writers published and reviewed has climbed significantly over the past quarter century, and in 2014 showed gains in nearly every category.
As usual, we used the books submitted for Edgar Award consideration as a benchmark to see who was getting published and in what formats. Women writers edged ahead over 2013, with 53% of submitted mysteries in the Best, Best First, and Best Paperback- or E-Original categories written by women. (Founding members of the organization estimated that about a third of published mystery writers in the late 1980s were women.) As before, women appear to be more likely to be published in paperback- or electronic-original form than in hardcover. Men continue to hold an edge in hardcover as represented by Best Novel submissions, though women authors in 2014 accounted for 46% of the titles in that category compared to 43% in 2013 and 38 percent in 2012. Men also held a small advantage in the Best First category submissions. Women again dominated the Mary Higgins Clark category, which was started after its namesake complained that women weren’t getting their share of award nominations. However, all but three of the submissions were also submitted to other categories. As in previous years, Deadly Pleasures was more generous in giving space to reviews of books by men, with reviews of women’s books capturing 36 percent, the same as last year.
All the Reviews Fit to Print
In 2014, women authors gained a slightly greater share of book review space in traditional review outlets. National newspapers all saw an increase in the percentage of women authors reviewed, ranging from 44 percent of the mystery reviews in The New York Times (up from 36 percent in 2013) to 30 percent of reviews in the Wall Street Journal (up from 27 percent). The only decrease from recent years was in the Washington Post, which gave 45 percent of its mystery review space to women authors in 2013 but only 35 percent in 2014. In local newspapers, women authors also gained slightly, with an overall increase from 41 percent to 42 percent of all mystery reviews. However, the overall number of reviews in monitored newspapers declined, with several newspapers dropping reviews from their pages entirely. We also looked at reviews in Entertainment Weekly, which had an equal (though rather small) number of crime fiction reviews of books by men and women. NPR, disappointingly, favored male writers heavily, with only 24 percent of their crime fiction reviews featuring books by women.
As in previous years, Library Journal was more generous to women mystery authors with its review space than Publisher’s Weekly or Booklist. We monitored five genre-focused publications, all but one of which saw some increase in the percentage of women’s books being reviewed. Mystery Scene, which had been giving male authors slightly more than half of its reviews, has returned to nearly equal coverage (49 percent). Suspense Magazine increased its attention to women’s mysteries to 60 percent, a significant increase over last year. RT Reviews (formerly Romantic Times) has always provided more space to women authors. This year, it weighed in with 78 percent of its reviews focusing on books by women.
The Digital Scene
Interestingly, the percentage of women authors reviewed in the born digital review sites we have monitored since 2011 is still generally high, but not quite as high this year. Reviews of women authors in Reviewing the Evidence, a site that has published over 10,000 reviews since 2001, dropped from 42 percent down to 36 percent. (The overall number of reviews published also dropped after one of its editors started a separate UK-based site, Crime Review.) Bookbitch, a review site with many contributors, increased its coverage of women writers to 40 percent. Readers of the I Love a Mystery Newsletter, a book review publication that had migrated from print to the web and lasted over twenty years, were sad to learn that it would cease publication in 2014.
In addition to review websites, we looked at over a dozen book review blogs. Among US-based bloggers monitored, women authors continued to get a generous share of attention, with 58 percent of reviews going to books by women authors. Male authors were given the edge by European and Australian bloggers monitored in 2014, with only 42% of their reviews covering works by women writers.
Looking at “Best of 2014” Lists
Finally, to round out our annual snapshot, we took a look at Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus to see how women authors fared in their end-of-year list of best mysteries and thrillers. Combining their lists, 23 male authors and 16 female authors were counted among the best. Digging a little deeper, we noticed that the women whose books were included on these lists were equally comfortable writing about male or female protagonists (or, in some case, multiple points of view involving male and female characters). A couple of the male authors’ books featured female protagonists, but it was far more likely that male authors’ books featured male protagonists. Research has long suggested that women are more likely to read both male and female authors than men, who are more likely than women to say they prefer to read books by authors of their own sex. This look at a small number of well-received books raises the possibility that women authors may be more comfortable imagining their fictional worlds through characters of another sex than male writers are, though it would take more research to confirm that hunch.
All in all, women writers saw advances in 2014 in terms of getting their mysteries published and getting reviews. That said, male authors still have an edge when it comes to being published in hardcover, getting reviewed in the most prestigious mainstream national publications, and in having their work recognized in “best of the year” lists.